While I would be running the full marathon, Jo would be joining me for her own journey in the half marathon.
In great physical condition, this race would be tough. While recovering from back to back 100 milers, this race would be pure torture. Both mentally and physically.
I had no illusions of grandeur regarding this race. I was tired, my legs weren't interested in running and my entire body needed a break from hard racing. My big plan was to get on the trail and jog my way through 26 miles of brutal, yet beautiful, scenery.
Some familiar faces were at the start line, and I was sure they were there for an entirely different race than I was planning. I saw Sage Canaday, Mike Foote and Anita Ortiz as we all filed into the coral for wave #1. Knowing my plans, I was wishing I had dropped to a later starting position. I certainly didn't need to be placed up front with the eventual race winners.
Our wave started promptly at 9:00 AM and the other waves would be sent to chase us in 7 minute increments.
I eased off the line and settled into a very pedestrian pace. It was a cool morning, so I was looking forward to the warming effects of the run. I knew we would be running in some heat later in the day, so I was dressed appropriately for that eventuality and didn't bother to wear layers.
The race starts in a sandy wash that meanders into a long winding canyon, eventually leading us to a series of inclines and descents on terraced slick rock. These are primarily technical Jeep trails and the footing is terrible. If your eyes break contact with the trail, you're definitely going to suffer.
Some Runners are More Enthusiastic than Others
After I warmed up, my legs felt loose and I was running well. I gave serious thought to picking up the pace and passing some runners to better my position. This urge was strong because I knew I was much further back in the pack than I normally am and this reality was eating away at me.
Ultimately, I had to engage in an impromptu battle with my ego and beat it into submission, reminding myself that not every race is REALLY a race. Sometimes, it's something much different. This was one of those times.
Don't Trip HERE!
Before getting to the aid station around mile 9, we're led down a "trail" that redefines the term "technical". This was a long descent that led us over boulders along steep drops with terrible footing. I was lowering myself from one narrow bench, down to another. This section required a lot of attention to detail and even more patience as runners began to bottleneck on the way down.
It was in this section that I caught up with Michelle Barton. Michelle was at the Javelina Jundred the previous weekend. While I ran the 100 miler, Michelle ran the 100k and was the overall winner. It's rare to see a woman beat the entire field and I was very impressed by her performance. This was the last place I expected to bump into her.
Michelle and I ran together for a while and chatted. I was happy to see another competitive runner this far back in the field. I decided we both had valid excuses for being slow today and I finally fully released myself from the burden of my perceived need to be racing.
Yeah...That Really IS the Trail
Shortly after the 9 mile mark, the half marathon runners split from us and head back toward the finish. I watched them leave and I have to admit that I was a little jealous. I have vivid memories of a long, relentless climb that was coming up quickly and I wasn't finding any humor in it.
My spirits were lifted when I was offered a cold beer at the mile 9 aid station. This race is now officially on my list of favorites!
Marathon Running, Beer Drinking Selfie!
Shortly after parting ways with the half marathoners, we take a detour onto a side trail for a short out and back through a narrow canyon. The vegetation was thick because of the active creek that we were running through, crossing, and running through some more. It was like bushwhacking with very wet feet. With traffic going both ways, this was a pretty slow section of the course for most of us.
After the bushwhacking out and back, we're treated to a nice stretch of gravel road before diving off the shoulder onto a narrow trail through more thick undergrowth.
I know where we're headed and I try to prepare myself for the longest and most relentless climb of the race. I hated it last year and unless there's been a serious bit of erosion since then, I fully expect to hate it again this year.
Starting the Ascent
By now, the heat of the day is playing a role in the race. It's not "hot" but for some reason, even 65 degrees in Moab always feels like 80.
A Bit Rocky on the Way Up
View of the La Sal Mountains During the Climb
For the time being, this race lost all its previous allure. My handheld was full of Heed when I started the ascent and it was empty before I got to the top.
I was a 1 bottle runner in a 2 bottle race.
Almost There! Just Turn Here and Climb More!
After finishing the climb, I walked for a couple of minutes and let my legs begin to feel normal before resuming my run. I had somehow convinced myself that there were no more climbs in the race and was temporarily filled with a bit of euphoria.
Top of the Mesa
And this is where the race totally fell apart for me.
Evidently, I didn't see a need to review the course information before coming to this race. Probably because I've run it before and didn't expect they would change the course. Naturally, they DID change the course and I was oblivious to it.
I was anticipating a brief run along the top of the mesa before bailing off and heading toward the river. Instead, I was greeted with an extra 3 miles of winding trail that forced me to meander all over this open section of slick rock and sand. When my frustration began to peak, I stopped and looked around. There were runners everywhere, going in every direction. We were literally running in tight serpentine trails that twisted and turned but never really seemed to go anywhere.
I expected to be AT the Colorado River by mile 20. When I was still on the mesa and saw the mile 20 trail marker, I lost my will to push.
And then...they started passing me. A few at first, then in large groups. And I really didn't care.
Yeah...Just Run Through That Crack!
Finally! The Trail Down!
I've made this descent a few times and it can be covered pretty quickly if you have some legs left and the desire to work. I had the legs but I was lacking the desire.
I made a moderately quick descent. No real sense of urgency.
This trail leads us right to the finish line but we're only at mile 23 (previously mile 20). We pass the turn to the finish and make a 3 mile loop before we're done.
Passing the Finish Line
In the past, this loop had been littered with rope assisted ascents, ladders, and all sorts of unusual obstacles for a trail marathon. I was glad to see that hadn't changed much.
Through the Culvert!
I picked up my pace during these final miles. I wasn't doing it because I suddenly felt competitive. I was doing it because I had seen the finish line and I knew there would be beer there. I was ready to be done!
In the final half mile, I saw Michelle in front of me again and I pushed to catch up to her. I caught her at the base of the climb to the finish and we flew up the ascent together.
This was probably the fastest I had moved all day.
Me and Michelle Coming to the Finish
Ugh...That was Steep!
I was greeted at the finish by Jo and our friends from Ogden that had joined us in Moab for the weekend. Jo had a cold beer ready for me and it tasted perfect!
Me and Michelle Barton Post Race
As much as I whine and complain in this race report, the Moab Trail Marathon truly is one of my favorite races at this distance. It has an incredible course with world class scenery and great support. This race is no joke and is definitely the hardest 26.2 miles I've ever run.
Jo and I are taking a couple of weeks off before heading back to Arizona for the Pass Mountain 50k. This is another fine race that is a part of the Aravaipa portfolio of running events. That's all I need to know to be assured a great time.
Thanks for reading my report! I hope to see many of you on the trails soon.