Every so often, everything comes together in a race and you just kind of glide through it seamlessly and uneventfully. My LA Marathon experience for example, fit this bill. The Behind the Rocks Ultra, however, was not this kind of race. Nope. It fell squarely in the other much larger and frequently visited category of ‘total and utter suffer fest’.
I was not really supposed to run this race in fact. The plan was to spectate with my friend Ryan Lassen and watch Silke and Kerrie do all the suffering. In a classic tale of one-upmanship however, I received a text from Ryan on Thursday stating that he was going to enter the 50K race last minute. Not to be left by myself, I quickly entered the 53 miler. Obviously, Lassen swiftly upgraded to the main event himself and the stage was set for some epic suffering.
GrassRoots Events puts on a host of races in the Moab area, including the very popular Red Hot 55 which Silke ran last year. If you have never run or raced in the Moab or Southern Utah area then you are missing out. This is one of the most unique, colorful, harsh, and breathtaking places anywhere in the world. Find and add a race in this area to your calendar next year. You will not be disappointed.
The Behind the Rocks Ultra was a new and last minute addition to the GrassRoots Events calendar for this year and as such the entrants list was on the smaller side. After all, who the hell signs up for 50+ miles with little to no advance preparation…
Fortunately I had a few other races in the pipeline for the first part of the year so what I lacked in rest I made up for in training. Perhaps a little too much training in fact, given the previous weekend activities included about 15,000ft of gain including a punishing Flagstaff Road tempo courtesy of Dan Gorman! I would regret that about 2 miles into the race on Saturday.
We rolled into Moab late on Friday after a 6 hour drive from Boulder and made our way to the start line where we setup camp for the night.
We rolled out of bed, got our stuff together and with minimal fuss the race was underway.
Almost immediately, I could feel the previous several weeks of training on my legs. I felt heavy, tired and I had a few lingering aches in all the fun places. The main point of the race for me was, in fact, to suffer. To race on tired legs and experience some hotter temperatures was actually quite handy for my next race in Arizona, The Zane Grey 50, which has a bit of a reputation for being on the tougher side of reasonable.
I needed to get back in the mental game as it had been a while since my last race, The Mountain Masochist 50M back in November. I could tell I was rusty when after 3 miles or so I took a wrong turn and ended up wandering around the bush, trying to find some evidence of a trail. Luckily I wasn’t the only one, and together with Ryan Lassen and Brandon Stapanowich, we eventually found our way back on track. It wouldn’t, unfortunately, be the last time for the day and all told, I probably earned a bonus 15 minutes of scenic Moab bush whacking. All part of the fun of the sport!
It took me until about the 17 mile mark to catch up to the lead again, which coincided with the 2nd aid station. Shortly after that I assumed the lead which I would go on to hold for the remainder of the day.
The course toggled between gnarly death defying single track, leg sucking sandy jeep trails and feet pounding gravel roads. The elevation thus far had proven to be mostly well behaved with mostly runnable gradual climbs. It wasn’t until I rolled into aid station #5, around mile 33, that we finally got a climb I could get my teeth into. The aptly named Jacobs Ladder, was a short, sharp, rocky ascent up to the imposing Mesa that we had been running along for the past several miles. I could hardly wait for a change in pace after what seemed like miles of similar cadence.
In all my excitement to attack the climb I had inadvertently left one of my Simple Hydration bottles back at the aid station. This was catastrophic. I was left holding one 13 oz bottle for one of the toughest sections of the course just when temperatures peaked at 80F (27 C). Idiot. My only solace on this next section was the absolute staggering beauty of my surroundings. Seriously, Moab is stunning.
After what seemed like an eternity of rock hoping, trail twisting, mountain bike dodging and water rationing, I emerged at the bottom of the canyon into an ice cold stream. I was beyond happy. I splashed around, dunked all necessary body parts and set off for the short road section back to aid station #6 (same #2 from earlier).
At the aid station, I met Kerrie’s husband, John, who saved my bacon with an extra water bottle from his car. On top of this I met a man in a kilt and another man with an impressive mustache. Things were clearly heating up.
I could go into detail about the next section of the course but I will sum it up as follows. @#$!#$#%@%. This section was clearly tailored to the Scotsman in me, as only someone with expert cursing skills could stand a chance making it to aid station #7 with his sanity in tact. Needless to say it was long, rocky, sandy and uphill.
Arriving into aid station #7 and glancing at my watch it read nearly 49 miles. Apparently I had 8 miles left to go which was a surprise considering I was expecting to run 53 miles today. Either my math skills were deteriorating in the heat or we were getting some bonus miles free of charge.
The last few miles were certainly not pretty but thankfully mostly downhill and slightly cooler so I put my head down and got the job done, crossing the finish line after 56 ish miles in 8h18m for 1st place. Definitely a tough and humbling day on the trails but on the plus side I was able to run pretty much the whole course, just stopping at aid stations and, given the state of my legs at the start, I was certainly happy with that.
It turns out I wasn’t the only one suffering out there. Lassen fought the good fight but things started to fall apart at Jacobs Ladder for him and after rolling into aid station #6 at the 40 mile mark he had to drop. Silke decided to stay with him to help him get back to the finish area as he was in pretty bad shape. We finished the day off in the Urgent Care center, with four IV bags for Lassen and four slices of pizza for me. It turns out there is quite a wide scale in the suffering department.
You can find the gory details of the race on Strava. In terms of food, I was lazy and stupid as usual and only had a couple of gels, a few PB&J squares and coke. I used two Simple Hydration bottles which was just about enough until I left one at the aid station. Shoes were Inov-8 TrailRoc 245’s which I had never raced in before but worked out pretty well (my usual 315’s had too many miles on them). The course was about 56 miles with 7000ft of gain. Temperatures were mostly in the mid 70’s, peaking at 80. Overall, a great and humbling race on some truly stunning scenery which is exactly what you’d expect from GrassRoots Events. Definitely not a beginner’s one though!