Running an Ultra Marathon has been a dream of mine for so long. I signed up for one several years ago hoping to reach this goal but fell short when I broke my ankle just two months before. So, here I was, summer of 17', working through the middle of wedding season, and signing up for the Dead Horse Ultra in Moab, Utah. I don't really like sleep you know, and weekends at weddings with hours spent on my feet just meant extra training in my mind. My peers thought I was insane. My reasoning and my explanation to each of them was that I was dog gone tired of putting off this goal and saying "I'll sign up next year." Next year comes and where does the time go? The older I get the more I realize that this whole procrastinator mentality of my youth is not going to get me anywhere. Life is happening here, now, whether I want it to or not!
So, I began my training, waking up early or running long grueling miles with Miss Kyote after work. She, being a husky and all, absolutely loved this! I swear she never tires out. We once finished a 27 mile loop before meeting up with her lab pal Finley. The two played together with so much energy and Kyote looked like she was fresh off a nap! Training was tougher for me, but thankfully I wasn't starting from ground zero. I've ran consistently since middle school and truly love hitting trails and racking up miles. Running provides a mental break, stress relief, and allows me to eat just about anything I want. Meaning, wedding food/cake is no problem! The food bit is really what kept me running all these years. Can anyone else relate?
I traveled to Moab the night before my race, thinking through and recalling my plan for how my run would go. I had friends running shorter distances the next morning and when I arrived we set up camp together and made hot dinner over propane stoves. We settled for an early evening and I crawled into the bed in my car. There was report of a storm rolling in and I was so glad I didn't try to set up my tent as the weather grew nasty. Pouring rain, chilly temps, and high winds woke me up around midnight. I calmed myself and relaxed, falling back asleep to the sound of the storm raging around me. At 5am I awoke to my friend Alli knocking on my window and shining her headlamp in to make sure I got up and ready for my race. To be honest, it was about the last thing I wanted to do but I had come so far. I shook off the morning slumber and sat up in bed. The November air outside was frigid but it was calm, there was hardly any implication of the storm that had passed hours before. I dressed, ate the breakfast I had prepared in the dark, and got to the start line just as they began the countdown.
My bagel was still in hand as I hit the dirt trail and the cream cheese had ice crystals forming due to my lack of appetite. I tossed it into a wag bag and zipped my jacket higher. Headlamps shone all around me as each runner skipped and hopped over rocks and up the side of the Mesa’s thallus. The first mile or so was a flat un-intimidating road. This turned into a steep inclining hill up the Mesa before turning downwards and heading into mountain biker territory. The road was dirt and gravel, easy to run on, and I felt good.
At mile five the sun began to peek over the horizon and I hit slick rock. The slick rock at this point of the day felt fantastic, it was easy to grip (mountain bikers paradise!), and I felt like a badass cruising my way through a desert ultra. The aid stations served coffee, coke, hot potatoes, all kinds of goo’s, and delicious salty bacon. You know I grabbed a handful of that while refilling my water. The trail returned to dirt and stayed this way - mixed at times with rocks - all the way through the nine mile stretch with no aid stations to the turn around. I ran by my friend Natalie at this point who ended up finishing second overall for women. We laughed and gave each other high five’s as we passed each other, sending encouragement towards the finish line. I wished I was where she was - already past the turn around point and halfway through my ultra marathon. Two miles later the paved road came into view. You can see cars here driving out to dead horse point, smiling and waving as they passed by. Some returned the gesture, others at their wits end - broke down in agony and gave in to the twenty-five miles they’d just finished.
I refilled my water, grabbed some coke and a handful of potato chips (I never eat this stuff but it sounded perfect) and then hit the trail, literally this time. I was about three miles past the turn around when I tripped and fell. I crawled slowly back to my feet with a loud groan and tears welled up in my eyes. My knees had blood on them and my hands were a bit raw underneath the sandy layer that covered them. In true despair, as you only find in such a race, I looked at the sky as though God had smited me. In my mind I was done, but my heart told me to suck it up. I started a slow jog as the pain in my knees dulled out to the sound of my feet hitting the crunchy Utah sand.
Around mile thirty-seven I linked up with a fun group of older men, all joking and bantering while encouraging me to keep up. I did, joyously and reluctantly at the same time. Emotions get weird at this point in a run and I felt delirious, hardly able to contribute to their conversation. I ate some Honeystinger chews, grabbed another swig of coke and potato chips at the next aid station, pooped in my wag bag (it had to happen at some point), and suddenly I had energy once more. I pulled away from the pack with a speed of what felt like six minute miles while in reality was around ten. I kept this up for several miles before I returned to slick rock again at mile forty-one. This time the slick rock brought me to a startling halt. My knees felt crushing pain with each stride and so I slowed to a walk. Even a brisk walk hurt each time my foot hit the tough surface too hard. People passed me and I just didn’t care, although most were on the same page and feeling as bad or worse. When I caught sight of the gravel road tears welled up once more. I could have hugged the dirt and rolled in it but instead I started running.
The last aid station came into sight and they cheered me on as I started back up the final hill. The sun had hidden itself over the horizon and the Moab sky - looking towards Arches National Park and The La Sal Mountains - was turning rich pink, purple, and orange hues. My headlamp wouldn’t turn on (must have turned on in my pack and killed the batteries sometime throughout the race) but there was still enough fading light as I turned onto the flat mile of road back to the finish line. I saw Kyote and Alli waiting with blankets as I sprinted (yes sprinted - thanks to my college coaches for creating an innate need to finish races like an insane person) across the finish line.
I had ran, watching the sunrise and ran, watching the sun fall. 50 miles took me 11 hours and 44 minutes to finish. Time that I battled with myself, used my training to push past what I felt was physically possible, and took hold of my long standing dream of finishing an ultra. Alli took me to Eddy McStiff’s and bought me a burger and a beer. By the end of dinner my body ached and I could hardly keep my eyes open. She, along with our convoy of friends, drove my car out to our campsite down Kane Creek road. Kyote and I had immediately fallen fast asleep in the back. They parked, sparked a campfire, and talked the night away. I’ve never slept so well in my life.
Here are several pictures during and post race along with our campsite and hike to the Fisher Towers in Castle Valley the next afternoon.