Otherwise known as the Crown King Scramble 50k. This was quite an adventure and one of the more challenging 50k races I have done.
Matt and I decided to take a quick “Spring Break” to Arizona this last weekend for a little vacation. We had some friends in the area and I found a race that fit my 40x40 goal. (My goal is to do 40 races of a marathon distance or beyond by my 40th birthday in December.) We flew out of Minneapolis Friday morning, and after an uneventful 3-hour direct flight we were on the ground in sunny Phoenix. We had a leisurely lunch, found our hotel and enjoyed the company of friends on Friday night.
Saturday morning we awoke to an early alarm to make the final preparations for the race. Our hotel was on the north side of town, about 30 minutes from the start at Lake Pleasant Park. We found our way to the park in the pre-dawn light, and I checked in and received my race number. The morning was calm, and the light breaking over the mountains was beautiful. It wasn’t long before we all were lining up for the 31-mile trek to the town of Crown King.
There were about 200 runners who lined up & after a few announcements from the race director (the color of the ribbons marking the course, watch out for ATVs, the course is not closed to other trail users, etc) we were off.
The first mile or so is on pavement out of the park, and it immediately starts to gently climb. The course is an up hill course with the final 2 miles downhill to the finish line. I started out trying to meter my pace, and run steady before the sun crested over the hills. After the first mile or so, the course turns onto a gravel road. There are some houses out here, but it’s very desolate. The road is undulating with most of the up hills preceding a nice downhill. There are a few cars, but they all slow down for the runners. The first aid station is at 8.5 miles and I quickly grab a couple snacks, and continue on down the road. So far, it’s going well, and I’m maintaining a solid pace. At this rate, I could finish in 6 hours. At 11 miles, the course turns & there’s a sign for Crown King. The road narrows & gets a bit rockier and less maintained. This is definitely a “jeep road.” It wasn’t long after that we start getting passed by a few jeeps and ATVs - people out enjoying their Saturday morning in the mountains. The dust & exhaust, after being passed by these vehicles just hangs in the air. I’m glad for my buff around my neck to breathe through when I get passed by these vehicles.
Mile 15 is the next aid station, and the course has taken a steeper turn up hill. No longer are the ups immediately followed by a nice downhill. The sun is out and it’s starting to feel a bit warmer. My pace has slowed some. I come into the aid station, and refill my pack with ice & water. I also get a volunteer to pour water over my arm sleeves – this feels amazing. The cold water hangs on the sleeves and I immediately feel like a new person. The sleeves stay cold for a couple miles once I leave the aid station. I’m ready to take on the hills. I’m power hiking the climbs and running whatever down hill or flats there are. But it’s mostly power hiking, and my pace is slower than if I were running however, as soon as I start to run any of the climbs, my heart rate spikes. So I’m relegated to power hiking the climbs & running whatever isn’t up hill!
The next aid station comes at mile 22 or so. It’s in a low area with lots of shade. They offer me a cup full of margheritas. I politely decline, even though they sound delicious. I refill my pack with ice water, wet my sleeves & grab some cookies to go. The next aid station is another 5 miles away. There’s more climbing, and more ATVs. They come in packs, 4 or 6 of them at a time. Zooming up behind you. The trail is narrow enough that I step aside and let them pass. They pass frighteningly close – one wrong move on their part, and I’m going headfirst off the mountainside. Once they pass, I am left in a cloud of dust. In my mind I try to extend them some grace – they are doing something they enjoy on a Saturday morning, I’m doing something I enjoy… But the fact is, I don’t understand it… And I’m sure they don’t understand what I’m doing – why would I run up a mountain when I could ride up it in a Jeep or ATV?? I try to put it out of my mind, but every time I hear the sound of another one coming up behind me I would just get angry. The noise! The dust! The exhaust!! The fact that I have to step aside on the trail, when I am ready to just be done!! I’m irritated to the point of nearly bursting in to tears. But I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Climbing. Moving. One foot in front of the other.
Pretty soon, I come around the bend of the trail and I can see the aid station up the mountain ahead of me, and the trail stretching out behind me in the distance. The aid station looks as it is on top of the mountain. It’s such a tease!! I just tell myself I have to get up there, and then it must be the start of the downhill to the finish. Was it 2 miles downhill or 3 miles downhill?? Either way, I know I’m close. I find the spring in my step & power up the switchbacks to the aid station. Helpful volunteers fill my pack with ice and water, wet my sleeves and send me on my way. I take a few steps, around the bend only to realize, I wasn’t at the top…. I could see I had more climbing to go. Ok, well there’s only one way to do it. One foot in front of the other. So I march on. I see people up the trail, and they become my carrot – I reach them and pass them, offering a “good job” or “how’s it going?” Finally, I come into a stand of pines; it smells different up here, like the forest. It’s refreshing after coming out of the desert. There are2 people standing up here, they tell me it’s downhill to the finish. Only a couple miles left. I check my watch, 2 miles to go. Thank goodness for the downhill, I was ready to run after power hiking the climb the last few miles. I run and my legs feel good. I keep looking for Matt and Crown King. I just find more Jeeps, ATVs and dust. This may be the longest 2 miles downhill ever.
Finally, I see Matt!! The finish must be close now. I come into the town of Crown King, and it is a busy place. I make the turn to the finish line & collect my finisher’s jacket & mug. I’m glad it’s over. Crown King is noisy and dusty. I find a seat at a picnic table in the shade. It does feel good to sit down. Matt comes by and we chat about our day – his 2 plus hour drive up here, my 7 plus hour ATV filled hike. I grab a quick bite to eat, but it’s becoming very apparent – we are over it. The noise, the dust , the ATVs. They’re everywhere!! I quickly change into dry clothes and we hit the road. It’s a long, dusty, road out of Crown King, but we eventually find the pavement & the open road to head north to Sedona. It’s time for the rest of the vacation to start!!!
We had a lovely time in Sedona – hiking, hanging out & enjoying every minute. The race was an adventure (a white knuckle drive in small rental car for Matt, and an ATV infused 50k for me) and while I’m glad to check race #33 off the list, I don’t have any plans on returning to do this one again.
Thanks for following along on my adventure!!
Until next time!