March 6th, 2010

Old Pueblo 50 Mile Endurance Run

The day has finally arrive! Friday afternoon I drove to Tucson for packet pickup then continued on to Sonoita to check into my bed and breakfast. It was not the most restful night of sleep but I must’ve had enough because at 3:20 a.m. I was staring at the ceiling knowing there was no way I would get anymore sleep. So I got out of bed, had a cup of coffee and a power bagel, took a scalding hot shower to warm up my muscles and headed off to run headquarters.

Run headquarters was located one mile down a gravel road, then 5 more miles down a dirt road to the old Kentucky Mining Camp. Keep in mind Sonoita is only 30 miles from the Mexico border. I had to pass through an immigration checkpoint to get to Sonoita and now as I turn off the highway onto the gravel road I’m greeted by a large AZDOT sign stating “PROCEED WITH EXTREME CAUTION: Smuggling and illegal immigration activity is know to occur in this area.” After a bumpy 20 minutes I arrive at Kentucky Camp at 4:55 a.m., my car thermometer read 35°. Although it’s still dark I stopped last night before sunset so I would know were to go, the surrounding countryside looks like the old movies where the buffalo herds roamed the prairies of rolling hills and golden grass and mountains in the background. These mountains, the Santa Rita’s, were covered with snow, it was an absolutely beautiful picture. With over 7000’ of elevation gain and loss I knew I would soon get an up close and personal view of these mountains.

With headlamp in place and tired of waiting, the 6:00 a.m. start came none too soon for me. Six weeks ago I was ready to run the race of my life, since then I injured my left knee and Achilles tendon in a rocky and mountainous trail marathon and have done a lot more resting than running. I cancelled a trail 50K run on February 13th but the extra rest hasn’t helped, my goal has gone from running this mountainous 50 miles in under 11 hours to simply finishing.

With 170 other runners, the start up a steep quarter mile climb out of Kentucky Camp made for a nice walking warm up to get started. Once on the trail I felt surprisingly well. Running downhill bothers my knee more than anything. Feeling good would only last so long, I had hoped that it would last longer than 12 miles though. By time I hit a steep, 5 mile long rocky decent starting at mile 15.5 my knee was killing me on every pounding step down. I was now in survival mode just to finish. The only thing that helped distract me from the pain in my knee was falling at mile 18 and taking the skin off my right palm, I still had my running gloves on or it would’ve been much worse. Having emptied my 70 oz. Camelbak by mile 21 the support crew at aid station 23 refilled it for me.

I made it to the aid station at mile 29 in 6:10. Knowing I had a large blister on my right heel and my soles burning from my shoes moving back and forth on the extreme elevation changes I changed socks and shoes from my drop bag, grabbed a fresh Camelbak loaded with Succeed Amino and Red Bull then headed out. Only 21 miles to go! Unexpectedly, I thought I still had a chance at 11 hours even though I knew the trail was harder on the second half than on the first half.

By now I’d drank over 100 oz. of Succeed Amino electrolyte drink and have religiously taken one SCap electrolyte tab every 30 minutes. I typically struggle with dehydration around 25-30 miles and even though it’s a perfect, cool day for running I’ve pee’d only once (and that was forced) and am starting to feel the early symptoms of dehydration I’ve become used to on long runs in the McDowell Mountains near home. I increase the fluid intake to the point I can’t tell if it’s my stomach or my Camelbak that I hear sloshing as I run.

After getting through a major climb, starting at 4,107’ at mile 23.63 and ending at 5,840’ at mile 32.54 my knee has been screaming at me every step for 17 miles, I don’t know how many steps that is but it’s really wearing on my concentration and attitude. I’m ready for a flat, smooth area to loosen my knee and try to make up some time, unbeknownst to me that flat, smooth area won’t come until the last five miles of the run, I still have a long way to go.

By mile 38 I’m suffering big time. I just passed a woman sitting along the trail, my offer to help was only met with “no I’m just puking” so I moved on. On a very steep climb of about 300 yards with loose rocky footing I started to feel dizzy. I stopped climbing but the dizziness got worse so I found a rock next to the trail, 18” across the top and almost flat. Sitting down didn’t help so I scooted down resting my back against my Camelbak and the rock…it’s the last thing I remember until opening my eyes 20 minutes later and seeing nothing but blue skies. Later I told people I fell asleep immediately, but Mrs. Vaupel says “my god, you passed out on the trail?!”. Amazingly, not one runner went past me in those 20 odd minutes. The next person I saw as I was getting up was “puker woman” and she said she hadn’t seen anyone since I passed. So off we went climbing the rest of the hill together.

At the 40 mile aid station I lost my sick friend, 40 miles and only 10 to go a DNF would suck, I tried talking her out of it but couldn’t. At mile 42 my Garmin GPS battery shut down so I was by myself with no idea of time or how far I still had left to go. I wouldn’t have thought it but it was a very bad feeling for me, I rely on that Garmin to keep me moving more than I thought. Time immediately stood still, it seemed like I’d gone for over two hours and still hadn’t reached the mile 46 aid station. I caught a guy on the trail who told me his Garmin said “we only have a 5k left to finish the race”. “Impossible” I told him, we haven’t reached the 46 mile aid station yet. I’m not very smart and I was very tired and somewhat delirious but I know better than to start arguing with someone after we’d both gone over 42 miles in the mountains. Within a few minutes I rounded a corner and there was the aid station.

Having reached the 46 mile aid station they told me it was 5:53 p.m., I had 30 minutes of daylight left to go 4.6 miles. Of course back at the 29 mile aid station I’d left my headlight because “I only have 21 miles left”…what a dumbshit move that was. Finally the trail turned flat and smooth as I worked my way through meadows knee deep in grass. I lost all light after a couple miles when suddenly three white tail deer that had bedded down next to the trail jumped up and ran across the trail. Luckily I was dehydrated so didn’t pee my pants but it sure got my heart rate up.
If you need a belt buckle...I'll send you an application form!
13 hours 15 minutes after starting in the dark I was finishing in the dark. My reward…a belt buckle and a lot of personal satisfaction. I’m a little bummed it took that long but know very well I’m lucky to have even finished with the problems I’ve been having with my knee. Out of 170 runners that started only 122 actually finished.

The ride back to Phoenix went by fast and I was in the house at 10:58 p.m., it was a very long day. I was looking forward to a long nights sleep, of course that didn’t happen. My body was exhausted but my brain was still being fueled by Red Bull and Coke, I woke up at midnight, then again at 1:30 a.m., at 2:45 a.m., I was sitting in the office getting caught up on a little work. Today my legs are sore, very sore. I can tell exactly which leg muscles do what in a running stride as I walk up and down steps because they scream at me with any little move. It’s a great feeling!

Will I do it again? I'm not sure if I'll do Old Pueblo again but I would like to do another 50 mile run and 100K run at some point. 100 miles? Right now I'm a little too sore to think about that one.

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