I wouldn’t have been able to spend the night witnessing the pure bad@ssery and camaraderie that I witnessed had this night not played out the way it did.
The 2nd race in Aravaipa Running’s Insomniac Series night race began with our 54k starting at 7pm at McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Fountain Hills, AZ. The 27k and 10k were quite stacked and ready to go at 7:30 and 7:45. This race gets a bigger crowd each year and will continue to be a favorite for a lot of folks.. The course is great, mostly single track and temps aren’t quite as HOT as other summer night runs. In fact, it would be rather chilly most times during the middle of the night in May out there.
With the San Diego 100 fast approaching, I had full intentions again of making this a long training run from the get go. With doing the Grand Canyon the weekend prior and continuing to get runs and climbing in during the week, I didn’t want to risk anything or try and over do it. Tapering would start for me starting Monday for my June 9th hundo. The 1st of the summer hundo season.
Race day was pretty much low key for me, starting with the usual routine of Christopher Bean Coffee, bulletproof style, plenty of good fats during the day and running around to grab a few things for the race.
Both Tara and I knew there would be a great showing of AZ TraiLeggers tonight. Their RBF’s girls team would show making this their 2nd race of the series as well. Others would be there as well as we had been hearing of more folks signing up throughout the week.
The 54k field would have been full of veterans this night. Our great friend Brandon Welling who’s been known to show up in his boxers last minute and tear up the dirt out here would also be arriving soon. The Painted Warrior, Stephen Sinek would be here and other great runners.. I was stoked. Oh, and my faithful training partner would be a “walk up” tonight to race the 54k.
Getting there early earned me the ability to mingle a tad with a lot of folks which I normally don’t get to do much of since most who know me go by “Christley Time” which means I either A. barely make it to the start line with enough time and 2. arriving slightly late to a certain event sometimes… “casually late” as I say.
The design of this course would have runners running in the same direction but sharing two distinct loops and also having two way traffic on shared singletrack. One loop weighs in at around 6mi and about 600’ elevation gain on a ridge line. Both trails we would share leaving the Four Peaks Staging Area/Parking Lot(McDowell’s overflow lot to the north at the east of the entrance) would have us starting on Escondido. Then, the 10k splits on Cinch and continues up on the Scenic trail. The ridgeline all the way is pretty technical until you’ve crested and start your descent around the back side on an undulating and fun single track which heads towards Pemberton, a famous loop for runners and mountain bikers. The short jaunt down Pemberton allows the fastest of runners gain speed since it is very groomed, wide open and slightly downhill to join scenic and then finally Cinch back to the start/finish. That loop would be labelled the “Blue” loop.
54k and 27k runners each did at least one of the blue loops with the addition of the Escondido trail(54k got a double dose). This is a single track route which has some love/hate about it at the same time.. At night, it takes you a considerable distance out to what seems like the abyss. No structures, complete darkness and solitude. During the hot days, you are completely exposed on this trail as with 98% of the trails at McDowell Mountain Regional Park. The Escondido aid station was at the junction of the NT and Lousley parking lot areas (about 5mi). This would prove critical for me later in this post. The rest of the route joins Pemberton and follows the same route back to the start/finish as mentioned above.
What about the actual race? How did it go for me? What happened? What did I like, dislike? What worked/didn’t work etc.. Well this is where the “other people” in my life come in..
Normally, I do get a fair amount of socializing in but it’s in short clips and often a hello and not much more. This night I would finally have a chance to spend more quality time with some folks. Before the race started, I got to catch up with Stephen Sinek (his 2nd also in the summer series). We chatted about his recent training and things leading up to this race. He is a beast and tends to some pretty extreme sh!t including a self demo of a pool in his yard, OCR and adventure racing. Yes, most dig pools in AZ to fill and enjoy.. Stephen had other plans and decided as part of his remodel projects to use said space and pools for other plans. I can’t wait to see it when he’s done. He would go on to finish 15th, 9th Male overall. Proud of him.
I wouldn’t have been able to learn more about Ryan Scully if I had other plans. Shortly after leaving the Escondido aid station Mile 6 when I met up with Ryan is when I feel the race really started for me. Ryan is such a great guy. He has a back story and has run with our AZTL group a few times in the past.. We ran for a bit together chatting about how we felt, our pace, and things like that. He politely asked me if he could keep pace with me. That was so cool! I had no problem with that. We ran lock step at a 10min pace until we hit the Start/Finish. We quickly refreshed, hit the blue and white plastic palace and headed out for loop 2, the scenic loop. Again, pretty much lock step holding onto a 10 min pace. We had just seen our friends, Brandon, Stephen and Meghan Slavin crushing the course! I had a feeling Meghan was in the top 3 based on who I was seeing at that time…
Ryan and I stuck together.. We chatted and small talked about running ultras, our training and things like that. We planned to hit the start/finish again real quick and head out again for Escondido. When we rolled in, he went one way, I went the other since my wife Tara was there to help crew me. I did a quick headlamp change, a sip of Ginger Beer, a pickle, Tailwind, and a couple Honey Stinger Ginsting gels of course. A quick note here.. Bottles have been my choice of late in lieu of a pack.. It was working wonders for me especially on these loop courses.. Back to Ryan.. He was hanging for me patiently as I wrapped up with Tara and off we went.
For the next 3 miles I got to know Ryan. The readers digest version of the things I learned about him: Military background: Army(Thank You for your service Ryan). Two kids(boys), an avid OCR Tough Mudder guy and successful business owner, True Fitness LLC. He was giving me more details which was fine with me. I enjoyed chatting with him and learning of his love for trail running and our friends in common.. It is such a small world!! Sounded like he will be transitioning to some bigger trail running events in the near future. Wish him the very best! He would finish later as 10th overall and 7th male.
I was developing some tightness in my right hip. The legs just didn’t want to turn at a 10min pace at this time (about 9:45 to 10:20pm). Some power hiking was going on as we were getting through the more hilly sections of Escondido. Nutrition was on point, temps were nice. I was just feeling perhaps some fatigue from the GC and training this week.
As we were cruising along we saw a headlamp coming straight at us.. I thought, who could this be? It was my friend Danielle Bukovnik Hartle, she had ran past a critical turn at Cinch and was heading down Escondido again so we made sure she was OK and heading back to her turn.. She joined us the week prior for a recon run on the Blue/Scenic Loop(during daylight : )).
Slightly more ahead and as we rounded a corner at mile 18.9ish and I saw a headlamp ahead off trail. Deep down, I was hoping it wasn’t my good friend Meghan for she was probably 5-9min ahead of me kicking @ss earlier. Unfortunately, it was. My thoughts went from deep conversation with Ryan to deep concern for Meghan at this point.
Sparing everyone any details here, she was having a rough time. I’ve been through some hard trail miles with her from previous events. She has rallied BIG time in the past. Ryan hung out with us for a couple minutes. I assured Ryan she would rally and he continued on. Told him I would catch him at the Start/Finish. He was doing great!
I wouldn’t have been able to support Meghan during this rough time if I had other plans. The priority was to get her to take in some fluids, maybe a little Tailwind if at all possible and anything that would give her the strength to get to the Escondido aid station. This section would take us about an hour twenty to get through and I felt bad for her the entire time. Our good friend Thomas O’Reilly came up on us during this time and shared some of those miles with us. The three amigos. We were Escondido bound! Just trying to get a chair (something other than dirt and random areas next to the trail) for Meghan to sit down on. I had no phone with me for me to check in with crew, her husband or anything. She was getting a few txt’s through to her husband, Brian Slavin. It was then we learned he finished his 27k and also was getting sick. Like real sick.
Coming up on the aid station, I knew I would see my good friend and local legend to us all Tommy Lunetta and the RWB Phoenix crew. Tommy and a few others saw our headlamps coming and starting cheering loudly in the dark and silent night.. No moon out yet.. As we approached, the sounds of cheer went to concern and silence so we could get Meghan stabilized. I would learn later her and Brian caught a bug, like that kind of a bug which has you down, hurling, chills, sweats, you know the drill. All of us were trying everything to get her fluids, trying Ginger (thank you to all the runners offering your Ginger candy and the like along the way).. Nothing was working. Tommy took his own sweatshirt off his back to lend to Meghan to keep her body temp steady as well as an extra shirt.. Hell, he even dug out a solar blanket to wrap her up like a shiny golden burrito! Thomas and I were able to re fuel, chatted a bit and learned Brian and Tara were coming to potentially pick her up. Each time we went to get Meghan up and moving she got sick again. It wasn’t looking good.
When Tara and Brian arrived, we brought them up to speed on the situation. Brian who looked the white background you see here on my page wasn’t fairing well either. You see, Brian gives everyone a little warning about his “loud” hurls.. He then disappeared for a bit. Time was passing and Tara was offering support, Tommy, everyone was trying everything. In these moments, everyone suggest what they think will work. Interesting that the things that come up often are: Gingeraide, Mountain Dew and Coke. She tried a little of it all I feel like.. Nothing was working very well. My headlamp was flickering and running low.. The kind of guy Tommy is.. a giver! He gladly gave me his headlamp and wasn’t even concerned the least.. Thanks a million Tommy!
Total aid station time was approx one hour and ten minutes. We made the call largely due to the cutoff for starting our last and final loop. We would have to start by 3:00am and it was approaching 1am at this point. One last test walk between Tommy and Meghan would prove OK but then after putting her pack on, getting ready to leave she got sick again.. That was it. In good conscience couldn’t allow her to press on knowing we had the last loop plus some climbing ahead of us. Collectively, we advised she not continue on. Not ONE time did she ever say she was “done” or that she didn’t want to press on. You see, she is NOT a quitter and does not have a single DNF on her record. She is determined to finish anything she starts.
I wouldn’t have been able to spend some much needed quality time with my good friend Thomas if I had other plans. He and I have raced together on occasion. He’s also signed up for the whole night series (Delirium Pass) so, it should be a summer of fun. I consider Thomas a pillar in the foundation of my AZ TraiLeggers group. He’s been around since day 1 and is constantly evangelizing to others to join our group and weekly runs. He is also an Aravaipa Running Ambassador.
We both left that aid station reflecting on the last hour for a bit and agreed it was the best for Meghan to not continue. It’s something Thomas is familiar with since he too has seen some instances of sickness during his runs. It’s a tough call to make. You think, will I rally? Will this pass? Do I continue or not? We plugged along. One thing I did while at the aid station was put down a couple cups of Mountain Dew for a caffeine jolt and about 3 ginger cookies. This would cause me a slight side stick for the short term until we got about a mile or so down the trail. Our goal at this point. Stick it out, run it out, power hike, run/walk, anything we could do to finish at this point.
I was glad I stuck with Thomas. I hadn’t had a chance to mingle and catch up much this year with him. I’ve had a crazy training schedule, as had he in preparation for his Badwater Salton Sea 50. We moved along catching up. It was cool. Talking running, group runs, life, our next race, etc… Thomas is crewing and pacing me at my upcoming Leadville Trail 100 race in August. We knew what our cutoff time was so we focused on that, taking our time and not rushing anything.. Spending more time on my feet would be completely OK with me.
I wouldn’t have been able to experience seeing the waning crescent moon rise if I had other plans. Wow! It was beginning to come up as we were rounding down Pemberton over to Cinch. It was spectacular.. No iPhone camera was going to catch this one! I just gazed at it every chance I got. I was beginning to wonder again how Meghan was doing and hoping she was OK at this point.
It was darker than dark before that.. Something I didn’t mention earlier was the spectacular sight it is to see a train of headlamps out in the desert just moving slowly along in the distance.. It was unreal!! I’ll never forget it was this series back in 2012 when I first experienced this. It was AWESOME!! Contrary to that view at 2:30am, I wasn’t seeing not even ONE headlamp at this point. Many of the 54k racers had already passed. We did however see someone pass us while at the aid station and wondered if that was the last of the 54kr’s. It was quiet.. again, great for conversation.. Thomas had developed a side cramp so we were doing a lot of run / walk running. Oh, and my Suunto watch I borrowed died at this point. Again, I wasn’t too concerned with it at this point.. It just got me more excited to know my new Garmin Fenix 5x was arriving this week. I had worn Suunto since way back when the T6c was a great watch to have.. I still have that watch!
Coming into the start was cool. Music still playing lights still shining and people still volunteering.. Noah was there at the finish greeting us and keeping things going. The aid station was huge here.. Patty Coury was still running things strong into these early morning hours. As we rounded a small turn and came over to the crew, the time was somewhere around 2:15 at this point and I saw Tara, Meghan, Brian, Brandon, Stephen and Brian was in the car I believe sleeping. Tara is always there, waiting, crewing and getting everything I need. Love that she runs, manages other volunteer shifts and still seems to help me in every way.
We chatted a bit with Brandon who smashed the course, came in second place and small talked with Meghan real quick who was happy to see us but wrapped up and still not feel ing 100%. We didn’t spend long here.. maybe 4-5 minutes tops, refilled and took off for the last loop.
Thomas and I did the same thing.. Ran, walked, and planned to power walk up the Scenic ridgeline.. I figured we’d be another hour and a half before we could finish. The temps at this point were very nice.. Again, dry desert middle of the night temps can make one feel chilly at times. We were in awe over that moon though.. It came up over the scenic ridgeline and was quite cool! Finishing was happening for us as we approached the final stretch, the remaining folks cheering us on, music still playing, Noah still snapping pics.. We finished. The plan: Cross at the same time as buds.. 08:32:47.
There was no regrets, no hurry, just plain having fun and hanging with friends. There would be plenty of opportunities ahead to “race”. Thank you to all volunteers, friends, AZTL, other peeps and especially my lovely wife, Tara who is always there supporting, crewing and helping me reach my goals. : )
We will see you all in five weeks at Hypnosis!
Thank You for reading!