Moab, UT is quickly becoming one of my favorite places. Since having to sit out the Moab Trail Marathon last November I’ve been itchin’ to get back out there and hit the slick rock. The Red Hot 55K seemed like a perfect 2013 season opener and a good excuse to experience the magic of Moab. This would be my lucky 13th 50K race – my favorite distance. So we stuffed the car full of camping and running gear and hit the road with friends (and seemingly half of Boulder).
This race, like the trail marathon in the fall, was a who’s who of trail running and attracted some speed daemon road runners too (like Emily Harrison and Trent Briney – both of whom are Olympic marathon qualifiers and came in 2nd at the JFK 50M last year). Even though I’ve told myself to start taking running more seriously and spend more effort actually running hard than looking around for nice photo opps (especially now that I’m racing in the most competitive age group), I just couldn’t resist it for this race. I knew I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t strap my camera to my waist belt – Moab is just too amazing to run through without taking any pictures! So this would be my “warm-up” race for what I hope will be a great 2013 season of trail running.
And we’re off!
With more descent than ascent and no significant technical challenge or elevation gain (compared to the kind of mountain running I’ve become used to), the 55K course definitely favoured the “runner”. I knew I could manage a respectable sub 8 min/mile pace on some of the flat dirt road sections but that wouldn’t stand a chance against some of the chicks who’d be clocking low 7’s and 6’s.
So my plan to was to run my own race, not look at my watch, enjoy the sights, take a few pictures along the way, focus on the uphills and run a strong 34 miles.
The first few miles led us up to the top of the cliffs where we ran a 15 mile loop. There were no crew-accessible spots on the course so after seeing us off at the start Ryan & Danielle headed off for a hike and then straight to the finish line at the Poison Spider trailhead by the Colorado River.
Running along the Metal Masher rim (mile 10):
Looking down at Hwy 191 and the starting line a few hundred feet below:
That was about the extent of the vertical gain and the highest point on the course. From there on out, with the exception of another “big” uphill about 10 miles later, the course seemed to trend endlessly downhill with miles and miles and miles of wide open amazing and quad destroying slick rock:
The relentless pounding on the unforgiving slick rock was grueling but the amazing views of the snow peaked La Sal Mountains in the distance helped ease the pain.
Brad from Golden, CO (pictured below) and I ran most of this epic slick rock madness together along the Golden Spike “trail”, helping each other sight the stripped pink ribbon course markings and navigate the desert features.
Up and down and all around these big beautiful orange humps (some of which required all hands and feet to scramble up!):
After the last aid station (mile 29), the final 4 miles wiggled downhill along the Poison Spider dirt road. I knew that this was my weakness. If the next woman was somewhere close behind me (she had passed me on a similar section early on and then I’d passed her on the next uphills) this would be where she’d take me again. Sure enough, about 10 minutes from the finish, she crept up beside me and passed me effortlessly. I wouldn’t stand a chance trying to reel her back in over then next mile of downhill. So never mind. I chugged along behind her and finished in a satisfying 5:29 and 8th place female (60th overall).
I need to come out here for a long weekend of non-race running to take more photos. The landscape is just unbelievable.
The final few footsteps on a phenomenal course:
Getting sunburnt in the post-race beer garden!
Mike and Gavin chillaxin’ after destroying the 33K race:
Well done runners! Cheers to the course record breakers and podium finishers and post-race beer drinkers!