It was 66 degrees as runners headed out of the parking lot and turned onto the black top, immediately found the challenge of a half-mile climb.
During pre-race instructions for the Dam Good Run, the race organizers explained that we’d eventually get to High Point, a good place to stop and take a picture of Lake Pleasant and the surrounding desert landscape.
After the climb, a steep decline dropped runners on to the Waddell Dam, the mouth of the Arizona Canal Project, for a long straight away. For my part, I just wanted to get on the trail and hoped my legs would hold up over the duration of the 25-mile course.
Soon, with dirt beneath my footsteps, the terrain gave little hint of where we were going or how we’d get there.
It didn’t matter — at one point it felt as though I was floating above the desert landscape.
Normally, I ‘run through’ desert trail races — meaning I don’t taper or change my weekly routine or mileage — and this was no exception. Instead, I use them as long training runs, which was my plan Sunday.
But there were a few key exceptions for this one since it was much farther than I normally go during a training run.
The night before I found a meal that would help fuel me for the event. I took in some pre-race carbs. And, thankfully, I wore a hydration pack as the temperatures were expected to soar.
After a few miles, runners spread out and I saw few out on the trails. On a few occasions, I stopped to take some pictures and hung around the aid stations — well-stocked with a variety of drinks and a pretty diverse assortment of food (including orange slices and watermelon!).
Along the way, I knew I was making decent time — or at least it felt like it. The trails are well marked and I reached an out-and-back segment, where I finally saw some other runners, some of who were running the 26K course.
The climb to the High Point seemed to stretch for quite a while, and at times I walked a few of the inclines to conserve energy for the hard push to finish. One guy came up from behind pretty quickly, and it was clear he was an exceptional climber. After navigating a few switchbacks, we reached the scenic overview.
Once there, he shared that he had taken a wrong turn — and why he was just catching up to me.
At this point, I really had no idea how much of the race was left. I expected a slow return down the mountain, but the descent was fun and allowed me to make up some of time from the trip up.
Not long after, I zipped past the guy from the top of the mountain — and a couple of others — so my eyes were set on keeping a lookout for the ribbons telling me I was still on course.
Pulling into an aid station, the volunteers were boisterous and upbeat. Just 5 miles to go, they said. By then I was drinking a steady flow of water from my pack; the temperature began to climb (it was 93 at the finish). And then came some cramps but I found myself heading back on a trail we had navigated earlier and I knew the scenery would be great.
Reaching the final aid station, I had my hopes set on a quick run to the finish. Three more miles. It wouldn’t pass too quickly as the sun reached directly overhead. Thankfully, I had chosen to wear a hat — which is rare — and volunteers put a scoop of ice inside.
At one point, the trail blended into the landscape and there was no evidence of how to reach the finish, so I focused my eyes ahead. I caught up with a guy on the last long incline, and he was suffering. He couldn’t really answer my questions — I was concerned he was overheating. I offered him water and a Cliff Bar. He declined.
He just wanted to see the finish. I pointed it out to him — up the hill, where the flags were flying. Maybe a half mile. At that point, having declined assistance, I figured the best I could do was get to the finish and alert race officials about his status.
Coming off the trail, runners head downhill to the parking lot where we started — and right into the lake.
There was no doubt what was coming next. Off came the hydration pack and I headed straight into the lake. Gingerly, my sore, cramping muscles were cooled. Standing there waist-deep, I decided to take the full plunge — and everything cramped. It was a Dam Good Run.