Slick Running at the Red Hot Moab 55k

This past Friday I headed down south… to southern Utah to take in the Red Hot Moab 55k, a race I’d heard a lot about, but never attended. Making the trip all the more exciting were stacked fields in both the men’s and women’s race. A bit about the weather and course before jumping into the elite races.

I’d describe the Red Hot course as a good mix of dirt roads, singletrack/washes, and slickrock with dirt roads being the predominant running surface. Still, aside from a few long road sections, terrain quickly varied between slickrock, packed dirt, and loose sand. For those toward the front (<5:30), nearly the entire course is runnable. In total, there aren’t more than a few miles of walking, most of which occur on slickrock. While the course, which is point to point with a loop in the middle, tops out elevation-wise at ten miles, there still feels like a bunch of up and down between there and mile 27 at which point the course is almost entirely flat or downhill to the finish by the Colorado River. In total, there are just shy of 4,000′ of climbing and just over 4,500′ of descent.

Red Hot Moab 55k scenery

Typical Red Hot Moab 55k scenery.

Pre-race weather reports were calling for very sketchy weather… like 33F with a rain of mix and snow at the start. Precipitation was forecast to continue more or less throughout the race. While the weather was not nearly as miserable as forecast, it played a big part in the minds of most races. On the up side, the temperatures warmed over night and were in the mid-40s come race time. However, a dry night turned rainy around an hour before the start with the word “go” coming in a cool, steady rain. A good rain continued for the first hour and then become more intermittent. It was never a factor, other than cooling some folks off early. Traction remained solid on the slickrock while any dust was wetted down. The bigger story was the wind as it was quite windy, especially during the final 20 miles. The predominantly southerly wind was brutal on the southward bound course, especially on the road sections. Either you were running headlong into the wind or it threatened to blow you over. Despite temps rising into the mid-50s with very little late race precip, most runners wore a jacket throughout.

Men’s Race
In the early going, the men’s race had the look of a blowout with the course record being the only thing race leader Mike Smith had to chase. Mike, an Olympic Trials marathoner (2:19 pr?) from Flagstaff, went out hard and was quickly out of sight in his ultra debut. Unfortunately, he made a wrong term at mile 15 and called it a day after a frustrating jaunt off course. However, for much of the race, the rest of the men’s leader didn’t know or didn’t believe that Mike was out of the race. Timmy Parr, blazed on in the lead, unaware of his position. He, too, was aggressive with his pacing and opened up a gap on former Moab resident Dakota Jones. Despite seemingly running in third much of the race, Dakota never let up and when Timmy started struggling in the late going, Dakota quickly made up ground. Young Money, as Dakota is known to some, flew by Timmy with two miles of the finishing descent remaining. Timmy couldn’t match Dakota’s move. Dakota won in 4:02:50, with Timmy almost exactly four minutes back.

Red Hot Moab 55k 2011 start

Red Hot Moab 55k 2011 start, including Duncan Callahan, Timmy Parr, Ryan Burch, and Dakota Jones.

Ryan Burch finished third after spending nearly half the race running with fellow Colorado resident Dylan Bowman. If I’m recalling correctly, they ran together from around mile 10 to 24. Ryan pulled ahead to run a 4:12, while Dylan ran a 4:15. Two-time Leadville 100 champion, Duncan Callahan finished fifth in 4:32. For those keeping score at home that represents a Colorado sweep of the top five spots. Utahns, the gauntlet has been thrown down and crushed. Let’s step in up in 2011!

  1. Dakota Jones (race report) – 4:02:50 (iRunFar Contributor)
  2. Timmy Parr – 4:06:51
  3. Ryan Burch (Race Report) – 4:12:10
  4. Dylan Bowman – 4:15:25
  5. Duncan Callahan (Race Report) – 4:32:54
  6. Eric Storheim – 4:41:21
  7. Sam Malmberg – 4:42:25
  8. Stephen Young – 4:43:49
  9. Pete Stevenson – 4:44:10
  10. Ben Lewis – 4:47:30 (iRunFar Contributor)

Women’s Race
How often do you see the likes of Anita Ortiz, Darcy Africa, and Krissy Moehl racing each other in February?! What a field!

Red Hot Moab 55k Krissy Moehl

Krissy Moehl running around mile 14.

In the end, it was a one-woman welcome-back show. Anita Ortiz returned from a long injury layoff to serve notice to the ultra running world that she’s back… and she’ll be ready for Western States come June. Anita won in 4:52:22, more than 10 minutes ahead of second place woman, Bethany Lewis (5:03:51). Bethany’s run is notable as we believe it was only her second ultra, her longest ever race, and her first chance to match up against some of ultrarunning’s today ladies. Darcy Africa ran to a third place finish in 5:06:05, just edging out Sara Wagner (5:06:41) of Flagstaff, Arizona. Sara, a very talented shorter distance trail runner, was making her ultra debut. She went out hard, but showed that she’s got what it takes to hang on with some of the best women in ultrarunning. Tressa Breindel, a Red Hot regular, ran 5:15 to take fifth.

  1. Anita Ortiz – 4:52:22
  2. Bethany Lewis – 5:03:51
  3. Darcy Africa – 5:06:05
  4. Sara Wagner – 5:06:41
  5. Tressa Breindel – 5:15:49
  6. Krissy Moehl (race report) – 5:30:51
  7. Susan Bruzik – 5:35:18
  8. Megan Morrissey – 5:45:53
  9. Jitka O’Farrell – 5:50:59
  10. Karen Smidt – 5:56:20

My Race
Suffice to say, I was ill-prepare to run 55k, but I got in a solid training run. Over the past month plus, I’ve more or less stopped training to finish up my book. During my short run on Friday I nearly decided not to run Red Hot, but the fear of going even longer time-wise without a long run with Western States and UTMB looming got me into the car and driving. When I say I was unprepared, I’m being honest. My longest run on the year was 12.5 miles and my longest run since faking the Firetrails 50 mile last October was one 15 miler.

Bryon Powell 2011 Red Hot Moab 55k

Me running around mile 14. Photo by Krissy Moehl.

I ran smooth and easy from the gun. Ok, so my heart rate (160-170 bpm or so) was higher than during my training runs, but it felt smooth and easy. I cruised through the first dozen miles roughly the same group. I came out of the mile 12 aid station with Krissy Moehl and we chatted for a bit as we ran together for a couple miles. At one point I moved ahead a bit… and was running solo into a stiff headwind. The nearest runner was at least a quarter mile ahead. I leaned into the wind and tried to close the gap. Despite a solid effort that gap didn’t close quickly enough. At the mile 17 aid station, I spent two minutes trying to figure out what was causing a hot spot under one foot. A mile, I finally closed the gap… and then the wheels came off.

Red Hot Moab aid station

An aid station vehicle that was in roughly the same condition as I was.

Given how runnable the course is and how limited my long runs have been, I knew that I’d fall apart at some point. It wasn’t fun, but I was okay with it. My glutes were toast… which I actually took as a good sign, as it meant I was engaging them. (My previous failure to engage them led, in part, to my plantar fasciitis.) The previous 8 miles had been entirely runnable and I figured I could run/walk myself back into running form… and then my back seized up. (Note to self: sleeping in Hotel Prius is great… sleeping in Hotel Prius the night before an ultra is a mistake!) I proceeded to walk nearly every step of the next 3 miles. I took a nice lunch break (Justin’s Nut Butter – Chocolate Hazelnut) sitting on a rock and did the same at aid station 4 (mile 21) where I would have dropped out if that was an option. Instead, I had two cups of coke and a pair of Reese’s peanut butter cups… before walking out of the aid station.

2011 Red Hot Moab 55k

A view from the second half of the race.

I walked downhill for a while, as I couldn’t manage running down. Eventually, two women came up from behind singing. I joined them (running, not singing) for a bit and within a quarter mile, I was fine to run. I knew I could run to the finish… and I did. I actually pushed it pretty well. I quickly moved my heart rate up into the mid-160s before pegging it at 170 or high for the final hour and 25 minutes of the race. I felt remarkably good for the final 10+ miles. My only problem came with some pre-cramping of both calves and occasionally a hamstring in the final 2 miles. I think this was mostly fatigue/fast pace related, though I was foolish in taking only one electrolyte capsule during the whole race.

Bryon Powell Red Hot Moab 2011 heart rate

My heart rate data for the race. I'm quite pleased at how consistent I was at the end.

All in all, I’m happy I ran the race. It showed me that all is not lost, although I have much work to do. I think I could have run in the low-to-mid 5 hour range rather than the 5:50 I ran, if I hadn’t wasted 15 minute on random stops (taking off extra clothes, dealing with the foot issue, and two down-time stops), hadn’t carried so much (my waterless pack with gear weighed 4.25 pounds at the finish), and had snapped out of my funk a bit quicker. Fortunately, I’m not disappointed with my time as this has always been planned as a supported long run. Mission accomplished. Now I just need to get training so I can push back the blowup a few more miles at the Antelope Island Buffalo Run in a month.

Finish Red Hot Moab 55k

A view from the final mile of the course.

Call for Comments
Anyone run either the 55k or the 33k this year? How’d it go? To those who’ve run the race in the past, what did you think?

There are 25 comments

  1. Brett

    Its amazing people always get lost on that course. Mike Smith this year…you would think they would stay back with the leaders and just be patient for awhile when at a course known for getting lost. What a welcome mat for a first ultra!

    1. Bryon Powell

      I'm surprised that anyone could get lost on that course. Sure, you can go on inefficient lines for a little ways, especially on the slick rock, but the course was supremely well marked.

  2. Karah

    Great summary of race-both the top dogs duking it out and your own race. I was there too for my first ever ultra. Was a great experience, even with all that wind.

  3. Jason Patton

    I'm the guy in the red jacket talking to the speedsters from CO in the first picture. Cool to see my mug on irunfar. That was my second ever foot-race and I had a total blast aside from the wind. I ran and chatted with a bunch of really cool folks and I really enjoyed the awesome scenery. The run went pretty well for me I suppose. I am just starting to up the training volume again for the coming season. My first ever race last August left me with a touchy left IT band but it behaved fairly well for the race and I ended up running 5:13. I felt pretty worked on the last climb but ended up pulling it together and finishing pretty strong in part due to Bryce Warren from Utah. We pushed and pulled each other for the last four or five and that made for a really fun finish. I also thought the course was really well marked and altogether super fun. I really appreciated all the volunteers toughing it out as it looked really cold to be standing around. I also really enjoyed the finish line as I was escorted by one of the volunteers straight to a beer and warm food. Cool race, cool people, cool place.

  4. Mike D.

    Nice report, Bryon. I ran the 33K last year and it was my first year running. It was also the longest distance I ever ran up to that point. Judging by the pics, there was A LOT less snow than last year. Thanks for the write up and I'll look for you at Antelope Island.

  5. Stuart

    Hi Byron,

    Nice run. I have PF issues too and have tried bunches of shoes to find something that keeps it at bay. It is interesting to me that you like the Brooks Cascadia 6. I have the Cascadia 4 and have found that my PF pain flares up fast when wearing them. I believe this is due to the fact that my Cascadia 4 is flexible in the middle of the shoe instead of at the ball of the foot. I don't know if the Cascadia has changed since, but that middle flex has relagated my Cascadia 4 to the bottom of the closet.

    Anyway, good luck on the season ahead!

    1. Brett

      When I had PF, I really dialed down the volume, ended the speedwork/incline runs completely, and got a foot log (just google foot log). After a few weeks it seemed gone. I also got arch supports for my running shoes, wore them at all times even walking around the house… Eased back into running again slowly slowly. I've never had an issue with it ever again in 3 years. I forget who recommended that approach, but I distinctly remember them saying if you can be patient for a few weeks and really bury it, you can end it forever.

  6. Tony Mollica

    I enjoyed your RR! I had a friend who ran and posted a short video from right before the start of the race and one form when she was finished, and you can actually hear how brutal the wind was.

    You ran a pretty decent time for what your training consisted of!

    I wish you good and healthy training from here on out!

  7. Turi

    A bit late getting back to this, but I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed Bryon's race report. Please keep up with those for your own races –

    1. Bryon Powell

      Thanks for the vote in favor of my own race reports, Turi. I've been erring on the side of including too little about my own running on iRunFar. I'm never sure that many folks are interested in it since I'm far from elite. (Not being self-demeaning. When in peak shape, I'm solid, but still not elite. ;-) ) I guess it's mostly because iRunFar started gaining traction once I switch from my own running to everyone elses.

  8. Martin

    Maybe that guy runs so fast that everything is a blur (imagine what the desert looks like to Roadrunner). Would love to see what that feels like.

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