2017 Moab Red Hot 55k Race Report

“Dude. What happened?”

I remove myself from my shallow moving meditation, “What?”

Look at your leg!

And so I do:

Starting from mid-thigh, it looks like I’ve managed to scrape a four inch wide section of my skin until the top of my ankle.

Road rash par-excellence.

Either my adrenaline is masking the real pain, or it’s looking much worse than it really is – perhaps all that crimson really isn’t my blood, but just dirt and sand from the track? Everything is well, reddish ’round here! I don’t feel like stopping to investigate – I’m in the middle of a race after all  (and I’ve got goals!), so I play it off as no big deal even though, yeah: those are actually cuts in a few places, and I am bleeding all over myself. Typical day for me, I guess.

“Um. No one told me about the… grizzly bears here in Moab!”

My non sequitur attempt at humor leaves my temporary running partner slightly confused – probably the correct reaction for someone who’s just double-checking that I’m going to make it outta the canyon, and seeing if it may or may not be prudent to call a Flight For Life. I shrug it off and just keep running.

Of course, there was no bear encounter: a few miles after the start of the 2017, Moab Red Hot 55k, I managed to take a downhill turn a little too… hot and – for no reason except my own clumsiness, I went ass over teakettle down the trademark slick rock, finishing my less than controlled tumble tens of feet below where I started, facing the opposite direction.  No one directly in back of me saw me fall – I was downhill and out of sight, and I recovered fairly quickly, so I sort of forgot about the whole ordeal until I was reminded a few miles later.

The rest of the race, I’m happy to report, went a little more smoothly.

I managed to swindle a ride from some friendly people from UD that were also renting house a few days – and oh: there’s a free twin bed available with your name on it, taking care of transportation, lodging, and saving me a long bike ride to the start!

Only sort of kidding: Boulder, CO to Moab, UT was indeed the longest car ride I had taken in years, and my first time out of Colorado in perhaps as long. In 2016, I managed over 300 car-free days (and two periods of over 100 consecutive car-free days), opting instead to ride my bike or run to where I wanted to go, instead of taking any motorized transportation, be it car, bus, train, plane, hovercraft, etc. I even rode to the start of a different 50k, then ran the race,  summited a close by 14er, finally riding back home, all in a little less than 48 hours.

Which meant I could focus on doing a solid job in running the race. The Moab Red Hot 55k for me fits into my training plan for the year: slowly build up a solid base, peak my trail running in June for my PR attempt at the Golden Gate Dirty 30 50k (trying to better 2015’s 5:50:54). My goal for the Red Hot 55k was to run 99% of the course at a pace of around 9:30-10:00/mile. Finishing the race would finish up a big training block that started at the beginning of the year.

The week before the race, I took part in a ~100k gravel grinder, riding to/from the start, making it a 91 mile day for me. I felt pretty fit, but also knew my limitations: I don’t train specifically as just a trail runner and def. not as a competitive trail running racer: my interests and passions center around the mountains, but vary from mountain biking, to bouldering, and yes: trail running. Depending on the day, my mood and how sore my arms feel, I couldn’t guess what I’ll be up to. Races and race results aren’t important to me, but I can admit that using them to help set goals and stay motivated is a useful tool.

Red Hot provided a few new challenges that required me to get out of my normal routine: compared to the terrain I usually count as, “runable”: Red Hot is relatively flat instead of mountainous; has wide sandy roads or slick rock rather than singletrack; and is at a slightly lower elevation than I’ve ever raced before – “I may be able to run it, without blacking out!”, I thought, gleefully.

My main weakness in running is my pure flatland speed – put me on steep pitch and I’ll powerhike up and fall with just enough control (usually) that it evens out to a fairly OK pace. Training for Red Hot encouraged me to up my weekly mileage and hit the road a bit to work on my turnover and get back to basics with my running form. I didn’t necessarily do any speed work – it’s too early in the season for that, but usually even seeing me run on a road is rare. And you know, it’s in Utah and what better excuse to leave what I’m familiar with than a good goal?

Well, I’m not known to do well in hot, desert environments. This borders on an irrational fear of those sorts of climates –  and I’d like to shake that off, as most everyone I talk to also espouses about the wonders of the desert and I seem in comparison crazy for my own dislike and distrust. I usually have to tell the story of failing at the Arizona Trail Race about 8 hours into the 750 mile course after extreme dehydration, wallowing in a shallow wash, waking up every 3 hours until the next morning to see if I was passably functional enough to continue, only to be finally saved by a passing off-duty border patrol agent that managed to get 2 liters of IV fluid into my very withering veins. Only then does my avoidance of desert situations seem maybe a little more understandable. “But still!”, they keep going on, and on; telling me about one desert treasure after another. Splitter cracks! Arches! Slot Canyons! Secret Waterfalls!

So of course, after braving my inner red hot desert demons, I found the start of the race… rainy! And somewhat cold. Perfect weather really for a long run – and especially perfect if you’re like me: seemingly genetically engineered to thrive in bog-like environments, but hard to swallow when I remembered I left a beautifully sunny Boulder, Colorado to jam here. Ah well, what cannae ye dae?

The starting sound bleeped and we were off. I immediately fell into what I hoped was a sustainable pace, watching the front runners do what they do. My lungs felt clear, and my breathing was really easy. I chalked this to the elevation being lower than I’m used to. So, let’s keep rolling! The start features a slow grind up to the top of the mesa, the course then turning you back to almost where you started – just now a thousand or so feet higher than where you really began. The views here were the best of the whole race; the veil of clouds lifted just a bit to let some Moab’s landscape to seep out – and I think all us runners in my pack soaked it in, naturally by being smart-asses about it:

“I mean, it’s OK.”

“I’ll take it, given no other options”

“Wonder what’s on TV?”

“Hey, is that the McDonalds?”

From the overlook, it’s a nice downhill to aid station #2 (just, try not fall…), and it’s time to run back to complete the initial loop of the course. Running along gingerly, I pondered to myself about the track: we seemed to be following wide jeep roads – I wonder if it’ll constrict a bit to a singletrack trail? Boy, wouldn’t that be nice.

By aid #3, that wish seemed like a silly idea: it’ll be like this to the very end. What was I expecting? I let myself go of wanting what I was used to, and allowed myself to enjoy the terrain for what it was. Because even with the clouds blocking most of the views, the immediate terrain is truly special, with enough unique landscape features that it felt criminal to simply run through them all so quickly.

That and – yeah: I wish I had my mountain bike!

Coming out of aid #3, it was a bit more soft and sandy jeep roads, until finally gaining a legitimate climb to aid #4. My legs felt pretty alright, so I gave it a go to attempt to  run for the summit, even though I could potentially prematurely tire myself out. Running uphill on the slick rock just seemed to be too fun to pass up. A guy from Dallas I ran passedquipped that I must be from Colorado, and I replied with a hearty laugh while reminding him I’d see him back on the flatter sections all too soon.

Aid #4 showed itself at almost the crest of the major climb. My twin bed UD roomie waved at me from a shallow cave behind the aid station to get my attention: he injured his ankle and wanted me to pass along word that he’ll be a little late getting back to the house. His escape probably involved some of the 4wd drive enthusiasts and their customized jeepers. Sounded like a good consolation to me… but back on the track I had to go.

Now, the terrain really opened up, and it was slick rock most everywhere you looked, as if we were in the middle of the landing zone of an international airport. The tracks being, it seemed to this outsider, whatever and wherever someone had chosen way back when. Just follow the fading painted dashes! The course markings for the race themselves to guide you to the right choice seemed to become a bit difficult to spot. I  had to stop a few times to get my bearings – somewhat of a unique experience.

I’m almost positive that they do this on purpose, as an in-joke to the non-locals unaccustomed to their topography. I, at least, laughed at the trouble in knowing exactly where to run towards, having it seemed a variety of choices in front of me, all seemingly looking the same. I realized that without my own local topography available (Rocky Mountains Equal West), I was completely without bearing. I couldn’t see Moab the town itself, and everything looked other-worldly the same in all directions.

Aid #5 – the last aid station, showed itself, and with that, the promise of a big downhill to the end – the race features 1,000 feet more descent than ascent! The final descent I was indeed anxiously awaiting for. Having blown my legs out while purposely running the main hill between aid #3-#4, a nice downhill was just what I had in mind. As anything over-anticipated, it seemed to take forever to come, and continuing to run felt for the first time in the race like something I had to focus on doing to not just stop. Ugh. Stopping seems though implausible – there’s no where to bail! The shortest way to the end is to run to the end. Life is sometimes this straightforward.

Down into a twisting gully the course meandered, and I obediently followed. Soon enough the cheers from the crowd could be heard, and not longer still I finally crossed the finish line with a time of ~5:45:00. Five minutes later?  Lounging in the beer garden,  with so many friendly dogs to pet, a nice, long morning run to credit the day with.

The rest of the day featured naps, beer, and all the tacos I could eat. The next day, as the weather failed to clear up, we hightailed it back to Boulder, in hopes in seeing some sunshine this weekend.

Gear used:

I used the Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Signature Series v3.0 vest, in the new canyon colorway. The colorway looks great on me and in the Moab landscape, so I felt pretty alright being the cool kid walking up to the start line, in my fancy, brand new, never been used race vest. That is, until I actually passed Scott Jurek walking from the start with his baby, and I probably said something kind of dumb. “Eat and Run, Scott!” or whatever it was I coughed up.

I had an Ultra Jacket tucked into the back pouch of the vest, but I didn’t need the jacket, as I found the weather was actually perfect if one just kept moving. Sadly, I was also not able to take off my long sleeve, no-name, thrift-store, thin, stretchy top either, and flaunt those climbing muscles. Strike two on being cool.

I usually carry an Ultimate Direction 20 ounce bottle and do so on this race, as they’re compatible with the bottle holders on my bike. I drank it seemed almost nothing on course, so the size of the bottle was a little over-kill. Using one of the newer Body Bottle Plus‘s would had been more than fine (and probably a little more comfortable). I kept some sunglasses in the front zip pocket on the left strap, but never found a need for them. Happily I didn’t lose them!

My nutrition during the race wasn’t anything except Coke at the aid stations. Looking back, I shoulda drank a little more often – my fault. I kept filling up, then dumping out water as I closed in on the next aid station.

For shoes, I was running in a pair of Altra Lone Peak 3.0 Neo Shell Lows (ain’t that a mouthful). I was a little worried as I hadn’t ran 30 miles or anything close to that in a pair of 0 drop shoes in quite some time, but I fared fine. Bonus was that these shoe’s uppers were waterproof! Which was pretty perfect for the conditions of the race. My feet stayed dry, and my shoes weren’t soggy.

These are quite possibly the only pair of trail runners I have bought in the last 3 years that weren’t La Sportivas; I bought them as a foot injury was stopping me from wearing basically anything else, and they’re sized maybe a smidgen too large now that my foot is healed. But they did the job, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use something like them again. I felt that the large footprint did give me perhaps a little flotation in the more sandy areas of the track. They stuck to the steeper slick rock sections just fine, but I’m also super-comfortable on slabs on sandstone in pretty much anything.

 

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