Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cave Creek Thriller 50k Report

After my first 50k, very little time passed before I was itching to give ultras another try. And since I have no concept of moderation, signing up for Aravaipa's 7 race ultra series (starting 6 weeks after Paatuwaqatsi) seemed like a good decision.

After crashing at Paatuwaqatsi, I was determined not to repeat the same mistakes the second time around. My biggest goal was to improve my pacing. I had gone out way too fast last time and had paid the price. My goal this time was to keep my average pace around 12 minutes per mile from the start and keep it there as long as possible. I even had a mantra that I repeated to myself the whole race: "Slow and steady doesn't barf."

Words to live by
Emily and I drove up the night before and got a campsite about a half mile away from the race start. This way we could get up at a reasonable hour, pack up our campsite and not have to rush to get to the 7am start.

The next morning we got up and packed everything up. By 6:30 we were ready to go. We were running a little behind schedule but it wasn't a big deal because it was a short drive to the start. We got in the car and I turned the key. Nothing. Son of a hamster... Now it was time to panic. We threw our stuff in a bag and started speedwalking. I really didn't want to run anymore than I needed to today and at a 20 min pace we should have been able to cover half a mile in 10 minutes. However, by 6:50 we were still a good ways off. Okay, time to start running. I left Emily (who was still in pajamas and flip flops--the plan had been for her to just drop me off at the start) and ran the rest of the way. 

I reached the start just a few minutes before 7:00. I picked up my bib, pinned it on, filled my bottle, dropped off my drop bag, and lined up at the starting line about 45 seconds before the gun. 

I had just enough time to adjust my sandals and pet Guadajuko, whom I had never met before. Like many celebrities, he looks taller in the pictures.

I'm proud to say, I stuck to my plan and started at the back of the pack with Maria, who apparently had the same idea. Guadajuko, who had just found out that he was in a race, had a different idea and stopped to take care of some pre-race business.

The first 15 or 20 miles went by without incident. I was staying true to my plan, which so far was working well. The problem was that it was getting hot. Really hot. The temperature hit into the low 90s, and parts of the course were these rocky valleys which blocked any wind and kept the heat in like an oven. It finally reached a point where I was forced to walk, not because I didn't have the energy to run but just because that was the only way to keep my body temperature down.

It wasn't until I got to the next aid station (around mile 22-23) that I finally started dealing with the heat in anything like an intelligent way. I asked for ice water. I put ice in my hat (which it turns out is incredibly unpleasant). I decided to pick up my extra bottle from the drop bag next time I passed it so I would have extra ice water to squirt on myself. Slowly, this started to help and I was able to run more.

The one big downside of keeping to my pace was that I was running by myself virtually the entire race. That was a big switch from Paatuwaqatsi, where one of the highlights was chatting with people I met along the way. Emily was running the 10k which was run on part of the 50k course and started later in the morning. I was hoping to get to run with her but apparently missed her by about 5 minutes. I finally got to see her when I finished my second lap, which was around mile 25. Unfortunately, I came through the finish line along with several runners who were finishing their final lap. Emily, optimistic as ever, was there at the finish line enthusiastically cheering me on as I finished what she thought was the end of my race at two hours under my previous PR.

I got my second bottle and started off on the last 10k. Somehow, this loop took me something like two hours to finish. As the day wore on it got even hotter, which took a lot out of me. Plus, by around mile 28 I was just exhausted. I'd pretty much stopped eating 5-10 miles earlier due to the heat and completely ran out of energy. For the past year I've been drinking water and eating solid food in training and it never occurred to me to switch to liquid calories. In retrospect, some ice cold gatorade might have been a good solution. File that away under lessons learned.

Finally, I crossed the (real) finish line in 7:39, 21 minutes slower than my first 50k. This put me in 22nd place out of 25, which is pretty close to dead last. Oh well. (Emily for her part finished in a respectable 35th place out of 97 in the 10k.) In my defense, the course was a bit long. The website lists it as 31.7 miles, although my Garmin read 32.5 at the end, not counting my run to the start. (I actually finished the first 31 miles in something under 7:18, for what it's worth.) One of the low points in the race was when an aid station volunteer shouted "only 3 and a half miles to go!" in an effort to encourage me; my Garmin read 29 miles and I just had been in the process of psyching myself up for the last two miles. At any rate, I had just enough energy to run the last 20 feet for the camera.

So what did I learn this time around? Let's start with the things I did right.

What I did right:
1) Pacing. I started out in the back and stuck to a reasonable pace. Although I eventually still crashed, it happened almost 20 miles later than it did the first time.

2) Footwear. I wore huaraches again and did not regret it. Specifically, I wore Tanner Sandals' The Solution, which I needed to get some miles in for my review. With my modification to the heel strap, they really did well. I didn't get any blisters and my feet, while a bit sore by the end, were still in better shape than most of my body. It was also encouraging to hear the folks in Hokas say things like "You're tougher 'n heck!"

3) Wore a dang shirt and hat. Maybe it's part of my secret desire to be Tony Krupicka when I grow up, but last time I really thought I could pull off the shirtless hatless look. Apparently not. I wore both for most of the race and didn't get quite as charred this time around.

What I did wrong:
1) Heat management. After training at altitude all summer I was unprepared for the heat and didn't have a decent strategy for it. I finally figured out a few things that worked but by then my race had already suffered a lot. Next time I'm going to start out with two bottles with ice in them and ice in my hat and keep replenishing at every aid station.

2) Nutrition. Specifically, I didn't modify my nutrition strategy for the heat. Switching from solid food to Gatorade with ice might have allowed me to get down more calories late in the race and kept me from crashing when I did. My plan next time is to eat solid food as long as I can and then switch to sports drink.

So that's ultra number two down. Now it's time to get ready for number three (Pass Mountain) in nine days (3 weeks after Cave Creek).


  1. Hi John
    I love your report. Running to the start is quite something.
    I have listed as one of my favourite of the week. I want lots of people to read it.


  2. Thanks; I almost skipped writing a report on this one entirely.

    I actually had read your post already. Thanks again.