Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Elephant Mountain 50k: Race Report

I'm not a fan of race reports...but, I've found they were very helpful when I was researching a race. Especially when traveling, it is worth the effort to read what someone else says about a particular event. It's great to know whether an event is worth the time and expense of travel. What should I expect? Is it well organized? What's the course like? I try to answer many of those questions in a race report because those are important when researching a race. This is a snapshot of my race experience at the "Elephant Mountain 50k" hosted by Aravaipa Running. Let me know if it's valuable to you in your race research! Run long and prosper...jerry

 Elephant Mountain 50k: 
(12k and 30k distance available)
  • Total Miles: approx 32 miles (varied slightly between garmins)
  • Terrain: 97% Runnable, Single track compact desert dirt and rocks, dry creeks, desert hills, 1 water crossing with narrow wood bridge) 
  • Total Elevation Gain: Approximately 3,600' vertical.
  • Aid Stations: Course loops back on itself, plenty of aid for 1 bottle running. 1 unmanned aid station with water only. 
  • Weather: 2013 race temperatures were in the low 50s with clear skies and sun. (rain storm in week prior to race)
  • Organization: Highly organized and planned. Excellent race direction. 
  • Course Markings: Excellent signage with regular confidence ribbons.
  • Timing: Chip timed, live results online, facebook updates immediate post-race.
  • Photos: High quality photos taken on course and posted for athletes within 48hrs at no cost.
  • Concerns: The course loops back on itself so study the course in the later miles to avoid going the wrong direction. The 50k course takes you into the start/finish area and then out for the final 7 miles...those miles can be long so save some juice for the last hour.
  • Additional: Post-race food was vegan quesadillas, aid station food, and drinks. The start/finish had plenty of picnic tables for hanging out. It would be a great race to bring a post-race lunch and stay for a while after the event.
Elephant Mountain 50k Course Profile

My buddy Ryan Lassen and I drove to Phoenix in one day. We picked up a rental car and made the trip in an exhausting 14 hours. We wanted a vehicle upon arrival and the flights were inexpensive for a return trip. This is why we drove one-way and flew back. We packed light and stayed in a "Studio 6" about 20 minutes from the race headquarters. The cost of the room was only about $60 and included a kitchen with stove, microwave, fridge and freezer. It was a rather ideal set-up for preparing our breakfast and getting to the race on time.

Upon arrival, it was still dark. The sunrise was approaching but most people were preparing their gear in their cars. The pre-dawn temperatures were in the 30s to my memory. Nick and Jamil Coury of Aravaipa Running made announcements about the timeline. There was a start-finish banner and registration tent. The volunteers were knowledgeable and appeared to be experienced in their duties.
At the start line of the 50k, a few last minute announcements were made. Nobody seemed interested in taking a position on the starting line. The race director motioned with his hand for the runners to move forward toward the starting line. Sometimes the reserved tendency of the starting line can give and indication of competition. Ryan and I planned a conservative start so we didn't intend to run out in front of anyone at the start. Fortunately, there was a group of runners who lead the pack.

The race started and Ryan and I settled into a predetermined effort. We run together often and planned to run a majority of the race together. From the early miles, about 8 male runners ran a competitive effort at the front. Ryan and I were very relaxed and deliberately holding back any effort as we climbed the first couple hills. We lost sight of the pack, but probably stayed within a mile behind.

I like to ease into a 50k like this... I don't "race" from the start line or I'll crash in a few hours. I think a marathon is about as far as I can go in top gear...and a 50k is longer in miles and time.  So, I ran the very tolerable aerobic pace with Ryan for an hour or more. Then we kicked it into gear. When we did so, it felt more like we do during our mountain training in Boulder. It was a familiar high tempo effort and we took turns leading each other through the course.  We were clicking off sub-7 miles on the descents and climbing in a tempo pace of about 9 min/mile.

 Neither of us ran out of fluid, due to the frequent aid. The weather was forgiving with cool temps. It was just a fast trail run with lots of interaction with the other runners. The looping course gave us a chance to high five and cheer the other runners behind us in the 50k and later, the runners in the 12k and 30k.  Taking a page out of the Mark Larson book, we reminded everyone to "Party All Day!"

We continued passing runners on our way to the front of the pack. Everyone was cordial on the trail. Around mile 20, Ryan and  I saw the top 3 runners. A quick evaluation from afar told us they were a bit gassed. (In my experience, the slow turn-over and lack of form during climbing is a clear indicator of how someone is feeling...) We moved up behind them and locked in their pace for a while.

During one of the more technical sections, Ryan and I passed the group and continued up the trail. We continued running together for the next 40 minutes. I felt Ryan falling back occasionally but I knew he had plenty of juice to stay ahead of the others. Our conversation stretched from 6 feet to 40 feet as it became apparent we weren't going to finish side by side. 

In the later miles, there was some sort of mix-up with the course. I had run the wrong-direction on the final loop. Ryan ran the correct direction but missed the final aid station. We were now totally confused. RD Nick Coury met us at a trail junction...he quickly explained we were still on course and they had no intention of disqualifying us. He ran and escorted us to the final aid station, instructing us to run the 30k course to the finish. This left us running the same loop as other runners but in reverse. Eventually, we dropped back into the valley and finished. Ryan trotted in behind me by only 30 seconds.  The other runners started finishing right behind us... Everyone was cool about the course mix-up. I'm sure there will be modifications the signage or someone assigned to make sure runners take the loop in the correct direction from now on.

In all, it was a great race with everything you want in an ultra. I highly recommend the Elephant Mountain 50k or any other race organized by Aravaipa Running. See you on the trails... jerry

Ryan charging hard to the finish
 Top 3 in 50k:
1. Jerry Armstrong
2. Ryan Lassen
3. Ken Chitwood
1. Marie Repec
2. Deva Lingemann
3. Jennifer Thomson

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the report. I'm thinking of doing this race this year, and the info was very helpful. Way to run smart, too!


Thanks for your comments to Rise Over Run...I read all the comments and appreciate your time in sharing your thoughts. Run long, eat plants........Jerry