August seems to come have around very quickly this year and I can't believe that in just a couple of weeks, we have visitors arriving from the UK in the form of Andy's mum and dad. I'm so looking forward to seeing them - it's been nearly 3 years since we last saw family - and we have plenty of things planned to show them as much as practically possible in the month long visit, as well as having some downtime and relaxation.
Of course, this also means that the Mogollon Monster 100 miler is fast approaching and with 6 weeks of training left before the big day, I feel like I will be ready to give it my all.
The Mogollon course is renowned to be rocky, hilly and technical - it isn't a 24-hour course, and I suspect that I will be out there for at least 27 or 28 hours - maybe even longer. But I feel ready for it and so long as I make sure I eat enough and refuel - and avoid falling over! - I'm sure I will be ok. I will have my ever reliable Andy there to crew me but this time, I likely won't have a pacer to help keep me going in the later stages.
With being an exceptionally hilly course, I have been trying to include lots of hills in my training runs to prepare the old body for the onslaught of climbs.
A couple of weeks ago, a good friend from Canada was in Phoenix and we had a lovely run/power hike in the McDowell Mountains, taking in Bell Pass and Tom's Thumb. We didn't start until around 9am and were still out on the trail around 3pm when we actually ran out of water. I knew we still had a good couple of miles before arriving back at the car, it was extremely humid and in the mid 90's, and to say we were both parched is an understatement. We opted to take an alternative route that took us past some houses in the hope that we could knock on somebody's door and ask for water, but the trail started to veer away from civilisation and it was a good 45 minutes before we found the Pizzeria and were able to have a drink - a glass of iced water and a glass of coke had never tasted so good!
It's the first time ever I have ran out of water on a training run - I took 2 litres with me for 14 miles which would usually be plenty - but we did do quite a lot of hiking which obviously made the trip longer than if we had been running, and so we were out longer than expected. Thankfully we were both ok, but it sure is a reminder to make sure to be prepared for anything as you never know!
The following weekend, I headed over to the McDowells again, this time with the intent of running further and including much more climbing. The plan was to start around 7am and to include Bell Pass, Thompson Peak and Tom's Thumb - a distance of around 18 miles and nearly 5,000 ft of climbing. A few people thought that I was crazy to attempt the run, especially with the summer heat, and I admit that whilst I knew I would likely be ok, after the previous weekend's experience, I was starting to think maybe it wasn't a good idea, especially if I headed out on my own without any company.
Thankfully a lovely chap named Andy said he would join me, and we agreed to meet at 6am to run the proposed route. This time I took 3 1/2 litres of fluid with me as well as fresh oranges to munch on to provide more fluids if needed and although the backpack felt heavy, I knew it was risky to take anything less.
The run proved to be successful and we made great progress to summit Thompson Peak despite the crazy 20% gradient but I have to say that my quads were really feeling the steep downhill and both Andy and I said our quads would likely be suffering the following day.
Heading back to Bell Pass before the climb up to Tom's Thumb, Andy and I parted ways. He had another appointment, we had started to slow a little and we agreed that so long as we both had water and were feeling ok, he would head back and I would carry on. Being Andy's first time around the McDowells I was worried that he would take a wrong turn and potentially be wandering around in circles but a couple of hours later confirming he was back home safe and sound was a great relief.
I continued onwards and upwards, legs feeling good as I made the climb up East End. I was surprised that I had already consumed 2 litres of water but thankfully I still had another 1.5 litres of Gatorade to get through - I knew I would be ok this time.
I'd anticipated completing this run in around 4 hours and I finished in 4 hours 10 minutes with legs feeling relatively good. The run was a great confidence booster for Mogollon although obviously there is a huge difference between running 18 miles and running 100!
Another week of good, solid training followed, I had an extremely painful sports massage which helped to sort out the very tender quads, but it did take a good 3 or 4 days before my legs felt anything like back to normal. I wouldn't normally have been too concerned, but I did have a race coming up on the Saturday - the Vertigo 52km at the White Tank Mountains - and if my legs didn't recover in time, then I wouldn't be racing it.
Friday before race day, there was still a little tightness in the quads but I was far more mobile and could successfully get up and down the stairs without wincing. But even though the legs were feeling much better, I almost didn't go to the race. I hadn't raced since early June, and whilst training had gone well, I had no idea whether I was race fit. There was also the pressure of having some competition and dealing with the expectation of others. I have had lots of successful races since moving to the Phoenix area and with that comes the added pressure of performing well every time - I'm not an excuses type of person but I know when I'm not 100%. If I'm not 100%, I obviously won't be able to race as well as usual, and I knew that there were a couple of good ladies that could quite give me a run for my money on the entry list. I was nervous but I knew that whatever the result, I needed to do this race as it would help to determine whether things really are on track for Mogollon in September.
I was really glad that I went in the end – we haven’t seen some of our running friends in a while and it was good to see so many of them at the White Tank Mountains on Saturday night. To put this into perspective, I didn’t even realise that it was my coach Adam saying hello to me when I went to drop off my drop-bag at the start – sorry buddy!
I was running the 52k which meant 5 laps of the competitive loop. I wasn’t familiar with the route but having asked around, it sounded like it wasn’t too hilly – just one main climb at the midpoint of each loop but otherwise more rolling hills in and out of washes with some sections more technical than others with the last mile or so allowing for some smoother, faster running. I was still feeling nervous but my instructions were to run conservatively, run comfortably, and if I was ahead of Adam, then I was definitely running too fast.
I decided to try and stick to around 8.30 miling to start and then when darkness came, I would undoubtedly slow down due to the lack of light. The course record was 5 hours 34 minutes for the ladies and I figured that at this pace, assuming I could keep it going, I could run around 5 hours.
In short, the race did and didn’t go as planned. I started well and completed the first 10km ish loop in 52 minutes give or take. I was feeling comfortable, feeling strong and had ran the whole loop non-stop. The main climb up the steep hill wasn’t too bad and I felt confident that although it would be harder towards the end of the race, I could still manage a jog up there even in the dark.
I slowed slightly on the second loop which was to be expected with it now being dark. I was still feeling really good but taking it easy and relaxed, but when the 10k runners came speeding up behind, I found myself speeding up a little to make room for them to pass on the narrow sections. I was also starting to catch the tail enders of the 31k and the trail became quite busy. It really threw off my pacing with the speedy 10k-ers and the more leisurely 31k-ers around me but I was still doing ok and knew that I would get some space back again shortly.
The third lap also started well and I was still maintaining a nice, steady pace – crikey, I hadn’t even walked any of the course yet, not even the hills, and I was feeling bloody marvelous! But my tummy had started rumbling and I was getting extremely hungry. I’d been refueling but was only using energy gels – I needed some proper food in me!
When I got to the remote aid station on the 3rd lap, I stopped to take some food – I grabbed a banana and some oranges along with some M&Ms – about 15 minutes later, all the gas that had built up in my tummy started to come out and despite the darkness and lack of runners around me by now, I was extremely self-conscious of letting it out. But it got to the point where something HAD to come out, so I dived off the trail and found a spikey bush to crouch behind, hoping there were no snakes hiding in there ready to pounce on a bare backside!
I felt much better after that but I was still desperately hungry. Andy had been crewing me for the race, making sure to have my gels and drinks bottles ready at the start/end of each lap and as I ended my third lap, I asked him to get me some food and some coke so I could get some calories in me. I left that aid station feeling strong but 100 yards up the trail, blurrggh! Out came the banana, coke, oranges and M&Ms – such a waste as they had tasted so good but my tummy just wasn’t having it.
Oddly enough, I felt much better after being sick and I started my penultimate lap feeling ok.
By now there were even fewer people on the trail but almost everybody I passed seemed to know it was me and they gave me lots of encouragement. My legs were started to tire a little bit and I had stumbled a couple of times but then I hit a flattish, less rocky section of the trail and wham! Down I went like a sack of potatoes, and my poor right knee got another battering as it hit the rocks on the ground. Lots of F’s, f’s, f’s followed and I was so annoyed at myself. How many times do I need to fall during a race??!! I wasn’t exactly “speeding”, I had even just changed the batteries in my headtorch at the aid station so couldn’t blame it on lack of light – I guess I’m just clumsy, or I zone out and don’t pay attention!
After the fall, disappointingly it gave me a reason to walk. My knee was stinging but it wasn’t hurting but there was plenty of blood trickling down my leg to make it look far worse than it actually was. I was now running far too cautiously in an attempt to avoid falling again which affected my pace. When it got a little more rocky, I tentatively stepped over the rocks rather than running and I was getting annoyed that I had slowed down.
I made it up the small hill before hitting the aid station, and then I spent a good 5 minutes cleaning the wound – there was a lot of grit and dirt in the cuts and whilst I didn’t want to waste time going to the medical tent, I also didn’t want it to get infected – I still had another 8 miles to go!
It took me over an hour to complete the fourth lap and I had now gone over 4 hours in time – there was no way I would break the 5 hours that I had hoped for, but I could hopefully still sneak the course record if I just kept moving and my knee didn’t stiffen up.
I grabbed some more food and nibbles at the aid station, Andy saw to it that I was ok and off I set on my final lap. By now I really was bored of the loop. It was gone 11pm, I was hungry, tired and sore from the fall, BUT I only had one lap to go – thank goodness!
I was still overtaking folks on the final lap but I had no idea which race they were doing nor which lap they were on. That’s one of the things I love about night racing – you have no idea what position you are in, you don’t know where your competition is, and so you just have to force yourself to keep moving forward.
Lap 5 was another exciting lap. A couple of miles in, I bumped in to our friend Tom who had stopped on the trail with another runner – there was a rattlesnake blocking the way and he was an angry little fella! The trail was wide enough to pass him by, but whenever somebody got close, he coiled up ready to strike. He was quite small compared to others I have seen and I figured he could have been a baby which can be worse than the adults. Thankfully, a squirt of water from Tom got the little bugger off the trail and we could pass him safely.
Sometimes I get so focused on my running that I forget to look out for the snakes and having just seen one, it put me on my guard for more. I didn’t see another snake, but I did see a giant centipede / millipede scuttling across a rock. He obviously wasn’t snake sized, but seeing something long and thin moving in the beam of the headtorch caused me to jump at a funny angle which led to me once again hitting the ground, fortunately a little more gracefully this time and only a minor bruise on the left side. Dagnammit!
I really, really wanted the race to be over by now. I was starting to run more again and was covering ground pretty well. About a mile before the aid station out on the course, I ran out of water and my mouth became extremely dry. I hadn’t realized how hot it actually was despite being night time, and I had drank something like 4 litres of water since the start. I hiked as fast as I could to get to the top of the hill and ran impatiently towards the aid station, absolutely gagging for a drink. The volunteers were absolutely awesome and so encouraging and better than anything, they filled my bottle with iced water which tasted AMAZING!
It was only 2 miles or so to the finish line now, but that 2 miles seemed to go on forever. I was running the flats and downhills and walking the ups, but where was this bloody finish line? I was also mega thirsty and in need of more water – the iced water I’d had was now warm in my bottle and it tasted like bath water, bring no reprieve whatsoever to my thirst.
But as with any race, the finish line does come eventually and as I rounded the corner, I speeded up just so that I could break the 5 hours 20 minute barrier – official finish time 5 hours 19 minutes 38 seconds – a new course record by 14 minutes, 1st lady and 2nd overall. Job done :-)
Andy was there at the finish line, this time with the pups and they all made a huge fuss of me and tried to clean my bloody knee. We grabbed some tacos and nachos from the food van but my stomach was still playing funny buggers and I had trouble eating – I’d gone past the hunger stage by now and really had no appetite. However, I was able to consume a nice, ice cold beer – YAY!
Two friends finished as 2nd and 3rd lady and I was so happy and honoured to share the podium with Lisa and Meghan. These two ladies are so lovely, both are amazing runners and it was so nice that we all got to receive a prize on Saturday night.
Driving home at 3am, the dogs were shattered, Andy and I were shattered but it had turned out to be a good evening in the end. I was by now starting to have craving for savoury food – a Melton Mowbray Pork Pie with some pickled onions wouldn’t have gone amiss at that point, but I had to settle for a bowl of porridge when I got home with a nice cup of tea.
Crawling into bed at 4am, the dogs snuggled up around me, I drifted in to a restless sleep feeling happy and content.
Mogollon Monster is only 6 weeks away but I feel ok about it and know that I will be ready.
For now though, a huge thanks as ever to Andy and my pups for waiting around until the early hours just so that I can do a mere 32 mile race (!), thanks to coach Adam for suggesting I do this race in the buildup to Mogollon, thanks Mackenzie for sorting out the sort quads, and finally thanks to Aravaipa Running, the events team and all the volunteers, the runners and spectators that make these events so special and so much fun.
See you at the Monster in a few weeks time!