When I last signed off it was late afternoon in Boston, my Tucson flight had been cancelled, and I was determined to get to the McDowell Mountain Frenzy in Fountain Hills, Arizona. I managed to make a flight to L.A. and 6. 5 hours later, I was racing through the Los Angeles airport trying to find the Phoenix gate. An hour later, at 12:30 a.m., I landed in Phoenix, where my mom, who gets major points as “pit crew,” picked me up. With a few brief mishaps, we navigated to the Radisson Fort MacDowell Resort and Casino for a few hours sleep. It was almost impossible to snooze; I was stunned to have actually made it and was completely amped up about the race!
We woke at 6:30 to a cold morning (below 30°), and after a quick coffee and a bagel, we packed up to leave. The hotel was clean and comfortable and I’d forgotten it was attached to a casino–that is, until we got on the elevator and ran into a guy cloaked in a big black hoodie and shades, amped up and heading for the tables. “You should come with me. I’ve got a line on big money. It’s all in the algorithms…” The potential spectacle was a bit tempting, but we were cutting it pretty close for the race, so we hit the road for the McDowell Mountain Regional Park .
Aravaipa puts on a great event—every aspect was spot on perfect. With 5 and 10-milers, as well as 25 km, 50km, and 50 mile races, it could have been mayhem, but when I arrived, everything was color coded by race, starting with registration. Runners were warming up by outdoor heaters, and there was coffee, water, Gatorade, and an abundance of healthy snacks.
Under a small tent, people were signing a huge tire. Turns out the tire belongs “Tire Girl,” a runner from England who would be taking on the 50 miler, dragging the tire behind her in order to draw attention to environmental issues (heads up: a Google search does NOT bring up this kind of tire girl!).
The 25K was the first race to start, at 8:00, with the 10 miler at 8:15. I decided to relax and chat around the heaters rather than warm up—I’d loosen up in the first mile; actually that would force me go out easy. Though I was pumped up about the race, I realize in retrospect that I was pretty wiped out from the trip; I’d gotten under 5 hours of sleep for several nights in a row. Still, I’d learned a lot about how to prepare for a longer race: my weekly miles up to 35 and I’d been eating smart in preparation.
At 8:15 on the button, we took off into the desert landscape, and from the first moment, I was having a blast. For the first 5 miles, I just enjoyed the trail and worked on getting used to the technical running.
The trail changed every 10 feet and was filled with rocks, gullies, and sand. I was using muscles in my feet and ankles that I didn’t know were there!
Since it was cool, around 32° at the start of the race and in the low 40°s near the end, I decided to pick it up a bit earlier than planned, around mile 5. To my surprise, things began to get hillier shortly after. I’d looked at an elevation map ahead of time, but I’d misread–the elevation is lower overall at the tail end of the trail, but the ups and downs are steeper.
Around mile 8, I came up behind a man and woman running steady and chatting about the oil industry. The trail was slim at that point, and they asked if I wanted to pass—I still felt strong but decided to run with them for a stretch and then pass near the 9 mile mark. At 8.5, after running into a wash and up a hill, I tripped and fell hard–a full body slam into the rocky ground. The pair in front stopped short and offered help, but I hopped up, a bit shocked but feeling okay. I started running again, looking down between strides to see if I was bleeding. I saw some scrapes and lots of dust but nothing serious, so I kept going. After a few strides, my left calf started cramping up. I just couldn’t pick it up after that without my legs starting to seize. After another half mile of molasses running, my left calf cramped so hard I had to stop to stretch. For some reason the fall just took it out of me. I slogged to the finish, running right up to the edge of the cramp. I was beat. Still, it was still a great run and I was elated at the finish.
Post race, my sneaky mom caught this pic of me getting water…or, more accurately, resting my head on the water cooler.
A bonus of the trip to the McDowell Mountain Frenzy was being able to share a new and important part of my life with my mom. And she gets it–she’s even mentioned the possibility of taking on the 5-miler next year.
As I started to come down from the race, I looked more closely at my leg and discovered a huge shiner on my mid-thigh. I’d definitely smacked my legs harder than I realized.
What a day! Aravapai knows how to throw a running party, and I’m thinking I’ve got to run this race again! It’s such a thrill to run through the Southwestern landscape.