This year’s Moab Red Hot 55k was the perfect way to kick off 2012. We had the most incredible weather in Moab this last weekend – the best since I first ran the race in 2008. The course was in great condition with fewer soft sandy stretches than I remember last year and the jeep road sections were really nicely packed, smooth, and fast. But as usual, the Moab Red Hot course delivered plenty of punishing technical slickrock and terrible course markings to make things interesting. This year’s course flagging was a pink and black striped pattern. The pink blended in nicely with the red rock background and in the right shadows, the black striping made the flags almost completely invisible.
Going into the race, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out but hoped to break 4:30. So I figured I’d just go out, push hard, and see what happens.
From the start, Shannon took the lead and a chase pack of about half a dozen other guys fell in behind at a brisk pace. After a few miles, the pack thinned out and other than a couple words exchanged with Karl around mile 2, I pretty much ran the entire race solo. I was a little disappointed that Slush couldn’t make it out for the race this year – it’s always so much more fun to run these events with good friends to pace with.
From the start my legs felt pretty weak on the climbs and my quads didn’t feel up to really hammering the downhills very hard. But I managed to catch up with Shannon on the ridge at the top of Metal Masher and pulled ahead on the next downhill into the second aid station. And none of the other guys from our starting pack looked like they were catching up.
The jeep road going back down on the back stretch of the first loop was much, much easier without the nasty headwinds that hit us last year so I made good time back to the base of Gold Bar. I figured Shannon or some of the other fast guys would catch back up but by the time I started the climb up onto the second section of slickrock, there wasn’t anyone in sight behind me.
I kept my momentum all the way up to the aid station at the top of Gold Bar. I caught up with Stephen on the way up the climb. He was having some bad muscle cramps and I gave him a spare S-cap and continued up the hill.
After the Gold Bar aid station, I started to fall apart. Last year I remember running this section of slickrock from mile 21 to 28 much better. I think the flagging may have been a bit more noticeable and last year I remember seeing more 33k runners spread out at convenient intervals to help spot the route. This year I ended up out on my own through most of this section and I kept losing sight of the flagging and had to come to a complete stop to look around about half a dozen times. My quads were already fried so it was really hard to keep stopping and starting and changing direction. I was pretty sure that someone would easily catch up with me before I made it back out of the slickrock. Looking back at my 2011 splits, I only ran this section 27 seconds slower so I guess I didn’t do quite as poorly as it felt.
After I made it past the last aid station and out of the worst of the slickrock, my legs were completely trashed. For the last 5 miles, I just kept my focus cranking my legs over. I didn’t have any final finish kick left in me but I managed to hold on and grind out the last few miles to finish in 4:35. Good enough for 5th place and a new PR by 9 minutes and 13 seconds.
While the end result turned out extremely well, I can’t say that this was my best run. Running fast and running well aren’t always the same. I managed to finish well and did the best I could with the training and preparation I had going into the race. So I don’t have any complaints or regrets. My speed on the flats was better than it’s ever been. And this was the first race I’ve run where I’ve been able to consistently get down a high volume of calories – 800 calories from start to finish. My friends over at Vi Endurance have developed a pretty good formula and I’m really happy to finally have something that I can run with that doesn’t make me want to vomit. I’m just a bit disappointed in my hill climbing and technical downhill running – it just wasn’t up to the level that I’m used to running. But it’s February and I have the next 3 months to get back in top shape for the Bighorn 100. So after this weekend, the rest of 2012 looks very promising.