Posted by: pointlenana | March 16, 2018

Black Canyon 100k – 2/17/18

Posting this for completeness.  I accomplished my goal – getting my Western States qualifier done for 2018 – but otherwise this year’s Black Canyon 100k was a pretty uneventful race.  Certainly nothing like last year’s brush with hypothermia.  Before I started this year, I figured my likely finish time would be somewhere between 12 hours (if I had a great day) and the 14+ hours I (barely) finished in last year.  Wrong.

Huge thanks to Nikki and her brother Jon, who conspired to provide me with free lodging at Jon’s home in Phoenix.  Jon ran the race as well – his first 100k and maybe 3rd ultra – so it made logistics really easy for me.  Get up when he gets up, get in the car with him, etc..  Thank you!

Unlike last year, when atypical storms forced a last-minute course change, this year we had perfect weather – supposedly the best weather they’ve ever had for the race.  It was cool at the start – high 30’s I think – but after 40 minutes I was shedding arm sleeves and gloves.  My plan was to start really easy, and see if a smart start (for a change) would pay off in the ability to run faster in the second half of the race.  Wrong.

Last year my favorite part of the race was the descent ~7 miles into the race where you drop off the plateau near Spring Valley, down into Black Canyon.  When I hear “Canyon” I think canyon, but the Black Canyon is more of a big valley between ridgelines – scrub, sand, cactii, but not really a canyon.  I enjoyed the descent again this year, but held back going downhill hoping to save myself.  We exited off the downhill onto the flat mile into the Hidden Treasure aid station.  In a place where there was nothing to trip on, I tripped, flew horizontally for a few feet, positioned my handheld water bottle to take most of the impact, and went down.  My hands got fairly chewed up but none of the running parts of my body seemed injured so I carried on into the aid station.  Washing the blood off my hands in the aid station, I tried not to look at the flaps of skin hanging off.

Things warmed up over the next hour or so.  Rolling into the BumbleBee aid station at 10:30, I was hot and realized that 45 degrees and cloudy hadn’t trained me for nice Arizona weather.  The aid station was in a bar-like area in a resort of some kind, and I contemplated just plunking down for the day.  Instead I put ice under my hat and set off slowly.

For the next 7 hours or so, I got warmer and warmer, and went slower and slower, and it felt like most of the race passed me.  By Gloriana Mine (mile 23, 11:30am) I had ice in my arm sleeves also.  I decided I did not want to spend the day red-lining and puking, so I kept the pace nice and easy and tried to stay warm instead of hot.  At Soap Creek (mile 31, halfway) I sort of wanted a portapotty so of course that was one of the few aid stations without one.  From Soap Creek on, it was all new terrain.  Last year river flooding forced the organizers to make the race an out-and-back, from Mayer to Soap Creek back to Mayer.  This year we continued on from Soap Creek to the northern outskirts of Phoenix.  I had heard this second half was much more beautiful and interesting, which is partly why I chose to return.

Rolling into Black Canyon City (37 miles) at about 3pm, after still more people had trundled past me in the past few hours, I was really happy to see my friend Steve.  He’d been signed up also but had to DNS due to an injury and came out, somewhat unexpectedly, to watch and help (me, if not others).  He kindly put ice on various parts of my body, pushed gross sweaty things into my pack, and basically cheered me up by being there.  I was way behind schedule at this point – my choice was to go “fast” and be slow due to puking and feeling rotten, or go slow and be slow but feel ok.  Not a hard decision.

Steve Black Canyon pic

Leaving Black Canyon City – that’s ice in my sleeves, not ripped biceps and forearms.

The longest segment of the course is between Black Canyon City and Cottonwood Gulch – close to 9 miles in the hottest part of the day.  We crossed a “river” a few times, but it’s been a dry winter so it was just a creek with a few inches of water.  I carried my BeFree water filter so I was able to restock on water – that was a good call because otherwise I would have run out of water miles from the aid station (or carried more bottles).  This section also has the biggest climb.  I think it’s only 600-700 feet, but I was moving slowly and it felt endless.  We climbed higher and higher, and way down I could see tiny runner dots crossing the river below us.

This was the section where I decided I am done with the Black Canyon 100k.  I really should rave about this race.  It’s an elegant line running down the valley from Mayer to Phoenix.  The race is very well organized by Aravaipa, with great support.  It’s a Western States qualifier.  The weather is great, coming from Seattle.  It’s cool desert scenery.  But… it’s kind of boring – about 60 miles of weaving around in the desert.  There are no really dramatic views.  You don’t move through different climate/plant zones.  If you like that stuff, it’s heaven.  If you are having a slow, bit-too-warm kind of day and you need a change of scenery mid-race to perk you up, you are out of luck.

I kept things interesting on the way into Table Mesa by purposefully not pulling my headlamp out as it was getting dark.  I kept looking at the last of the daylight and estimating the distance left to the aid station, and kept thinking I’d just make it.  Yep, by about 4 minutes.  It started cooling off as the sun set, I started feeling better, and I passed a couple people.  Steve was waiting for me again at Table Mesa, and again touched gross wet things that non-runners shouldn’t have to touch.

My favorite part of this year’s race was the evening part in the darkness.  I didn’t have to look at the same-same scenery anymore.  I cooled off and felt like I could move faster without risking heat problems.  Best of all, I started passing people who were suffering from getting too warm earlier.  Not a lot, but at least I wasn’t moving backwards anymore.

Shortly after I left Table Mesa, I passed a woman standing, facing uphill, vomiting at her feet.  Channeling the most gracious, helpful version of myself, I suggested that if she faced downhill she would splash her shoes less.  (I probably did offer some more useful suggestions about how to take care of herself, e.g. try to get some calories in even if was only taking tiny sips of gel.)

I continued on, chasing headlamps ahead of me.  The trail was very winding, so headlamps that seemed just ahead would take many minutes to catch, but mostly I caught them.  A rare heel blister exploded about a mile from the last aid station and 4 miles from the finish, and I was very unhappy for a few minutes.  I spent about 20 seconds in the last aid station, and then trundled on.  I heard someone just behind me using me as a pacer – I figured they’d pass me but somehow I stayed ahead so I tried to open up space on whatever terrain I was better on.  The finish eventually arrived.  My finish time was about 14 hours 40 minutes – 30 minutes slower than last year when I could barely stay upright finishing.  Mr. Drafter finished 13 seconds behind me.

Steve was there again at the finish, and again went above and beyond helping me – getting food, making warm drinks, keeping Jon’s dog semi-under control, searching for my drop bags, finding me a chair.  The list goes on.  Thank you Steve.

Jon didn’t have exactly the race he wanted, but he did pretty well in his first 100k – less than 12 hours, 51st overall out of 352 finishers.  And he was kind enough to wait 3 hours (!) for me to finish so I could ride back with him.

One thing that really surprised me when I looked at my splits afterwards is that even though it felt like most of the 450 person race passed me during the warm part of the day, I actually held my own.  When I saw the splits below (place is at the end, marked as degrees), I realized that most of those people passing me were running the 60k – which started an hour after we did.  As I was shuffling along in the hottest part of the day with about a marathon left to go, they were smelling the barn and heading to their finish – surprisingly disheartening because I didn’t realize they were running a shorter race.  Moving from 205th midday to 168 at the finish is not the best ever but at least I moved up.  It was a little better race than I understood while I was running it.  This was sort of confirmed when I spoke to other people who ran slower this year than last year.  I also spoke to a couple runners who’d spent part of the day puking due to heat, so I was ok with not pushing my own pace.

Antelope Mesa (7.3M) 01:17:38 Saturday 08:17:38 203°
Bumble Bee (19.2M) 03:20:53 Saturday 10:20:53 205° 2
Gloriana Mine (23.7) 04:25:15 Saturday 11:25:15 205°
Black Canyon City (37.4M) 07:54:20 Saturday 14:54:20 176° 29
Table Mesa (50.9M) 11:37:00 Saturday 18:37:00 185° 9
Finish 14:39:33 Saturday 21:39:32 168° 17

And as I said above, that’s probably it for the Black Canyon 100k.  I like getting the Western States qualifier done early in the year but I’m not sure I can take 60 miles of that terrain again.  Well, I can probably take it – as ultra challenges go, it’s a pretty mild one.  I would prefer something else though.

Thank you again to Jon, Steve, the organizers, and all the volunteers who made the race possible.



  1. Great seeing you again Mark. I’m probably going to have to go back to this one next year for one more shot at redemption, but I probably should also consider heading to the NW for a run in your neck of the woods. Of course, this is making an assumption that I can get back to running someday…

    Anyhow, congrats on holding your own out there!

    • Sounds like you will be running sooner rather than later. Yeah, you should do it for completeness. There are good runs up here too. Thank you again.

  2. Mark, thanks for the report & congrats on another finish! Gotta say I am glad I did Whiskey Basin instead & don’t think I would have survived any better in that heat. as for scenery I have to disagree. you actually move through a few life zones there…more variety or plants and animals out there than around here…but races don’t give one much time to enjoy the small stuff 🙂

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