This is my third year running the Moab Trail Marathon, and after each of those years, I vowed to never return. This vow didn't originate from some deep hatred for the race or dissatisfaction with the event. I didn't want to return because marathon running is painful! Especially this one!
Marathons tend to breed a sense of urgency that I can't quite get comfortable with. The pain comes fast and stays to the end.
Ultras allow the runner to ease into the pain and ride the ups and downs over a prolonged period of time. That's the kind of discomfort I can really get behind!
My previous experiences with this race have been unnecessarily miserable, because this race falls on the weekend after the Javelina Jundred, which has been a mainstay on my race calendar for the last few years. I wasn't able to run Javelina this year, so this would be my first attempt at this race with "reasonably" fresh legs. I had high expectations for a comfortable day on the trail. Or, at least as comfortable as this nasty course would allow.
I wasn't fit enough to be competitive, so I opted to fall back into the 2nd wave of runners so I wouldn't be in the way of people that wanted to compete. As I watched the 1st wave leave, I instantly regretted not being on the trails with those guys. I watched all my running buddies file off into the desert as I got settled into the 2nd wave.
I looked around and knew...nobody.
I eased off the starting line and made my way into the desert. I was immediately being passed on all sides. There was some nudging and darting that I wasn't really accustomed to in trail races. I ignored the perceived urgency and plodded along at an easy pace through the wash as we started the long and gradual ascent.
From running this race in the past, I knew that we were beginning a 4 mile climb and I behaved accordingly. I made a wild, and highly accurate assumption that most of these other runners didn't know we were beginning a climb that long and relentless.
If they DID know, they were far better runners than I am. If they DIDN'T know, they were in for a big surprise!
By mile 2, I had slipped well back... DEEP into my starting wave.
By mile 3, I was beginning to pick runners off, that were now walkers, making my way back toward the front of our wave.
This race has a snag that most people don't accurately predict. The race starts with temps in the 30's, but warms into the 70's in the middle of the race. It's totally exposed and feels like the 90's. It was warmer at the start this year than it had been in the previous years I had run it, and I expected that to translate into VERY warm temps later on. As predicted, it was getting hot and a lot of people didn't expect that extreme transition.
The trail was becoming littered with layers of clothes. That was a new sight for me at a trail race.
We finished the initial climb and enjoyed a quick drop into the valley below. The footing is tricky here, so I took my time, making well calculated foot placement decisions.
I almost fell 4 times. I need to work on making "well calculated" foot placement decisions!
We came to the first aid station at 5.6 miles into the run, and I kept moving right on through without stopping. I was carrying 50 ounces of fluids in my pack and ample Hammer gels to get me to the finish. I didn't plan to make any stops today.
I was running well and feeling good. There's something about running in Moab that's very special to me and I always enjoy it.
I'm usually pretty talkative in the middle miles of a race, but I found myself lost in thought as the miles ticked off. I just ran and enjoyed the desert around me.
Somewhere around mile 8, I was pulled from my introversion by a conversation happening up in front of me between two men that I had been reeling in for the last mile. I found it to be entertaining:
Man 1: Have you run this race before?
Man 2: Nope! This is my first time.
Man 1: It must get easier now that we're on top of the mesa.
Man 2: I'm sure you're right.
I was tempted to destroy their assumptions, but decided to sail on by with nothing more than a polite "hello". They hadn't seen any of the hard stuff yet.
By now, I had passed most of the people in my wave and was working through the runners from the wave in front of me. It was getting hot and people were fading badly.
Near mile 9, we began to work our way along the most technical part of the course. This is where trail experience becomes obvious.
Yeah...This is a Trail
The final drop into the aid station at mile 9(ish) is a beast! Some sections amount to little more than a boulder scramble and the "trail" leaves a lot to be desired, in terms of a running surface. Despite this, I always enjoy picking my way down this stupid thing.
The best part of the descent is the frequent profane statement hurled into the atmosphere as frustration mounts with the runners. It really is a bitch!
I came through the aid station and slowed momentarily. I remember somebody having a beer for me at this spot last year. I scanned the crowd, saw no beer and pressed on. I was a little disappointed that the beer angel wasn't there for me, but it just reinforced my urgency to get finished so I could attack my own beer cooler at the finish line!
After the aid station, we have some easy running before starting the biggest climb of the race. As I started making my way up the hill, I paused to wonder where Man 1 and Man 2 were. I was certain they would be disappointed to see this climb and to learn that the hard part wasn't behind them.
After finishing the climb, we land in a sandy wash before getting to the slick rock maze.
I've mentioned this many times, but it's worth repeating. I get lost REALLY easy. I once got lost in a 5k road race and never found my way back to the finish. It's a real problem for me.
Running the twisting "trail" through the slick rock requires a massive amount of my attention. I'm constantly scanning for little flags, and because the ground is so open, it seems like all I see are millions of little flags going in every direction!
I hunkered down and drew on all my mental powers to make my way through this mess.
Side note: I ran another race on this mesa once and got off course 3 times, losing more than an hour. I had reason to be concerned!
The La Sals! I love them!
After the billionth tiny turn, I realized I was actually going to get off the mesa without getting lost. I started to make my way toward the river.
This is a mixed blessing because this trail isn't a nice, downhill jaunt either. This is a tricky bit of trail that requires a lot of attention. If you get comfortable, or try to run beyond your ability, this section of trail will take a toll, paid in skin and blood.
From here, you can see the finish line. But don't get too excited! There still an ample amount of punishment before the finish.
Rather than being directed to the finish line, we run past the crowd and are greeted by a special kind of hell.
I refer to the remaining miles as "Chutes and Ladders". We run up ladders (twice), through culverts (twice) and have some rope assisted sections that are manned by spotters.
It's not flat and fast.
Fortunately, I was expecting this and managed to keep my annoyance at bay, while trying to have fun. And to my surprise, I enjoyed it far more than in previous years. Probably because I was able to find some humor in the misery of others.
We draw inspiration where we can.
The last section of the race, as we circle back to the finish, is flat and pretty fast. I was still feeling great and was managing to run it pretty well, especially knowing the end was near.
As I was motoring along, I felt a sharp pain in my foot, then again with every step. I stopped, bent over and dug around in my shoe to remove the worlds largest, needle laden, foot penetrating thingy I've ever seen.
As I was doing this, I heard my name called. I looked up and saw John Fitzgerald walking my way. We stopped and chatted for a couple of minutes before I remembered I was still running a race. Off I went.
As soon as I parted ways with John, I saw my wife up ahead, taking pictures of me. My big brain drew the immediate conclusion that, if she's down here, she won't be at the finish line waiting to take pictures of me. Nor will there be a cold beer waiting for me.
Both realities hit me pretty hard.
As it turns out, she was heading to truck at that moment to retrieve some frosty beverages. I was running ahead of schedule, so this is obviously my fault.
How very inconsiderate of me.
This look means, "Why are you down here?"
Jo and I spoke for another minute or two, updating each other on how our days have been going up to this point. Once again, it occurred to me that I was still in a race, so we parted ways as I pushed on to the finish.
I made a mental note to NOT stop and talk to anybody else until AFTER I finished the race.
It was my fastest finish at this race so far, which I largely attribute to the fact that I didn't run a 100 miler the weekend before. Which is exactly what I had done in the previous years.
There might really be some truth to this "rest" and "recovery" thing that everybody talks about.
As expected, I had a lot of fun during my third outing on this course. It's easy to do when you're running in Moab.
This race isn't easy, but that shouldn't stop anybody from lining up and taking it on. It's a great bucket list race for everybody.
I was really excited to get my hands on an early release of the new gel from Hammer Nutrition, just in time for this race. Nocciola is a mixture of chocolate and hazelnut and is as delicious as it sounds. It's not overly sweet and has a great texture. It's definitely worth checking out!
This is my one and only race for November. I know...I can't believe it either! But, there's still a lot to do in 2014. Thanks for taking the time to read my report!