Saturday, February 22, 2014

Moab's Red Hot 55k - our anti-Valentine's Day race report

My female work colleagues cooed when they found out I had Valentine's Day off, eye brows raised and hands flapping.  I think I actually snorted while laughing in reply.  Were we to spend the weekend at some couple's spa or hot springs or some place wearing matching robes and surrounded by water features... undoubtedly we would be bored in about five minutes.  Instead we ignored the day, as we always do, while traveling to a race.  We were heading to Moab, Utah, heading west out of the valley for the first time since moving here last fall.

Moab's Red Hot 55k was our first race since relocating to Colorado.  The lack of trees means constant views of Utah's incredible landscape including Arches National Park, the La Sal Mountains, Canyonlands National Park, and the Colorado River while traversing terrain ranging from jeep roads, sand filled jeep roads, and trails leading over giant rock structures with slick rock.  A third of runners wore Hokas, the same uber-cushioned shoes I used during the latter two thirds of my hundred miler last September.  I noted this but did not fully interpret the meaning behind their massive popularity at the time.  Four thousand cumulative feet of elevation gain and loss sounded fun and refreshing despite knowing that I had but half my usual mileage and a quarter of my usual climb/descent training.  It was also the steepest field for a trail or ultra that Nathan and I had ever been a part of, with easily a dozen recognizable men and women.

Moab's Red Hot 55k elevation profile, per my Garmin 210

And, it was warm enough that we wore SHORTS.  Glow-in-the-dark white thighs were happily on display by myself and others.  That was a ridiculous treat.

Red Hot started by ascending a mile long double wide jeep road on the edge of a ridge.  It was runable, and I cautiously kept a good clip until just feeling plain silly and returned to my usual uphill hike that is not that much appreciably slower than others' uphill run.  The sun was up already as the race started at 8:00 a.m., but the fresh morning sun made for a beautiful multi-colored landscape across the already watercolored rock.  Then down we went into a canyon.  I missed downhills more than is sane, and so I let myself use gravity and momentum and have fun with the descents so long as they were not super steep and precarious.

My legs could feel that they had little descent training, but overall felt okay.  My right rectus abdominis began to cramp from eccentrically controlling my trunk, so as much as I had fun flying down the hill for a mile I had to slow my pace and leg people go by.  I tried slowing my breath, but that almost made it worse.  I then thought back to some newer pain science research being used by fellow PTs, where adverse breathing patterns cause altered CO2 levels in the body.  But whereas historically everyone pushed for belly breathing, this is often not necessarily the case.  CO2 levels can be both high or low, thus making bodies excessively acidic or alkaline within a mere few minutes.  Should this be sustained, which it is for days/weeks/months for some people, it can cause the unexplainable pain that continues when there may be no other significant injury present.  So I purposefully increased my rate of respiration, and the cramps went away within the next minute.  Magic. 

At some point we hit aid station (AS) 1.  I don't remember if this was in the canyon or after some initially steep climbing again.  Either before or after AS 1 we turned onto Metal Masher Road, another jeep trail that slowly leads up to the top of the rim.  You do not realize the impact of the subtle uphill until it starts accumulating and your legs feel heavy.  Nathan was continually near or close by through all these miles, which was the most we've spent together in any race.  It was fun to chat with another runner, saying "Yes, my husband is also running -- there he is!"  Another descent and we hit AS 2 (mile 13), then ascended again to a dirt road that was relatively flat called Arth's Pasture.  Somewhere a few miles later Nathan progressively fell off my pace.  Without any trees around I could turn around and wave at him from a modest distance away.  AS 3 (mile 17) came and went.  The real terrain then began to show itself as easy trails gave way to steep climbs up broken rock.  I had held something of an 8:30 per mile average, which then dropped down to 12:00 per mile, 15:00 per mile, 18:00 per mile....  I arrived at AS 4 (mile 22) feeling a bit of the miles but overall okay.  I poured salt into my water bottle.  Salty water tasted wonderful

Leaving AS 4 I no longer had sight of Nathan.  But an ultra friend I met during my first fifty miler in New York, Will, coincidentally moved to central CO within a few weeks of my moving to the San Luis Valley.  Will was also at Red Hot.  We were able to connect and chat prior to the race start.  I figured he was up ahead of me like he had been in previous races.  In this section he caught up to me, chatting with others along the way.  We ran with two or three other women for a few miles, in a nice little supportive pack.

The boulders became huge rock hills with substantial angles that were up to 20% grade per my Garmin.  For the first few miles of that section I definitely slowed on the climbs but then made up the difference flying down the rock on descents.  That was probably not the best choice, considering the unforgiving nature of rock and the length of the descents.  By about mile 27 my quads were demonstrably stiffening and my right foot was over the inversion baseline of traversing hills horizontally.  It became a full-on ultra shuffle.  Check out that elevation profile again and you'll understand why.  I stayed kinda-sorta-relatively with Will and the other ladies before slowly puttering out.  I came to the last aid station (AS 5, mile 28/29) after the others left.

A volunteer probably saw my face before she said, "It's only five more miles from here, and its a lot easier than what you just finished."  I hoped she was right.  Thanking her, I began my trot after the others.

Without trees I could see them between a quarter and half mile in front.  I had no pride maintain - I hiked every slight uphill and shuffled over the few flats and downs.  The size of the hills lessened and the trail curved more, taking the others out of sight.  About a mile after AS 5 began a series of time-carved drainage routes.  Just as I was contemplating my level of tiredness my right foot caught a lip and down I went, splayed across the rock onto my right ankle, knee and elbow.  Pretty sure I gave some unintelligible grumble of a yelp.  I made myself get up and start walking immediately before the actuality of what happened set in.  It was similar to Cayuga Trails last June, where I somehow pulled out the muscle memory of a dancerly body roll instead of letting myself whip straight down.  No open wounds except for superficial scratches on my elbow.  I scanned the surroundings, surprised to find no other person around to see or hear it.  Big breath.  Return to the shuffle.  Just a few more to go.

The trail changed from solid rock to sandy dirt on relatively flat jeep trails again.  Here I managed to shuffle past a few others in worse state than I.  With about a mile to go the trail started to finally descend along the side of a ridge on the Poison Spider trail, winding switch backs with music and cheering somewhere around the far corner.  It is always amazing what the knowledge of the finish, or as others call "smelling the barn," can do for your form and pace.  I sped (that's a relative term here, people) along in eagerness to finish, passing another few with broken quads along the way.

Time: 5 hours 50 minutes 49 seconds.
21st female, 98th overall

Much like the near instant rigor mortus after Pine to Palm, I slowly hobbled to my drop bag to get my coat and top layers.  Warm weather or not, once I finish my temperature plummets.  I dutifully drank my protein shake and refilled my water bottle.  I found Will, who finished only a few minutes before me, and we had a nice post-race chat.  Then I went to the finish line again and kept watch for Nathan.

After 45 minutes I still had not seen him.  I took a very slow stroll through the crowd, making sure I hadn't missed him at some point.  Picked up a small bowl of chilli with some corn bread.  Was watching the finish line from a distance when Will came up to me again.

"Where's the gift?!?"

"Mmm?"  It was all I could reply with a mouthful of food.

"The Gift.  You know Nathan's name means 'the gift', right?"

"I had no idea.  I also have no idea where he is."

Will saw the growing look of concern on my face and stood with me for a few more minutes.  He works Sundays, so he had start his drive home very soon.  We exchanged pleasantries once again and he took off.

I took up post once again directly by the finish line.  Soon I realized another woman next to me was also nervously awaiting the arrival of her husband.  We joked about our hubbies' history of death marching themselves to the finish despite having issues for the last 15+ miles of a race.  The joking became mutual delineation between the bizarre running forms of those in the distance, trying to help each other pick out if it was either husband.  It was now nearly two hours after I had finished, and the awards ceremony was commencing.  The number of finishers still coming across the line dwindled remarkably.  I kept telling myself to give him time, but something in my gut told me things were not right.  I checked my watch and decided five more minutes and I would inquire with the folks running the finish line roster to see if he had dropped at an aid station or if he was continuing on.

I felt a tap on my shoulder, whipped around, and found Nathan standing behind me with shoulders rounded and arms pinned to his sides.  I reflexively jumped into bear hug mode.  He startled, mainly because he had dropped due to unremitting nausea and vomiting.  He made it to mile 22, dropped, had to wait an hour and a half for the station to close down, then it took at least an hour for the off-road jeep to make it down the same 30+ degree slopes we had trudged up to bring Nathan to the finish.  When I realized he was shivering I then gave him my down jacket and declared it was time to go.

Nathan somehow held it together on the shuttle ride to the start line and then in the car ride back to the hotel.  I dropped him off and went in search of seltzer, ginger ale, unsweetened tea, and anything that might seem appealing should his stomach calm and he then want food.  Later I found out he vomited upon entering the hotel room, barely making it to the toilet.  The rest of our evening was composed of watching whatever television show that seemed interesting enough but had little movement, slowly sipping fluids, eventually giving Nathan a bath since he could not stand or sit on his own for more than 10 seconds (during which he commented "Is this what its going to be like when we are ninety?"), and then moments after returning to bed Nathan upchucking what little fluid he'd had into the trash can I carefully placed next to the bed.  Mercifully he then fell asleep for the rest of the night.  I stayed in the second bed so that my turning would not jostle his stomach.

By the next morning he had some gastric sensitivity but overall the nausea was gone.  A few pieces of bread upon waking then became an eleven o'clock brunch in Durango while en route to home.  His legs were fine and barely felt having done 22 hard miles the day before.  I was hobbling without the ability to bend my knees, but very satisfyingly so.

Sunset over Wolf Creek Pass, from our drive home

No comments:

Post a Comment