I chose the Coldwater Rumble as my first race of 2022. I opted for the 52 mile race because I didn't think I was quite ready for a trail 100 miler and the 52k was a similar distance to the Bootlegger 50k, which I had just done in December. So the 52 miler it was. Coldwater takes place in Goodyear, Arizona, at Estrella Mountain Regional Park. I drove because it was only 4.5 hours from Las Vegas and it is much easier to just throw your gear in the trunk than pack it in a suitcase, lug it to an airport, and throw it into an overhead compartment.
Packet pickup was on Friday afternoon, which was my first time at the park. Though I lived in the Phoenix area for nearly 5 years, I don't remember spending much time in Goodyear. It was exciting to get a sneak peak at where we would be running.
A few photos from packet pickup:
The shirt we received in our race packet was really cool and I was tempted to wear it on race day.
But I had other plans for my race outfit and I stuck to those plans. The plaid race shorts were a given. But I went with a really cool shirt given to me by my friend, Eric Jeng. It was from Red Rock Running Company and has pictures of tacos, beer, and martinis on the shirt and says "cardio & carbs" on the front. I knew it would be a hit with other runners and the volunteers. And was it ever. I received no fewer than 50 compliments throughout the day. Many said I had the best shorts on the course. And many yelled out "tacos and beer" when they saw me. It was nice to bring such joy to other racers. Here is the shirt in all of its glory:
After picking up my packet, it was time to carb up. After all, I had 52 miles to run the next day. I was delighted to learn that there was an Oreganos a couple miles from my hotel. I ate there quite a bit when I lived in Phoenix and I was craving pizza. I didn't get to the restaurant until about 5:30pm and it was very crowded, with many people milling around, waiting for tables. Luckily, I scored the last seat at the bar. I resisted the very real urge to order a Kilt Lifter or two, instead opting for water. But I did order a deep dish pizza with chicken, bacon, and mushrooms. It was tasty, but way too big. I think I ate 3 of 8 slices. I took the rest back to the hotel with me.
When I got back to the hotel, I laid out my gear and set my alarm for 5:45am. My race didn't start until 7:15am, but I wanted to give myself extra time so I didn't feel rushed in the morning. Thankfully, a very solid night of sleep followed.
I woke up before my alarm and started to get ready for what I knew would be a long day. I drank a cup of coffee and ate a Cliff Bar and a banana. Fortunately, the weather was forecasted to be perfect running weather. Lows in the 50s. Highs in the 70s. Mostly overcast. I knew I wouldn't need warm clothing once I started running, but I also knew that it would be chilly in the morning before the sun came up.
My main priority was to better stabilize my left ankle, the one that I had injured pretty badly at Bootlegger. I brought KT tape and watched a YouTube video about how to tape an ankle. I thought it made sense to tape both for symmetry's sake so I did.
I arrived at the park around 6:45am. It was still dark and it was windy, making it much colder than I had expected. I was glad I had brought a jacket to wear before the start. I was also glad I opted for a long sleeve shirt under my racing shirt. The sunrise in the morning was breathtaking:
The course consisted of a 20 mile loop. For my race, I would run the 20 mile loop clockwise, then run it counterclockwise, then run a shorter, 12 mile version of the loop clockwise. Those running the 100 mile race would do 5 of the 20 mile loops, alternating clockwise with counterclockwise. That meant there would be runners running in both directions the entire time I was out on the course. Before I knew it, we were off. A short video from the start:
The course was beautiful:
I immediately realized this course was going to be rockier and a bit more technical than I had anticipated. There really weren't any dramatic climbs, but there were a number of rolling hills that took you into riverbeds that were both rocky and sandy. I would need to be careful not to sprain an ankle or trip on a rock and bite it.
There were many sections of the course where the trail was fairly narrow. Were it not for the abundant course markings, it would have been very challenging to stay on track. Many sections of the trail reminded me of the series of 1/2 marathon races I ran out at Valley of Fire.
These videos gives you a sense of some of the terrain:
I didn't know anybody else running the race but I had very good cell phone service, so I decided I would text a handful of loved ones with updates every 10 miles. I thought this would give me something to look forward to and it would also make it more likely I would finish the race. Periodically updating others on my progress would provide a measure of accountability. The first ten miles didn't feel too bad, taking me about 2 hours and 2 minutes. Here is the photo I sent out:
Here are some photos of the course that I took along the way:
And a few more:
Though there were plenty of other runners out on the course, we became fairly spread out over time. I guess that is to be expected on a 20 mile course. Truthfully, I didn't mind the solitude. I simply put my earbuds in and listened to some of my favorite music, which isn't something I get to do all that often.
About 15 miles in, doubts started to creep into my mind. I thought about how nice it would be to quit after 20 miles. How that would leave me with most of my day. How I would be able to watch the Raiders playoff game. How 20 miles was nothing to be ashamed about. I decided to drop out of the race at mile 20. I didn't want to do another 32 miles. When I got back to the start line, I texted the photo below out. It represented 20 miles completed. It took me 2 hours and 45 minutes to run miles 11-20.
I sat down and took off my shoes, emptying the sand and rocks. My right foot had started to bother me about 10 miles in. I took my socks off to find that the tape job I had done on that ankle was causing a blister to form. I ripped the tape off of my right ankle, but kept the tape on my left ankle because it wasn't causing a blister and that was the ankle I was more worried about anyhow.
I ate a couple of cheese quesadillas. They were delicious. I resisted the urge to order a pizza from the mobile pizza oven guys. I received encouraging text messages from loved ones. Then I evaluated myself. Was I injured? No. Was I tired? Yes. Could I go on? Yes. Should I go on? Well...I finally convinced myself that I should just keep going. I was starting to feel better and told myself that I didn't drive all the way to Arizona and pay to enter a race to merely run 20 miles. I could do that in Las Vegas any time I wanted to. So I took a deep breath and headed back out.
About five miles into my second loop, I felt defeated all over again. I wanted to just be done and I was mad at myself for going back out there instead of quitting at mile 20, as I had resolved to do. My feet were really starting to hurt from the constant jarring of the trail. My lower back, neck, and shoulders were also beginning to feel the strain of the effort. I told myself that I would definitely drop out at mile 40, if not sooner. No way I would do 52 miles. I sent the photo below out at 30 miles. Miles 21-30 had taken me another 3 hours. I was definitely slowing down, doing more hiking and walking than running at this juncture. And I had slightly rolled my weak left ankle again, but not bad enough to make it more than a minor inconvenience at that point.
There is one particularly long stretch of about 8 miles between aid stations. That segment almost broke me on my second loop. I simply felt like giving up. What did I have to prove? But I knew it would be faster to just get back to the start and drop out at mile 40 rather than drop out at a remote aid station and wait for a ride back, which could take hours. So I pressed on.
As this point, as often happens in races of this length and difficulty, the world becomes very small. Your vision narrows and you focus on the step ahead of you and then the next and then the next. You push everything else out of your mind, the doubts, the pain, the fatigue. You simply focus on what is right in front of you and that next step. That is what I did at this point of the race. And I also cranked up the volume on a new playlist that I had compiled just for Coldwater - I needed some inspiration.
I struggled to get to mile 40, but I ultimately did. Miles 31-40 took me another 3 hours. At this point, it was almost dark out and I nearly had to deploy my headlamp as I finished the 20 mile loop. I sent out the photo below when I finished 40 miles.
Here is what I texted with the photo: "40 miles down. Up until now, this has been the appetizer. The main course starts now: suffering!" Because, despite my very strong desire to quit, I knew I couldn't pull the plug with only 12 miles to go. I would never forgive myself and I would rightfully be asked by many people how I could quit a 52 mile race after 40 miles. So I again drained the sand from my shoes, ate a couple more very tasty quesadillas, traded my hat for a beanie, put my headlamp on, and ventured out for 12 more miles. I knew this wouldn't be easy, but I was doing it anyway. I had come too far and too many people were pulling for me.
The course at night was totally different. It felt like an entirely new course because I could only focus on the patch of light right in front of me. The course became more treacherous because it became harder to see depth. Large rocks tended to blend into the path. This meant I would painfully kick rocks more often and my chances of tripping and falling increased. I had to slow down for my own safety, but I also just wanted to be done with this race. The yin and the yang of trail racing was in full effect.
On this shorter loop, you reach an aid station 4 miles in, then 8 miles in, then you are done. So I thought of this section of the race as three distinct four mile efforts. Somehow it just made it seem shorter than thinking about it as 12 miles. I tried to jog as much as I could, but my legs were fairly spent.
I made it through the first aid station, then the second. So I knew I had about 4 miles to go. And I knew I would finish. But I also knew my watch seemed to be about a mile off. So when I was at mile 48, my watch said 49. I had to remind myself of that so I didn't get too fixated on 52 miles because it would be at least 53 on my watch by the time I was done. Not reconciling those things in your mind can lead to a serious mental letdown.
With about 3 miles to go, I rolled my left ankle on a downhill section of the course. I don't know how I could have prevented it. The sharpness of the pain caused me to yell a few choice four letter words into the darkness of the night. I couldn't believe this had happened. I also knew if I just stood there and waited for my ankle to swell up and become more painful, I might never finish. So I limped forward until the pain went away or my brain stopped processing the pain signals. The rest of this race would not be pleasant by any means, but I had come too far to stop now.
When I believed I had about 2 miles to go, I realized I could probably finish under 15 hours if I picked up the pace. I began jogging as fast as my body would allow me to because the finish line was so close and I now had a goal that was within reach. When I believed I had about 1 mile to go, two other runners passed me going the other direction. We exchanged out customary "good job" and then one of the guys said "you are only about a mile and a half from the end." I thought it was more like a mile rather than a mile and a half, but I picked up the pace anyway.
Well, it turns out I still had another 1.8 miles to go. So despite my late effort, I missed the 15 hour mark, but I sprinted to the finish anyway and man did it feel good to hear people cheering for me as I approached. And at 10:16pm, I crossed that seemingly elusive finish line, about 15 hours and 2 minutes from when I had started the race. I finished in 22nd pace of the 42 runners who attempted the 52 mile race.
As I crossed the finish line and was given my finisher award, a group of folks started chanting "tacos and beer, tacos and beer!" They had heard about my outfit and were excited to see it. One of the ladies was kind enough to take this photo of me after I finished.
Here are the Strava details, which had the distance at 53.79 miles and the climbing at nearly 5,000 feet.
The GPS map of the effort:
Splits for miles 1-30:
Splits for miles 31-53.7:
What an awesome race. What a feeling of accomplishment when I finally crossed that finish line. Would I do it again? Probably not the 52 miler. Been there, done that. But the 52k and the 100 miler both intrigue me in their own way. Stay tuned. Until then, I will cherish this really cool finisher award, and personalized at that!
And, as always, a TikTok of the experience:
Steve Yeager is an ultra runner who rarely turns down a challenge. When he is not out putting miles on his shoes, he practices law and serves in the Nevada State Legislature. Steve lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with his very understanding and patient wife, Bita.