Going into Flagstaff Sky Peaks I felt confident both physically and mentally. I knew the cards were somewhat stacked against me with the elevation I would be taking on. I worked hard on my climbing legs leading up to the race, but I was also aware of the gnarly 40% grade climbs in the first 8 miles of the race.
I flew into Flagstaff the Thursday before the race. On Friday I headed up to Arizona Snowbowl for a short shake out jog/hike and to scope out the start line for Saturday morning. From this short little excursion, I gathered that race day would offer some phenomenal views and some staggering challenges.
Friday night I feasted on a steak burrito and ate enough French bread to feed a small village. I packed my hydration vest and drop bags with fruit snacks, Honey Stinger waffles and bars, Sour Patch Kids, candy corn, Skratch electrolyte mix, and a few other essentials to get me through 52 miles.
Saturday morning, I was up at 3 AM sipping coffee and munching on a strawberry pop-tart (favorite pre-race breakfast 😊.) I made my way out to the start line by 4:20, checked in and dropped off my drop bags. It was a chilly 28 degrees, so I was eager to get the show on the road and get the blood pumping.
The first 3 miles of the race were fairly easy with a slight incline and a rocky single track. Elevation gain really kicked into high gear around mile 4 and was relentless till about mile 8ish. We topped out at 11,500 ft. and then proceeded to go straight back down with a quick loss of 2,000 ft. to the first fully stocked aid station at mile 10. Here I shed my arm sleeves for some spf 70, grabbed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a couple Oreos and headed down the trail.
Between mile 10 and 18 I hit a wall of fatigue. I knew the elevation would affect me, but I never thought I would feel straight up exhausted so early in the race. This feeling of fatigue led to a bit of a mental break. I downed some candy corn and Gatorade from my pack hoping to get a quick surge of energy. I also had my phone with me, so I shot my coach a quick text hoping for some words of advice and encouragement. Thank the good Lord for both the candy corn and Kenzie being available to text me back. Kenzie reminded me that the low energy would pass, that I was going to be okay, and to break the race down into sections to keep from feeling overwhelmed. Her words kept me going and before I knew it I was rolling into the aid station at mile 18 sharing a few words with Rob Krar.
Around mile 20 I met Dillon George, and we ran the next 8 miles together along a rolling, highly traveled mountain road. The conversation made the miles fly by. We made it to Hostetter aid station at mile 26 where I had my first drop bag waiting for me. Here I ate a turkey wrap, a donut, some Pringles, refilled my liquids, and grabbed some other fuel from my drop bag.
Leaving Hostetter I felt rejuvenated and ready to take on the remaining 26 miles. The course continued to follow a dirt road that climbed to the Inner Basin aid station at mile 32. These miles were warm with the temperature climbing up to near 75, but I continued to keep a steady pace. These miles also offered some of the most gorgeous views as we worked up switch backs on the north side of the mountain.
After the Inner Basin aid station we continued on a single track through a sea of gorgeous aspens. We continued to climb for about two miles then it was time to descend. Again, we were back on a dirt road descending for about 8 miles. My quads were beginning to scream a little, but I knew this would be an ideal section to make up some time with the runnable dirt road and smooth descent.
Schultz Pass aid station was at mile 42. Here I picked up another drop bag that I had stocked with essentials and headed out for the last major climb of the day. This ascent was only about 1,000 ft. of gain, but at this point the energy was low and legs were tired, however I was still in a good headspace. I knew I wanted to hustle through these last ten miles not only for the fact of hitting my goal finish time, but I also wanted to cross that finish line before darkness fell.
During that last climb I felt like I had a gorilla on my back. Looking back, I should have fueled better during that section, I didn’t necessarily feel hungry, but I felt downright sluggish!
I finally reached mile 44 and the ascending was done for the day. I realized I wasn’t going to make it to the finish line before sundown like I had planned. This wasn’t the end of the world; however I knew with darkness and the extremely rocky, technical trail, my pace might slow down a bit.
I reached the last aid station at mile 48 in the dark, happy to see some smiling faces. I grabbed some Oreos and looked up in surprise to see that one of the individuals working the aid station was professional ultra-runner, Eric Senseman! I “fan girled” for a quick minute and then realized I had another 4 miles to go.
Those miles between the last aid station and the finish were a bit of a blur. Keeping my legs going and staying upright were my focus.
I finally crossed the finish line at 7:50 that night.
Looking back at this race, I wish I would’ve had a stronger mental game. I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted to quit a race so badly as I did this one early on. My training had went exceptionally well leading up to this race, but training in such low elevation and racing relatively high was something I wasn’t quite ready for.
I was able to hold my own on all the climbs. I may not have mountains to train on, but a good spin bike and endless sandhills have proven to be sufficient! Another thing I’m proud of for this race; after mile 18 I was never passed by another runner. Even though I basically had a mental break, I was able to dig myself out of that hole and finish the task before me.
I finished 6th female and 24th overall. Even though I didn’t hit my time goal, this race taught me a solid lesson in grit and tenacity. Thanks for the party, Arizona!
“Find the WHY in everything you do, and you will always be on the right path.”