McDowell Mtn Race Report by Graham Shalvoy
I had to outrun them. 18 miles into the McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50 mile, I had come through the third aid station and also returned to the main trail that the 50K runners were on. During the 50 mile, we started 30 minutes ahead of the 50K runners and we ran the same course for the first 12 miles. But the 50 milers have to do an extra six mile loop and then return to where the 50K runners were currently running. It allowed many of them to catch up. This wouldn’t normally been a problem for me but since I had unfortunately had to use the desert “facilities” because no bathrooms or porta-potties were on course, and I had recently pooped without wiping because I wasn’t carrying toilet paper, I had had to grab Kleenex from the aid station and needed to find a place to wipe before I started chafing. These are the things that I think about during an ultra.
Now in a pack of middle of the pack 50K runners, I needed to find a way to get some space to be able wipe my butt with said Kleenex in the least embarrassing way possible. I had to outrun them. So I pushed the pace and tried to get far enough between groups that I could stop, pull the Kleenex out, wipe my behind and put it in a pocket quick enough that no one saw me. I had four Kleenexes. Three for wiping and one to wrap them all up in so they could go in a pocket where I could then throw them away later.
The trail got windy which was perfect. In the desert, there is no real cover so you have to find small undulations in the terrain to help you. I was far enough ahead that I thought I could do this thing. Stop, pull down my shorts, wipe, Kleenex in the pocket, pull up shorts and bang, someone came around the corner. But, I had accomplished the task and I split that mile on my watch an 8:15 per mile pace meaning, I really only lost thirty seconds. A small win.
You have to get small wins in an ultra or it becomes too much. You can’t say, “oh hey, I have thirty miles left to go, that’s nothing.” Because it’s not nothing. You have already been out here three hours and you aren’t even half-way. You have to say, “great! Only four miles to the next aid station! And I don’t care if that asshole who looked like he was twenty-two with the stupid tattoo on his leg just passed me, I am going to get to that next aid station!”
But with a push of the pace, it had a triggered a rhythm of going faster which I said I was going to do on this race. Push my body and see what could happen. Push it to the brink. Find the line between going hard and going too hard. So I split, 7:20, 7:32, 7:33 in miles 20-23 all on smooth slight downhill desert trail. I was getting redemption after coming out to this same state park and not being able to start because I got a virus the day before a month ago.
All part of the plan. Then I hit Thompson Peak. It was a steep two-thousand foot climb in two and a half miles. Straight up a small mountain. So I got after it. “Power hiking” which is walking as quickly as possible until I reached the top. Then back down. I love downhills so when I turn around to come back I started flying but it’s so steep a voice in my head said ‘easy, now. Sixteen miles of rolling terrain awaits you.” So I tempered. Held back, focused on good form and stayed within myself and focused on turnover. It’s cerebral, holding back but pushing forward. Then a thought slowly crept in, my stomach hurts. Not a lot but the twelve ounces of ginger ale and a gel at the same time didn’t seem to be digesting. Should I stop? Should I make myself throw up? And then the answer simply appeared, I pulled off to the side and threw up everything in my stomach. I had done this before lots of times. 20 seconds lost. No big deal. I got back after it, took a big sip of electrolytes, ate a gel and I was off to the next aid station. Throwing up during races used to really bother me but it's interesting what you can normalize with some experience.
My wife’s friend was at the aid station, she said hey and took care of me. But it was quick, maybe twenty seconds and then I was off. It had started to sprinkle and it was lovely. Sixty-five degrees and light rain. This was the section of the course that I have been prepping for. Rolling, technical downhill that ate everyone up when I researched Strava about the race. It was net downhill but it was rolling and hard to establish a rhythm. It was rocky so careful footing but you could move if you still had it in you. As I progressed, it started raining harder. Then harder. It wasn’t planned. The forecast said maybe a tenth of an inch of rain. But as I ran, deep puddles and mud emerged and the temperature was dropping. It was fine. I was pushing and with pushing, I stayed warm. I came to an aid station where a mother and son working it. It was hard not to think of my son in the teenager. He was fully engaged and I thought it was awesome. Two miles to the finish line aid station (but still 10 miles to go). I dropped down to a low spot and connected with two guys ahead of me running back at me. They were 4th and 5th place earlier. Whoa, they passed Brian and Justin who looked unstoppable? But as I continued it dawned on me, it wasn’t a perfect out and back. The leaders were ahead of them and I just ran into people who were chasing the leaders. I am further back than I thought. Am I 10th? Maybe. It got to me a bit that I am that far back. I thought, “Fuck it, what am I going to do?”
I got to the “finish line” aid station with eight miles left. It was full deluge of cold rain in the desert and Arizona people were kind of freaking out. A lot of volunteers had left. I sat and emptied my shoes of mud and rocks. I was used to having a crew member helping or at least paying attention. No one did. I hustled out of there and was back out in the rain. I was still pushing but I was really getting cold. It was fine, I still had the fire. I passed the mother and son aid station and they were attending to other runners. I needed nothing. Push. Up and then down, it was really rolling now. It was so wet that I slipped up a small hill but stayed on my feet. I wished I had my S/lab Ultras, the Nike Pegasus Trails weren’t up to this. The trail flattened a bit and I was starting to shiver. Then someone yelled at me from behind. It was Georgia and Lindsay. Lindsay was on my racing team and was pacing Georgia. They moved by me on a mission that would lead to a course record for Georgia. I tried to pick it up to stay close but it wasn’t happening.
Three miles to go and I hit a short climb. As I crested it, my body doubled over in pain. Like a spear that punctured my abdomen. Very painful. I stop and it was awful; worst side stitch ever. Okay, problem solving time. I sipped on electrolytes as I walked. I was only three miles from the finish. Two minutes. Okay, let’s jog this downhill. Hardcore pain. I walked. I problem solved. I did a relaxation technique while walking. Relax your fingers, then your arms, then your shoulders, then your abs, down to your legs. Better. I jogged a downhill. My side seared with pain. Okay, I needed something else. I ate an Awesome Sauce gel. I took small sips and let it hit my system and then I heard foot steps behind me. Eleventh place dropped me like a bad habit. It was cordial and nothing that I could do. Fuck it. One and a half miles to go, I tried to run. It was a run walk and it sucked. PUSH! I got to one last tiny climb and I could hear the loud speaker. It was so cold. PUSH. I jogged, it was not pretty. I hoped there wouldn’t be a finish photographer as I looked like shit. But I was getting it done and no one was around, most volunteers had left. The Race Director Scott, saw and announced me. I didn’t care. I crossed the line. It was so cold and the car was close. I got my award and saw tenth place. We talked for a minute. He said that he needed to go to the car because he was shivering uncontrollably. I was too. I got in the car and put the seat warmer on. I started crying. I don’t know why. Ultras are hard.
Ultras are hard. As I reflect back on that day, this one was hard and emotional for a tightly twisted grouping of feelings. I had come down here almost exactly one month prior to run Javelina 100 mile, a race that I had DNF’d (did not finish) the year before. It’s the only race that I have ever not finished and I dropped over concerns that I was at the beginning stages of a heat stroke. Therefore this year, I made it my only “A” race and trained for it for six months. I ran my highest mileage week, ninety-five miles, went to the sauna two to three days per week for eight weeks and had a lot of my life revolve around preparing for this race. It was to be my redemption race. But as I woke up the morning before the race at the AirBnB in Fountain Hills, AZ sick and with a chest so tight I couldn’t have run one my mile, I had a panic attack and called an ambulance thinking tunnel vision was a very bad symptom of whatever virus I had gotten from my son who had been sick all week. My dream of redemption was over.
Four days later, I signed up for McDowell Mountain Frenzy. It was in the same park as Javelina and runs a good bit of the same trail. It was my redemption for the redemption race. I was the fittest that I had ever been and it was time to showcase it. After the race, I started crying because ultras are hard and I had pushed my body to the edge of what it could possibly do. But I was crying because I had finally gotten redemption for two races gone awry. For the travel and time spent preparing for them. For the twenty minutes of every single day that I spent doing PT so my forty year old body can continue to run at the level that I am running at. And for the fact that now that I have a second place finish at the Javelina 100K, DNF at the Javelina 100M, DNS at the Javelina 100M and a solid finish at the McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50 mile. I believe that I have gotten the full experience at McDowell Mountain state park and I never, ever have to run here again. With that said, I guess the only thing that I haven’t done is finish the full Javelina 100 mile…Never say never.