2017 Whiskey Basin Trail Runs Race Report
The Whiskey Basin Trail Runs was held on April 8th on the Prescott Circle Trail, right here in Prescott. The event offered a 10k, 31k (19 mi), 57k (35mi), and 88k (54 mi) with all races finishing in the middle of the Dells along the beautiful Watson Lake. I had signed up for the 57k, my first ultra marathon. With the race start less than 2 miles from my house and a comfortable bed to sleep in the night before, I thought this would be a great way to experience my first long distance event. Not to mention that I train on those trails almost daily! So here’s a (
quick? detailed) race report from what happened yesterday.
The first section: Thumb Butte to White Spar
The race started at 7am from the Thumb Butte parking lot. From there, the course quickly joined the Prescott Circle Trail. I had divided the race into three distinct sections so the course didn’t seem as long. The first 12 miles of the course were on my favorite section of the Prescott Circle Trail. Right at the start, I took the lead in the race because I don’t like running behind people. I knew one of the guy in the pack was very fast and would likely win the race. I figured if he wanted to go around, he could do so. But if he didn’t, I could just set my own pace without having to worry about getting tempted to follow someone who was much faster than me.
I finished the first section on pace with my race plan. From there, I knew things would get tough as we hit Goldwater Lake Trail #396, which offers a few challenging long climbs. By the time we got to White Spar, I was about 30 seconds behind the leader, who was obviously holding up his speed.
The second section: White Spar to Turley
I knew this section would be challenging. The first 4 miles on #396 are not easy on a normal day, so they are no easier after 12 miles! Right after crossing Senator Highway, around mile 17, I was ready for trail #62 and its very long steady 3.5-mile climb. The single track is smooth and goes back all the way to 6,600ft elevation. And after 17 miles, it’s no walk in the park! But I knew the worst section of the whole course was coming in the form of the Boyscout and Turley Trails. Boyscout consists mostly of a river bed with lots of small loose rocks. Turley Trail follows with a series of 7 or 8 very short and steep climbs.
Unfortunately, the end of Boyscout and the beginning of Turley happen right around mile 24. And this is exactly where I started to feel the pain. I had followed my nutrition plan fairly well until about mile 20. After that, it became extremely difficult to eat and I was starting to get sick of the Tailwind in my backpack bladder. I also had planned to power hike up most of the short hills on Turley. Turns out, it was more a necessity than a choice…
Light headed and cramps
Right before the first hill on Turley, I started to feel light-headed. My fingers were tingly and I could only manage a slow walk. I also started to cramp in my left foot. A new sensation for me since I have never ever cramped during a running event! I had obviously hit the nutrition wall and I was starting to suffer. I walked up and ran down. The Turley aid station was right around the corner and I urgently needed pickle juice and different types of food if I was gonna keep going. After stopping at the station for a few minutes and suffering through drinking a full glass of pickle juice (barf), I was on my way out for the last section of the course.
The third section: Turley to Watson Lake
Right after leaving the aid station, the Turley trail welcomes you with a gentle yet long climb. With my energy level still not great, I power hiked a portion of it and ran on the flat/downhill sections. I was still feeling light headed for a large portion of this section and by mile 27, I was really not doing well. The trail was now opening into a beautiful flowy downhill all the way to Highway 69 where the final aid station was located. I have run this section many times, right around 7:30/mi pace, with fresh legs. At this stage, my pace was closer to 12:00/mi.
By mile 27.5, I was about to pass out. Literally. My brain was not registering anymore, and I started doubting I could finish the race without passing out in the middle of the trail. Hitting my head on sharp rocks is not how I pictured myself leaving this race… so I waited for the two hikers I had just passed and asked them if they could call my wife and tell her to pick me up at the next aid station. I had almost 8 miles to go to the finish, less than 2 miles to the next aid station, the math was easy…
The good Samaritans
I cannot tell you how grateful I am that Greta and Rich, local hikers, had decided to hike those trails despite the fact the race was going on. They were cheering runners and warning them about the upcoming slippery tunnel. After they helped me get up and loaned me their trekking poles, we started hiking down towards the aid station.
We talked about hiking and running, in between the breaks I had to take because my head was spinning. They shared the rest of their lemonade, gave me chocolate they brought back from Denmark, and even offered to share the cold pizza that was in their bag! You know you found good people when they are willing to part with their pizza! Greta had really cold water in her pack. After about a mile of slow hiking, I took a sip of that water and it felt like magic potion. I had been drinking warm Tailwind from my hand bottle and really couldn’t take another sip.
All of a sudden, with 1/2 mile to the aid station (and probably 35 min of hiking), I started to feel better. Somewhere in the middle of my dreaded hike to a DNF, the third place runner passed me and I was now in 3rd place. With a new wind in my sails, I high-fived my hiking saviors, and decided to run to the aid station. If I felt light-headed again, I was calling it a day. If I felt good enough, I would power through and tackle the last 6 miles to the finish.
By the time I got to the station, Cindy, one of my local running friend, was cheering at the station. She and her team gave me Coke, Ginger-ale, water melon and filled up my hand bottle with icy cold water. I asked them to tell my wife to meet me at the finish line. It was time to finish this race the right way!
The last 6 miles on Sundog Ranch Trail were extremely windy. I had spent almost 45 minutes hiking 1.5 miles. The 4th place runner could not be far and I had no option but to keep up the pace. Sundog offers three intermediate climbs before a final downhill to the railroad bed that lead to the finish line. I knew the first climb would allow me to scan the course behind me for about 2 miles. I had passed a few 31k-ers and could not spot anyone running down towards me. It looked like the 3rd place was secure. Nonetheless, with my energy levels increasing steadily, I ran through the following two hills.
By the time the last downhill appeared I felt like I could hold my early race pace! My friend CJ, who had been filming this first ultra for the entire day, was waiting for me at the bottom of Sundog. He ran next to me for the final 2 or so miles and my other friend Steve, who had made the trip from Florida, joined us for the last 1.5 miles. What a treat it was to run with them on the smooth section of Peavine.
The final section of the course finally appeared and after making sure no one was coming to pass me, I finished my first ultra in 6:12:25. I stopped my watch at mile 27.5 because I thought my race was over. I ended up hiking down for 40 minutes and covering less than a mile during that time. Mile 28 was 55 minutes long. Mile 34 was 8:26… Talk about second wind!
I want to thank everyone who was at the finish. My wife Thea, my visiting friends Steve, Sara (who killed it in the 10K and took 2nd overall and 1st female), Tom (who got top 10 in the 31k!), and my local running friends Tracy and Brenda. A very special thank you to CJ from Run Far (a non-profit that benefits kids and running, please check them out) and his friend Devon who spent the entire day driving from trailhead to trailhead to film me during this crazy experience. It feels great to be loved. Another big thank you to all the volunteers who were at the aid stations throughout the course. I heard/saw lots of familiar faces. It was also great to see all the new Phoenix and Prescott running friends I made through the HATI Training Runs. Andrew, Jess, Karl, Lori, Suzanne and all the others I didn’t get to see at the finish. Everyone seemed to have had a great time and I look forward to running more miles with them during this summer discovery run events.
If you are thinking of giving this race a try, do not hesitate. The trails are tough but absolutely beautiful. And yes I’m totally biased. Aravaipa did a great job putting this race together.
1. It’s all about nutrition
Running is all about learning. This was a humbling experience for sure. I remember the mistakes I made during my first and second marathons. I knew that ultras were basically a run/eat competition. But I underestimated the truth in that statement. My nutrition was planned but my body decided to follow a different plan. I made the mistake of carrying only two types of food. Lesson learned: diversify for my next race. I also found out that fresh cold water is magical after drinking warm mixed drinks for 20+ miles.
2. Split the course
The second lesson is that an ultra (35 miles here) is way more than a marathon followed by 9 miles. Especially when running on tough trails. I had the right idea with splitting the race into three sections. It really helped me focus. However, this is not always possible. I knew the course very well and still ended up bonking massively.
3. Wear the right stuff
The third lesson is related to clothing. I think I overdressed a bit. The training runs were fairly cold, especially in the Wolverton area. Each time I ran there, I had to put on extra clothes because of the cold wind. In anticipation, I wore two shirts: my tank top and a short-sleever on top. I never felt warm but now that I look at the footage, I notice I sweated very early on. I dropped my short sleeve shirt around the Turley aid station, which was fairly late. This likely contributed to the cramping…
4. Don’t give up
The last lesson is that it’s not over until it’s over. I was ready to throw in the towel before trying to fix the root cause of the problem. All I needed was time to replete my batteries. If I had bunked at an aid station, the outcome may have been different, with an easy exit readily available. I trained hard for this race and I was bummed to the idea of not finishing. But I persevered and rallied through. Lesson learned for future races when things start to go wrong.
I hope you enjoyed this Whiskey Basin Trail Runs race report. Let me know how your race went. I look forward to next year’s edition and possibly trying the longer distance. Or just sticking with the 57k 🙂
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