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One word describes last Saturday’s Black Canyon 100k trail run:

MUD

I suppose it’s a bit unfair to reduce the race to that single word, because it could also be described as cold or wet or windy. But while I’ve run in cold and wet and windy conditions before, I’ve never seen mud like I saw during this race. The shoe-sucking (and energy-sucking) muddy sections only made up a small portion of the course overall, but they were certainly noticeable!

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. With significant rain in the forecast, the race organizers had to switch from its traditional point-to-point course to an out-and-back format. I admire their determination and resolve to make the event happen, and I’m extremely grateful for their efforts. I’m sure that plenty of other races, if faced with similar circumstances, would have cancelled their events altogether. But Aravaipa came up with an alternative course, got the necessary approvals to have Mayer High School available as the finish, and made sure the doubled-up aid stations had enough volunteers and supplies.

Overall, the day seemed to have a “just taking care of business” feel to it. The trail conditions weren’t ideal, so day as a whole seemed less fun than it would have been under sunnier skies. At most races, for example, I normally hear a lot of friendly chatter during the first few miles as we settle into our chosen paces. At the BCT, I didn’t hear any chatter at all (well… apart from some chattering teeth).

It’s weird; I think that because many of us were there to try to get an early season qualifier for the Western States lottery, it meant that we were just going to put our heads down and gut it out.

But it would be wrong to say that my race experience was unenjoyable. If anything, my day was oddly mellow. Unlike every other long ultra I’ve done, there wasn’t a single point in this race where I lost any part of my resolve or desire to keep moving forward. I never doubted my ability to get to the finish within my time goal. And I never said to myself “this is dumb, I think I’m going to take up a new hobby.”

Even during the last stages of the race, when the rain was coming in sideways, and I was struggling to keep myself from shivering (out of a fear that if I started shivering I’d go into that scary uncontrollable full-body shake), I was in a relatively good mental state. I’d check my watch, estimate how much time I had until the finish, and say to myself “ok, I can get myself through that.” Happy by no means, but not sad either.

I guess the most significant thing that happened to me during the race is that nothing significant happened to me during the race.

The Course.

I know that this race report might not be particularly helpful to readers looking for info for their own first go at the BCT 100k, because this year’s event only covered the first 27-ish miles of the standard course. (And I hope that future editions will never again have extreme weather that requires reverting to the out-and-back version.)

But I can confidently say that, under dry conditions, those first 27 miles could be run fairly quickly. I completely understand other race reports that warn against going out too fast and trashing the legs too early. The mud and wet we saw this year had the effect of slowing me down a bit, which helped my legs stay in decent shape for longer than they normally do.

If I come back to run the race again, I’ll take care to relax a bit on the technical single track and allow my stride to open up a bit on the dirt road sections, always keeping an eye to saving my legs for the climbs later in the day.

Aid Stations / Drop Bags.

Despite trying to simplify, I still managed to overcomplicate my drop bags. Baggies inside larger baggies and trying to plan for varying levels of rain meant that I spent too much time at the aid stations.

Looking at the data from my watch, I spent over AN HOUR of cumulative time at the nine aid stops. That’s way far too long. Even though my only performance goal was to come in under 17 hours, the extra minutes I spent futzing around with my gear meant more time spent power hiking at the end of the race, in the deteriorating conditions.

I chose to hassle with changing socks twice during the race (both times at Gloriana Mine), and I’m glad I did. I wound up with a couple minor blisters on my left foot, but nothing that impacted my gait later in the race. Even on the regular course and under normal conditions, I’d still probably plan on a sock change or two.

Hydration and Fueling.

I never ran out of fluid on the course, but I consumed fewer calories than I thought I would. Most of my calories came from Tailwind, and my stomach never went sour.

I ran with a hydration pack that was fairly light, but which took extra effort to get the bladder in and out. Later in the race, when stopping at an aid station meant a quick drop in body temp, it took me more and more time to refill. It wasn’t a horrible gear choice, but I’d probably switch to a different pack if I run the race again.

Thanks again to Aravaipa Running for making the 2017 Black Canyon Trail Ultras happen!

 

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