The Southern Arizona Triple 50 is a series of three 50-mile races done over the course of a single fall-into-winter “season.” It was a project I’d had my eye on for a few years. Back when I was still working up to doing my first 100 miler, I’d thought about rolling it into my training plan. But the timing is tricky—the races fall in early November, late January, and early March. It’s about four months of racing, plus at least twelve weeks of training (I did sixteen) leading up to the first race. We’re talking about 7-8 months of things working out right to be ready and get the races done.
So as 2019 was starting, I looked at it again and thought this could be the season. I talked it over with Kris and she was on board.
The three races that comprise the series are: Colossal/Vail 50, Oracle Rumble 50, and Old Pueblo 50. All were going to be new to me. I had never been to either Colossal/Vail or Old Pueblo. And while I’d been to Oracle Rumble, it had been on a different part of the course.
Part 1: Colossal/Vail 50 – November 2019
CV is not a challenging course from an elevation or technical perspective. It’s open and rolling, and it’s a very pretty course in many places. My top memories of it are dropping into the Cienega Creek wash early in the race (it was pretty, even though we had to trudge through some occasionally very soft sand), and running by Mount Rincon at the north end of the course at sunset. It was quiet and beautiful.
I talked about this race in my 2019 November recap post, and honestly even though that post is short, it says everything that was important about the race. Just a few weeks earlier, I had paced a friend through the final 20 miles of her first 100k, and it was a phenomenal experience. So as I chatted with other runners out at CV and encountered one who seemed like she could also use some help out there, I was kind of already mentally prepped to adjust my plan for the race and help her get it done.
One story about the race that is funny to me came from Kris. It was well after dark by the time we came in to the finish, and from the switchbacking way the course returns to the start/finish of the race, spectators can watch runners’ headlamps come in for quite a while. So Kris was waiting there for me, watching those headlamps come in one by one, wondering which one was mine… until she saw two headlamps coming in together. She said “that has to be Shane” and of course she was right. She knows me well.
✅ Colossal/Vail 50
Part 2: Oracle Rumble – January 2020
Spoiler alert: this is the DNF.
After CV, I did not do a good job maintaining my training. On paper, it seems like it should be easy enough, right? I was already trained for 50 miles because I had just done it. All I needed to do was recover for a week or two and then maintain for the next couple of months. It just didn’t work out that way. First, December and the holidays are always difficult for me to train through, what with all the social stuff going on, but more importantly, this time it was especially difficult because there was a lot of family stuff going on. And just to clarify: it was the not-fun kind of family stuff, not fun holiday family stuff.
So to summarize: my training really slumped pretty much from mid-November through the end of the year. I was working on picking back up in January, and… honestly I barely remember anything about the first part of the month because in the middle of it I found out that I had lost a close friend to suicide.
I’m not going to unpack that here, but I will say that it hit me hard. Really hard.
So… I don’t have many stories to tell about this race. I’m pretty sure I self-defeated before it even started. My goal wasn’t to finish the race, it was to just get out of my head for a while and, honestly, I wanted to do some suffering. Good news, then – mission accomplished.
It was cold in Oracle when we loaded up on the bus that shuttled us out to the Freeman Road AZT trailhead that served as the starting line, but by the time we unloaded and were ready to get going, the sun was up and the temperature was comfortable. Nice in the moment, but later on that would mean a sunny, hot afternoon for us. Great if you are wanting to be uncomfortable enough to stop thinking about everything else in your life, but less so if you are trying to run a 50-mile race.
To make a long story short, by the time I got to the Tiger Mine aid station at mile 27, I’d had enough. You can either go left to continue on the 50 mile course, or go right to head in and take a 50k finish. I went right.
My one funny story from this race happened at the finish line. Through luck of bad timing, I managed to come in shortly after the 1st place 50 mile finisher and because of course I still had my 50 mile race bib on, for a very brief moment was marked as the 2nd place finisher. I immediately made the rounds with race personnel to make sure that was cleared up.
The sun was starting to go down and I got chilled and cold really fast. Fortunately, they had some amazing hot soup at the finish line aid station and I had several bowls of it. It was really good.
❌ Oracle Rumble 50
Part 3: Old Pueblo – March 2020
Even though I was out of the running for the triple 50, I got my training back in shape for Old Pueblo and did it anyway.
By the time Old Pueblo came around, I knew that I was going to be coming back again to take another swing at the Triple 50. So you might ask why I went ahead with this race, and there are a couple of reasons. The first is that I was already registered for it, so of course there was that. But more importantly to me at the time, I felt like it was a sort of redemption run to make up for Oracle. I really needed that.
Going into the race, I did not feel “good” or confident – I felt intimidated and concerned. I knew this was going to be a tough race and I just hoped I was up to it. To try and bank as much time as possible, because I was certain I’d need it, my big strategy for the race was to move quickly through the aid stations using a “grab and go” tactic – I had a spare soft flask for soda, and a Ziplock bag I could load up with snacks I could take with me. Usually I just stay at the aid station until I get my fill, but that can take a while sometimes and it’s easy to lose track of time there.
Old Pueblo 50 is a looped race of two 25-mile laps. When runners get back around to the beginning of the loop, they turn around and head back the opposite direction. So as I made my way through the hours of my first loop, I did my usual thing and chatted with other runners, and then as our paces or circumstances adjusted (one runner had to turn around and head back to look for her lost friends), we’d separate back to solo running again.
Time passed, I went through the third of the four aid stations out there, and then I had an amazing surprise when I ran into a friend I’d made at Bryce Canyon in 2018 – Sarah.
I did not know it at the time, but she had been in a little bit of a slump as she’d been working her way through a long, gradual climb and was feeling like her prospects of finishing (she was doing the 25/single lap distance) were not good – and looking back on it now, she might have been right. Fortunately, running into each other perked both our spirits up and our pace along with it. We chatted a lot and the remaining miles started cruising by.
As we closed in on the turnaround aid station, I broke away from her so I could get in a little quicker and make sure I had time to gather my things and get back out on time. She came in for her finish shortly after, we took a quick picture, and I got back out on course with 5-10 minutes to spare. So far, so good – my race strategy was working.
From there, I ran solo for a long time, nearly half of the loop. I was a little bummed to be back by myself again, but getting the chance to run with a friend even for just a while was really great. I was still moving well (if not very fast) and keeping the aid station stops short. Eventually I found someone else to talk to, a woman who was doing the 75 mile race (for at least a couple of years, there were 75 mile and 100 mile options for the race: three or four laps), and together we made it to the last aid station.
With a comfortable cushion of 30-40 minutes before the official cutoff time there, I finally had a seat and took a substantial break, breathing a huge sigh of relief that I had made all the cutoffs to get there. There were of course still 9+ miles to go to get to the finish, but I felt decent and comfortable with the time I had left to get there. As long as I could manage to get there without an accident, I would be good. I took about 15 minutes there to rest and eat, and eventually the aid station crew started telling me it was time to go. They actually started doing that way earlier than I thought was reasonable given my time cushion and told them as much – I finally had enough time to rest, and I intended to rest. I guess I sounded coherent enough that they took me at my word and let me stay in my chair for a little while more.
The sun set as I jogged along the mostly downhill stretch, and it was lovely. As the night progressed, however, the wind picked up, and it got windy and chilly. It had been breezy throughout the day and could really be felt in some of the more exposed sections, but this was bigger and more noticeable anywhere on course.
And I finished. Got my buckle and hid out in the warming tent they had set up, and had some soup.
While I was there, I heard some triple 50 finishers make it in and get a shout out. It stung a bit.
Not long after we had packed up and left, it started raining, most likely making a wet cold night for the runners still out on course doing the 75 and 100 mile distances. I felt for them and was glad it wasn’t me.
✅ Old Pueblo 50
Oracle is a cool and quirky little town, and fun to visit occasionally. But this was the third visit in four years for that race (two half-marathons and this 50-miler-turned-50k) and it was time to take a break. I wanted to come back for redemption, but I wasn’t ready to spend another weekend in Oracle for a while. My 50th birthday was coming up in 2023, and with Colossal/Vail’s proximity to my birthday, it seemed like a good time to take the challenge on again.
Watch out 2023-2024 season, I’ll be back!
Also, huge kudos to my friend TJ who also did the Triple 50 that season and took home the win for fastest overall time across all three races, making the podium for both Oracle Rumble and Old Pueblo. Amazing!