13 June 2011


Day 0.5
In order to save some money on travel expenses and to acclimatize to the elevation, we arrived in Moab, Utah from Huntsville, Alabama via Denver, Colorado on Saturday afternoon in the second smallest plane I had ever been a passenger on. The pilot couldn't have been more courteous. Our destination was the Desert RATS 148 Mile 5 stage (6 day) race that takes place at one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen within the Continental US. It's a point to point stage race that runs along the Kokopelli Trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah. During this race, you run along the Colorado River as well as some of the most awesome cliffs, canyons and rock and mountain formations with terrain just as varied as the scenery.

Shortly after we arrived in Moab and took in the amazing scenery that immediately greeted us on our 20 mile ride into town, we checked into the luxurious Inca Inn at the end of town, just two miles from the Arches National Park. We had opted to rent a pickup truck (last car available in the Enterprise Rent-A-Car lot) to have some flexibility prior to the start of the race on Monday. I had to admit, for these surroundings, a big truck was more than appropriate for the terrain.

Briefly after checking into our new temporary residence and taking a short nap, we headed into town to meet up with some of Richard's running buddies from last year's Racing The Planet Atacama Desert Race for a quick dinner. We decided to head back to the hotel early in order to get up early on Sunday morning to do some sightseeing.

Having a rental allowed us to venture out on Sunday to go to the Arches National Park and take in some amazing sights, including the "Delicate Arch", which allowed us to get in a little 5k trail run while seeing some fantastic natural sights.

After a nice pasta lunch we did some last minute shopping for the mandatory gear list. We had to leave some items at home (e.g. knife and large bottles of sunscreen), since we only had carry-ons and didn't check any luggage in order to make our connecting flights and we desperately wanted to avoid being detained by Homeland Security. Which reminded me, this didn't keep Richard from proclaiming rather loudly and within earshot of one of the nice airport security folks checking our luggage at Huntsville International Airport: "My bag is going to explode when he opens it!" Obvious to both of us, he was referring to the fact that he had been struggling to get the carry-on bag closed with all of our running and camping gear and energy gels crammed in there, but how was the security guard supposed to know? Only my quick action to diffuse the situation by explaining what Richard was referring to when making his statement kept us from being detained...or maybe it was just the fact that the security personnel realized rather quickly that Richard just made a stupid, stupid comment.

Back in our motel room at the Inca Inn, we decided to do one final check of our mandatory running gear as well as our night gear bag that contained our camping gear. The mandatory gear would be validated during our race check-in Sunday afternoon at the race host hotel, the Archway Inn, just half a mile down the street. (The image below shows my inventory list for this trip. This list will also help me decide what gear would truly be a necessity for any future events).

Richard and I attempted another short nap, but we ultimately ran out of time and headed to the Archway in around 5pm on Sunday for the mandatory gear check and race check-in. After handing in our registration form, medical releases and two passport pictures, we received an expedition journal to be carried during the race at all times. Aside from my picture, it also contained emergency contact info as well as any additional medical info, e.g. allergies, etc. Along with the journal, we received additional race swag. Obviously, we didn't receive the finisher's awards in the picture until after the successful completion of the race. Oh damn, I just gave away the end of this story;-) We would also be weighted by one of the three doctors that would accompany us during this 5 stage race before we headed back to the hotel.

We had to turn around again after a quick Subway sandwich dinner to attend the pre-race briefing at 7:30PM that evening. At that time, we finally got to meet all of the other competitors, 31 runners in total, as well as race director Reid and his entire team of volunteers. After sizing up the competition (just kidding) we quickly settled down to listen to Reid's introduction of things to come. If there is one of Reid's rules that I won't ever forget, it was this "STAY ON THE TRAIL!" Not because I got lost, but because it represented the first three rules of this race;-)

Once the pre-race meeting concluded, Richard and I headed back to the motel just in time to see the Dallas Mavericks raise the NBA trophy for the very first time, Go Dirkules! Richard and I headed to sleep pretty soon after in preparation of the days to come.

Day 1
As usual, Rich and I woke up fairly early and indulged in some free continental breakfast and coffee before grabbing our gear and heading to the race headquarters, the Archway Inn in Moab, Utah at 10:30am to drop off our night supply drop bags and to get on the shuttle that would take us to the race start in Grand Junction, Colorado (the picture below shows my three tent mates and me on the couch and some of Richard's Atacama Desert race buddies just behind us. Everyone still looked pretty relaxed).

We got a bit of a late start as the shuttle was late, so the original start was delayed from 1 pm to 1:50 pm at the Kokopelli Trailhead just 30 mile or so outside Grand Junction. The bus ride took about 90 minutes and every one of the 31 racers seemed to be excited and pumped to get this thing started. Half way into the trip we urgently needed a pit stip. Everyone had been hydrating for the race and what resulted was a scene from an open air concert, 14 guys lined up behind the gas station, trying to get rid of some of that hydration (I think there actually might be a picture floating around about this particular sight).

Last year's winner Sean Meissner returned to defend his title. After arriving at the Kokopelli Trailhead, you wouldn't have been able to tell by looking at our faces that we were about to embark on an exciting yet intimidating adventure...148 miles of running through desert and mountainous terrain.

As we lined up for the start, Richard and I lined up behind Sean to give him a run for his money...no, not really;-) but we did hang with him for about 200 yards. Once we settled for a reasonable pace (again, not really as we came out way too fast for this unfamiliar climate) we kept chugging along. Immediately after making the first couple of turns on the winding trails, we were greeted by images like the one below that would accompany us for the remainder of this race, unbelievable canyons and mountains all around us, tiered ledges accompanied by steep cliffs all the way to the Colorado River. 

The first thing I had to deal with immediately after starting was the extremely low humidity of 2 percent. Couple that with a high of 95 and a maximum elevation of close to 5000 ft and you've created something my body needs to adjust to big time. I ended up with a dry mouth and throat and a runny nose all day. I immediately checked with one of the three race docs following the conclusion of this stage and he confirmed that this is the usual reaction to this climate for first timers. I also ended up with wind burn in my right eye, but not a single hot spot or blister at this time (keeping fingers crossed).

Considering the circumstances, this first stage, the "Salt Creek Stage" of approximately 19 miles went ok, with an aid station and check point at mile 6. No problems there, enough fluids and food and felt good. However, between the first aid station and the water drop at mile 16, I almost ran out of water, couldn't stay hydrated. Between these two points, we had to do a major descent to the footbridge across Salt Creek followed by a major climb straight back up the hill on the other side of the bridge. I loaded up at the second water station, grabbed some Pepsi and Oranges and moved on. We had slowed down significantly at this point, since the climb to the second aid station was massive and we came out too fast too early. We slowed our pace and went to the run/walk, running .5 miles and walking .5 miles until we reached the finish at mile 19 something in 4 hours and 47 minutes. The elevation, low humidity, high heat and ascents and descents kicked my butt!

Once we arrived at the finish, I immediately went for water. The crew had already set up our tents. I drank 5 bottles and still couldn't use the bathroom until well after 8pm. But once I could go, I kept on going, so at least I was finally rehydrated. Prior to the briefing for the next stage, we received a fantastic dinner, mashed potatoes, chicken and all kinds of fruits and veggies. This race has an awesome crew.

Tomorrow's stage will be a tough, 40 miles with just two aid stations and two water drops. We are going to run the lowest and hottest section of the race with little access to drinking water for almost 12 miles, so very conservative pace and water consumption is key.

1 comment:

  1. How are posting to the blog? Are they setting up Internet access at each night's stop?

    I'm envious of the scenery out there. Have fun on the 40 miler today!



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