This was Sherri Harvey’s race! She wanted to run a 100k so we looked at several spring races to choose from that wouldn’t interfere with her spring motorcycle riding days and she picked Black Canyon. As soon as they opened the race to a waitlist only we put our names on the list. It was around six weeks before the actual race day that they finally invited the waitlist into the race. We had expected it to happen so we kept our training up planned on being able to run it.
We made our travel arrangements and dialed in our runs and training. If you don’t know Sherri Harvey there’s a few things you should understand about her. She is an engineer and she likes everything neat and orderly and by that I mean she likes a schedule. If her schedule says we are “supposed” to run 18 miles, we run 18 miles because that’s what the schedule says. More on this later.
We headed to Phoenix, Arizona a couple days before the race. Sherri had never been there, never experienced their awesome running trails or even seen the big saguaro cactus before. We were more than excited to run this race as we travelled to Arizona. We were both a little disorganized, forgetting things, losing things and last minute race changes. It was nice to have the extra day to get it all together.
I’d run this race two years before and felt pretty confident in how Araviapa Running is able to put on outstanding events. On race morning you are picked up by a shuttle from the designated parking location and taken to the start. This year with Covid it was much more complicated with specific shuttle times based on your race start time. But just as I knew would be the case, the whole race, which has literally hundreds of runners, came off flawlessly.
Race Director, Jubilee Paige
We immediately met up with local Atlanta friends Chris Girard and Ellen Comeaux at the start. Wave starts were every 15 minutes with thirty runners in each. We were spaced out and welcomed by the amazing race director, Jubilee Paige. I have a major girl crush on Jub! She’s full of energy, talented, fun and an outstanding race director, what’s not to love about her!
Social Distanced Starting line with Chris and Ellen!
It was a chilly morning start which is typical for this race and February desert weather. Sherri and I had discussed a sort of race plan which was mostly to go out slow and just enjoy the day. The number one goal was to finish. We probably should have discussed a “break up” plan but we had run a 100 mile race together with no issues, this was a far shorter race. No problem. Of course, nothing is a problem until it is. We ran Mountain Mist a few weeks earlier a little too fast at the start and had a great race the first half but then struggled the second half. Our goal this race was not to do that again.
Sherri likes to have a race aid station chart which I usually make for each of us. This time I only made one for me, assuming she had made hers. Then the last minute change in our start wave, made the cutoff times wrong on my sheet. Harvey likes her schedules. She likes to take the chart and figure out in her head what time we will get to the next aid station and how far to get there. I’m more of a run by feel runner. I run what’s comfortable and Harvey needs time to warm up and find her groove.
Trying to take in the view and let Sherri set the pace
The race started and we were on paved roads for maybe a mile or so before hitting the trail. It seemed like a slow comfortable pace to me, we chatted and neither of us was redlining with some crazy pace. I don’t remember how long it was before Harvey started saying we were going out too fast. She was telling me our pace. Yes doing math in her head, or from her watch and I was sure she was wrong because it didn’t feel too fast to me. It was comfortable and I felt really good. The beginning of this race is largely beautiful downhill running. You are warned not to go out too fast because the course is deceiving. The second half is tough.
Finally Harvey told me that if I was having a great day I should leave her. But this was her race. I didn’t really care how fast we went, I was enjoying the day. Hence the need for the “break up” talk. We were going to run it together so I would wait every so often giving her a chance to catch up. I took pictures of her running and enjoyed the scenery. I don’t think she was at all impressed with my picture taking or telling her to smile.
How can you not have a great day here?
If I had to guess I’d say the further we went the more frustrated she got with me, and I was feeling so good. We tried to get Harvey to recover and bounce back as I was certain she would. With each section the distance between us seem to widen and the wait at the aid stations just a bit longer. No breakup plan still. I will say that when the 20 MPH headwinds kicked up, it did make things considerably tougher.
We rolled into the 30k mark just halfway into the race. I was only feeling better as the day progressed and Sherri was clearly worse. The next section was a little longer and once we got onto that section, the gap really widened. I began chatting and enjoying the company of several other runners before settling in with a couple younger guys. We kept a solid pace getting to Black Canyon City aid station at around mile 37.4. It was getting dark and now it was clear Harvey and I were definitely breaking up. I could run with one of the guys I’d been with and not have to be alone in the dark for the second half which promised to be much tougher.
Smile Harvey, this is supposed to be fun!
I got my drop bag here, changed into a dry shirt, grabbed my headlamp, my waist lamp and poles, then got some food. Just as it was starting to rain and I was going to take off, Harvey came in and let me know her plans to drop. I could clearly see her swollen knees and the pain in her face. Finishing would be very painful for her so she made the decision to accept her first DNF.
My new friend John and I took off for the next long section. Sherri would go back to our car and hopefully jump in to crew for me at the Table Mesa aid station some 13.5 miles later. I didn’t expect her to make it there in time, but the long sections of climbing definitely made the second half slower. We continued to run strong on the downhill’s but the long uphill climbs were slower. I was happy to see Sherri at Table Mesa. She was in a good mood, maybe the first all day, and made sure I had gotten something to eat and that I had everything I needed.
Now John and I were off towards the finish. Around 7.7 miles to the next aid and then 3.6 to the finish. Most of the time I led the way for John. He liked the pace I was setting and I was climbing the uphills really well. This section would find John on a bit of the struggle bus. I could tell he was in pain but he never said a word. This was his first 100k and after we hit 50 miles this was all new territory for him. We had a lot of climbing in that section and he said he probably couldn’t run any more. We had a really strong hiking pace so it wasn’t a concern and we had more than enough time to finish in his goal.
Finally, the last aid station. I tried quickly to put fresh batteries in both of my lights while the aid station workers were trying to give out shots of fireball. Sadly, they couldn’t seem to get any takers. I quickly said “I’m from Georgia. We have fireball at every race, I’ll take a shot.” Clearly Arizona shots are not the same as Georgia shots. They handed me a cup with what was closer to 3 shots. No problem, I only had just over 3 miles to go. John said the aid station workers told him the trail was smooth to the finish. He must have smelled the barn because now he led the way and we ran the entire 3.6 miles with him crossing the finish line just before me. Excellent day on the beautiful Black Canyon trails! I was definitely in my happy place all day. Sad not to get to finish with Harvey so she could get a second buckle but I’m sort a 100-mile buckle purist. I don’t really like buckles for less than 100 miles. It was bittersweet but sweet none the less.
Harvey we’ll find another epic race adventure to run but, in the meantime, you are still one of my favorite pacers!