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Flagstaff Extreme BIG PINE 54K

After a week of recovery from the Trail Factor 50K, my brother, Tommy Rivers, was already looking for another race to do.  He was stoked about his hard fought fitness and simply excited to be running again.  Fortunately, we live in Flagstaff and there are plenty of races to choose from. The one that most appealed to him was a new Aravaipa Running loop course that would run around a park that he rides, walks, or runs through en route to his physical therapy courses most days. Unfortunately, it didn't look like I was going to be able to join him for this one because I was supposed to be in Oregon for some work the day after the race.  As the race approached, my good senses came to me and I decided it would be a great idea to do the 54K with him and then jump in my truck and drive all the way to Oregon.  Why not?

Starting out conservatively while the lead women took it out.

As with the Trail Factor 50K, shortly after signing up, a local elite and quite frankly the best climber I've ever encountered - Art Degraw - signed up.  The good news is that the course wouldn't have too much climbing so we figured we could use our road running backgrounds to our advantage and sustain a solid pace over the four loop course.

Working our way into it.
We started out pretty comfortably and gradually picked up the pace.  By mile four we were running sub-6:00 pace into the first aid station.  This was pretty quick for so early in the race, especially at 7,000ft, but we were feeling good and Art was doing his best to make us work.  Art, Tommy, and I arrived at the first aid station at mile four together and began the long climb back up toward the Start/Finish area.

Covered with blood.
Art began to pull away a bit on the climb, but I figured we would be fine and we'd simply catch him again on the other side of the hill.  When we crested the hill my brother called out to me.  When I turned around he was covered with blood.  I wasn't sure if he had bitten into a wild animal or if a wild animal had bitten into him, but there was a lot of blood and it just kept oozing out of his face and dripping all over his body.   He tried to wipe it off with his singlet, but it didn't take long to saturate the singlet.  Then he tried wiping it off with his hat.  Again, all that did was fill his hat with blood. Then he tried to wipe it off with his hands, but that just smeared it across his face and body.  Rather than an ultramarathoner, he looked a lot more like a Spartan.

Despite our shared desire to go one-two we had to adjust our goal to simply finish together.  As a practicing germaphobe, my brother was concerned that the aid station volunteers and fellow competitors would be uncomfortable being near someone covered in blood.  The good news is that other than a rugged outdoor lifestyle he's lived a relatively risk free life, so he's clean.  The hard part is trying to explain that to people as you approach them covered in blood.

As we approached each aid station I'd run ahead and direct our kids what to get him.  I'd fill my bottles and he'd let his daughter and my son get cups of liquids to hand to him at the aid stations so that others didn't have to worry about it.  He only had one mishap and that was when Brian Tinder went out to greet and comfort him.  Tinder handed him some grub and Tommy slapped him on the back.  After the fact we all just laughed at the Wilson-like hand print on Tinder's back.  I figure he's mooned us each enough in races and training runs that a little blood on his back is the least he could do.

Trying not to get any blood on anyone, but Tinder's back soon became the site of an inadvertent pat and hand print.

We continued to run together, but the bleeding didn't subside.  On the last loop, my brother took another spill on some rocks and tore up his hands and knees.  We were both exhausted because we'd been running for an hour more than we had planned on running and we still had another hour to go. I knew he was in pain when he didn't even try to get up.  He just laid there.  After a few minutes he asked me to help him up and dust him off.  Then he realized that he had been laying in a pile of horse manure.  As the quintessential germaphobe he was having a harder time with it than I, and I was the one wiping it off his bloody back.  Muscle was sticking out of one gash in his hand and his knee got pretty bruised up.

Running into the aid station to get things ready for the arrival of my brother.
We reached the final aid station and our kids ran out to meet us and asked if they could join us.  We all started down the trail together and eventually our daughters turned back together and my son asked if he could run the last four miles with us.  We agreed.  With about 5K to go the sky opened up and soaked us.  My son was in jeans and a t-shirt so he promptly removed his wet shirt and we continued to run the last two miles in.

Getting down to crew level.

Our daughters coming back from running with us.
When we reached the finish we were greeted by the rest of our family and our kids who helped us quite a bit at the aid stations finished with us.

Finishing as a family.
Due to the mishap and prolonged race, our family missed meals and naps, and had to endure extremes in weather.  Unlike most races in which we usually stick around to visit with others, we decided to get out of the way and go clean up.  We were certainly grateful to the volunteers and race directors as well as friends, family, and competitors who helped us get through the day, but figured our kids needed naps and the volunteers had dealt with enough blood for one day.

As usual, Aravaipa Running put on another great event. Art Degraw ran another amazing race solo. Hopefully, next year we'll be able to hang a little longer. Thanks to the fast early start, we still ended up finishing 2nd and 3rd.  And according to the results, I technically finished ahead of my brother. Although it probably makes me look weak that I can only beat him when he is in critical condition, I'll take it.

As it turns out, the Flagstaff Extreme BIG PINE 54K will be the last time my brother and I will race together until we join forces to tackle the six day Trans Rockies Run team event in August.  Despite the struggles and challenges we encountered in the 54K, and all of the others we've encountered in the 20 years of running we've shared, there is still no place I'd rather be than running alongside my best friend.

We'll be working and training hard this summer so that when we meet again we'll be ready to race side-by-side for six days through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  This has been a dream of ours since the race began nine years ago, and finally we're both healthy and able to do it together.

Between now and then I'll be enjoying the Pacific Crest Trail at the Mt. Hood 50 while my brother, Tommy Rivers, will be crewing, pacing, supporting, and promoting Iron Cowboy James Lawrence as he tackles 50 Ironman Triathlons in 50 days in all 50 states.

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