Thursday, February 18, 2016

You Down With BCT?

OK, I freely admit I was a little over-dramatic with my Facebook post when I said that I never wanted to do the Black Canyon 100k again. You think crazy things when you're side-stepping down two flights of stairs with blistered feet and picking cactus needles out of your toes. 14 hours and 23 minutes in the desert sun can cause a guy to get a little baked and frazzled in the head!

And yes, I was also slightly disappointed in missing my goal time of 12 hours but as I started to write up this blog (and get feeling back in my toes), I was flooded with all the memories of that morning's start and the sheer majesty of the trail heading out of Mayer that morning of the 13th. Rolling single-track, exposed and sweeping vistas of the local mountains and the absolute perfect weather made it one of the most enjoyable runs I've done in a very long time.

Well, at least until I caught up to Mr. Miller at mile 24. I've done several runs with 'Old Man' Miller and every. single. time. I happen to catch up or pace with him, I know my race strategy has gone off the rails in some way, shape or form.

Zane Grey.
Black Canyon.

It's typically only downhill from there :-)

No, that's not a fake smile at all...
I arrived to the Mariana Mine aid station (mile 24) just after 11 am and halfheartedly patted myself on the back for following my race plan...even if it was an aggressive (e.g., foolish) race plan. Mr. Miller and I exchange a few words about the weather and ice cold water before he would disappear down the hill leaving me to stew in my own thoughts again.

While there's something to be said about ignorance being bliss, there is also the fact that reality sucks more. Sitting under that tent, I would grab my pack and load it up with water, ice and food before heading out into the escalating temperatures of the desert sun. It was just long enough to reconsider my race strategy, pace and whether I should be so eagerly clipping at Mr. Miller's heels. It was clear I needed to take a chill-pill and ease off the throttle if I was going to get through the day in one piece.

The only other thing that could have ended my day early was leaving my electrolytes unchecked. Leaving mile 24 I could already tell things were headed south - cramping, stomach pain and let's call it a weird feeling in my head...probably the kind you get right before fainting (except I didn't mom, I'm fine!) :)

Holding it together...barely
Enter Tailwind Nutrition. Chock-full of all the electrolytes a growing boy needs, I managed to cruise through mile 36 on nothing but luke-warm Tailwind, some gels and those three glorious creek crossings. Waiting at Black Canyon City, Greg found me a little bit thirsty but in decent spirits and anxious to keep moving through the heat onto the next aid station.

As the heat of the day slowly started to yield to the longer (and cooler) shadows, I could feel the hunger creeping in as I tried to balance the caloric volume of my Tailwind and the gratuitous electrolytes it provides. As we crested one of the hills he kept making me run (f-ing pacers), I felt the need to purge. Barf. Yack. Pausing, with hands on knees, my chest lurched...once...twice...no. "Keep it together", I told myself. Besides, I had nothing to give. Nothing to gain from emptying what little was in my stomach. I chugged some water, cracked another gel and managed to stave away the hunger pains and what would be my only purge-related incident of the day. I also appreciated Greg trying to capture that whole sequence on video. Asshole :)

The Table Mesa aid station (mile 51) appeared just as the sun was setting on the day. The timing could not have been more perfect. With the heat of the day gone and the crisp evening air taking over my lungs, I grabbed a chair to change shirts, ate some solid food and revved myself up for the final 11 miles of the race. I had long given up on the 12-hour goal and hoped that my right knee (which had been locking up for the last 5 miles) would play nice long enough to make it to the finish line. Turns out, the first 7.7 miles out of Table Mesa are rocky as fuck and mostly uphill. Now normally, I'd throw some curse words out there about climbing mountains this late in the race but as long as we weren't going downhill, my knee stayed content and we kept making decent time.

Enjoying the hospitality of Team RWB at the Table Mesa aid station
We would run into Mr. Miller again somewhere after Table Mesa. Staggering and weaving on and off the trail, he relayed that he hadn't kept anything down since mile 42 (or so). Genuinely concerned, Greg and I kept him company for about 15 minutes while making sure he took a gel and some water to at least have a shot at getting to the next aid station. We would press on knowing he's one tough hombre' with more race experience than both of us combined...

There was an air of relief and excitement at the final aid station despite being dark and chilly. "I just want to be done", repeated almost every runner that came into the station. While I shared that sentiment (in my mind), my knee was still acting up so there was no point in trying to bang out the final miles and risk permanent damage. So Greg and I cranked up his 'I-can't-wait-until-my-divorce-is-final-playlist' and made the best time we could to the finish. Now somewhere along the way, the fabled runner's high must have kicked in because my knee pain went away and I was pushing the pace with Greg in tow until we reached the finish line.

So yes, looking back I felt like I had a good day on a great trail despite the heat. If the temperatures had been even 10 degrees cooler, I could have been a faster race for me but I'm not sure what else I could have done better related to fueling and hydration. Even though the run is a net loss in elevation (which I think contributed to my knee pain), there is plenty happening on the BCT to make you think twice about being so aggressive.

If anyone asks, miles 0-36 are splendid. Miles 36-62 are less-than-splendid :-)

One of the biggest changes I made to my race plan was to only look at this course aid station-to-aid station. Not once did I think, "Man, I still have 38 miles left". Instead, I took the bite-sized chunks between aid stations and focused on knocking them out mile by mile. With this in mind, I was able to stay mentally sharp and motivated to do what was necessary to get to the next aid station. It removed the overwhelming magnitude of 62 miles and dissected it to smaller manageable pieces that were easier to think about.

By the way, 'Old Man' Miller would show up at the finish line about 30 minutes after me. One tough SOB, right?
So hungry and happy I didn't even pull my pants all the way up!
Congratulations to all the finishers and thanks to Aravaipa and their army of volunteers who took care of us throughout the day. There is a slight possibility I'll be back to the BCT for another buckle but let's see how the rest of the summer plays out.

Have fun and be safe out there!


  1. Great wright up. I am happy you made it and hope to run with you one of these days.

    1. Thanks for reading Tim! We'll get out there one of these days...