Running long in the endless sky – Dead Horse 50k

Wow, that actually went really well. I’m surprised that I’m able to say that after racing a distance so long and so new to me. But Saturday at the Dead Horse 50k was a great day. 3rd place in a strong field. 3:42 for 50k on a course that turned out to be more challenging than I anticipated. 6th fastest time ever on the course. Just as important for me, it got super challenging out there but I really enjoyed the experience of being on on the Moab trails and racing through such an amazing landscape.

Pounding the slickrock

Pounding the slickrock

Race Morning

With a 7am start, I got up at 5am, made my french press coffee, along with a peanut butter and banana sandwich, and sat in the front of our van enjoying breakfast and looking at the stars (which are exceptional in Moab by the way and almost worth the trip on their own). Despite being such a long race, the gear was pretty straightforward. To play it safe with it being my first long trail race and err on the side of caution from a nutrition and hydration, I wore a run backpack. I had stocked up at Runners Roost pre race so had two bottles of Nuun, a Honey Stinger Waffle, energy chews, a couple of gels, and a Hot Shot in case my day got dire. It was a chilly start, 30 degrees so I also wanted to play it safe, wear enough, then stash it in the bag when it warmed up. Mentally prepping for a 50k was pretty chill. It’s so long that I felt like I’d have plenty of time to run hard and would even have enough time to make up for a mistake or two if I made one.

First Half

The first two miles had a serious climb and I was in the lead with Jeshurun Small at the top. We talked and funny enough, he had graduated from Golden High School two years ago. On the downhill, Golden Harper, the founder of Altra shoes, bombed by us but we were all back together at the aid station at 4 miles in. Then we separated out with Jeshurun taking the lead and peeling away with me in 2nd and Golden falling back out of my sight. We hit some slickrock which I found pretty damn hard to run fast on. It was so winding and had so many little ups and downs. I’m a rythme runner and there’s definitely no rythme or reason to those slickrock trails. After that, we hit my favorite section of the course, a slightly rolling red dirt trail that felt the African savanna. With the sun slowly rising behind me, the distance and stillness of dawn sprawled before me was a moment to remember. The trail reared into more slickrock yet the miles were clicking by super fast. I was already approaching the 15 mile halfway point where Amy and the boys would meet me at the aid station with drink and nutrition refills. I was felling really strong without a hint of any gremlins to slow me down in the second half.

Last Half

I was pumped to see Amy and the boys waiting for me at halfway after an hour and forty eight minutes. It’s hard to describe how good it feels to see your family on course during a long race. Amy had nutrition and bottles laid out on the rocks so that I could take what I needed. I took my two empty bottles out of by pack, grabbed two fresh ones, and took a fresh Honey Stinger waffle along with three gels. I ditched my jacket. It was warming up but still chilly. The next miles were downhill but I was learning fast that running downhill on the winding slickrock trails was a major challenge. I expected 7 flat miles to be easy at this part of the course but that was not happening. At mile 20 I felt some hints of cramping and had to back it off a touch. Now, over the course of 5 miles, I had gone from feeling great to feeling greatly pounded by the rocks. My hip flexors felt like they might cramp up, especially if I was overly aggressive with the pace.

15k to go - thanks Phil Snyder for this pic

15k to go – thanks Phil Snyder for this pic

Golden blew past me, offering encouragement but quickly running out of sight. I wondered if I could hold 3rd place down. I really wanted to be on the podium, that would feel like a success. I plugged away through the last miles of slickrock, talking to positive words out loud to myself at times to boost myself through it. Finally we got off the slickrock with about 5 miles to go. It was loose sand but to me, just getting off the serpentine rock trail felt incredible. That was something I could deal with whereas the slickrock was starting to get the best of me.

I ran 10 feet straight past the last aid station then thought better of it and went back for some insurance food for the last few miles. Now it was a slight uphill with good footing on a jeep road. It felt like I should definitely be able to run 7 flat pace miles here. I was really tired but feeling a bit better than I expected. No muscles were failing me, my nutrition was good, and I was well hydrated. But I felt like I was running in slow motion, like a nightmare where everything is moving slowly, and I could absolutely not crack under 8 minute pace. I chugged on though, kept up the self talk and hit the bottom of a nasty 1 mile climb that would bring me up to two miles from the finish. That climb challenged me big time but I’m really proud of how I stuck it out, I didn’t walk a single step, I stayed positive every second of it, and even got under 10 minutes for the mile up it. Now at the top I could see the finish WAYYY off in the distance at the bottom of the descent. The steep downhill was rough, I couldn’t open up my stride but once I hit the flatter bit I felt really good and strong. Amy and the boys were waiting for me at 100 meters to go. I was so happy to see them and almost couldn’t believe that I was actually done.IMG_9698

Post Race

A few of my trail running friends have told me that ultras are addicting. I definitely wouldn’t say I’m addicted. I mean, the race was super hard and not something I’d want to do serially. Also, the way my muscles were giving out I’m really not sure I could really compete well beyond 50k. That said though, I’d like to find an adventurous trail marathon or 50k for next year. Either on some really cool trails in the US or one of the big European races just to experience that side of trail running. We’ll likely be in Austria for work in the spring so maybe the Innsbruck Alpine Trail Run Festival 42k will be in my cards. For now though, it’s ski season and I’m looking forward to getting in some powder says and high mountain ski touring.

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Trail running is made for post race campfires with good friends

Trail running is made for post race campfires with good friends

Moab at sunset

Moab at sunset

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