Presidents Day weekend in Moab has become a tradition for my little family. By February my wife is ready for a weekend away from teaching third graders, and my boys are excited for a return to the desert to look for dinosaurs and play on sandstone. For me, I get to run 33 miles over slickrock and red dirt in Moab's Red Hot 55K. I ran it last year and struggled somewhat with blown quads, so this year I made arrangements to have a better go of it. With better training and familiarity with the course, I started with the intent to finish under 5 hours. After much resting through November and the holidays, I resumed training at the start of the new year and focused on developing speed and hill climbing strength.
Friday evening before the race we arrived in Moab, checked into our hotel and went for dinner at...Denny's. I know, I know. But by the time I worked my way through the long line at race-packet pickup, the hour was late, we were tired and hungry, and we needed cheap, quick food. In the 1980s when I was a boy on vacation with my parents, my dad always described the likes of Denny's food as "sawdust". I can confirm that in 2014 they have not changed their ingredients. Of course I hoped that my sawdust meal would not be a problem for me in the morning. Not if I could help it. Those who run with me on weekdays know that I make a mandatory stop in the first mile to, uh, "lighten the load". But on race days, I am all business, and I make sure to take care of "business" well before the race.
Red Hot is a big race. By 'big' I mean lots of participants. All that movement and chatter at the start line is exciting and intimidating. But I felt good and just wanted to run on dirt, wearing shorts and t-shirt. The temperature in the morning was pleasant. The R.D. counted us down not long after I arrived and suddenly a mass of colorful bodies were bouncing down the Jeep trail toward the mesa.
In There Somewhere
Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer
Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer
Like last year I ran a few steps behind one of my running heroes. He didn't sprint off like the young fellows at the front, but I knew he would move up several places by the finish. I concentrated on running that first uphill at a quick but comfortable pace. I ran a fast 3 miles through the valley, then ran up the second climb easily. On the road up to Metal Masher I compared how I was doing to the previous year and knew this was going to be better. I passed the first aid table without stopping. My confidence increased and I ran consistently up to the top of the mesa, to the highway overlook. From there the trail winds back down, somewhat technically, back toward the first aid station. On the flats my speed training payed off. I maintained my place and even picked up a handful of places. By the time I had come back down the hill where we end the loop portion of the course, I knew I was going to have a good day. I looked forward to running on the slickrock of Gold Bar, where last year I fell apart.
How could you not want to run there?
Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer
Gold Bar is like no other trail I have run. It's not a trail, but a route. It is other-worldly. It is a maze of desert geology decorated with desert plants. The route markers were well-placed and I wondered if they had been there since last year because they were tied to the same unattached random rocks. A few times I had to stop and look around for the next marker. Last year I struggled through this middle section and watched runner after runner pass me. This year, three passed me, including Kerri, the eventual 2nd place women's finisher.
At the top of Gold Spike, at the mile 22 aid table, I stopped briefly to down a coupla cups of soda. My aid stops had been crisp and quick - really no more than the time it took for a volunteer to refill my open water bottle. I was loving this. It feels good to have a good, solid, consistent day. At the last aid table a volunteer told me there was five miles to go. Easy. I can do five miles. But this five miles had a series of climbs over petrified sand dunes. At four miles we hit flat dirt road and I again called up on my speed training. I picked up another handful of places and remained there to the finish.
Trying to hold my place
Photo: Stephen Lindsay
The last mile was tough, as it always is, but I was in danger of slipping to 21st place from a runner only ten seconds back. It was Mark H., who started with us at the Pony Express 100 in October. He is fast. I hung on and finished 20th in a time of 4:44:52. Two years ago this would have been a top ten finish, and shows how competitive this race has become.
At the finish I felt terrific. Not only did I meet my sub-5 hours goal, but this race was an excellent training run for an upcoming race.
Later That Day...
I took my family to MILT'S for some greasy good American food, then back to the hotel to watch the Winter Olympics. The next few days we spent seeing dinosaur tracks, petroglyphs, and exploring Arches N.P. We have a new tradition. We will be back next year.