Black Canyons 100k

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    Black Canyons 100k Buckle

The transition from sub-ultra to ultra-distance events can be an exercise in humility for an athlete with an engine like a racecar. You’re asking them to drive with the purpose of a diesel rig which goes against their nature but it’s in their best interest to shy away from that top set of gears. Although nothing was really said aloud, I’m certain his inner dialog was quite amusing. But he got on board with the plan and he set out to conquer the Black Canyons 100k. We chose this race for a few reasons but one in particular – securing his first ticket for the Western States lottery. Aside from that goal, we wanted to get his first “official” ultra distance run since his first go, the North Face 50 in San Francisco, got cancelled. The cancellation didn’t stop him though. He set out, with the help of family, and did it on his own a few weeks after the official race date. Not ideal given that we’d trained for a particular day but Nature tends to do what she wants. In addition, despite numerous warnings from yours truly, he went out too fast, with goals in mind, and paid for it with a much slower second half.

Sometimes we need to learn these lessons the hard way. You certainly can’t win if you don’t try but maybe you shouldn’t try to win on your first go. Let’s call that lesson #1. So after a rough go at his first solo ultra, we regrouped, pointed our ship towards the Black Canyons 100k, and discussed a strategy that has proven to be successful. Not wanting to repeat his solo adventure, I was confident he was willing to listen. We’ve made a great team and I’ve yet to steer him wrong.

Personally, I’ve been dealing with an injury that occurred during Javelina last October. Although I’m nowhere near my normal level of training, I felt like a slowed down racer with 30+ miles in his legs would be someone I could pace. When we looked at where pacers could jump into the event, mile 35 and mile 50 were possible options. At the very least, I felt like 10 miles was doable although I really wanted to get in earlier. Not that I felt like he’d come off the rails, I just thought that I could provide solid guidance if I could get in at 35 miles. As the race got closer, I’d run 18 miles as my longest run. Not the 25 I would run as a pacer but surely a runner with 35 miles in his legs would be slowed down enough for me to fake my way through 25 miles.

On race morning, the weather really couldn’t get much worse. It had been raining for a few days, the course had to be changed due to flooding, mud everywhere, and just prior to the race start, it started hailing. The race started, the runners slogged through the mud, and we jumped into the warm car. Making our way to Bumblebee Ranch, we waited, we waited some more, and we continued waiting as runners continued passing through. Finally! We spot our runner and with 20 miles in his legs, he looked completely in control. A few grumblings about the heart rate cap but mostly – he felt in control of his day. Providing words of encouragement, we watched him disappear back onto the trails.

We hop back in the car, leapfrog up to Black Canyon City and the waiting game continues. About 30 minutes prior to his arrival, I change into my running gear. When I returned to start / finish, I notice half of our group is missing and I’m told our runner has already arrived. As I attempt to go looking, he runs by and without even being fully prepared, I start chasing. When we get out on the trail, I ask how he’s doing and his words and pace both say the same thing – we’re all good!

Prior to the race, my biggest concern was that he would pace this correctly to the point where I might be in trouble as a pacer. As I’m looking over my runner, I’m pretty sure my biggest fears are about to come true. He’s STILL controlling his heart rate and he seems awfully coherent for already running 35 miles. Nothing I can do about that and it’s not like I want him to slow down for my benefit – we motor on.

As we make our way through the first mini-loop of the high water course, I’m still trying to get my legs underneath me from starting a run later in the day. An hour or so into my pacing duty, I’m doing ok. As we start the climb out to the final turn around, I’m holding my own and my fear of being the pacer who gets dropped by his runner diminishes. When we arrive at the final turn around, we’re both motivated, we get into a groove, and we’re holding a decent pace as the trail twists and turns. Working our way back to one of the big descents, the pace quickens and I notice my runner pulling away from me. Surely this is not happening, I think, but it IS happening. I open up my stride and I’m doing my absolute best to keep the gap from widening. When we get to the bottom of the hill, I’m smoked and my runner is enthusiastic about our last mile clocking at a 7:12 pace. With eight-ish miles from the finish, I’m concerned because that descent took far too much out of me.

Off the hill, we’re now back into rolling terrain where I can hold my own but I let my runner open a gap as I regroup. A few minutes later, I close in on my runner but as we get closer to the finish, his focus intensifies. When we hit the final aid station, we’re both working hard. Fortunately for me, there’s a gradual uphill grind, my strength at this point, I’m able to get upfront to set the tempo, and I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Up ahead, we have a final climb and a quick descent. My goal is a set a strong tempo but keep him intact. Despite not wanting to be the pacer who gets dropped by his runner but also not wanting to slow down my runner, I state – “You are going to drop me on that final climb. When you get there, you need to go. Don’t worry about me, I will be fine. You will not hurt my feelings.”

As we continue grinding, we’re catching other runners. One in particular joined our party and we all worked together to push each other. Arriving at the final climb, we ascend but not without pause. It’s a hard climb and talk about walking began but we never actually walked. Off the asphalt, back on the trail, we top the hill, and I tell him to go. I believe my actual words were “Run Rabbit Run!” Uhhh bu-bye! Poof! He was gone. Arriving a minute or so after, I come into the final stretch and race folks are asking me for my number. Laughter erupts when I declare having been dropped by my runner. While it stings a little, there’s a sense of pride in knowing we nailed this race. I’m happy and more importantly – he’s happy. You can’t really ask for much more than that. Well done, sir!