Moab Red Hot Cold, Rainy, and Windy 55k

Well this year’s Red Hot 55k in Moab was anything but red hot. It was mostly cold, rainy, extremely windy with a few breaks of dreary overcast gloom. Based on the weather conditions, this race probably shouldn’t have been any fun at all. But with 50 Fort Collins trail runners and another 13 Special Idiots from the Boulder/Denver area out on the course, it turned out to be a hell of a lot of fun. Our group took over 40 rooms at the Bighorn Lodge, made up 20% of the finishers in the 33k and 55k races, and by my best guess we consumed at least 80% of the post race beer.

Photo by Eric Lee

Going into the race, I really didn’t know what to expect. My recovery from Ghost Town was slower than expected and between some really nasty cold weather, social commitments, and getting mentally sidetracked by Hardrock, I really hadn’t done any specific training or even given the Moab 55k a single thought. I just planned to go out for a weekend road trip with friends and have fun on the course.

The race started off with a nice social lead pack with Ryan and Dakota leading the way up the first hill. I settled in with Sam and Scott, said hello to Jason Koop from Ghost Town and for at least a couple minutes it seemed like this was going to be a pleasant group fun run.

Ryan taking the lead at the start followed by Tim Parr, Dakota, Sam, Scott, and I. (Photo by Dan Brillon)

That lasted about half a mile up the first little climb before the fast guys started to pull ahead on the next 3 mile stretch of gradual downhill. As the leaders were pulling ahead, I tried to settle into a comfortable cruising speed and was surprised to see my mile 2 split at 6:32 and mile 3 at 6:38. What was more surprising than running at my marathon PR pace at the start of a trail 50k race was that it actually felt pretty good. So I kept up the same effort level and finally settled in to run along with Scott.

We cruised up the first climb on Metal Masher at a brisk pace and despite the on and off rain and occasional gust of wind, we were both feeling very good. But on the back stretch of the first loop, we hit the first real headwinds. Mile 13 through 18 is usually a really nice stretch of jeep road with a gradual downhill drop where you can really haul ass, stretch the legs out, and recharge before the next challenging section of slickrock. This year we ran straight into a relentless headwind. Scott and I teamed up to take turns drafting off of each other through this section. It did help slightly and we were able to maintain a strong pace but we still expended too much energy that we’d really need later in the race.

By mile 18 where I had planned to really start my final push through the last half of the course, my legs were already pretty fried. But on a positive note, we finally had a decent break in the weather and the sun almost broke through the clouds. So on a fairly easy section before the climb up Gold Bar, I took the opportunity to peel off my wind breaker. But as I was fumbling to re-clip my waist pack, I caught a toe. My hands were still trapped on my belt and I barely got my left hand up before I did a full belly flop into the dirt. Fortunately my shoulder and face hit soft dirt and only my hand, ribs, and knees smacked down on the slickrock. As I was dusting myself off Scott and a couple other runners pulled off ahead. That was really demoralizing. I took a couple minutes to walk it off and after I figured out that nothing was seriously damaged, I pulled myself back together and charged back up the hill to catch up with Scott. After the next aid station, I pulled ahead and didn’t see Scott again until the finish line. I was pretty tired at this point and in a bit of pain from the fall and just needed to focus on running whatever pace I could manage in the final grind to the finish.

The final miles of the race were much harder than I remember from two years ago. The slickrock route was marked as well as it possibly could have been marked. But without any visible trail and a limited number of bushes and rocks to attach flagging, it’s always a challenge to follow the course through here. A few times a long the way I had to stop to look for markers and after the last aid station, I went about a tenth of a mile off course following another runner. Fortunately I caught the error in time to get back on track without losing much time. Headwinds started gusting on and off through this last section and following Murphy’s Law, they blew the hardest whenever I hit a nice runnable patch of road or slickrock. There were also several sections of very soft sand that I don’t remember at all from two years ago. So a few stretches of dirt that I remembered to be really nice easy breaks from the pounding on slickrock were sand traps that were difficult to walk through, let alone keep up any decent running pace. And the last 4 miles that I remembered being a very fast and easy downhill on jeep road had a lot more technical slickrock and uphills. In the last few miles I started catching up with 33k runners so it was helpful to have people to chase and it was a great mental boost to see some friends along the final stretch.

One of many sand traps. (Photo by Kemp Nussbaum)

With the rough conditions, my finish time wasn’t quite as fast as I hoped but I still managed to finish with a 21 minute PR from the last time I ran the race in 2009. Erik, Sam, and Stephen ended up finishing just a few minutes ahead of me so I suppose there may have been a chance to push a bit harder to catch them. Through the last 10 miles I ran the uphills fairly conservatively to save energy to push the easy downhill sections that never really appeared. So I may have been able to run a bit faster if I had just pushed any runnable line, up or down, that I could spot far enough ahead that didn’t have a headwind or a sand trap. But that’s just speculation in hindsight. I ran as hard as I could for the day and am pretty happy about my finish time and place. I have a lot of work to do to get ready for Hardrock but between this run and my run at Ghost Town last month, I’m feeling very good about where I’m starting from for this season.

Our Fort Collins trail runners and Special Idiots took over most of the local Mexican restaurant. (Photo by Chris Gerber)

We were very focused on thoroughly re-hydrating after the race. (Photo by Eric Lee)

  • Joselyne Perry

    February 23rd, 2011

    Nice work! Somehow I managed to avoid falling on my face, but it was close. I can’t imagine falling and then having to finish a 55k. I guess that’s all part of the deal! It was great to see you in the last couple miles – helped light a fire under me.

  • Rob

    February 23rd, 2011

    That beard must have saved you from any serious facial injuries. Another strong race Pete!

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