So, yeah, as far as the race goes, it was basically an exercise in doing everything wrong that you can possibly do wrong. Underestimate the course? Check. Go out too fast? Check. Don't eat enough? Check. Don't drink enough? Check. Excusable for a rookie, I guess, but not for someone who's done this before. All of that combined to turn a hoped-for 5:30 finish into a painfully slow 6:51. But yet I had fun, in a sick and twisted kind of way, which just helps to prove that ultra runners really are batshit crazy....and that we're totally cool with that.
If nothing else, the trip to Moab made it all worthwhile. Moab is just a cool place. I love the mountains and I will always want to live in (or very near) them, but that doesn't mean the desert canyonlands aren't cool as hell. And, really, February might be the time to go, before it's gets blazing hot. We made the trip down in a couple of days, staying in Grand Junction, CO on the way, which put us in Moab fairly early on Friday morning and gave us a chance to scout out the course a little and just check out the sights in general.
The race day weather was about as perfect as it can get, with highs in the mid-40s. Thanks to similar weather in the couple of weeks leading up to the race, the course itself was also in fine form and the RD, Chris Martinez, made the prophetic claim just before the race started that it would be a good day for course records to fall. I lined up somewhere in the middle of the pack and before I knew it (literally, I didn't hear a countdown or "ready, set" or anything) we were off.
I actually felt really good at first, which may actually have worked against me in the end. Rather than try to reign it in and plan ahead for the long haul, I decided to just go with it. Up the first climb and onto the lollipop loop that encompasses the first half or so of the race, my legs felt strong and there never really seemed to be any reason to slow down or walk, other than on a few very short but also very steep pitches of slickrock. The course basically has two high points; the first in the middle of the initial lollipop loop and the second afterwards along the Gold Bar Rim, after the 55K merges back into the 33K route.
During that first loop, I felt like I was drinking plenty and ate 4 or 5 gels, so I got off to a good start there. But at some point just after we started climbing up to Gold Bar Rim, I started to fade. My legs were suddenly more tired than they should be given the pace I was going and my stomach was starting to abandon me, which threw me into the negative loop of not wanting to eat or drink, even though doing so would've helped in the long run (no pun intended). After passing multitudes of people on the lollipop, they started going right past me in a seemingly neverending Conga line as I trudged up the slickrock. At this point, it seemed fairly apparent that 5:30 was out of the question, but I held onto the uber-optimistic thought that once the course turned back downhill I would be able to salvage a sub-6. Wrong.
By the time I reached the aid station just below Gold Bar Rim, and the start of the infamous Golden Spike trail, I was toast. It just felt like I had absolutely nothing left in the tank. Still hopeful that I could catch a second (or third) wind heading down Golden Spike, I trudged on. And then I found out just what makes the infamous Golden Spike so damn infamous. I knew ahead of time that we'd spend a lot of time running on the slickrock, but what I didn't realize was just how technical the slickrock would be. Cracks, holes, and 2 or 3 foot drop-offs keep you on your toes and prevented me from being able to fall into any kind of rhythm whatsoever. Also, I didn't expect as many ups during the downhill as there were. We did ultimately lose a lot of elevation along Golden Spike, but not before running down and then back up steep sections of slickrock along the way. By the time I finally got off Golden Spike, I was in all-out death march mode, Christmas songs blaring in my head as I dreamed of the relatively plush single-track forest trails back home.
I did manage some running once we hit the Poison Spider road closer to the finish, which probably salvaged a sub-7 out of the mess.
So, chalk that one up to experience. All in all, it's a great event....the fact that I sucked it up big time there doesn't change that. It's definitely worth checking out sometime. On the bright side, putting forth such a crappy performance is a good motivator to not do it again....one of the first things I did when I got back home was to sit down and start formulating my training plan for Quad Rock and Leadville. Hopefully, I've learned from my mistakes.
Me, Ryan and Paul
*All photos are courtesy Katie Anderson, who should receive special recognition for putting up with three stinky runner dudes for the entire weekend (albeit one of them was her husband).