As the subtle glow of dawn appeared off to the west, runners bustled about the ramadas of the group picnic area; some checking in, others placing their drop bags along side the trail, and some catching some warmth of the umbrella heaters while chatting with friends. The morning was cool, but not quite brisk, ensuring a warm day ahead. At 7am, 41 runners headed out on their first loop of the 50 kilometer course led by Ian Torrence, Jay Danek, Scott Bajer and Michael Carson. They would first head out on the newly added out and back section along the Slate and Flume trails before completing the main Go John and Overton loop used at last year’s race. This new section features a relatively mellow elevation profile and a 1.8 mile section along an old dirt jeep road.
As the 50K runners headed around the back side of the Flume trail, hot air balloons could be seen rising up to the southwest amid a forest of saguaro cacti and cascading mountain ranges.
After completing the out and back, the 50K runners headed up the Go John trail, encountering the first major climb of the day. The first couple miles of the Go John trail are smooth, wide enough to run side by side, and quite gradual. A nice surprise to those who ran last year was a 1.5 mile section of very rocky, eroded trail at the top of the climb that had been rerouted, cleared and widened by the park trail crew. This section went from a rocky trench to one of the most enjoyable and runnable sections on the course. The smooth section ends abruptly into the second major climb up to the high point on the course. This part weaves in and out of a wash and includes many steep pitches up boulders and jagged rocks. Upon attaining the saddle, a stunning view opens up to the north of open desert, untouched by development. There isn’t much time to take in the view, since the descent is rock strewn, steep and technical.
The clanging of a cow bell signified the location of the Go John aid station, nestled in a valley on the north boundary of the park. A small gate leads north into Arizona State Trust Land onto the Maricopa Trail which links up to other regional parks. The Go John aid station sits at the bottom of the final climb on the loop, but also signals the end of the truly technical section of trail. After that climb, runners join the Overton Trail for a quick descent back around the mountain into the start/finish area.
Michael Smith who placed 2nd at the Coldwater Rumble 50K this past January, came in at 1:38, only 50 seconds in front of last year’s DRT Ultra Series winner Michael Carson. Carson finished less than a minute back of Smith at Coldwater. Both were in and out of the aid station quickly and back out on their second loop of the course (identical to the first). Alexander Kaine was only 2 minutes back after the first loop and a pack of 4 came through at 1:45 (Don Solberg, Jeremy Schmuki, Scott Bajer and Jay Danek). On the women’s side, Kerry Herbine came through 1st in 1:57 (but later dropped), followed by Lori Hickernell and Deb Hemberlin.
The second loop spread things out a bit as Michael Carson took control of the lead, finishing his second loop only 5 minutes slower than his first. He put 12 minutes on Smith, who maintained his second place position, while Solberg came in 10 minutes behind Smith. Carson extended his lead and laid down an impressive 63 minutes final 10Km loop for the overall win in 4:26. Smith and Solberg held 2nd and 3rd, finishing in 4:48 and 5:05 respectively. Deb Hamberlin stayed strong through her second loop, taking the lead and going on to win in 6:12. Margaret Dehesse finished 2nd in 7:03 and Caren Schmidt in 7:12.
If you enjoy close finishes, it’d be hard to find a better one than in the 30 Km men’s race. Paul Kramer who placed 2nd at the Buckeye Endurance Runs 100K led from the start and seemed to be on his way to an easy win after coming through on his first loop in 1:35 with an 8 minute lead over Bret Sarnquist (’11 DRT Trail Series winner) and Van Patterson (’11 Coldwater Rumble 18K & ’11 San Tan Scramble 25K winner). Unbeknownst to Paul, Bret planned on taking his first loop easy and treating the final 10K loop as a tempo run. Bret did exactly that, blasting the second loop in 50:34, he caught sight of Paul on the final downhill of the course. Paul, not seeing anyone all day had settled into cruise mode. Bret came up on Paul in the final stretch and was able to time a final kick around Paul and up the hill to finish in first in 2:34, just 3 seconds ahead of Paul. We’re not sure how things might have turned out if Paul had seen Bret earlier, but it sure did make for an exciting finish for the spectators.
Michelle Patuto returned to the Cave Creek Thriller this year having competing in every DRT Series race on last year’s schedule (including 5 trail series races and the 50 Km at Mesquite Canyon). She was leading after finishing loop 1 in 2:04, followed by Mary Knott in 2:11, Katherine Redden in 2:12, and Lindsey Sheiwiller in 2:13. Michelle held strong and pulled off her first DRT Series win in 3:18. Katherine Redden from Austin, Texas placed 2nd in 3:28 and late starter Holly Miller edged out Lindsay Scheiwiller and Mary Knott for 3rd with a time of 3:30.
Over 100 runners joined us for what has to be one of the toughest 10 Km races in the Phoenix area. First off, the course is a bit long (sometimes the trails lend themselves to a certain course), second it features several hundred feet of elevation gain and loss, and third takes place on some fairly technical and rocky terrain. This didn’t stop a pack of talented locals from running hard and fast. Tim Merritt of Chandler was the pre-race favorite, having won the 2010 Mesquite Canyon 5 Mile. A pack of 10 guys formed at the front as the group headed off the park road onto the Go John trail. In the end, four runners hung on to finish within a minute of each other, and Tim was out front for the win in 47:46. Steve Rink was 2nd, John Hetrick 3rd, and John Borrego 4th.
In the women’s race, Lisa Raykowski of Phoenix won her first DRT race after a string of 2nd place finishes last season in a time of 56:12. That placed her just ahead of Jona Davis of Scottsdale who ran 57:44. A special shout out goes to our youngest finisher Loganne Stepp of Chandler who finished in 1:50 at nine years old! She completed the run with her grandfather Ted Buxton.
Thanks to everyone who ran this weekend and we look forward to seeing you out at Pass Mountain on Saturday, November 19. We leave you with a few parting shots: