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MAS50 DNF and Arches National Park

September 21, 2009

First, the disappointing part: I wound up completing only about 20 of the fifty miles at the Moab Alpine to Slickrock ultramarathon.

I arrived in Utah Thursday in good spirits; running down to Moab was a great – if road-constructionish – drive, though I was alarmed to see 40,000 foot thunderheads parked on the La Sal mountains where the race was to be held.

Packet pickup was great, and I can’t say enough good things about the race. More on that later. Regardless, met up with my friends Joe and Sue for dinner, and Sue made sure I was out of there early enough to get to bed by 8:00 PM Friday.
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3:45 a.m. came early (as it is wont to do) and I drive the eight or so miles to the finish, where shuttle buses await to take us to the start. It’s a somewhat warm morning, and incredibly dark, as we head  out at six a.m., all of us but a few running with lights (and those without lights staying close to the rest of us).  The race begins in earnest, as the first nine miles are all uphill, with eight miles of climb and a one mile traverse around one of the La Sal mountains.

Mountain darkness

Mountain darkness

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It’s only about two miles before I realize something is not right. I am normally a great climber, and I almost always pass MUCH better runners than me on the climbs – my legs are just built for it (hence how I was offered a seeded bib for the climb up the Aon building following one strong stairclimbing performance).

View up into the La Sals

View up into the La Sals

And, I had trained specifically for this climb, with three Sunday runs of nine miles at 9% grade at a very brisk walk (4.4 mph).

More of the La Sals

More of the La Sals

So, I knew something wasn’t right, as my heartrate was spiking to levels I only usually experience in 5ks) and I pretty soon find myself at the back of the climb.  I do these nine miles and change in 3 hours – a very slow time. Nevertheless, the next stretch has less climb and some flats, so I press on.

Aspens starting to change

Aspens starting to change

The downs, at first, are fine, and I’m able to pick up the pace on some incredible single-track through turning aspen on gnarly rocky and root trails.  Then I start climbing again and my heartrate shoots up – and stays up. I stop for a while, resolve to take more pictures – but I’m burning the engine out.

Mmm, talus slopes

Mmm, talus slopes

So I average twenty minute miles, again, and drop at the next aid station. Despite that, this is the most beautiful course I’ve ever been on, and despite some afternoon thunderstorms, I do wish I could have ran over Burro Pass at 11,000 feet then headed for the slickrock descents in the second half. The RD did an incredible job; the course was well-marked; the terrain was more technical than I was expecting,  and Moab really is a nifty is tourist-trappy sort of city.

Pure trail bliss among the aspens

Pure trail bliss among the aspens

There are a number of things that could have happened to me, and I’m still trying to figure out what. In order of likelihood:

1) Lack of altitude acclimation.  This has never bothered me before, as several times I have flown into Denver and immediately driven to and climbed a fourteener.  But what I experienced – shortness of breath, acclerated heartrate, headache (everything but nausea and disorientation) falls under the symptoms of AMS or HAPE. This will be easy to test.

2) Non-recovery from the flu. I had a really nasty flu bug a few weeks ago that lasted about ten days; I felt like crap but I could still think and work, but my weekly mileage totals for the four weeks leading up to this were 114, 0, 6 and 20.

3) Improper training: I think I did OK, but think I need to do more speed training and less junk miles. Think I’ll do this regardless, but do think if I had done more VO2 max training I might’ve helped counter either 1 or 2.

4) Lack of fitness. Maybe I should actually watch what I eat and try to be fueled by something OTHER than junk food. Bah, I hope it’s the first two – I do like my ridiculous metabolism.

Bottom line, though, is I DNF’ed, and I’ll own that and do better next time. The GOOD news is that my muscles are relaxed and not sore (despite climbing about 6000 feet total) – so at least I start my vacation with a pretty fresh body.

Arches National Park

First, I want to say this is a very friendly national park to all manner of people; there are lots of places to see, lots of short hikes, and very varied  terrain.  There is not, however, a lot of rugged hiking available, so most of the trails are pretty crowded.  Overall, not my type of park, but I wanted to see as much as possible.  I won’t bore you with the easy hike pics (Park Avenue, Balanced Rock, The Windows, Sand Arch, Broken Arch) – other than to say you should see them when you visit.

I will go through three tougher hikes, in ascending order of recommendation (i.e., the third one I recommend the most).

1) Devils Garden – primitive loop and all side trails.

This is the trail for people like me – a nice mile hike to see the legendary Landscape Arch, then a long loop on decent though kinda primitive trails that you’ll need some routefinding to complete.  (I say some – it’s actually a great introduction if you’ve never done canyonlands type trails where cairns are essential.
The first couple of arches are easy  to get to, though if you’re not in great shape and/or it’s hot, at least hike in good shoes and bring water.  After you get to Landscape Arch, you can take a loop to some other interesting places. I could bore you with all the details, but unless you want a great hike (as opposed to great sight-seeing), you can probably skip this eight mile loop (with all side trips).

Cute little fawn

Cute little fawn

The water hazard on the primitive loop.

The water hazard on the primitive loop.

2) Upper Delicate Arch – this is a great, short (half mile), semi-steep trail that gives you some great interesting views of Delicate Arch, Utah’s unofficial  symbol.  It’s a bit steep, and there is a lot of exposure (three hundred to four hundred foot sheer cliffs), so it’s probably not for small tykes, but you get some  great views towards the impressive cliffs below delicate arch; a view  to the ice window west of Delicate Arch; and a very impressive shiprock type of formation.
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3) Delicate Arch – direct trail.  This is a 1.5 mile trip one-way, and you will be climbing some slickrock (which is incredibly easy) and sandstone (not much more difficult).  However, the reward it to be in this incredible cwm:  a bowl on three sides, with the arch acting as a sentinel at the southern end. The arch is cool, but the setting itself is one of the most incredible settings you could ask for.

Slickrock trail - not exactly difficult to follow

Slickrock trail - not exactly difficult to follow

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So managed to clock about 18 miles today, and feel fine.  Some of the tougher rock-climbing I did (err, not described above 🙂 ) wore on my arms and quads, but I’ll be fine.  I’m thinking altitude problems still, but I felt much better running trails today.

Tomorrow comes the Syncline Trail in Canyonlands, plus a few other small hikes I’m sure before heading north to climb Mt. Nebo on Tuesday.

Sun, storm, slickrock

Sun, storm, slickrock

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