Sometimes, things go well. Sometimes, things go badly. And then, when it rains in the desert, it pours.
And pours some more.
The First Annual Slickrock Ultramarathon series (50k, 50mile, and 100-mile) event faced probably the worse set of circumstances ever faced by a group of people trying to direct a fun, scenic, challenging race. A few unappreciative runners vented to the race directors, and those
losers individuals who decided it was necessary to yell their frustrations only managed to make a complete ass out of themselves. From my perspective, they were lucky there was a race at all. In most, if not all, races I’ve known, if the directors had faced the same circumstances they would have cancelled the race completely. But, the SlickRock Directors didn’t, but not without trouble after trouble for all their efforts.
Thirty-six hours prior to the race, while out marking the course, the race director sank his jeep up to the windows in quicksand. His own rescue from the pit was thanks to a good Samaritan tree branch. Walking 15 miles by foot back to base camp (including a nice shoulder-deep dunk in a freezing cold river), the director and the SAR folks realized a new course was needed.
With little sleep, little time to prepare, and desperate ribbon marking, a new 50k, 50mile, and 100mile course was marked and planned using a GPS unit which, unfortunately, decided it, too, was going to add trouble (accuracy issues).
But that wasn’t the end of it. Apparently Moab, Utah, is full of vandals and disreputable characters, because numerous emergency water stations were stolen and course ribbons removed. Why people would do this is beyond me, but there was a cycling crowd in town (highly doubt it was them, although you do see a lot of shady mountain bikers in bars), a lot of 4-wheelers (being a Jeep CJ-5 owner myself, I doubt it was any Jeep owners, as they are too often busy trying to bash side panels), and some ATV users (always known to be shady types). So the unknown culprits just added to the navigational and nutritional challenges of the trail race.
Despite these challenges, the races began darn near on time – and I was thankful they started a couple minutes late. I almost missed the start because, like almost everything related to this first race, there was drama. On the way to the start, a young driver probably fell asleep at the wheel, and hit the guard rail just a few feet in front of us. A testament to the culture of runners, all the cars that stopped to help the young man who was hurt and dazed but otherwise okay – every single one of them – were runners in the SlickRock.
Nobody else in a car at that hour stopped to help, including a bunch of vehicles towing boats. As the “shortest distance” runner in the group, I elected to stay behind until the police arrived in order to prevent any of the speeding early-morning drivers from hitting the crashed car still blocking the right lane. The way I figured it, so what if I started a few minutes late?
But despite that I made it to the start, got a chance to use the restroom, and run to the start which itself had an issue. The Air-Horn, which had worked before, suddenly decided it, too, didn’t want to work properly, and there was a confusion as to the actual “start” of the race. However, it didn’t really matter, because the mud at the start line prevented most of us from bounding out of the start like deer in grass anyway.
Finally underway, those of us at the back of the group began chatting, and I heard the rain was supposed to stop by 9:30am. Of course, it didn’t stop drizzling nor did the sun come out of the clouds until about 3pm, but who’s counting?
The new course – which I never saw the map – was a wise choice. Below is my GPS track from my Garmin 310XT, thanks to Garmin Connect. You can also see more details from my trainingpeaks, which includes my heart rate and some more elevation data and metrics and my own breakdown of performance (I just think Garmin Connect makes a better embed).
The course was about 4 miles longer than it should have been, even though I ran the course fairly accurately (I didn’t get lost).
Sometimes it’s good to be slow
A couple of hours into the race, while chatting with one of the 100-mile racers (yes, I’m slow enough in a 50k to be pacing myself with the 100 milers), we noticed a very large group of people coming back our direction. I knew I was slow, but not that slow, so we asked them if they had gone the wrong direction – which they did. The turn was well-marked but easy to miss (difficult to explain – there were a lot of ribbons at the turn point, but they would be easily missed if you were in a group chatting or just following the herd). In all honesty, we, too, would have missed the turn if we just hadn’t happened on to the right spot at the right moment with the group headed back our way.
Additionally, when I reached the 15.6 mile mark, someone had tossed their coat – so I wasn’t certain if it was the turn-around or not. I lost about 10 minutes being uncertain to continue on or not, until some of the trailing 50k’ers and 50-milers caught up with me, along with a fast 50k-er who told us we still had 2 miles to go. Reaching the 1/2 way point at 17.75 miles told me I needed to change my race strategy, because I was going to be out there much longer than I had paced myself. The original 50k distance I had hoped to cover in under 7hours – but the extra 4.5 miles meant I had to plan/pace/eat for an extra hour.
MY #1 ULTRARUNNER ADVICE: ALWAYS PLAN FOR AN EXTRA HOUR BEYOND WHAT YOU THINK IT WILL TAKE TO FINISH, AND ALWAYS CARRY EXTRA GU/HAMMER/WATER/NUTRITION.
Fortunately, having dropped/lost gu packets, salt tablets, water bottles, and a myriad of other aids in previous races, I knew to carry extra of everything above and beyond what I expected. I also plan on no help from any aid stations. So, as it worked out, the additional mileage didn’t hurt my food/water plans/supplies. I also still had enough salt/electrolyte pills to carry me through to the end (and I still had gu packets left over at the finish).
Personally, I’m impressed by the 50 and 100 mile racers who, despite the dark, still managed to find their way and finish the race. All my racing was done (mostly) in daylight – I can’t imagine running on those trails in the dark!
All of these difficulties – of which there were more than a few – were more than offset but the beauty in which we were running. Moab is an amazing place, and my little portable camera could not capture all the amazing colors of the desert. I kept happily distracted from conversations, scenery, and navigation.
Finishing unscathed, I jogged/walked through the finish line (a tent because, as the final insult, the compressor wouldn’t start to inflate the official finish line) quite happy and satisfied. After assuring the race directors that we had a great time and a great race, we left to return to the hotel and a much-needed horizontal immobility for several hours before beginning the 17-hour drive back to San Francisco.
(ADDITIONAL PHOTOS TO BE ADDED SOON)
My Results (36/46)…