Race Report: Moab Red Hot 50K+
A late winter escape to the desert turned out to be just what the Dr. ordered. It has been a long and difficult season. Not in terms of weather, which has been fairly mild, but mostly because of the injury I’ve been training through. I hurt my achilles in early December to the point where I could barely even walk, let alone think about running. It improved somewhat after a week off, and I got back into building up my mileage. Although I did have a few setbacks, for the most part running didn’t make it much worse so I continued to train.
I ended up putting in 278 miles in January, which included 5 runs in the 20-30 mile range. I had trained well, but it took a toll. The week before this race I was completely broken down. Spending several days kneeling on concrete while cutting and installing baseboard, plus an overly enthusiastic road ride had left everything from my knees down feeling completely shredded. To top it off, I tweaked my back and as of Wednesday morning couldn’t stand up straight! Definitely not the optimal lead up to a fast approaching race. I came within a millimeter of scrapping the whole trip, but I’m so glad I didn’t.
Thanks to some diligent soaking, stretching, and massage, I started feeling a little better. I went for an easy run on Thursday, choosing to do a 6 mile course that I had repeated a few times last year. When I do this run I target a heart rate of 140 – just to see how fast I can go while keeping the effort very light. I beat my best time from last year by a minute, which was a great indicator that my cardio system was in great shape – if only my legs would hold up.
On the drive out to Moab, I stopped outside of Fruita and did a short run on some singletrack there. It was great to run on desert trails again, and my optimism started to climb. I rolled into town, picked up my race packet, and enjoyed a nice dinner and conversation with Kirk and Aspen. We had a nice time telling stories, and then parted ways – calling it a night fairly early.
I slept well and looked forward to the day ahead. The race would take place on Valentine’s Day – a day with special meaning to me. Aside from the obvious reasons, it would be the 5 year mark of when I started my journey of losing weight and getting fit. I don’t know why I chose Valentines Day in 2004 to begin, most likely because I was taking a mulligan on a failed New Year’s resolution. There had been a few failures, but this time it stuck.
Now here I was 5 years later, with bags of trail running gear scattered around the room, getting ready to race 33 miles through the desert and over the slickrock. Things had come full circle.
Race day dawned ominously with heavy grey clouds that were occasionally spitting snow showers. Once I finally got out of the car and started mingling around at the start, it wasn’t so bad. The clouds were starting to break, my legs felt good, and my stoke-meter was pegged at 11.
I gazed up at the top of the cliff looming 1,000 feet directly over our heads, and knew within a short matter of time I would be up in that same spot looking back down on the parked cars at the starting line. My goal was to go out conservatively, get a sense for how my legs and back were holding up, and take it from there. I wanted to hit the high point on the rim above within 2 hours.
It was great to meet up with Kirk again, and see Scott, Tim, and Karl before the start. Everyone looked happy and ready to get the 2009 trail running season underway. My iPod was locked and loaded, and soon we were off. I had never before listened to music at the start of the race, and it did a great job of keeping me relaxed and holding me back. The first song that came on was “Take it Easy” by the Eagles. Perfect. I hit repeat on that one for the entire first climb and stayed very mellow.
My heart rate averaged 156 to the first aid station. I couldn’t believe how relaxed I was. In most races my HR is above 170 for the first couple of hours. I was finally sticking to my plan for once… I had tried slow starts in races before, and had pulled them off, but never while hitting my pace goals. It’s easy to take it easy – it’s an entirely different story to be able to take it easy and still go ‘fast’. When I hit the high point on the cliff that I was looking up at before the start, I checked my watch for the first time. 1:35. Suspicion confirmed. I was having a good day, and still hadn’t really broken a sweat.
After the second aid station I turned up the effort just ever so slightly. Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” got the nod and kept me rolling at a nice steady rate until well past the midpoint of the race. The other runners thinned out dramatically, and I started the day’s major climb up to Gold Bar Rim in complete solitude. Feeling a little cocky, I decided to run the whole climb. Ha. Good one. I soon realized it would require an effort I might not be able to recover from. Maybe someday. Resorting to a fast hike and taking huge strides while my spiderman shoes (aka Fireblades) gripped the rock like nobody’s business, I finally caught sight of several runners way ahead of me.
It took a while, but I reeled them in and tagged on the back of a 6 man group just as we topped out. The pace immediately quickened and while I was fumbling with my pack a gap opened up. I ran hard to close it, knowing that the train was leaving the station and I wanted to be on it. We ran well together, and I was very impressed with how strong everyone looked. I was watching for weaknesses, but couldn’t spot any. I decided to bide my time and wait.
Somewhere after the 25 or 26 mile point it happened. Guys started dropping off. One by one, including a couple we had caught up with. Now it was just me and two others. They were strong. We took turns leading and keeping the pace up. While I never felt like I was in difficulty, I wondered if we would/could all keep going like this to the end. Then I spotted my chance. I saw a slight hesitation as we were coming out of a sand pit onto a steep wall of slickrock and bolted. I pushed hard (not just ‘to’ the top, but all the way ‘over’ the top – one of the techniques Karl used to drill into my head) and opened up a decent gap – though from there to the finish, I never looked back. With 6 miles to go, it was time to start working and see what I had left.
Feeling strong, but getting tired, I charged up the endless slickrock mounds in eager anticipation of the final drop to the finish line. There was still plenty of running before I would get to that point. Leaving the last aid station, and giving my customary and sincere thanks to the volunteers there, I overheard one (who sounded like he hadn’t worked at a race before) saying to the other – “these runners are some of the nicest people!” That made me smile.
The frequent stretches of sand in this part of the course bogged me down big-time. Thankfully there weren’t too many. I was soon on final approach and anticipating the finish. On a rare stretch of straight dirt road, a large bird flew along my path just ahead of me – and for some reason it triggered thoughts of my youngest daughter. She’s had some difficult times recently, and her well-being has been on my mind a lot.
I enjoyed hearing Scott’s daughter yell my name at the final turn, and fearing a faceplant if I turned and looked, gave a wave in the air as I ran by. I hit the finish in 5:19 (20th place out of 180), well under my expected time and with a very moderate 157 average heart rate. I’ve never had a race where everything came together so nicely. I beat my goals and didn’t have to kill myself to do it. Finally, after two years of running, it felt as though my racing matched my training.
B&W photos courtesy of Greg Norrander.