Thursday, February 5, 2015

Coldwater Rumble - 2015

Coldwater - my first race in 2014, and my first ever DNF.  I ran strong for the first 35 miles or so, climbing up to 3rd place, but by mile 40, I dropped.  The rest of the year turned out pretty good, but I still had this demon on my back.  After accumulating way too many bibs in the first couple of years of racing, I have since taken to tossing them in the trash right after the event. The one exception is the 2014 Coldwater bib, which hangs prominently in my office - a constant reminder of the DNF that pushes me to go out for a run on sub-freezing days, when I would rather enjoy a hot cup of tea on the couch.

Needless to say, starting off the year at Coldwater again was a bit of a gamble. It's so soon after the holidays, with higher weight and less training. And this winter season, I managed to be sick twice with bad colds that put an additional hamper on my training. I hadn't been able to put in any long runs, or even high mileage weeks since the disappointing McDowell Mountain Frenzy in early December. So with all of that as a backdrop, I was not only going back to Coldwater, but I was doubling down for a full 100 miler instead of the 52 that kicked my ass last year. I really don't do anything half-assed. It's full-assed, or nothing!

This is only the second year of the 100 mile option at the Coldwater Rumble and it takes place in the Astrella Mountain Park, southwest of Phoenix. I arrived there about an hour before the start and things were just getting set up. I did a bit of pacing and huddling by the propane heater to ward off the 42 degree pre-dawn low. Then, with 90 seconds to go, I finally stripped off all the layers and took my place at the start in just a pair of shorts. There were a number of stares and comments on my shirtless choice and I was definitely cold, but I knew that wouldn't last too long. Soon enough, we were off.

As usual, there were lots of rabbits amongst the 72 runners but I tried to remain patient. It’s still tough, even after all these races, and I could have (and should have) started even slower.  I went out relatively easy and took the opportunity to chat with a variety of runners over the course of the first lap.  The temperature quickly climbed out of the 40’s and towards the projected highs in the upper 70’s.  Being shirtless no longer seemed so silly.  I was worried about the hot temperatures leading up to race day, but I hadn’t paid any attention to the wind forecast.  With a steady breeze and gusts in the 15 to 20 mile range, the heat was never a factor.  It was only really noticeable on the rare occasions when the terrain blocked the wind.  And, for laps 2 and 3, I employed my ice bandana, which kept me quite comfortable.

The wind was strong enough to be a factor at times.  It was great as a tailwind, going down the sandy wash near the top of the course.  On the way back, going uphill and into the wind, it wasn’t all that much fun.  This year, Aravaipa went with reversing loops like at Javalina.  I like it as you get to see everyone all day long and can get a good sense of the competition.  I thought it was pretty simple and straight forward, but apparently quite a number of runners wound up running loops in the wrong direction.  The other, not so great part about the wind was its unholy alliance with the jumping cholla cactus.  These things look so soft and cuddly from a few feet away, they’re sometimes referred to as teddy bear cholla.  Upon closer inspection, the soft “fur” is actually made up of long, sharp barbs.  And, while most cacti stay put and out of your way, the tops of these monsters break off easily and roll about, eventually making their way onto the trails, ensnaring unsuspecting runners and bikers.  I was smart enough to avoid these little bastards but at one point a wind gust blew a baseball sized chunk right onto the side of my foot.  OUCH!! &%^$&*^$&!!!!!  I had to use a rock to nock it off, as you do not want to grab those things with your bare hands.  Luckily, none of the barbs remained in my shoe or foot and I continued on even more cactus-aware than before.

Despite the wind, there were lots of flies around and I must have smelled really good.  Every time I ran by a pile of horse manure (horse shit, for the urbanites), the flies would take off and swarm after me.  The damn things were a serious nuisance.

The aid stations and volunteers were just as I’ve come to expect at an Aravaipa event – AWESOME!  My only complaint was that the water at the Penderson AS seemed to be a bit heavy on the warm hose flavor.  I just got to requesting mostly ice, as that was made from clean, filtered water.  A welcomed new surprise this time was that they switched to pitless dates.  I love dates during a race, but the first time I nearly broke my teeth on an unexpected pit at one of Aravaipa’s races was not a pleasant experience.  This time, I took full advantage of the sweet, cockroach-looking treats, leaving each aid station with a large handful.  Those, and the peanut butter filled pretzels were a staple during the day, in addition to the almond butter, Honey Stinger waffles and chews that I had brought.

By the way, the shoes that got impaled by the cholla were brand new.  Yes, I made the cardinal sin of racing in a brand new pair of shinny shoes that I had not even tested on my feet prior to race morning.  They were the same brand and size as the ones I had just retired (because my toes were protruding through the fronts), so I thought it would be OK.  It actually was just fine except for one small issue.  I hadn’t quite dialed in the lacing just right so the front of my feet moved around a bit.  By lap 4, I had to stop, lube up the outside of my big toes with liberal amounts of Vaseline and tighten up the laces.  The damage was pretty minimal; hot-spots from a bit of rubbing, but no real blisters.

I made the wise choice at the last minute to throw in a spare headlamp into my Coldwater drop-bag.  That was a good move since I wasn’t running quite as fast as I had hoped and needed to turn it on a couple of miles before I ended the 3rd loop and was able to retrieve my flashlight.  I had been running reasonably well, though slowing down a bit over time.  I felt pretty good (downright great, considering I had just run over 60 miles) but was really looking forward to having a pacer.  The one good thing that came out of the McDowell race in December was that I reconnected with Rick Valentine, who I had met during our first 100K at the Ultra Race of Champions in 2013 (in which he kicked my but at the end). Despite beating him in the last few miles at McDowell, he offered to pace me at Coldwater. Normally, I don't think of pacing as having that much of an effect on a race, but man was I thankful to have him on this one.  I was getting tired and the company was great.  He helped me at a couple of drainage crossings where I lost the markings and sped me through the aid stations, refilling my bottle and grabbing snacks. We both took full advantage of the cheese quesadillas they served at the Coldwater station.  On one pass through, I downed 5 big pieces, which was probably one too many, but they were sooooo good.

When Rick joined me at the start of lap 4, I finally donned a shirt, as the temperatures were falling and I worried that my fatigued body would not have enough excess fuel for warmth.  The temperatures eventually fell back into the 40’s but felt quite comfortable most of the time.  There were significant variations with the undulating terrain.  Low spots would fill with cold pockets of air that would hit you like a wall, while climbing back out on a rise we would be greeted with warm air, tempting me to take the shirt off again.

Rick knew many of the runners and exchanged greetings along the way.  He also kept tabs on our placement and kept me on my toes with the competition.  The last 30 miles, since I had passed him, I kept looking over my back expecting Trent Peelle to overtake me. The last time I had seen him was right after the lap 4. He was only about a mile and a half behind, Rick warned me he was a strong runner, and I was not setting any speed records at this point so I was anticipating him sneaking up and retaking 3rd place.  Luckily that didn’t happen, because it would have been totally demoralizing that late in the race.

Rick periodically texted pictures and updates to my wife, back in Colorado and surprisingly, she kept responding throughout the night.  What was she doing up so late?

Remember that jumping cholla I had an encounter with earlier in the race?  Somehow, it tracked us down.  I heard a sudden cry of pain and turned around to see Rick’s headlamp shining down on a chunk of cholla implanted in the side of his shin.  I would have laughed even more, had I not been similarly victimized 2 laps earlier.

I was originally shooting for 19 hours, then as that goal slipped away, I had my sights set on 20 hours, then 21.  Coming into Penderson for the last time, I thought we might just have a chance at 21, but as we headed towards the small pass before Coldwater, our slow pace dashed my hopes.  Coming into Coldwater, my hopes were raised again, though I knew it would be tough and close.  I pushed as much as I could in those last 4 miles.  I honestly wasn’t sure until we finally hit the paved road, a quarter mile from the finish.

As we headed down the field towards the finish line, I tore off my shirt and handed it to Rick, along with my hand-held and a bag of Doritos that I had been carrying with me for the last 30 miles. I crossed the line in 20:58:58!  I then asked to make sure that we had calculated things right and I was still in 3rd place.  Lo and behold, somehow I finished in 2nd!  Apparently, the 2nd place guy (Chris Lopez) had dropped at mile 80, though he had at least an hour’s lead on me. It was a total surprise, but a pleasant one.

UltraSignup had my target time at 19:22:55, which I didn’t even come close to, but I sure as heck beat the 20th place that they had me ranked at overall, 11th male, and 3rd age group.  In retrospect, I should have started out just a bit slower (something closer to 4 hours might have been more maintainable), but hindsight is always 20/20.  While I did slow down a good bit over the last 2 laps, I never fell apart or had any significant issues, just accumulated fatigue.  I also managed to stay on my feet the whole time, despite stumbling on a couple of rocks throughout the day.


The course was easier than many other hundred milers, but not as easy as Javalina.  There’s a bit more elevation gain on this one, plus there are no significant sections where you can just run comfortably and steadily.  The whole course is littered with these small drainages that break up any rhythm.  Maybe due to the early time of year and/or the deceptively easy appearance of the course, only 33 of the 72 starters finished.

This is not an overly exciting race.  The location is nice, but not spectacular.  The field is of moderate size and the trails pretty decent, but don’t offer enough of a chance to run consistently for long distances.  As with all of their races, I found the course to be very clearly marked, though a number of people went in the wrong direction or even got lost.  One guy said he went 8 miles off course; how the hell does that happen?  The race is very well managed, as are all of Aravaipa’s events and it’s one of the very few ultras so early in the year.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the "play by play" it makes great reading during lunch.