Calm Before the Desert Stampede

Monday, February 27, 2017

The day before— It took about 7 hours worth of driving through gorgeous open land before we finally got into the small city of Moab. The town sits in what Mike described as “a bowl of mountains”. Every direction is a near-sheer rock face surrounding town. As the sun went down, colors exploded off the city walls and shot straight into my heart. Even before the run I know I’ll be back someday to explore more. We walked over to get our race numbers and ventured off in search of dinner. There are a few cool restaurants in town, but we felt ethically bound to trying out the Moab Brewing Company. Mike and I sat at the bar with a plate of wonderfully crafted nachos and a couple beers that were as unimpressive as the terrible Yelp reviews warned. Really, they were not good brews. It drove us to find food elsewhere; a much healthier option called Peace Tree. The waiter laughed when I asked for bacon on my veggie burger but it was way worth it.

Race morning— Fast forward to race morning and Mike is already up drinking his coffee before my alarm even goes off. The 2-hour time difference worked in my favor to make it feel like a late morning so the wakeup and morning prep were easy. I snacked on half a bagel and a raspberry Huma gel as we checked out of the room. On the way to the car we met up with another runner that needed a last minute ride to the race. Like dude, how did you expect to get there?! But sure, man. Hop in!  Nice guy though! As soon as we drove past Arches National Park we knew the views on the course were about to be spectacular. The walk from the parking lot to the starting area was also about, if not more than, a half mile. Because clearly running 34 miles isn’t enough!

There were nearly no bathroom lines, which was truly astonishing! I didn’t know this was possible! If you’ve ever been nervous about not making a race start because of port-o-potty lines, you know how stressful it is trying to properly time the pre-race bathroom stop. I may go back to run this race again simply for this fact.

Runners milled about the starting area and chatted with fellow runners, everyone eyeing some of the big names toeing the line. We peeked around to see guys like Hayden Hawks (the race favorite wearing bib #1 after his recent rocket ship to ultra running fame following his battle with Zach Miller at the TNF 50 Mile Championship), Joe Grant (ultrarunning pro, mountain man, and overall “baaaad dude” according to Mike), and Chris Price (professional Hoka One One athlete, and definitely a guy that can throw down), in addition to a handful of other clearly flying their sponsors’ flags. Who says I can’t run with some of these guys? Let’s see what happens!

Conditions— Every day all weekend was expected to be in the mid- to high-60s… except for race morning. We were looking forward to an overcast day with a slight but steady drizzle and 50 degrees. Add the wind over the canyons and some sections got bone-chilling, but overall it was a very pleasant temperature. The race director recommended light jackets for the runners to deal with the wind, but a singlet with some arm sleeves and stretchy gloves would be enough to get me through the day. That, in addition to the quarter-height version of my beloved Feetures Merino socks. Haven’t tried them? Your feet are missing out.

I also used a little tactic I picked up last summer; a Buff around the neck. I’ll never deny being a headband guy, and Buff materials are just far superior to anything else out there. So what I’ll do is actually hang it around my neck on a hot day to keep the sun off my neck and wet it to keep cool. But on chilly days, it acted as a wind shield so I never got those back of the neck chills. After a mile or two you don’t even notice any bouncing. My Nathan handheld had a pocket in case I needed to shed the layer, but it’s a consistently flawless accessory in my kit.

Preparing for a race like this takes more book-work than some people expect. Altitude, trail conditions, elevation profile, trail markers, weather, start time, etc. With any race in a new area or simply conditions and terrain that are foreign, some research is required. When it comes to footwear on the trails it could mean anything. I spend a lot of time in a variety of running shoes, so race day is often a tough decision. What ultimately made my decision to race in the Adidas Boston road shoe came down to information from a few new friends. Through the wonders of social media, I messaged a few guys from the Boston area and beyond  that had run the race so I could figure out the course a bit (shoutout to my buddy Josh from Steamboat Springs, CO that hooked me up with awesome intel. He’s a baaaad dude with some insane photo editing skills: https://www.instagram.com/goatography/?hl=en ). Everything they indicated to me was that the ground is incredible hard, despite being on trails. Since we were dealing with miles and miles of solid rock surface, a more padded option seemed appropriate. Also, given the fact that it was actually on slick-rock, I was swayed towards a shoe with exceptional grip. The Continental rubber outsole of the Bostons proved more than up to the task even on the slippery, wet rocks. Plus the Boost cushion protected my feet and body all day! Even still, it feels weird to wear road shoes on the trail. Their performance was flawless but theres a bit of a stigma to wearing road shoes off the road. No tread configuration gives much of an edge in the thick sand, so I was at no disadvantage there. Overall it was an excellent selection from my quiver of arrows. 

A big thanks goes out to the awesome, friendly trail community that helped make all the logistics and decision making about race day much easier. It’s great to have friends in anyone out there. The positivity is something we can’t replicate in any other context. If you think runners are a rude breed, run a trail race. If you accidentally cut somebody off in a trail race I bet they’ll shake it off, smile, give you a pat on the back and offer you a Gu.

For better or worse, once the decisions were made it was time to race.

New England Running Company
43 Enon St, Beverly, MA 01915
Phone: 978-922-8870