A few nights later I was trying to fall asleep and it dawned on me that the weekend of the race was also the weekend of his 60th birthday. The race was also one we had talked about doing for years. My dad camps at Usery Mountain State Park for a combined total of about 2 months every year and every time I visit him we run the mountain and talk about how fun it would be to do the race some day. I opened up my computer to see that flight prices had gone down. Now the hard part: getting off of work.
My boss was annoyed but made it happen and I got my mom in on the secret to surprise my dad. Things ballooned from there. To make a long story short, my mom decided to fly out from Wisconsin and surprise him at the finish line and eventually I decided that the man hates surprises so I caved and told him that I was coming. He got me at the airport and we camped at the park the night before the race. I was signed up for the 25k but was waffling about switching to the 50k.
Sun comes up
Race morning came and I decided to switch to the 50k. The sun rose and we were off. I knew that the most challenging part for me would be to pace myself in the first flat miles. A lot of the girls looked intense but I thought I had a shot at winning. I wasn't pushing the pace too hard but I led from the get go. The first mile ticked by at 7:15 pace and the first 5k was all under 8 minute pace. It was just so smooth and non-technical. The sand was the only thing to slow us down.
Somewhere near the first aid station another woman caught up to me. I wanted someone to talk to and sometimes I feel like if you talk to your competition and get to know them it doesn't hurt so bad if they beat you in the end. Her name was Tiffany and she owns a running store in Illinois. She was fresh off the Chicago marathon and she looked like a road runner. I really enjoyed chatting with her for the next three or four miles and it helped take my mind off the pace. I knew she had the training advantage on the flats but we hadn't gotten to anything technical or hilly yet.
Finally after the Meridian Aid Station things started to get more technical and rocky. I tucked in behind Tiffany on the climb up Pass Mountain and we ran the whole thing. She mentioned that this was her first ultra and finally near the top of the pass I asked her if she had drank or ate at all. She had just blown through the aid stations and had only two small bottles attached to her waist belt. She said she had recently taken a sip of water. I was worried about her but I didn't want to tell her what to do. I had already drank two bottles and taken two gels. I knew the day was going to heat up and once it got hot, we were all going to struggle to put calories down.
I passed Tiffany near the top and ended up taking on the rolling descent with a group of guys. We ended up in a train that was moving a little slower than I wanted but I thought it would be better to be conservative. At that point I was getting warm and I was not looking forward to running that flat section again. The course does the same loop twice.
When we came into the start/finish area, it was nice to be energized by the crowd. I had been daydreaming about watermelon for the last two miles and I was pleasantly surprised that they had some! When I left the aid station, Tiffany still had not come in yet, so I made it my goal to hold her off or, if she passed me, to at least keep up with her through the flat section up to the Meridian Aid Station. Unfortunately I started to have my typical GI issues throughout the next 6 miles even though I had taken Imodium. It was nothing new for me so I tried not to let it get me down... there were plenty of bushes to hide in. It was also getting really hot and I was dousing myself with ice water constantly. Maybe it wasn't hot to the natives from Arizona, but it was only 20 degrees when I left Colorado.
When I made it to the Meridian Aid Station the second time, Tiffany came in as I was leaving. Just what I thought would happen. Unless she had a second wind, I knew I had her on the technical sections. As I climbed up Pass Mountain again I kept looking behind me to see if she was there and I couldn't see a soul. I was totally alone these last few miles except for a non-racer who was out for a sprightly run. He tried to chat with me but I could not keep up with his fresh legs. I was running most of the ups but walking the really rocky sections that I had bounded up earlier in the day. At a few places I questioned if I was on the right trail even though I know this climb like the back of my hand. It made me realize how fatigue can mess with your mind and your ability to judge correctly.
As I started the descent, I noticed the clouds had cleared and there was finally a good view of Four Peaks. I love this side of the mountain, running in its shadow alone with the Saguaros and the occasional snake. I was fairly confident I had it from here. I had one more bout of GI distress but I knew I was only a 5k away from winning. I contemplated taking another gel because I was starting to feel woozy but it was just too hot to digest anything. I powered it in and got it done.
As I neared the finish line I heard a unmistakable screaming voice: mom. She was jumping around at the finish line and I realized she has never gotten to see me run an ultra. I was so grateful that everything came together and that my family was able to enjoy the weekend together in a place that is so special to us. For a man that hates surprises I think my dad was pretty happy with the way his birthday turned out.
It was great to finally check this race off the list. I ended up 1st woman and 8th person overall in a time of 5:41:36. Aravaipa puts on such great races with a fun crew and well-run aid stations.
Finish line kick
Happy birthday to Barth dad
With Tiffany who came in 2nd place
With Mike Ambrose, first place guy, holding our creepy awards