Every race is special, but sometimes a race just has something about it which dictates that the feelings and emotions of the day will never leave you. That was what this past weekend’s Crown King Scramble was like for me.
I fell in love with this race last year during a course recon with Jamil (blog post). The race was also my first solo attempt at race directing and was just about the scariest experience ever. No pressure. just one of the oldest continual footraces in Arizona with a lot of history and meaning to a lot of people.
I started planning 2016 almost immediately after the conclusion of last year’s race. This year was special. It was the 25th running, the men’s record was going to hit 20 years, and my passion for the race had only increased. Evolving out of my excitement came the idea to have the Aravaipa Women’s Training Program focused on this event. While the course profile does not lend itself to looking like a favorable first-time 50K there was nothing about the group of women who joined the program that made me think they were not capable.
The conclusion of the first season of the Women’s Training Program deserves a blog post in and of itself. However, I will say that every single lady who made it to that starting line also made it to the finish. I have made life-long friends and one of the women said it right, “How did you ever find such an amazing group of women?” I had nothing to do with that! It was simply the stars aligning. We had so much fun. I cannot wait for the next adventure! (Details coming soon!)
In preparation of this year the history major came out in me. I wanted to contact Dermot McGonigle, 1992 champion and course record holder. How to find him? I started by contacting the Scottish Hill Running Club chairman (where Dermot’s results had populated through a google search) who happened to have a committee meeting the night I’d sent the email. He asked a member of the club about Dermot who put him in touch with a woman who happened to respond that Dermot had been the best man at their wedding and got me his email! What an amazing chain of events!
Here is Dermot’s 1992 race report:
In March 1996 I had a start in the Boston Centenary Marathon when a former girlfriend invited me to her wedding in Phoenix. I’d never been to Arizona before and liked the idea of a spring holiday somewhere warm, visiting the Grand Canyon and attending Miriam’s marriage party. As a keen runner I quickly checked what races I might be able to incorporate into my trip and took an instant liking to the Crown King Scramble.
The race fell on the final weekend of a great 2 week holiday, which included the wedding, lots of camping, visiting places of interest, beautiful scenery and great trail runs (though the grumpiest park ranger in the U.S. tried to stop me from running to the bottom of the Grand Canyon!!) As an Irishman resident in Scotland I don’t cope well with high temperatures when running so it was a relief that the conditions on race day were about perfect. The very friendly organisers arranged a lift for me from Phoenix to the start and I spent the first 2 hours enjoying the excellent company of the previous record holder Rick Stuart – he passed on plenty of useful advice and when we reached a feed station at half way he told me to push on in pursuit of the half dozen guys ahead of us. Highlights of the race for me were the stunning surroundings (we don’t have many deserts in Scotland!), the forgiving trail surface and perfect weather conditions, the camaraderie amongst the competitors and the Elvis themed feed stations. However, the blast of “Hound Dog” from the final feed station almost cost me victory – I hadn’t long passed Travis Grappo to take the lead when I reached the bunch of super-enthusiastic volunteers offering drinks etc. In my excitement I tried to do an Elvis dance and instantly felt a hamstring go into cramp! Needless to say the crazy dance was curtailed and I limped off towards the nearby crest and short descent to the finish line. I don’t recall if I was wearing a watch but was extra happy to learn that as well as winning I had lowered the course record by about 15 minutes. Although the perfect conditions were a major factor so too were the superb challenge from Travis and the advice from Rick. The party afterwards was fun as so many folk were justifiably pleased with their achievements and my friend Miriam had travelled to Crown King too. The victory set me up for a great season back in Scotland – by September I had won the 6 race Scottish Hill Running title for the second time (previous title had been in 1986 at the age of 24 years) and was representing Scotland at the World Mountain Running Trophy, finishing well adrift of such great champions as US athlete Jay Johnson and getting to party with sadly departed friend Lyndon Ellefson from Colorado.
Suffice to say I had a great time in Arizona, met a bunch of really friendly and helpful people and the CKS race remains one of my all time favourite running memories.
Also feeding off the history of the race 1st year runner, Kate Hansen, helped kick off the race week excitement by doing an interview with Jamil. Having Kate running this year and many other multi-year finishers is so special. However, of note, the first thing Kate said to me once she crossed the line is how much she wanted to recognize all the first-time ultra-finishers. While she was completing her 100th marathon or longer distance at this race, the “coolest” aspect was how many people were completing their first.
The 25th running just did not disappoint all day long. Chris Vargo (Nike) in his comeback race reset Dermot’s record by 13:12 in a time of 3:47:15 and is the 1st person to go sub-4 hours on this course (post-race interview). However, almost as soon as he was done he noted that it’s a “3:40 course” – so we shall see if he comes back next year to back up that claim! Not far behind him was Gabe McGowan (Aravaipa Racing Team) who is simply having a phenomenal few seasons. Gabe also went sub-4 hours (3:53:36) to claim the distinction of becoming the 2nd person to ever do so, minutes after Chris. In an amazing show of consistency, Art DeGraw (last year’s champion) ran the exact same time as last year (4:05:37) – to the second – to round out the men’s podium.
Alicia Shay (Nike), also just returning to the racing scene, landed a win (5th overall) in 3:34:27 and was more than capable of Ann Trason’s course record of (3:34:13) but was playing the dual role of competitor and coach throughout the day (post-race interview). Second place went to Kelly Wolf (5:12:40) who only ran her first ultra-distance back in January with a course record at Coldwater Rumble 52K before going on to take 3rd at the highly competitive Black Canyon 100K. Adela Salt (Aravaipa Racing Team) who previously raced on the Great Britain National Team and is a world trail running champion is adjusting to life in the Phoenix desert incredibly well as showcased by her 3rd place finish in 5:40:23.
One of the best things about this race is since it’s point-to-point and getting down from Crown King is an adventure itself, many people stay to have a drink, cheer on other runners and, if they’re taking the shuttle, are there until the last runner finishes. With a live band under the gazebo, an outdoor bar, free lunch, and a party atmosphere who would want to leave early anyway? Plus… you probably want to give your stomach a chance to settle after the race before taking the road back. Having that many people enthusiastically cheering each finish is so special and is honestly one of the reasons why this race is for first-timers and veterans alike. The last finisher, Criss Furman, probably got the loudest cheers all day as he crossed the finish line with people lining the streets to watch his entrance.
With the official race over, the beer mile started immediately followed by lots of merriment at the saloon late into the night. Make sure to add April 1, 2017 to your race calendar now for the 26th running of the Crown King Scramble! Registration is already open on ultra signup!
Lookout for a race recap video coming soon!
Enjoy these photos from the Fort Misery Aid Station showcasing that the party atmosphere of the aid stations has not changed! The Hashers sure know how to show runners a good time!
2016 Race Reports: