Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Cave Creek Thriller Trail Race

Last Saturday called for a 10km easy run on the trails, and with me still working on getting my bearings here in Phoenix, I once again opted to register for a local trail race that was just a 30 minute drive away. This event was organised by Aravaipa Running which are pretty big here in Phoenix, and with a choice of 4 distances of which one was 11km, it once again fitted perfectly with my training program.

The race took place at Cave Creek Regional Park just north of where we live, and not surprsingly, we were again treated to outstanding views of the Sonoran Desert and its many peaks stretching out into the distance.

Some of the amazing views at Cave Creek
In the couple of days leading up to the event, we'd been told to expect thundery rain, but instead we were greeted with warm temperatures and overcast skies. The cloud cover was a blessing as it gave some protection from the burning sun, but it did little to curb the air temperature which was already around 25 degrees even at 8.15am when the race started.

I knew very little about the race in terms of the course although having seen a profile on the race website, I knew there were a couple of beastly hills that would mean a fair bit of climbing both at the beginning and during the mid part of the race.

The great thing about racing here at the moment is that I don't yet know my competition. Regardless of who turns up, I have absolutely no idea where I'll finish nor what kind of time I can expect to run. I thought it would be interesting to look up the rankings on ultra signup which are always way off the mark but at least it would give me a very loose idea of what time to expect as a minimum - they had estimated my finishing in just over an hour based on my previous results, and when compared to the other entrants, that would place me in the top 3 ladies race.

Not wanting to rely on that too much (they really are way off the mark, seriously!), my plan for the race was to once again just run within myself so as not to jeopardise things for the Las Vegas Marathon. However, if I was within a shot of finishing top 3 towards the end, then I would push on and fight for that podium position.

There were about 100 people in the 11km race and with a narrow start for the first half mile or so, it was pretty tight on the trail. I'd seen a couple of ladies ahead of me and another passed me we started the first of the steep climbs up the hill side. I wasn't too concerned and was thoroughly enjoying the surroundings and the spectacular views. The trail twisted and turned as we followed the contours of the hills and finally, after about 20 minutes of running, it levelled off for a short while before heading gradually back down hill into the valley.

Out on the course
The ladies were still ahead of me, but with the descent came an increase in my pace, and before I knew it, I was gaining on them as well as passing some of the men. The trail was pretty sandy in places but my legs were feeling pretty good and I found i was making really good progress, opening up a gap of around 100m on the other ladies, and by now, I figured I must be in 2nd place. It wasn't until we started the second of the steep climbs that I found out I was actually leading, and I have to say I was extremely surprised.

The second climb was far steeper than the first and it became more rocky as we followed the switchbacks up the hill. I'd had a bit of a bad chest for a few days earlier and I was still coughing up some rubbish and that climb resulted in me wheezing a little as the legs started to get a little heavy.  I started to walk and it was then that once again, I slipped back in to 2nd place as the other lady passed me at good, strong steady pace. 

The hill continued for another couple of hundred metres and having taken a quick glance behind me as we climbed the last of the switchbacks, I knew I was well clear in 2nd place. The problem was, we only had about 2km to go with most of that being downhill, and whilst I hadn't really wanted to get in a race today per se, I couldn't let a race win slip me by, especially when the current leading lady was only about 20 seconds ahead of me.

As we crested the summit of the hill, I went for it. I had no idea whether I was opening up a wide enough gap to secure a win, but I was doing sub 4 minute km pace over that last couple of km, skipping and jumping over rocks and just doing what I could without injuring myself. I could see the finish area in the distance, trying to focus on that rather than getting distracted by the amazing scenery surrounding me. 

I won the ladies race with a gap of just 55 seconds over second place, and was in 9th position overall. Even more surprisingly, I discovered that I was just a minute off the course record - had I known, I may have pushed a little harder up that final hill. In all fairness though, I had never intended to race flat out - I'm saving that for my target races - but it sure was a good feeling to secure a victory in a respectable time on the trails without going too crazy. At the presentation, I was awarded the most amazing hand painted clay trophy of a skull - I've won lots of trophies over the years, but along with my bronze stallion from the 50 mile Sunmart Texas Trail Run, this one has got to be my favourite.

This event was truly amazing and I'm really pleased that I decided to do it, albeit a last minute decision. The organisation was outstanding, the course challenging and interesting, and with a mix of good competition and a few beginners, it was suitable for everybody. I shall certainly be back for more in the future, and I'm really pleased that the 24 hour race I have planned for December is organised by the same people - it's going to be awesome!

So, with just 4 more weeks or so until we head to Vegas for the marathon, I'm growing in confidence and really hoping that I will get the result I'm looking for :-)

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