Race Report: 2011 Moab Trail Marathon
When people hear that you ran a marathon over the weekend, this is what most of them will picture in their minds:
When you add the words ‘Moab’ and ‘Trail’ to the equation, you get a race that has almost nothing in common with a ‘marathon’. Yes, it is a race that is 26 miles long. That is where the similarities end.
The race website does a good job of describing what awaits:
Welcome! You’ve signed up for an incredible journey! This course highlights the spectacular scenic Moab area, an area unlike any other. The course is challenging, but mostly runable. There is a variety of scenery and terrain—everything from canyon rims, canyon bottoms, slickrock, road, single and double track, no-track, ropes, creeks, ups, downs, flats—all in very scenic country.
Along with some warnings to consider:
Hazard Sections: use your head to determine how safe it is for you. If you feel it’s best to walk, walk! Even scoot on your butt if you feel more comfortable. There are some sections with a lot of exposure and a slip and fall could mean death. Use your best judgment and be cautious and conservative—do not do anything risky!
This is going to be a story about my son’s first marathon. Malcolm is 17 years old and a senior in high school. He ran Cross Country for several years, but was never fighting for a top spot. He just likes to run and to be part of a team. Above all, he is consistent and tough. Perfect qualities for trail racing.
This year, I knew he was ready for a bigger challenge. The timing of the Moab Trail Marathon was perfect, coming just a few weeks after the end of XC season. Malcolm was very fit, and stronger than I’d ever seen. He made it to every practice and every meet. The only thing lacking was some runs with double digit mileage. I didn’t worry about that too much, knowing that this type of race would play to his strength and that as long as I kept him fueled properly, we’d be able to keep on rolling.
We got in a solid week of training together while on vacation out in Utah a couple of weeks ago, finishing off with an 11+ miler over some tough terrain which would be his longest run this year. We wouldn’t be putting the leaders under any pressure, but with proper pacing we’d get the job done.
After enjoying a beautiful afternoon doing a short hike and some shopping in town, the weather took a turn for the worse and it rained hard all night long. I seem to have a pretty good streak going with rain-soaked races in Moab. We drove out to the start area while it was still dark, and waited anxiously for daybreak. Wondering what kind of scene the dawn would reveal.
I was excited for our friend Andrew to get a taste of what it’s like to race on trails in Moab. You just can’t do it justice with words and pictures. It really needs to be experienced. I think he understands now…
Malcolm might have been a little nervous before the start, but didn’t show it. The vibe was one of excitement mixed with anticipation. I think I was the nervous one. Can he really do this? Are we in for a miserable death march while we freeze in the rain and end up hating each other never to run together again? There was only one way to find out. Trust in each other, and keep moving forward.
I was concerned about the shoe choice for the day, and in the week leading up to the race I tried to sway Malcolm into wearing a more substantial trail shoe instead of the very thin and lightweight Merrell Trail Gloves that he had been running in since July.
“It’s going to be rocky.”
“We’re going to be out there for a very long time.”
“I don’t want a foot issue slowing us down when things are otherwise going well.”
Uh huh. In true teenager style he acted like he was considering what his father with years of experience was telling him. All the while those words were fast-tracked down the ear canal shredder. Tossed like tree limbs being turned into wood chips. BZZZZzzzzT.
So I joined him.
The nut doesn’t fall far from the tree.
The race started a few minutes late, but soon enough we were in a long line of runners getting our feet wet and settling in for a long day.
The early miles were spent making our way up a long winding canyon. The worst of the rain had passed, leaving us with very muddy and slippery conditions. True to form, I shed my jacket at mile one and carried it for the next 25.
Soon we began to be caught by the fast half marathoners that started a few minutes after our race.
Andrew was clearly enjoying himself, and I was glad to see him go on ahead and have a great day on the trails.
Malcolm looked like a pro, running steadily and dealing with the conditions.
No lizards, but lots of leaping.
Things got steeper as we made our way closer to the top of the canyon.
We made it up and over without any problems. The rain settled in again and we ran along soaking in the scenery and talking about how cool it was to be doing this race.
Just before mile 6 we made it to the first aid station. We didn’t stay for long, just topped off the bottles, grabbed some pretzels, and headed out into the rain again.
Moab races have the coolest aid station vehicles on the planet.
While the rain made things challenging on several levels, it also enhanced the whole experience a great deal. Everywhere we looked there were waterfalls and torrents of water rushing down normally-dry washes.
The landscape, while dramatic in any conditions, took on a new dimension under the clouds and diffused lighting.
Through it all, Malcolm kept chugging along like a Swiss clock.
A nice lady offered to take our picture together. What a great way to remember the day.
The half marathoners would soon split off and head back to the finish line up and over the pass.
We still had a ‘trail’ to ‘run’.
We finally made it to the road, and enjoyed running side-by-side for the first time in several miles.
That was short-lived, and soon we were taking a spur up a canyon to a turnaround point where we would do a 180 and head back down before continuing on with the big loop. There were several deep and very cold stream crossings in the canyon.
Then came a mile long stretch of sticky mud to work over our freshly-rinsed shoes. At several points on the course, there were small drainages that were tough to climb out of.
Our reward for thrashing through the mud and the brush was reaching the base of the biggest climb of the day.
It was long, but we made steady progress.
To say this course was well marked would be a huge understatement.
One last stretch of rocks and we made it through the notch in the seemingly impenetrable wall.
Tiime to reflect for a minute on what you are doing, and what you have done.
How about that, we may actually do this.
A sketchy descent came between us and the next aid station.
At the aid station I tore open a bag of chips and dumped a couple of handfuls of M&Ms inside. That way he could carry the bag and eat lunch on the go. We had to make one quick stop to dump a rock out of a shoe, then it was back on the trail.
We had plenty of dramatic landscape to keep our senses fully occupied.
One more aid station, then it was time to head for the finish.
And a place to take a nap if you wanted.
Then we entered the chutes and ladders section of the course.
Rock wall? No problem.
Up and over we went.
Still running @ mile 23.
Wait your turn for the rope.
Lots of river stone in this section.
We did it!
And our feet survived just fine.
Six hours and fifty minutes.
Malcolm was the youngest finisher in the race at age 17. The oldest was 72. He can do this for at least 55 more years if he wants to. He is off to a great start.
I had a great time riding shotgun for the day and going a little crazy with the camera. It couldn’t have gone any better. Very proud of that kid.