Having returned home from San Diego late Monday night, we had a few days off work to chill out and do some relaxing at home. I had a deep tissue massage with the amazing Mackenzie on Tuesday which helped to alleviate some of the post marathon soreness and I was really happy to have managed a couple of easy runs to aid recovery, which saw me heading up Union Peak at the Sonoran Preserve close to home. It was a hot but beautifully sunny day, and despite the heat and the steep climb, I really enjoyed being back on the trails having been mainly road focused for the past few weeks.
By Friday, we had all our camping gear packed ready to head
north for a couple of nights camping in Flagstaff. Crazy as it seems, I was
racing again on Friday evening, this time the 27km Blackout Trail Race on the
forest trails at Fort Tuthill County Park and with volunteering to help out
with the Big Pine Trail Races early on Saturday morning, we had decided to stay
over on the campground and enjoy the cooler and fresher air that comes with
being at over 7,000 feet. I had also planned to hike Humphreys Peak with Wilson
on the Saturday – at over 12,500 feet, Mt Humphreys is the highest point in
Arizona and I was looking forward to the 9 mile round trip to the summit with
my favourite boy.
|Fun running on Union Peak :-)|
Unfortunately, although the original plan had been to stay for two nights, we would have to return home Saturday evening – a tent located amongst the pines isn’t a place to take a cat, so we had left Khayman back home where we knew he would be safe and well for the next 24 hours having left him before when we’ve been unable to take him somewhere with us.
We arrived in Flagstaff around 4pm and having put the tent up and made camp, we went to make a cup of tea when we realized we had left home without the camping cooker and the utensils so we spent the next hour or so driving around Flagstaff trying to find a camping cooker. My race was due to start at 7pm and I still had to get myself ready, so after an hour with no success (no way were we going to pay premium prices for a stove and utensils from REI!!) we headed back to camp on the basis that Andy would try again whilst I was racing and hopefully our canned beef stew and canned vegetables would still be good to go for tea when I finished my race later in the evening.
|My favourite things - camping amongst the pines :-)|
The camping area was pretty much right next to the start and finish area of the race so we had a casual wander off and just enjoyed the atmosphere whilst waiting to start. There were 3 races on the Friday – a 27km which I would be doing, a 13km and finally the 6km. Each of the races would take runners through the pine forests and with a couple of climbs and elevations of 7,000 feet, it was certainly going to be somewhat different from the other Aravaipa night races I have done. I was excited to be doing this race but I was also a little concerned – it was only 5 days since I had ran the marathon and whilst I was feeling ok, I wasn’t sure if I was recovered enough to do myself justice in a 27km trail race. I wasn’t really concerned about who else would be racing – this was about me competing against myself and seeing how I got on – and with 25 entries for the 27k (the other distances had far more entrants), it wasn’t going to be as competitive as some of the other Aravaipa events but I was still determined to put in the effort and attempt to have a decent run.
|My awesome support crew :-)|
With there being such a small field for the race, I found that I was leading the pack for the first half mile or so with some of the guys reluctant to go ahead. I was surprisingly running a decent pace – my legs felt better than expected but then we had only just started – there was still another 16 miles of running ahead of me, and I was more concerned about any ladies that might actually be close behind. The nature of the course meant that there were sections where we could see who was behind us and I was relieved to see there weren't any ladies in striking distance just yet.
The course consisted of two loops through the pines, all of it perfectly runnable. I was surprised how good my legs felt on the flats and downhills, but on the inclines, I definitely felt the after effects of the marathon in my legs and my pace slowed which allowed some of the men to overtake me. It was still daylight on the first loop and the forest trails looked beautiful as the setting sun filtered through the trees. It was a nice change to see the trails lined with pine needles although there were still some sections that were a little rocky and would need more care when darkness set in within the next hour or so.
The first climb came quickly and although it wasn’t particularly steep, it was quite rocky and I immediately started to feel a little of the post marathon fatigue lingering in my legs. I had no intention of walking but I did slow a little and made steady progress up the hill. A few of the guys had by now passed me, but as the trail flattened out and we meandered through the pine forests with the setting sun enveloping us in its golden light , my pace dramatically improved and I found myself speeding up.
The first loop went by quickly with no mishaps and other than having to walk a small incline after the remote aid station, I was feeling happy and relatively relaxed as I came in to the start/finish area ready to start on my second and final loop.
By now, it had gone dark and I’d had to switch on my headtorch to see where I was going. The full moon provided some light as it shone through the trees and cast shadows on the trail ahead of me, but it wasn't quite enough for me to see properly.
As I ran back out on to the course and followed the forest road along the edge of the campground, there was a chap just ahead of me. I wasn’t paying much attention to him and was just focused on running my own race and wanting to know how mu h of a lead I had. The second placed lady passed us going in the opposite direction – she hadn’t yet started her second lap so I guessed that she must have been around about 5 minutes or so behind me. Now that it was dark and knowing I would likely slow on the final lap not only due to lack of light but also because my legs were starting to feel it, 5 minutes was a little too close for comfort for me and it made me attempt a little surge of pace to increase my lead.
It was then that the chap just ahead started to eff and blind and I realised that we had missed the turn back up the hill and along the x trail. We turned around and were now running blindly in the dark, frantically looking for course markers. Admittedly the first section of the course didn’t seem that obvious even in the evening light an hour or so ago, but now it seemed nigh on impossible to get ourselves back on track. We ran/jogged/walked back the way we thought we had come, wasting a good couple of minutes trying to locate the markers. We spotted the light of another runner through the trees so proceeded to follow them which thankfully brought us back onto the correct route back up the trail.
I was a little pissed off at this point. I was tired, my legs were tired and hurting, the second placed lady was now likely only 2 minutes behind, and I had to run up a sodding hill that was quite rocky but not exactly steep and my legs were winging and protesting on the climb. The chap who had gone the wrong way with me was also doing my head in – it wasn’t his fault, but I was feeling irritable and annoyed and his constant random shouts and noise were driving me nuts. I really needed to get past him but our pace was too similar and I hadn’t got it in my legs to run any harder up that climb.
Even when the trail flattened out he was still closeby along with another chap and although he would start walking, as soon as I tried to pass he would start running again and I selfishly wanted him to bugger off! I just needed my own space both physically and mentally so reluctantly and grudgingly, I picked up the pace to pass men and without looking back, forced myself to keep it going until I hit the next climb shortly after the aid station where I would allow myself a little walking rest. By then, I was hoping that the gap would be wide enough so as not to be bothered by unwanted company. Geez, I was grumpy!
The next mile or two whizzed by and I kept thinking that somebody was right on my tail but it was actually the full moon peeking through the trees as I ran along. It was a beautiful clear night and the moon looked amazing against a gorgeous midnight blue night sky. Despite the fatigue that was now definitely setting in, I was starting to enjoy myself again.
The climb after the aùid station wasn’t that bad the second time around – sure my legs were tired, but knowing that there was another lady likely not too far behind, it motivated me to put in a bit of effort up the hill. I caught a few of the 13km runners in the last couple of miles which now meant that I didn’t know whether the lights following me were theirs or if they belonged to a lady that was racing the 27km - I told myself it was the latter , just to keep me going.
The last mile and a half of the race was relatively flat and even though it was well marked, I was again having trouble spotting the course markings. The trail signposts were reflecting in the beam of my headlamp and a couple of times I almost took the wrong trail, but then I saw a couple more runners ahead which helped, and I knuckled down and started to gain on them.
I remembered there being just another tiny climb through this section of the course before it headed back to the campground and into the finish, and as I started that climb, I overtook another chap who was running in the 27km. I opened a good couple of hundred yards over him, and seeing the campground lights ahead and hearing the loud speakers at the finish line, I picked up the pace again.
The trail then started to climb and became quite rocky – I didn’t remember this at the end of the last loop – but I carried on regardless. I looked behind me a couple of times but nobody seemed to be following me, and then the next thing I know, I crashed face first down onto the rocks, cutting my right knee and badly bruising both legs and arms. It was one of those falls that really knocks you for six – I felt dizzy from the fall even though I hadn’t actually hit my head, I was covered in dust and dirt, and it felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. I sat there on the ground for a minute or so, swearing like a trooper and trying to shake off the feeling of nausea that had swept over me. I finally got up and tried to run up the trail, but my right knee was exceptionally sore and I started to walk. I turned again to see if anybody was following but still there were no lights and I figured that somebody should have caught me by now. It was then that it dawned on me – I had once again taken a wrong turn and started out on the loop again by mistake. I was now not only angry at my clumsiness at taking a tumble, but also about missing the course markings – what the hell is wrong with me?
I made my shaky way back down the trail and almost missed the junction again in my haste to get to the finish line. I hobbled down the last bit of single track trail before hitting the forest road back through the campground and ran / limped my way to the finish which was literally just 600m or so away.
|Bloody and in pain, and sulking! :-)|
I didn’t feel any elation when I finished – I felt so disappointed that I had fallen and taken a wrong turn not once but twice – and felt certain that the lead I held in the ladies race had been lost because of that late race error. I was feeling peed off and just wanted to get to the medical tent to see what damage had been done. It was only when I was sitting there having my wound washed out and Jubilee announced over the speaker that I was the first placed lady in a new course record that I finally started to smile. Thank gawd for that! It sounds awful but I hadn’t even realized that Andy was at the finish line and had followed me into the medical tent – how awful is that?!
Wounds cleaned and bound and my right knee throbbing with pain, I finally found out that I had indeed won the ladies race in 2 hours 36 minutes, taking something like 9 minutes off the old course record. The chap I had passed just half a mile from the end before making my mistake finished 3 minutes ahead of me so I know that I could have ran faster if it weren’t for the error and the fall. But I’m not going to beat myself up about it – I was happy with another victory and a course record, and I really shouldn’t complain.
|Still in pain but feeling happier :-)|
It was great sleeping in the tent that night. We had the 3 dogs with us and both Wilson and Tillie climbed under the covers to stay warm whilst Brandy kept guard. Apart from the pain in my knee, I slept like a log and at 6am the following morning, I was helping out with race registration for the Big Pine Races which were held the next day. It was great to see so many familiar faces and it was good to be putting something back into the sport I love by volunteering.
|3 little munchkins loving the tent - Tillie is just trying to squeeze through :-)|
Of course, the knee injury and inability to walk properly put paid to my planned hike up Humphreys Peak with Wilson. I was disappointed as the weather was beautiful, but I knew that the hike would not be good for the knee and besides, that peak isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – I shall be back in Flagstaff again soon and fully intend to make it to the summit with my furry boy.
Instead, we took the dogs to the dog park in Flagstaff for some off-leash fun and then after lunch, we had a wander around Buffalo Park. The dogs loved it, we loved it, and we had lots of valuable family time together.
|Buffalo Park with the munchkins :-)|
The past week has been amazing what with our visit to the beaches of San Diego and then a weekend in the pines in Flagstaff, and no work all week. OK, my knee is out of action right now – it’s still swollen and I am unable to bend it – but I don’t have any big races now until September, and we have more vacation planned in between which will hopefully involve a visit from Andy’s parents.
For now though, I’m relaxing and letting the knee heal and the body recover from a great start to my racing calendar. Mogollon Monster 100 miles is my next focus and I have plenty of time to get strong and fit for that one. There are a couple of training runs planned up on the Mogollon Rim over the next couple of months and I am sure to take advantage of them and the company so I can familiarize myself with the course. With trips with the family planned and trail running with friends, this summer in Arizona is panning out to be lots of fun.
Happy trails my friends, and happy running :-)