Man Against Horse Ultra Run Steven Ovah Story
My First 50 Mile Ultra- The Man Against Horse 2015
The legendary "Man Against Horse" race pits hooves against feet for 50 miles of trail/mountain/dirt road running. The race course goes up, down, and around Mingus Mountain in Prescott, Arizona. The race is run annually on the first weekend in October.
This is a race I've been interested in running for a couple years now. It was the recent passing of Dennis Poolheco, current course record holder, personal friend, and co-worker along with my family being in the midst of an exceptionally tough year, that strengthened my desire to complete this race in 2015. This race was not only for my strength, but for the strength of my family, and it was to honor the memory of my buddy and ultra-running legend Dennis Poolheco. These were the things that motivated me to train through 50 to 70 mile weeks. Although Dennis was not available to question about the course and how to train for it, I believe I trained well with 3 to 4 hour long runs on trails and more vertical climbing miles and time on my feet. I came into the final week before competition feeling strong and rested and ready to race some horses.
The morning of the race, I awoke in my tent rested, excited and confident about running 50 miles. It is rare these days that my folks get to see my races so I was excited that I had my parents and children there to see me off. My girlfriend Kayleen was there as usual so I was grateful as she has been putting up with me and my training and races. I can never repay her for her unwavering support and for driving me to races. So I was glad she was there again to see me off. I checked in with Ritchie Sahneyah, who is another Hopi ultra-runner and buddy of mine, and he seemed ready to roll as well. There were also plenty of people from out home "The Hopi Reservation" to see us off and to be there to honor the memory of Dennis. It was chilly as we started off on the first steps of our 50 mile run. Most of the horses shot off and I struggled against the urge to do so myself. Settling into an 8-9 minute per mile pace I found myself in the lead. It felt a little too easy as I got through 8 miles and approached the foothills of Mingus Mountain. My fueling plan had me taking in about 250 to 300 calories per hour via energy gels and chews with about 16 ounces of water. I carried a 20 oz. water bottle and drank and consumed calories every 20 mins to stay on track with my fueling plan.
The climbing started around mile 9 as we entered the foothills and forest leading up Mingus Mountain. The course steadily climbed but I felt good coming into the 20 mile aid station where I had more gels and salt capsules waiting for me. I was in the lead and had no idea where the second place runner was. So I re-up'd on supplies, chugged some water and refilled my water bottle and headed off. The race up to that point had gone exactly as I had planned and I figured I was on at least a 7 and a half hour pace.
Less than a quarter mile out of the 20 mile aid station I looked for and located the orange flagging which marked the course. The trail led off the dirt road I was on and turned left. I followed the flagging and it led up Mingus Mtn on my left hand side. After about 45 mins to an hour of hard climbing up this trail I came across the race photographers. Up to that point I had been running with a horse and its rider. Upon seeing the photographers, the rider of the horse and I were informed that we were coming from the wrong direction!! The flags were supposed to be passing us on the right hand side and we should be going down the way we just came up. We had nearly reached the top of Mingus Mountain and the second vet check for the horses; but from the wrong side of mountain. The climb up to then had taken a toll on me and the news that I had to go back down to get on the right track had seemingly zapped the energy out of me. I felt angry at myself and ran as fast as I could back down the trail. Once I got back down to the 20 mile area I felt deflated and done. I seriously thought about dropping out at that point as I realized I didn't have the necessary supplies to last to the next drop point where my goodies were placed. I was angry and started to walk along the dirt road "the right way". I was running mad and getting tired by the minute. I slowly picked off a few runners and was still contemplating throwing in the towel and calling it a day when I saw Ritchie. We ran together and talked for about 3 miles. We chatted about training for this race and different things. By that point I had lost track of time and my fueling plan went out the window as I was trying to conserve what I had. So we ran to the hardest part of the climb which is at mile 29 and goes up to mile 32. Running with Ritchie got my mind off of going the wrong way and momentarily my anger and frustration faded into the background. I was running happy and strong again and refocused on finishing the race. I ran up most of the mountain and passed a few more runners. I reached the top and was glad to be done with the climbing (so I thought). There I ate some bananas, pretzels and loaded up on fruit snacks for the road. Without those aid stations at every five miles I never would have finished. I was chugging water at that point and starting to bonk. I had run farther than I had ever run by that point and I didn't want to think about how much further I had to go.
On the descent of Mingus Mountain I soon came upon the point at which I turned around earlier (when I was going the wrong way) and again I started to struggle. With my fueling plan out the window, my legs feeling dead and my feet, achilles, and ankles starting to chafe and blister I was slowed to a walk. Again I thought about calling it a day, I could barely walk less run an 8 min per mile pace. As I headed toward the mile 38 aid station, every step was painful and I thought about quitting there. As I came into the 38 mile aid station I realized I had friends there. Caroline, Janis and Demanda were there to encourage me and help me refuel. I told them I was hurting while Janis and Caroline refilled my water bottle and gave me some extra energy gels and I was off again. They had words of encouragement for me and I was glad that they were there to help. That last 12 mile stretch I got through by putting one foot in front of the other. I had come that far and didn't want to quit. Around mile 43 was the second to last aid station. I refilled my bottle and set out for the last 7 mile stretch. At that point I was struggling, but I knew the finish was near.
Somewhere in between that last seven mile stretch my family had found me and rejuvenated me with their presence. I saw my parents, siblings, two children, and Kayleen. They had been around together all day anxiously waiting for me to come around. I quickly hugged my son Colt, took a few sips of water and set off with newfound strength. I told them I had gone the wrong way and they said they knew and asked if I was ok. I told them I was hurting but that I was going to finish. I took off for the remainder of the 50 miles. Finishing that particular race took all of what I had. Knowing my loved ones were there together and happy was the best feeling I had during the race. That was the clincher for me; knowing that my kids were waiting and that I had a reason to go on. At that point frustration and fatigue turned to happiness and strength. I finished on a happy and most triumphant note. I was greeted at the finish by my family and friends and a strong sense of accomplishment and joy overcame me. Performance wise, I've run faster and placed better many times; but I can't remember a more satisfying finish to a race. I came away from that race with a new respect for ultra-runners that day. The kindness, humility, and strength of every competitor on display there that day was something to see. I will certainly be back in Prescott next year for The Man Against Horse Race.
During the most trying moments of that 50 mile race I had to tune out all negative thoughts of failure, defeat, and futility and focus on the task at hand (putting one foot in front of the other) in order to finish the race. In doing that, I learned that perseverance in life may just be that simple. That day was a celebration of life for me as I had my parents, siblings, children, family and friends accessible there to cherish and appreciate here and now at any time.
Philippians 4: 13 13 “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”
Thank you to Moenkopi Developers Corporation and We Run Strong for always being there to support our local Native American Athletes.