by Lisa Hayen
I arrived the morning of the race to stand at the start line in 20 degree weather under bluebird skies, blazing sunlight, and a very slight breeze. I was standing in Moab, UT, to run the Arches 50k. It is Moab’s newest trail race, and I thought I must have been in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I had a few concerns, one being that this was the inaugural year of this race series. Although this was put on by Mad Moose Events, and they weren’t new to trail races. My other concerns were that I hadn’t run many trails or hills since the Run Rabbit Run 100 four months ago, and I wasn’t familiar with the trail systems. Still, I was trained up for the distance, had 10.5 hours to finish the course (50-milers were allotted 12 hours), would have friends out there with me, and would be racing in areas that were breathtaking.
We began with a 2-mile run on paved road. It was surprising to have that much pavement, but mentally I turned this into an advantage. I put on some speed in this early section, knowing that the upcoming terrain would likely slow me down. Before long, we turned onto red dirt single track trail that wound through the desert. It was gorgeous, but I was looking forward to having the pack thin out so that I wouldn’t constantly have people running right behind me. This would come not long after the first aid station.
After about four miles into the race, we turned off a dirt road and onto my first real experience with slick rock. We’d been warned to expect “some” slick rock, but this first section was approximately 7 miles long. I estimated later that the race was approximately 35-40% slick rock (which I was told was less than the popular Red Hot 55k race in February). I learned very quickly to follow the faint line and arrows painted on the rock, along with the added blue race flagging. This, along with trying to stay vertical on the uneven surface, dramatically slowed me down. It was frustrating at times, knowing that I had a better pace in me on easier terrain, but I knew that slick rock was part of the experience of this race. I did my best to treat it as a new adventure, although the occasional expletive came to mind. I’d at least say that my cushiony New Balance Hierros kept my feet from getting beat up, something which I definitely appreciated at the end of the race when I heard a lot of people moaning about their battered feet.
The long section of slick rock ended where the half marathon and 50k/50mile course split, and we were treated to on-again/off-again sections of slick rock and “other” terrain. That “other” consisted of packed road, soft dirt road, sandy trail, and (in two small sections) icy trail. I honestly think we ran on just about every type of terrain there was, except perhaps for tree roots. I picked up the speed where I could (letting loose on one particularly memorable downhill section that led to an aid station), and tried to keep my hiking fast everywhere else. Luckily, with this course, we only had about 3k feet of elevation gain, about 2/3 of this coming in the second half of the course. Even though I hadn’t trained much in the way of hills, I still found this to be fairly tame.
The last 3-4 miles of the course was on soft dirt road that led downhill to a turn onto a packed (and washboard-style) road. After having to slow down so much on the slick rock sections, I put the wheels back on and blazed through the rest of the gas that I had in my tank. Perhaps the only downside to this section was having to actually run about half a mile past the finish area in order to take a tunnel under the highway and then make a sharp right and run toward the finish line. My early guess from not really knowing the course was that I would finish in the mid 7-hour range. I finished in 6:50, feeling fairly pleased with my effort.
Positives about this race:
-Well-supported with adequate aid stations and excellent volunteers
-Adequately marked, although I did occasionally have to stop and look around for confidence markers
-Not a lot of climbing, which was helpful for a race early in the year
-Gorgeous surroundings, when you felt brave enough to look up and not risk face-planting
-Good swag – they gave out trucker hats, which made a lot of people happy
Negatives (and these really aren’t all that negative):
-The race medal and ribbon were the same for all the races (9k, ½ marathon, 50k, 50mile). It would have been cool to have at least the ribbon holding the medal specify which race we’d completed.
-Running past the finish line was brutal!