Part II – Mesquite Canyon 50K
The last, and only time, I’ve dropped out of a race was several years ago during the Buffalo Marathon. I abruptly discovered that I was born with a fallen metatarsal in each foot. The constant pounding it received from my mid/front foot strike caused it to produce, over time, a severe acute pain on the bottom of my feet. It felt like a knife was being jammed into the ball of my foot. Needless to say, I dropped during the race and thus began a search for a podiatrist who could help me overcome the issue.
Here is a side note for non-runners out there, especially doctors; runners don’t like being told to stop running for a while. You better be prescribing the strongest anti-depressant you got if your diagnosis interferes with my running (and my sanity).
I hate to say it, but some doctors suck. After a blatant disregard of the lazy prognosis and prescribed treatments – less running and cushier shoes – received by two podiatrists, I finally found my doctor. He was a runner. He got it. In fact we ran the entire Boston Marathon almost side by side, without knowing each other, only a few months earlier! We finished seconds apart in a race of 27,000 people, and here we are meeting for the first time in Tucson. He offered a simple solution of creating small cushioned donuts in my shoes around the fallen metatarsal as to reduce impact on that point. It worked, and I haven’t missed a beat since. Want to know the best part of this story? I asked the smokin’ hot gal working the front desk at his office out on a date… A year later, we were engaged.
The point of the story is that I am a strong believer that things happen for a reason, as long as you are open to it. Dropping from the marathon and messing up my foot ultimately led to meeting my wife and so forth. It wasn’t long until I viewed my failure at the OP50 in this light. A big loss is nothing but an opportunity to gain valuable experience and learn from. In fact, you can get more out of a fail than a win, in terms of development. Furthermore, it can be just what I needed as a catalyst to kick my ass into a higher gear, improve on training, and regain motivation.
So it’s the night before the Mesquite Canyon 50K and I am hitting the road for a 2 ½ hour drive up to White Tanks Park, west of Phoenix. OP was only 6 days ago. I wouldn’t say I was fully recovered, but I got a few decent runs in during the week and felt good enough. After all, I didn’t run 50 miles. The plan was to spend Friday night at a hotel or motel near the race so I could get a little sleep that night. Leaving Tucson around 9PM, I put my faith in a room being available as it would be late and I would want to go right to bed when I got in around 11:30. That was a mistake. The first hotel I stopped at informed me they were totally booked. No problem, there are plenty in the area I thought. The next place, a budget hotel was the same – all booked. “Is there something going on?” I asked. “Any other motel or hotels in the area you could suggest?” “I’m sorry but everywhere around is completely booked” the receptionist said. “NASCAR is in town and they have a big event tomorrow.”
I called three other places and they all confirmed no vacancy because of the event. It’s approaching midnight now and I resort to a back-up plan…Crash in the bed of my truck. Heck, I spent a whole summer while in grad school sleeping back there parked in a buddies driveway, what’s one more night? I need some supplies though…sleeping bag, pad, and pillow. Across the street I see the blazing luminescence of a Wal-Mart sign. They close in 15 minutes. Let’s do this.
Now I’ll tell you this. There is no more depraved and disturbing a scene as Wal-Mart at 11:45PM…on a Friday night…with NASCAR in town. I still have haunting flashbacks – masses of skin spewing out of too tight clothing, drunken shenanigans of America’s finest patriots sporting their second amendment rights on their hip, a walking procession of Budweiser advertisements.
But who am I to judge. Look at me. I am tired and cracked out from the drive, sporting stained pajamas and a loose beater. I am at Wallyworld at midnight on a Friday night, hazily drifting through the aisles in search of shitty camping gear to crash in the back of my beat up S-10. I am with you. So cheers NASCAR freaks, this buds for you. Now get me my Coleman bag, a cheap pad and pillow, and $45 later, I’m out.
I figured since the race was in a state park, my best place to park and crash would be inside the park, as I know there is a campground inside. So I arrive at the gate ready to get some Z’s close to the starting line.
It’s closed, with a chain around the gate. Ahhh, this night keeps getting better. So I drive aimlessly around the area looking for somewhere inconspicuous to park for the night. Two attempts at stealthily parking somewhere off road were thwarted off by what sounded like drunken college kids coming around enjoying their Friday night, or area residents looking suspiciously at the truck. Unable to relax and in fear a police car would be showing up soon to move me along, I made my way back to the park entrance. It’s now 1:30AM.
I get out of the car and inspect the area. Maybe I can just park right in front of the gate, and when the Park Ranger gets here in several hours, I’ll be let in. Then, I notice that there is no lock on the chain around the gate. Yes! Now, I’m not sure if breaking into a state park is against the law, but under these circumstances, who would oppose?
So off with the chain, and in I went. I found a nice parking spot, away from the entrance by the headquarters and set up shop for the evening. Finally, I was safe and secure. As I lay in the bed of my truck looking up I realize that I haven’t slept under the stars in way too long. This is nice. In a few hours I will start to hear the race organizers coming in to set up the race.
At 5:45 I am up sitting against the cab of the truck watching the sunrise. It’s a beautiful morning. Not much sleep was had, but fuck it, you can sleep when ya die. Racers start to arrive. There are good runners from around the state coming. The guy who won this race the last two years in a row is here from Flagstaff. A guy named Michael Versteeg is here. He runs on the Run Steep Get High Mountain Racing team with my friend Catlow. He’s coming down from my former stomping grounds in Prescott. We all gather around the start line and at 7AM we are off.
The first seven miles I chase after a guy whose going out strong. Behind me is Versteeg. I had a hunch the three of us were going to make up the podium, just didn’t know what order yet. The course is known for being quite brutal – lots of climbing and a high level of technicality. This basically means very rocky and slow moving terrain. I finally catch up with the front-runner on a long, harsh and rocky descent…my sweet spot. He was a nice guy. We had a brief exchange and he told me he was a tri-athlete. I knew I had him at that point. If we were going to hop on a bike or take a swim somewhere soon I’d be dead in the water, but this is my sport and you’ve got a long way to go man. Adios!
We hit the 12 mile turnaround and I see Versteeg is not far behind. I pick up the pace and crank out the next 10 miles hard. It got hot. It was 88 degrees on course with not a speck of shade. I’m at 25 miles and at the first slight feeling of leg cramping I stop, breath, and stretch it out. Sacrificing a minute here and there is OK with me. I think I’ve built up a good lead at this point. Into a two-mile stretch of a dry river wash I went. I was not prepared for this. There was no more trail, just scrambling and finding my best path down a steep, boulder-ridden canyon. At times I was on all fours, sliding down granite on my butt. I’m not one to stray away from a good adventure, but at the very end of a race on tired legs in blistering heat…this was rough.
I made it out. I have no more water left, not a drop. My mouth is as dry as cotton. I’m in need of an aid station, and there is only three miles left. I equipped myself with only one handheld bottle this race. Perhaps two bottles or a hydration pack would have suited better. I shuffle on, trying to ignore my thirst. I see the final aid station like a sweet oasis, and its no mirage. They were excited to see me as I was the first runner, but not nearly as excited as I was to see them. I poured water all over me, gulped it down, a little for the road, and onward. Goddamn that water was so good.
The last two miles I hit strong. I didn’t know how far anyone was behind me and I didn’t care. I came to this race for a redemption shot. All I wanted was to finish a race to get my confidence back. I went on to win…an unexpected bonus.
Versteeg came in 8 minutes later, and the tri-guy about 20. I got to meet Michael (Versteeg) afterwards and hang out for a bit. Turns out we have several mutual friends, a small world indeed. I have yet to meet an ultra-runner that I didn’t immediately want to be best friends with…he is no exception – a top-notch guy.
Later on that day Versteeg posted this on his facebook:
“Didn’t have the climbing gusto at today’s Mesquite Canyon 50k, but I’m proud to join the ever growing list of elites getting left in the dust my Tucson/Prescott up and comer Charlie Ware The race is a classic, brutally technical, and im already waiting for next year. that course record needs to fall. #runsteepgethigh”
Now I have never considered myself an athlete, and certainly never an “elite.” Nor do I now.
But who knows, maybe if I keep hanging around with these guys long enough, I just might become one of um.