Running in Moab is always a worthwhile adventure. Running the Moab Red Hot 55k is an adventure mixed with beauty, frustration and a little bit of pain.
This race draws a pretty large field of participants and it's routinely attended by some of the fastest ultra runners in the country. Finishing this race with a decent time is extremely challenging. Taking a podium spot is a major undertaking. For me, I was just happy to be there. I had no illusions regarding how my day was going to play out.
But most importantly, this race was a highlight because it was going to be attended by so many of our friends from the Happy Utah Mountain Runner's (HUMR) group, as well as other friends from all over the country.
View from the course
After a week of racing in the Caribbean, the only souvenir I brought home was an upper respiratory infection. As soon as it became obvious, I took action by doubling up on my vitamins and forcing myself to get more rest. When we finally headed down to Moab for this race, I was in the final stages of recovery, but I was still hacking crud out of my lungs.
This didn't trouble me too much because I knew this wasn't a race that would allow me to be competitive. The field was too elite, I was still having lingering effects from the Coldwater Rumble 50 miler, and I was sick. But I wanted this race and I needed the training miles, so I was in good spirits about the event and was excited to be running in Moab again.
A short run the day before the race, previewing the final miles of the course
The frozen Colorado River. View from the course
After logging some miles on the course, we met up with friends and went for a hike in Devil's Garden in Arches National Park. It was a beautiful day to be outside.
Hiking down a fin at Devils Garden
Like all serious ultra runner's, we focused on proper pre-race fueling. About 20 of us met at the Moab Brewery for dinner and a few carbonated, carbohydrate bombs.
Carb loading, HUMR style!
Weather for race morning was an almost perfect 28 degrees, with a promise to rise into the mid or upper 40's. The sky was brilliant blue and completely cloudless. It doesn't really get any better than this, especially in February.
Some of the best runners I know. HUMR group photo!
We shed our extra layers and began to line up for the start. I was initially lined up right behind Karl Meltzer and Dakota Jones. I dropped back a bit further in the pack when I realized my faux pas.
Lined up and ready to go!
The race starts on a short flat section of Jeep road and then transitions into a big climb right away. During training, I ran this hill and had decided it would be foolish to start my race by running this entire section. So naturally, I ran this entire section.
HUMR badasses, Aric Manning and Jared Clark storming the hill!!
Me and Jason Howland making our way to the top
Runner's disappearing around the corner
Once we got to the top of the hill, we have a short descent. I could see Aric Manning ahead of me and I was gaining on him. I gave him a smack on the ass as I passed him and became immediately aware of the source of Aric's hill climbing ability. Well done Aric! Work those glutes, Brother!
Before hitting the bottom of the hill, we cross a cattle guard. I slowed and skipped across it. Jason Howland attempted a trickier approach and paid the price when his shoe popped right off his foot. I slowed but kept running while Jason made the needed repairs. He was back at my side within a minute.
After our short descent, we hit a flat section of jeep road and I fell into my running rhythm. I felt like I was running a decent pace, considering we were in kilometer 3 of a 55k race. Nonetheless, the field was stretching out as runner's took advantage of this flat and fast section. I figured I would see many of them again, a bit later in the race.
Flat road section after the first climb
Sign near the 33k and 55k split
The first aid station came between mile 5 and 6. I was fueling exclusively with Hammer Perpetuem in a handheld and regulating my electrolytes with Endurolyte Fizz tabs in my hydration pack. I hadn't planned to stop at this aid station but was forced to because my shoes were too loose and they were filling with sand. When I stopped to remedy this, I told Jason to go on ahead and I would catch up to him. Off he went.
On my way again, I realized that I needed to pull off the trail for a quick pit stop (#1 not #2). While I was stopped I hung my handheld bottle from a tree branch and took my pack off to retrieve a Hammer Bar from my pack. Once I was finished, I strapped my pack on and headed out. After a few minutes, I realized I had left my bottle hanging in the tree and had to turn around to retrieve it. While this sounds simple enough, it proved to be a problem because all the trees look the same. After some slow plodding in the wrong direction, I recovered my bottle and resumed my race. This cost me 10 or 15 minutes and added about a mile to my day.
We were running a loop at this point in the race and we were headed back to the first aid station. This would mark the halfway point in the race and Jo would be waiting for me so I could get a fresh supply of Perpetuem and Fizz. For this to happen, Jo had to hike 6 miles into the aid station. Needless to say, she was the only crew member waiting for a runner at the aid station.
Badass BJ Burlison coming into the aid station
Making my way to the aid station
I was still feeling really good at this point in the race, which was critical because the hardest miles were still well ahead of us. It was beginning to get pretty warm, so I shed my arm warmers, topped off with fuel, kissed Jo goodbye and I was off.
Aric drinking something other than beer
Jared Clark fueling up
Due to the bottle mishap, I never caught back up to Jason on the loop, but Jo told me he had just passed through the aid station 5 minutes before me. Within a half mile, I finally caught back up to him and we kept each other company for the next 17 miles.
Jason Howland has paced me in a 100 mile race, so we have a history of running together so it's a comfortable feeling and helps pass the time. I think in those earlier miles, I could have dropped Jason and made better time. But as the race unfolded, he could have done the same in the final miles. As it turned out, we were in it together, for better or for worse.
After a few miles of smooth jeep road, we come to the dreaded slickrock section of the course. This rock is tough to run because of the uneven surface, sudden drops, and lack of trail markers. But this particular section is also brutal because of the constant climbing.
In the beginning of this section, we hit a series of long, relentless climbs. They just seem to go on forever and when you think you're at the top, they go on some more. It was cute at first, but that didn't last long. I entered this section of the race feeling good, but it eventually got the better of me as my calves and hamstrings began to scream.
"I'll make ya famous!" They seemed to believe me.
Jason on the slickrock.
View of the Colorado River WAY down below the trail
More grinding uphill
We slowly crawled up these hills and bombed back down the backside. Repeatedly. For miles.
I was getting tired and running low on fluids when we hit the final aid station at mile 30. I loaded my pack with water for the last 5 miles and was getting ready to leave when I was tempted to drink a cup of Coke that was so calling my name from the the aid station table. I usually avoid these things, but we were close to the finish, so I relented. I drank the Coke and it was COLD. I grabbed another and downed it, then another. And we headed out.
As we climbed out of the aid station, my stomach began to rebel. Drinking that Coke was suddenly an obvious mistake. I told Jason that I needed to walk for a minute while my stomach settled. He went along with it without complaint.
When we began running again, it was clear that I was on the "verge of the purge". I've only puked once during a race and that didn't end well (See Leadville 100, 2012). So I struggled to keep my stomach contents where they belong. This meant the occasional walking spell when I should have been running. Jason could have easily dropped me here, but he stuck it out.
We made our way off the rock and onto the last dirt road headed to the finish. We managed to pass a few more runner's in this section, but we also lost a spot or two in the process. It probably amounted to a net zero impact on our race.
The final section of the race was a series of switchbacks that led us off the mesa to the finish line. We headed down them with a purpose.
Ryan and Harrison enjoying some rest while they wait on the mortals to finish
BJ Burlison making it look easy
Me and Jason coming to the finish!
Stride for stride with a great friend!
Jason and I finished in 6:14:06. Without knowing the course, I figured a good time for me would have been around 6 hours, and if I hadn't lost my bottle early in the race, I would have hit that mark. Either way, I couldn't find a reason to be disappointed.
Where's the beer?
Any seat will do!
Dan Collins finishing with Daughter in tow!
Jason Howland and Dan Collins Celebrating a successful day.
My stomach finally settled after I managed a few long and not-so-tasty burps. I enjoyed a couple of beers and relaxed with the HUMR gang and our friends that travelled in from all over the country. It was a warm, beautiful day and there was nowhere I would have rather been.
Hanging with the cool kids
We continued to cheer for the other finishers, especially our friends, as they crossed the finish line.
The unstoppable Forest Stuart as he crossed the finish line!
I run a lot. I run a ridiculous amount of races and I train nearly every day. This comes with a steep price and I have to accept that if I choose to go that route, that price means that I get to have a few really good finishes every year, and a stack of "OK" finishes. I knew coming into the Moab Red Hot 55k, that this was going to be an "OK" kind of day, and regarding my finish time, I was exactly right. But the day was far better than "OK", it was amazing. I ran an amazing course in fantastic weather conditions, and I did it with a huge number of great friends. I really don't know how it could have been a better day.
This is why we moved to Utah. It's days like this that remind me of that.
I now have an uncharacteristically long break before my next race. Jo and I will be running the Antelope Island 100 mile trail race on March 22nd. This will be another local race and will be attended by some of the same amazing people that we shared the trail with in Moab this weekend.
Between now and then, I have training runs scheduled in Zion, Antelope Island and in the Wasatch. Antelope Island isn't really a goal race for 2013, but I want to finish strong and come out of it in good shape and ready for the Zion 100 the following month. All this is assuming that I don't get gored by a buffalo along the way.
Thanks for reading and I hope to see many of you out on the trail very soon!