First Trail Race: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

So many firsts!  First trail race – 24 Hours of Utah. It’s actually several races, but I decided to do the 6 hour version and see how it goes. The route consists of a 5.37 mile loop with 606 feet of climbing in each loop on the Monitor and Merrimac trail north of Moab.

DSC_6010We arrived Thursday night so that we’d have a day to settle in before the race. Went sightseeing into the San Juan mountains and then over to Gooseneck State Park. The whole Moab area is so beautiful. The town is nearly quaint but could use some updating in places.

There were three of us from Mesquite:  Gary, Nicole, and myself. Gary chose to try and beat his previous years’ 24 hour distance while Nic and I chose the night time, 6 hour race. Early Saturday morning, we wished Gary well as he began his 24 hours. Nic and her family went off to do family things and I headed out to Arches National Park.

DSC_6099I spent the whole day at the park taking pictures and going on little hikes here and there. So much to see in a day! Quite the variety of sandstone formations and arches as tall as skyscrapers. I think I explored every bit of the park, including a 5 mile hike to Delicate Arch (in the photo). By late afternoon, I’d seen most of the park and headed back to get ready for the race.

I thought I’d prepared pretty well. I had cool clothes and warm clothes. I had snacks of all kinds. I had water and Gatorade. I had a headlamp for later. The neat thing about loop courses is that you can park your stuff and then every time you make a loop, you have access to your things. As the clock approached 6pm, Nic and I joined the small group that waited for the starting signal. Then, off we went.

DSC_6021I happily jogged along with the crowd, though they quickly left me behind since I was slower than most. I was ok with that. After all, I’d been running a total of two months! I put in walk breaks to help me last longer, and it wasn’t long before I was walking a lot, having hit the long uphill climb on the hard, red sandstone and leaving the sandy trail behind.  I was still smiling, thrilled to be part of the event and proud to be considered a trail runner.

Halfway around the loop, the trail turned downhill and I ran easily with a big grin. I think the first loop took about an hour and a half. On the second loop, you turn around and go the opposite direction. Ok, that’s fine. The first mile back is a dirt road but then the course turns onto a VERY sandy trail. Don’t know how anyone could run that! Soon, I’m back on hard sandstone, climbing up and over and back down to the sandy trail and loop two was done.

Headed out for loop three at sunset. Cool! Get to use my new headlamp. It’s kinda tight and gave me a little headache, but I push on. I’m about 3/4 through with the third loop when I start feeling nauseated. I happen to run into Gary who encourages me to go just one more loop to see if I can get four done in six hours. Though my stomach feels queasy, I decide I don’t want to let anyone down, including myself, and push for one last loop.

Starting loop four and it’s full darkness now. Not even any ambient light or horizon to look at. I’m about 1/4 into loop four when it happens. I barf. Only nothing comes out since I hadn’t eaten anything. Kinda sorta felt better so I pushed on. Barfed again just over halfway. 🙁  And, now I’m staggering in the darkness. I veered off the trail by accident at one point scared I’d be one of those statistics, but about 10 minutes later I found the trail markers again.

I look at my watch and acknowledge I’ve missed the six hour cutoff for loop four but I don’t even care anymore. I just want to get back and lay down. Easier said than done. I felt like  a zombie. Almost an out of body experience. I was moving at about a 30-35 minute/mile pace. I stumbled so many times in the darkness just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other to keep moving. It was what I’ve come to learn is a death march. I knew every step I took was one less I would need to take to get back, and that was my only motivation. Barfed again at the 3/4 point and finally arrived back at 1:30am, having taken about 3 hours to do the fourth loop.  I laid down and barfed again.

I never did see Nic but heard she completed four loops in six hours. I ran into Gary when I got back, just as he was heading out again. I wished him well and went over to the aid station where they gave me a blanket to calm my shivering and I sat by the warm fire. It took a couple hours but the nausea finally faded. I got to cheer Gary on for every loop as he continued for the full 24 hours, winning his race with over 86 miles! For me, I clocked about 25 total miles on the day, which actually pretty cool since it was more than anything I’d ever done in a day.

24HrMoab_postraceI learned I still get motion sick if I can’t see the horizon. I never could read in the car, watch people play video games, or sit in the front row of the movie theater. I decided I won’t be doing any more night races anytime soon. Other than that, I felt I did pretty good–especially for my first one. It was nice to be around other trail runners and hearing their stories, good or bad. I’m looking forward to doing this again next year, but daytime only!

Terri Rylander

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