Race Review-McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50-Miler
Coyote, Cell Towers and UTMB Points, Oh My!
I have a bad habit of not reading race websites thoroughly before a race and just reviewing them to see if they are still open for registration and my calendar is open to participate. This has gotten me into trouble before. Well it's at least made the race a little more surprising than I thought. I did skim the site but I had no basis of reference to any of the trail routes since I am not a local and come from the flatlands of Chicago.
I signed up for the McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50-Miler as a training running for my upcoming 200, and for a chance to finally check out my newly local trails with the advantage of having course markings to minimize getting lost. This was only my 4th trail race ever. I usually stay clear of trail races because I am prone to tripping on sidewalks.
I had no idea of the adventure I would face after crossing the chip mat. We started at 6:00 AM and it was still dark out. It's not every race that I get to experience a sunrise and a sunset all in the same shot. I was shooting for 12 hours because the trails and climbing would add an additional challenge to me. I completed a 50 Miler in Chicago last month in just under 10 hours so t12 hours seemed reasonable.
About 20 miles into my race...YIKKKESSS, a coyote crossed my path only 10 feet in front of me. I was freaked out. There were no runners around me. I panicked and called my sister., Angie. Like she could do anything 50 minutes away from me. She calmed me down a little bit and then BOOM, a Trail Angel named Angela appeared. Holy universe, I was literally in an Angie sandwich! Angela was very calming. I was so panicked I said "I just saw a mountain lion!" After hearing that Angela saw a coyote around mile 12, I realized I actually saw a coyote. I guess I have spent too much time running the Chicago Lakefront to acclimate to coyotes on my running and racing routes. Angela and I shared lots of stories running miles together and then got to a point where we separated.
I went into the race with the goals of not tripping, having a "no snake sighting" race and finishing. The course to me was about 40% runnable the rest I did a race walk. Everything was all systems go until..duh, duh, duh, dunnnn, the 50k and 50 milers split off and the 50 milers had to climb this beast of a summit: Thompson Peak. I didn't know anything about it because again, I didn't review the race site that mentions this 2 mile climb you hit at mile 31!, It was so steep, that there were parts of it that I had to bear crawl up because I was afraid that I would fall backwards. Along the way, I met another Trail Angel named Kristina. She was cautiously navigating the incline too.
Onward we went up the 2,000 foot climb. We couldn't help but laugh instead of cry, when we saw another runner coming down and we asked him if it was going to get any better or if were we almost there. I can't remember what exactly we asked him, I just remember the look on his face that exemplified "Oh no, you have no idea! I wish I had better news" Yikes! The steeper the climb got, the more I worried about how I was going to get down without tumbling forward.
We made it to the top of the mountain where ginormous cell towers sat and 2 very bubbly volunteers greeted us. One of them scanned your bib when you got to the top to make sure you didn't miss out this soul-tester. I recorded a video at the top (see below) and they overheard me say that I didn't know anything about this climb and one of the ladies chimed in that "this climb is what the race is known for!" It gives you a 360 degree view of the McDowell Mountains and Scottsdale below.
Kristina and I slowly made our way down the mountain. For the steepest parts, we did a crab walk (see the pics in the collage!) I never thought I would have to dust off skills I learned from grade school gym class but that bear crawl and crab walk kept me from rolling down the mountain. Those elementary skills helped because I made it down in one piece. In reviewing my race data the highest percent grade on this climb was 30.3%!!!
Once we got down, we separated for a little while and then reunited with about 15 miles to go. I was so grateful to see her as it was nice to have a trail-mate to get through the dark not just physically to see the course flags but mentally to help the miles go by! We made it to the finish except it was more like a "preview of coming attractions" finish. This finish area visit was one of our 3rd to last aid station. It wasn't as discouraging as I thought it would be to "taste" the finish because I treated myself to more yummy potatoes, COFEEE and the best grill cheese sandwich ever. Lucky for me the race had a merchandise tent so I was able to buy a sweatshirt (I no lie, will cherish forever!) to walk the last 8 miles in and Kristina's friend Gwen had an extra paid of handwarmers for me.
We left the finish and were on a runners high/42 mile runners re-set! We only have 8 miles! Yippeee! This is where the adventure continued. Somehow, we lost sight of the course markers and got off the 50-mile course and ended up on the 10-mile course. It was so dark out there wasn't even much moonlight. I was again grateful I was with Kristina because 2 brains are better than 1 brain.
We kept mistakenly seeing a bright light we thought was the last aid station before the finish but finally reached that bright light and it was my other Trail Angel, George. He is a 73 year young beast from Carlsbad, CA. I chatted with him for a few miles after that bad boy climb and really enjoyed his stories and energy. Yesterday was his 600+ race. He had this amazingly bright light belt on...that I will be adding to my collection...it is made by Kogalla. He literally guided us to the finish! I fi
I hit my goals and then some more. I didn't trip! There were zero snake siting's! I finished! I achieved my slowest 2 miles every in the history of my running career but more importantly, I got a field trip on my feet exploring new territory and walked away with great stories and new running peeps.
Side note, the cell tower even made it's way to the finishers medal and this race gave me qualifying points for the infamous UTMB. Again, two details I missed but not reading up on the race.
Course notes: Aid stations were well stocked with lots of variety. My favs were hard boiled potatoes, pickles, ginger ale and tortillas with beans.. The finish line aid station even had grilled cheese and coffee to help me get through the last 8 miles (except due to getting lost it was the last 10 milers) . I felt like maybe 15%-20% of the trails were uber-technical. Next time I do it, I will bring my hiking poles for the climb and put them in my drop bag at Dixie Mine aid station. You hit this aid station before and after the climb. I would keep the poles to then use again in the middle of the night to help stay upright while navigation in the dark. Very well-run race. They had small start waves and even checked your temperature before you enter corral. The orange flag course markings (see picture in my photo collage) were really helpful except they were hard to see in the night. Not sure if they make glow in the dark ones or getting lost was due to my diminishing brain power. The RD also provided a very informative video for the runners ahead of time that I did watch THE VOLUNTEERS ROCKED! I highly recommend this race for the beauty and the challenge.