Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Race Report: Old Pueblo 50

I consider myself a pretty level-headed guy. I'm not chicken, nor am I stupid enough to take risks that aren't calculated or educated...

If we ever play poker, you should know I will likely fold to play another day rather than take the risk of losing everything. Know when to hold'em, know when to fold'em, the legendary Kenny Rogers once sang...
Part of the Phoenix crew at Kentucky Camp
(photo courtesy of Kristin Steele)
It's that analogy that literally played out this past Saturday for the Old Pueblo 50 down in Sonoita, AZ. Leave it to mother-nature to roll in a storm system of Biblical proportions and reek havoc on both runners and volunteers alike. Though the day started in reasonable shape, it would turn out to one of those days where you wished Moses was your pacer.

Right from the start, I was pacing well and running within my limits. I knew I was in the front third of the race given my splits and relative absence of any other friends (except MarcT). The trail was in great shape and not very technical but the heavy duty winds (easily 40 mph gusts) made the climbing either a bitch or a blessing (depending on which way it was blowing).

I made it to the Granite Mountain A/S (mile 3) under my anticipated split time so I opted to just keep moving. Before long, I was 7 miles in and checking into the California Gulch aid station just about 1:15 into the race. As the first drops of rain materialized, I would leave feeling great and looking forward to making my way to the half-marathon aid station - Wasp Canyon. I had been following a pack of runners for some time but decided it was time for a pit stop. After emerging from the woods, I got back on track and picked up where I left off...only to see that same pack of runners headed right for me. Sh*t. We missed a turn.

Everyone pulled out their maps to figure out how far we were off course. After a short team-building session, the collective group headed backwards, picking up other runners who were also going the wrong way. Thanks to my pit stop, I only added an extra mile to my race as we backtracked to the Wasp Canyon aid station. Honestly, I was a little deflated with the error. Turns out, all the course markings along this stretch had been maliciously taken from the course.

Beautiful Sonoita, AZ at Kentucky Camp
(photo courtesy of Kristin Steele)
Somewhere between mile 13 and 19, it started to rain. And it didn't stop for the remainder of the race. Having spent 10 years in Seattle, I'm accustomed to running in the rain. What I'm not a big fan of is 40-50 mph gusts, sleet and being pelted with mini sand storms with temperatures hovering in the low 40's. This was just adding insult to injury. I endured and made my way to the Box Canyon aid station in a shade under 5 hours.

Leaving Box Canyon, my gloves were useless and everything I owned was wet and  chilled to the core, including my fingers. Luckily, I was able to snag a cheap poncho that would preserve some body heat as I navigated my way back to the Granite Mountain aid stations at mile 33. I was clipping off miles well and following the tracks of other runners despite the heavy rains now falling and the small streams beginning to accumulate on the single track trail. And then, that oh-sh*t-feeling struck again as I saw a group of 4 other runners headed back towards me. Three of them looked fine but one dude was half-hunched over and shivering uncontrollably - clearly on the verge of hypothermia.

The two ladies ran off trying to get to the aid station as soon as they could while myself and another guy stayed with our hypothermia friend. The best we could do was head back the way we came to figure out where we missed the turn. We would backtrack almost 6 miles to where we should have picked up the Arizona Trail headed into the Granite Mountain aid station. At this point, I gave my poncho to our shivering friend and hauled ass myself. I had to start running again or I too took the risk of turning into a trail running Popsicle. I passed several aid station volunteers who were headed out in the rain with blankets and medical to find our friend.

At this point, I was just south of hypothermia myself with no change of clothes until the Cave Canyon aid station at mile 40. The Granite Mountain station felt like a crowded bar. Except everyone was covered in garbage bags, shivering and making love to the propane heater. These volunteers were great and taking care of everything and everyone who came under the tent. By now, the rain was torrential, relentless and creating rivers anywhere the terrain would let it. Hypothermia-man showed up about 45 minutes later, being carried by volunteers and wrapped in about 4 blankets. He and his pacing buddy would get ushered to a 4x4 and shuttled out immediately for medical attention.

This sh*t had just gotten real. I had to honestly weigh the risks of continuing against my personal safety.

Would my legs carry me 7+ more miles to the next aid station? Yes.

Could I assume the course markings were better (or even there)? No.

Would a new change of clothing make a difference given the temperatures and rain? Maybe.

Did I feel safe continuing given all these circumstances? I did not.

"Sir", I said. "Number 32 is dropping" And with that, my race was done.

I will gladly fold to ensure I can race another day.

Over 2/3 of the field dropped that day. About 50 hearty souls managed to endure the rain, cold and swollen streams before the 40 and 46-mile aid stations were closed due to impassable conditions (e.g., cars were stuck and runners were unable to cross the streams). To make matters worse, search and rescue was deployed to look for half a dozen runners who were not accounted for (they were eventually accounted for).

It was a pretty tough day for a lot of folks and I don't regret my decision. Does it piss me off? Yes...investing in a race only to DNF blows. But again, will OP50 be there next year? You bet. Will I run it again next year? Absolutely.

1 comment:

  1. Trevor, nice write up! The course markings were terrible, I'm glad you made it out safely! I still cannot believe I continued on... Thanks for the photo credits. :)