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:

credit: Nathan Halicki

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.

We dabbled in some races last year doing the 25k Sageburner and 25K at Goblin Valley.

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.

Race Day

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.

Then it was back to the business of running along the tops of cliffs and checking out a cool waterfall (left of center).

We could see runners who were about a mile ahead of us down on the road below.

Along with an aid station that would take us another 30+ minutes to reach.

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.

Next up was a great stretch of fast singletrack running.

Then things got interesting again.

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.

Only in this case, reaching the finish meant there was still another 5 mile loop to go.  Hmmm.

More mud!

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.

A final tunnel.

You smell that?  Not that… The finish!

A final charge up the last slippery hill of the day.

He did it!

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.


Posted on November 8, 2011, in family, race, run. Bookmark the permalink. 46 Comments.

  1. Wow. That race just made the bucket list. Not sure I can wait until my son’s a senior though.
    Moab is one of my favorite places on the planet.

  2. awesome recap!

  3. That was awesome! It made me nostalgic for the crazy Slickrock Ultra. I can’t wait to get back. Great pictures!

  4. Love those pics, it was a nice race and exciting too. I wanna try this someday, nice views. Congratulations for a great job well done and looking forward always.

  5. Awesome post. Congratulations to Malcom for completing what looks like a tough race, and of course to you. That must have been a great experience running together.

    I’m kinda glad you were serving as pacer this time, because we readers got tons of great photos out of the deal 🙂 Wow.

  6. All that water! Must have been cool to see Moab with waterfalls. Very cool.

  7. Thanks for the comments, guys. The weather really did enhance the experience, but I’m glad it wasn’t any worse. That day will be hard to top.

  8. Thank you so much for this great recap! I kept trying to tell everyone how amazing it was out there, now I am just going to forward your amazing pictures! There is nothing better than adventuring with family!

  9. I did the 5k this year as I am not a runner. I think next year I am going to shoot for the 1/2 with the epicness of the course. Great job on completing the fully!!!!!!!! Great photos of the amazing landscape. That was a toughy!!!!!

  10. What fun! And fantastic pictures! Congrats to you both! Man, I love Moab 🙂

  11. Great race report. You got me so excited I’m ditching the rest of the day and going running!

  12. Wow. I’ve got to do that one next year. Amazing photos, the rain always brings out the colors in the desert. So cool you got to do it with your son.

  13. I love your photos! I was out there also, and took a few pics, but these are way better! My husband is in one of your photos – he was taking pics at the finish.

    My recap is at http://www.runningintheusa.com/Forum/View.aspx?ThreadID=942

    • Mary – very nice report! I chuckled at your crossword puzzle / Super Bowl analogy. So true, and so hard to convey to others what it is like to run a race like that. Seeing your marathon PR tick by at mile 14 definitely puts it in perspective.

  14. Right on! Bro, you sure know how to bring the weather to Moab every time you go. I think that’s the only time it rains there is when you go. WRIAD, Slickrock 100, this. :’) Really cool and way to go Malcom.

  15. Awesome pictures. My friend and I are the two ladies in blue and red. My friend, Bianca (in red) is the one who took your picture after the first water station. So glad to see you all made it safely. We had a blast on the Half!

  16. Bianca Gruetter

    Thanks for the great great photos and write up. We did not have a camera and regretted not having any great photos… Now we can share yours! Bianca (the “nice lady” who took your photo)!

    • Hi Nice Lady 🙂
      Thank you for offering to take our photo, that is a great way for us to remember the day. I wish I would have thought to return the favor. Glad you found the site and can enjoy sharing the pics.

  17. HI
    Great race report I ran by you guys for several miles. You and your son were great pace setters. You even have a shot of the back of my head at the first aid station.
    It was a very beautiful race. Congratulations to your son

  18. Thank you so much for the great pictures, It was so fun to look at them and say “Oh yeah I remember that, and oh that hill was so long and hard” Now I can show my husband and say “look babe here is what you missed out on :}” Props to Malcolm for his first marathon and props to you for doing it with your son, those will be some awesome memories..

  19. Whoa…just realized I never typed out my comment! This is chock full of awesomeness! When you first posted this, I called my girls over to show them the pictures and kept saying, “someday, we’re going to do something like this together.” They didn’t particularly like that statement. Well, my friend, that someday is now for you. And you’re taking life by the reigns and living it well with your kids. Well done Chris! And well done Malcolm!!!

  20. Great recap! I was supposed to do this race (with my husband and his brother and sister-who are in one of your pics) but couldn’t due to logistics of kids and travel. Your photos really made me wish I found a way to go. 🙂

  21. Wow!!! Just absolutely magnificent..I need to put this on my TO DO list 🙂

  22. So Trail Runner magazine is having a photo contest and I think you should enter some of these… especially the one that is just of footbrints in the mud!


  23. Chris, I will be running Moab 2012 in a few weeks and just came upon your race report. First, what a great bonding experience for you and Malcolm, and in such a spectacular setting! And what an impressive feat for Malcolm – how many runners can say that Moab is their first “marathon”?! After Moab, any road marathon would be a mere stroll in the park for that young man! Secondly, your report is an invaluable archive for someone like me who has never been to Moab and has no idea what to expect. Having the information has calmed my nerves quite a bit and I am now actually looking forward to running it! Thank you!

    • Grace, you are very welcome! I am happy to see this report has been such a great resource to you and others (it has been viewed 2,500 times so far). You are in for a treat with your first visit to Moab. Good luck!

  24. That is really cool that you could share that with your son. Malcolm looked great. I signed up for 2013 and your story is motivating!

  25. Gosh as I was reading I was getting afraid the ending was going to be disastrous…. So relieved!! Running this year’s half :). See you on the trail! Should I wear trail shoes?

  26. Deborah Brothier

    Fantastic chronicle! Fast forward to 2013, same race. I’m here in France, on the computer, waiting for the news of the run. My son and brother-in-law are running the 1/2 and thanks to your reporting, have a good idea of what they are in for, although without the wet – a beautiful day in Moab. You’ve made the trail come alive for those of us that are waiting in the wings… Thanks so much. Happy trails!

  27. Its on my 2014 list! Def. one to work up to, and leave something in the tank for the end. Thanks for the story and photos!

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