What a weekend! I have been excited about this race for two years! In 2010 I ran it as a prep race for the Moab 100 miler and just loved it. The terrain is out of this world, very MOAB and I couldn’t wait to come back. Last year I was signed up and ready to race when I got really really sick. I was in bed for 5 days straight and had to bail on the trip, very unlike me. So this year I was excited to see what I could do out there.
This is a hard trail race. It is 33.6 miles and has 3,000 feet of elevation gain, and 3,700 of loss. The gain kills you and the loss nails the coffin shut. About 1/2 of it is on rocky Moab style jeep roads (crazy) and the other 12 there is no trail and you are hunting for the flagging and running from flag to flag. There is a definite route finding element to the race which adds a whole new level of RAD.
Troy, Annie and I drove up Friday with our friends Keith, Nancy and Bill. Keith and Bill were racing as well and we enjoyed a leisurely caravan up with them and dinner that night where Troy was able to indulge in the Moab Brewery. It was water and easily digestible food for everyone else. I also met Monica who is Nancy’s SIL and she was racing. Traveling with friends always helps with the nerves.
Annie is a champ traveler, as long as you line the rental car with black plastic. We are in the “spill it” years. Back to sippie cups!!! She was awesome on the drive, she talked and sang pretty much the entire way to Utah.
Race morning I was nervous. Yup, yup. Waiting in the port a pot line I ran into Helen. We have raced each other through the years, our daughters are a few days apart and she is a stud ultra runner and just a wonderful woman. It was fun to meet up with friends I haven’t seen for awhile on the start line, a few hugs and good lucks, and we were off.
The crowd took off. Oh my goodness. I didn’t want to go crazy out of the gate. I didn’t run a warm up and the course has about a 400 foot flat warm up before you start climbing. I watched my Garmin and was hoping that my heart rate monitor was just doing it’s usual first thing freak out before it gets warmed up. Either that or my heart was. Two years ago I averaged 168 average heart rate on this course, and we laughed about that for years. I am one of those people who can never seem to keep my heart rate down, despite diligent training. This year wasn’t much better…164 average. Props to my parents for gifting me with a hummingbird heart!
The first mile was 9:23 and I thought that was okay and then we hit a 3 mile downhill section where I was just shocked. I was getting passed, and passed and passed. Woman after woman was running by me and I had a few doubtful thoughts in here. Helen was long gone off the front and I just couldn’t believe how many women were out there with their A game starting a 34 mile race with low 7 minute miles. Miles 2,3,4 were 7:24, 7:24, 7:49 and that’s with me getting passed like I was nobody.
We hit the first big hill and climbed to the first aid station at 5.5 miles. I was in 10th. I was pretty shocked and had to do some talking to myself. There are so many good girls doing these ultras, you just have to run your own race, do your thing and maybe a time will come when you can run for the podium, but if the level of competition has risen, then it is what it is. Mile 5 ,6,7 were 9:03, 8:17, 7:36.
I was running behind Keri Nelson and usually she is out of sight within 1/4 mile at the snowshoe races that we have both run in. She is insanely strong and fast. But I was trotting along behind her thinking that maybe she was nursing an injury or something because I am used to not ever seeing her. I was told later that she took a spill came in holding her arm, I hope she didn’t break it.
I started to feel my strength come to me as we started climbing up up up. I like to run all the hills and the music on my iPod was keeping me happy and jazzed. Miles 8,9,10,11,12,13 were 8:13, 9:10, 11:03, 9:10, 8:04, 8:04. I was enjoying the scenery of this section when I went through the 1/2 marathon point at 1:50 on the dot. I was shocked, I thought that felt fast and I was thinking 2 hours would seem a little more reasonable.
We went through our second aid station and as I stopped to fill up I asked “Have a lot of girls gone by?” The RAD aid station volunteers said, “You’re the 4th”. This surprised me and I was kinda stoked. 4th meant that I had 20 miles to find one more and if I managed to not get passed, then a podium spot was within my reach. This day was turning up.
I put my head down and ran solid and consistent all the way downwards to the 3rd aid station. Mile 14, 15, 16, 17 were 8:30, 7:35, 7:57, 7:28. As the aid station came into view I noticed a pony tail departing the station. Oh, I got excited thinking maybe it was another woman. I refilled my hand bottle and took off to go see. I like this section of the course, the road is good and you go back down the huge hill you had to climb at mile 5.
At mile 19 or so I caught up to the third place woman and I felt good. We ran along together for a little while and then I pulled ahead and continued onwards. Mile 18 and 19 were 7:30 and 8:14
Then the crux of the course hit. There is a fair amount of climbing from mile 19 to 23 where there is a crazy aid station perched on a cliffs edge. It’s quite amazing. The 4×4 club does all the aid stations and they are amazing. These miles are up up up and tough tough tough and you don’t have a trail, it’s time to start flag hunting. At times I could see way up ahead of me a pair of pink shorts. I figured they probably belonged to a woman and I got excited. I ran those uphill miles pretty hard and I was panting like a dog. I also decided it was time to turn my hat around backwards, transforming me from “I’m Sonja, a happy fun loving trail running girl” into “It’s frickin on like Donkey Kong, let’s do this sh!t”. Yes, alter egos are fun. Miles 20, 21, 22, 23 were 9:07, 9:44, 13:19,10:26. Yes, 13:19…and my average heart rate on that one was 173. Booo Yaaa!!
By the time I crested that huge climb I had pink shorts (Sarah Hansen) and Helen just in front of me. My quads were screaming, but I didn’t care. I was in the hunt now. What a crazy turn of events, I wanted to pinch myself. As I pulled up into the aid station Helen and Sarah were leaving. It kinda looked like they had been racing each other for some time. I filled up super quick and took off catching up to them near the bottom of the next descent.
What to do, what to do? Here we were, #1, 2, 3 all ready to race, 23 miles into a 34 mile race. We jockeyed for position, constantly looking for flags. At this point of the course there was no trail, just slick rock and pink flags to mark the way. Miles 24 and 25 were 9:11 and 9:49 and we traveled as a little group with a few guys in the mix as well. Up, down, over rocks and boulders, jumping across crags, and climbing up slick rock. Now this was ultra running at it’s finest!
At 25 my iPod died and it was a sign. It was time to pony up and decide what kind of race I was ready for that day. We were booking up and down this crazy terrain and I went internal. I said “Sonja, this is your marathon, this is your day, let’s open up all the cylinders and see what’s under the hood”. And with that, I tucked my headphones in my bra and I ran like I stole something.
I went through the marathon point at 3:49 with miles 26, 27, 28, 29 in 8:59, 9:05, 9:40, 10:02. I was running as hard as I knew how. I had a guy with me, Ryan, who was an exceptional descender so I would latch onto him for the downhills and we would call out the flags when we saw them, then I would lead the uphills and he would help me find the flags. There were a few that we had to stop and search for and I felt frantic the whole time.
Everytime I stole a glance back Helen was right there. She was holding tight to us, and I had these visions that she was going to let us find the route and then run me down on the final descent. It was great strategy. So I would run harder, as hard as I could for every climb and every decent.
I was drinking EFS with PreRace in it like it was going out of style, anything I could do to hold the pain of my quads at bay. Finally we hit what I knew was the final aid station. I slammed some coke, filled up my bottle and took off as fast as I could. I was running scared, like a bunny being hunted.
The final descent was 3.5 miles of screaming rocky downhill on the Poison Spider Trail. I whimpered the entire way, I was ripping myself to shreds and I was talking out loud. I sounded like a crazy person. Miles 30, 31, 32, 33 were 7:40, 8:42, 8:54, 8:34. About a mile before the finish I tripped on a rock, thought I broke my toe and almost face planted. That gave me a huge rush of adrenaline and I used it to get down the final switchbacks where I knew Troy would be waiting. Annie was there and it was all grins to the finish line.
That finish line felt so good. Because the 33K racers had been finishing nobody knew I was the first chick for the 55K but they figured it out quickly and the race director came over and congratulated me. I was almost a little weepy but I dragged myself over to the food and sat down on an ice chest. The best part was that they had a big tub of First Endurance Ultragen. I put two scoops in a cup and downed it in about 12 seconds.
Helen was right there. She finished just 3 minutes behind me, and we became the 3rd and 4th women to ever break 5 hours on the course. I think we were both excited beyond belief about that. Here I am on my ice chest really quite unable to move or function, and Helen is chatting it up, standing, looking fresh as a daisy. She looked like she could drive back to the start and do it all again. Dang ultra runners!!!
My wonderful Troy soon was there to haul me off the ice chest and down to the car where I collapsed in the back seat and cried/laughed/giggled for about 20 minutes while we tried to get me into dry clothes. Oh, I was hurting and was really unable to move around in any sort of speedy way. It took me about 30 minutes to walk back up the course about 0.5 mile to find a good cheering spot.
Susan was there with her kiddos waiting for Tim and we had a blast sitting and chatting, and watching the kids play with rocks and dirt and stuff. I love to see just how entertained kids are in nature. Not one complaint, just FUN!