As race week came along the forecast was calling for temps in the upper 40's to low 50's with a possibility of showers. PERFECT! Read on...
What we missed was the RD's message the day before:
Runners, Volunteers, Crew & Pacers,Thank you for your understanding,
The National Weather Service has issued a hazardous weather condition alert for the Mogollon Rim and northern Gila County. Due to genuine serious concerns over flash flooding of Horton Creek and Christopher Creek, compounded by rain and high wind conditions, the following changes will be in place:
We are going to have both a 50K and 50 Mile option, with both finish lines being at Fish Hatchery. Finishers of either distance are eligible for all finisher awards. Runners do not need to decide which distance they are running until they get to the Fish Hatchery.
Because of flooding conditions expected at the Horton Creek (mile 38) and Christopher Creek (mile 44) crossings, runners will be diverted down the Horton Creek Trail (we will have monitors here). For 4 miles, runners will follow the Horton Creek Trail to the Horton Creek Campground. This is where a new aid station will be setup and “See Canyon” drop bags will be located (approx. 42 mi.). The final 4 miles is up the paved road back to the Fish Hatchery.
However, if Tonto Creek (mile 33) is swollen and impassible, all runners will be stopped at Fish Hatchery.
Race morning we had the absolute pleasure to have Robert "Mongo" Andrulis drive up from Chandler to hang out and drive us to the start. This eliminated half the problem of what we were going to do with our truck in this point to point race that provided no shuttles back to the start. All we had to do now was to get back to our hotel in Payson, which is a lot easier than getting back up HWY 87 to Pine and the start.
A couple of Ultrarunning geeks at the start line
Race morning was chilly as we rose at 3:30am for the 5am start, so we hung out in Robert's car until a few minutes before. Chilly was fine and so far no rain, but as soon as we started up the trail it began to come down. It was quite windy, too, but we should be mostly in the trees and protected from that.
Why can't those clear skies be here?
The plan was to run around my aerobic threshold HR of 130 to keep us from going out too fast. In the past when we used this, we enjoyed passing many runners in the 2nd half of the race. This went well up to the first aid station at mile 8. It was raining heavy now and we got in 30 minutes ahead of the cutoff and both felt great. In and out we went, I ate some fruit and then had a Raw Revolution bar on the way out, while Deb ate some of her potato home fry style pancakes that she put in a baggie.
Mile 8 aid station
We ran into the next aid station at mile 17 hearing "You've got 3 minutes!". Wow! We lost 30 minutes in that section! As we came in they helped us get our drop bag and told us the 50 mile was cancelled due to the weather and the rising water in the canyon, the finish was to be at mile 33. Then the weather got worse when I was expecting it to get better. I kept telling Deb when it was cold and snowy that it was only 8AM and things should warm up. Well it only got colder.
The first sign of hail collecting on this uphill
By mile 20 we were both soaked to the skin, had everything on we brought (we were dressed for NH winter conditions) and were getting so cold we were neglecting eating and drinking, so we kept talking to remember to eat! Remember to drink! My fleece gloves were now frozen solid and I couldn't get my hands back into them without difficulty. Forget putting my fingers in, the finger parts were solid ice!
This was taken not long after the last photo
Things were going downhill fast
After struggling mightily with the beginnings of hypothermia (shivering while running) and slowing down because we just couldn't get up some of the hills they were so muddy and slippery that I began to think stopping at Hellgate may be best and a life saver.
I've run in New Hampshire in the middle of winter in sub zero temps and have never been this cold! I've been on the top of Mount Washington in the Winter at 40 below zero and I wasn't this cold....why? Because the rain soaked us before it got cold. I don't know the actual temps, but it had to have been below freezing.
No longer fun
I could no longer get my hands to work to take any more trail photos
After one last struggle up a real slippery slope where I had to push Deb up and then she pulled me up, we came to the Hellgate aid station at mile 23.5 at around noon and were immediately told that due to safety concerns all runners who didn't make it there by then had to stop. I said "Thank God" while Deb started to ask why! She is definitely tougher than I am. Here I am thinking of stopping as I'm coming into the aid station and she's already here and wants to continue! Even while she's standing there shivering!
If they didn't stop us and she wanted to go, I would not have let her go on alone...but they took that decision out of my hands.
Next they said "Now just walk 2.5 miles down that road to the rescue vehicles". Ugh! The road was a deep, sticky, muddy mess. We tried jogging but were so cold we couldn't get our leg muscles to work, so just walked. We were both shivering and cold and the only thing that made things a little better was the sun came out for a few minutes.
Riding to the finish in the rescue vehicle
Upon arriving at the Fish Hatchery, where the new finish was, Joe Galope, the RD gave us both a finisher's jacket because we were stopped due to weather, out of our and his control. Thanks, Joe!
A nice family of a runner gave us a ride back to the hotel and after a hot shower and a cold beer, we went out to get some food in our bellies. Robert returned from work and joined us for the evening of food binging and beer drinking.
It was a wonderful weekend with a black hole in the middle. We really wanted to get the 50 done...I guess I would have been satisfied with the 33 mile finish, but it still wasn't "Zane Grey". From what I understand, the run has never been cancelled due to weather.
To see the rest of my "not too many" photos go to this link.
For the results go here.
39 of us didn't get past Hellgate, out of 200 entrants there were only 137 starters, 93 finishers. I'm thinking many of the Arizonans decided to not show when they heard the weather that morning.
So that's it, I'm back at work, Deb's home taking care of things and our many animals. My next goal is to focus on the 5K and to try to get some speed back. It will be an interesting experiment after doing almost totally Ultrarunning since the mid 90's. I started today with four hill repeats on dead legs from the 8.5 hours total, 7 hours to Hellgate, then the walk down the road. The legs don't feel too bad, but I'm sure there's some deep fatigue still in there.
My weekly miles will plummet, but the days I do run will be focused on speed.
Another thing on the horizon for us is some backpacking in Colorado this Summer. Since neither of us are in Hardrock for the first time in 13 years, we don't know what to do with ourselves! So we'll be hiking some areas we never got to see due to always training for Hardrock.
See you on the trails (and roads)!
Steve and Deb