Sunday, March 27, 2011

Call me Han, ‘Cause I’m going Solo! Or The 2011 Moab Spring Adventure Race!

After committing to the Expedition Idaho race, and suddenly becoming single, it became imperative that I compete in as many races as possible this year.  Moab, although somewhat cookie cutter, has always had a great race.  If nothing else, the scenery is great and a good reason to get out of town.  Although I always want to do my best, I considered this a training run and a chance to try out some new ideas; equipment-wise and nutritionally.

I tried to team up with someone, but all my friends are fun-haters/deathly ill/employed/liars, so I decided I would take the plunge and go solo.  Sean agreed to loan me a kayak.  Being that it is Spring, it is also hard to get in any training, but Sean also loaned me some rollers and I got in two outdoor training rides.  On top of that, my new minimalist shoe running hobby had me thirsty to try it out in a race!

I spent all week of the 20th packing, studying for a test, and generally procrastinating.  I made arrangements to make up my Friday Neuro lab and by noon on March 25th, I was on my way out of town and listening to NPR Science Friday for the first time all semester.  It was a quick 7 hr trip.  I stopped to take a few pictures along the Colorado River on my way into Moab, and was checked into race HQ by 7:30.

The spectacular view driving into Moab, even with rain!

The Night Before and Morning Of:
The first order of business was to find a place to stay.  I was going to car camp, but past experience and inclement weather persuaded me to pay way too much for an econo-cabin.  But it did have bunk beds!  I drove to the boat drop, where Sean had nicely already placed the boat and dropped off my paddle and other kayaking equipment.

The next order of business was some food.  Mark N. and family had graciously offered me some spaghetti.  Although I am gluten-free, I was hungry and graciously accepted their meal.  I then did a quick tune-up on my bike and started getting my pack ready.  The race course followed the course from the 2009 race, so I kind of skipped plotting my points on the map.  I packed an extra pair of socks, my two flasks of my home-made energy gel, Vibram Five Fingers (VFF's) for the run, the rappelling harness and mandatory equipment like a cell phone and space blanket, along with a tube patch kit.  I poured a serving of Heed and one Nuun tablet into my hydration pack, prepped breakfast for the morning and hit the sack.

The "econo" cabin.

We woke the next morning at six.  I made coffee, had my breakfast, consisting of an ensure drink, some chia seed and water, a banana and some coconut oil to top it off.  We made our way to Gold Bar campground and got ready for the race.

And We're Off!  Bike Leg 1:

It was chilly (probably 50 degrees) but the sun came out right before the race.  I opted to wear tight biking shorts (I know, I know…) because I didn’t want to run in my baggies, and a wool top under my baggies.  As we took off, I fell to the back of the pack of the solo racers.  That way I could pass more people along the way…

Besides wishing I had long fingered gloves, I felt fine.  5 miles down the road, we took a right at Jughandle Arch and began the long climb up Pucker Pass.  I felt really good and wanted to go faster, but kept reminding myself I had another 7 hours or so to go and should pace myself.  I stopped at the top of the first steep climb to remove my wool top and suck down some energy gel.  As the climb continued, over ~2000 feet, I felt good.  I only had to walk my bike once, for about 200 meters.

Once I hit the top I felt great.  The road continued to incline, but I felt like I was going downhill.  I was in the big gears most of the way to the first check point.  It did get noticibly colder up top though.  I opted not to put my wool top back on, but lots of other racers were adding layers.  There was even ice on the road when we hit the brief section of pavement.  I hit the first checkpoint, punched my pass book, sucked down some more gel and water, and headed down to Gemini Bridges.

The Rappel and Run:
It was a fast eight miles down, but cold still!  At the bridges, I put on my rappel gear and the VFF’s.  But my toes were numb from the weather, and it was back to a wrestling match to get them in.  After winning out, I ditched my pack, grabbed some essential food and equipment and ran down to the rappel.  At this point Sean and his partner John, who started 15 minutes behind, had finally caught up.  I gotta say, I was pretty proud of myself that it took them this long.

Instead of the usual bottleneck at the rappel, I got on the rope right away.  Things didn’t feel right on the rope; although I am out of practice, it just felt stiff.  I fought the rope all the way down, punched my ticket, and started the 6 miles back up to the bikes.

This would be the first true test of the VFF’s.  The biggest problem starting out is that my feet were still numb from the cold.  I was very worried about an injury.  Luckily most of the running for the first ten minutes was through sand and everything was fine.  For the first half of the run, my shoes felt great.  I had a little bit of leg cramping, but not bad at all compared to some previous races.  Taking some Endurolytes helped that.  

But after checkpoint number four, the trail started back up Gemini Bridges road and I started experiencing foot pain.  Obviously I need some more experience trail running in the VFF’s.  As I got tired, I got careless, and didn’t watch where I stepped.  The sharp rocks on the slickrock didn't have much give.  Soon, my feet were really tender.  I had to stop and walk a few times, but finally the bikes were in sight!

Bike Leg Two or The Need for Speed!:

I ran back up, punched my ticket, stuffed everything back into my pack, and got back on the bike.  The next five miles were the best part of the race.  Flying down the rocky sections of the trail I had just run up was great!  Picking the best lines, dodging and yelling encouragement to the other runners on their way up felt great!   

The road flattened out again into another beautiful Moab canyon. Passing Gooney Bird Rock, the trail soon started to climb again.  This is where I could start to feel how bad the run had wiped me out.  But I kept looking at the top of the hills, and soon I was headed down to checkpoint six and then down to the river.
The last nine miles or so was all paved bike trail.  And even though this takes some of the adventure out of it, it was fast.   

The Home Stretch:

I felt great by the time I hit the boat ramp at the bridge North of town.  I switched into my water gear, asked around for some sunscreen (no luck), and put the boat in the water.  Being that this was my first time, ever, in a hard shell kayak, and by myself, I did pretty good getting into the water.  

I soon felt somewhat comfortable with how the kayak was handling.  I also learned I wasn’t doing myself any favors by keeping my pack on.  It was really impeding my stroke, so I carefully pulled it off, and stuck it in the hull between m legs.  Then I was off and running, trying to catch the boat with the yellow paddles I could see downstream!  

Well, kind of…  I soon learned that I hadn’t trained nearly enough with my arms for this.  The pain set into my shoulders and eventually spread down to my low back.  After an hour and half, I REALLY wanted out of that kayak.  I was passed by two other solo racers, and never caught the elusive boat with the yellow paddles.  But eventually, the “Big Red Arch” came into view and I was able to make a 15 minute “sprint” to the finish!

Hitting the shore, a race volunteer helped me up.  After running and biking for 5 hours, then sitting with your legs motionless for two hours, nothing really wants to work!  I managed not to fall back into the river, carried the kayak up the ramp, and shuffled under the finish line.  I am still waiting on official results, but it was just over seven hours.

At the "Big Red Arch, "  post race.

What I learned:

Besides testing new equipment and going solo, my biggest achievement was running my race.  I paced myself as I needed.  I stopped to fuel and hydrate as I needed.  And I didn’t burn out and had a lot of fun.

I will post about my nutrition and equipment in further updates!

Happy trails!


Some of the spectacular cliffs (massifs?) surrounding Gold Bar campground.


  1. To your fun-hater comment -you didn't ask me! ;-)

  2. In my defense, I did post an open invitation on FB. Plus, I was sick of getting rejected! Next time, I will ask. :p