The name "Ford" now no longer conquers up images of the first truck I learned to drive with a clutch. Nor does it any longer remind me of my Ranger parked just outside. Nope. Now, even hearing the single-syllable word sends a little chill up my spine.
When asked about his new race course the night before its debut, race director Jamil Coury simply mumbled something about how he regretted not fixing rope on some of the down climbs in the two-mile long Ford Canyon "Narrows." That little comment brought forth a collective group of "gulps" from the small group gathered around the campfire. I guess this meant that no one was going to get bored with tomorrow's course.
Camping near the start the night before the race. The setting of Jamil's bedtime course horror stories.
Taking in the distant lights of Phoenix' suburbs from White Tank Mountain Regional Park at dusk.
In January, only one runner had signed up for the inaugural Mesquite Canyon 50 Kilometer Trail Race. But by race day more than 70 runners had decided that this 50K was the event for them. There was a good representation from Flagstaff and northern Arizona: Brian Tinder, ultra-newbie Eric Bohn, Bret Sarnquist, and James Willis. The local Phoenix-area connection showed too: also an ultra newbie and 2:30-marathoner Jason Griffiths and Michael Labrecque. Heck, even Idaho represented: AJW. It was shaping up to be quite the race. Coury felt that no runner would break five and half hours on his course. All these guys were determined to prove him wrong.
Typical single-track in the "lowlands" near the start and finish of this course. As you can see the desert is green this time of year!
The lead pack minutes into the race.
As dawn began to rise over the mountains; so did the runners. After a few miles of good flat running, the first ascent pushed us all up to the ridge lines that over looked the wide valley that the Phoenix metropolis spread across. The trail was rolling and fast. Near mile ten we descended into Goat Canyon and began our way back to the valley floor and the Black Canyon Aid Station. The trail got technical here and Jason Griffiths got frisky here. Jason disappeared down the rocky, steep and twisting trail. He would go on to win quite handedly.
The return trip back up Goat Canyon on this out and back section of trail was tough. My mantra went something like this: "Not going to walk, not going to walk, not going to walk...okay I'm going to have to walk." Once back on top, along the ridge, it felt nice to get back into a simple running groove again. It was good to know that the longest climb of the course was over with and we were more than half-way done.
Some of the great trail to be had on this course.
More great single-track up higher.
Then the realization set in that Jamil's infamous Ford Canyon still awaited. How would it play out? Was Jamil just being dramatic in his description of the course through said canyon? Each runner will surely have there own take on how Ford Canyon stacked up to them. Some would probably wish it renamed to a more aptly, Fjord Canyon. Jamil was right; it was tough. The sandy wash bottom, miscellaneous whips from the woody, wash-side vegetation and the down-climbs of the dry waterfalls on glycogen starved legs really made the two-mile descent memorable, if not epic. Congratulations to both Jason Griffiths and Paulette Zillmer for their wins.
Some of the not-so-smooth "trail" along the course. This is one of the dry waterfalls found in Ford Canyon. Ugh!
The author at the mouth of Ford Canyon and at the last aid station on the course. Glad to be done with that section of trail, but wishing that the finish-line were closer than three miles.
Jamil and Nick Coury put on an excellent event. The 5-mile, 10-mile and 25K options allowed for the event to acquire a crowd and fit the bill of any runner's tastes. Post-race goodies were plentiful and the location was superb. Kudos to those volunteers that hiked in to staff the remote aid stations! Jamil and Nick, who make up Aravaipa Running, promise to hold the event next year. So for those of you who missed out, no worries, it'll be waiting for you.
Thanks for the Coury brothers and Austin Leggett for the use of some of their photos.
Some of the Flagstaff boys: (l to r): Brian Tinder, Ian Torrence, Eric Bohn, Bret Sarnquist
The two race directors: Jamil Coury (standing) and Nick Coury (sitting). Nice show gentlemen!