Moab (like Ahab, not Mobe) is the center of the mountain biking universe. Located in SW Utah, it's surrounded by canyons and vistas very similar to where WE Coyote chased the roadrunner. Tons of other outdoorsy stuff to do in Moab. A great place to get dirty. Not a place where you might think they'd have a road marathon. But I ran one there on April Fool's Day. No foolin. Well, really it was 24 miles of road race, 1 mile of easy trail, and 1.2 miles of crazy hard trail. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
First things first. It was a point-to-point course... and I picked it specifically as an experiment in downhill running. It was also a Saturday marathon, which I like - though it meant Friday travel. The website and the emails from the race director had been difficult to decrypt, really strange, so I didn't know what to expect when I showed up. Packet pickup on Friday was no problem... except for the "packet" being pretty much free of any useful information. Hmmm. Showed up for the bus to the start at 5am. The bus was there, and the driver knew where she was going: "we're headed up that hill, and we need to stop before we go off the cliff".† On the bus, I came across fellow Maniacs Keith Panzer and Peggy Nelson-Panzer Ė an unexpected pleasure.
When we got to the top, it was impossible to tell where the start line was supposed to be... there were no race personnel... and we were in the middle of nowhere. Huh. Well, it was April Fool's Day. The race was supposed to start at 7a. At 6:53, the race director got there... gave us a few pieces of information... and pointed at the starting "line" - aka, a crack in the pavement. He honked his horn and off we went. Thatís the last I saw of Keith and Peggy J.† At this point, the fishy organization improved greatly. All miles were marked brightly, and seemingly accurately. Aid stations, while not overly plentiful, were fine. It turned into a nice race with jaw-dropping scenery. The weather was perfect, except for some nasty wind late in the race.
The first 8 miles were rolling, though mostly uphill (hey wait! This is supposed to be a downhill course!).† Another Maniac flew by me about M2 - I assume he was in the bathroom when we started.† Based on the results, I believe that this was Bill Mandler.† SoÖ sorry for not talking to you Bill!† I had noticed the road signs that said OPEN RANGE but I didn't think too much about it until the cow crossed the road in front of me at M6. Moo.† And Yipe!
At M8, we crested the hill at about 6,100 feet. I was puffing a bit, but it was nice to know that it wouldn't be worse than this. See, it was all downhill from here - literally and figuratively. M8-M22 was one long screaming downhill. There was even a place around M17 where the road signs cautioned trucks about the 8% downhill grade. Zoom.
Most "downhill" courses are deceptive... they'll actually have some ups along the way. Lost Dutchman and Napa look like downhill courses from their elevation charts, but they both have some major ups along the way. Not so at Moab once we got past M8. Keep arms and legs inside car; seatbelts must be fastened.
I learned a lot in this section. I *know* how to run down a hill. I know to lean into it, I know not to brake, and I know to stay in control. But what I did NOT know, which I now DO know is that a 14 mile hill causes bad brain mojo. See... in a flat, rolling, or uphill stretch, one has to think a little bit about running. Otherwise, one stops. Physics. Going downhill, one's mind can wander. And wander far. The problem is that one can start running fairly slowly and not really even notice it if one's mind is gone. This is what kept happening to me. It started with the scenery. I tried to run hard, but my splits kept coming up awful. Crap. Try again.
After one stretch, a little piece of my brain woke up and said "huh, what's going on here?" and proceeded to analyze what the rest of my brain was working on. It dawned on me that in my head, I was singing "do you want to ride with me and do you want to ride with me..." over and over. Looped. In my head. It's possible that I had been doing this for 5 minutes. Or an hour. I really couldn't tell. Donít recognize it?† Why, that's a little lyric towards the end of Coolio's Fantastic Voyage. Where I got it, why I was singing it, and why I picked that piece of the song will remain a heavy mystery. Believe me, Coolio isn't on my heavy rotation. Snap out of it! <slap>
But it was too late for my pace.
We came screaming off the hill right after M22... the final part of the race was an out down one side of the highway to M24, and then through a drainpipe under the highway, and back on a trail. The out part was terrible... we picked up a stiff headwind. It was "only" two miles, but I had a really hard time with it.
Went through the drainpipe. Side note. Why do some people feel compelled to yell in confined areas like tunnels (and drainpipes)? Yes, it is amplified. Woo. But at M24 of a hard race, it is also annoying. So don't.
A drainpipe. Just like the intro to Looney Tunes. It would have been cool if my brain started playing that song. Nope. But my brain also didn't play Coolio anymore, so I had that going for me.
M24 started the back part on the trail. Rolling hills, wide trail. Some rocks. No big deal... the wind was at my back so I could try to get some semblance of pace back and run hard, right? Wasn't happening. Cooked.
And then it got hard.
At M25, the wide trail became a narrow single track that zig zagged down/up through stream beds. That's fun at M1. At M25 of a hard race? No. I tripped and caught myself. I tripped a second time and caught myself.
Then, at about M25.5, I was coming out of a stream bed. I saw the rock. My brain... or at least the little part that had earlier poked me out of my Coolio-based stupor... said "it would be enormously silly to trip over that big rock". I think my legs must have misunderstood this message because my right foot steered directly for the rock - and was successful.
Splat. I was down. All the way. Luckily, the only rock was the one that my foot whacked... the rest of me landed in a nice thick layer of red dirt. It really did sound like WE Coyote hitting the canyon floor after being dropped from a great height though.
I got up, thanked God (though I don't think others would have interpreted my actual wording as thanks), and finished. I trailed dust-smoke just like Pigpen.
I had originally thought that I could pull 3:40-3:45 on this course. Nope. 3:56. Perhaps I was still tired from Bataan... hardest race Iíve ever done... the prior week. Perhaps the altitude got me a little bit. The wind at the end was definitely a factor, as was the splat. But mostly, I think I just did a poor job of pacing the long downhill. That was far harder than I thought it would be. Now I know.
Final note. Third marathon in a row that didn't give a medal. At Virginia Creeper, we got a nice paperweight. At Bataan, we got a very meaningful dogtag. At Moab, we got a weird piece of wood. BUT it was personalized with my name. That's cool.
If you don't need people cheering for you, if you can handle some altitude, if your knees and quads can handle 14 miles of uninterrupted downhill without exploding, and if you can keep your stress level low about some organizational laid-back-ishness, then you might really like this race.
Do you want to ride with me and do you want to ride with me?