Black Canyon Ultras 60k Race Report by Nikki Buurma

I had signed up for Black Canyons months ago hoping for a sunny escape from the PNW. Little did I know the snow and cold we would have! After 2 weeks of running in snowy and slick conditions, the trip was a very welcomed change of scenery. When Scarlett, Mitch and I arrived Thursday, Phoenix was cold and wet – not exactly what we hoped for. Even race morning started with wind and rain, 30 degrees, and lots of thick clay mud that coated your shoes with extra weight. Watching Mitch and the other 100k runners start under stormy pre-dawn skies, strong winds and a little patch of hail made me really nervous for what the day would bring. The course had to be rerouted because of high water in the Agua Fria river which would have been unsafe to cross. Looking at the maps it appeared we would cross multiple other rivers (I had no idea just how wet we would get in those). With big swings in temperature from start to finish and the possibility of getting pretty wet, it was hard to decide what to wear. In the 90 minute wait from the 100k to the 60k start, the sun came up, the skies cleared, and the weather started to look a lot more promising. I did a mile warm up jog and felt a big knot in my left calf. Unsure what caused it, I brushed it off figuring it would go away once I started racing. I finalized layers with Scarlett who wisely convinced me to wear a lot less and lined up for the start.

Photo by: Scarlett Graham

The first few miles were dirt road which was a muddy mess from the rain, but we moved onto single track soon after which was in much better condition. My calf cramp didn’t go away and when we waded through cold water at mile 3 my legs got really heavy. I told myself rough patches can’t last all day, so just try to keep moving. It took about an hour for things to turn around. We hit some nice smooth single track, I took some gels, and I was able to get some momentum again. The rough patch had left me in no man’s land but I remembered I had my iPod shuffle in my vest pocket so I stuck in one headphone and immediately felt more relaxed. I started passing 100k runners around mile 10. It was nice to have someone out on the trail with me, but as the race progressed, passing people on single track got to be fairly frustrating. I had a bunch of little dizzy/bonky sections but stuck with my fueling plan and managed to keep getting it in. The direct sun made it warm up significantly so I stuffed my mittens and arm sleeves in my shorts pocket. I knew Scarlett was waiting at the Bumble Bee aid station at mile 19 and that she was hoping I would be there before 3 hours so she could leave to crew Mitch’s next stop. I pushed the pace as best I could and made it through in under 3, but two women passed me right before we arrived. A quick bottle exchange, dropped my winter gear, Scarlett gave a little pep talk, and I was off again.

Photo by: Scarlett Graham

From 19-25 we were on a more technical rocky single track section of the black canyon trail. I was pretty tired at this point and could tell I hadn’t done a long run over 20 miles during training. Due to some hami issues and general fatigue in December and January I had had to back off training and missed the key training runs I had planned. Plus the trail was so much more run-able than the steep climbs of the Chuckanuts – I wasn’t used to running that consistently. Since this section of trail was more rocky, narrow, sun exposed, and the all day headwinds were a bit stronger, my overall motivation to keep pushing was getting a little lax. I kept getting lulled into going slow, as I would get stuck behind more 100k runners. Some very kindly stepped aside to let me pass, but a whole lot would wait 10+ steps before doing so, or wouldn’t move over at all, and I had to squeeze between them and the cacti. Finally, two other runners in the 60k caught up to me and I found that calling out, “three runners back” was much more motivating to let us pass quickly. This really helped get some momentum going again and woke my legs back up. I caught one of the females ahead of me at the next aid station, moving into 5th place, but on a technical descent soon after, another female passed by. Scarlett’s pep talk was to compete and go for it, so I felt guilty for letting her pass so easily.

Finally we turned onto the reroute section of the course, off the single track and onto a jeep road. With the top 100k runners coming at us and the slower 100k runners still ahead of us, it was welcomed relief to move onto a wider path. I knew the final few miles were single track descent, so if I had any hope of passing the woman who had passed me, I needed to make up time now. I pushed hard down the hill and caught her when we got onto the section of road through town. I’m still a road runner at heart and loved being able to just push the pace without having to think about staying on my feet. Judging by the number of bloody knees, elbows, and faces I saw, tripping seemed to be a popular activity and I wasn’t keen on joining in the fun. It’s crazy what we can push through.

I had felt so tired on the single track and just wanted to be done; my feet had been on fire all day and were getting progressively worse. I hadn’t stopped for water at the last aid station because I was focused on catching the woman ahead. But I was scared of getting caught, so I kept pushing, and just when I thought I had enough space on her to relax, I spotted the 4th place female up ahead. I kept pushing down the road and the “looking strong” and “dang girl” comments spurred me on. I caught 4th with just a mile or so to go, so I did my best to push the pace on the turn filled maze of single track down to the finish line. There were a lot of 100k runners coming back on their out-and-back so it felt like mass confusion trying to navigate all the narrow turns. I passed Mitch with Scarlett alongside heading back out and they told me I was close. Finally, the finish line came into view and I made it. In 5:36, 4th Female, 19th OA.

Photo by: Ali Riecke

Because the finish was also an aid staition for the 100k runners, as well as their finish line, it was chaos! Most people didn’t even know I was finishing and were trying to get me what I needed to head back out. When I signed up I had really wanted to do the 100k – the big boys’ race. The 60k felt like the junior version and much less exciting. But seeing them head back out for another out-and-back of the route we had just done (this was due to the high water re-route, and wasn’t the normal course), and just how tired they all looked, I was very happy to have been in the 60k. My friend Alicia was waiting at the finish line and kept me company and lent me a coat until Scarlett got back. We ate pizza, watched the pro’s finish the 100k, drove back out to crew Mitch, and watched the sunset over the giant cacti as we waited for Mitch to finish. Because of the re-route and the unexpectedly hot and humid conditions, a lot of people dropped out, so even through Mitch didn’t have the day he hoped for, we were really happy that he made it in, and was fast enough to earn his buckle.

Mtn. Mitch

Overall it was a great trip, a fun race, a much needed escape from the snow, and a great long training run for Chuckanut 50k and Lake Sonoma 50. This was the first chunk of the 117 miles of racing I have planned in the next 2 months. Hopefully the rest go just as smooth or even better. So thankful for all the encouragement leading into the race, it means so much to me and I feel the power of being truly supported by so many. I felt so loved by teammates and friends checking in beforehand, and keeping me company on long runs and in workouts – I wouldn’t have made it to the start without you all! And of course, endless thanks to Scarlett and Mitch for letting me tag along again. Super great adventure buddies that always make it a fun trip and manage all the logistics and stress so that all I ever have to worry about is my race.

Today my legs are feeling good and I’m excited to get back to training for the next one!

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