On Saturday, February 27, 1999, I ran my last long run in preparation for Crown King Scramble 50K three weeks later, my first ultramarathon. (Real ultrarunners sometimes don't count anything less than 50 miles as an ultra. I'm not qualified to be so picky yet.)
My performance was hampered by having suffered from a low grade case of flu the bulk of February. Two weekends before I didn't run a step, but I did get in three or four hours of trail walking.
The previous weekend (the 20th), I ran a PR 10K in a local race, but that was all for the whole weekend. So my mileage has been down.
I was still not feeling 100%. My chest still had junk being manufactured in it that restricted my breathing and that I occasionally had to cough up and spit out. (Sorry for the graphic description.) It's wasn't fun. I didn't feel fully recovered until March 3.
My original goal was to run for about six hours, just to demonstrate that I could do it. Once I had my course planned, the goal came to be to cover the entire distance, regardless of the time. I estimated it would take about six hours. I was wrong.
According to the detailed map I have of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, a one-way trip of the Christiansen trail (aka Trail 100), is 10.7 miles. There is a lead-in of about .3 miles. A one-way trip from my driveway to the parking lot at the trail head is 3.7 miles as measured by my car odometer.
Therefore, according to my best estimates, I calculate that running from my house, up the lead-in, over to the east trailhead, all the way to the west side, and back to my house again, adds up to a total of 29.4 miles. Whew! Sounded like a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Miles on T100 are not the same as miles on the road. There are no two consecutive steps that are not laden with rocks or on an ankle-straining angle. Every single step must be carefully wrought. Some hills are so exhausting that one must trudge up them very slowly, sometimes stopping for rest if very tired to begin with.
At about 11:00 AM I began to get ready, selecting my gear. It was sunny and would be about 80 degrees out in the late afternoon. I put on a bright red long sleeve CoolMax shirt, because it would not be unusually hot, and because I don't like wearing sunscreen. But I put sunscreen on my neck, face, and legs.
I picked out a clashing burgundy pair of old shorts not designed for running, which I sometimes wear on long runs because they have pockets. I've learned that *real* ultrarunners often eschew the fashionable style of runners at marathons who wear those perfectly matching new big name brand outfits. I once saw an accomplished ultrarunner running a 72-hour race wearing paisley pedalpushers, a faded T-shirt advertising beer, and a terrycloth beach hat like Bob Denver wore on Gilligan's Island.
On the way out the door my wife asked if I wanted a small towel of some sort to carry in my hand. She got me an old washcloth. Maroon. Perfect!
I added to that my usual white hat, stuffed some CoolMax gloves in my pockets (to prevent skinning my palms if I tripped on rocks), slathered my feet in Vaseline, put on running socks, then my #10 pair of dirt-encrusted trail-dedicated Brooks Addiction II's, which still have a couple hundred miles left on them.
Early the previous week I ordered a CamelBak Go-Be hydration pack, a 50-ounce waist-mounted system. It arrived Friday afternoon, in time to use. I've never found a water carrying device that works for me. Now I have.
I was astounded at how well the thing works, and I highly recommend it to persons who must carry a fair amount of water with them. The cinch belt is a great feature. You wear it high up, around the midsection, so that the well-cushioned water pack fits snugly in the small of your back on top of your butt. Worn like that, I was amazed to find there is absolutely no bouncing or sloshing.
Of course, there is extra weight, but that's something you learn to accept if you're going to carry 50 ounces of water with you. Every CamelBak comes with a yellow diamond warning sign style tag that says "Hydrate or die!" I chose the former option. I filled the sucker up three times in the course of the afternoon, and was still six pounds lighter when I got home than when I started.
The next decision was what to eat along the way? Recent experiments with Powerbars, M&Ms, and grapes have not worked out well. After two hours I had melted M&M-covered grape glop. Not good. This time I scooped up about a dozen individually wrapped peppermint Life Savers and put them in one pocket, and about an equal number of carbohydrate tablets sold by Bally's. I'm not sure how much good they did. After the tablets started tasting like chalk I stopped eating them and survived on water.
Finally ready, I kissed my wife, told her to expect me in about six hours, and took off, starting my run from home.
The route from home to the preserve is almost all on an arrow-straight broad through street with bike lanes on both sides. Headed toward the mountains it is slightly uphill. I arrived at the trailhead in fairly good time, feeling warmed up.
When I reached T100, I turned left to head to the eastern trailhead, which is only about 1.2 miles away, before doubling back to take it all the way to the west.
The rest of the afternoon was one long grind. It wasn't easy. I didn't run as well has I have in the recent past, and was forced to walk most of the uphills starting within a half hour or so of when I hit the trail.
I was in no rush. My personal worst marathon is 4:52. That's the longest run I've ever done timewise, and I've never traveled a step longer than a standard marathon distance. This training run reached into new territory for me in both time and distance.
My primary goal became simply to cover it on my feet, regardless of how long it took, even if I had to walk large chunks, which proved to be the case.
I held up very well until about 4:15 into the run. By that time I could sense that I was running out of gas, but I had a very long way to go, even to the 40th Street trailhead. I kept moving the best I could. My only breaks came when I stopped at the parking lots where I could refill my Go-Be and splash water on myself, which took me off the course an average of five minutes per stop.
As I said, miles on a wickedly rough and jagged trail are much different from miles run down the center crest of an asphalt highway at a well-supported race. When I finally arrived back at the parking lot I had been on my feet for 6:28, and was still .5 miles short of a full marathon distance, a full 1:36 slower than my slowest marathon, with the remaining 3.7 miles to home yet to go. Such a vast difference I can attribute only to the difficulty of the course.
I had been thinking the whole afternoon of what a pleasure it would be to run a long smooth gently sloping downhill to end the session. Finally I arrived at the 40th Street parking lot.
When I hit the pavement, I ran no more than twenty steps, then crossed over to the other side. (I always run on the left side of a road, toward traffic.) Then I immediately decided to stop and empty some pebbles out of my shoe that had been annoying me for the past two hours or more. When I finished and looked up, there was my wife, driving up to meet me, just a few yards away.
I laughed. Sometimes I think the woman is psychic. We don't even believe in that sort of thing. She just knows. In fact, I more than half expected to see her somewhere along 40th Street. If she had been three minutes earlier I wouldn't even have been in sight.
I opened the car door. "Hey, good lookin', want a ride?" "You mean you're going to deprive me of the best part of my run!?" (She rolled her eyes.) "Hooo-key dokey, I'll leave then. You said six hours, and when you didn't show up I got worried. Do you want this root beer?" I gratefully guzzled about 2/3 of it and gave the can back to her. I should have also unbuckled and given her my Go-Be, which was over half full, and which I had grown tired of sucking from. By this time it was almost dark, and had already cooled off to the mid-60's.
That long smooth gently sloping downhill I mentioned turned out to be the long smooth gently sloping downhill from hell. It took me fully 58 minutes to run/walk the downhill route home, which had taken me 37 minutes to run up. By this time I was obliged to walk more than I ran, despite my most determined intentions.
My final round trip time, counting all water and miscellaneous breaks, was 7:26:55.
Gak! I had no intention of spending that much time. However, the distance was only about 1.7 miles less than I would be covering three weeks later, on a course that is mostly uphill trail, though allegedly much more runnable than the preserve. I'm sure the experience did me some good.
When I got home I showered immediately and tried to sit down and eat dinner. I had absolutely no appetite. After about ten minutes, I put the food in the refrigerator, and just went to bed, at 7:50 PM.
It didn't work. Every time I moved my legs screamed. At 9:30 I got up and watched TV with my wife for a while. I didn't go to bed again until 12:30 AM. In the morning I got up at 6:40 AM. Remarkably, I was not sore at all, just listless, but satisfied by the magnitude of my latest running accomplishment.