Black Canyon 100k

Black Canyon 100k

Clare Gallagher

• 7 min read

When I think of running the Black Canyon 100k last weekend, I think first and foremost of that desert. Saguaros, fine red dust, prickly branches hugging me as I snaked by, rocks that look innocuous, but oh when flesh hits those babies, it's a bloodbath. There's nothing particularly concrete or singular in this high desert region that makes it so memorable, like there are no large mountains.

But it's the layering of all its spikey attributes that create an ecosystem like none other. Running nine straight hours on that singletrack touched me deeply. I felt like my heart was cased in a layer of that fine dust, dried to oblivion by the low-rising winter sun that never felt excruciating, but boy would I not want to run that trail in the summer. It was still hot as shit in February.

The saguaros dotted the trail throughout most of the race, but sometimes we'd run through a forest of them. Looming and stately, these beauties are sacred to many local people. My friend Lydia, who lives in Tucson, told me they're considered spiritual elders in part because they live to be over 150 years!

We crossed some dry river beds and some flowing ones. I doused myself as much as I could, thinking how water is life and the only reason I'm able to run this is because of the water I'm chugging at each aid station. I'm sacred to think what Arizona will look like in thirty years when riverbeds are dry even in spring and millions of humans rely on imported water from other states. Oh wait, that's already happening.

Towards the end of the race when the elevation dips to about 2,000 feet above sea level, gorgeous little chollas lined the trail. These strong cactuses look soft, but just ask Anne-Marie Madden how they feel when you land on one. Anne-Maire placed third, not far behind me and the second place woman Dominika Stelmach –  who is an impressively fast road runner with the European 100k record of 7:04!

The race itself was bizarre. I started so conservatively, I was able to chat with many women, which felt like a reunion. I didn't want to know my place until around halfway. This plan, which was devised by my coach David Roche, worked perfectly.

At 31-miles, I was in a pack with Addie Bracy, Katherine Short, and Anne-Marie, who by the way has to be one of the most underrated ultrarunners of our time. She's podiumed in nearly ever major mid-distance ultra. She is such a brilliant racer. She starts conservatively and then fights her way to the lead. And she's fun to run with. Always smiling, but also racing, stepping on the gas ever so slightly. My favorite miles of the race were running behind her, grateful for her wise pacing, excited knowing we both were going to have a good day.

When I fell pretty hard on a pile of rocks around mile 20, she peeled me off the ground. She fully stopped to pick me up, helping me get back to running, while slowing herself down significantly. Anne-Marie, you are a class act!

I took off at mile 31 because I left the aid first and never really looked back, aside from seeing Anne-Marie holding on. I heard Dominika was 15-minutes ahead and I laughed in awe at her speed. Her first half was so impressive, I can only fathom how painful it must have been to hold on to second place.

Passing Dominika with about three miles to go made this race feel world-class. Here's this elite ultrarunner working her butt off and not giving up and she kindly let me pass and asked how far back the others were. I told her maybe 10-minutes, which was about right. I said "You'll be fine as long as you DO NOT STOP." She shook her head yes and kudos to her for holding on and running a fast as hell time, giving me the race of my year by chasing her all day.

Ultras are so fun! I feel so grateful to traverse these wild landscapes with incredible athletes, runners who might be from different worlds but we share the same language of loving to run far and long and hard. And we have strangers, friends, family and partners (thank you, Johnny) who help us chase our ultra dreams. Aren't we so lucky?

My girl Anne-Marie and me! 

For my Mom, Megan Roche and Oak Flat

As I finished the final miles, stoked on my victory, I thought of all the people who cannot run. Like my Mom who just had surgery and will be fine, but has to persevere as a third-grade teacher with a student population that's not highly vaccinated. Also try teaching a third grader how to read through a mask! A huge thank you to all teachers. You are the glue of humanity. Thank you.

I also thought of Megan Roche, my coach's wife and renowned runner. She's been unable to run due to a scary slew of heart problems. She's taking it in stride, but man, it just sucks.

And lastly, I ran for Oak Flat, which is only about 50 miles east of Phoenix. A sacred land for the San Carlos Apache and world-class rock climbing destination, it's been caught in an ugly land trade by our federal government. In a 2015 NDAA last minute piece of add-on legislation, it was illegally traded with some other land owned by Resolution Copper, a foreign mining company. The San Carlos Apache have a treaty that their land is their land, but this 2015 move has put their land at risk of being turned into a copper mine. It's so messed up and hopefully the Save Oak Flat Act by Rep Grijalva will pass to reverse the unjust land swap. Support the San Carlos Apache here.

RACE RECOMMENDATION

I highly recommend this race if you like running in the heat and like relatively flat courses. The Black Canyon trail snakes through the middle of north-central Arizona. It's iconic singletrack that's been used for thousands of years by Native traders and then was formally established in the early 1900s as a livestock driveway. It's since been managed in a cooperative recreation agreement between the Bureau of Land Management and Maricopa and Yavapai counties.

It's an inspiring example of how good outdoor recreation management can foster fruitful recreation. Take memories, leave no trace, say a blessing in gratitude to the many stewards that came before us, vote for people who protect our home and water. Hopefully many generations from now can also run on this trail.

GEAR

Shoes: La Sportiva Kaptivas are the best trail racing shoes I could imagine. I didn't have to change socks or anything. My feet were wrecked by the end because it's not forgiving terrain, but with good blister care pre-race and clipping and filing of my toenails, my feet are in great shape.

Shorts: Patagonia endless run shorts. The best running shorts out there. These things have easily 5,000 miles in them and they still work like day one. Deep side pockets. Long enough to not be booty shorts.

Shirt: Patagonia Capilene lightweight. The lightest, most technical running shirt. This is what I race in and prefer to wear for any physical activity. I wore the men's green to represent my trail group Rocky Mountain Runners back home. Pro tip: soak these in mild soapy water after heavy use to get any lingering stink out.  

Pack: Patagonia slope runner. I helped design this bad boy and boy does she run well. It's like the original Salomon packs with the minimal design, no frills, except it doesn't fall apart because it's made with durable fabrics! I wash mine after heavy usage and air dry. Also, after every race, I disassemble, soak and air dry my soft flasks to prevent mold.

Can't forget the trusty visor.

Bandana: my mom made these for my in 2017 Western States and I've used them ever since. Sew a square of chamois material in the center with one side open. That's your ice pocket. Let er drip!

Food: I ate Honey Stinger gels gold and strawberry kiwi with caffein and SIS gels. I like to mix it up and sis are good in hot heat since they're so viscous.

Drink: Honey stinger powder with caffeine kept me going. It's important to note that I drank SO much. At mile 19, I took three half liter soft flasks, chugged one with powder immediately and then still had a liter till the next aid. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of drinking during hot races. We have aid stations for a reason!

Other tips: if you do this race and have a crew, make sure your crew gives you ice. If you don't have a crew like Anne-Marie, you can still run fast af by utilizing the drop bags and getting ice from the aid stations. It's a great run race with extremely nice volunteers. Always be nice to volunteers and everyone for that matter! Also, Bumble Bee ranch is a sweet camp spot and is run by the nicest people. If you run out there just for run, highly recommend staying there.  

No Western States for me this year

I signed up for BC100k as a way to test my fitness early in the year after a bummer of an end to last year due to injury. I never intended to try to qualify for WS100 this year because I want to focus on goals and exploration in my backyard, the Rocky Mountains, this summer.

I have the upmost respect for RD Craig Thornley. The man is just so cool and smart and I was pleased to be able to tell him myself at the finish line of BC100k. He understood my decision and it makes me excited to return in the future when I can focus on States. I'm happy that my spot went to Taylor Nowlin, a fine runner and person who will excel.

Thank you everyone for all the support!

All the good photos credit Ryan Thrower!