As most of my usual readers are aware, my blog is almost entirely devoted to sharing my race reports. As a result, I haven't been posting much lately because I'm in a bit of a lull in my race schedule. This isn't by design. The fact is, there aren't any truly compelling races this time of year, so I've been taking the opportunity to rest, recover, and begin to train for a pretty bad ass year of racing.
Since moving to Utah, I have shifted into high gear with my trail running and I have began to incorporate more long runs into my routine. Most people would probably be surprised to learn that my longest training run was a mere 16 miles before I moved to Utah. Yeah...16 miles. And that was 2 years ago. I'm not running longer because I feel like I need to. I'm running longer because trail running in Utah is always an incredible adventure.
My 2013 race schedule includes a lot of Utah races, so I'm trying to take advantage of their proximity by training on the exact trails that I'll be running on in these events. This is also a new experience for me.
During these last two weekends, I traveled to Moab and ran 20 miles on the Moab Red Hot 55k course and then traveled to Zion and logged almost 30 miles on the Zion 100 course.
Utah has been suffering through a severe winter, with temperatures staying in the single digits. This has been accompanied by TONS of snow, even in places that rarely see it. This has added a level of difficulty to the training season, but wimping out will get me nowhere.
Before heading to Moab, I contacted the race director and asked about getting a detailed a course description and a better map than what could be found online. The map on the race website doesn't show the entire course for some reason. We exchanged a few awkward emails that led nowhere and the RD wasn't interested in joining me on the run. All I got was "Good luck!" Nice....real helpful.
From my experience, when a race gets popular, the runner's are no longer valuable. This seemed to be another example of this theory.
Nonetheless, Jo and I ventured down to Moab and stayed in our favorite hotel, the Gonzo Inn. We woke up early on Saturday and headed to the start line of the Moab Red Hot course.
Moab Red Hot 55k Training Run
It was -2 degrees and crystal clear. Damn...
Me looking less than enthused about starting my run.
I didn't know Moab could get this cold!
There was 6"-8" of fresh snow on the ground, so I wore my Kahtoola Microspikes. Without knowing the exact location of the start, I made a wild guess and headed out.
An example of Moab winter trail running....
Tuxedo Trail runner's!!! ON YOUR LEFT!!!
Shortly after starting, I made a big climb to get up the mesa and into a wide wash. The first climb was tough, but runnable if a person is conditioned for sustained uphill running at altitude. I walked about half of it.
Once I got to the top, I had a few miles of relatively flat running. The wind was rushing through the wash and at those temperatures, it was brutal.
View after crossing through the wash.
There were a few more moderate climbs over the next few miles, but nothing too strenuous. There were a few sections of slick rock that were exposed through the snow and they played hell on my spikes, but otherwise, the footing was really good and I never encountered anything overly technical.
View looking toward Arches National Park.
View from 9 miles in.
I planned to run 20 miles and hoped to catch a trail that looped back to the start area. Unfortunately, I wasn't armed with the best information and the RD was seemingly uninterested in my success and well being, so I got totally lost.
I came to a junction 9.5 miles into my run and had no idea which way to go. With no real option, I ran another 1/2 mile in a random direction and then backtracked to the start area.
View from the turnaround point.
On the return trip, as a treat to myself, I popped in my earbuds and cranked up a bit of loud music for my run back to the Jeep. That seemed to warm me up a bit. But not enough to keep the beardcicles from forming.
Iced up at 18 miles.
Overall, it was a bit of a half assed run because I didn't have the course details I needed, but it was nice to get out for a scenic 20 miler. It felt good to run long again and I was happy to be in Moab.
On Sunday, before heading back to Ogden, Jo and I hit Canyonlands National Park for a 7 mile trail run. I scouted the World Wide Web for a suitable trail and off we went!
We chose the Neck Spring trail, which is a nice loop trail near the park entrance. The inter web describes it as "moderate", which is what I was in the mood for at the time.
Headed into Neck Spring Trail.
One of the many cairns on the trail. This one is wearing a little Santa hat!
The trail dove off the road and onto a shelf along the inside edge of the mesa. The snow was about 12 inches deep in most places, but runnable with spikes. We took our time and enjoyed the scenery.
Some type of western ruins about a mile into the run.
Icicles on the cliffs.
There had been very little traffic on the trail due to the weather and we began to struggle to stay on course. Eventually, we lost the trail entirely. We eventually found it again but had no idea which way to go. We were about 3.5 miles into the run and we were getting deep into the canyon. I made the executive decision to turn back and backtrack our way out. I could clearly envision a scenario that involved a cold night in a remote canyon, search and rescue, and quite possibly the need to saw my arm off. Backtracking seemed the safest alternative.
We wrapped up our little adventure and headed back to Ogden with fond memories and all our limbs! A successful trip!
ZION 100 Training Run
The next weekend, we ventured down to Zion to take part in an organized training run for the Zion 100 race participants. I ran the Zion 100 last year and suffered a stinging DNF at mile 42ish. I'm doing everything I can to prevent that from happening in 2013.
Jo and I booked a room in the Driftwood Lodge, which sits near the park entrance. It's the off season in Zion, so rooms are cheap, the trails are empty and bars are closed.
The view from our room at Driftwood.
This training run was hosted by Matt Gunn, the Race Director for the Zion 100. Matt has completely redesigned the course for 2013 and some of it is still a work in progress. Matt is a very cool guy and is passionate about his races. I was looking forward to sharing the trail with him.
Our plan was to run the Guacamole Trail, which will come late in the race. Most runner's will see this section through the light of a headlamp, so training on it in daylight can be a real advantage.
This part of the training run was supposed to be about 12 miles. But sometimes....things happen.
Me and Matt before the run. I'm either explaining my shoe selection, or scraping dog shit off my shoe.
As seems to be a typical theme for Matt, we began with a long uphill run to the top of the mesa. This section was all on a dirt road and we made casual conversation on our way up. Well...to be honest, I was mostly listening because it's hard to talk if you can't breathe.
Once we got to the top, we began running along a slick rock trail, marked with cairns. This section is a lollipop loop, almost entirely on slick rock. This type of trail is hard enough to follow, but this particular area is crisscrossed with trails going in all directions. As we eased into our run, the group got spread out and we started losing people.
I started taking pictures so the search and rescue people would have decent landmarks.
Top of the Mesa!
At the beginning of the loop section, the lead runners went the wrong way. We discovered this when we hit a patch of snow and didn't see any tracks. Undeterred...we pressed on.
Beautiful day in Zion!
Halfway around the loop we encountered our "lost runners". They continued to run the course in the wrong direction and we moved along toward the starting point in the proper direction.
The top of the mesa was pretty easy running, with a few rolling hills and very few obstacles. It made for a nice run and could be pretty fast if it wasn't mile 70 of a 100 mile race.
Shortly before leaving the mesa, we realized we were 1 man short of our official "post run quota". Matt was a bit stressed about leaving a runner to die out in the freezing desert, so after much debate, we decided to try to locate the poor man. Matt had a pretty good idea where the runner got off track so we headed back the way we came and tried to hunt him down.
We eventually decided that his survival instincts would kick in and that he would find his way to civilization, so we headed out. As luck would have it, we were right and we encountered our lost runner just before we began our descent from the mesa.
Success can be measured in many ways. One of which is to come back with the same number of runner's that you started with.
We all made it safely back to our vehicles and parted ways. Our 12 mile run had morphed into 14 miles due to our search and rescue efforts. Bonus miles are always the best miles!
Matt and I had planned to do a second run at Eagles Crag before calling it a day, so we headed down the road for more fun!
True to the Matt Gunn School of Trail Running Curriculum, this run also started with a big ascent. After 14 miles of pounding along the top of slick rock, we were climbing another big ass hill.
It's important to note that Matt has been running up and down these mountains for years. I've been running out here for a few weeks. I felt bad watching Matt peek over his shoulder to make sure I wasn't dying on the trail behind him. He was pretty smooth about it though. I have to give him credit.
After a nice long climb, I was relieved to hit a smooth flat section of trail. I caught my breath and settled into a pleasant run, making conversation with Matt.
After a bit of running and chatting, I began to notice that we were entering a gradual incline. I kept expecting the trail to flatten, but it only got steeper as we moved along. Our conversation came to a stop when I could no longer hear Matt's voice as he steadily pulled away on the climb.
View as we made the climb.
The trail continued to get steeper and steeper as we went along. Surely this would end soon...I kept reassuring myself. Then we hit the serious vertical!
Nearing the top of the climb.
The climb transitioned from meandering ascent to scrambling switchbacks. I was hustling over boulders while following Matt's tracks in the snow. Every now and then, I could catch a glimpse of him as he rounded a corner. Not a REALLY good look...more like a fleeting flash of color. And eventually that ended too as he pulled further and further ahead. At the top of every switchback, I expected to see Matt sitting on a rock to tell me it was the turnaround. But I kept getting disappointed.
I eventually caught up to Matt as he was taking in the view from the base of Eagles Crag. From this point, we could see a lot of the Zion 100 course and Matt took the time to explain it to me. It was a pretty spectacular spot to be.
From the top.
After a few minutes of rest and chatting, we headed back down, retracing our steps through the snow. The run was fun and casual and I was having a great time cruising the wilderness with Matt.
At the end of the run, we had logged just under 22 miles on some tough trails. We exchanged some pleasantries and parted ways. For now...
After a tough day on the trails, Jo and I headed to dinner and celebrated my birthday with a nice meal and a few beers. I was certain this would be one of my most memorable birthdays ever and I wasn't disappointed. It was an amazing day.
Frozen, 1 liter beer mugs filled with fine hand crafted beer!
Matt and I agreed to meet for an early run again on Sunday morning. I wanted to get back to Ogden and he had things to do, so we settled on a short run at the break of dawn. This run would take place on Grafton Mesa, which is in the earlier stages of the race.
Following the standard practice, we started the run by scaling another damn mountain. This section of trail was pretty technical and some sections we very difficult to navigate. Of course, Matt sailed up the trail like he was on a sidewalk.
When we got to the top we were treated to beautiful, rolling single track with stunning views. The trail was smooth and the ground was soft. It was a spectacular trail for fast running.
As my weekend in Zion was coming to a close, I saddled up to Matt and we had animated conversation as we cruised along the trail. It was a perfect way to end a fantastic weekend full of adventure.
View from the top of Grafton Mesa.
Runners will pass by this ghost town cemetery during the race.
Matt and I finished our third and final run for the weekend and parted ways. He had shown me nearly 30 miles of his race course and I logged a lot of great miles with great people.
After training on the Moab course, I came to the conclusion that it will be a moderately tough course, but without better support from the race director, I'm sure I'll be left with a few surprises that I didn't uncover during my training run. Nonetheless, I am certain it will be a fantastic race on a beautiful race course.
I am equally certain that the Zion 100 is going to be a very tough course with a lot of elevation gain and some pretty technical terrain. This type of elevation gain is my favorite though, because it comes to you all at once rather than in little chunks that slowly wear you down over time. Don't get me wrong. There will be plenty of that too! But the majority of the ascent on this course will come in big climbs. You can tackle them, recover, and carry on!
Both of these race courses are gorgeous and challenging. I feel lucky to be in a situation that allows me to get on these race courses and log some great training miles. And as a result, I hope to put up some solid finishes at these races in 2013.
I hope some of this information will be useful to the runner's that will be on these trail with me this year, or in future years.
We'll be heading back to Zion in a few weeks to run more of the course with Matt. That's an adventure I'll never turn away from.
I hope to see some of you on these course this year!