The Old Dude Runs a 100 - Javalina Jundred Race Report (Oct 31, 2015)

The 50mi Old Pueblo race last Spring was quite an experience, and I really thought that would be it for the long runs for me.  But as the Summer wore on the itch to do something else grew.  OK, maybe just needed something to keep me 'busy', and exploring the trails around the Flagstaff area.  So I decided to commit a couple months to train for the Javalina Jundred (100 mi).  What was I getting myself into?

 

 
My training plan (and miles actually run) for the Javalina Jundred.  Total weekly miles in the far right column.

My training plan (and miles actually run) for the Javalina Jundred.  Total weekly miles in the far right column.

 

The Javalina Jundred is run on a 15.2 mile loop on trails and rough double-track through the Sonoran Desert that gains about 600 feet to the midpoint (the Jackass Junction aid station). The north side of the loop is smooth as silk, wonderfully runable. The south side of the loop is rockier – a bit technical at times, with some opportunities to turn an ankle if you're not paying attention.  Overall, it's a great desert course well-suited to be someone's first 100 miler.  The Start/Finish point of each loop serves as the primary aid station (Javalina Jedquarters), where you can see your crew at the completion of each segment.  There are two other aid stations within 2 miles of Javalina Jedquarters...all are well stocked. The race is composed of six loops around this course, with a final 9 mile short-loop to finish it off. The race is run washing-machine style, where each loop is run in the opposite direction – it’s a unique aspect of this race which makes it wonderfully social - you’re continually passing people on the course, can track the leaders, and see your friends several times during the race.  Quite a bit different from a point-to-point ultra when you can be alone for hours on the course without seeing another soul.

Dawn and I setting up our camp and preparing supplies the day before the race.

Start/Finish of each lap.  They have quite a sense of humor out here!

My training for the event included a lot of long, slow runs, as well as plenty of hiking/walking miles. I was attentive to plan out my hydration and nutrition, and was determined to keep a close eye on how my body was responding to the abuse.  I was acutely aware of how the smallest of pains and negative signals can quickly grow into very large problems if they’re not attended to. With 100 miles and about 29 hours out on the course, I didn't want to be dealing with any issues that I couldn't manage. I was most concerned about nutrition/hydration, blisters, and chaffing (I've fallen victim to them all at one point or another).

 

At the starting line with over 500 other runners.

 

The Race is On!  Loop 1:  Started off the race in the cool pre-dawn darkness – temperatures in the 50s with forecast high temps in the upper 70s – perfect weather!  The first lap felt very good, I adopted the typical run 5 – walk 1 min strategy – and took it very conservatively. My goals was to run the first loop in 3.5 hours (ended up timing it about right).  Settled into a pace and met a couple of other runners going about the same speed (Eve and Shannon) and ran for them for much of the loop.  Can’t tell you how much it helps to run with other folks.

We're off!  About 5 miles into the race as the sun rises.

Typical scenery along the trail.

The sunrise was beautiful in the clear desert air, and it was exhilarating. Just couldn’t quite grasp that I’d still be out here to watch another sunrise 24 hours later.  I had an electrolyte drink (Tailwind) in my hydration pack and a vanilla-flavored supplement (Hammer Perpetuem) in my carried water bottle, and was focused on drinking a lot early in the race. The combination of the two really didn’t agree with my stomach, but I pressed on with the combination.  Snacked at every opportunity and aid station. I had the honor of running with Gordy Ainsleigh (pioneer of the 100mi ultramarathon and the Western States race) for a part of this lap – now that was inspirational!  He's still rocking it on the ultra scene at 68 years!

Feeling fresh at Mile 12 going down that smooth singletrack.

At Mile 19.

I ran loop 2 with Eve.  These next two laps were going to take us through the heat of the day.  Knowing this, Eve was determined to take it easy and save reserves for later.  I bucked my desire to go faster and joined in her wisdom. My plan was to finish the 2nd and 3rd loops in 4 hours each.  Eve is an astonishing athlete, and has an amazingly fast hiking pace – it was a relentless - kept me going well but not too hard.  I stuck with the Tailwind / Hammer combination – but I was tiring of it quickly (stomach was, well, unsettled).  We jogged/walked up the hill to the high point on the loop, re-applied sunscreen at the boisterous Jackass Junction aid station, refilled the water bottle and pack,snacked on potatoes dipped in salt, PJ sandwiches, then decided to take it slow on the downhill 8.5 miles back to the starting point. 

 

Getting supplies from my drop bag at the VERY well organized Javalina Jedquarters.  Kudos to the race directors.

 

Probably a good decision. My legs/body really wanted to break out and run this section downhill, but knowing my goal was still over 70 miles away made the decision to reel it in.  At the aid station about two miles from the start/finish point, I switched to straight ice water in the hydration pack – Wow – what a difference that made.  I was sick of my own electrolyte drinks by this point, and NOTHING tasted better at that point than the cold fresh water in that pack.  I felt alive, and got a second wind and pushed it in to complete lap 2.  We completed the loop in just about 4 hours – right on my goal pace – it was now 1:30 pm, and hot down at Javalina Jedquarters.   I was feeling good - no problems at all with the feet, legs, stamina, or head.  Onward!

Loop 3:  Again, Eve kept up a blistering hiking pace up the hills of Lap 3 – this was good for me.  Again it was relentless, but reasonable.  One thing about participating in an ultra (for a slow dude like me) is that you have to be mindful of the cut-off times; you just can’t stop and rest for a long time.  My goal was to finish in around 29 hours which would allow for some slower loops, but there was no taking it easy.  I wasn’t too tired at this point, and my feet / muscles were feeling OK.  Always had to remind myself I...must...keep....going.  Reached Jackass Junction aid station (high point about ½ way around the loop) around 4 PM.

 

Eve and I midway through Loop 3 (around 39 miles into the race).

 

After a quick bite and refresh at Jackass Junction, we ran on.  The atmosphere was awash in the late afternoon turn to relative coolness, and it was extremely rejuvenating.  At this time I really had to stretch it out, kick up my pace and run – let the legs run free.  I ran through the evening and sunset back down that silky north half of the loop.  These were my best, and favorite miles of the run!  It was a beautiful sunset, cooling down nicely, and of course I had to stop several times to take photos.  Ah well!   Made it back at 5:45 PM…which was about 15 minutes behind my scheduled pace.

Sunset at around Mile 42.  Loop 3

Coming into Javalina Jedquarters at the end of Loop 3.  Tired, but feeling good. Craving burgers and fries!

Coming into Javalina Jedquarters at the end of Loop 3.  Tired, but feeling good. Craving burgers and fries!

There’s something very special about the smell and taste of fresh grilled meat 46 miles into a race – and the burgers and pizza felt heaven-sent at that point.  I took it all, and ate to my heart’s content.  I feel lucky, I've never had any stomach issues eating heartily during my long training runs or races.

 

Katherine joins me for Lap 4! 

 

Loop 4:  There are special angels in the world, and they are called pacers. Nothing can pick you up better after over 11 hrs of running than having a good friend join you in the journey! Katherine paced me for the 4th lap (miles 46 - 62), and she truly was the best combination of angel and warrior.  In the deepening night as the stars started to come out and a chill tinged the air, Katherine was faithful in keeping me on pace.  It was dark and my body was starting to reject the idea of running through the night (instead of the usual couch and coffee), and reject the thought of any of the food I was carrying.  Thank goodness the aid stations were sooo well stocked.  Katherine kept me going up the hills nice and quick – kept me on pace. It felt good. 

Grabbed a grilled cheese sandwich or two (heaven sent!) at Jackass Junction, and kept it going through the darkness for the 2nd half of the loop.  Lap 4 was completed in just over 4hr 30 min.  I had completed the first 62 miles in 16hr 19 min – just over my goal of 16 hrs for the first 62 miles.

Dance party going on in the 'cage' at Jackass Junction.

Grilled cheese, boiled potatoes, and lots of Halloween costumes.

Loop 5:  I picked up Dawn as a pacer on Lap 5 (is was now 10:50 pm). Dawn did a wonderful job pacing on this lap, and keeping me going aggressively.  I ran where I could - with Dawn keeping a great pace that pushed me well up the hills.  After so many miles/hours on the trail I now found myself zoning out – and started the battle with exhaustion and lack of sleep. To keep me focused and on the trail I concentrated on the back of Dawn’s reflective shoes - mile after mile – it was simple, and kept me on track. All I had to do was concentrate on her shoes, simplify and focus, she’d know the way and keep me out of trouble. There were times that I couldn't go in a straight line – veering off track without noticing (watch out for that cholla!).  Also had my first hallucination at this point (or was it a dream?).  On a positive note the Jackass Junction aid stations was really rocking loud now; those folks had a good ol’ dance party going strong for us all – music loud, lights bright, and enthusiastic staff.  Thanks guys!  Oh, and more grilled cheese!

Loop 6:  Katherine took over for loop six (78 miles in with 24 to go!) at around 3:30 am.  I was bushed, but couldn't afford to lose any time and had to stay on the pace needed to complete the race.  I was so tired – couldn’t focus. At all.  I had my first sleep-walking experience, and just couldn't keep my eyes open while I was moving. I had also lost any semblance of an appetite. Not hungry for anything at this point.  But I knew I had to get some nutrition and energy...and started eating the GUs and other Gels that I brought for the race – and that did the trick.  They kicked in, cleared my head, and got me going on this lap.  After Jackass Junction the sun finally began to lighten the western horizon…and was blessed with another beautiful Arizona sunrise as Katherine and I posed like saguaros.

Finished this lap in 5 hours, we were closing in on a finish!

My 2nd sunrise of the race.  Beautiful!

My 2nd sunrise of the race.  Beautiful!

The last lap – 9 miles to go!  God bless Dawn who paced me on this last short lap.  Started around 8:20am, and it was already getting very warm.  For the first time I realized that I was actually going to finish this beast – I had made it through the first 91 miles in 26.5 hours, leaving me with a very reasonable 3.5 hours to finish the last 9.  I could take it 'easy'.  That thought filled my mind, and I strove to enjoy what I could of that last lap.  Dawn and I passed several runners in the first 2 miles…then everyone else seemed to turn into Supermen (or Wonderwomen).  I couldn’t believe how many other participants were turning up the throttle with 5 miles to go, cranking it up and running hard for the finish.  What was up?  These folks had guts!  I tried to pick up the pace as they blew past me, but just fell short of maintaining any sort of run. Mentally, I was done. Kaput. Dawn noticed that I hadn't been eating at all over the past couple hours, and encouraged some consumption, which did help my energy. After what seemed like hours in the increasing furnace of the day, the end was in sight.  And suddenly, I found another gear.  I ran.  I ran hard to the finish line – and it felt good.  Where was that feeling/energy 4 miles ago??  As I've come to learn...so much of running is in the mind, the body can push far past what the mental blocks that we put up.  I pushed through the finish at 29:16:23 to the cheers of the great crowd at the finish.

 

My trophy - the 100mi Finisher Buckle!

 

Epilogue:  It’s Monday afternoon, 24 hours after the completion of the Javalina Jundred – and surprisingly, I’m feeling well.   Yesterday evening after driving home from the race I couldn’t move, my muscles tied in knots.  Nothing was going to get me off the couch - I had the chills, immensely tired and shivering in my warm living room.  I took an hour-long hot bath that felt heavenly (I still don’t see the attraction of ice-baths). That evening I fell asleep through the deciding game of the World Series (unbelievable and inexcusable!).  Now the day after the race I’m sore, a bit stiff, but feel great.  My mind is rejuvenated – I feel like I can do anything, and am up for the challenge for another endurance event. I never thought I’d say this, but the Javalina Jundred has whet my appetite for another 100mi ultra.  And yes, I’ve put in for Western States.

Again, I have to thank Dawn, Katherine, who paced me on this journey.  Without their determined pace and company, I don't think I would have made the cutoff.  Thank you so much!

Some final thoughts...

  • Great course, wonderful directors, aid stations stocked with large variety of good food (and even better people).  Well done!
  • 195 / 369 men finished (53% finish rate).   86 / 147 women finished – (58% finish rate)
  • I came in 265th out of 518 overall (counting those that didn't finish makes me feel better!).
  • Best aid station foods?  Burgers. Hot Dogs. Grilled cheese, Coke and Mtn Dew!
  • Devon Yanko – can you believe it?  She's a beast.
  • Somehow avoided stumbling into a cactus.
  • No blisters! 
  • Recovery was much faster than anticipated.
  • The mind game of being 'tired', then finding energy when the end was in sight.
  • Very cold temps late at night (loop 6)!  Must have been been in the low 40s in some of the ravines. Would have liked to have had my gloves – maybe another layer, but ultimately I was fine. 
  • Mirna Valerio singing while she ran during that beautiful sunrise in the middle of loop 6.  So inspirational!
  • Really appreciated the looped course – allowed me to easily break it up into ‘pieces’ that I could mentally navigate.
  • How I couldn't think clearly when I was so tired.  Honestly couldn’t tell Dawn how to make the flash work on my little camera!
  • Top finisher was Giblin Paisley – who was only 1 min 34 sec off Hal Koerner’s record (13:49:17).  He was doing around 8 minute miles for almost 14 hours – simply amazing.

Yes, I'll probably be back next year.

The Old Pueblo 50 mi - The Great Surprise of My First Ultramarathon

So here I was, in the cool pre-dawn darkness of the Sonoran Desert, quickly shuffling through a small crowd to the starting line of the Old Pueblo 50.  My first ultramarathon.  My first race longer than 13.1 miles.  It would have been absurd to even think I would have been standing here even a year or two earlier...my path was simply not headed in this direction.  If you ask me why I did it - I'm not sure I could give you a good answer.  It's somewhere between the desire to do something seemingly impossible, to pushing myself beyond what I thought I could do.  A part of me wanted to attempt the greatest challenge I could muster; go beyond exhaustion, into the pain cave, and show myself that I had the metal to move through it to the other side. I wanted to know what that kind of 'victory' felt like - to endure greatly, and see through to the goal.

But after all of the training, the hours spent in preparation, the greatest surprise was that I did not accomplish what I had set out to experience.  I did not conquer the pain cave.  I came away with something more...

The idea came to me to run this race in the early Fall of 2014 as I was recovering from yet another minor injury that plagued me after I started running about 3.5 years ago.  I had plans to run a marathon at least twice in the past couple years…but injuries of one kind or another took me down and the races never materialized.  After a particularly tough bout of knee pain in February of 2014, I was told by my doctor that I had osteoarthritis, and that I should give up running.  After a summer mediocre training, I started playing with the idea of doing a 50 miler while I was still 50 years old...it sounded fun, and a bit crazy. Right down my line.  Then I came down with pneumonia in late October, that took me out of running for almost another month. But my birthday wasn’t until late March, and I still had time to train if all went well.  So I determined to ramp up the training fast after my pneumonia, and find a 50 miler as close to my birthday as I could.  The Old Pueblo 50 miler on March 7th fit the bill…and I set my mind to make it happen. 

I put together a 14 week training plan starting the last week in November, combining the features of several ultra-training plans I found on-line.  The ramp up to high mileage was much faster than I'd ever done, and surely enough to invite more injuries.  I combined my running with cross-training to ease the strain on my knees.  It was a mild winter in Flagstaff, so I was able to run the local trails quite a bit (or down in the Sedona red rock country).  Surprisingly, the training went well and mostly without injury, and I was able to complete 90 percent of my projected mileage (517 miles on the trails and treadmill) and cross training (stationary bike).  I learned a lot listening to the stories of other ultramarathoners on various podcasts, and reading a lot online. I also got through over six seasons of 'How I Met Your Mother' while on the treadmill.

 

My completed training plan on the 'fridge.

The 'kit' that served me well on the race.

 

My goal for the race was to finish in around 13 hours. It seemed very doable for my first ultra, even with the grueling elevation gain of the course (7,500 ft ascent and 7,500 descent, average grade 6%).   I had planned to take a 5/1 strategy (run 5 minutes / walk 1 minute) through the race…but the elevation profile made this plan pretty much untenable. I also hoped to take a photo at least every mile - if not to help document the event, to also help keep my pace very deliberate through what would be the longest run in my life.  I imagined a series of 50 selfies showing the slow beating of a runner to the verge of submission...

Dawn and I were up at out of the hotel by 415 AM, and arrived at Kentucky Camp (starting line) around 5:30.  Got my bib (#69), dropped off my three drop bags, gave Dawn a hug, and got in line -  for the restrooms. 

The Race - Start to AS3  [section completed in around 40 min]

The race started off beautifully.  I had the great fortune to visit the restroom just prior to the start…OK…almost TOO close to the start.  I hustled out of the lone porta-potty, and barely had time to buckle my hydration vest before the gun sounded.  I was comfortably in the back of the pack and strutted up the first hill out of Kentucky Camp to the glow of the full moon and a hundred headlamps.  This was FUN!  I was pumped. This initial three mile section is mostly uphill…climbing toward the top of the ridge.  It was a beautiful and relatively warm morning (near 40 degrees or so).  Got into a good rhythm, had my iPod started, clicking off the mileage, and primed with the best playlist I'd ever constructed, and multiple podcasts to keep me inspired.  I chatted with several folks on the way up, and my first ultra was on!

With the dawn approaching, the landscape started to unfold.  The rolling foothills of the Santa Ritas were wonderful to behold, and I reached the aid station at mile 3 (AS3) before I realized it.

From the starting line to Aid Station 3mi.

AS3 to AS7  [section completed in 59 minutes]

The short section between AS3 and AS7 was along a beautiful section of the AZ trail; a wonderful little single-track section which has to be about my favorite of this course.  Most runners will hit this section as the sun is rising – as the golden light hits the beautiful rolling grassland / shrub / tree landscape, the beauty just pulls you along.  It’s not overly technical, definitely runnable, and in this direction at least…mostly downhill.  With the sunrise light and the amazing landscape, I was feeling great.  I got a bit silly, and started talking to fellow runners about feeling like we were riding on unicorn rainbows (don't ask) – my spirits were high, but I was doing it!  I had tagged along with some wonderful company, and continued on my way walking the brief uphills to conserve energy, and jogging the other sections.

The breathtaking scenery of the AZ singletrack section spills out to aid station 7/29 on a well-maintained dirt road.  The folks there at AS7/29 were great – hooting and hollering, cowbells banging, making a lot of noise, and they knew what to do with a modern hydration pack!  (Even squeezed out all of the air so there wouldn’t be any gurgling in the bladder – yeah!).  Dawn was waiting for me there with a big smile and encouragement.  I was supposed to re-stock with plenty of tailwind/Fluid/snacks and put on additional sunscreen, but in the excitement of the race only grabbed one granola bar, forgot the additional sunscreen, and quickly got on my way. I did manage to dump my headlamp and long sleeve shirt. I was a bit amped up, and wanted to get on the trail with the group I had been with.   **arrived AS7 at 1hr 39min**

From Aid Station 3mi to Aid Station 7mi.  The Arizona Trail at sunrise...could it get any better??

AS7-AS13 [section completed in 1hr 11min]

For some reason I have relatively little to remember about this section.  I was running with Nathan and three women (sorry – can’t remember names!), doing mostly a 5/1 or so, and just chatting up a storm.  This is a very nice rolling section that you can really get going at a good pace.  Mostly downhill.  Lots of woods kept it shaded, occasionally running in a shallow valley.  I continued to feel very good, no hint of any knee, foot, or stomach issues.  High clouds continued to thicken a bit, keeping the direct sun at bay.  A quick look at the time verified I was on time for my goal.   ** arrived at AS13 at 2hr 50min**

From Aid Station 7mi to Aid Station 13mi...on wonderful rolling roads in and out of the trees.

AS13-AS19  [section completed in 1hr 35min]

This is an interesting section!  A long uphill to Gunsight pass demanded a lot of powerwalking for me, and it was here that I pulled ahead and left the group I had been running with, and was now on my own.  I was really surprised just how spread out the field was at this point.  Couldn’t see anyone for some time… I was on my own now, and as it turned out, for much of the next 10 miles or so.  Gunsight Pass was beautiful!  Very expansive views looking all the way back to Tucson on this clear morning.  After all of the uphill on a smooth road I was hoping to catch some nice downhill from Gunsight…but the first mile or so was very steep, technical, dangerously rocky downhill which really demanded some caution, so I took it easy walking down and picking my way down the steepest parts until it leveled off a bit.  After a ½ mile or so could get back into a rhythm, and get rolling!

Passed a couple other folks when it leveled off, including a triathlete that appeared to be taking a friend on her first 50 miler.  As things flattened out a bit we were on some flat straight roads, and could see a few other runners way ahead, pushing toward AS19.  I was feeling a bit tired at this point…but the day had remained mercifully cool with the cloud cover…with temperatures just creeping to around 60 at this point.  I was very deliberate to be drinking enough…and was trying to be sure to also drink enough Tailwind to get the electrolytes I needed.

Filled up all on water (hydration pack / carry) at AS19, enjoyed a couple bites of sandwich / pretzels / etc, and got on my way for the next stretch to the base of the big up hill at AS25.      ** arrived AS19 at 4hr 25min**

From Aid Station 13mi to Aid Station 19mi...up and over Gunsight Pass.

AS19-AS25  [section completed in 1hr 15min]

This lovely section on the floor of the valley was largely runnable on well-maintained dirt roads.  It was heating up…but the cloudcover kept it comfortable. Here I caught up with a few other folks, a couple of younger runners, and had the chance to pet a horse that was on one of the roads apparently loving the attention from the occasional runners.  I was tired, but feeling good and thankful that it was cloudy and relatively cool.  A refreshing breeze was starting to pick up! 

Rolled into AS25 hoping that Dawn made it down here to meet me!  She was there along with another great aid station crew.  I still had quite a bit of water  from the last aid station, and knowing it was only about 4 miles to AS29, I held off on refilling this time around.  In retrospect, I probably should have filled up again here.     ** arrived AS25 at 5hr 40min**

From Aid Station 19mi to Aid Station 25.  Getting a bit tough out there...

AS25-29  [section completed in 1hr 1min]

This short but grueling section takes you up a very well maintained dirt road, gaining about 1000 feet.  It’s a long slog, and I hiked almost this entire hill…jogging occasionally when I could muster it.  There was a woman about 100yards ahead of me who was really hitting this section hard, and it was nice having her up there pulling me along.  My goal was to try to keep up with her even though I was quite tired. It was at this time that the hills were starting to take a toll on my legs, I could feel them wear a bit, and it was tiring.  But I made it to AS29 (it seemed to take a very long time), where the heavens opened up and they had...

…BACON!!  I guess I’ll consider myself lucky – my stomach doesn’t mind most any food during a run.  And man, they had bacon, and there was little else that sounded so heaven-sent!      ** arrived AS29 in 6hr 41min**

From Aid Station 25mi to Aid Station 29mi.  Just about all uphill....

AS29-33 [section completed in 1hr 13min]

I should say at this point that during my training Raspberry-lemonaide Fluid quickly became one of my all-time favorite trail run drinks. As it turned out…that is exactly what they were serving as the electrolyte drink at the aid stations!  Woohoo!  I topped off both waters (Fluid in backpack, and a Fluid with extra Tailwind in the carrier), stuffed in a few granola bars, and was on my way.  So good to see Dawn again there at 29!!  My shoes actually felt great – I was really planning on changing into my ultralights by this time, but in truth, the trail was very, very rocky, and my feet felt fine, other than a tightness around the top of my left foot that I tried to relieve, but wasn’t ever able to totally remove it.

So it was at this point that you retrace four of the most memorable miles on the course – the Arizona trail high on the ridge.  It was so beautiful at sunrise, now in the afternoon warmth (and uphill) it was more difficult.  Most of this section was rolling uphill, so I ran a lot of it, but walked as needed.  I found myself trying to keep ahead of a woman who caught me on the uphill to AS29 – perhaps it was a bit of pride, but I had passed about 15 folks since AS13, and I didn’t want to give up any positions if I didn’t have to. We ended up passing a few folks in this section, but generally the two of us stayed together.  It was a lovely section…one of my favorites.  I was feeling tired, but not hurting.

Rolled into AS33 and saw a few runners sitting, a few others resting, and for the first time came across some folks that really looked like they had hit their wall.  Knowing this was a long section, I filled to the hilt with liquids, ate some nice salted potatoes, and got on my way again.      ** Arrived at AS33 at 7hr 53min**

Back on the Arizona Trail from Aid Station 25mi to Aid Station 33mi.

AS33-40 [section completed in 1hr 46min]

I was pretty tired leaving AS33, but I could still run well.  This is a lovely section, mostly on dirt roads and the occasional single-track section.  My thoughts were starting to wonder a bit…and at times it became kind of a grunt.  This was the portion of the race that I was more attentive with how ‘long’ the segment was, and wondering why the 7 miles felt like so much more!  Passed a couple other folks on this section, one who really seemed beat, and asked if there was anything I could get for her…but she confirmed she was fine.  I remember feeling OK on this segment, able to keep up my slow run for a lot of it, but certainly hiking the ups.  I was at the point here where I was looking forward to some uphill sections, to use as an excuse to pull up off my jog to a walk.  Running was starting to hurt.

You get into some very remote country here, and ran into a couple of prospectors (prospecting families) along the creek on this section!  Campers huddled next to the river, with people knee deep in the water moving a lot of gravel.   It was nice still having some cloud cover, and for the first time, actually felt a bit of a chill.  Continued to play tag a bit with the woman who caught me at AS29 – it was nice having someone nearby, for company, and inspiration to push me along.  She passed me around MM37 when I dropped my camera taking the mile photo!  It was broke for good now, and down for the count!  Oh well, there were other options...and Dawn would have a spare camera at the Mile 40 Aid Station if needed.

It hit me for the first time late in this section that I was actually going to finish this run, and likely hit my goal of 13 if I kept up a good pace!  Woohoo! 

Knowing my son Brian was going to join Dawn at the next aid station really pumped me up, and I started to run very well at the end of this section.  I started feeling that I had more energy. The trail crossed a stream, and climbed out of a ravine to the aid station 40.  I ran up the hill to the aid station, feeling strong, with Brian and Dawn cheering me on.  It really was the first hill that I really attacked all day…and it felt...GREAT.  I came running into the aid station with one thing on my mind…more bacon. I needed more bacon. But alas, this was apparently the first and only vegan aid station on the course.  I wanted MEAT!  Oh well, I took a pass on the hummus, grabbed some other goodies, hugged Dawn and Brian, chatted for a bit, and started on a 3-mile run up canyon on a dirt road. I felt very good at this point, and confidently jogged up the road.    **Arrived at AS40 in 9hr 39min**

Aid Station 33mi to Aid Station 40mi.  The race was really starting to feel long now...but still felt good.

AS40-46  [completed section in 1hr 45min]

This section consisted of a 3 mile run up a canyon road, then up and over a hill to an adjoining canyon, and back down a parallel valley to AS46 (supposedly only a hydration station), which was within 1/3 mile across the valley of AS40.  It was a long slog up the road for those three miles…I ran a lot of it, and hiked when needed…but generally felt good, but a few more parts of my worn body were starting to bark.  Started to really feel some uncomfortable bum-chaffing, pain on the top of my left foot, and what seemed to be a blister on a toe, but heck, I could grunt through that.  I was nowhere near the pain cave, so I kept moving forward.  I was now confident that I was going to finish this race in my goal time - maybe even closer to 12 hours!  The valley felt long…and I was convinced that they mis-labelled the AS mileages…but after about 3.5 miles made it to the top of the ridge between the two canyons.  Absolutely lovely up here…just gorgeous in the light of the late afternoon.  It was getting cool, with a breeze blowing harder.  I passed a completely bonked runner on top, then another dragging their feet with apparently very little energy left.

Here’s where the race really began to get wondrous.  The trail/road was beautiful and runnable, and I was feeling great as I crested the ridge and started striding down the canyon.  And for the first time, I was really lengthening my stride, picking up to a speed that I hadn’t had all day.  During the part of the race that I anticipated the pain cave, I was experiencing some sort of a 'runners high'.  Those 3 miles or so down the canyon to AS46 felt SOOO good, I really can’t explain how wonderful I was feeling.  This was my biggest surprise of the race. I pushed faster down the gentle valley…and my body responded.  During this period I was honestly feeling a solid runner’s high…for the first time in the race.  Simply amazing. 

The road down the canyon turned into beautiful soft singletrack, and soon spilled out to the hydration station that was AS46.  Brian was there!  And so was BACON!  Oh god in heaven…what better present could be delivered on golden wings than bacon at this point!!  Against the judgement of those at the station I inhaled 5 beautiful, crispy, greasy, saltilicious pieces of bacon.  Then I noticed the time…it was already about 5:25pm (11:25 hours into the race), and quickly realized that I would finish comfortably around 12:30…so the pressure was off to break 12 hours..which was nice.  I could keep a comfortable pace, and really enjoy the last 5 miles of the race.

It was also at this time that the aid station worker made a startling discovery (to him – he really was tickled by this)…I was wearing Bib #69, and I was the 69th runner through at that time!   What was really shocking to me was that I was actually 69th…I had NO idea I was anywhere but near the back of the pack – so this took me by surprise.  Wow.                ** arrived at AS46 in 11hr 24min**

Aid Station 40mi to Aid Station 46mi.  Someone didn't quite measure this one right...I could swear this felt MUCH longer than 6 miles...

AS46-Finish 51 [finished section in 1hr 8 min]

The last 5 miles of the race were peaceful and quiet in the deepening afternoon of this long day…what a blessed way to end the race.  My mind was very quiet and enjoying the run. Rolling single-track with one section of smooth dirt road…mostly level with only one ascent of a couple hundred feet.  All runnable, beautiful at sunset…getting dark…with a cooling breeze increasing, and no pressure to really beat myself up to break some time goal.  Running the position of your racing Bib had to be worth something, so I was looking  behind me a couple times to see if anyone would catch me and bump me down to 70, but after my fast pace from MM42 to 46, I doubted if anyone was too close.  These last miles passed very well.  The sunset displayed a few distant showers, with the last rays of the sun catching one and creating a rainbow in the last light…a perfect end!  As the last miles concluded and I was closing in on the finish line, I felt tired (of course), but good - and never even close to the anticipated pain cave.  I ran most of this section, wanting to ‘honor’ the experience and the race by taking it in hard.  Seeing the ‘1 mile to go’ sign was encouraging…and after taking a quick selfie by the sign…I strode on.  “No pain cave, no stopping” I told myself as I jogged on through a wonderful stretch of singletrack through a grassy meadow…then uphill for the last mile or so.  The final 100 yards were ran as if I was just tapping a rich store of energy – my legs loved the full strides, even uphill…reaching for the finish line.  Dawn and Brian cheered me on…and I ran full through the finish, and joked while turning my finger in a circle above my head, saying ‘one more time!’.  Inside...I felt like I could do it. **finished in 12hr 32min!**

The last 5 miles.  Feelin' good, and running hard.

Afterthoughts, Observations, and...

  • The course was very well marked - no problems at all.  Kudos to the organizers and volunteers setting up the course!
  • It was a rocky course in many places...especially after Gunsight pass.  Had to watch your step.
  • Used my Altras for the entire race...I thought for sure I'd be changing into my ultralights at some point!
  • Absolutely shocked that I didn't listen to anything on my iPod at all.  I had prepared numerous playlists and podcasts, and trained almost exclusively with music...but it just didn't feel 'right' to listen to anything during the race.  Never missed it at all.
  • It made such a difference having Dawn and Brian there...gave me such a lift when I needed it most!
  • Weather was PERFECT.  Relatively warm, clouds, nice breeze.  Couldn't have asked for more.
  • Did anyone else notice all of the little black caterpillars all over the roads?
  • I ran better (and harder) when I was running with others.
  • Did pretty well taking a photo every mile - till I dropped my camera around Mile 35!   And not sure how I spaced out photos on MM41,42.
  • I really slept well the 3 nights leading to the race...so thankful for that, I know it made a difference.
  • My stomach felt great all through the race.  Bacon, ham/cheese sandwiches, Tailwind, granola bars - all tasted great and gave me no problems.
  • To the great surprise of the workers at aid station 46, I was in 69th place wearing bib #69!   Not sure how I ended the race in 68th.
  • OK...I did over-prepare the drop bags.  But better over-prepare, then end up without what I need!
  • Swiped a rare burger off the grill after the race...oh yeah.
  • My memories of Mile 43-46 'high' I felt are going to carry me a LONG way...that truly was magical.

26 Miles Along the West Tonto

I've hiked this stretch of trail in the Grand Canyon once before.  Without a doubt, its one of my favorite hikes - long, beautiful, quasi-remote, and expressing the qualities that make the Grand Canyon so magnificent.  If you are looking for a day hike that takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of the Canyon, and have the legs to get you along 26 miles of trail - this one is for you!

Last year I walked this path alone;  this year, I took my girlfriend Dawn.  We planned to catch the 5:00 AM shuttle out to Hermit's Rest, start hiking down the Hermit Trail by 5:30 AM, follow the West Tonto to the Bright Angel trail, then back up to the Rim by sunset (6:30 PM).  All went as planned, and it was another memorable, magnificent hike.

 

Starting the hike at Hermit's Rest - 5:30 AM.

Sunrise...

On the Hermit Trail looking down Canyon.

 

One interesting aspect about starting a hike down into the Canyon on the Hermit Trail is that the trail doesn't plunge directly toward depths of the Canyon on the outset (like the Bright Angel, Kaibab, etc), but rather heads 'up' the Hermit drainage as it descends, finally reaching the junction with the Dripping Springs Trail after about 2 miles (I've twice now thought that maybe I'd missed the Hermit Trail junction in the semi-twilight, only to run into it at the lowest point where it crosses the little side canyon that the Waldron Trail crosses).

After the junction with the Dripping Springs trail, the Hermit stays on the west side of the canyon without losing much elevation for about 3 miles.  On this morning it was windy.  Real windy.  I mean, the type of windy that can blow you over if you're not paying attention.  Where the trail crossed over Lookout Point, we almost met that fate.  Dropping a few yards down past the point took us out of the gale, but it was well within earshot.  Here's Dawn down on the West Tonto, where the wind was gusting pretty well later that morning...

 
 

Made it down the Hermit and to the junction of the Tonto in about 3.5 hours...and took 15 min to enjoy the view and a few Jelly Bellies.  The flowers were beautiful, the cacti were just starting to bloom.  Even saw some wild orchids along the side of the trail...

 

Junction of the Hermit and Tonto Trails.

I believe these are wild orchids...

 

Once we were on the West Tonto, we had about 12-13 miles of hiking until we reached the Bright Angel Trail at Indian Gardens...this is the heart of this hike.  Three large drainages are crossed along the way (Monument Creek, Salt Creek, and Horn Creek).  Each has it's own personality, and adds to the interest of the hike.

 

Looking west along the Tonto, toward the Hermit Creek drainage.  you can see the trail snaking up the saddle just right of the center of the photograph.

Along the Tonto, near the Inner Gorge.

Looking east toward the Horn Creek drainage.

At the junction near Indian Gardens.  All that's left is 5 miles and 3000' up to the Rim!

 

We hiked well along the Tonto, stopping occasionally to enjoy a view.  The weather was just about perfect, hovering in the 70s with a stiff breeze that kept us cool.   We reached Indian Gardens around 3:30 PM, where a good rest and re-fill of our water was in order to get us the last 3000' and 4.5 miles to the Rim.

It actually went very quickly, and felt strong the entire walk up to the Rim - making it to the top right in time to enjoy a beautiful sunset.

26 miles and 13 hours later - back up on the Rim! 



Art isn't easy...

I can definitely relate to the line in the musical Sunday in the Park with George:

Art isn't easy. 

I've been working (ok, that's putting a fine note on it - struggling is a much better word) for a couple weeks on developing a gallery based on clouds, weather, atmospheric textures.  I'm not close to converging the concept yet, but it's heading toward a more abstract bent, perhaps focused on the patterns and atmospherics of the evening sky.  I've accumulated a few of the images in my gallery here, and will continue to work and refine the concept over the next month or so.

Right now, I'm working in 16x9 ratios (the weather seems to accommodate that well), but may end up with 1x1 to emphasize pattern and texture, and remove the 'landscape' component naturally inherent in the wider format.  We'll see...I've bounced around a lot with this concept, and haven't been even close to satisfied with what I've come up with.  I sense this is headed somewhere productive (let's hope!!) - if not, well, I guess I'll have some nice backgrounds for my computer desktop :)

Here's a few of my favorites from the developing gallery...

Memories of a Wet Spring...

It's been very dry in northern Arizona this year.  Since January we've only recorded 1.84" of moisture here in Flagstaff (rain and melted snow) - we should normally receive over 6" by April 1st!  There have been few wildflowers in the lowlands, no significant snow storms, a few early wildfires, and the dust is already aloft in the seasonal winds that bluster every Spring.  It started me to reminisce about a few of the wet Winters and Springs we've had recently - so I pulled a couple photographs from the great Spring of 2005 to tide me over, and refresh my memory of what GREEN looks like in Arizona until the season turns again.  We'll probably have to wait until the monsoon to see much of a green-up, but we'll keep our fingers crossed.

One of my favorite poppy images.  Near Lake Pleasant after an incredible winter of rain and snow.

Everything in the desert was looking healthy in the Spring of 2005.

The poppies were everywhere, and blossoming for weeks around Lake Pleasant north of Phoenix.

These beautiful colors were found near Picacho Peak...

These beautiful colors were found near Picacho Peak...

Flagstaff - The World's First International Dark Skies Community

In 1991, Flagstaff Arizona was designated the worlds first International Dark Skies Community.  It's a great distinction that I'm proud our city has achieved.  As a Astronomy hobbyist, I've often gazed in wonder at the night skies visible in our area, and appreciate the efforts that have gone into the preservation of one of our most precious vistas.

When I read in the Az Daily Sun that the "Year of the Night Sky" in Flagstaff was to kick off on March 28th, it inspired a question:  How dark are our skies, actually?  How much sky glow is visible in photographs from different parts of the City?  What do the night skies of a 'Dark Skies' community actually look like?   My geekish tendencies got hold of me, and I put together a plan.  I gathered up my equipment and a Thermos of hot coffee, and set out for an all-night photographic endeavor to find some answers.

My goal was to accurately document the brightness of the Flagstaff sky glow from a number of locations in and around the Flagstaff area.  Since I wanted the darkest skies possible, a night was chosen near the 'new' moon (no moon interference), no clouds, and around the midnight hour.  The night of March 27-28 served to be ideal.

Since this was to be a meaningful comparison, I made sure that I used identical exposures from each location:  30 sec @ f / 2.8, iso 6400, color balanced to 5150K, with a wide-angle 14mm lens on my tripod-mounted Canon 6D.   No post-processing (change in brightness, contrast, color, etc) was performed on any of the shots.  They were directly converted from RAW, cropped, then re-sized for web display.  With the in-camera GPS each location was logged.

Over the course of the night I shot from 14 different locations with a wide variety of sky glow conditions.  I went as far north as the Wupatki Loop Intersection at Hwy 89 (25 mi N of town), as far south as Kachina Village, to several locations in Flagstaff, and up at Snowbowl.  The long exposures brought out the sky glow very well, and gave a good representation to the limitations of photographing our night sky, and the visual impact of the Flagstaff sky glow.

By the time I was done at 3:30 AM - I had some answers.  Frankly, I was quite surprised by what I saw.  Here's a map of where the photographs were taken.

 

Locations where the photographs were taken for this sky glow study.

 

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

First, the good news.  Areas just outside the periphery of Flagstaff have very little overhead sky glow.  At the zenith, the skies can be wonderfully and magically dark! 

That bad is, you only have to turn the camera toward Flagstaff to see the obvious influence of the lights of our city.  I don't know how the glow from our town compares to others.  Given it's designation as an International Dark Sky Community, I assume the glow we see from Flagstaff is significantly LESS than we'd see from another town of equivalent size.  I was quite surprised to see how much sky glow we actually had, and what spectacular limitations it can put on astrophotography in the region.

For the darkest skies of this survey, check out this image from 25 miles north of Flagstaff.  This (and all of the other shots cropped to a square) were shot looking straight up at the stars overhead:

 

Now this is a dark sky!  30sec at iso 6400 and little or no glow visible.  Wonderful!

 

Now compare that to a shot taken on the east side of Flagstaff, near the Country Club neighborhood.  Same exposure, same settings.

 

Typical amount of sky glow in the Flagstaff city limits. 

 

I found that most locations in Flagstaff had a similar amount of light pollution.  The worst was downtown. As might be expected, Lowell Observatory exhibited levels of light pollution similar to other parts of town:

 

The stars above Lowell Observatory.  Similar levels of sky glow to other parts of town.

 

Just getting out of town a couple miles makes a considerable difference.   Look at these two zenith photos from Kachina Village (left) and Doney Park (right):

Looking better...the stars over Kachina Village

The stars over Doney Park.  Pretty dark out here too.

But looking toward town from these two locations reveals the nasty sky glow dominating the horizon:

Flagstaff sky glow as seen from Kachina Village.  The Milky Way is rising above the horizon on the right.

Flagstaff sky glow as seen from Doney Park.

From the few images above you can see the basic results of my observations.  There's enough sky glow from within Flagstaff to obscure many details of the night sky, and significantly deteriorate attempts for astrophotography.  Traveling 5-10 miles outside the city makes a big difference - truly dark skies aren't too far away.

However, I'm lacking in perspective here.  Do these observations challenge Flagstaff's 'Dark Sky' designation, or support it?  I don't know. Should we expect Flagstaff's skies to be darker, or should we be happy with the level of sky glow we have?

I've put all of the overhead star photographs together below - simply click on the image to scroll through the images from the 14 locations in and around Flagstaff. 

 
 

That's all for now...if you'd like to see the complete set of images from this analysis (including many more horizon images), you can find them on my Pbase site here.

Winter Fog at the Grand Canyon

Amazing weekend at the Grand Canyon (11/30 - 12/1)!  A strong inversion set up which filled the canyon with fog rim-to-rim.  On the lower portions of the S. Rim, rime ice coated the trees to a thickness of several inches.

Met Arizona Highways photographer Derek Von Briesen for a day of awe-inspiring conditions, great company, and wonderful shooting.  Check out Derek's web site here to see some of the best Arizona photography around!

 

When the sun came out, the Rim ice fell like frozen rain from the trees...

 
 

Sunset and anticrepuscular rays.  All we needed here was a full moon on the horizon!

 
 

The Desert View Watchtower at sunrise...above a sea of clouds!

 
Amazing motion in the Fog below the rim of the Grand Canyon after sunset, on Dec 1, 2013. This video was taken from Moran Pt, about 15 minutes after sunset. The motion is sped up 26X real time.