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.
“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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 has 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! 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.
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 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.
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.