Monday, February 25, 2013

Moab Red Hot 55K 2013


Like everyone else who lives in Northern Utah, and who runs and trains through Winter, I have been running on nothing but snow for, it seems, a long time. A freezing spell had settled into the state through January and into February. I am talking about single-digit morning temperatures. If I had not entered the Red Hot Moab 55K, I likely wouldn't have bothered to get up at 5 am moring after moring to run up the canyon before work. But I did, and I enjoyed those frozen morning runs over snow-packed dirt road and foothill trails. Then race weekend approached.

We made an extened Presidents Day weekend of my race, my family and I. My parents booked a room in the same Moab hotel. In their old age my parents still have joy in watching their children take on new challenges. They, along with my wife and boys, provided moral support to me, an intangible but real thing I could carry with me as I attempted to run 33 miles through the desert above Moab, Utah.

Moab Red Hot 55K is a point-to-point race. Runners start at the Gemini Bridges trailhead, up the street and across the highway from the entrance to Arches National Park. The course begins on a jeep road, then runners make one large loop up through rugged redrock Jeep trails to the top of Metal Masher mesa. At the top is a stunning view down to the highway. Next comes some techinical downhill where runners can break up the routine to jump around and over the rugged terrain to make up lost time. Back on a wide Jeep road runners close the loop, then begin a second ascent up and Gold Bar and finally Poison Spider Mesa. This section is 7 miles of wild Utah desert. The word flat has no place in the description. Slick, rugged, undulating, slanted, hot, rocky - those words are there. At the last the course descends to the Colorado river and the finish area, a dozen miles outside the town of Moab.

In the morning I had the option of getting dropped off at the start line but I chose to walk the 3/4 mile from the parking area. It was cold but everyone could see it would be a perfect, clear day. Up ahead I could see the crowd concentrated around some portable shelters. There was a blockbuster line for the porta Johns. I had to wiz but there was not enough time to stand for that nonsense. I walked up the road a piece and did a quickie over some desert vegetation. I love being a man.

MVH, in red, twelve from the left

Martinez, the race director, lifted his loudspeaker and shouted "Five minutes!" I knew that five minutes may as well mean 30 seconds so I strolled over to the front of the line, a place I have no business occupying. I saw Kendall there. I hadn't seen him since Wasatch. We chatted for a minute. Both of us were visibly nervous. In fact I saw virtually all of the people I know, who run these things, there at the start line. Everybody, it seems, except the other Refuse To Quit crew dudes. Maybe next year, guys?

At go I followed the front down the road, then up the road. Then, the road descends and there is about a mile or two of flat over very nice dirt. It seemed very nice. I hadn't seen or run on the stuff in a long time, it seemed. I was running fast. Too fast. I looked at my watch, which read my pace somewhere in the high 5s. I ran under a 7 minute pace, it seems, that entire first 3 miles after that first uphill. Too fast. The first major hill came at about 3 miles. I was wearing a long-sleeve techincal and a knit cap. They were now obsolete. I removed the shirt and tied it around my waist. The hat tucked into my shorts. At the first aid station, five miles up, I handed them to a volunteer and kept moving. Soon after, a shadow appeared on my right. Without turining, I knew who it was. The bouncing hair, the funny running gait. It was Speedy Bob Mueller. I was wondering when he would show up. I pulled out my earphone and said "Hi Bob". We ran together for several miles up toward the top of Metal Masher. I had been fading after my quick start, and was getting passed by all sort of runners. Bob's pace was quick, so his appearance was a fortunate pick-me-up. We passed a bunch of people again, chatting about races and other things. But I couldn't sustain his pace. I had to let him go. I knew he would have a very good race. Later in the day, he finished 39 minutes before me. Impressive.

At the the top of MM, it was apparent from the sting in my legs that I had already and really blown my quads, those large muscles on the top of the legs. This didn't kill my chances of finishing, but it certainly slowed me. From there my legs ached the remainder of the day. There was nothing I could do about it. Yep. I went out to quickly. I had been training uphill for several weeks, so why were my legs acting like they had never had to work on hills?

We were back on Jeep road again. Those who could go fast took advantage. I tried not to look back much. I knew they were all back there. I was passed by several runners. The plan was to just keep moving forward; run. I did not walk. On the ascent to Gold Bar I got into a run uphill/walk uphill routine. With fully functioning quads I could have run the entire uphill of this and enjoyed it. But I had to save it. There were still dozens of miles to go, and it would be getting warmer. Route-finding became a full-time occupation for this segmnent. Pink and black striped ribbons marked the way. They were dangling from trees branches, stacked under rocks, tied to deadwood. The color of the ribbons reminded me of the cute running skirts worn by attractive running women I know. That's it. Think of sex. Get the mind off those aching legs.

Admittedly it was a challenge to know I had 5 miles to grind through this part of the course. It got warm but not hot. There was a breeze blowing down from somewhere that kept me cool. An aid station appeared out of nowhere - a Jeep parked on what seemed at the time the edge of a moon crater. A quick stop to top off my bottles and I continued. I had only fueled with water and gels the entire race. I did pop a few salt pills, and dropped some fizzies in the water. I like to believe those actions kept my calves from cramping.

Runners in the 33K appeared along the route. Well, they usually were not running. They looked like hikers out for exploration. What gave them away was the ultra-running gear they wore. Occasionally I passed true hikers. They were the ones wearing long REI pants, carrying walking sticks and wearing large packs. I even saw one dudes ass as he just finished dropping a deuce under a tree. That's not my style man. I would go where nobody could see my ass.

Super runner Rob Krar, 55K course record 3hr44m

Out of the Gold Bar, the route became sandy. There were a couple of steep, short climbs up and over sandstone. Petrified dunes, probably. I enjoyed that more than the Jeep trail. The last 7 miles I like to believe I picked up the pace, even passing a dude who had passed me an hour and a half earlier. At the last aid station, situated on an incline, I did not stop. I had enough water to get me to the finish. At one turn I could see the Colorado ahead and below. I could smell the finish. No, really I could smell the finish - There was food down there, and the pleasant savor of grilled something wafted up the canyon from below. When I started to see people on mountain bikes, and others perched on boulders, people cheering the tired runners, I knew I was really close. Then I saw my mother. She shouted. Then I saw one of my sons run at me from the left. Then I stopped running and was letting race officials check me in. I was tired but not destroyed. I was fatigued but not sick. All my systems recovered nicely and quickly. But the quads ached for days after.

My first 10 miles was fast, for me. An hour and 23 minutes. My first 20 miles was also fast, for me: 2 hours and 53 minutes. I remember when I ran last year on flat Antelope Island trails, getting to 18 miles in 3 hours. Yes, there had been improvement, and that is why Moab was a success for me. It means that training through freezing Winter, waking at 5 am, running on and through snow, has yielded some dividends. My finish time was just under 5 hours 19 minutes. Although my goal had been sub 5 hours, I feel good about this one. Next year will be even better.


Matt said...

Fantastic race man, sounds like a pretty awesome course. Maybe next year! You certainly ran on more dirt than we did!

susette said...

It was fun to read another perspective of this race. I swept the 33K course and had a blast. I'm going to attempt the 55K next year.

MoabUtah said...

Your participation at the Red Hot is valued by all of us in Moab Utah. Despite the snow cover on the ground this year, many of us were out there riding mtn bikes, running, skiing, sledding, driving to take in the sparkly snowy desert. It is definitely a different face of canyon country.
Stay healthy and injury free.

I Pull 400 Watts said...

There is something about running in/around snow in shorts and a T that I love :) Nice photos !

Kyle @ SKORA Running

MVH said...

Thanks - I gotta say I pulled the photos from other sites, so they aren't mine.