Written by 2019 DBR Ambassador Eve Rebennack
Mesquite Canyon is one of Phoenix-based Aravaipa Running’s lesser-known races, and the final race in their Desert Runner Trail (DRT) series. Although those that run DRT races are mostly local to Arizona, there are always some runners from out of state and Canada looking to escape winter weather in the Valley of the Sun.
Anyone who has run an Aravaipa race of any size knows that the races are well-organized and often highly competitive. Mesquite 50k brings out a surprising amount of elite runners for a relatively small race: Jim Walmsley was the first overall finisher of the 50k distance in 2016, and Zach Bitter was first overall in 2018. Nicole Bitter was the first female finisher of the 50k in both 2018 and 2019, and Stephanie Howe Violett was the first female finisher in 2014.
The White Tank mountains, where the race is set, are ruggedly beautiful, and the 50 miler and 50k races are both highly technical courses. The 50k has just under 5000’ of vertical gain, but Aravaipa Running does not recommended this course for inexperienced ultra-runners because of the scrambling involved in getting through and out of Ford Canyon.
This year, the course was lush with green hills and wildflowers, and some of the “white tank” rock formations held pools of water.
The Mesquite Play-by-Play
The first two miles of the course are extremely runnable, but the course starts climbing on single track switchbacks from about mile 3 through mile 10. The first climb is about 1000,’ all in less than two miles.
Around mile 10, there is a hard and very rocky descent into Goat Canyon. Runners from the 30k and front runners from the 50-mile race are ascending while the 50k runners are descending, so there is a lot of encouragement along the course. After checking in at an aid station, runners climb back up the same very technical 1000’.
The 50k then has a more gradual downhill of comprised of long single track for about six miles before getting to the last aid station before Ford Canyon. The drop into the canyon floor involves some light scrambling, and then runners find themselves in a large, sandy wash with big boulders. There are confidence markers about every .25 miles, but runners can pick and choose the best “line” through the Canyon on their own.
The climb out of Ford Canyon requires full-on scrambling over giant boulders. Aravaipa has medical staff placed there, between boulders (I could hear them long before I saw them), making it impossible to miss the critical juncture back onto the single track trail.
My main goal was to avoid falling into one of the water-filled “tanks.” The wash is slightly downhill and involves a bit more light scrambling, especially for shorter runners. There is not really any way to get lost, despite the sporadic course markings, as there is clearly only one way through.
After that, it’s just a couple miles of slightly downhill, buffed out trails into the finish of the 50k… and free pizza for those who finish the ultra-distance races! Who’s in for 2020!?
This year, the race was held on Saturday, March 9, 2019. Visit the Mesquite Canyon website for more details.
What was YOUR favorite race? What others would you like us to review? Thinking about registering for your first ultra? Find out what to expect by reading The Newbie’s Guide to Ultra Registration.