By Dale Miller

This was my first 50 mile race, and what an experience it turned out to be! The weather, just like the hills, was extreme. The race, as advertised, was both challenging and difficult; just the way I like it. I get little to no satisfaction from accomplishing anything easy; as I believe is true for many of us who strive to push our physical and mental limits.

I prepared myself for this race by doing midday runs in Yuma, AZ. For those of you who have never heard of Yuma, it’s located in the Southwest corner of Arizona bordering California. It’s a great place to train in the heat. My longest training run was 7 hours, six weeks prior to Running With and Devil. Two weeks later I ran a marathon, and then I allowed myself some much needed recovery time. Although I feel this may have affected my overall performance, I ran without the aches and pains that I dealt with prior to my long run.

My goal for Running with the Devil was simple – survive. Complete the course within the time allotted. For those reading this who are unfamiliar with the heat and the affects of running in extreme conditions, it is a brutal (some would say crazy) task that is taxing on your body and spirit. I flip flopped back and forth on start times but ultimately went with the earlier 6 am start. This turned out to be a wise decision, as the cut off time for the later start was 11 hours. I checked in, weighed in, and was as nervous at the start of an event as I’ve ever been. All the usual questions came to mind, “Can I do this?”, “Have I trained hard enough?”, “Will I be able to endure the heat of the midday sun?” Next thing I knew, it was time for final instructions and off we went.

This course was simple. There were only two turns for the 50 miler, allowing you to focus on running without worrying about missing a marker. Although the course was open to traffic, I never felt that I was crowded and the shoulder was more than wide enough for one runner. I didn’t know any of the other runners, but exchanged in casual conversation every chance I got. Words of encouragement and light humor helped take my mind off of the monumental task in front of me. I was also pleasantly surprised to see several cyclists cheering us on as they sped by. The scenery along the course is spectacular, but often overshadowed by the fact that I was running uphill half the race. And since the course is out and back, every uphill on the way out is a downhill on the way back and vice versa. I did my best to hold back during the first half of the race, believing that I would need all of my strength during the later part of the race just to finish. At the 13 mile aid station, I started wearing my bandana filled with ice which was a huge relief as the temperature rose. From then on, I focused on the next land marker or aid station.

Reaching the half way point was a huge accomplishment, but also an eye opening slap in the face as I realized how much time had passed. I needed to keep pressing although I was tired, hungry, and hot. The next several hours were more of the same; just keep moving. Once I reached the 40 mile marker, the goal that had once seemed so far away, now appeared to be within reach. That’s not to say that finishing was a given; I knew that this race was far from over. Keeping food down and anything resembling running were harder than ever. I did not get sick, but my stomach was looking for a meal with solid food and all I was giving it was liquids and the occasional snack. I also experienced pain in my feet that I can only attribute to the heat from the road and a burning in my eyes caused by sweat and the hot, dry wind. In any case, I continued to press, which at this point was walking more than running. Every time I reached a down hill I had to talk myself into running again and to keep running for as long as I could stand it.

Finally, I reached the last hill with the finish in sight. I could smell the barn, so to speak. I wish I could say that I ran from that point forward, but that would be a lie. I ran when I could and walked as fast as possible when I couldn’t. As I ran down the hill to the finish, I was inspired by those who had finished before me and the spectators out watching loved ones and friends. After 12 hours and 16 minutes, I had done it; I had covered 50 of the toughest miles under “devil-like” conditions.

The race may be called Running With the Devil, but every single person working the aid stations were angels. Their selflessness was inspirational and I received the “red carpet treatment” at every stop. I even had one young man run out to me and ask what I needed! All I can say is WOW! I have done other races where the aid stations were “good”, but this was by far the best. Special thanks to Jenny, Daryck, and Traci for keeping me company along the course; I needed it. And to my wife Rebecca for supporting me throughout this journey, even if she thinks it’s a little insane.

Ever since hearing about running distances further than 26.2 miles, I have contemplated and considered what it would take to accomplish such a task. Now I know, and I look forward to my next Ultra distance race. Running with the Devil was as tough and as enjoyable as I had hoped it would be. It’s been more than a week since the race and I feel great! Joyce put together a great event and I am already signed up for two more Calico Racing Events and look forward to the next challenge.