I think it's fitting that my 2013 race season should begin in a town called Goodyear. I'll take that as a sign of things to come.
We traveled to Arizona to run the Coldwater Rumble 50 mile trail race. This is another fine event put on by Aravaipa Running. These are the same people that put on the Javelina Jundred and this event is very similar in a lot of ways. After all the miles I've logged at Javelina, this race had a warm, familiar feel to it.
This race is held at the Estrella Mountain Regional Park. A venue with the word "Mountain" in the title is a sure promise of interesting topography.
The race began at 7:00 AM, just as the sun provided ALMOST enough light to see the trail. The thermometer in the rental car shows 37 degrees and the weather man is promising a high of 76 degrees. This is somewhat worrisome because I'be been logging all my miles in single digit temperatures for the last several weeks. Overheating could be a race ending issue if I didn't manage things properly.
Right before the start!
Like all my races, I had studied the race history of the competitors in the field and discovered there would be several, high level ultra runners in this race. Secretly, I hoped that most the field would lack conditioning because of the timing of the race. A lot of runners are just beginning to rebuild their base in January and get back in shape. I felt like I was already in great shape, so maybe I could outperform the other runners and finish on the podium.
My logic wasn't based on any solid foundation of fact. I was just being hopeful.
A quick note of fuel strategy...
There are two 19.5 mile loops and a final 11 mile loop in this race. Jo would be stationed at the start/finish area for the entire event and have my fuel waiting for me there. I planned to avoid the aid stations entirely. In fact, I never stopped at an aid station during the entire race.
I decided to fuel exclusively with Hammer Perpetuem. I added the appropriate measurements of Perpetuem into 3 handheld bottles, one for each loop. I filled my first bottle with water and mixed it up right before the race. The remaining bottles were left with Jo and labeled for each loop because they contained different amounts of Perpetuem based on how long I would be running. Jo would mix the bottles right before I came into the aid station and we would simply exchange bottles and I would be on my way.
To meet my hydration needs, I chose to use Hammer Fizz in my hydration pack. These are tablets that I can just drop into my hydration bladder and mix with water. Dehydration and electrolyte depletion were a major concern for me in this race, but the Fizz tabs worked perfectly.
Back to the race...
When the race started, I went out fast and wanted to see who was planning an aggressive start. I immediately fell into 2nd place and the 1st place runner was pulling away quickly. I wasn't going to catch this guy, even on my best day! After a half mile or so, the field settled into a rhythm and I was stuck back in 4th place. It appeared that all of the front runners were where they belonged as we got down to business.
At the start, while I was still holding onto 2nd place.
At mile 2, my day completely unraveled.
We came to an intersection and turned right. This section of the trail took us up a steep hillside on rocky and technical trail. The ascent was brutal and went on forever. As I came to the top of the hill and started down the other side, I saw the 2nd and 3rd place runners stopped at the bottom. They were standing there talking...looking around...doing nothing.
Then it struck me all at once. We took the wrong turn! I looked behind me to see 5 more runners following us to the top of this monsterous hill. When I turned around, they all did the same. We ran hard trying to get back to the main trail and recover from our mistake. By the time we got there, we were falling in behind the last of the runners. I had gone from 4th place to last place in a 20 minute span of time.
I ran hard, trying to make my way back into the front of the field. This section of trail had a lot of hills and I was running them while others were walking them. I passed a lot of runners and was pushing myself beyond a sensible pace.
I gradually came to the conclusion that I had 45 more miles and the smart course of action would be to slow my pace, conserve my energy and overtake the field, one runner at a time. I slowed down, fueled and hydrated heavily and locked onto an aggressive and manageable pace.
Why do the photographers always sit at the top of the hills?
I had trouble fighting the sense of urgency after getting lost. I spent the next 15 miles being angry at myself for missing a clearly marked intersection. Physically, I was on my game, but mentally I was falling apart. I had been planning all winter for a strong performance at this race and my mistake could wipe away all my preparation.
It served to remind me that it's the little things that make the biggest difference.
Pic from the course.
I finished my first 19.5 mile loop in 3:20. My plan had outlined 3 hours even, but my detour scuttled those plans.
After 19.5 miles, I was in 13th place. Not where I want to be.
Jo and I made a fast bottle exchange and I was back on the course.
Finishing the first loop!
This race has "washing machine" loops like the Javelina Jundred. On looped courses, I prefer this format because it gives a different perspective of the course when you run it in reverse. It also allows me to see the people that are still in front of me and I can gauge how far ahead they are.
The second loop favored my running style more than the first loop. I was still feeling strong and managed to keep running the uphill sections. I expected to keep my pace steady for the next 19 miles but allowed for some slippage on my pace.
By now, the trails were getting crowded as the other races got started. Coldwater Rumble also offers a 50k, 31k, and a 4 mile race. This section of the park is littered with trails and runners were zig zagging all over them. We also shared the trails with the occasional group of horseback riders and an abundance of hikers. Thankfully, most the trails are wide enough to accommodate this traffic and I never had to slow down to give way to oncoming traffic.
Beautiful desert landscape.
It was really starting to warm up and I was deliberately trying to drain the contents of my hydration bladder. I sometimes neglect my electrolytes and I have paid the price in the past. Specifically, when I DNF'd at the Zion 100. Those are lessons that I tend to remember forever.
Coming in to mile 39.
After 39 miles, I had moved into 7th place.
I was flagging a bit after the second loop. I finished off my bottle of Perpetuem right before Jo handed me my last bottle. We had planned to drop the hydration pack for the last loop. I was only running 11 miles and shedding the extra load would make me feel lighter. So I opted to carry another handheld bottle filled with my water and Fizz. I'm one of the few runner's that I know who actually enjoys running with 2 bottles.
Sorry Hammer Nutrition, it was HOT, so the shirt got stowed for a few miles!
The last loop is a little over 11 miles. It follows the standard loop for 5.5 miles and then detours back to the finish line. I did my best running of the day in this section.
I knew I could advance by at least one runner and I felt like 6th place was an acceptable spot, considering my earlier mistakes. But I knew I would never regain the 4th place position. I had seen these front runners and there just wasn't enough time to run them down. They all looked strong and they had a big gap on me.
I powered on, leaving the last of my strength and energy out on the trail. I passed one runner before the aid station while he was power hiking a hill, then surprisingly, I caught another shortly after the aid station. I assumed he lingered at the final aid station while I ran right through it without stopping.
I sent the last 3 miles scanning for runners to pass in front of me while looking over my shoulder to make sure I wasn't going to lose a spot to somebody else. I was running hard toward the finish, being spurred on by the thought of an ice cold beer!
Crossing the finish line in 5th place.
I finished in 8:48:31. This may sound a bit slow, but for the course conditions and weather, if felt unbelievable fast. I had been planning for 8:30. More evidence of how punishing small mistakes can be.
I was pretty pleased with my race and am happy to be kicking of my race season with a strong finish. Overcoming the early issues to finish strong is a major victory for me because I sometimes have difficulty getting passed some of the mental defeats that these races can hand me. It's something I'll learn from and be better off for in the future.
My second big mistake of the day was my shoe selection. I love my New Balance MT10's, but they were the wrong shoe for the course. These trails were littered with pointy rocks and after 20 miles, my feet were being pulverized. The pain was almost unbearable and I know I lost time during the race because I was preoccupied with where I should land my feet. These trails are not suited for minimalist shoes. At least not where my feet are concerned.
My battered MT 10's.
In the morning, after the race, the balls of my feet were badly bruised and swollen. Another lesson learned for the future.
Aravaipa Running did a great job with this race. It was well organized, well staffed, and yes, it was also well marked. I can't blame my stupidity on the race management.
Jo and I are heading into the Caribbean for some running and racing next week. The Coldwater Rumble probably helped me acclimate for the weather that we'll be getting while we're down there.
Thanks for reading. Happy Trails.