2018 Whiskey Basin Trail Runs 57k race report
2018 was the 3rd edition of the Whiskey Basin Trail Runs organized by Aravaipa Running. It was my 3rd ultra and my 1000th time (at least) running on the Prescott Circle Trail. This race has a special connotation for me because it is a local race and borrows some of the coolest trails in the area. Last year's edition was my first attempt at running longer than a marathon, and it was an interesting experience, as you can read in this race report.
About the race
The Whiskey Basin Trail Runs features four distances with the 88k covering the entire Prescott Circle Trail, starting and finishing at Watson Lake. The 57k starts at the Thumb Butte Recreation Area (1.5 miles from my house!) and the 31k starts at Goldwater Lake. The 10k starts and finishes at Watson Lake and follows a portion of the Peavine Trail.
Check out these videos to see what the Prescott Circle Trail looks like.
A change for 2018
There was a slight change to the course for 2018. The City of Prescott recently rerouted the Boyscout and Turley trails to a more enjoyable trail called the Turley Bypass. The change added approximately 2 miles to the race but made the race easier overall. The Turley Bypass is a 3-mile net downhill section on a well-groomed trail while the old Boyscout and Turley Trails featured a gnarly section down a creek with a dozen short intense climbs at the end. Not what you want to see after running somewhere between 20 or 40 miles already!
The old Boyscout trail followed a rocky creek bed.
Training for the race
Training for this race started in January after a much-needed break from the 2017 Space Coast Half Marathon and a full year of heavy running. For the entire month of January and February, training did not go well. I struggled building up my mileage, hitting my workouts on the track, or finding any motivation for running at all! I was originally signed up for the 88k race but as training progressed (or actually didn’t progress), I decided to downgrade my registration to the 57k.
In the middle of March, after countless failed workouts, I decided to cut wheat out of my diet, thinking it was the cause of my poor performance. Low and behold, I started to feel better quickly! Check out the video below where I discuss what happened when I stopped eating wheat.
7 weeks of training
By the time I figured everything out, it was already early March, leaving me with 7 weeks to train until race day. Or essentially 3-4 weeks of heavy training. I had missed an opportunity to properly build mileage and do speed work. My typical training plan involves 2 speed workouts per week along with a long run on the week-end. Because of how things had progressed, I decided to focus on one solid workout and one long run until a few weeks before race day. My longest training week was 52.6 miles, about 10 miles shorter than it should have been to properly train for this distance.
My longest run was a road marathon where I paced a friend to a Boston Qualifier. My longest trail run was 24 miles where I went up and down a portion of the course, Wolverton Mountain, twice. Tough!
My racing strategy this time was pretty straight forward. Start slower than last year and keep some energy for late in the race. Let everyone else around me run their race and don’t try to race anyone else but myself. I think I successfully accomplished this goal.
Looking back at last year’s lessons learned in my race report, I wanted to improve and have a better experience.
1. It’s all about nutrition
Ultras ARE all about nutrition. This year, because of my wheat issue, I decided to carry my own food and rely minimally on aid stations. I have been training with Larambars and I carried four of those with me. The plan was to eat one every 7-8 miles and wash it down with water. I find them easier to eat than Cliff Bars and they also taste better. They are made of simple ingredients that are easy to digest. This was a victory. I had to force myself to eat my third one, but as soon as I did, I started to feel the energy go through my body.
Pro tip: Pre-cut your nutrition bar packets to save time and not litter the trails.
2. Split the course
Thinking about running 35 (actually 36.7) miles can take a toll on your moral. The mental splits in my head were 20, 26, 30, 36 miles. 20 miles because that’s where I usually start hurting in a marathon. 26 for obvious reasons. 30 because it’s a nice round number and it’s almost 50k and the last aid station, and 36 miles because you should be done by now, but you’re not. I try not to think about hitting mile 18 and thinking: “hey, you made it half way through”. That just messes with your psyche.
3. Wear the right stuff
Not wearing the proper outfit contributed to a difficult performance last year. Not this year!! I think I overdressed last year and I wore a backpack. No long sleever this year, and no backpack either. I reused my outfit from Canyon de Chelly Ultra: two handheld bottles, short sleeve shirt, arm warmers and gloves.
The handheld bottles allow me to carry enough water between aid stations. Two being the magical number because I can have one full of Tailwind powder, and another full of fresh water. Something I can’t do with a backpack, unless I have two bladders. Last year, I noticed that towards the end, the Tailwind in my pack was not only getting warm, but I was getting sick of it. Mixing drinking Tailwind and fresh water really helps me stomach everything. I refilled my bottles at each aid station and only ran out of water with a mile to go on one long segment.
The short sleeve shirt allows me to be comfortable at the end of the race in case it gets hot. The arm warmers are perfect because they are like a long sleeve shirt that you can easily take off if you need to. This year, I happened to keep them on the entire time.
Gloves are easy to get rid of if you need to, and this year I kept them on for 6 miles and left them at the first aid station (thanks Steve!). Perfect!
4. Don’t give up
This was a big theme at last year’s race. I started too fast, I overdressed, and I blew up at mile 26. I walked for 45-50 minutes before catching a second wind and finishing the race strong. I wasn’t planning on doing any of it this year.
Early in the week, Prescott was beating heat records, then two days before race day, two consecutive cold fronts moved in and brought near freezing temps at night, along with VERY strong winds. The forecast for race day was mid 30s in the morning, warming up to mid 60s during the day, with a clear blue sky and low winds, right about perfect!
First 10 miles
I am VERY familiar with the first 10 miles of the race, since it follows the trails behind my house. I love this area as it is surrounded by beautiful tall pine trees in the middle of the Prescott National Forest. I know the tough parts, the easier parts, where I should push and where I shouldn't. I started way too fast last year and didn't want to do this again this year.
I also didn't want to lead the race from the start line like I did last year. But when everyone started and took a wrong turn right off the parking lot, I ended up in the lead. Blah. I took it easy, hoping the faster guys in the back would pass and set race pace. This didn't happen until a mile or so into the race. My first mile last year was 8:18, this year: 8:51. Goal accomplished, plus I got a nice warmup.
After the two lead guys took off and started their battle for first place, I stayed with a group of three with a runner from Flagstaff and another from Salt Lake. We ran together until Potts Creek where I got in the groove and started to slowly peel off from the group.
By mile 10, I was 1:27 behind last year's time, with most miles slower than last year, and mile 9 considerably slower (by 42 seconds), going down Wolverton Mountain. But this is a good thing. I was managing my quads better and trying not to blow up early. I was alone by then, in third place.
Second aid station
The tough part with this course is that at the top of Wolverton, which happens to be the highest point on the Circle Trail, it is easy to get caught in running fast down the next 4.5 miles. By the time I got to mile 13, my gap to last year had increased to 2:17, the largest it will be for the entire race. But compared to last year, by the time I got to the second aid station (around 13.5), I didn't feel like I had started too fast and was going to pay for it later! I wanted to get to White Spar Campground feeling good and under control, and that's exactly how I felt. I ran 15-20 second slower per mile down Wolverton, that seemed to help.
When I reached the second aid station, I heard another runner behind me. I had not seen or heard anyone for a few miles all the way down Wolverton so I was somewhat surprised. On the way up trail 396 (Goldwater trail), I realized I was being chased by the lead female runner! She was running strong and catching up. At the end of the 4 miles of Trail 396, she passed me at the Senator Highway aid station, the third aid station, around mile 17.5. She continued running strong all the way up Trail 62 and killed the rest of the course. Impressive!
My performance this year on Trail 396 was indicative of not only how good I felt at this point, but how bad I felt last year! The 2:17 gap from mile 13 was reduced to almost nothing by mile 17! I ran Trail 396 conservatively and still made up over 2 minutes over last year! From here, I knew that the longest steady climb of the race was coming up: Trail 62!
I paced myself going up Trail 62 while I saw the 1st female peel off more and more after each mile. I was still 3rd overall male, and I wanted to stay there. From mile 14 to mile 20, I was running anywhere between 24 and 47 seconds per mile faster than last year. Every. Single. Mile! By mile 20, I was 1:44 ahead of last year, although I didn’t know that at the time.
“It’s gonna hurt soon…”
Last year, “stuff” hit the fan around mile 23. By mile 26 I was thinking about DNF and by mile 28, I was calling my wife to come pick me up. This year, I knew if I made it to the top of Trail 62, it would be a lot easier and I wouldn’t have to worry about Boyscout and Turley trails, because they weren’t part of the course anymore! The Turley Bypass is 3 miles long (almost exactly) and ends with the fourth (of five) aid station. From there, it’s a long, mostly-downhill, 4-mile-long trail to the last aid station, and then another 6 miles to the finish. You’re thinking: “yeah, 10 miles…” No! It’s more like 4 miles followed by 6 miles.
It took forever to get to the Turley Bypass. I haven’t spend as much time on this new section so I forgot how many twists and turns there are before you arrived at the Bypass! I ran out of water a mile away from the aid station and it was getting sunny and hot, on an exposed trail. Ooops… But I was still feeling pretty good considering the distance. I had to force myself to eat one of the Larambar but once I did, I felt the energy going through my body.
By the time I got to the fourth aid station, around mile 26.5, I was nearly 15 minutes ahead of last year. And I was ready for water! Two handhelds full! I was also ready for that downhill along P-mountain (Badger Mountain) but not before a short climb.
As soon as I left the aid station and started climbing, I felt a sharp pain in my left knee. I couldn’t bend my knee fully… “Not good, I still have 10 miles to go”, I thought to myself. My hips were getting tight and things were starting to pull on my knee. And it was painful. The downhill where I “ran” a 55-minute mile last year was approaching, and now my knees weren’t happy. Not again!
I did my best to alternate between shuffling and trying to bend my knee. What was supposed to be about 8:30/mi pace became a painful almost 10:00/mi pace… “Take it one step at a time, it might start to feel better again after the downhill”. Everything else was fine. I had water, I wasn’t dehydrated, I was still eating. I just couldn’t bend my knees. Oh well…
“1 hour, 6 miles, let’s do this! “
At mile 30, I arrived at the last aid station. Only 6 miles to go. A 10k! And I didn’t walk for 55 minutes, that was a plus. I was four and a half hour into the race, and was hoping to accomplish my 5:30 goal. “1 hour, 6 miles, let’s do this!” I had no idea where the fourth male was, but I really didn’t want to find out. I knew I couldn’t see him so I needed to keep trucking along.
It seemed like my knees were feeling better if I walked a bit and then ran until they hurt again. So I did just that. The downhills were the worst, and uphills seemed to be fine. I was just looking forward to being done with the Sundog trail and getting on the Peavine Trail for the last stretch. I didn’t eat much since mile 26 because I was worried about my knees. By mile 33, I started to feel low on energy. “Too late to eat now, gotta suck it up.”
The last mile was torture but I knew where the end was. I cruised to the finish line, turning back every 5 seconds to see if 4th place was coming for me. He never did and I finished 3 minutes over my goal time of 5:30, a whooping 39 minutes faster than last year, with slightly over 2 miles of extra distance compared to 2017!
Race is over, cheering is not!
Prescott has an amazing trail running community. Many of our most active runners had registered for the 88k and all that was left for me to do was cheer for them as they finished. It was a beautiful day to spend around Watson Lake. I found a shaded spot right before the finish line, setup my camping chair and my cooler, and cheered everyone coming in. What a great way to finish the day.
Noel was the first to come in, finishing over an hour and a half faster than last year! What a performance. We then waited for Stanford (experienced ultra finisher), Paula (finishing her longest race), Christian (finishing his longest race), Carol, Donna, Terri, and Wayne (all avid ultra runners) as they trickled in, accomplishing something truly amazing! They all ran over 56 miles in one day, with over 6000 feet of positive gain along the way. Congratulations to all.
As always, I learn a few things before, during, and after the race. Here’s a short list of things I will do again, and things I will change.
Things that worked:
- The handheld strategy, again.
- Pacing myself early in the race and running my own race.
- Bringing my own food, as long as I forced myself to eat.
- Mixing tailwind in one bottle and fresh water in the other was the way to go again.
Things that didn’t work/could have worked better:
- I need to strengthen my core (said that after Canyon de Chelly too).
- I need to stretch more and start yoga (said that before, a lot).
- I need to not be wheat intolerant. Oh wait, can’t control that one.
- More consistency in my training would have been nice, with longer training weeks, but not really my fault there.
- Refill my bottles fully at the aid station before long gaps. I ran out of water between Aid Stations 3 & 4, although I knew there was a long gap there. I didn’t refill the bottles completely at Station 3 and should have known better.
As always, if you need help to accomplish your training goals, we offer affordable custom training plans as well as coaching services. Need to get ready for your next race? Join us in Prescott for a high-altitude training camp.
Until the next race, thank you for reading. I leave you with a cool video of Watson Lake I shot a few months ago. This is near where the finish line was.