Race: 2021 Mesquite Canyon 50k

Runner: Tyler Sprague

Race Date: 03/06/2021

Location: White Tank Mountain Regional Park, Maricopa County, AZ (metro PHX)

Results: 1st OA, 50k

Strava Activity Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/4902061779/overview

mesquite canyon 50k race report
Photo: @trailwhisperer

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

1. Course – Beautiful, unique, challenging, and far-removed enough from the city center to feel like it was its own thing.
2. People – I met some great folks and made a few new friends.
3. Operation – Well-managed race, good post-race vibe and scene despite lacking the usual beer garden.

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

The only sticky spot I had was with one of the aid stations, and to be fair, it was the one where all the water and supplies needed to be hiked up a 1.8 mile trail by volunteers! So while I’m grateful it was there, they were oddly short on gels, the most basic and fundamental fuel for many ultra runners, especially those in front trying to run fast and light on the supplies. I had to grab a bag of pretzels at one point because the other options weren’t vegan. This is easy to avoid, especially in 2021 with all the snack options out there, so hopefully that improves. Unfortunately due to restrictions, the typical fare like bowls of chips, candy, pickles, etc. wasn’t available.

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

Definitely the Ford Canyon section. Both the 50k and 50M courses go through this section where you drop into a canyon after a descent, and then spend a couple miles running in a wash (basically a sandy dry riverbed). The course is roughly marked and you just have to find your own most efficient way through. The whole section is a gentle descent, until the end, when you start running over the smooth, white rock formations that are the namesake of the park, when it becomes more dramatic. Towards the end, you exit to the right of the canyon back onto a rocky, technical trail hugging the south wall of the canyon before dropping down onto essentially flat ground and running about two miles quickly, if you can.Another thing is that with so many people on the trail and all the meeting and passing going on, you have to make room and give people a heads-up. It felt like I said “on your left,” “coming up behind,” “thanks,” and “good job” a million times during the race, and it must’ve accounted for at least part of my shortness of breath on the Goat Camp climb. But better than being alone on the trail trying to run an FKT or something!

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

The best part was crossing the finish line – I’ve worked hard for a long time and it was nice to finally win an ultra. I also enjoyed the beginning, with cool temps, good conversation and company. There was tons of passing people, both from behind and head-on, so you’re never alone for too long, which can be nice.

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

Be prepared for those longer stretches between aid stations – I underestimated that and paid the price (just barely, fortunately). There is loose rock/shale at the top of Goat camp trail. Ford Canyon involves lots of sand and some rock-hopping. Save energy for it! Also take it easier in general until most of the climbing is done around mile 18.5.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

Have a little more water capacity, start the race with some gels in my pockets, and be prepared for lots of trail traffic and longer stretches between a couple of the aid stations.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

Study the map and your route, many different distances are running at once and though the signage is really good, it helps to know where you are spatially as that can help you estimate and visualize where you are and how far until the next AS, when the climb will be over, etc.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Yes, lots of saguaros and not a bad sunrise either, although you’re mostly running away from it, there are plenty of turns and chances to look around. Ford Wash has it’s own beauty, and though I didn’t see any, there are typically supposed to be lots of wildflowers this time of year.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

It’s quite technical and rocky in parts, and there’s a good amount of vertical gain. The sand in Ford Canyon is tough, especially late in the race. It’s pretty exposed to the sun, so keep that in mind, especially if running the 50 mile.

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

A+. Really well done. Plenty of porta-potties at the start, plenty of parking, PA start/finish line announcements. Might have liked more food, but that should be returning to normal soon.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

The winning time looks to have been historically pretty swift, although I don’t think there’s too much competition or a particularly deep field. This year was a bit thicker up front; frequent local winner took 3rd in the 50k behind myself and another young guy. That said, most runners will have plenty of people around them to race. The 30k seemed to be pretty competitive this year. The 50 mile has only been running for a couple years so keep an eye on that one! The 50k is the classic premier distance for this race, and being one of the very first Aravaipa events it has lots of history and sentimental value to the directors.

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.

I signed up two weeks prior, I believe. There is a time-based price scale, but you should have no trouble if you keep an eye on this and place it on your calendar for next year.

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

See above – but most of the aid stations were great. Well-staffed, good selection, and efficient. Although, for what it’s worth, I’m usually pretty out-of-it mentally from running hard, and rarely spend more than 30 seconds at one, at least in a 50k, so take that with a grain of salt.

Weather and typical race conditions

It’s late in the winter, and in Phoenix, so it can get warm. I’m not a Valley local, but I think the weather we saw was typical. It got up into the low 70s by the time I finished before 11, and the high for that day was low 80s. Clear skies though, and a couple clouds during the morning which helped shield the sun.

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

Plan on carrying a little extra water – there are two stretches between aid stations of close to 9 miles. I carried one 500mL soft flask in my Naked Band, and it wasn’t quite enough at times. Many people I saw had two hand bottles, and probably did fine, and many also carried packs. I would probably pack up for the 50M; I like to drink a lot. Otherwise just lube up and wear a regular trail shoe, nothing extra or fancy required in my opinion.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

It’s no walk in the park, but the trails are open to the public and there were lots of hikers and photographers out there, so a motivated person would have no trouble seeing you a few times. Just make sure to read the rules and don’t give aid in the wrong places or where it’s expressly prohibited.

How’s the Swag?

Great! I got a sweet full-color beer glass, and also a laser-engraved bighorn sheep (or antelope?) wooden trophy for first place.

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

5 stars! You couldn’t ask for much more, especially given the circumstances. Hats off to Aravaipa for putting on great events when they are so scarce most other places lately.

Tyler Sprague is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or to work with Coach Tyler, check out his coaching page.