17 February 2013

Moab Red Hot 55k (my first ultra!)

There are only two things that pierce the human heart. One is beauty.  
The other is affliction. Simone Weil

Distance: 34 miles 
Elevation: 4,100 ft
Time: 7:35 

Yesterday's race was an affirmation of what I love most about trail and endurance running -- the diverse artistry of nature, running with other lovers of landscape, seeing friends and meeting new ones, accepting and managing the inevitable discomfort and seeing myself accomplish something I've never done before.  It was without a doubt, the best day of running I have had and the best first ultra experience I could have hoped for.  I wonder if I ran the whole way grinning like a crazy person, because my heart was bursting with joy the entire time.  I kept looking around and taking in the views because I knew it was going to end soon and that I would miss them when I crossed the finish line.
I was totally prepared for pulling out the kick-yourself-in-the-arse mantras like "Suck it up, Buttercup" or something inspiring like "Someday you will no longer be able to do this; today is not that day", but I never needed them.  I did repeat "Feel the burn, embrace the burn, love the burn!" a few times, more for giggles than anything else.  Instead, I found myself praying, "Thank you God, for legs that work. Thank you for joy in running.  Thank you for a good day".   Running is a gift and any day that everything is working well and conditions are perfect is an extra special gift.  

I wrote in my last entry that because my last few long runs had been with faster runners, my confidence going into this ultra was not high. The 18 mile cutoff of 4.5 hours was weighing heavily on me.  I felt like I had two races, the first being 18 miles and the second being 16.  Turns out, fear of failure (for me, a DNF) is a huge adrenaline rush, so while I was having a good time chatting with folks, I kept coming in under my splits.  I may have been having too good a time because I had some gas left in the tank during the last 12 miles when I started passing folks that had been ahead of me.

Besides the cutoff, the other question in my mind was how well I'd manage the discomfort of running 8 miles longer than I had before.  Turns out, it was never a big deal or distracting to me.  After hiking the climbs on Gold Bar and Golden Spike, I was able to break out into a run with no problem.  I was surprised at how good my legs felt after 30 miles.  I began to wish that I was doing a 50 miler, because the way I was feeling, I know I could have kept going.

I credit the right shoes to being a big part of why I enjoyed the run today. It's impossible for me to ignore the typical heel pain I get after 15 miles, even with cushioned insoles.  I had none of that with Scott eRide Grip 2.  Shout out once again to Ian Corliss of Talk Ultra who first introduced me to this shoe here.  If you are interested in ultrarunning, dump his Talk Ultra podcast into your iTunes and listen to them on your next long run (they're 3 hours long!).  I love the runner's stories and race reports and the training tips in their talk training segment are really helpful.

One of the nice surprises was to run with my new friend Meghan, who I ran with two weeks ago in Canyonlands National Park (blog post).  She's a faster runner than me, so imagine my delight at seeing her early in the race and enjoying a couple of miles of conversation with her.  It's always extra special to see someone who isn't a stranger and it just lifted my happy spirits even higher.  Great job Meghan, it was great to see you again!

(Psst...Meghan wrote a guide to running around Moab -- check it out here)

I met so many cool people today -- Breein from Ogden; Mike, Tony, Gay & Colette from Salt Lake; Shelly from Chattanooga and others whose names I didn't get.  So fun sharing the trails and convo with each of you and I hope you'll be back next year so we can have a reunion of the 7-hour pace group. 
I first became familiar with the Red Hot 55k through Moab's own Dakota Jones, who wrote about it here.  Others were blogging about the race here, here and here.  After reading the report by the 2012 female winner here, I decided that this race would be my first ultra.  I had run in Moab before as J-man is an avid mountain biker, so I already knew it was a great place for trail running.  As you'll see below, the views are amazing and while some people curse the slickrock saying it's like running on gnarley concrete, I love it.  The open expansiveness that I had never experienced running in the woods was totally foreign to me the first time I ran there in '06.  It didn't take long to get used to a constant visual stream of the Arches, LaSals, canyons, mesas and other rock formations, even if off in the distance.  Being from Alaska, it takes a lot to impress me and I was taken by the allurement of this desert landscape.

And speaking of Prez (Dakota), he was my micro-celebrity meeting of the day -- that's five, after last month's PP.  He and Rob Krar both came under Dave Mackey’s four year old course record of 3:58-ish.  Speedgoat and Krissy Moehl were also there, but no good op to chat with them.  On the nano-celebrity side, I chatted briefly with FoCo runner Ryan Burch, who seemed as surprised as his buddy Aaron was last month that I recognized him.  Hey guys, isn't it nice knowing that more than your friends and family read your blogs?  I'll expect to see them both and Sir Nick at Quad Rock in May -- Booyah!

Some snaps from our trip and the race:
Suited up and ready to run
Start line giddyness
And we're off!
Shelly and Meghan
Amazing views and runners
Creative course markings
Tony and Mike, my trail dates for a bunch of miles
Photo op at Arth's Rim
The only mud/clay we encountered was here
Any view with the contrasting LaSals is a favorite
Mr. Red Shirt walked faster than I could run
Running across Slickrock is big fun!
The world's newest ultrarunner coming in for the finish
The reward after a hard days work
Thanks to Chris at Grassroots Events and everyone who volunteered to help put on such a great race.  I will be back again next year for sure.

Big thanks to J-man, who came out with me for logistical and emotional support and our sitter Sarah, who took expert care of our kids while we were gone. 

Moab, I can't wait to return to your beautiful slickrock, arches and mesas again.  You are an ever so lovely place to play and make merry.  

Happy Trails,



  1. Hurrah! Deflowered, as it were, as you were. ;) I love that you didn't think it was so hard, that you could have kept going. I just knew you were going to have a good day! What a pleasure to share the morning with you... CONGRATS!

    1. Ha! With all the first time ultra runners I was talking to, I wonder if they ought to market bumper stickers & shirts saying "I lost my ultra cherry in Moab"!

  2. Congratulations Shelby! I knew you were gonna do awesome!

  3. Congratulations, Shelby! Great report, photos AND celeb sightings! I have a feeling this won't be your last ultra. Can't wait for your next report.--Lori

  4. Thanks ladies! Lori, I'm good & hooked with these ultras. I found my inner 50 miler this weekend, going longer is the goal...

  5. It was great to run with you on your ultra debut! Strong work. I thought I was the only one running around with a crazy grin on my face;)

    1. Hi Bree! I'm glad to know I wasn't the only one having big fun out there. Maybe next time I won't gawk so much at the landscape and can come in under 7 hrs.

      I hope to see you again on the trails!