Wasatch 100

Wasatch 100

Monday, February 18, 2013

2013 Moab Red Hot 55K by Ryan Martin

Blue sky, perfect temps, and amazing views sums up the Red Hot 55K in one sentence.  2013 was the 3rd time we have made the 370 mile cross-Colorado journey to Moab for this great race and it marks the 1st race of the year.  

Leading up to the race, my winter training has been limited to 30-50 miles a week with only a few long runs (longest being 18 since December's 50k in California).  My goal was to run modestly hard and see how my body would respond as the miles added up. The best part we had perfect weather so there would be no excuses.
The morning of the race we packed up from our hotel, got our coffee, and picked up my teammate Jeanne Cooper who would later finish 4th in the race.  We got to the parking area that was off the highway about 1/2 mile from the start and stayed warm until just before the 7:00 am start.

At the starting area, it was clear the most of the runners were hardcore including many well known elite men and women.  I believe many of them come to this remote location in February to keep their game going in the winter months.  
I made my way to the mid-pack for the start yet everyone wasted no time rocketing up the Gemini Bridges Road.  The first climb was mostly snow-packed and eventually turned into a canyon that would later split the two races.  After the climb, it became a fast moving downhill on powdery dirt until the split. The 33K would cut to the left and the 55K would turn right up a steep road.

(The next 4 pictures show the first 3.5 miles and later the race would run along the cliffs above)

After the split and the steep climb we reached the first aid-station but since I was running with a large water bladder, I ran through it to pad my time.  At mile 7-ish, the first round of slick-rock running began.  Most of this section was uphill yet still very runnable.  We zig-zagged the way following painted road markings but more importantly the pink and black race flags.
Throughout the race, I had to remain alert to follow the flags.  So I would always be scanning ahead for the flags and or the runners ahead.  Even though I could see a runner ahead I could still make a mistake going in the wrong direction and hit a dead-end which has happened to me before.  

(The next 4 pictures are of the slick-rock named the Metal Masher Trail for the 4x4s that use this route. Note the white make on the next picture which is used by the drivers to follow)

At mile 10.3, I made it to the top of the 2nd climb.  The top has an amazing with view of starting area  below and Arches National Park in the distance.  The race then bounced up-and-down along the ridges until it cut back to the west to begin the descent.  I reached the 13.1 mile mark just after 2 hours of running at a good pace yet I could already feel some fatigue.  Once I hit the smooth runnable section, my speed dropped to a sub-nine minute mile.  My only mistake of the race occurred in this section.  I missed a turn to the left but I quickly noticed the lack of tracks in the dirt and turned back.
(one of the mini-climbs on the way down)
(approaching the junction to rejoin the course with the 33K)

After the 8 mile descent the race flattened out for a mile as it rejoined with the 33K.   Quickly the race started climbing again into the most scenic part of the race.  At mile 19 I had a delay because of a pack of 4x4 off-road rock crawlers. They started up a tight steep section where I made the choice and wait verses the potential of being crushed by one of the 4x4s.
When they finally made their climb to a safe section, I was able to get by and resume my run.  The next four miles was a rolling climb through various canyons with difficult trail finding.  There were many more technical sections where runners were sliding and jumping off different rock ledges.  

In some ways I felt that I was a doing a road race because much of the next 8 miles was almost all on the hard slick-rock thus feeling like pavement.  
(some runners sliding off some of the ledges)
The next two pictures are of my favorite part of the race.  It winds through some canyon like sections.  It was nice to get a runners to grab my iPhone to take a picture of me running up.  Can you imagine anyone in a road race volunteering to take your picture.

(looking west towards the Colorado River)
(4:39 Marathon - 8 more miles)
The part of the course which is shared with the 33K is significantly harder then the first 18 miles.  The terrain is always changing up-and-down on the slick rock from miles 19-28.  Personally, my limited winter training began to be apparent. I was not bonking yet I lack the speed of the earlier miles and was forced to hike the steeper sections.

After leaving the 22 mile aid-station, I thought the race had only one more climb but I was very wrong which was my fault for not reading the map and depending on memory from 4 years ago.  What I learned is that I had 4 extra miles of up-and-down instead of the one mile that I guessed.  Mentally, it did not bother me yet I hate being wrong.

As seen below, there were a few snow and ice covered sections.  On one spot we had to go up a steep rocky hill covered in ice.  It was clear many runners ended up sliding down including my girlfriend Kelly who scraped up her knee.

At mile 28, I got a break from the slick rock with a 2.5 mile runnable road where I was able to speed up and even pass a few runners.
The last 3 miles was a steep descent down a gnarly jeep road called Poison Spider.  It had huge shelf-rock formations that zig-zagged through a tight canyon.  One of the bad shaded sections was covered in enough ice the race organizers had volunteers out to warn runners of the conditions.  

As it opened up to the larger Colorado River canyon there was one more quick climb and I was able see the all the runners in front and behind me.  I was feeling pretty good with gas in the tank so I decided to kick it in to catch a few slower runners as I descended to the finish.  
In conclusion, I finished in 6:06:08 which was my second best time in this event.  I also enjoyed seeing a good showing of the Runners Roost Race team and making a few new friends along the way. This is a very well organized race in remarkable location.  I would highly recommend this race to anyone who wants to run a spectacular desert ultra.