Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Race Report-Pueblo 50

Old Pueblo 50 Miler Report
Saturday, March 4, 2006
By Deborah Sexton

The first half of this report will focus on things you'd be interestedin knowing if you are considering this race. The second half will talkabout my personal experience. Old Pueblo 50 miler is held in the very small town of Sonoita, Ariz. Youland in Tucson, rent a car, and drive about 45-60 minutes to get there.This is not a town with fast food restaurants and cheap motels. It'shorse and cattle country so there are some country store/conveniencetype stores and the hotels are mostly bed and breakfasts. I stayed inthe Sonoita Inn, which is a converted barn. Very cozy and homey withbare wood floors and Navajo rugs. A big fireplace in the lobby and a bigdining room table for guests to enjoy breakfast in the morning.Breakfast doesn't start until 8 a.m. but there is a sideboard where youcould help yourself to coffee or hot water and muffins, sweet rolls, hotchocolate, oatmeal, etc. There is also a horse endurance race this sameweekend so it's advisable to book a book six to nine months before therace. Otherwise, you will probably have to find a place farther away.

The race itself is headquartered in an old mining camp called KentuckyCamp. There is a pretty nice outdoor no flush potty, but no sink withwater to wash your hands. There is a small house there that serves asrace headquarters. You have to park in a designated area and then walkabout a quarter mile down a steep path to the headquarters. This is fineon Friday but on Saturday night after the race, this is an effort. When we got there to check in, which is from noon to 5 p.m. on Friday,the race awards were display. Wow. These were unusual and really nice.The overall men's and women's silver buckles were huge affairs studdedwith turquoise. The finisher's bucket also is very nice. A littlesmaller silver buckle with gold inlay with the race logo. There wereawards for the first three men's and first three women's winners andthese were hand-carved wooden statues of a cactus. Really nice. In the race bag, you got a Kentucky Camp coffee mug, a white organiccotton race T-shirt with Old Pueblo on the front and some local artworkon the back, and your race bib was made of white fabric edged with afloral fabric border. Very unique. I had never seen this. The nice thingabout the fabric was it draped better. It didn't crunch up like theTyvek ones do. Very cool. You also get a travel size packet of Kleenexstored in a ziplock bag. You are requested to use this as toilet paperand pack it out with you.There is no race dinner but runners were invited to come to The VelvetElvis in Patagonia, a small town very nearby between 5 and 8 p.m. Yousat down and ordered and paid for your own dinner but could socializewith other runners. The food was mostly unusual pizzas as well as thetraditional choose your own toppings, a list of salads, and a page ofentrees such as chicken, meatballs, and pork chops. It was good. Youcould get a salad and a huge slice of pizza for under $10 or you couldbuy this very unique pizza that had to be ordered a day ahead that cost$35. The race starts at 6 a.m. The temp was about 40 at the top of theparking area but after walking down to Kentucky Camp it dropped to the30s. In the valleys, it was significantly colder. However, there is adrop bag aid station at 7 miles that make it convenient to drop offjackets or extra shirts that you put on at the start that now made you too warm.
During the day it got up to high 60s and overcast so it wasperfect weather. The year before was much colder with rain and even somehail according to past participants so you come prepared for anything. The area is experiencing a drought so all the overruns were completelydry. A native Arizona runner explained to me that there are no "rivers."Just overruns that have water when it's rained. Most of the time, theyare dried up. You cross about 7 places where you might have to get yourshoes wet if it's rained recently. We escaped all of those. The courseitself has a number of significant climbs and with equally challengingdescents, some of which are annoying steep with lots of the super funloose rock and scree that try to make you land on your butt. There is anice long stretch of very sandy road that also sucks the life out ofyour legs. There's also lots of single track trail, some of which isvery rocky, some smooth and very runnable. You also run a lot of dirtservice roads that vary in rockiness.

Some have an annoying washboardpattern with rocks, others are very smooth. So you have a lot of varietythat makes it easy to mix up walking and running. At the top of eachclimb you are rewarded with unbelievably beautiful views of mountainsand desert landscape. Really worth it. The race info suggests bringing two water bottles. I did not, but I willsay that there were two stretches during the race where I ran out ofwater and regretted that. The other stations were close enough togetherso it was sufficient. Several aid stations were 4 miles apart, a few sixmiles, and one was 7 miles. Not having run in a desert climate before,you may not realize that the lack of humidity sucks moisture out of youso you will need to drink more than usual. The Gatorade was tangerine,which I really liked. All workers at the aid stations were very friendlyand attentive to runners. I never had to fill my own bottles and waspressed at each stop to eat. It seems to be mostly staffed byexperienced ultra runners and I recognized runners from other races. There are two short climbs in the last four miles but most of it ispretty runnable which was nice. A few single track trails with rocks,but you have a good stretch through a grassy field that is nice flattrail. So you can kick it in at the end if you have anything left. Allfinishers were treated to clapping, shouts of encouragement, and generalcelebration at the end. Even the back of the packers. Duane Arter wasthere personally to hand you your buckle and there was a post race feastof hamburgers, chili, cookies, etc. It was getting cold again by 8 and 9p.m. but you could go into the nice warm house to eat your food. My dropbags were waiting for me when I finished and Julie Arter repeatedly waschecking and asking runners if they had received their drop bags. If you decide you want to run this, it fills up in a week. You will needto e-mail the race director to request an application and probably haveto mail it back the same day. I thought it was an awesome race andeveryone raved about it also. My personal raceI flew out with Jay Freeman, Letha Cruthirds, and Tom Crull. Tom renteda car and we drove to Sonoita. Tom and Jay were at the Sonoita Inn(highly recommended but pricey at $119 a night). Letha had booked inSept, but the Sonoita Inn was full so she got a room around the block atthe Rainbow Bed and Breakfast. We could not figure out where thecheck-in was. We finally went into a house we thought might be it but noone was there. So we decided to check in later. As were pulled out tothe road, we saw a pick-up truck with Rainbow Bed and Breakfast on thedoor so we pulled back in. The very nice lady embarrassing told us thatshe had Letha's deposit but she had forgotten to reserve a room for herand there were no rooms left. There also was a horse endurance run that weekend so there were no otherrooms in town. Letha walked out to the car to talk to Tom and Jay and weended up rooming with Jay Freeman. Tom was rooming with Tyler Curiel. SoI would not recommend the Rainbow Bed and Breakfast. There was a nice country store next door to the Sonoita Inn so we wereover there to grab a snack since we'd missed lunch. We checked in ourrooms. They put out wine and cheese at four in the common area in thelobby and close to five we drove to the Velvet Elvis to eat. We were oneof the first to arrive and later Kelly Ridgeway and her boyfriend MattSmith joined us as well as Melody and her boyfriend Steve. (Friends ofTom) Letha also had two non-running friends who joined us along with onehusband. So it was a nice dinner. Jay Freeman told a funny story about how every time someone would askhim where he was from and he said Texas, that person would ask if heknew Tom Crull. His running partner Cindy had run in a race with Jay andthe person asked Cindy where she was from and when she said Texas, thisperson asked if she knew Tom Crull. So Jay was validated. This proved tobe very true at this race. Tom could barely eat as he was talking to allof his friends coming in. We got back to the hotel and Tyler had arrived so we all visited withhim for awhile and then headed to bed. Race morning, I was up at 3 a.m.,Jay got up at 3:45, and Letha got up around 4. It was cold. We parkedand did final preparations to start the race. I went into this race a little apprehensive about whether I could makethe cutoff. Some runners who were slightly faster than me had justbarely made it last year and since Bandera 100K in January, I had nottrained as much as I would have liked and really did not feel preparedfor the climbs I knew I would have to do. I really considered this racea training run for Western States but I knew if I couldn't make thiscutoff, I'd never make the cutoffs at Western. So the pressure was on. My game plan was to stick with Tom Crull, who was running it for hisfifth time. After trouncing me at Tyler 25K by about 30 minutes abouttwo weeks before, I had concerns about keeping up with him also. Youstart off with a mild climb, but I was immediately huffing and puffing.There is some altitude in this race, although it is not extreme. Ididn't feel it affected me in terms of sickness but I'm sure it affectedme in terms of speed. So I immediately started to panic a little bit. Mybreathing was loud and labored and we were not going fast at all. SammyVoltaggio (this is the guy who cooks all that fantastic food at RockyRaccoon 100 and Bandera) caught up to us. We had missed seeing him atthe Velvet Elvis the night before. He gave me a hug as he explained thathe had a senior moment when he booked his flight. He thought he hadbooked a flight for 7 a.m. but when he got to the airport, he found outhe had booked a flight for 7 p.m. Ooops. So he didn't land until 11 p.m.We passed the first aid station at mile 3 (Granite Mountain. This isalso the aid station at 33 miles as you do a loop and come back in thisway. Nobody stopped. It was still pretty crowded at this point and Tomwas busy saying hellos and chatting with people. I didn't have enoughair to spare for talking so I just listened and focused on keeping upwith him. We got to the mile 7 aid station (California Gulch) and I shedmy jacket and pants. Kurt Coonrad was working this aid station. He hadbeen the aid station captain at Hardrock's Cunningham station where Ihad worked this past summer. He said he got in this year. Shortly after leaving California Gulch, you have this really longstretch of sandy road. I can't remember if it's before or after WaspCanyon at 13 miles. Ugh. I labored through it and really couldn't keepup with Tom. I also was talking with Matt Smith, who was doing his first50, so when Tom made a pit stop, I ran on with Matt knowing Tom wouldcatch up. Tom apparently made several stops because he finally caught upwith me descending down Gunshot Pass which was the steepest, longestclimb with the steepest most difficult descent. I saw him below me onthe switch backs and then he caught and passed me going back down. Icould not negotiate the slippery steep rocky terrain as fast. I alsolost Matt. From Helvetia (19 miles) to Box Canyon (25 miles) I ran alone. I feltgood. Actually I felt much better than earlier because I was now runningmy own pace and had warmed up. But I was disappointed that I couldn'tkeep up with Tom. I had several people pass me so I knew I was slowingdown. There was a 7 hour cutoff at Box Canyon so I was pushing to makethat. About halfway to Box Canyon, two guys caught up with me. Mike andJoe. I ran with them for a bit but then had another pit stop and lostthem. When I got back on the road, they were still in sight but prettyfar off. By running up the hills when they walked, I was able to catchthem. I was trashed but I was happy to have someone to run with.Mike and I finished the race together. He was a law professor at theUniversity at Tucson and also was the director of the law library. So hewas very interesting to talk to and thank goodness, he was talkative. Hehad three kids, a boy and two girls and his son, the middle child, wasthe same age as my Shea and they turned out to be somewhat alike. So weenjoyed each other's company talking about family and running, and etc.He was primarily a road runner, but this race was in his backyard, helived in Tucson, so he decided to try his first 50 miler. We were very close in pace so I was comfortable running with him. Wemade it to Box Canyon in six hours exactly so I was very happy that Iwas ahead of the cutoff and in good shape to finish under 15 hours. Mostof the rest of race was uneventful. From Box Canyon we ran to GraniteMountain (33 miles), then Cave Canyon at 40 miles. This was the longeststretch. It was mostly road and very runnable but I ran out of water. Ifinally accepted Mike's offer to drain some of him Camelback water intomy bottle. When we reached Cave Canyon, I was trashed. The climbs were making mefeel sick and I was seeing stars at one point. I did not feel good atall. Altitude may have had something to do with this or my lack of hilltraining. About this time, I also started to have some cramping in mygroin area which was making it hard to run. As I came into the aidstation, I asked the workers if they had received the rock removalmachine I had requested and cleared the rest of the course of rocks.They were very kind and laughed. Celtic music was playing and a pointperson was standing about 100 yards ahead of the station and calling inyour race number so workers could grab your drop bag. I chatted with himasking his name and it turns out Bob had been at Hardrock the yearbefore which is why I recognized him. He told me he got something Ican't pronounce during the race and ended up in the emergency room. Buthe got in again this year so he was very happy about getting a secondchance to kill himself. I sat down and drank a Red Bull for the first time. I was sick of eatingfood and not hungry but I knew I had to refuel. I contemplated a Boostbut then the aid station worker said she had turkey and cheese rollups,which no one had earlier so I ate a couple of those. A nice change. Wespent between 5-7 minutes at that station, which was too long, but Ineeded the time to regroup. Shortly after coming out of there, the Red Bull kicked in and I feltmuch better. Mike was in the lead and was keeping a strong steady pace.I could keep up with him but was making an effort. So it was a goodthing because he kept me moving faster that I would have alone. Plus,just knowing we had hit 40 miles was wonderful psychologically. I knew Ionly had 10 miles to go and I would definitely finish. We did the mathand knew we had plenty of time to make the cutoff. At Cave Canyon wealso put on some extra clothes and made sure we had our flashlights. It was six miles to the last aid station Gardner Canyon. I wasdetermined to make this one before dark and we did. So that was great.So only 4 miles in the dark. Woo Hoo. The cramping was happening moreoften and I was dragging. Mike was stronger and could have run it in,but very graciously stayed with me. I ran and walked until the crampingmade it impossible. Walked until the cramp subsided and ran again. Thissection had two climbs in it which were not bad except for how trashedwe were. It also had a few rocky single trail areas but the rest wasvery runnable. I felt able to run except for the darn cramping and I wasfrustrated at not being able to run more. We had a chance at breaking 14hours and I pushed as hard as I could, but we missed it. My time was 14hours 4 minutes.There were all kinds of people shouting and congratulating us as we camein. I told Mike to go and run it in, I was walking. Someone yelled, "Youhave to run into the finish (it was uphill) and I said 'I am running!'"When I reached the top I ran in the rest of the way. Duane Arter handedme my hard-earned buckle in a little velvet bag. And I thought, well,you'll need to get a little faster on those hills, but maybe I can makethe 30 hour cut off at Western.

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