Elephant Mountain is a new 50k put on by the boys at Aravaipa Running. This was going to be my 2nd 50k race and I was confident I would be able to avoid some mistakes I had made at my first one. The race was run on some of the same trails as the Cave Creek Thriller so I had a little knowledge of what to expect. Luckily this time I was crewed by my lovely wife and I would get to see her 2 times during the whole race.
Start-Go John Aid-Mile 2.6
The race began like any other ultra, low-key and easy. THere was about a pack of 10-15 of us that slowly made our way up the first hill. I had originally planned on power hiking this hill because I didn't want to go out too hard (a common habit of mine). Of course I got caught up with the other runners and ended up running the whole thing. About halfway up the climb I was caught by Alex Kaine. If you do not know Alex, get to know him. This guy is good. I had been looking for him at the start but was unable to find him due to his habit of arriving fashionably late. My pre-race strategy was to stay with him as long as possible since he knew what he was doing and I didn't. Alex and I got to the time in about 3rd and 4th and were taking it easy as the field began to spread out. We all came into the first aid station relatively close and we all went through without stopping.
|Alex and I at top of 1st Climb|
Go John-Roger Creek-Mile 2.6-5.6
This next section was where many of us had never run before due to the newness of this race. Soon after the aid station Alex, started to make a wrong turn and I quickly corrected him. Shortly after this the course begins a slow, gradual climb and I found myself feeling really well and actually was in the lead. I decided to ride out the good feeling and just keep running. My pace was never labored and I slowed on each uphill but was still out ahead of the other runners. As I approached the Rogers Creek Aid station I noticed that the aid station workers had not even set up yet. Luckily they had the water jug ready and I quickly refilled my water bottle. While I was waiting in the aid station, the next two runners came in and out. Neither stopped. I quickly left the aid station to catch up to them.
Rogers Creek-Spur Cross-Mile 5.6-10.7
This section contained the biggest climb of the day. It was also the most beautiful section as the sun was up by this time and the trail was very green due to the amount of rain we had over the winter. I quickly settled into 3rd place behind the other two out-of-town runners and we spent the next 5 miles chatting it up and enjoying the climb and views. My crew was meeting me at the Spur Cross Aid station where I was planning on making a quit pit stop and then we would return. I had told my wife that I was hoping to be there in about an hour and 45 minutes from the start but it was apparent that I was way ahead of schedule. Once again as we dropped into the aid station, the volunteers were still setting up. My wife later informed me that they were not expecting us and were very surprised. Luckily she was there early. I quickly changed into a short-sleeved shirt, switched water bottles and slammed a clif bar. My aid station time was too slow again and I had to play catch up to get back in touch with the other two guys.
Spur Cross-Rogers Creek-Mile 10.7-15.8
After the turn around the course turns back on itself and heads back toward the Cave Creek Park. We would now get to climb the long downhill we just bombed down. We would also be sharing the trail with speedier 22k runners. It wasn't long before we noticed that there were a couple of guys gunning for us. We had about a 5 minute lead on the next guys but they were obviously working together. The hunt was on. We also spent a lot of time moving over as the trail was single-track and there were a lot of runners going both directions now. I was starting to feel the effects of the day and began to regret my decision of going out in front earlier in the day. I came back into the Rogers Creek Aid station in 3rd place and all three of our pack spent about 30 seconds refueling and taking part in the now fully stocked aid station.
|Aid Station Party|
|I'm in red getting some H20|
I left the aid station in 3rd place and was starting to labor pretty bad. I did my best to stay with the other two guys but their experience was becoming apparent. About a mile out of the aid station I dropped a gel and because I am a gel whore and each one is precious I stopped to pick it up. This tiny pause caused me to drop back about 20 seconds from the other two. I needed the time to gather my thoughts and pull things together if I was going to be able to finish. Soon we came to the Go John Aid station and I knew the upcoming section was quite technical as I had run in it in the other direction during the Cave Creek Thriller. I checked in filled up water again and made it out, still in 3rd.
Go John-Start/Finish-Mile 15.8-23.8
As I said, I knew what to expect on this section of trail as I had hiked and ran it before. However, things look very different in the other direction. I was still able to see the two guys in front of me and made sure I could always keep an eye on them as I ran/hiked my way around. This section has a pretty decent climb in it and I did my best to run as much as I could but my feet were starting to hurt and legs were starting to go. I was soon caught by two speeding guys from Boulder, CO. I was now in 5th place. My thoughts quickly shifted to the thought of my lovely wife who would hopefully have made it back to the start/finish line with some snacks, music and kisses. As I came into the start/finish I found another gear as there were lots of people around and you can't look like crap in front of spectators and definitely not in front of your wife. This is also where things got a little weird. I was a little ways out from the start/finish line and I met the two guys who had blazed past me earlier in the race. Because I was stuck in my own head it didn't dawn on me that they were going the wrong way. I was just blown away that they had caught be previous running mates from the day.
Start/Finish-Go John-Mile 23.8-26.8
Once at the start/finish aid I realized that they were going the wrong way and I told the RD that I believe they were running the final loop in the wrong direction. This wasn't a major deal being as the loop would still result in the same distance but it would make things interesting if someone going the correct way was in contention. I quickly left the aid station and made my way out the same way we started. I made sure to turn Left instead of continuing back on the trail as the previous guys had. I was pretty much alone the rest of the race minus a few of the shorter distance runners. I was surprised how well I was able to climb but anytime a downhill showed up my quads checked out. I suffered up the initial climb and then down to the Go John Aid where I again topped of my bottles, informed the workers about the other guys confusion. They thought that my initial running buddies were in 1st and 2nd so things were going to get interesting.
Go John-Finish-Mile 26.8-31.2
About a mile or so out of the Go John Aid station I met the two charging Boulderites and told them that I think they went the wrong way. They already knew that because they had also met the other two guys as well. They decided to just keep going since the distance would be the same and see what would become of it at the end. I also noticed that I was being caught. I did my best to keep charging the uphills but every time I came to a downhill I slowed considerably. I finally caught and relegated to what would either be 4th or 6th place depending on what became of the two misdirected runners. As I came down the final climb I passed a runner who was going into the start/finish aid for his first time. Just as I ran passed him my right hamstring cramped terribly. He noticed my discomfort and quickly gave me salt. I walked for a couple yards and was relieved quickly. I thanked him and continued on my way. I was nearing the 5 hour mark and wanted badly to break that mark as I had made a bet with my students that I would. I did not want to shave my beard for a 5:01. Thankfully I was able to hold it together to finish a strong 4:54, a new PB. I ended up taking sixth as the RDs did not disqualify the other two guys since they still completed the distance. That is the great thing about these ultra races. Many will still get credit just for putting in the work. I wonder if it would've been different had the race been closer??
Special thanks to my lovely wife and crew for keeping me motivated, fed, and inspired the entire run.
|Finish, wife photobombing in the background|
Also a special thanks to the guys I spent about 20 miles with...great times!!
Also...here is the race report from winner Jerry Armstrong
Next up: Crown King Scramble