18 February 2023


The Black Canyon 100K has been on my bucket list for a couple of years now, so I decided to go for it. This would be my first ultra in Arizona and since it takes place in February, I would avoid that challenging desert heat...or so I thought. I arrived at the Rock Springs Cafe in Black Canyon City, AZ on Friday morning. The cafe was the location of the race packet pickup and race expo. If you prefer a race video, please heads on over to my YouTube channel for a full video race recap.
My good buddy Nick and his friend Ted from Atlanta had also signed up for this event, which is one of the largest ultras in the country. The 100K distance features three waves with 300+ runners each for a total of nearly 1000 starters. While it is a net downhill point to point course, it is by no means an easy race. It's not the just over 6000' of elevation gain that challenge runners, but rather the technical terrain and fully exposed course for the entire 62 miles that makes this course deceivingly difficult. Thankfully, I had no time goals other than to enjoy the journey and earn another bucket list race finish.
Race packet pickup was a fairly efficient process and though the lines were long, runners were moved through very quickly, so there was plenty of time for me to explore the expo and spend a few bucks on Black Canyon race swag. After a quick stop at the famous pie shop, Nick, Ted and I parted ways and while they headed to a hotel in Phoenix, I drove to the Bumble Bee Ranch that along with hosting one of the major Black Canyon Ultra aid stations also offered runners very cheap camping for race weekend. It was still the afternoon when I arrived at my campsite at the ranch, so plenty of time to freshen up, lay out my race kit and fix a quick and simple pre-race dinner.
Although runners had to utilize a race shuttle to be taken to the race start, I was still able to "sleep in". My alarm went off at 4;30AM and shortly after 5AM I was on the road to the the race shuttle pickup location at a large outlet mall just north of Phoenix. From here, runners would be taken to the race start at Mayer High School in Spring Valley for the three wave race start at 7AM, 7:30AM and 8AM, respectively.
Nick, Ted and I managed to board the same shuttle as we also happened to be in the same wave 2. After some slight delays, we finally made it to the race start location. We had just 2 minutes after arriving and dropping off our finish line drop bags before the start signal for wave 2 was given. It was a beautiful but crisp morning in Arizona with race start temperatures even lower than in Phoenix proper due to Spring Valley's higher altitude location at around 4,000 feet. Our wave started on time and while some runners struggled to make it to the start line on time, none of them were at a disadvantage as both the start and finish times for each runner relied on chip times rather than gun time.
Nick, Ted and I lined up somewhere in the middle of our wave and I settled into a very easy pace once we took off. I had finally come off yet another bout with COVID just a week prior to the race and new to finish was to win. My goal was to conserve energy for the later and more challenging stage of this race. The Black Canyon race course is very fast for the first 25 miles with the most challenging terrain featured on the second half of the course. 
Full disclosure, one drawback of an ultra with nearly 1000 runners on mostly single track trail is the extensive conga lines that would form in the process. Of course, this is only a factor for runners like myself, who didn't take off in a full sprint from the start:-) Nick and I would run together for much of the early miles before I would eventually lose track of him. Ted had taken off at a faster pace than both of us and I would not see him again until mile 20 at Bumble Bee Aid station. We would see each other a couple more times before i lost track of him again.
I felt great for the first 20 miles, moving well and not having any issues whatsoever. I rolled through the first aid station Antelope Mesa at mile 8 without stopping as I carried enough fluids and nutrition for the early miles. 13 mile in, at the Hidden Treasure aid station I finally refilled my bottles and ate some watermelon. I continued to roll as we still had some nice downhill sections ahead before making it to mile 20 at Bumble Bee Ranch. I arrived at Bumble Bee still feeling great. However, as soon as I left the aid station, my stomach turned south. 
Initially, I suspected it was something I drank at the aid station, but I realized that it would be impossible for my system to be affected that quickly. I'm still not sure what caused it, but it was the first time in more than 10 years that I had to deal with any severe stomach issues. Unfortunately, this issue did not resolve itself and by the time I arrived at the Black Canyon City aid station at mile 37, I required a stop at the portajohn. While the medical staff at this aid station did not have any Imodium to help me remedy my "situation", a fellow runner and good samaritan was kind enough to help me out. 
Nick had caught up to me again on the last climb leading into the Black Canyon City aid station and he was kind enough to wait on me while i addressed my issues. We headed back out together, refocussed and determined to get our finisher awards. At this point, Nock had far more energy than I did, so I was happy to have him lead the way. He kept us moving at a solid pace that I would otherwise not have maintained. By mile 50, darkness had fallen and as we arrived at the Table Mesa aid station, we finally saw Ted again. He had had his own struggles with his stomach and nausea. After we filled our bellies to get ready for the longest stretch between aid stations, we left Table Mesa together to tackle the final half marathon distance.
We continued to make good progress as Nick continues tos et the pace. In fact, Ted and I had to call him back a few times as he was more than capable of dropping us at this point. Nick kept us honest and we even managed to pass more than just a few people over these final miles. Rolling into Doe Spring aid station at mile 59, I finally felt much better. Great timing, too, as Nick was finally starting the fade a little bit. It was finally time for me to set the pace for a bit to take us hoke for the last 5k. Ted took some extra time here to let his stomach settle, while Nick and I continued in an effort not to get too cold from standing still in the cool evening air. 
I could hear the noise of the finish line in the distance and I had to hold Nick back from an all out sprint to get done. When I finally crossed the finish line of the Black Canyon 100K, I was both relieved and excited to have finished this deceivingly difficult 100K. It wasn't one of my better performances by any means, but i certainly enjoyed it much more than some other faster events of mine.
My sincere thanks to the entire Aravaipa crew, from the race director to the team of volunteers, for making this such a memorable, scenic and well organized experience for all runners. I can't wait to toe the line at another Aravaipa event.

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