Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Moab Red Hot 50k+

Well, haven't posted in a while because I basically took the entire winter off from running to give my knees a break and do a lot of backcountry skiing and bouldering. I decided that this year will be an "easy" year where I don't focus on any 100 milers and instead just have fun at shorter distance ultras and work on improving my fitness and racing strategies. To kick my lazy butt into shape, Lindsay and I signed up for the Moab Red Hot race conveniently held on valentines day. It gave us a chance to get out of town to enjoy the lack of snow on the trails and see some great scenery around Moab and Arches National Park (we got about 5 miles of hiking in the day after the race).

The race has a 33k (about 20 miles) and a 50k+ option (the plus ended up meaning around 34 miles). Lindsay opted for the shorter distance because we have both been running less than a couple miles a week. I went for the whole enchilada because I love a good suffer-fest and I didn't want to miss out on all that bonus mileage.

The first 5 miles or so of the course are shared by both races and left from the Gemini Bridges trailhead just outside of town. It was fun to watch all the fast guys take off at the start. I aspire to be at that level of fitness someday... but I knew with my non-existant training I needed to settle into a nice easy jog. After the first 5 miles, us 50k+ers split off to the North for our extra 14 mile loop. I knew with only about 5k feet of elevation gain for the whole race that the hills would be pretty mellow, but our next hill was called "Metal Masher" and that did make me a little nervous. Luckily, it wasn't that bad for us runners. I would definitely be walking a bike up it -- it was obvious how it got its name. The hill topped out right on the brink of the 1000ft tall cliff that towers over the parking lot where we started. I took the opportunity to stop and enjoy the views while I peed over the edge. I hope no one was down there.

From the airy precipice, we had a long and fast double-track downhill back to the 5 mile fork to rejoin the 33k course. I picked up a lot of time there and my 20 mile split was around 3:30 - a lot faster than I thought I'd be. It didn't last. My lazy vacation from training caught up to my and my back, quads, calves and hamstrings all cramped and locked up at once. Unfortunately, the rest of the course was much more rugged and was constantly up and down on cement-like slickrock and momentum sucking sand. It gave me a lot more time to enjoy the views -- I could see for at least 50 miles or more in every direction from the snow covered La Sal mountains to the petrified sand dunes of the slickrock trail to the deep slots of Canyonlands N.P.

I tried all my tricks to calm the cramping -- salt tablets, drinking more water, force-feeding more gels (pu) but nothing worked until finally, I managed to score some vitamin I (ibuprofen) from a shady looking guy at the last aid station. He made me promise not to tell so I wont incriminate him any further. With 5 miles left, a long and gentle downhill and comfortably numb legs I was able to pick up the pace again and cruise into the finish. The last couple miles down to the Poison Spider trailhead were some of the best too. I loved running down to the edge of the Colorado river while the sheer thousand foot sides of the mesa we were just on grow above.

I definitely need to bring a camera when I run the Red Hot 50k+ next year, but I doubt it would do the race course justice -- so sign yourself up!

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