Man vs. Horse: Yippie yiohh kaiyeeh…its done!!

(The last mainland race report post by Mike Minch for a long time)

The Man vs. Horse run was held outside of Prescott AZ, in the Mingus Mountain Reserve that divides the Prescott valley from the Sedona.  The views are spectacular and the terrain is very challenging. It is primarily an Equestrian Event and the runners are there to give the riders something else to think about, though the prizes are nice and this is run in a way that helps all participants, horse and human alike.

As a runner you think about the horses first and foremost whenever they are around.  I generally had no problems with the animals and got out of the way whenever it was possible.  But there were the occasions where I followed a group of riders for a few miles.  It was kind of like being a brave as the chiefs led the war party.   I’d chug along at a jog, catching the horses at the hard points and then fall back whenever there was some open ground for them to move.   It was interesting.   Here is a tip however.  When ever a horse stops on the trail it is not to let you pass.  Oh, there is going to be some passing, but if you are smart it won’t have anything to do with you.  Horses don’t care who is behind them unless they are too close.  When they stop it is with the intention of creating a lake or new source of biological energy.   I was lucky enough to have a ‘Nova’ view of one of these events, and even more lucky to be a bit far back.  All in all, there were some very beautiful horses out there and quite a few nice looking riders as well.

This was a  50 mile event for me.  There is also a 25 and a 10, but again that is more to meet the needs of some of the riders I believe.   Though this year there was a very large turnout of runners, for the 25 and 50.
The thing that makes the run interesting is that there is a 12 hour time limit;  and the way the cuts came into play meant a number of people were dnf’d while still on the trail.

I am not a fast runner.  My hundreds have been done with 16 to 18 minute average mile time frames about them.  Giving the 100 anywhere between 28+ and 33+  hours.   So when it came to cramming 50 into 12 hours I was concerned.   In addition it has only been a week since the Bear and I’m still hurting from recurrent aggravations.   My feet were crying at the start and so were my hips and lungs.   I just did a race walk at the start and watched the crowd disappear.   By the first five mile aid station I realized I was managing a 15 minute pace.  I decided that that would due for the first 20 or so miles and just tried to hold onto that through the ups and downs.   But fifteen minute miles, a four mile per hour pace, is only 48 miles in 12 hours.   I finally caught onto that and realized I would have to do something to get those two miles out of the fabric. 

Early we worked our way over some rolling brown grass pasture land dotted with cows, dear and coyotes.  Then we finally turned  up a canyon and began to climb the mountains to the east that lay north south in orientation.  I started being passed by riders who evidently had staggered starts, and then a few of the 25 milers.  I pushed up through the scrub of the canyon still hanging onto my 15’s, and maybe clipping a few minutes off of any group of miles.   The canyon quickly became wooded with pines, juniper, pin oak, and some stuff that looked like poison ivy but was likely an oak.   

Down near the dry steam I passed a Juniper that had to be the oldest one I have ever seen.  It was certainly the ancient of the valley.  It was one of those old ladies that has as much dead wood as live, and a trunk that had to be 8 foot in diameter.   I had to stop and say hello.  I figure that tree has been there since before the Spanish came into those valleys, and perhaps before the native Americans.   I stood there as long as I could and then bid the matron adieu and moved on. 

The march up the mountain side steepened, the vegetation changed, first to a lot of Manzanita that red barked high bush that likes the west coast hills so much.   And then the pines and juniper took over again and the high ridges were filled with a beautiful forest.

Four hours in and I had just left the sixteen mile aid station.   Five hours and I was looking out at the eastern valley from the high ridges of the 6800 foot peaks on the eastern side with just over twenty under my belt. It was frustrating as my standard formula was fine for a 100, but not for 12 hours.   I vowed to charge the ups and run the downs.  It was the only way I could see to move the balance of distance vs time into my favor. 

We hit a long haul up a four wheeler road and I punched it.  I maintained.   The next section was a six mile down the same nasty road.  I gained a mile vs my time.   But the next section was a 3.5 mile up, the steepest of the race, going from 5500 up to about 8000.  It could not be impossible because it had to be traversed by horses.  I’d been trailing a few guys and had closed the distance on the down.  It was nasty with my knees going weak, and the balls of my feet screaming as each hard rock nailed the shoe sole.   But at the beginning of the super up they were a minute off.   They were trying to stay ahead of me, but I’m better now at ups than i have ever been.  Those boys didn’t know what hit ’em, and I think they took a chunk out of their stamina trying to keep me in sight. They ended up getting confused at the top and wandering off the trail.    I made it to the top having lost only half a mile against my time.   

But it was still the same story– 15 minute miles were my average.  At eight hours I was a half mile past the 32 mile station.     It was a steep decent to the next aid station and I just pulled the stops and pushed myself into doing things I would not normally do.  I had no choice.  I began to whine about it to myself and slow because me knees were not in good  shape.  Suddenly, a voice from the back of my brain blurted out an expletive.   ‘Mike if you let me do this I will get you there.  You have the body to do this but not the mind.  I’ll handle it and you won’t get hurt.’  With some reluctance I turned over control to my guide and began to move down the trails at a faster pace.  I did things I would not normally do, and used a few techniques that I am not particularly familiar with.  But it got me down the hill fast.   When I hit the next aid station I asked the distance and the time keeper said 38 miles.  I looked at my watch and it was exactly 9 hours into the race.   I’d picked up that elusive 2 miles.  I did an up to 40 and was still looking at two and half ours on the board. I could to 15 minute miles and get in the door just in time.   

It was mostly down hill after 40.  I did a hard three that gave me another mile credit   Seven miles to go and I had two hours to do it in.   The next five were down along the canyon and was a lot like coming down lower Kuliouou.  I punched it, my driver taking chances I am not used to.   With the exception of some morons down in the valley who were plinking with high powered rifles, the shells ricocheting above me through the trees, it was a solid run to station,  one hour and over five miles covered.   And there I stood with one final hour to do about a mile and a half.    I crossed the line at 11:19. 

It was an amazing result from my perspective.   My guide, has been with me since the Lost Soul.  I’ve listened to him, but never let myself be carried away by the effort he demands.   This time I had no choice.  The rules were simple.  Total effort, total concentration,  no movies in my mind, and no conversations with myself.  And, of course, run harder than I thought possible over such a distance.   For all my fears about my knees and back they seem in fairly good shape this evening.   But then………it was only a fifty. 

If you are in the Phoenix area this time of year this is a good race to train on for other venues.   The trails are difficult and technical.  The weather was cold at times.  There are some good up and plenty of hard downs.   The aid stations were stocked with munchies, fruit, and energy/breakfast bars.   Again its a fifty so don’t expect real food out there.    The people were very nice and helpful.   The buckle for the 50 is very nice artwork. I got a hat and shirt too, not to mention a nice BBQ plate for after the race.

Oh….I finished last man at 11:18.   I was very happy for the finish, amazed actually considering the hardships I struggled with up through 32 miles.    

This is the last of my mainland runs.   Hopefully my knees, feet, lungs, and blisters will all be better by next Saturday.  If not, well, I’m kind of used to the routine.  The Twelve Hour will just have to get done regardless.   

Much aloha,  Mike Muench