Vertigo Trail Race: One Year of Trail Running

“I’ve been running far enough that I should be able to handle a 10k without too much trouble.”

I forget exactly how it went in my mind, but it was something like that. It was what I was thinking when I signed up to run Vertigo in July of 2014.

Vertigo, run out at White Tank Mountain Park, is one of the Insomniac series of summer trail runs put on by Aravaipa Running. As the name implies, these are run at night. They offer long distances (anywhere from 25-75k) for the crazies who want to do long distances during Arizona summers, and shorter distances for people like me who aren’t quite up to that but want to do some trail running in the sweet relief of darkness when the sun takes a break from trying to kill us.

Wrong about everything and about to suffer.

I went into that race with zero trail running experience. It was my first one. I had been doing a lot of reading about it, and I thought I had a decent idea of what to expect. At the time, I was doing 10-mile runs along the canal by our house every weekend and doing it at about a 10:00 pace. I knew I wasn’t going to be going that fast on the trail and expected to have to drop down to somewhere between 11 & 12. I was wearing a $20 headlamp from Target. I didn’t have trail shoes.

Long story short: I was wrong about everything. My feet got banged up. My headlamp fell off at one point. I overheated. I drank all the water in my pack. I felt like I was going to collapse from exhaustion.

Final time: 1:35:55 (around 15:30 average pace—the slowest race time I have ever logged by a wide margin); finished 96 of 142

Jump forward to last weekend and Vertigo 2015, where I was celebrating my one-year anniversary of trail running. Better-prepared and better-geared, I enjoyed it a lot more than I did last time, and I turned in a much better time. I also won a new water bottle in the prize drawings they do before each race! (I know I need another water bottle like I need another hole in the head, but I do really like these Nathan SpeedDraw Plus insulated bottles. And it’s a different color than the ones I already have!)

Way better than another hole in the head.

I did the 10k again, partly so I could do a 1-year later comparison between my race times and experiences, and partly because the next step up is a 31k, and while I’m going to be doing that and more later this year (foreshadowing!), I’m just not ready for it yet. And the end of July/beginning of August seems to me to be just about the worst possible time of the year to be running here. We’ve got all the summer’s worst heat combined with the monsoon season’s humidity. Terrific!

Final time: 1:20:02 (around 12:30 average pace); finished 69 of 135

I ran the race pretty well—about what I was expecting to do, anyway, and about what I’ve been doing on the weekend training runs. I had hoped to cut my time down by a little more than that, but it’s a rough trail. There’s a lot of climbing in the first half of the race, and it’s really rocky, even for Phoenix’s desert trails. The back half is better, but that front half just takes so much out of me that it’s hard to enjoy the rest.

Red: heart rate; Blue: pace; Gray: elevation

I had three full stops (they’re the dips in blue). The first was to help check on a runner who fell down in front of me (she was fine and I think ended up beating me in). The second was to refill water at the aid station. The third (notice how close it was to the aid station stop?) was to dig a frickin’ ant out of my sock where it had bit me! The ground at the aid station was covered with ants, and they seemed to be displeased by all of us coming through there. As soon as I saw them (and flicked a couple off my legs), I got out of there ASAP, but I must have missed one and he made me pay for it. Now it just itches, but it sure hurt when it happened.

Could have been worse, though. I saw two runners picking cactus needles out of their legs!

I’m not sure if I’m going back again next year. Since it’s now an anniversary event, I kind of feel like I should, but there are a lot of other trails in the valley that I like more. I guess we’ll see.