Well, Utah was amazing. Each time I go there, I fall a little bit more in love with it :) This time was no exception. We headed west for what is becoming an annual trip to see friends, ski, and kick around for a week. This time, a sweet race happened to coincide with our visit. The Moab Red Hot 55k was held in...well, Moab, Utah...on February 19th. We flew into Salt Lake Thursday morning, and enjoyed a relaxing hike around Park City with Rob n' Rina, warming up the legs before heading to High West Distillery (YUM!) for dinner...
At Round Valley in Park City, UT...that's Lucy in the background, checking out our jumper form
Geof and I rented a car Friday a.m. and made the 4.5 hour drive down south to the quiet (it's winter, afterall) town of Moab. We made lots of pee stops along the way and admired all the sleepy small towns, rock formations, canyons and what not. We went straight to Arches National Park for some hiking (checking out Delicate Arch, Balancing Rock, and The Windows)...sidenote: Arches has very rapidly climbed my list of Favorite National Parks, it is AMAZING! Afterward, we grabbed dinner at the Moab Brewery (tasty burritos and beers!), then headed to packet pick-up. I won't lie, I was a little bit star-struck upon seeing Anita Ortiz; she's like Superwoman for ultrarunners! :)
Everyone met up at the condos we were renting for the weekend, and swapped race strategies, caught up on general-ness, and ate cake. We had a fantastic group together for the weekend (about 17 in all I think) and everyone was pumped for the next day. Ben and Bethany (doctors extraordinaire and new parents to boot!) were looking forward to their first race of the season (and Bethany's first race since giving birth to baby Ada barely 5 months ago, wow!). Terry was in town from Brooklyn, NY to tackle the 33k (eventually snagging 6th overall!), as was SLC resident speedster, Dr. Matt Vukin. Dr. Anne was running her very first ultra ever and was equally excited and nervous about it. What fun! Everyone else was tagging along to watch the day unfold and offer support at the finish line.
We woke up to warmer-than-expected temps, in the 40s (heading into the 50s), and...rain. Oh yay, raaaaaiiiiinnnnnn! I didn't have the most optimistic outlook on the day at first, but I figured we signed up, we may as well give it our best, rain or shine :-) We headed to the Gemini Bridges starting area to pick up our bibs and ooo and ahhh at the amazing stacked field joining us that day.
With Geof and Dr. Vukin before the race. Handsome smiley bunch are we.
Group shot with Beth and Rina on the left...
And another with our awesome photog, Rob, on the left.
All of the photos you are witnessing on this here post are courtesy of the talented photographic eye of Dr. Robert Corson. He got some really good shots while we were in town. So, for that reason, I decided to make this post a little more about the pictures, with a little bit about the race. Some pictures first :)
Ben is really, really excited about running. He ended up taking 10th place overall in the 55k. Ssssssmokin'!
The starting line...Duncan Callahan is in all black and I think that's Dakota Jones all the way on the right? Not to mention all the other fast faces I don't yet know. That's a whole lotta fast in there.
Geof and I walked in towards the front to wish Ben and Bethany good luck, and ran into Krissy Moehl! Haven't seen her since Wasatch '09. Sweet! We decided to move to the very back so we didn't get caught up with all the fasties on the technical section of the start. This ended up being a very mentally rewarding tactic :)
Geof and I making our way down, down, down from the start. We were about to go up, up, up for a good ways!
A pretty sizable 55k field. There were about 257 starters, but only 186 would cross the finish line.
See the little dark dots at the bottom? Those are runners. See the ridge way up top, in the right hand corner? That's where we were headed.
So, the footing was incredibly variable. It was the sort of terrain that really held your attention. The entire time. If you let your mind drift, or you looked up without first analyzing the next 5-10 steps, you would pay for it in the form of a mouth full of red mud, rocks, or your own teeth no longer attached to your gums. Does that give you an idea of the technical-ness? Well, for this wintertime pavement pounder, it was pretty technical :) But stunningly gorgeous! The scenery was mind-blowingly beautiful. A fair amount of climbing, but more in the form of constant up and down, up and down. Plenty of soft, mushy red sand/mud, and a LOT of slickrock running, which I'm pretty sure is 47,000 times more firm than pavement. But it was beautiful to run through deep canyons, climb up jeep roads and slickrock, run along ridges overlooking Arches National Park, observing the barren, quiet solitude of a high desert in winter. I loved it. The altitude was never a problem but seemed to be present at times, mostly coinciding with a very steep climb :)
Geof and I ran the entire race together and enjoyed passing a lot of folks at the start. Hence the mental reward from the beginning. I was feeling out some aches and pains I had going into the race, but they never did materialize on race day. My left IT band had been a little cranky of late, and this race certainly could have been the end of it for me due to all the steep climbs and even steeper descents. But, everything held up amazingly, and I haven't a single complaint. A lot of people dropped due to blowing out a knee, IT band seizing up, falling, etc. We were very lucky. I think I stubbed my toe once, that's it. No falling!! And, I should mention that, despite the very fine sand, and rainy conditions, I never even developed a hot spot anywhere. My feet were supremely happy in my Drymax Max Pro socks and Sporty Cats :) And I didn't blacken any additional toenails, phew!
We huffed it up the climbs, ran silently along the cambered slickrock, scrambled up a few semi-shear faces (one of which I was on all fours, tightening every last muscle in my body to avoid slipping backwards down the rock...talk about working up a stressful sweat!!), stopped for water at each of the five aid stations, used no drop bags, peed only once each, soaked up the small window of time that the sun actually shone, ran heads down as the rain took over throughout the day, and leaned into some of the stiffest winds I have ever experienced in my life as we made our way towards home. I'm not kidding, the wind was out of this world. It puts Chicago, the WINDY CITY, to shame! We were running into the wind almost the entire time. That is exhausting. So we got in a good resistance workout as well :) If I weighed any less, I would have been blown off the ridges!
My favorite parts of the course were completely unexpected and totally unprecedented for me. Technical downhills became what I looked forward to. We would get passed here and there on the climbs, but then we just smoked the field around us on the downhills; it was so much fun! I'm a cautious gal, and downhills have always given me great pause. Not this time! It was as if we were flying, barely touching the ground. I don't know what was different this time. The footing was downright treacherous on those downhills, strewn with rocks of all sizes, small boulders, mushy sand and slickrock. My heart speeds up even thinking about it now; it was a blast! I just let go of my worries on those sections and let my legs do the talking. Don't overthink it, just do it. Coordinated falling. I've never smiled so much during a race as I did on these sections. I was a kid in a candy store, except the candy was in the form of amazing scenery, rocks, and red sand shared with my better half :)
It took me about 15-20 miles to find my groove and feel sufficiently warmed up. No kidding. It was bizarre, so I was pushing through a lot at first. But once I got comfy, it was smooth sailing. There was a woman we were back and forth with a lot. She was super consistent and great on the ups, but we always put a big gap between us on the downs. Eventually she'd catch up and pass us, until the next downhill. She was a good sport, too, so it was fun. There was another female runner who really got in our collective craw, and I made it a goal to finish ahead of her. Her volatile running style was irritating, running on our heels, breathing down our necks, pulling in front of us on narrow sections and then stopping in her tracks. We were both wondering what on earth was going on. I'd never experienced another runner like that before. She even jumped in front of us at one point and then sat down on the trail to futz with something. Very strange.
Judging by the elements and the course that day, I decided I'd be happy with sub-8 hours for the 34 miles, and just tickled pink with sub-7 hours. As we rounded a corner and found ourselves on jeep road, coming across some spectators hiking towards us, we could officially smell the barn. I didn't look at my watch at all, but kept moving forward, hoping for the best. We picked up the pace and little and caught up to the two women we'd been back and forth with all day. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to pass and hold them off at this point...until we were presented with one last downhill section, pouring us into the finish along the Colorado River. It was as if angels were singing...the sun even started to peak out from the rain clouds! We danced over the rocks and crud, passing our ladies and a couple others opting to walk the downhill, picking up the pace even more...
Meanwhile, Bethany has long since finished, absolutely creaming the women's field and taking second woman overall (second only to THE Anita Ortiz)! Amazing!!! She looks very pleased in this picture :)
Geof and I negotiating the downhill switchbacks, leading to the finish; we can smell the barn...and the hot potato soup bread bowls awaiting us!
Lo' and behold, Photog Rob! He catches us as we make our way toward the finish...
The quads were a'burning, and the heart was a'singing! We were finishing! And, what's that on the clock? Not a 7 in sight! We cruised through the line in 6h:48m:25sec. Sweet hey-sus, that was unexpected! I honestly felt like our effort was around 7h:15m, so color me happy :) Rob, Ben and Billy were holding down the fort and greeted us at the finish. We stuffed our faces with delicious soup and sourdough bread bowls, and after changing into clean, dry clothes, we waited for Anne to come in.
Oh sweet success!!
With G and 10th place Dr. Lewis...congratulations, Ben!
Ben, Ada and Terry after the awards ceremony. I love this picture for some reason.
All in all, a truly fabulous race, with more than its fair share of tough, technical stuff. Definitely one for the books. And, after some thought, I've decided I would definitely return to this one. You just can't beat the beauty of the course, and the tough terrain. It's a really good early-season warm-up and a very good measure of where you're at heading into the spring.
The aftershock of the race left me with a serious case of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), located almost exclusively in my adductors and hip flexors...from all the downhill pounding. Everything else felt as though I barely moved all day! Lesson learned? always foam roll after a race like that :) Ah well, it just made going down stairs a little interesting for the 4-5 days following.
Speaking of, what better way to shake out the legs than with a killer hike through Arches?!
Rob, Rina, Geof and I headed back to Arches Sunday morning and hiked the Devils Garden trail before heading back to SLC. There were some spots that gave my stomach a flip-flop (like walking across a narrow spine of slickrock, with a sizable drop on either side), but it was a thoroughly enjoyable day spent with wonderful people. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves...
Geof being 'thoughtful' at Double O Arch (I think) :)
Doing some bouldering at Navajo Arch...there were some sick pitches ;-) I actually had no idea what I was doing, but it looked like a good photo op.
Peek-a-boo! Black Arch
The crew at Landscape Arch...pretty much my second favorite arch (Delicate Arch is my fave) :) Nature is so cool.
Making our way up the trail, alongside where Wall Arch once stood (it collapsed in 2008 and lays there in a heap of slickrock along the trail now)
This was called Sitting Arch...no, not really, but it was a good spot along the spine for us to sit and take in the view of the slotted canyons spread out below us.
And when on steep slickrock spines, one must jump! The boys getting a little crazy..."It's about to get weird...TWO pencil jumpers!" It's like they're just floating...
I love the West :)
Check out Geof's Red Hot race report HERE. And, Ben's Red Hot race report is HERE.
Check out Geof's Red Hot race report HERE. And, Ben's Red Hot race report is HERE.