Monthly Archives: February 2020

Black Canyon 100km

Sweaty stinky armpits. Why does one produce such a thing when adjusting to a different time zone? It’s 0200 MST (US) time (0900 GMT) and I was wide awake drinking a morning coffee. I made the decision to stay on UK time when travelling to Phoenix, Arizona because I didn’t want jet lag to effect my race. My do or die (don’t) mission.

It was peaceful as everyone slept. Well, not everyone….the nearest highway hums all night. I was staying with Miguel. I got in contact with him via a Facebook group – the Aravaipa Trail running group- on which I asked for accommodation help. The response was really generous but Miguel and his offer of a room in The Ultrahouse was too good to be true. As I look through the visitors book I can see I follow in many other ultra runners footsteps who have also passed through Phoenix.

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I arrive Thursday late afternoon. I have one day before the Black Canyon 100km.

The historic trail is of national significance, following a route used since the times of pre-historic Native American travelers and traders.  The Department of the Interior officially established the route as a livestock driveway in 1919, when it was used by woolgrowers from the Phoenix area to herd sheep to and from their summer ranges in the Bradshaw and Mingus Mountains.  Many segments of the trail roughly parallel the old Black Canyon stagecoach road between Phoenix and Prescott.

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The Black Canyon 100km features a 55 mile stretch of this trail beginning at in Spring Valley and ending at the Emery Henderson Trailhead near New River.

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Along the way we ran through Black Canyon and the Agua Fria river many times- so refreshing!

The day before I go for a 30min run to stretch out my legs. The sunrise is really beautiful

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We drive with Miguel to Black Canyon City so we can collect our bib number. I’m slightly unnerved to find it’s no 13!

I say we because Steph Austen, the Australia athlete, is also staying at The Ultrahouse.img_0191

The race starts at 0700 MST. I slept well and I felt ready. It takes just over an hour to get to the start. I was so nervous but felt positive. I had managed to arrange to meet a friend who said she would crew for me. I waited at the start for her- thank you Sarah in joining me for some of it. The logistics of the race seemed distortedly amplified way before race day. I was getting overly anxious about where I’d stay (until I found the Facebook group), how I’d manage the jet lag, how I’d get to the start etc. Obviously it all worked out perfectly thanks to the generosity of Miguel. Thank you so much! I did not feel it was detrimental in the end but not pleasant in the days preceding. I wonder if my anxiety was a byproduct of the pressure I was putting on myself for the race- win or lose essentially!

The race started in 1°C. I was freezing in my vest and shorts but knew I would warm up pretty quick when the sun rose. I had 100km to run with 1580m of height gain and 2150m of loss after all!

It was a fast start. The first 20miles to the first crewed aid station, Bumble Bee, was essentially all down hill. I purposely hung back from the front pack of woman but still got dragged along in order to remain competitive. It was single track the whole way: weaving up and down and side to side. Really well marked. I hated to admit it but at this aid station my legs were already feeling it. You need speed and agility to excel in this race. As I begin to analyse it I can see all the front runners had good fast recent marathon times- 2.40 something- a good cadence and fast leg turnover was essential.

My stomach was beginning to rumble (not in a good way!). I stopped at the Portaloos and got disconnected from the group of women I was with but I remained focused on trying to catch them back up.

I reached Black Canyon City aid station (mile 37.4) and got to see how far the other ladies were in front of me. It was only minutes but I really struggled in the climb out. I was thirsty- it was topping 31°C now. I had flasks of energy drink and craved ice cold water not sticky sweet fluids.

I began to trip more over the rocky single track. I was tiring but with 25miles to go I couldn’t let go of a possibility. I was 4th. I never stopped trying. I ran the whole day albeit some bits much slower than others. I didn’t look up much for fear of falling over. However, I never failed to be impressed by the height of the surrounding Saguaro cacti which can grow up to 12m tall.

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But they could inflict serious skin wounds!

This was a result of running past a prickly pear cactus as I tried to overtake on the single track.

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At Table Mesa aid station (mile 51) station I drank a lot of water which probably wasn’t the best idea as I set off again with my stomach completely overloaded. After this I struggled to eat/ consume my gels but I knew I’d had enough prior so wasn’t too worried. I sucked and crunched my way through ice cubes which felt amazingly refreshing. The aid stations were well stocked with encouraging volunteers.

The race went on and the horrible sinking feeling of failure crept in. I had a long time to think it through. I had come out to this race with the one goal of getting a golden ticket for a 100mile race in America called Western States. I had (and have over the previous years) failed to get in through the lottery and so rose to the challenge of seeing if I could enter one of their golden ticket races. Could I run faster? I kept asking myself and the answer confirmed I was working my hardest.

I was pleased to finish in 9hrs 49mins. 5th woman. I was pleased to finish full stop! My legs were sore, I felt sick, I had blisters on my feet from the greek crossings and my forehead was burnt! Time for a rest.

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Better to have tried and failed then never have tried at all. Here’s to taking risks!

 

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Geoparktrail, Iran

Two years ago I did this race…..my blog is a great memory of a fantastic event in a beautiful place.
Qeshm Island is located a few miles off the southern coast of Iran in the Persian Gulf opposite the port cities of Bhandar Abbas and Khamir.
It has a long history with people inhabiting the Island well BC. It has been the site of defence and fighting and the Portuguese even built a fort on it. It is used for navigation and trade as it’s at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
It is quite small measuring 130km long and 40km wide and had a population of about 120,000.
It is famous for a few things. It is supposed site of the Garden of Eden (as described in the Book of Genesis) but who knows.
It’s mangrove nature park is a bird watchers haven where pelicans and many others species, native to Iran or just passing through, stop.

It is a breeding site for Hawksbill turtles which are now heavily protected as their numbers are dangerously low.

It hand builds ships with wood.
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Finally it has this amazing Geo Park. They are trying to establish as a UNESCO world site. The top rock layer is really soft and so when it rains it cuts the landscape into these uniques gorges.
This was the second time the race had been run. Iranian runner, Davood is the race director and has done an amazing thing organising such an event when time keeping and local reliability is not good to stay the least. Last year was just a 28km race and this year was a 30km and 60km (well actually 66km). I heard about it online from a German runner called Moritz and knew it was the adventure for me. I checked the FCO and it was far from any dangerous conflicts. The borders of Iran (Iraq and Afghanistan) are basically the only out of bounds areas. To get a visa I needed o travel to London and get my biometric data taken. Then I could fly to Tehran but I would need a escort for the whole trip because I’m British (same for Americans and Canadians). For this I was quoted £1000 so I looked into flying from Dubai. The trip was looking off.
However, I found out Queshm Island hosts a 300-square-kilometre free trade jurisdiction so it meant if I flew from Dubai straight to the Island then I would not need a visa a guide. Trip was back on! Yes!
I fly to Dubai and then 12hrs later flew to Queshm Island. On arrival I had to wait to have my fingers print taken but on the whole entry was smooth. Immediately I noticed two things; the people are so friendly; and time keeping is very chilled. The flight took off whenever and I had offers of accommodation and car travel before even boarding.
I had to wear a hijab, and full length clothing for the trip and luckily had bought a head scarf in this was so.
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I was staying in a rural guest house called Sharifi and everyone was so welcoming.
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I was given a bike and lead out of on a quite tour of the village. This might have seemed the last thing I wanted to do after 24hrs of travel but actually it was quite invigorating. Seeing the stars in the warmish evening air was refreshing.

Falafel wraps for dinner and then bed.
On Wednesday many more runners arrived from Tehran including Moritz. Everyone was so kind, genuine and talkative. We all got taken to the Mangrove area and I had got a chance to swim. The average temperature is 27 °C (81 °F) but actually it was quite windy by the sea so felt colder.
That night we collected out bib numbers and listened to the race brief is Farsi so none the wiser really!
Food was in 30mins we waited an 1 hour and then 15mins and we waited 2hours so in the end bought was wraps at a street stall. Eventually we got to bed only to be up in 5hrs. The race was supposed to start at 6.30 am but in Iran that meant closer to 7am!
The atmosphere was jovial and it was amazing to see how many women were running. Everyone wanted to say hello and get a photo.
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The race started on the beach.
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A little bit of road soon took us out into the geopark. I managed to fall over on the road after tripping over something but only skin wounds thankfully. What an idiot!
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The route was through hard desert sand, along rocky outcrops and up through valleys taking in some outstanding landscape.
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I ran slowly to start as the sun really came out on race day. I wanted to be respectful but obviously not enough and a fat lot of good my best intentions were! The first 30km I was cruising. 3hrs of running and so I thought 6.5hrs to finish. I wondered why people kept telling me I was in second overall and then realised some of the front men had gone wrong. I had started to get a blister so stopped for some vaseline application and then headed into the gorges. The heat and lack of any air flow was tremendous.
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I started to feel sick and thought perhaps it was my nutrition but then even when I stopped eating I continued to puke. I suddenly remembered a pearl of wisdom from a great physiologist, Joe Layden: If someone overheats their core temperature then cool their forearms down. I was running in arm warmers (and full length leggings) for the cultural prerequisite. I pulled them down (my arm warmers not my leggings!) and at about aid station 44km I got some coke on board and this saved me my race. I could continue to put one foot in front of the other and not be sick but I didn’t dare try any food. I slowed up so much but never wanted to stop. The winning men who took the detour started to pass me. Moritz passed me and I told him I felt terrible but wished him good luck so he could catch the leading chap infront (and he did!). At the end he told me he was surprised I finished when I did (I must have looked pretty rubbish!). I crossed the finish line in 7hrs 15mins, 1st female and 4th overall.
I was so hot and then so cold and then so sick for 24hrs.2018-02-13-PHOTO-00000038
I spent so much time in the toilet I can tell you it’s made in Iran but the biday hose is made in Italy, what the grouting is like etc..
The doctor visited me- I was so embarrassed- and to be honest it was more from saying I think it’s just heat stroke. I feels like I’ve made an error but I definitely drunk enough. I honestly think being fully covered was my downfall in 30+ hear in the gorges.
I was desperate not to miss out on exploring the island so when everyone went out to the beach I dragged my sorry arse along too. They had to drive to a remote beach so the women could undress and swim in a bikini or costume.
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It is illegal so a local may have reported us otherwise. It was lovely despite feeling ill and I witnessed a beautiful sunset.IMG_3646
The morning I was due to fly the opportunity to visit one of the gorges came up.IMG_3649
I was worried I would miss my flight due to ‘Iranian time keeping’ but I risked it and it was totally worth it.
At the end I got given a gift of local clothing and it was so kind. I love my new harem trousers.
I have gained so much from this experience. The people made it for me with their generosity and hospitality
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I would like to thank Davood and Kiana for hosting me and all the others runners I got to share sometime with. I’m now travelling home but I would love to visit Tehran and Sharah one day.

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