Sunday, February 20, 2011

Moab Red Hot 33k 2011 - even a blind pig...

The man shouted "RUN!", it was spitting cold rain, and I couldn't breathe, but a few hours later I had this:

But I also burned a hole in my (new) sleeping bag on this trip:

So maybe it was a wash.

The Moab Red Hot 33k is the first race I've ever done twice. I'm becoming a Moab fanatic. For my Midwestern sensibilities (and maybe anyone's sensibilities) it's simply stunning. You hop out of the car along pretty much any road and you get this:

Or this:

Hike for a few minutes, and you can have this:

(Corona Arch)

And it's all very easy - the view from our nice campsite, right off the road, was this:

The rest of my photos here.

Back when I was running ultras regularly, I was in a hurry to see/finish some of the big Western races, and so I did. It was interesting to go back and try the same course again. Last year, I was heading off to hike the Arizona Trail for a week or so two days after the race, so I really took it easy. But I learned the trick of the race - the only place to make big time is to go out really hard up the first hill, and pretty much gun it as well as you can until you get to the second aid station. After that, it's pleasant (but slow) slickrock ups and downs until near the end, at which point you can gun it again. But by that point, it's too late to make up much time.

And it worked - I went out with "Mr. Yellow" (who won), "Mr. Black" (who came in second), and "Mr. Green" (who ended up fourth) and busted up the first hill - and yes I was pleased to be making a tangental reference to "Reservoir Dogs." They all charged through the first aid station, while I stopped for water. Big mistake. I lost them and spent maybe 10 miles of the race by myself. I only caught up to Mr. Green about half a mile before the end when he was fading. The guy who won - Mr. Yellow - set the course record and finished about 11 minutes ahead of me. Could I have made a go at it if I stayed with him? Probably not - but I definitely wouldn't have come in so high if I hadn't seen the course before.

Who cares, right? Not like I would have come back to Western States with knowledge of the course and placed high the second time around. My quads would still have blown out halfway through - no amount of course info. can make up for the fact I'm slow. The great part of the Red Hot for me is that it's a fake ultra - not even as long as a marathon. It's the best of both worlds. On one hand, a short race I can finish in a few hours, wake up the next day and walk without a cane, and get to see an astoundingly beautiful course. On the other hand, it's grassroots, accompanies a real ultra (a 55k my brother-in-law runs), and has a nice shallow field (all the fast guys run the 55k - the two guys who beat me were 44 and 54). Perfect.


Why do a 33k and a 55k? The 33k is shorter than a marathon. The 55k is (obviously) longer than a 50k ultramarathon. Have the organizers thought about adjusting the course slightly, and doing one standard distance rather than two nonstandard distances? Or is this just an independent/slightly-crazy/alien-inspired Moab thing?

Also, this race seemed to be made up of a particularly homogeneous, yet unique, running tribe. I've never seen Hoka One One shoes (although they seem like a great idea) - a bunch of people at the race had 'em. There was also a tremendous proliferation of calf-warmer/compression socks. End of aside.

But it is worth noting that knowing the course is an advantage. And advantages help you go faster, thereby creating a tilted playing field (around Moab, pretty much everything is high-angle). In climbing, you get extra credit for climbing something without knowing too much about it - you can on-sight something, red-point it, etc. And climbers spend a lot of time (too much time) trying to figure out how much extra credit not knowing about a particular route is worth.

In "regular" running - road marathons, for example - beta/information/experience about the course is of limited help. Sure, "heartbreak hill" is a hill at mile 20 - but it's just a little hill and you're still running on a flat paved road. In ultras, you can hit some crazy game-changing terrain. For example, at Western States, the course heads several miles basically flat/downhill on good tread to the American River. I cruised along this section, relaxed in the knowledge that my time would easily put me under 24-hours (an ultrarunner's Holy Grail). But after the river, the trail yo-yo's crazily up and down for the last 20 miles, plus the tread gets much worse - none of this shows up on the course map or elevation profile, both of which make this look like the easy part, with all the huge climbs completed. I frantically tried to keep up my pace as I watched time slip away (at the river, I was thinking 22 hours - I ended up barely making it under 24). If I were to have run that race again, I would have been ready for all the little gravelly hills and ran accordingly.

And I would do the 33k again - it's completely beautiful, and changes constantly. You're either looking over at the La Sals rearing up crazily from the sandstone, looking down at the Colorado River, or observing the wild domes and needles all around - all the while popping up and down little slickrock ridges. It's ultra running (assuming you do the 55k) for people with ADD. I haven't been so transfixed by my surroundings while running except at Boston, where I couldn't believe that the entire course is lined with throngs of cheering people.

As always, we were sad to see the huge Umtra Project tailings pile outside of town. As we left, the wind was whipping red plumes of uranium-laden dust into the air. It's just terrible - and right on the Colorado River. It's hard to believe that moving all the tailings is a good idea, but what else was there to do?

1 comment:

catherinekleier said...

So proud of you - terrific photos!