Saturday, September 23, 2017

Race Report: The Beauty of Brutality

Despite my ninja-nomad lifestyle, I'm not one for intentionally running-for-shits-and-giggles.  Being raised by working-class immigrants and being largely depraved of genuine, legit vacations in my early childhood, the vast majority of the races I run these days have some utilitarian function, whether it be bagging a qualifier or completing a race series, or because I have to burn off vacation days I don't want to, or to say I done did a race arguing with a burro for nearly ten hours because I needed a Tinder profile picture refresh.  

I did not need to run Mogollon.  I already had my totally-unnecessary Hardrock qualifier from Northburn (I had finished Angeles Crest in 2016, which itself was totally unnecessary because I finished Fat Dog in 2015), and Mogollon counts for shit-all at WSER.  I only signed up because I joked to my friend Del last year at R2R2R that I should come back for a visit and make the ritual an annual event three years running, and Mogollon could be the excuse.  Amazingly this wasn't the first time I half-jokingly suggested a race to someone we could all do, only to realize later they weren't fucking around (sorry again, Karen/Lourdes!)--so I didn't want to flake out yet again.

Appreciating suffering--it's not easy to do with intention.  My motivation and hunger have previously been compromised at the start line of races where I lacked a raison d'etre, but I wanted Mogollon to be a more difficult study in casual lunacy.  I wanted to mix in a sense of urgency into an unpredictable exercise with minimal tangible gain.   I wanted to actually experience the Mogollon Rim's unique character not just with my eyes, but by jumping feet first into hell.  I wanted to be able to laugh about it right at the finish line.  I wanted to finish a race with no necessity, yet in a complete bliss that would have began by mile 75--and in the complete absence of regret.  
The Mogollon Monster is a mystical bipedal humanoid creature (think Bigfoot) who hangs out around central and eastern Arizona, mostly around the Mogollon Rim area (a plateau that sits ~2000' out of the ground and runs for 200mi into New Mexico).  No concrete video or photo evidence exists of this creature, so obviously the sane thing to do is to throw an annual hunnerd in its home range in the hopes someone can take a selfie with one.  (You know, because science).  I jest, but I'm sure this was started because someone just thought the Zane Grey course wasn't slow enough and needed just a little bit more shoe destruction in it.  This race is traditionally 106mi, but unfortunately our minds couldn't be fucked with this year with some forest fires and monsoons causing the course to be shortened to an even 100mi but with only 2000' less climbing.  

I had five weeks between ES100 and Mogollon, which was taken somewhat lightly--it was actually four weeks with my traditional one-week taper, and knowing the potential training upside in that period was fuck-all, I didn't do too much except to maintain my cardio fitness via a few ~50k runs along the rock gardens of the AB/BC border.  Uncharacteristically, my 'coup de grace' before my taper week would be spent on a 32h aid station shift at Lost Soul Ultra, which was just down the road from Calgary; it was probably the hardest thing I ever did related to an ultra.  I had been day drinking my aid station box wine since shortly after 9am, before subsequently splitting my shift at 1am to pace the 100mi winner for 16k, en route to a CR before returning to night drinking, and more day drinking until shortly before 5pm, all while trying to keep an aid station party going.  By the time I was done, my soles were completely fried, but I felt proud of myself as not once did I feel sleepy at all.  (Plus, no one died on my watch, despite one ambulance call and a few oxygen tank-related events.)

I had visited my friend Del and her family once a year since Javelina back in 2015; when I suggested to Del we do Mogollon, part of it was driven by guilt for leaving her behind on our R2R2R run while climbing out via Bright Angel as I was particularly hell bent on finishing my run with my headlamp off (for literally no plausible reason at all).  Del had just chicked everyone at the 50k distance of the Javelina Jangover the week before, so she didn't want any of that, and we were waiting at the top of Bright Angel for just over an hour munching on the cake and beer that was supposed to celebrate her one-year-anniversary of living in AZ.  Alas, I had suggested we do Mogollon in a year's time to restore the running Great Chain of Being, as I knew Del could hand me my ass on that course, as it should have happened at R2R2R (not that that was a race by any stretch).  

#accountability, or something like that
Alas, my goals were prioritized as follows:
  1. let Del beat you and then all will be right in the world, or something
  2. 3x:xx:xx (on a 36h limit).  so just finish, I guess?
  3. Don't die.
  4. Collect selfie with the Mogollon Monster.
Goals #1 and #2 were pretty much the same, so evidently I wasn't really looking to get anything out of this besides a belt buckle.  However, the overarching mandate for this race was just to finish with a meaningful, giant shit-eating grin because of the reasons noted in the prologue.  

I flew down the Thursday before the race to gather provisions, clearance beer from Whole Foods (important!), and to play with Del's three dogs at the dog park (seriously, that was one of the reasons I came down early).  One of these provisions was to hit up the local iRun store to pick up some Tailwind and Squirrel's Nut Butter, and prolonged my stay by conversing with the cashier who had finished the race last year.  She recommended I take some eye drops for my contacts out there since it was ridiculously dry and dusty out there, and she intentionally slowed down during the night as a result.  

I had signed up to throw some aid stations up on the lower rim the Friday before the race, as I didn't have many fucks to give about my performance, so I drove up to Pine Friday morning to spend almost eight hours on my feet hanging with Jam-Jam and the Aravaipa crew.  I'd run into a fellow Calgarian friend here, Mike Zimmerman--we hadn't raced since Fat Dog in 2015 and he was staying out by a cabin near Washington Park.  That day he was pulling a reverse taper and running parts of the course that day but stopped to work the sledgehammer a little bit before cruising to a 5th place finish.  (Thanks again and congrats!)  

working hard at Washington Park (stolen from John)
and hardly working at Pine (stolen from John)
My friend Scott, who was looking to burn off some Aeroplan points, had offered to come crew and pace me literally six days before race, and would be arriving later Friday night.  We went out to a brewery (obviously) to carb load and compare race logistics with Del, and it was clear we were on different worlds.  Del was gunning for sub-27h while I was content with sitting on my tourist gears and going for 30h on the nose, so only one of us was working with a real strategy.   She'd have drop bags at all stations that accepted them, while I was relying on Scott to bring me my new stupid crew bag (also containing my massage roller, Kool 'n Fit, and other drugs) to all crew access points on the lower rim, and going it alone on the upper cabin loops.  Del would have a pacer from 43mi in onwards, while Scott would take a break crewing and come join me in the pine forests for only ~33mi at the same point (miles I had assumed would be in the middle of the night) before resuming crewing.  Del drank down a burger, while I had some chili Mac and Cheese.  Our note-trading gave her some shivers as she was somewhat taken aback by how low I was aiming, and it made her wonder if her goal time was a little ambitious--but she also had me wondering the exact opposite for my 30h target.  

Although our Airbnb was just over a mile from the start line, I still woke up at 430h on Saturday to deal with my shit so I could make it over for the race briefing and a playing of LeAnn Rimes' acapella rendition of the national anthem.  (Seriously, it's fucking amazeballs.)   Civil twilight had started well before that so I elected to start without a headlamp, and soon we were off running up the Highline towards our first climb of the day.  Del had warned me that some sections were the narrowest of single track with bushes potentially to jump into, so naturally I blew past her on the first mile and touched the back of the front pack, before easing off on the uphill and letting other runners pass me back.  The morning was cool as our incline was in the shade, but once we crested and entered the West Webber Trail, the sun was starting to peek through the trees and my road running kicked up my core temperature.  
look at nervous fucking nelly over here.  (thanks Scott!)
Del caught up to me just before Dickerson Flat at the 10k mark, and we ran together for a little bit on the stupid technical Turkey Springs for a little bit.  We were now facing the sun and a stupid view of the Rim, but had to negotiate with a tricky descent on trail that can best be described as "a drainage at best".  At one point we had to crawl under a fallen tree an I misjudged when to stand back up, cutting myself in the back in the process but also waking me up completely.  Both of us missed the trail at one point and had to steer each other back on the right course, but as the route leveled out, Del's undulation skills came into play and she quite literally left me in the dust.
coming into Geronimo.  (thanks Scott!)
It was only four miles of these ups and downs, and I came into Geronimo while Del was still there.  Scott quickly topped off my flasks as it was almost 10mi on the Highline Trail to the next aid station and Washington Park--while I loaded my hat and bandana with ice as I anticipated to come into Washington around the heat of noon.  Del left a few minutes before I did but that didn't matter as this section of the Highline Trail was just brutal--the trail went through ravines, inclining up and down, but it was also sprinkled with the most untimely rock gardens (some potentially covered by waist-high grass) and direction changes to break your rhythm up.  I took solace in the fact that at least it wasn't wet and cambered, unlike ES100, but yet a half dozen runners passed me prior to the next aid station.  My buddy, Dave Melanson of Project Talaria fame, was one of those--I didn't know he was entered in the race and I hadn't talked to him since Nicomen at Fat Dog, but it was awesome to have another friendly face at this sufferfest, despite him blowing by me and my recently-ingested caffeine pill shortly thereafter.  
just before Washington Park
We'd come into Washington Park a total of three times during the race.  Del was still there when I got in, but I got distracted by chatting with some aid station volunteers who I hung out with on Friday, and pounding down half a beer for the impending heat.  There was a short incline up towards the top of the Rim tracking a powerline, which soon evolved into a stupid 45% grind on some extremely rocky terrain.  I could see Del in the distance but my thoughts were actually occupied on how the fuck they were able to install wooden pylons running parallel to the slope we were climbing.  I was glad I brought poles to this event as we'd have to descend this stupid climb, ascend it one more time and then descend it one more time because fuck your knees, that's why.

Four miles of Rim Road running followed, which I gladly accepted as it gave me an opportunity to shut my mind off for a little bit and shuffle along while taking in how stupid the view was while running rim-side.  It was a whole other world on the top of the rim--there were still some cacti and lizards running around before Washington Park, but now it was just pines, oaks and maples.  I had been running with someone from downtown Chicago for a little bit to keep me company but he stopped to take a photo (can't blame him) and I strolled into Houston Brothers on my own.  

Dave and Del were there, and I started giving Del shit for still being there--I knew she was a much faster runner than me, but I also knew she had some trouble with managing aid station loitering.  Despite me not having any real aspirations for this race, I wanted her to take first lady so I would do my best to remind her to never lift in the absence of her support.  (One could argue that I was also unintentionally egging her to bonk--I literally have no counterargument for that.)

Dave led me down the first part of the 7.5mi on the Houston Brothers trail to Pinchot Cabin--it was less technical at the top of the rim, plus it was cooler, so I thoroughly enjoyed the winding single track and opportune meadows.  He relinquished the lead on me just over two miles from Pinchot, claiming he was 'bored'.  Yeah, ok Dave.  

Pulling into Pinchot marked 54k in--

Me: 'What are you still doing here, Del?'  
Del: "I was waiting for you." 
Random aid station volunteer: "Yeah, why'd you have to run so slow?!"
OK, I'll stop asking now.  It was nine miles back to Washington Park on the Fred Haught Trail, which was another undulating section running parallel to a creek--I led Del out this time; we were both suffering from upper leg cramping but still making good time on her target 4+ mph pace.  She said I looked stupid fresh for my stupid 30h goal, and reminded me that it was a crock of shit and still was.  I gave her a little bit of pickle juice before she faded behind me as the cooler temperatures, coupled with me spitting the ice-cold water I didn't ask for at Pinchot on my quads, kept my cramping in check.  I passed by a runner from Santa Fe, talked shit about New Mexico for a little bit, and what the fuck we were going to do about the fact we were both running well ahead of pace (he was certain his pacer was not waiting for him at Washington Park yet).  I left him shortly before wooden powerline pylons reappeared, and soon I knew I'd be back on the bottom of the rim again.  I ran into Jam-Jam at the top of the descent, out filming, and Mike shortly thereafter, who looked incredibly fresh.  Cheering on other racers on their way back up to the rim gave me some energy to finish strong into Washington Park.  

Scott was ready to go when I got to mile 43 but I needed a few minutes to grab my night gear (headlamp, arm warmers, headband, gloves), change out my old Speedgoats to my Wings 8 SG's and to stock up on electrolytes.  I had told Andy, Del's husband, that she was probably 5-10 minutes behind me given I hadn't seen her for a long time, but she proved me wrong by showing up 2 minutes back.  Andy got her transitioned out ridiculously fast and she left with her pacer Kristina in probably less than 5.  Despite me chasing her for pretty much half the race, I was glad to see her go charging back up the hill. 

It was Scott's first time pacing at a trail ultra so I simply told him what I had done with Dave at LSU--just stay ahead of me and make sure I don't get lost.  We were supposed to make our way up to Houston Brothers once again, before deviating onto a different loop at the top of the rim.  Naturally he put a sizable lead up the powerline climb but I kept up while shouting encouragement at those descending, one of those being the Dougherty brothers--the original founders of the race, who were now finally getting high on their own product--and asking the duo whose stupid idea this was. 

back up the powerline, with my stupid headlight/shades combo.  (thanks Scott!)
well fuck my fucking life.  (thanks Scott!)
I think I stayed at Washington Park for too long as I could barely maintain 5mph on the Rim Road due to cramping, but as Scott was technically on vacation I made it a goal to get him to a clearing about 1mi out from Houston Brothers before sunset so he could get a decent shot across the Rim ("yes, i'll get you to the money shot ridge before sunset"). 
 every day i'm shuffling  (thanks Scott!)
Scott's money shot (thanks Scott!)
I was glad not to see Del still hanging out at Houston Brothers, but that was largely driven by the fact I was starting to fade.  I was still awake but my strides and VOsc was getting shorter, just as the sun was plunging into the ground (seriously, this shit happens ridiculously quickly).  After leaving Houston Brothers, I tried to pull some Morton stretches off every so often in the Pine forest, which helped keep my hammys limber but that effect would only last 20 minutes at best.  A Czech named Vlad passed the two of us during this stretch, but that would be the only runner to do so as the darkness soon enveloped us and made distant headlamps readily apparent.  I felt my stomach start to misbehave as I kept Scott appraised of my distance behind him through disgustingly-acoustic burping and farting--I knew this was a problem as this usually happens to me around 100k into a race i'm pushing but I also knew I could probably hang on to blowing through mi61 before dropping a tactical deuce.  At mi54 we ran across someone's campsite with the campers politely cheering us on--they probably set it up in the dark and probably didn't see the pin flags, but I felt sorry for the night they were about to have.  

I caught up to Vlad at Buck Springs/mi56, who had been sitting there for a while--I grabbed some broth and candied ginger to level out my stomach while Scott gave me a wet paper towel to dab my legs with so the cooling temperatures could keep them on ice via evapotranspiration.  After quickly ascertaining the aid station only had vodka but no Fireball (I wasn't even cold, so I guess I'm an alcoholic), I left towards Pinchot, pulling close to 5mph while my legs were still wet.  This probably lasted four miles before some choice big-ass hills killed my gears and I was back down to pushing 20min miles.   The Tailwind I loaded at Washington Park was exacerbating my stomach so I had to dilute it, but in doing so I was consuming way less energy.  Soon Vlad and another racer and his pacer blew by as I struggled to negotiate with my farting on the downhills.  Desperate, I took another caffeine pill, but that had zero effect.  

I got to Pinchot/mi65 while Del and Kristina were just leaving, but that didn't matter as I really had to drop my usual 100k deuce and get some solid food in me.  Unfortunately there was no outhouse here, but the station personnel told us everyone had been going across the road to do their thing.  While Scott dealt with my pack, I took three minutes to pull off a solid cut-and-cover, pun so intended.  Still wanting to chase Del for some reason, I left without taking a seat at all, but not before the aid station staff told me to put on my damn arm warmers and gloves.

It took probably around two of the eight miles back to Houston Brothers for me to ask Scott to stop so I could lay down for five minutes and take the pressure off my feet.  I got back up after three, with two racers having passed this idiot taking a break from running to just stargaze.  Scott told me I was completely reasonable--I had literally been firing on all cylinders all day, running and climbing at a pace I had never done before, and had not stopped for any material stretch of time, despite being a quarter of a day ahead of cutoffs.  Plus, I would much rather lay down in the middle of the forest, hopefully not on a pile of elkshit but staring at the stars, than to sit and lament in the warmth of a party tent.  
After probably another two miles I had to lay down again, but the ground was getting warmer as we made our way closer to the Rim.  Vlad, who we passed right before Pinchot due to vomiting, yo-yo'd me again at this point.  But oh my god, that's probably why Del was loitering so much in the first half; maybe she's onto something?!

After inferring I probably shit out my last caffeine pill I took prior to Pinchot, I took the last one I had on me and grinded my way up the undulating meadow I apparently had so much fun on roughly six hours ago.  The lady chasing Del caught up to me two hills before Houston Brothers, as I shuffled between severely-acoustic burps, whimpers and farts to a waiting Vlad just past midnight.   

I knew they had a cot at Houston Brothers based on the first two times I passed through, so I asked them if I could just lay down for five minutes.  Scott dealt with my flasks again, but then, seeing as the staff were blasting Barry White and it was close to midnight, offered to massage my legs for me.  As I was pretty desperate to make the pain go away at that point I agreed.  After five minutes, there is now video evidence out there of me moaning in sheer ecstasy to the musical stylings of Barry and Marvin Gaye.  That is all.

Moving on after some more broth, I was rewarded with having to go gently uphill back on the Rim Road but at least there weren't any cars blasting dust in my face at this hour.  It was also significantly warmer now as the Rim experiences an odd weather phenomenon--everything blows from the south, and we were now moving along that exposure so I was back to running sleeveless and gloveless.  The stars were out in full force as I shuffled somewhere around 3.8mph, trying to catch everyone who had passed me between Pinchot and Houston Brothers.  I only passed one but that was just over a mile out from Washington Park, at the bottom of the powerline descent.  

I had taken just over 8h to cover the 54k Scott was pacing me at, but having run out of shits to give (yes, I took a proper dump at the Washington Park portapotty) I didn't really care.  Scott assured me that it was ok that I spent a little more time here to change out of my wet Wings 8's to some half-size bigger Speedgoats, and to switch out my mostly-watered down Tailwind for shitty Gatorade, a Clif organic energy food-biased diet, to ingest a shit-ton of solids and broth to replace the shit I took.  He asked how many had checked into Washington from the 100mi distance--it was 19 including myself and one other runner still at the station getting his blisters dealt with; I honestly thought I was well above the 25th person to come through.  
I had also noticed somehow I had ended up with an extra beer in my crew bag that Scott left in the drop bag pile--apparently some chick left her number with it because the Salomon Speed Bob I was wearing was dope.  After ten minutes of fucking about and shooting the shit with more aid station volunteers I hadn't seen since Friday, I dropped my cold-weather gear with Scott and rang the Washington Park bell to signal the last time I'd leave the station (because it's a bell lap, duh). 
couple things: 
1. Double IPA?  she knows the way to my heart.  
2. 642 is an unassigned area code.
Not having a pacer was more comfortable, which helped with the fact that the Highline Trail was stupider in the dark than in the day.  It was like playing Where's Waldo with trying to locate reflectors or flagging tape (that was usually wrapped eleventy bajillion times around a single branch with zero exposed area), so instead of consciously looking for flags I just kept asking myself where I'd put a trail if I was deranged.  (Apparently I was only wrong twice.)  

Nevertheless it was fairly disheartening to do the same start-stop walk-running bullshit I did in the morning, especially when I was trying to catch 2nd lady and another runner who had left Washington Park around five minutes before I did.  I've been told that sometimes when your head is in shambles, finding a short chant to repeat methodically will clear your mind and release your body do its thing (which makes sense--you eventually develop a habit unconsciously while you're busy chanting, and that habit eventually gets easier to repeat consciously).  For me, that chant wasn't exactly a chant--my friend Arielle had suggested this a long time ago, but it was extremely apt now--I went with the last few lines of Eminem's Lose Yourself, right before the last hook:
Stay in one spot, another day of monotony's gotten me
To the point, I'm like a snail
I've got to formulate a plot or I end up in jail or shot
Success is my only motherfucking option, failure's not
Mom, I love you, but this trailer's got to go
I cannot grow old in Salem's lot
So here I go it's my shot.
Feet, fail me not
This may be the only opportunity that I got
Soon the whole song was stuck in my head but strangely enough I was in a state of peace.  The rock-hopping turned into a rhythmic dance of sorts and slowly but gradually--the stars I was chasing on the horizon became headlamps.  I picked off a half dozen runners and pacers as well as 2nd lady before I shut my headlamp off in the sunrise, two miles out of mi88 at Geronimo.  

Scott somehow hadn't gone to bed yet that day but he was just as coked-up as I was.  I dropped my headlight off with him and after a quick massage roll I went off hunting another pair of runner/pacer who had arrived shortly before me.  There wasn't an outhouse at Geronimo, but I knew that there was a mile-long climb at mi92 that was 1000' tall (with the total D+ between aid stations being 2400'), which would at least let some gas settle.  

They called it the DicKnocker, and while it was a manageable climb, it was more its location on the course that pissed me off.  I ran scared most of this time as I was still trying to make up lost time between Pinchot and Houston Brothers but wasn't cognizant of how many were behind me, and by the time I made it halfway up the climb, there was another racer and pacer tracking me who worked me down to staying one switchback back.  

I dropped them at the last aid station 7mi out from the finish line, Donahue, but only after I had both my flasks topped up with water and ice thrown in my hat.  The 35k's were well on their way up the mountain onto West Webber, and I ran faster so I could encourage them after their first climb of the day but also because I didn't want to finish behind any 35k'er.  It was five miles of undulation then downhill to the start line at Pine, which spelt trouble for my shitty stomach because of all the gas that would be shifted; alas I found an older tree to hide behind once I was sufficiently past the last 35k'er but before the downhill started, and pulled one last 3-min cut-and-cover cathole.  

I threw the hammer down for the last six miles--I knew I was on a timetable now as my stomach was empty but still not working well with food or even diluted gatorade; it would be a matter of hours, possibly minutes, and not a matter of miles, possibly feet, before a bonk would come on; ideally I wanted to quite-literally 'finish on empty' without actually hitting the wall in the process.  Adrenaline surged as I sent it downhill on the rocky drainages hunting a runner wearing an orange skull cap, brushing my arms on manzanitas to the point of drawing blood to keep me awake.  At one point I got lost following the wrong trail of rocks to hop over and ended up bushwhacking; luckily I made my way back via zig-zagging and no more than 10s ahead of the runner behind me.  

The Sunday morning recreational shift was now wide awake as hikers, disaffected runners and MTBers were well on their way up Highline.  One of the latter called me "Elton John" based on my goodr sunglasses, which gave me a little bit of a boost because I wanted to scream out "go fuck yourself" but didn't.  I met Scott right at the trailhead by the HAM radio crew and cleanly handed him my pack and poles without stopping, and set off on quite possibly the most apt and epic last two miles of any race I have ever ran.

The last two miles involve running back into Pine to the community centre on some rather unforgiving asphalt .  I ducked under highway 87 via a culvert and jumped back out onto the pavement, and after about a mile of side-street fucking-about I was able to spot the runner with the orange skull cap a quarter-mile ahead of me, and they had just passed a walker wearing the exact color of blue shirt and pink pack Del had been wearing the entire race and their pacer.  I was still hunting the runner in the orange skull cap and could have taken him out with the speed I was pulling off, but the closer I got the more I realized I was actually closing in on Del.

She had mentioned some sort of cramping from all the climbs she didn't train for back after the first time we left Pinchot, and this was full-blown now, given her speed and the fact she was still wearing her headlamp.  Del's pacer Adam was trying hard to get her to run to no avail, so I joined in with their walk to scream obscenities such as, "PEOPLE ARE WATCHING" and "COME ON, MY BEER IS GETTING WARM".  More importantly--I had started this race with no shits to give; I literally gave my last shit right after Donahue, and given this race was a rather silly idea of a reunion--I elected to finish this race as such, going stride for stride with her up until the final inches.  She was able to muster a little bit of a run, right before I pulled ever-so-slightly back at the timing mat. 

look at derpy mcderpface here trying oh-so-hard to ensure he gets his A-goal (thanks Scott!)
and of course, this next picture implies I'm secretly a giant fucking wacky wavy inflatable tube man.
success, or something

In her case, she got a big fucking trophy of an sculptor's conception of the Mogollon Monster, which she rightfully earned--2nd and 3rd lady came in hot, both within 24 minutes of us.  Notwithstanding the stupid-flat Across the Years, this was her longest race since moving down to PHX.  And she endured it like a boss.  
Conversely, my performance wasn't outstanding in any way--it was largely on pace with Angeles Crest and Eastern States.  Sure, I took five minutes more than I did at my first hunnerd at Sinister 7 to cover an additional 800m of D+, but that was two years ago.  I digress, because continuous improvement was not the point of this race.  

Del caught up to me the first of many times on Saturday right before Dickerson Flat.  And shortly before that, I realized that between her, Mike, and Dave--this was the first non-series ultra (sorry, Martin!) I had run since Javelina Jundred back in 2015 (another Aravaipa product, which I highly recommend) where I had toed the line in the company of friends.  I told her that as she blew by, and she thanked me for the honor.  I think that's why I nearly blew up trying to keep up--because it was right then and there that I was reminded that while ultramarathons are not a team sport, friends suffering together is a very special experience.  

I've done my fair share of bitching about the races I don't need to run, but it's only because the reasons you run these races are never apparent before you toe the line.  100 miles is a long way to change, and you'll probably know why you actually did it in the first place during that timeframe.  For me, the intention wasn't so much as restoring the Great Chain of Being--it was a homecoming from so many races I had done with strangers.  It was the reminder I needed that it is so much easier remember trails by who you ran them with, instead of the actual name of the trail.  It was the reminder I needed that in this stupid individual sport of ours, we thrive so much off each other's presence, moreso among friends.  

By the numbers:
  • Time: 27:45
  • Official distance: 100mi
  • Official elevation gain: ~21000'+
  • Placement: T-13/78?
  • DNF rate: 27%
  • Scott, for deciding his impromptu vacation would be to come down and deal with my diva ass.  I wasn't planning on rolling with a crew and pacer but you probably were the difference between my actual time and goal time as you brought my massage roller to where I needed it the most.  Plus, the fact you didn't even fall asleep during the race speaks volumes to how much you should go above 50k!  Thanks brother; hopefully you found this weekend to be a welcome change of pace.
    • me, after leaving Buck Springs without him because he was dealing with his stupid UltrAspire pack:  "WORST PACER EVER"
    • me, after leaving Houston Brothers the third time, after my massage: "BEST PACER EVARRRRR"
  • Del, for inadvertently being my rabbit, and for being a ridiculously large part of this race report--but you did call BS on my target time.   #sorrynotsorry
    • seriously, I'm so proud of you after the absolute shit climbs you had!  looking forward to whatever we're doing next year--let me know your race schedule as soon as it's set!
    • also, for taking me to the dog park!  because it would have been really weird if i just went on my own.  
    • also, thanks for opening your home and setting up the Airbnb for me!  much obliged.  let me know how much I still owe you.
  • Hot Dave Melanson (the Run Bum's words, not mine), for wearing a hilarious Running Room pace bunny converted-crop top.  
  • The HAM radio operators.  This race is pretty fucking remote and you all are very underappreciated for the fact that you're pretty much our lifeline when shit hits the fan on the rim.  
  • The vollies.  the fact some of you stayed out there for so long kept me going as I didn't want to keep you waiting.  
    • also, whoever had the idea to play some barry white and marvin gaye while i got a massage at Houston Brothers.  
    • Raul, for teaching me how to [actually] use a ratchet strap on Friday like a boss to tie down some party tents, then showing up early Sunday morning to get me off my ass at Washington Park onto my bell lap.  stay awesome, brother.
  • Jam-Jam for showing me how a high-traffic aid station is really done.  I signed up to help setup on Friday so I could learn a few things, and I did.  
  • To the good people at Squirrel's Nut Butter: holy shit.  How the fuck did I do that without chafing?  You people are godsends.  
  • LeAnn Rimes.  Seriously, you gotta do this shit more often.
Stray observations:
  • well fuck that shit, I'm never running Zane Grey.  ever.
    • No, calling it a half Mogollon Monster won't change my opinion.  
  • rejected titles for this race report:
    • fuck you, legs!  and fuck you too, shoes!
    • what the fucking fuck
    • well, fuck you too, Arizona
    • and this little piggy cried "fuck this fucking shit" all the way home
    • 40 mentions of 'fuck' in this one
    • but I jest, for Arizona is actually awesome
    • this race is not technical whatsoever, it's the level beyond it
    • what does this asshat have to do to see a live fucking rattlesnake in the wild during a race
    • an exercise in exercise dependence
    • a brutiful race
    • HI DEB
    • Rocksylvania ain't got nothing on this 
    • this report has only one too many scatlogical references
    • this report is fairly shitty
    • something something the Charmin Ultra something something
  • random rim road thought: what makes a trail technical?
    • is it when speed is determined by coordination skills and mindset, and not fitness?
    • is it when you need to ask yourself if you can make it to the other side without eating it?
    • is it when you have to negotiate your way through?
    • is it when you will likely eat it while moving at walking-speed?
  • photos don't do this report justice, so here's someone's thru-hiking story of the highline section between geronimo and washington park.  we're up around 13 mins in.

  • if that doesn't do it for you, here's Jam-Jam marking the course

  • here's Jam-Jam's film on that climb I mentioned.  I'm about 14:11 in bitching about my lack of progress.
  • Tony from Dewey, AZ finished minutes behind me after having worn Luna sandals the whole race, because we're all not worthy.  
  • At one point before I caught up with them, Adam tried to get Del to start running because apparently 2nd lady was sprinting towards them.  She correctly deduced the weirdo with the cricket hat was me.
  • I was weirdly afraid of rolling an ankle via falling pine cones landing on my head while balancing on rocks and subsequently tipping my balance.  
  • "Riddle me this, Scott--how does a patent lawyer develop these massage skills?  You know what, don't answer that."
  • I have to justify the purchase of that stupid UD crew bag so if anyone needs a crew for a hunnerd [anywhere, but ideally on my side of the equator] before the end of the year, let me know.  i'll even bring my own bag!   (seriously, i have one vacation day i need to burn off before christmas eve.)  
  • it's quite possible i only set shitty goals so I can execute without a case of the nerves.  I felt amazingly relaxed at the start line.
  • Notwithstanding its Hardrock-qualifier status, you should run this race if you are looking for a well-executed race with passionate volunteers to help you vomit out the words, "fuck my life.  fuck my fucking life.  sideways."
    • This race has just exploded in popularity since it was established in 2012, pretty much for that reason.  
    • Even if you don't hate life, this race takes places in a fucking magical part of Arizona most people don't know that it even exists.
      • first, there are fucking trees.  Pine.  fucking.  trees.  It was crazy driving out from PHX to Pine and watching the cacti slowly disappear as I went higher.
      • secondly, Pine is quite literally a whole other world.  Elk and coyote just fucking about everywhere, calling into the night to keep you awake.  people driving OHVs down the highway to the bar with nary a helmet.  taxidermied animal heads just hanging on every wall.  it was literally rural Colorado without the stupid altitude (~5000'). 
        • like, magical enough for me to likely fly down here just to do yet another marathon-aid station shift sometime in the near term.  
    • when everything hurts in the dark of the night, you don't think about the fact that the big guy could be lurking in the shadows, watching you.  you just don't.  
      • they're probably pissed off cattle anyways.
    • but don't get me wrong--this race is stupid hard and will test your mettle.  the constant rock gardens to break up your pace will make you feel like you're not going anywhere.  you will question where you put your foot on every step and then where you put your foot on your last step.  it will fuck you up if you're easy to fuck with.  
Tips for prospective monster hunters:
  • this race is fucking remote.
    • bring toilet paper and wipes or something.  there are pretty much no useful outhouses on the course outside of Washington Park.  
    • you can forget about cell reception.  and ergo, runner tracking.
    • this place is a zoo, more so at night.  either bring a pacer or counter-bugle to the world that you are not to be fucked with, every so often.   
      • but enjoy the butterflies.  they are everywhere!
  • prepare to say goodbye to your shoes.   both pairs of my speedgoats are pretty porous now.  
  • have your crew roll up the windows while driving on control road 64.  that dust will get everywhere; i'm pretty sure my Mazda 3 (that I lent out to Scott so he didn't need to use his silly Hyundai Accent) I returned to the Budget at Sky Harbor will be out of action for at least two days on the account that "this thing is dirtier than the Jeep Wranglers coming back on our lot".
  • ankle strength.  nothing shakes your confidence more than running into a 1' drop hidden by 3' high grass and landing on sharp rocks.  
  • the confidence intervals on flagging tape can be stupid long--sometimes up to a half mile. On the Highline trail between Geronimo and Washington Park, flagging tape is more conservative and the Highline trail diamond blazes are used more.  long story short--maybe borrow a couple of I Spy/Where's Waldo books from the library before you come down here.  
    • Scott can attest I asked him when the last time he saw a flag was, approximately eleventy bajillion times.  
    • I will say that intersections are very well marked - Jam-Jam is the inaugural winner of the race (one wonders if his RD gig was a part of the award) and knows the intersections where shit can happen.
  • pack electrolyte powder; they only have gatorade.
  • not all trails are rock gardens; not all rock gardens are trails.  
  • eye drops.  i didn't use them but there were times when the vision in only one of my eyes was blurring.  
Up next:
  • Nothing for October, uncharacteristically
  • I will attempt to return to skyrunning in El Paso at the Franklin Mountains Trail Run festival, participating in all three days.  If you don't hear from me ever again, I'd probably start looking in Juarez first. 
  • My next race report will come shortly after I run the Chattanooga 100mi in December.
"The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life forms.  Life flowers best in openness and freedom."

--Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire 

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