Monday, February 15, 2010

Moab Red Hot 50K+ 2010

On Saturday Feb. 13th 2010 I ran the Moab Red hot 50k+ trail race.  It was technically my first ultra-marathon if you define an ultra as anything longer than a marathon.  However, this year's course was only 32.47 miles (according to my Garmin) so it wasn't astonishingly farther than a traditional marathon.  I had been keeping an eye on the Moab weather for the past month or so and had been noticing that they'd been experiencing an extremely cold winter.  I'd check the conditions at 8:00am daily (the time the race was scheduled to start) and find the temperature to be in the teens or twenties at most.  Training through the Colorado winter had got me accustomed to running in the cold but it wasn't something I was looking forward to.  And, there was a significant difference between a 2 hour training run in the 30's and a potentially 5-8 hour run in the teens or twenties.  There was more than one occasion where I pondered dropping out due to the temperatures.  Also, I had been battling a terrible head cold for the past two weeks and was doing everything known to man to remedy it before race day.  Luckily it seemd to mostly clear up just in time.

Despite my concerns and thoughts of dropping out, my wife and I arrived in Moab around 3:00pm on Friday afternoon.  We stopped at the Gemini Bridges trail head (where the start of the race would take place the next morning) to check everything out.  Much to my dismay the trail was completely covered in snow.  We drove about 1 mile up the road before turning back in fear of getting stuck.  Despite the cold temperatures, I had never really considered the fact that there may be snow on the trail.  We got dinner and spent the remainder of the evening planning out the contents of my drop bags.  I had read countless blogs from people that had run the race before and given advice concerning the topic--advice which turned out to be priceless.

We arrived at the start at 6:45am to make sure we got there before the drop bag trucks left for the aid stations (of course this meant that we'd be sitting around in the car for a good hour before the race started but it wasn't too bad).  Choosing what gear to wear at the start was difficult.  I had only put cooler gear in my drop bags hoping that it would warm up so I had to make sure I was wearing enough cold gear from the start in case it didn't.  It was around 20 degrees at start time.  I wore a long-sleeved dry-fit shirt followed by a short-sleeved dry-fit shirt covered in a thermal outer layer.  I tied my wind jacket around my waist in case it didn't warm up or the wind kicked up.  On bottom I wore my shorts covered by my usual thin running pants.  I started by having only thin throw-away gloves but when I left the car for the start my fingers were cold after about 30 seconds so I returned and added my thicker fleece gloves as well.

The race got underway and after the first .25 miles or so (which is flat) the road got significantly steeper.  The loosely packed snow meant that you only gained about a 1/2 step for every step you took.  Even though I was walking I was having trouble keeping my heart rate down which was incredibly frustrating.  at the 1.25 mile point the trail began to descend and I was able to run again but my HR still didn't come down into a range I was comfortable with.  I walked again after a few miles and still no luck.  I decided that I was just going to have to keep going and hope that either, I could sustain a HR which I had never been able to sustain for long periods of time, or that it would finally come under control (which it finally did about 13 miles later, I guess I could sustain that level longer than I thought).

The portion of the race run on Metal Masher trail was completely covered in snow that was about 12" deep.  It made running treacherous (although I think running through the snow was much easier than walking in it) and made passing anyone nearly impossible (you had to attempt to go around them in the virgin snow on the sides of the trail which usually resulted in falling through the top layer of crust to the powder below).  Despite all of this I ran into the 2nd aid station around mile 13 in pretty good shape.  I was still on pace for around a 6 hour finish which would have been perfect.  My shoes and socks were soaked all the way through.  Knowing that there was miles of slick rock ahead I had packed fresh shoes and socks in the drop bag at this aid station.  I sat on a tarp covering the snow, removed my wet footwear, dried my feet with a towel that I had packed, and put on my dry shoes and socks.  Another racer getting food at the station saw me and enviously said "DRY SOCKS?!?!  DUUUUUUDE!!!".    The weather had warmed quite a bit so I removed my pants as well.  I moved my bib from my pants to my shorts, thanked the volunteers, and headed out of the aid station feeling great.  That feeling would fade fast.        

Once on the slick rock the game changed significantly.  I was prepared for running on the rock.  What I wasn't prepared for was the constant, and sometimes extreme (albeit short), elevation changes.  I wasn't able to manage much more than a shuffle on the inclines (mostly bent over with my hands on my knees) and then I was too tired to take full advantages of the downhills.  It was rough, but I had trained on much more extreme ups and downs.  I think this might have been the penalty for letting my HR stay out of control for so long during the beginning of the race. I had been playing leap frog with another runner for a few miles and we finally started walking together on the slick rock.  He asked me how many ultras I had done and I admitted that this was my first.  "Shit man, you're kicking ass then, this race is no joke"  he replied.  That made me feel a little better even though I knew my goal of a 6 hour finish was out of the question at this point (I knew that I'd need a miracle to even finish in the 7 hour range).  His name was Phil and he was from Ogden, UT.  If I remember right this was his 3rd time running the race and teaming up with him when I did was a huge huge help.  He knew the course well and his live narration was mentally exactly what I needed, "slight up hill around this corner........long downhill coming up."   Without him I don't know if I could have finished.  This was definitely the low point in my race.  I had been drinking religiously but I was still feeling dehydrated.  I couldn't choke down anymore Gu and even Clif Shot Blocks weren't doing the trick.  The temperature had climbed significantly and even though I had shed my pants I was still wearing the 3 upper layers and two pairs of gloves.   I had stopped sweating and was feeling dizzy and nauseous.  I put my hands on my knees and felt like I was going to have to sit for a while, "Aid station just at the top of this hill"  Phil encouraged.  I dug down deep and walked slowly.

I arrived in the aid station at mile 21 and immediately shed every piece of clothing that I had (other than my shorts).  I sat on a dry rock and soaked up the sun trying not to vomit.  The aid station had run out of water.  Luckily, I had read about this happening last year and one blogger pricelessly advised to pack water in your drop bags.  I reached in my bag and pulled out a bottle of ice cold water.  Without that bottle I would've definitely had to drop at that point--no doubt.  Phil, seeing me struggling, asked if I needed anything.  "I think I'm good" I replied.  "You sure?  Gu? Peppermint?".   Oh, peppermint, that sounded amazing.  He gave me three peppermints and I held them in my hand.  I took a ginger pill, an electrolyte pill, drank some more of the water, and put one of the peppermints in my mouth.  I was starting to feel much much better. I pulled a fresh shirt from my drop bag and put it on.  I gathered the rest of my gear and started shuffling out of the aid station.  In retrospect, I had much more water than I needed and I could have easily given some to Phil and another runner that didn't get any at the aid station.  Of course, at the time, I wasn't thinking clearly and I feared that my own finish was in jeopardy.  I'll definitely make an attempt to be more aware of the well-being of fellow racers in the future.

After a few minutes I was able to run again and I caught up to Phil who had left the aid station before me.  I asked him if he needed anything and he said he was good.  I continued on; I wanted to stay near Phil but, despite all my rookie mistakes, I knew to follow one golden rule: run when you can.  I ran.  The slick rock soon leveled off and, eventually, we were off it altogether.  I passed a handful of runners in the next few miles all of whom were forced to walk due to not getting any water at the previous aid station.  I reached mile 29 and pulled my cell phone out of my pack to text my wife that I had 5 miles to go (the course was originally supposed to be 34 miles).  I sent the text but my phone had no service.  I put the phone away and kept running.  I was feeling good now.

I entered the aid station at mile 30 and they too informed me that they were really low on water.  And, to my surprise, informed me that I was 2.5 miles from the finish.  Again, I pulled a bottle from my drop bag and filled my hand-bottle.  Phil entered the station soon after me and shouted words of encouragement as I ran out "Good job Nick!! Keep it up!"

As I reached the switchbacks of the Poison Spider trail I could see my family down below.  I waved but I had changed clothes so many times during the race they didn't recognize me.  I ran the remainder of the way (it wasn't until I was about 50 yards away that my family finally realized it was me).  I crossed the finish line at 8:11--about 2-3 hours longer than I wanted.  At first, I was really disappointed.  But, as time went on after the race I realized that my body was in much better shape than it was after my last marathon which gave me some confidence in my training.  After the last marathon I was forced to take a 2-week break from running due to soreness in my legs.  I think I'll be able to head out for a few short runs this week, which makes me very excited. 

Plus, I kept moving for 8 hours, I hadn't gone even close to that before.  I was mentally much stronger than I've been before.