Moab 100 2011 Race Report
Thursday, 31st March 2011
To set the context of this race I need to explain why I chose to travel to Moab in the state of Utah to run 18 and a half laps of a 5.37mile (8.6km) looped course in the desert.
One of my goals in the not too distant future is to qualify for, and race in the Badwater Ultramarathon, in Death Valley, Nevada. Since following this race over the past few years, the entry criteria has become tougher and tougher, with it currently standing at anyone wanting to submit an application for the race, needing to have completed three one hundred mile running races as a minimum. Anything over and above that criteria strengthens one's position during the application review process. The entry field is limited to 90 participants.
Having focused on Ultraman for the past 18 months, fitting in 100mile races has been virtually impossible. So this year I thought that I needed to get the ball rolling and commit to racing these epic distances.
With Challenge Cairns taking place on the 5th June, my only option was to find a race with enough time to recover before taking on the Challenge. With limited 100mile race options in Australia in the first part of the year, my search needed to be in the US. This didn't leave me with many options, since anything too early in the year would A) Either be too cold, B) Not give me sufficient time to train post Ultraman recovery in November / December last year, and C) Not leave any time for recovery and training for Challenge Cairns. After extensive research I found the Moab 100 and locked myself in.
Due to a number of various reasons my No. 1 crew chief (lovely, supportive wife Kirsten) was unable to accompany me on the journey this time. Instead my good mate Tim Andersen obliged to step in and take on the role of support crew. A tough job given the predecessor! However, armed with some prior knowledge and coaching at the TNF100 last year, and a checklist as long as his arm generated by the Mrs., Tim was fully geared to go - with even a few tricks of his own.
The aim was to limit annual leave time so we flew out to Salt Lake City on the Wednesday prior to the Saturday race. After leaving Sydney on Wednesday at 2pm and arriving in Moab (the final destination) at 9pm on the same day with around 22hrs of real time travel in between, made for a long day. On the drive down from Salt Lake City we passed over the Wasatch Mountains, which were covered in snow. Arriving in the dark, we awoke the next morning to awesome views of the surrounding Canyonlands. Red rock faces, plenty of slick rock, the Colorado River and visions of Wile E Coyote strapping TNT to the side of cliff faces seemed all pretty surreal. As we stepped outside it became apparent that Spring in Moab was not as balmy as what we had thought for a desert town. Temps of below freezing and a top of 11-12 degrees for the day were the theme for the week. It even snowed on us in town while walking back from breakfast.
Thursday was all about shopping for race day supplies. We took a drive out to the course in the arvo and ran a loop! The race starts at about 1450m asl and tops out at 1590m asl. With 12 degrees as the high, and altitude to boot, breathing was a lot different to being in Cairns during the summer. After puffing around the track for an hour, we got into the car and were pretty silent for the 16mile drive back into town. Had I misjudged the venue?
To take our minds off the race, on Friday we had booked mountain bikes and drove out to the Sovereign Trail for some flowing slick rock. It always looks easier in photo's – the truth is that it is still a grunt of a ride. We spent two interesting hours on the trails with Tim capturing some awesome footage on the Contour headcam. Video to follow.
Two hours was enough to get some fire back in the legs after the prior days of travelling, and we went back to town to prepare for the big weekend.
In the week building up to the race, a good buddy of mine Morgan Murri from Pagosa Springs in Colorado, who I met at the Marathon des Sables in 2008, found out I was coming to Moab and very kindly packed his camper trailer and made the 3hr drive North West to Moab and camped at the race start. Morgan came into town on Friday evening and the three of us mowed down some serious tucker at Pasta Jays.
5am the clock went off although in reality I was already laying there staring at the ceiling in anticipation. Breakfast was a huge bowl of oats, honey and a banana with peanut butter, chased by an extra strength long black. We left the motel on Saturday morning at 5:30. Race start was at 7.
One of the main reasons I chose this race was the fact that I considered it to be the most "user friendly" 100miler around. It is a looped course done 18 ½ times, with each lap starting and finishing at the race headquarters. This gives you opportunity to get much needed aid support every lap without having to carry it out with you for lengthy periods. It also breaks the distance down into manageable chunks – focusing on an 8.6km lap seems in theory to be easier than the unknown. Having said that, 18 laps becomes the issue.
Not knowing how to pace myself over this distance, the advice from Morgan was to go out at a pace that I could maintain for the entire race. Too fast and you'll come undone, losing time exponentially towards the end. Too slow and you lose precious time in the beginning and you generally never get faster.
So with this in mind, I molded it into my age-old strategy of "go out hard and hang on". The first lap I came in, in under 45mins. Piece of cake – only 17 ½ to go. Next lap pretty similar, next the same. Dropping only a few minutes here and there but still maintaining some consistency. As it turned out, lap 16,17,18 were around the 1hr 10-15min mark. So effectively dropping 20mins in pace over 160km – not too bad.
Never having run anything over 100km my biggest fear was facing the last 60km. However, I decided not to run with a watch and not to ask too many time and distance questions each time I saw the guys at the end of each lap. It is uncanny how quickly the day seemed to pass. Before I knew it, it was already 2pm in the arvo, then 6 and so on. Time seemed to pass relatively quickly – I doubt it was that quick for Tim and Morgan, who were always in top spirits every time I arrived. I couldn't imagine sitting there waiting to service someone every hour for nearly 20 of them. Awesome job guys!
Tim was all over logistics like a rash. He had a checklist for each lap, monitored what I took in, what came out, what went on and what was taken off. He had a head cam filming transitions, a mounted cam standing back from the table filming a different angle, camera for still's and was tweeting with snow gloves on????? Morgan was chief of moods and positivity. He would tell me how great I was looking, how strong I was, what a legend etc. All the things you know you are not at the time, but still things you take on board as gospel to get you through. As a special treat he wore his Badwater Ultramarathon finishers shirt, which added to the inspiration and credibility of advice from a seasoned veteran The table was decked out in a buffet style format with a choice of PowerBars, trail mix, Pringles, bananas, donuts, peanut butter, apple pie and chocolate milk and coke. We didn't need a fridge, as it never reached higher than about 11 or 12 and race start was minus 4. Towards the evening and later on into the night the temps dropped below freezing again with a severe wind chill. It also snowed briefly on us again – in the desert......go figure.
Finally 8pm arrived and racers were now allowed to have their pacers on the course with them. Pacers are generally allowed in most 100milers and perform a huge function in maintaining sanity, pace, safety, momentum and company. Tim was my elected pacer. He had been doing some decent training in the 6-week build up and was ready to rumble come 8pm. It had just become dark after I completed lap 14, so we both headed out for the final 4 ½ laps in the dark. Obviously this will slow the pace down somewhat, but we still maintained a fairly good pace for the next two laps.
Throughout the day I experienced a range of emotional and physical highs and lows. Most of which pass relatively quickly providing you maintain focus on the task at hand. You really start to learn about yourself after 70miles – that is where it starts to get really tough.
I was still fairly responsive on lap 17, which was just around 11:30pm'ish. The start of lap 18 was good but didn't end that well. I was unbelievably cold – frozen to the core. My hands inside two pairs of gloves were numb, my insides were shivering and I was exhausted. We started the lap at a run and ran the first section through a sandy creek area. The course then transitions onto slick rock and climbs to the turnaround point of the loop. We were walking the climb and things were ok. Then just as we summitted, I BONKED – big time. I went delirious, started walking off the track, could hardly talk and keep my eyes open – the whole nine yards. It is at these points that a pacer is crucial from a safety point of view. I staggered behind and next to Tim all the way back to the table. At this point I only 3.6miles (5.4kms) to go. An eternity when you are feeling like that. However, I sculled a hot chocolate, ate some Pringles, had some coke and just as quickly as it came on, it left again and I was good to go. We shuffled and walked the rest of the way to finally finish at 2:36am in a time of 19hours 36minutes and 2nd overall.
The awards ceremony was held as I crossed the line - a handshake, a medal handover, a few photos. We got in the car and honed home to be in bed by 3:30am.
I am writing this in the last 2 hours of our flight back to Sydney. Since Sunday, we have washed our gear, driven to Salt Lake City, flown to LA and then back to Sydney. It has been an epic week and I am looking forward to warmth, recovery and good coffee.
I want to thank my good mate Tim for putting up with me for the week. It probably would not have been a holiday of choice, and there is a lot of "it's all about me", but at the end of the day I couldn't have done it without him.
A huge thank you to Morgan who spent his third weekend away from home in a camper trailer just to sit at a table in the cold for 20hrs supporting a mate who he last saw 3 years ago. It means a lot so thank you mate.
Right now I feel as though 100 miles of running is the hardest thing I have ever done. However, it is all relative and is only hard until the next hardest thing ever – which I shudder to think what might be.