Black Canyon 100K: A Change in Perspective...Jason Baum
I’m going to try to keep this shorter than my typical race reports, since my reports tend to turn into ultras themselves!
This was probably my favorite race I’ve ever done, for a number of reasons. For
one, I just love the Black Canyon Trail, and to be able to run the majority of
it in one chunk is something that has appealed to me for a long time. I’ve had
my eye on this race for a number of years now… in 2020, I didn’t feel like I was
quite ready for it. In 2021, I was signed up for the 100k, but had to withdraw
due to my ankle injury. So, honestly, I was grateful to even be able to toe the
starting line this year. Coming off Javelina Jundred in October, I was probably
in the best shape I’ve ever been. I took a week or so off, but then got right
back at it with this race and a few others in mind. My plan was to stay at a
consistent 50 miles per week leading up to this race, and I had a great month of
November with a couple of good runs in the Canyon thrown in there.
December rolled around, and I had a couple of good 50 mile weeks, including a 70 mile week when I went home for Christmas (this was boosted a little bit by my 47 mile Montour Trail run). But when January came along, I struggled to keep up with the mileage I wanted. I was still hitting anywhere from 30-40 miles per week, which isn’t bad, but I felt like I didn’t have enough long runs in me to undertake a 100k. I did a 24 miler in the middle of January, so it’s not like I wasn’t doing anything, but still, I felt slightly underprepared. I was actually starting to dread this race, fearing the worst, and mostly just wanted to get it over with.
I saw a couple of friends, Harley Guy and Monet Newell, at the expo on Friday (this would be a theme throughout the weekend!), and I was half joking with them, saying “I feel so underprepared… I don’t even know why I’m doing this tomorrow”. Monet replied back, “Because you’re always happy every time you’re out on the trails!”. It was such a simple answer, but she was right, and it helped snap me out of the mental funk I was feeling and it got me excited to run this race again. I realized that the weekly mileage doesn’t matter, the time doesn’t matter… even finishing doesn’t matter. Ultimately, I love trail and ultra running because it makes me happy. So my attitude immediately shifted from “let’s just get this over with…” to “I can’t wait to get out there and have fun tomorrow!”
I got a great night’s sleep before the race. I was picked up from my house in the morning by my running friends Cindy Rollins and Jillian Harvey, who were working the Antelope Mesa aid station. They dropped me off at Mayer High School where the race began, and I immediately bumped into Noel Kingston who was working the event. We talked for a little bit, and he pointed me in the direction of Steve Balousek and Paula Olson’s sprinter van they had parked in the parking lot. I had about an hour to kill before I started the race, and it was great to hang out in there where it was nice and warm! Inside the van, my friends Dean Hansen and Mike Melchiors were already there, and we had a great time conversing and sharing our own ultra running stories for the next hour until it was our time to start.
At the start line, the three of us also met up with Tom Neuman, and the four of us (along with Noel!) got some nice pictures together before it was time to go. The race started in three waves - the first at 7:00, the second at 7:30, and the third at 8:00, which is when I started. The first three miles of the course go around the track at Mayer High School, followed by a road section before linking up with the Black Canyon Trail. This is the only paved part of the course, and it was a good chance to warm up and get the blood moving on a cold morning. This course has plenty of downhill - over 7,000’ worth - but also has over 5,000’ of climbing, most of which occurs in the last 25 miles. I wanted to start slightly aggressively, since I was planning to power hike most of the uphills anyway, and I know my legs can withstand the pounding of extended descents, thanks in large part to how much I’ve trained in Grand Canyon. At first, I was annoyed at my later start time, but I think it turned out to be for the best. I was passing people for most of the race, which was a nice confidence boost throughout the day.
I saw Cindy and Jillian again at the first aid station at around mile 8, thanked
them again for picking me up in the morning, and kept going.
The sun was out and things were already starting to warm up, but I decided to keep my layers on until the second aid station at around mile 13, where I shed my layers. It felt great to be running in shorts and a tank top again! The high in Phoenix was calling for 81 that day, and as we descended more and more into the Valley, the temperature kept increasing and it felt amazing. I definitely run better when it’s warmer out (in general, I just operate better when it’s not cold), so I was loving the heat of the day. I know some people were saying how hot it was, but to me, it felt perfect!
Rolling into the Bumble Bee aid station at mile 20 was a highlight of the race. The trail briefly deviated from the Black Canyon Trail to go into an old Western saloon, and there were lots of people there who were crewing runners, as well as people just hanging out and enjoying the festivities provided. It felt good to run through a crowd of cheering people, and I saw my friend James Austin working the aid station. It was nice chatting with him for a bit, but I quickly took off after refueling and lubing my feet up with some Squirrel’s Nut Butter.
Another highlight of the race came shortly after the Gloriana Mine aid station, as I was making my way into Soap Creek. I’m really familiar with this section of the BCT, as I often make the short drive down from Prescott and hop on here whenever I feel like taking advantage of the warmer weather and running through saguaros. Anyway, I was running down the trail, and up comes Peter Mortimer from the other way! For those who don’t know, he is an ultra runner from Flagstaff who is a big name within our community, having won several 100 mile races (most recently the Hurt 100 in Hawaii). He was just down there to cheer us on, so we chatted for a little bit and I got my picture with him before continuing.
My race was going really well, and I crossed the halfway point of the race at around 6:07. I knew the second half would be significantly harder than the first half, but I still felt good about my time by this point. But, as with any longer ultra, you’re bound to deal with something unexpected along the way, and shortly after mile 31, I noticed my lower back and butt were soaking wet. I didn’t feel like I was sweating any more than usual, so I quickly figured out that it was my water bladder that had a leak in it. I was approaching the aid station at Black Canyon City (mile 37), and I was debating on what my best move would be. I had a drop bag waiting for me there, so I could either ditch the bladder entirely and just rely on my two flasks up front for the rest of the race, or I could attempt to fix it and hope that it would hold up. I opted to try and fix it, since there was almost 9 miles to the next aid station, and the sun was still out so I figured I might need the extra water. I spent more time than I wanted to at this aid station trying to duct tape a patch together, but the rest was good for me and it definitely felt good to sit down for a little bit. I had three layers of duct tape going around the entire perimeter of the bladder, which I thought would be more than good enough. I filled everything up and tested it, and headed back onto the trail.
Unfortunately, my patch only lasted a couple of miles before I felt my back dripping with water again. I was worried about having wet clothes with the sun going down and the temperature dropping, so I decided to dump out all of the water in my bladder and just use my flasks for the rest of the race. The sun was setting by this point, so I figured I’d be okay with less water with the cooler temperatures.
I made it to the next aid station at mile 46 without any issue, and quickly filled up and headed back out. The next aid station was Table Mesa, mile 51, and I figured once I was there I was good. Crossing mile 50 was a pretty big mental barrier, and by that point it was only a little over 10 miles to the finish. Carol Northrup was working the aid station there, and it was great chatting with her for a little bit and meeting her son who was also working. I was so eager to get back on the trail that I took off without remembering to get a picture… bummer!
I thought the last 10 miles of the course were definitely the toughest. There’s a pretty good climb right after the Table Mesa aid station, and I was definitely in full on power hiking mode by this point. But it felt like there was way more climbing than I remember from my training runs here. I still felt good and strong for the most part, but mentally I was starting to get tired by this point. But I kept grinding it out like we always do, and after 7-1/2 long miles, I finally arrived at the last aid station at mile 59. I spent a few minutes here and filled up my flasks - one with water, the other with Coke - and took off for the last three miles to the finish. I knew Emily was waiting for me at the finish line, and I was getting really excited to see her. She had been on my mind all day, but now the finish line was finally within reach, and knowing she was there definitely gave me a boost to finish strong. Finally, after 14 hours and 21 minutes, I crossed the finish line in New River to finish the race and get my buckle.
I mentioned that this was probably my favorite race I’ve done, and to me it was all about the people. From seeing my friends at the Expo, seeing so many of them on the course, making some new trail friends along the way, and also knowing I had so many friends that were doing the 60k on Sunday, it just made for a really fun weekend of running and following along with everyone. Also, I have to say that it just feels really good to have someone you care about waiting for you at the finish line! Emily was a total rock star- having driven down from Flagstaff after working a full day just to watch me cross the finish line and bring me all the recovery food and drinks I needed and then some. Seriously so appreciated, and having that kind of support is amazing!! It was the perfect way to cap off a great race that ultimately served as a necessary reminder on why I do these things - because I’m always happy when I’m on the trails.
Next up - Antelope Canyon 100 miler in March, followed by the big one… Cocodona 250 in May!!! Yikes.