Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A daring adventure or nothing at all: Dead Horse 50k

I have a lot of running-related nightmares. By far the worst and most re-occurring dream is one where I am running an ultra-marathon through a mall. This mall is like a never ending Mall of America complete with an amusement park. I shout at people, asking them if they've seen course markings or other runners, but it's like no one can hear me. No matter how hard I try, I just can't stay on course. So naturally, during most races, I'm pretty hyper-vigilant about making sure I don't go off course. Here's the thing, though, it's pretty hard to mark a course with a lot of slick rock.

When I showed up in Moab for the Dead Horse 50k I didn't have a lot of expectations other than to have fun with awesome people. When Justin, one of the RDs invited me to the race, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to enjoy the desert with a great crew of friends. My dad reworked his schedule and drove out with my grandma from Wisconsin. They were en route to Mesa, Arizona where my grandma lives for the winter. My dad let us stay in his camper at the KOA campground so lodging was free.

Things seemed to be coming together even though my body was longing for an off season. I had only been running four days a week and I had been eating large amounts of cheese and beer after a recent trip to Wisconsin. Being lactose-intolerant is the worst and normally I'm a pre-race race food nazi. It was a pretty big break through when the family convinced me to... wait for it... EAT OUT THE NIGHT BEFORE THE RACE! First time ever.

Race morning came and I was pretty excited to run the first 7 miles with dad, who was running the 25k. He needed two miles to warm up but totally crushed the next two miles of downhill. I couldn't even keep up with him! We watched an incredible sun rise over the La Sal mountains. These miles were bliss. We were still feeling fresh and dad was hopping off rocks kicking his heels up like Kilian.

Sun rise

Shortly before aid 2 dad told me to go ahead. Soon after, I saw Kevin, a volunteer, at a junction pointing the 50k runners in one direction and the 25k runners in the other. I thought he was a course marshal, but I didn't realize until later that aid station had been behind Kevin just out of view. I hadn't stopped at the first aid station either and so I knew I needed to start conserving my water to make it the next 7.5 miles to the third aid station at Gemini Bridges. This section through Arth's Pasture and up to the bridges was really enjoyable but lonely. I passed some guys and came into aid 3 feeling good and pretty fresh.

Justin asked if I had trouble with course markings at any point and I told him that it was marked excellently and any time there was any question, I had just gotten used to following the dots painted on the rocks. To those who haven't run slick rock before, since it's impossible to have defined trails there are permanent dots painted on the rock to show travelers the route. The course was differentiated from those dots with pink and black ribbons. Getting used to following the dots was about to become my downfall.

The Mag 7 trail was amazing but for 6.5 miles I didn't have anyone to run with. There were plenty of mountain bikers who were very unhappy to see me. The leader of one group was getting frustrated because he would pass me and then I would pass him while he waited for his slower riders. He finally asked me if we were running to Arth's and gave me a big unhappy sigh when I told him we were. When I made it to Arth's aid station, the volunteer told me I was the second woman. I knew Melissa must be in first and I was pretty sure I wouldn't catch her. That girl is fast and I was hoping she would chick all the boys.

I kept expecting to get a low point, but I honestly felt great. The Great Escape Trail was by far my favorite section of the course with lots of technical slick rock and good views. I started getting hot and went through my water pretty fast. The volunteer at Arth's said it was only 5 or 6 miles to the next aid station and so even though I had drank almost all of my water in just 4 miles, I thought I would be ok until the next and final aid station. When my Garmin beeped at mile 23 I started to think I had second place in the bag. Stupid.

I had been playing tag with some mountain bikers and one of them seemed, I don't know how to put this, overly interested in me? At first he was just really encouraging but then he told me he was going to buy me a beer that night and then when they stopped for a break, he jumped ahead and took a picture with me. I was pretty relieved to finally get ahead of them for good. Shortly after that, the green dots I had been following turned into yellow dots. They curved around a large rock and headed up a cool slick rock section. It seemed really familiar and it wasn't until I was describing this section to Chris, one of the RDs, that he told me why: I had gotten onto the Red Hot course.

So honestly, this section was so awesome that I didn't notice that I had gone about a mile and a half without seeing any of the pink and black ribbons. I was still following the dots after all. I was out of water and I glanced at my watch, I had gone 25 miles, why wasn't I at the aid station yet? I was starting to get nervous. When I finally saw some mountain bikers looking off at some rock formation (which I now know was Bride Arch) I started shouting at them, "Have you seen any course markings? Have you seen any other runners?" I got blank stares. It was like they couldn't hear me. I was getting frenzied. "HAVE YOU SEEN ANY OTHER RUNNERS?" My nightmares were becoming a reality. Finally one guy told me that he had seen another runner just a few minutes ago.

I continued on. In less than a half mile, I saw that runner heading back towards me. He was nervous because he, too, was out of water and hadn't seen any course markings. The first thought that went through my head was that some angry mountain biker had torn down the pink ribbons. I figured everyone was going to go off course. I told the other runner, Bubba, that it had been about 2 miles since I had remembered seeing course markings and we decided to keep running. We came to an intersection and the map had been torn off the sign post. A small part was still legible and it said that we were at the Gold Bar Rim Trail and if we turned right it would take us to Gemini Bridges Road. It said that we should only continue on if we had plenty of water.

We stopped to talk about our options. We were both officially out of water. As I looked around everything seemed out of place. The La Sals weren't in the direction they should be if we were really heading back to the aid station. In front of us were lots and lots of rocks that all looked exactly the same and no signs of people... no bikes, no hum of jeeps bouncing around. We felt pretty hopeless. Bubba mentioned that he felt like we should go left. Even though that way felt familiar (because I had run it at Red Hot) I knew that we needed to get back to Gemini Bridges and so I said we should go right. I figured that even if the Gold Bar Rim Trail popped out farther down on Gemini Bridges, at least we would be pretty likely to see some vehicles on that road.

We ran about another mile and started taking a side trail and climbing over some rocks to get a better view. Nothing stood out to us. For the first time, the rocks looked dangerous to me. I was so thirsty and even though I had to pee I made the conscious decision to hold it in case I needed to bottle that pee and drink it later. There was a lot of swearing around mile 27. Both of us lamented on how we always run with our phones even though our friends make fun of us, but for this one race we decided to leave the phones at home. We had both taken screen shots of the course maps on our phones, but obviously this did us no good since our phones weren't with us.

I was glad that Bubba was there because without him, I would have just sat on a rock and cried myself into dehydration. He quietly said to me that he was glad he didn't have to die alone. I suggested that we walk so we wouldn't dehydrate more quickly and he agreed. I don't remember a time where I felt more in danger than this moment. Bubba remarked how they always say not to panic when you get lost, but how impossible that is when you actually find yourself in that situation. Looking back, I don't know why we thought it would be smarter to keep going instead of turning around. Now that I know where we were, it would have been longer to go back the way we came. Dumb luck.

Less than half a mile later we saw some jeeps. One of the guys was unloading something from the back of the jeep and we interrogated him. He said he had seen some runners and pointed out the nearest pink ribbon to us. We could see the aid station down below but we weren't sure how far it was to get there. I asked him if he had any extra water and he gave us a bottle to share and said it was probably a mile down the hill.

We took that blue got Gold Bar Trail around to the yellow jeep road... fun trail but not the right way

As we came into the aid station, I frantically told Meghan, who was volunteering, how we had gotten lost and I asked her how many girls had gone through. She replied, "A lot." I filled up my bottles and took off. My fear had subsided into anger. At first I was angry that the course wasn't marked better. The problem with that thought is that I know the race directors and they don't skimp on course markings. They take pride in their work. I had to face it. I wasn't looking and I missed the turn. On top of that I was so unobservant that I followed the yellow dots for 2 miles before I really accepted that I wasn't on the course anymore.

Bubba and I ran the next 4.5 miles together more or less. We passed a good number of runners. I was fueled by my frustration with my own stupidity, but Bubba seemed to be running on gratefulness, fist bumping the slower runners as he passed them. I don't know how, but we came to a place where we admitted to each other that it felt like we were meant to go off course just to keep each other safe.

I glanced at my watch when it said I had gone 31 miles and my time at that point was 5:35.  Even with getting lost, wandering around, climbing on rocks to get a better vantage point, and walking to stave off dehydration I had still managed to get a 50k PR. We still crossed the finish line in under 6 hours. I had run a 55k 30 minutes faster than my 55k time at Red Hot this last spring. I decided to call it a personal win. I couldn't have asked for a more adventurous day. I'll be back for more Grassroots Events races and I can't wait to get my revenge on this awesome course next year.

I'd like to say that the excellent post-race party drowned out my sorrows, but obviously it's still bothering me a little bit. The end of the season is always a little sad no matter what the circumstances are. It's nothing a little post season beer and cheese won't fix.

Garmin route:

On Sunday, I ventured with dad, Cory, and Mayla to the La Sal mountains where we hiked Miner's Pass. I just can't get enough of these mountains.

1 comment:

  1. Did you see the baby driving the Jeep? Only in Moab.