Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Crown King Scramble 2015 Race Report
Saturday, March 28, I ran my first running race of all time, the Crown King Scramble. The race is a 31 mile uphill ultra-marathon that begins at Lake Pleasant outside Phoenix, AZ, and ends at a small town in the middle of nowhere called Crown King.
The race started at 5am, and because I was so anxious the night before, I was only able to sleep for 90 minutes. When we started running, it was still completely dark outside and nice and cool. My strategy was to cover as much ground as possible before the sun came up because the heat makes it so much harder to run. Also, there was a cut-off time of 3.5 hours to reach the 15.3 mile marker.
For the first 13 miles, I ran everything, even the steepest hills. Then for the next 5 miles, I ran everything that was downhill, flat, or slightly uphill, and I only walked up the steepest hills (walking up a steep hill is at least as hard as running on flat ground). I made it to the 15.3 mile cut-off in 2 hours 57 minutes, so I had made the cut-off with 33 minutes to spare.
Everything was going great until around mile 18 when my quads began cramping severely. This was in the midst of some very steep climbing (see above elevation profile). I decided that maybe I was low on electrolytes because it was getting hot, and I was sweating a lot. The high in Phoenix that day was 97 degrees, and the high in Crown King was 77 degrees. At the aid station at mile 19.1, I guzzled a lot of Gatorade and drank a bottle of coconut water to try to get more electrolytes. Another runner gave me an electrolyte tablet that also helped, along with some Whole Foods antacid that I had brought. My quads stopped cramping, and I was able to keep running, but for the whole rest of the day, I felt like I was always on the edge of the cramps coming back.
Around mile 23 I started feeling good again and enjoying the race. I ran as much as I could, but as soon as my quads would feel like cramping, I would back off and walk for a while. The whole day I was checking the clock and doing the math to make sure that I would finish within the 9 hour cut-off. Since this was my first ultra (first race for that matter!), my only goal was just to finish before the cut-off. Once I got to the summit at mile 28.7, I knew for a fact that I would be able to finish well within the allotted time. The only thing left at that point was just 2.3 miles of downhill to the finish line.
There had a been a lot of pained faces along the trail that day, and a lot of expletives, but at this point in the race everyone is smiling. It's all downhill from here! The hardest part about this event is not the fact that it is 31 miles long, but the fact that there are 6,750' of climbing (the equivalent of climbing the Empire State Building more than 5 times). However, for some strange reason, I wasn't smiling. In my mind, I was very happy to be finishing a goal that I had been working toward for so long, and I was was definitely happy not to have to climb any more hills. But for some reason, a couple miles from the finish line, I started sobbing for absolutely no reason. They were not tears of joy because I didn't feel particularly happy. I wasn't in any pain. In fact, the whole race had been much easier than I had thought it would be. I think it was just that the stress my body had been put through was causing a chemical reaction that made me start crying even though there was no logical reason for it whatsoever.
For the last few miles, I lost all will to try and improve my time. I knew that I would for sure make it before the cut-off, and that is all that mattered to me, so I just walked the last couple miles. When I got to Crown King, I started running again, just so I could run across the finish line. The guy running right in front of me was greeted by his young son who ran up and gave him a hug right before he crossed the finish line. I thought to myself, "That is really nice. I wish my family could have been here." Just then I looked over, and my wife and kids were on the side of the course cheering for me! My wife had decided to bring the whole family up and surprise me (I had not planned on her picking me up. I had thought I would have to bum a ride back to the valley). I ran across the finish line, got my finisher's mug, and lay down in a cold stream. My final time was 8 hours 32 minutes. Out of 250 entrants, I had come in 186th place.
Although there were a few dark places (mainly between miles 18-23), I had a great time. The first 3 hours especially were really fun, running along at a good pace in the cool sunrise and chatting with other runners. I am definitely planning on doing another ultra-marathon in the very near future with the goal of running a faster time, and eventually I would like to try even longer distances. The closest thing to epiphany or spiritual enlightenment that I experienced on this run was that I finally understand why women sometimes break down crying for no logical reason (hormones!).