mesquite canyon race report

Race: Mesquite Canyon 50K

Runner: Andrew O’Connor

Race Date: 03/06/2020

Location: White Tank Mountain Regional Park — Waddell, AZ

Results: 5th overall – 5:34

Strava Activity Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/3163884763

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. The scenery and terrain is simply amazing. The desert has always fascinated me, and as a runner from Seattle it was a real treat to run through 30+ miles of desert mountains. Huge open views, massive saguaro cactus, and rugged trails make this a special race.
  2. The organization and race direction was spot on. Aravaipa Running puts on races all over Arizona, and I have always wanted to run one of their races. Race director Jamil Curry is very involved in the trail running community and I know his races are loved by many. From pre-race emails, course marking, to the post race party, everything was 1st class.
  3. The climbs. There are 2 big climbs in the race, both are 1,800 ft and they fall before the 20 mile mark. The first is longer, but more runnable while the 2nd climb is steeper and more technical. While the climbs were tough, they weren’t obnoxiously so, and they made for an awesome but manageable challenge.

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

The event has several other races held at the same time, utilizing some of the same trails so there are sections of the course that you end up passing by quite a few other runners. While it never felt too congested, there are sections of the race where you are navigating narrow single track with lots of runners headed the opposite direction.

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

Weird, but cool! There is a 2 mile section of the course where you run through a dry creek wash out. It is about 200 ft wide and you make your own choice as to the direct route you want to take. There is flagging so you won’t get lost (and you have big walls on either side of you so you can’t really go out of the wash on accident), but there is no established trail. You end up jumping or sliding down HUGE boulders, running through lots of brush and loose gravel as you make your way down the dry creek.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

I was very happy with my climbing. I felt relaxed and strong and was able to settle into a nice rhythm on both of the climbs. The first climb was runnable the whole way, while the second definitely had a lot of power hiking. I was also really happy with my mental strength. I had a rough spot between miles 20-28, but managed to stay calm and focused on the task at hand. I had really, really wanted to be top 3 in this race, and as I hit my rough spot I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I decided to focus on the beauty that surrounded me, and to just keep moving the best I could, reminding myself that ultimately the place I got didn’t matter. What really mattered was the whole training process leading up to the race, and having the ability to still move 30 miles through the mountains, regardless of pace.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

Hot, exposed, and technical. The race is held at the beginning of March, but it is just outside of Phoenix so it can still get hot! The high the day of the race this year was 79, which is no joke having been in the Pacific Northwest all winter. Linked to the heat is the fact that it is exposed! There were sections in the first half of the race where the sun was still low enough in the sky that you could hit some sections of shadows, and after the first 90 min or so, I don’t think there were any sections of shade.

There are sections of this course that are very technical. Lots and lots of loose rocks ranging from pebble size up to softball size make up the trail. Most of this is encountered in the middle section of the race, between mile 11 and 26.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

I really have to continually practice my downhill technical running. We have a 1 year old daughter, so getting to the technical trails outside of the city has been tougher over the last year. My fitness felt excellent going into the race, but I could tell that I just didn’t feel as confident and fluid on steep rocky descents. This is a skill that needs routine practice and polishing. I felt rusty in my downhill skills.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

Be ready for miles 10 – 19. This is where you drop 1,800 ft down to the valley floor to an aid station, then turn around and head right back up this climb. I think this is the toughest section of the race, in terms of technicality of the trail and steepness of the descents/climbs. This is also the busiest section in terms of the amount of runners on trail running the other distances.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

OMG… yes!!! It is truly spectacular! You get to pass through different desert ecosystems, drop into deep canyons, run ridge tops. It is gorgeous.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

Tough, but doable. Like I touched on before, the climbs are tough, but not over the top. It’s hot, but not unbearable. Technical, but very runnable on a lot of the course.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Extremely well run. Aravaipa Running puts on top notch events, and this one was no different. There was plenty of parking, race morning packet pickup went smoothly, course was marked very well. The whole event flawless.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

There were runners from 17 states and Canada. It draws people from all over the country, but it is not a super competitive race.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

Registration was easy and on Ultrasignup. I don’t believe it sold out this year. The race is about 45-60 min from the Phoenix airport, so travel was easy. Securing accommodations was a little bit pricier and tougher to find than I had expected because both spring training for professional baseball and a Nascar race were both happening the same weekend. We ended up getting an Airbnb about 25 min from the start. I started looking for a place to stay about 8 weeks before the race, and options were pretty limited by that point.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

You have 5 aid stations over the 50K. However, there are two stretches of the race that are about 8-9 miles between stations, so you do need to carry a good amount of water. The aid stations all had the typical ultra food choices. Chips, potatoes, fruit, soda, Gu’s, M&Ms were available at all the aid stations.

Weather and typical race conditions

The average high for that day in Phoenix is 78 and a low of 54. Clear blue sky, dry trails, and lots of sun!

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?

I think it is beneficial to really nail down what you are going to use for hydration. With the two sections that are a little longer between aid stations, water is crucial. I used two 17-ounce soft flasks in my vest, and one hand held 20-ounce bottle for these sections. I never ran out of water, but it felt great knowing that I had enough.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

I believe that there is one option for your crew to see you at 14.5 miles, I think you can drive to that aid station. But other than that, the course is rather rugged and remote without a chance for friends or family to see you.

How’s the Swag?

They have really nicely made race shirt.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

5 out of 5 stars. I would absolutely recommend this race for someone if they are interested or excited about desert mountain running.

Andrew O’Connor is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or to work with Coach Andrew, check out his coaching page.

mesquite canyon race report