Dave Hardwick, at one of the gates for the Arizona Trail
A great friend and runner Dave Hardwick, invited me to join him on a challenging and remote 50 mile run through the Santa Rita Mountains. Dave and I first met at the 2004 Boston Marathon and I have found his sense of adventure to be just as creative as mine, even though he is 20 years older, and after you read this story you might say he is “wiser”, too.
The Old Pueblo is held about 1.5 hours from Tucson. Many of the trails and roads lead to ghost towns, reminding us of the gold mining history that attracted settlers to the area.
I am going to tease Dave a lot in this blog. It seems he must have been suffering some sort of “OLD Timers”, experiencing selective memory loss. He told me we would be running on old mining roads, forest service roads, and sections of the historic Arizona Trail. But Dave forgot to tell me several important things. The mining roads were more suited for mules, not runners, and were wild and rocky. If the roads were not covered in rocks, they were deeply rutted and steep! And I was introduced to a new term an “arroyo”, a dry creek bed. My definition for an arroyo is “another unpleasant running surface.”
Dave forgot to mention the bonus miles that seemed to have a special connection to those the little climbs. The course is actually 52 miles long with over 7500 in elevation gain with most of the course ranging between 4100 and 5800 feet. And the last, and maybe the most important thing Dave forgot to mention was after he did a practice run on the course he had decided not to run it and deal with all of those rocks!
So now to the race:
Dave and his wife, Lada were wintering in a beautiful ranch near Patagonia AZ, near the race start/finish. Dave invited me to stay at the ranch, near Kentucky Camp, another ghost town that served as the start/finish location.
were I stayed
So my trip began on Thursday March 5. I made my escape just ahead of a major snow storm. I arrived in Tucson and Dave picked me up and we drove to Kentucky Camp to see if we could help the race director set up at the start finish. Oh, and Dave forgot to tell me “They needed several ditches dug”.
Kentucky Camp: Joe, Gary and Lynda preparing the start/finish
Joe Dana, Lynda Hendricks (Race Director) and Gary Parcher were there working alone when we arrived, with almost everything already done. We did help them bury some cable, but the credit for so much of the work belongs to those nice people who work hard to create a wonderful event.
On Friday, Dave gave me quick tour of Nogales and its charming little museum. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet this darling woman, Sigrid Matrejean. This little gray haired lady had more energy than some people I know who are half her age. Sigrid shared a wealth of local history, including intimate details only a long time resident would know. If Sigrid ever tires of working at the Museum, the town needs to use her to promote tourism!
From the museum, you can see the Mexican flag flying on Mexico’s side of the border, which is only about a block away. While so close to the border, we enjoyed in an authentic Mexican meal.
Saturday, Race Day: Dave was helping at registration and needed to be at the start an hour early, so with special permission, I began my race an hour early, 5:00AM.
Morning of the start
It was dark, and the course started on a forest service road going uphill several hundred feet. My plan was to go easy, try to keep my heart rate under control since we were above 5000 feet, and enjoy the coolness until the sun came up. The temps in Pennsylvania had not prepared me for the sunny skies and mid 70’s Arizona was providing.
Sunrise over the Arizona Trail
At 3 miles I passed the first aid station that was just starting to be set up in the pre-dawn darkness. I then climbed on the historic Arizona Trail. It was a nice trail, with runnable sections and rocky sections with rolling climbs and docents.
California Gulch Mile 7 and 29
The two lead runners caught me at 2 hours 6 minutes into my run. A second pair of young, lanky runners came up on me and as I turned, I saw one man wearing a Penn State track and field shirt. I yelled “WE are” and received an enthusiastic correct response “Penn State”!
Runner on the right , wearing a PSU Track and Field shirt
It was comforting that the PSU bond can be found even in the remote mountains of Arizona.
Wasp Canyon-Mile 13
My time alone was ending, as the young speeder runners began to catch and pass me. And then, a little after 13 miles, I took a wrong turn and added an extra climb and about a mile to my race. Just past 13 miles, I began a long climb up a mountain, on a mining road. I looked back and saw I was about to be passed by the legendary ultra-runner, Pam Reed.
Passed by Pam Reed, on right.
Once I reached the top, I was able to see the carnage that we were to run down. The mining road looked as if it was mined itself, with rocks, large rocks, covering it for at least a mile. As I was running this mine field, I tripped and drew blood on my leg, hurt my knee and ankle, worst of all, bruised both my feet. My consolation was I still had my teeth!
Rocky Roads- on my way to a fall
I slowly resumed my run, but felt my foot swelling, then the other seemed to swell too. I had bruised both feet and soon developed hot spots. At the 20 mile aid station and asked if they had duct tape. They did. A pedestrian was watching me wrap the tape around my foot to trying to cover the now open blisters. He asked what I thought I was doing. I told him I was fixing my blisters so I could get running again. . He laughed at me and then said, “OH, I thought you were dropping, after seeing those feet!” Then he asked how I was going to get that stuff off my feet. And laughed again at me.
Helvetia Station-mile 19
I left the 20 mile aid station knowing I had a long climb coming up. What I didn’t know it was on a well groomed forest road which made the hike/run easier!
Aid Station at Box Canyon-Mile 25
The climb goes on for 7 miles and reaches almost 5800 in elevation. It will catch your attention and will take your breath away. And along this section, I met Courtney. We visited for a few minutes, would leap frog each other, but entered the 29 mile aid station together. Soon we returned on the Arizona Trail, Courtney pulled away from me with a strong uphill surge.
At the Mile 33 aid station, Dave was waiting to greet me. He told me I looked great. I was feeling pretty good too.
Granite Mountain Aid Station with Dave and Cortney
Panning for gold along our path
I took off, hoping I would still break 12 hours. Then the heat of the afternoon began to bother me. I was feeling tired and tried to increase my hydration. I had a GU at each aid station and once in between. I was drinking electrolyte drink at the aid stations. Yet I still felt like I was crashing. I went through the next aid station and knew there was another big climb. I was struggling to run, even on the flats. And then a serious climb to 5800 feet on a technical single track began.
More rocky trail
Once on the summit I knew I should be able to guide down the trail to the last aid station and then the finish. Only one problem: I wasn’t feeling very strong, my blisters were terrible, and my stomach began to rebel.
The evening before the race, Dave and I watched the movie, The Judge. Robert Downy Jr. was playing the part of an attorney coaching a younger attorney, including tips on how to “vomit” when the court room stress shakes your nerves, with the goal to avoid getting splattered. “Never on the sidewalk, always in the grass” he repeated! These words kept coming to my mind, as I looked for a soft place to spew the Oreos, Gu, that included a slight purple tint from the electro light drink I had enjoyed at an earlier aid station. It was disgusting and it happened several times. And then I slowly returned to life and got back into something resembling running.
Gardner Canyon Aid Station-Mile 47
I came to the last aid station, and lucked out, they had soup. I had a quick cup and was off and actually was running again. I headed for the last climb and enjoyed the view from the ridgeline, whenever I could look up from my feet. The course was littered with rock!
We quickly dropped down and followed the Arizona Trail through several gates and back to Kentucky Camp.
Dave, Joe, Lynne and Gary were there to greet me, as well as a few familiar faces from the day’s race.
Pam Reed and me at the finish
I introduced Dave to Pam Reed, who continues to amaze me with her consistence and endurance. When I told Pam how old Dave is, she told him she thought he was only in his 60’s. She even invited to come run the marathon she directs, as her guest.
I bet he is still smiling!
Dave may have been a little forgetful about some of the details of this weekend’s run, but he helped me have another “Grand Adventure” and that is something I will not forget.