Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stagecoach Line 100 mile - 09/22/18

So I finally got around to running at 100 miler. I had been looking at running one, and this race in particular for several years now. I had planned on running it last year, but we got accepted into the NYC marathon . . . then I thought I'd run Brazos Bend as my first 100 miler, but never considered that it would book full days after opening registration. I didn't want to run Rocky Racoon this past spring because I felt it was too close to Boston. That put Stagecoach back on the schedule.

My training for this relied mostly on my strong marathon base. I don't usually train terribly hard in the summer - its difficult to do in the south Texas heat, for one, and we travel a lot which lends itself to a lot of maintenence mileage. This summer, having gone to the Yukon and Alaska, and running the Juneau Marathon at the end of July left me very little time (August through mid-September) to focus on Ultra training. Furthermore, a lot of my scheduled trail runs got curtailed by weather and unforseen scheduling issues (like how Kickapoo Caverns State Park is only open Fri-Mon). I did quite a bit of my training runs out in the Davis Mountains (my back-to-back 13 milers, and my back-to-back 25 milers), so I did have some efforts at elevation, but those were mostly road miles.

So we left Brackettville the Thursday before the race and drove to El Paso. Booked a convenient hotel via Travelocity on the way out . . . and PAID in advance. Arrived at hotel (Days Inn at Mesa Drive) at around 11:30 pm . . . to find the parking lot full of police car lights flashing. Not just a single police car, but seemingly 1/3 of the entire El Paso police force. There must have literally been 30 police cars there. Along with some sort of Motorcycle gang from California and Nevada. And, of course, they wouldn't let us in the parking lot. So we drove around, and Marla got out and talked to the clerk behind the desk who suggested that we just park in the next door Motel 6 lot, then after the police cleared out, we could move the car. Well, that didn't sound like a good plan to us . . . with the dogs and at least some gear to bring into the room. So we waited until the police cleared out. Several officers saw us waiting, and told us that it would be "just a few minutes", but it ended up being an hour or more. We got conflicting instructions from officers as well, one would say "drive on in around that car" and then we'd get yelled at by a second officer - it was pretty frustrating. Finally, they hauled off one motorcycle, and one guys in handcuffs, and cleared out and we got into our room.

Next morning was clear and bright, and we got up before our alarms due to hotel noise (person upstairs was stomping around). I had to catch some feeder lizards in the desert, so we stopped to do that west of El Paso, and ended up taking up too much time. We did find a couple of Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox) which I photographed, and I collected a nice hedgehog cactus from a population that I know at least some are of hybrid origin (Echincereus x roetteri). We ended up getting to Tim's about an hour and a half later than I had planned, and didn't leave until almost 2 hours later. Phoenix traffic made us miss the end of Friday gear check and packet pickup, so we ate a nice dinner at Denny's, then drove up into the National Forest to camp near the start line. Tim was eager to see if he could hear any Saw-whet Owls for his birding big year . . . and right near camp, we had one respond to our calls! Lifer bird for both of us! Slept out under the nearly full moon and stars, and were woken up several times during the night to the sound of bugling elk nearby.

maps courtesy runazt.org

After a 5:45 am alarm, we got up and drove the mile from camp to the start at Hotshots Ranch. Checked in at 6:00 am, then back to the truck for breakfast and to make sure we had everything ready and organized. And, of course, for Marla to have her coffee. It was a cool 48 degrees F, and sunny. Saw a couple of Mule Deer in the meadow, and the other racers filled up the parking lot while we waited for the race to start. I decided to start the run in my Boston 2018 cap, and started off carrying my trekking poles in case I needed them in the first several miles worth of climbs. I did use them, but am not sure that I really needed them.

Heard the race director start the pre-race instructions and made our way down to the start once again. Edged my way towards the front of the pack. At the start, I started off really easy (probably still "too fast"), and ran through the meadow and into the woods - mostly on what can best be described as a trace of a trail until the race picked up on the Arizona trail about half a mile in. Once on the AZ trail, we started climbing. I had a group of strong runners pass be shortly after I got on the trail, including the eventual women's winner - they were running at a conversational pace that was faster than any I had the ability to attempt. And by conversational, I mean that they were having an actual conversation! LOL. I didn't find any of the climbs on this section of the trail to be really grueling or seriously steep, but we were certainly ascending, and I could feel the elevation as we climbed. Within a couple of miles, we more or less reached the top (about 4 miles in), and the course leveled off. As the course turned west descending into a meadow towards FR 151, a big group of us ran off the marked trail - I'm not sure how or where, but I think we ran down the road trace on the map just to the north of the E-W section marked.

Continued on FR 151 (easy running) north to the Nature Conservancy Hart Prairie Preserve, which is a big beautiful meadow high in the mountains . . . wish there had been Elk out there, but I'm sure all the runner activity had already pushed them back into the timber. Ran into the first aid station, not expecting to see Marla and Tim yet, but there they were (they were technically supposed to meet me at the Fern Mountain Relay Exchange 1 mile further up the road). My drop bag wasn't at Hart Prairie, either (although it didn't matter) - apparently, it was also at the Relay Exchange. Only took time to refill my water flasks and hand off my trekking poles to Marla & Tim. Oh, and I exchanged by Boston ball cap for my Resistol, which I ran in for the rest of the day. A few minutes later, and I was back out on the road (FR 151) for the trek north to Kelly Tank another 11.5 mi up the trail.

For this section, I started off pretty much all alone, and stayed that way except when I stopped to take some scenery pictures. Somewhere in this section, the lead 55K runners passed me, and I think most of the runners that I was running alongside were running that distance.

This was probably the most scenic section of the course. After leaving FR 151, I climbed up to the high elevation point of the race (about 8600') before beginning a long gentle descent on big looping switchbacks through groves of aspen and ponderosa pine. The trail here was mostly really soft and smooth - pine sections being the smoothest, with aspen sections having quite a few roots (not surprising, given the suckering habits of quaking aspen). The forest gradally opened up, eventually providing great views of the San Francisco peaks. Fortunately, I seemed to have put some clouds on a tether, as whenever I ran out into open prairie, the sun seemed to go behind one of the clouds (a situation that continued most of the afternoon). Eventually, the trail straightened out, and I could see dust in the distance - cars moving to and from the Kelly Tank aid station.

In this section of the race, I did experience some GI distress - I had eaten a cookie or two at the start of the race - some snickerdoodles that I had made up with a couple of cups of vanilla protein powder in the batter. I'm not sure if those were the problem or not - of if it was the bowl of cereal to start. At this point, I was also perhaps suffering a bit from lack of sleep - a situation that resolved itself after drinking a Dr Pepper at Kelly Tank. Ran into to Kelly Tank doing well, plopped down into the chair Marla & Tim had waiting and refueled.

The stretch from Kelly Tank to Cedar Ranch was the longest
stretch between full aid stations on the course, at 13 miles. It was also the driest and hottest (wind often blocked by Cedars), and in many places the roughest running, with sections of trail covered in golfball to softball-sized rubble. Elite Ultrarunner Rob Krar and his wife did set up a "water only" aid station near Missouri Bill Hill, about 8 miles into this section. Rob wasn't there when I stopped to chat and refill my water, and I asked where he was - his wife said he'd gone for a run up the trail - I saw him loping along up hte trail a couple of miles later. Oh, she had popsicles in her yeti cooler there - a much appreciated treat during the heat of the day.

In this section of the race, I really felt at my lowest point of the day, physically (besides the late night portion, of course). The sun (despite being behind clouds most of the time), lack of water (I ran my flasks dry - should have carried more water here), and long stretches that I didn't feel comfortable running on sapped my energy and drive a bit. It was with a great deal of relief that I saw dust clouds in the distance indicating cars travelling to an from the Cedar Ranch Aid station.

At Cedar Ranch, I plopped down in the chair Marla had sat out for me, drank another Dr Pepper, ate a PBJ and some oranges, and had her massage my legs. She suggest that since the next section was just five miles to Tub Ranch, that I ought to run it without my hydration vest and just hand carry one flask of water. This proved to be a great idea, as I got my second wind, cooled off quite a bit, and was able to run all the way through to Tub Ranch.

The stretch from Cedar Ranch to Tub Ranch was simply along a gravel county road in the open prairie. Here, we entered the Babbitt Ranch, where we spent a big part of the middle of the afternoon. We also ditched the 55K runners at Cedar Ranch, and from here on out it was just 100 milers and 100 mile relay runners.

I don't really have a lot to say about the section from Cedar to Tub Ranch, except to be thankful that I continued to have cloudcover in an otherwise mostly sunny sky.

At the Tub Ranch Aid Station, Marla treated me to wet washcloth out of the ice chest (something I wish either of us had thought of sooner), more oranges, and another Dr. Pepper (and a chair in the shade). I messed around here for about 15 minutes before heading out to Oil Line, the next aid station up the road. All of the Babbitt Ranches sections of the race were run on gravel ranch roads - it was neat to be out in the wide open spaces, but I did run out of water between Tub Ranch and Oil Line, despite it just being about 6 miles - next time I run this one, I'm carrying more water - probably a larger flask on my back "camel pack" style.

At Oil Line Aid Station, the volunteers offered all the runners the option of taking a shot of whiskey or a shot with a rifle. I wish I had gotten one of them to take my photo shooting that .223! I also got them to give me a big chunk of ice which I put down my shirt - it was a big enough chunk that it lasted almost all the way to the boundary aid station.

By the this time, I had settled on a routine of 5 minutes of walking and 30 minutes of running. Seemed to be working fairly well. There were a couple of runners that I found myself exchanging places with - they took less time in the aid stations but I was running a little faster. I hit what I estimated was the 50 mile mark/halfway point in 9:17 hours - estimated because I knew that the ultratrac mode on my watch was not reading very accurately - in particularly, it had not read accurately back in the mountains at the beginning of the race. Since Oil Line was at mile 45 and my watch read mile 48ish when I left the aid station, I assumed that mile 53ish on my watch would be the halfway point. Anyway, it was a new PR for the 50 mile distance! Woohoo, now 50 more to go.

Arrived at the Boundary Aid Station a bit over 10 hours after I had started this morning. Sun low in the sky, I switched from my Resistol back to the Boston Cap. Picked up a long sleeve shirt and headlamp. The course manual had indicated that the drive to Boundary was a 4WD road, and I told Marla & Tim not to push things if it looked sketch. Tim said the road really wasn't that bad, not even really requiring high ground clearance if you knew what you were doing.

Left Boundary and headed out onto mostly singletrack trails again. I stopped pretty quickly to pull on my long sleeve shirt - I wasn't running fast enough to generate much heat. The stretch from Boundary to Moqui had a lot of sections that were really rocky which I didn't try to run, so it took me almost an hour and half to run that 5 mile section. I did have to turn on my head lamp where the trail crossed the FR just over halfway to the aid station.

Pulled out of Moqui headed north to Russell Tank - a distance of 8 miles. Much of this section, at least before FR 320, was on an old jeep road ("double track") and was really smooth, making for easy running. I resumed my 5 minutes walking, 30 minutes running. Of course my watch mileage was completely off and I wasn't really paying much attention to distances. When I crossed FR 320, there was a big black water tank that said "Russell" on it . . . I was nearing the end of one of my 30 minute run sections, but I assumed that I must be pretty close to the aid station, so I kept running for awhile . . . and awhile longer . . . and some more. Where the hell was this aid station? Eventually, I stopped to walk again. Somewhere in here, I had to stop and go the bathroom. Got really chilled when I stopped completely. Kinda sucked. Eventually, there was the aid station. Took my chair, and sat close to the fire. Pulled on my adidas tights and my Nike thumbhole pull over sweatshirt. Ate some PBJ and oranges. Drank another Dr Pepper. Got my trekking poles. Probably sat around too long.

The section of the race from Russell Tank to Hull Cabin turned out to be really hilly - up and down and in and out of little finger canyons. I ran where I could, walked were I couldn't. The mile 71 water only aid station wasn't there at all. Don't know what was up with that. Somewhere along here, I flushed a Western

Screech Owl. Started hearing Elk bugling. Ran this whole section and only got passed by a single runner as I neared FR 307. Probably 3/4 of the way through, I came to a realization that my "run where I can, walk where I can't" pace was slower than my "power hiking pace" so I quit trying to run and just aimed to walk fast. I think I was finally stiffening up. I think that had I been confident enough to run the rubble sections rather than walk them, that I might have been able to keep running. Hiked down the long hill on the gravel road to Hull Cabin aid station.

Ate some potatos, drank a DP, ate some oranges. Marla was ready to "run" as my pacer for the last 20 miles. Of course, I wasn't running any longer. Just power hiking. Paces started out ok, close to 17 min/mile. From Hull to Watson Tank, we got into a big or at least close bunch of Elk - never saw them, or heard footfalls, but they were close enough I could hear cow calls. Lots of loud bugles. It was really neat. Took us a bit over 2 hours to go from Hull Cabin to Watson Tank. Wish I could have run that section - trails weren't too bad - mostly gentle downhills with just a little bit of rolling hills and one switch-back descent into a canyon above Watson Tank. Got to Watson about 4:30 am. Again ate some potatos, drank a Dr. Pepper, ate some oranges. Added my Tracksmith Logan Jacket.

Trudged out of Watson Tank Aid Station at about 5 am. Figured we had about 3 1/2 more hours to go (power hiking has slowed to more like 19 min/mile or slower). Mostly, the section from Watson to the Finish was downhill. Some sections had extensive dried mud where cattle had pocked up the trail. There was one section within a couple of miles of the Reed Tank Aid Station where there was heavy construction equipment nearby - you could hear the machines "beep beep" as they backed up, and the motors running. Kind of spoiled the atmosphere of that section. Next year, I'll run it faster so that don't have to hear it LOL.

Finally got to Reed Tank Aid Station. Not sure why this one is here, with only just over 2 miles to go. We didn't stop, just kept hiking. Annoying little uphill out of Reed, then off the AZ Trail and under Hwy 64. Now onto an asphalt bike path to the finish line. Got passed by a couple of runners between Reed and the Finish . . . mostly they were still running. I tried a couple of times, just didn't have any run left in my legs.

Walked it on in to the finish, completing my first 100 mile race in 25 hours, 30 minutes. Not the time I had hoped for, but a FINISH nonetheless.

I learned a lot here, I think. In retrospect, my mileage base was more or less enough, although I probably would have benefited from another month at around 100 mi/week. What I really needed for this race was more elevation training and a LOT more trail mileage. I also needed trail mileage run at night with the headlamp. I'm already planning on coming back and running it again next year, and Marla & I are talking about a trip to the Rockies in July where we can make daily trail runs at elevation. Trips to the Guadalupe Mts in west Texas on big moon nights to run from Pine Springs over the mountain to Dog Canyon and back - things like that. Maybe weekend trips out to Devil's River SNA . . . I think the most important thing that I can do to improve my performance at this kind of race is simply to get more comfortable running on rough trails. A few runs at Kickapoo Caverns SP, or at the Davis Mts Preserve, just aren't enough, and the trails at Fort Clark might as well be crushed gravel, they're mostly that soft and smooth.

There were also times in the middle of the race where I needed more water - the two flasks on the vest weren't enough. I probably need to add a large flask to the back of the vest and use it like a camel pack. Or get a different vest that carries more water. More liberal use of iced towels early in the race would also be more helpful, along with more ice down the front and back of my shirt. It wasn't unbearably hot, but keeping cool is important, I think.

Oh, since I ran the whole thing by feel, and didn't really pay much attention to my Heart Rate, I think that if I expect my Garmin to get complete data on the whole race, I need to forget wearing the HRM. Utratrac mode didn't prove to be all that accurate on the mileage, either . . . and since I know my approximate HR at different paces, I can just worry about that anyway.

This was my first 100 mile race, but it won't be my last. I may try Rocky Racoon in February (depending on outcomes of other races this fall), and I'll be back in Flagstaff next September and quite likely at Ozark next November.

Gear Check:

Shoes:  I ran in Altra Lone Peak 4.0s, size 10.5. Great Shoes

Shorts:  I ran in yellow 2.5" relay shorts from Tracksmith, incredibly comfortable fabric. After dark, I pulled on my adidas running tights to keep warm (since I was no longer moving fast enough to generate much heat)

Shirt:  I wore a New Balance NYC Marathon training shirt from 2017 during the day. At dusk, I pulled over my Adidas Boston 2014 long sleeve trainer, and then added my gray Nike thumbhole pullover at mile 68. Finally, at mile 80, I ended up adding my Tracksmith Logan Windbreaker.

Socks:  Injinji OTC 2 Compression socks.

Fuel:  I ate a few Hammer Gels, bananas, lots of oranges, pbj sandwiches, boiled potatos, Skratch Labs drink mix, and Dr.Pepper at different times throughout the race. I had made up some snickerdoodle cookies with protein powder (sounded like a good idea), but when I ate those early, my stomach rebelled a bit, so I quit eating them.

Hydration System: I wore my Saloman S-lab Sense Ultra vest, carrying 2 one-liter soft flasks - one with water, the other with Skratch labs hydration drink.

Hat: I ran the early and late miles in my 2018 Boston hat. During the heat of the day under the desert sun, I wore my old resistol cowboy hat. It was very cool, and kept me from getting sunburned, but it didn't absorb much sweat. 

Glasses:  My Oakely Flak Jackets with red Prism running lenses.

Watch: Garmin 920XT with tri HRM.

Watch Data (incomplete)