Moab’s Red Hot 33k… a Love Story

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I’m alone. Glancing cautiously around I see nothing but deep red rock, sand dunes frozen in time, domes and hoodoos in shades from deep rust to rose. Far in the distance, towering over the sea of red, incongruously blue snow-capped peaks echo the colors of the sky.

I stop, just for a moment, to savor the solitude. Not a sound except the wind. The world, for a moment, is just me and this place.

I start off again, running horizontally along a rock slope, scanning ahead of me for a sign. 1024x768_bestfit (38) I hear footsteps behind me, the cadence much faster than my own, and a woman flies past.

“You’re the first woman!” I call as she flies away, “Good job!” Maybe she already knew she was the first woman in the 55k, but she does a brief double fist pump and then disappears.

1024x768_bestfit (22)I figure she found the sign, which is pink striped flagging tied to anything that will hold it, so I follow her.

Running the Red Hot 33k is a fabulous, surreal experience. I fly across rock faces, leap over narrow crevices, and run up the faces of domes that seem impossibly steep. I feel like a child, a goat, or some other wild creature. My inner snailette is as happy as she has ever been. As a child I had a recurring dream where I could run like the wind, leap over fences and climb the sides of buildings, as if nothing could hold me back. This takes me back to that place.1024x768_bestfit (19)

Moab’s Red Hot 33k/55k starts at the Gemini Bridges Trailhead just North of Moab, Utah. It climbs on switchbacks for just over a mile. On this first climb I lose my daughter J and my husband B. At one point I see B above me, looking back, I give him a wave and he waves back. I won’t see him for a while.

At the top of the switchbacks, the course drops down into a shady valley and follows a dirt road at the bottom of painted cliffs. The first aid station is just over 4 miles and comes sooner than I expect, probably because of the ridiculously beautiful and distracting landscape.

1024x768_bestfit (8)Now the real climb begins and the dirt ends. The next few miles are up, up, up on smooth red rock. I’m glad it isn’t raining. Some of the rock is covered in a fine powder. When wet, this is the rock that becomes slickrock. Much of this long hill is runnable, but sometimes I’m climbing on tiptoe. I take a lot of pictures. I confess to a runner 1024x768_bestfit (33)puffing past me that I stop to take pictures as an excuse to rest. He makes some breathless reply that I can’t quite understand, but he passes me never to be seen again. Uphills are my biggest challenge (weakness!) and where I lose ground in every event. This year I am really working on hills, including doing strength training for my legs. But it’s only February. At this point, I’ve only improved a little.1024x768_bestfit (6)

So I take a lot of pictures. You’re welcome.

The second aid station, about 8 miles in, is also the high point of the course. I grab a peanut butter cup and sip some Coke as the first 55k men come through the aid station. The views from the aid station are breathtaking.

The sign says no, but the flagging says go

The sign says no, but the flagging says go

I said that was the high point, right? Makes it sound like it’s downhill from there, right? Nope.

From here, the course begins miles of jagged ups and downs, all on rock. My new race friend Lara from Littleton mentions that she wore her Hoka One Ones because of the rock. She also mentions that she does not feel like she’s running on clouds today. My Salomon Speedcross 3s feel great, but running horizontally along the sloped rock does create some hotspots. Also, this is not a course for the weak of ankle.

This magical section continues for another 7 or 8 miles to the last aid station. Again, this aid station appears sooner than I expect. I’m tired, but I’m also a little disappointed that there are only 5 miles to go.

At this aid station I refill my reservoir more than necessary because it’s pretty hot! In spite of the time of year, the temperatures have climbed into the mid-60s, which is unseasonable for almost everyone here. A 55k runner says there are two flat miles and then three 1024x768_bestfit (30)downhill miles to go. He mentions that the two flat miles are hellish wasteland. I guess he loves flats about as much as I do. Even with my hill weakness I would rather run up a hill than flat. About halfway into the flat wasteland a 55k runner passes me and then takes a spectacular tumble. I catch up to him and use my extra water to rinse off his arm. Under a surprising amount of blood he has1024x768_bestfit (28) an awesome dirt rash that probably didn’t feel too good later that night.

The flat finally gives way to some fast downhills. At the bottom of most of the hills are sandy washes. I notice many runners heading to the sand. I try to avoid it because it is SO HARD to run in. I feel like I’m running in place. After the race, B said he tried to run in the sand because his Altra Lone Peaks didn’t give enough cushioning and his feet HURT! 1024x768_bestfit (13)Anyway, I don’t like the sand. One runner stops suddenly and sits on the side of the trail to pour sand out of her shoes. I run past, thanking my gaiters for keeping the sand out. Very few runners are wearing gaiters, which surprises me since the course description warned us about the sand.

The last few miles are SO MUCH FUN! I lose most of the runners I have been leapfrogging and run as fast as I can. The last mile or so is a dirt road littered with fist-sized rocks that switches back and forth down to the Colorado River. I feel more mental clarity than I would have expected at this point, and pick some pretty good lines. On one switchback, I see Lara from Littleton about a quarter mile ahead, then I don’t see her again.

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At the finish line I’m handed a Red Hot glass for a FREE BEER!!!!!! There is music and chili, which I pass on, but B and J said was awesome! The beer is from the Bohemian Brewery and is very delicious and very effective. I mean, I just ran 20 miles, which made me a really cheap date.

You can get all the results on the website www.grassrootsevents.net and other race reports, so I’ll just give you a few results… the woman who flew by me wearing, by the 256x256_fit_one_bestfit (12)way, a cute Salomon shirt with tiny purple flowers that I also happen to own (Salomon, I mentioned you twice, you should send me free stuff) was 19 year old Ashley Erba of Louisville, CO and she was the first female finisher of the 55k. Alex Nichols and Rob Krar finished first and second in the 55k, so they were probably the guys that came through the second aid station while I was there. Scott Spillman of Morrison, CO won the 33k with a time of 2:22:03 and the first woman in the 33k was Darcy Piceu with a time of 2:42:51.

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My time was much slower than these. That’s all I have to say about that.

B finished about 40 minutes ahead of me and J finished about an hour and 10 minutes ahead of me. To them I say, “if you don’t want to wait forever at the finish line then SLOW THE HELL DOWN!!”

Did I mention that this was on Valentine’s Day? Did I mention that I ABSOLUTELY fell in love with this event and the beautiful course?

Yes, Grass Roots Events, we will be back.

I want nachos!

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2014-04-15 18.12.55The mud is deep and sticky. It is the mud of the town where I live, a sticky gray clay that threatens to pull off our shoes. It is the mud of my backyard, where vegetables won’t grow and trees grow in a stunted way as if they are inches below timberline, not 4200 feet above sea level.

My daughter J is ahead of me, weaving back and forth along the trail, picking the driest path.

“I want nachos! Gas station nachos. With jalapenos,” J calls back.

“That sounds terrible.”

2013-09-08 11.41.43J was kind enough to do some handicapping the night before. In other words, she drank enough that she is running closer to my pace. Only closer, mind you, still not as slow as thetrailsnail. This is also causing the usual morning-after cravings, amplified by running.

“Or a gas station hot dog. No, both. A hot dog and nachos.”

“How about a honey gel instead?”

“No thanks. I need fat. Fat and salt.”

2014-04-15 18.27.24We are only about two miles in on a planned twelve mile run, so each mention of food makes me hungry in that hopeless way, knowing there are miles to go before I sleep… I mean eat.

The trail was an unexpected find. A couple of weeks before, I was running with my husband on a canal road near my house. He noticed a dirt road that crossed the canal and headed into the foothills.

“Where does that go?”

2014-07-08 11.04.46“I don’t know…”

I had run the canal road a few times, but never noticed this before, so we followed it. We didn’t go too far that first day, but we could tell there was a lot to explore.

The next time we took the dogs. This trail provides bunnies for chasing, so the dogs wear out closer to the time we wear out.

This is the first time J has been on this trail, and our first chance to really explore. We have all day, if we need it.

100_0285“Or a hamburger. I want a hamburger.”

“Stop talking about food!”

She does. For about a mile.

“I want a Crunch Wrap Supreme.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

She describes it. I gotta say, it does NOT sound good, but it still makes my stomach do that uncomfortable growl.

“Ivy Dog, go catch us a bunny,” I call, “we’re hungry!”

She acts like she knows what I’m saying and starts criss-crossing through the sagebrush like she’s hunting.

100_0425We run into the foothills and take a couple of side trails. The views are beautiful and the dogs are happy. We realize at some point that we are lost. This makes us more hungry. We may never find our way home. We may never eat again!

“I just wanted nachos,” J says, her voice forlorn and hopeless. “I just wanted potato chips.”

I realize that I can see the nacho gas station. It is far, far in the distance, but at least I know the direction we need to go. We find a trail that heads in that direction. It’s not so muddy and, for the first time all day, we start to make some good time.

“I don’t want nachos.”

I stop, shocked.

100_0284“You don’t want nachos?”

“No. Just a hot dog. And a Crunch Wrap Supreme.”

“Okay.”

“And potato chips.”

When we get back to the car we’ve run just over ten miles instead of twelve. That’s the problem with exploring new trails, you just never know where you are. We load up and head to the gas station.

They don’t have hot dogs.

nachosThe hot dog roller sits empty, still and silent. J stares at the clerk in disbelief.

“You don’t have hot dogs?”

“No,” the clerk says, “we never sell them on Sunday so we quit putting them out.”

So we get nachos. We smother them with fake cheese and jalapenos. We get potato chips, some for us, some for Clayton the Malador. We will offer some to The Ivy Dog, knowing she will politely take them and hide them in the car. She didn’t get that figure by eating potato chips.

We haul our loot out of the gas station. I glance back to see the look of horror on the poor clerk’s face as she sees the mud we have tracked all over her floor. I mouth sorry. Oh well, it’s a slow day for her.

J sits despondently in the passenger seat, eating her nachos but no hot dog. So, being a good mother, I drive her to Taco Bell for her Crunch Wrap Supreme.

Author’s note: thetrailsnail does not recommend the above diet on a regular basis if you want to run and/or live very long.