I signed up for Arches Ultra 50-miler back in November after coming off of a solid 50k race in Omaha. I was feeling mentally and physically strong and my fire to continue with training was blazing! I knew training through December and January would come with some challenges due to frigid temperatures, large amounts of snow, and very few hours of daylight in a day. However, training in the winter months quickly became a favorite of mine; 4 AM mornings, multiple layers, and hours by myself while the rest of the world was sleeping turned out to be my cup of tea 😊
My training weeks leading up to Arches usually ranged from 50-60 miles per week, running 5-6 days per week, with a longer run on Saturday. All my runs were solo (I do run with my main man, Sage, he has four legs 😊), with the majority being ran before 7 AM. Only a handful of my runs were on a treadmill due to cold and snow, the rest were completed on sandy cow trails.
I flew out to Grand Junction the Thursday before the race and drove over to Moab on Friday. I spent most of Friday wandering around the area taking in all the sights, and I must say, if you haven’t visited the area you need to GO!
Race morning, I was more relaxed and calmer than I expected to be. I drove the ten-minute drive north of Moab and arrived at the start line 45 minutes early. It was about 20 degrees, so I made the most of my heated seats and enjoyed the warmth of my car. As usual before every race, I like to visit the local porta potty neighborhood, but this wasn’t like all my visits before. Little did I know life altering events were about to take place! I’m unable to disclose all the details of the incident in the blog post in order to preserve my image, however, if you are wanting the full shit story, contact me directly 😊 Regardless, I made it to the start line ready to roll with confidence and HotHands!
I had drop bags at mile 15 and mile 35 just in case I blew through my fuel in my pack faster than planned and in case nothing at the aid stations looked appealing. At the start, my vest was packed to the brim with Honey Stinger waffles, candy corn, Swedish Fish, fruit snacks, Pop-Tarts, RunGum, and Tailwind and Coke. Going into the race I wanted to spend as little time at the aid stations as possible. I’m sure when I lined up at the start, I got a few funny looks due to my bulging hydration vest, but this was a solid decision that saved me crucial time over 50 miles.
The first couple miles of the race were ran on a paved trail, which allowed for a quicker that normal pace. Once we got off the paved trail, the next 8ish miles were very technical, mostly slick rock with the trail being marked by an occasional blue ribbon hung on brush and a few painted rocks here and there. The sun was just starting to come up and this made it difficult to follow course markings. I quickly learned that the slick rock required a bit more focus on foot landings, I’m still shocked that I managed to stay upright all throughout the race. During these miles I was passed by at least ten runners, which quickly deflated my confidence as I felt like my pace was clipping right along. I had to remind myself to run my own race, there was a good chance I’d see some of these runners on the back half of the race. A lot can happen over 50 miles, I knew starting on the slower side would allow me to race the back half with fuel in the tank.
I came into the Klonzo aid station at mile 15 craving some “real” food. I snagged a peanut butter and honey sandwich and a shot of Coke and was off like a rocket! That sandwich provided me with just the boost I was looking for. The next 5ish miles were mostly slick rock again, but the sun was finally up in the sky, and it was much easier to see course markings and the rock wasn’t quite so deceiving with shadows at this point.
At mile 21, Dalton aid station, I grabbed some banana bread (best banana bread of my life, I miss it already), and was informed that I was the 9th female to come through. Before this I was certain I was at the back of the pack since it felt like everyone and their dog passed me in those first 10 miles. I still had 29 more miles to run, but knowing where I was in the race gave me focus and additional motivation.
It was almost 11 AM and the temperature had risen to about 40ish degrees, which felt nice, but the warmer temperatures also brought mud. The next 5 miles were almost completely mud. At the time I thought I was doing some major slogging, little did I know it was going to get worse. And this mud wasn’t like Sandhills mud, it was like stick on your shoes for the next month mud.
I came into the Klondike aid station at mile 26 feeling a little fatigued. I grabbed a snickers bar and banana bread, filled my water, and headed off for a 9-mile loop that would eventually bring me back to Klondike. I knew these 9 miles were going to be a challenge as this section had the main climb of the whole race and lots more slick rock to run. I power hiked the slick rock climb without any problems, it honestly didn’t feel as challenging as I had expected. There was one point around mile 32 where I lost the paintings on the rock and the blue ribbons on the brush. I was a bit disoriented, but quickly found my way to the nearest blue ribbon and continued on. I went about a quarter of a mile and realized I was backtracking up the trail. I got myself turned around and my head screwed back on and southward we went towards Klondike.
I finally made it around the 9 mile loop and back to the Klondike aid station, mile 34. Sadly, they had run out of banana bread by this time😥, so I grabbed some snickers and quesadillas and braced myself for the mud that laid ahead. At this point, my quads were starting to burn a little. Keeping my footing on the slick rock and dealing with any decline on the slick rock put these stubby legs to the test.
The mud for the next 8ish miles was deep, like run into your shoe deep. At one point, I just about lost my shoe and felt like I was back in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming running that 52 mile race in June. Luckily, this mud came to an end, and it was back to slick rock. It’s odd to say that I looked forward to getting back on the slick rock because that terrain obviously offers quite a challenge, but this mud was legit. I considered stopping and making a pot for my mom as a souvenir 😂
I found myself at mile 40, Dalton aid station, grabbing quesadillas and banana bread. I knew the next 3 miles included a little bit of climbing on snowy/icy trails, and there would also be a little mud involved. These miles were full of power hiking and paying close attention to my footing as fatigue had set in and the canyons below looked a little too deep for my liking. Somewhere in these miles I caught the best high I’d had all day, and it wasn’t induced by quesadillas or banana bread 😊 In these moments, I finally realized the beauty I was running through and how blessed I am to be able to take on a challenge of a 50 mile race. I was able to ride this high to the finish line and probably had my strongest race finish to date.
As expected, the day was filled with numerous highs and lows, both physically and mentally. There were moments when I would’ve given anything to have someone there to support and crew me, but then I remembered all those people that were supporting me from afar and that would be proud of me no matter what the outcome.
My body held up exceptionally well. I’ve dealt with runner’s knee over the past few years, and this is the first ultra I’ve ran where I haven’t had any knee pain, woohoo!! My quads took a beating with the climbs and descent, but I feel like I did a successful job of putting that pain out of my mind.
Throughout the race, I was very aware of my hourly fuel intake, trying to take in about 150 calories every hour. I always grabbed a few “real” food items at the aid stations; banana bread, quesadillas, a few candy bars, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and filled my water. I also consumed a large number of Honey Stinger waffles, candy corn, and Swedish fish throughout the day. Candy corn is new to my racing fuel, and it sure hit the spot 😊
I finished in 10:48 winning my age division, coming in 8th woman overall, and finishing in the top 50 overall. This past training block was on point, my nutrition was dialed in, and I feel like things came together for me over these 50 miles.
Going into this race I was a bit fearful as my last 50 miler (Bighorn) basically chewed me up and spit me out. But that fear motivated me, it made me push through training, it made me stay focused and disciplined on race day.
I haven’t decided what my next race will be, but I’m already itching to start my next block of training and get a race on the calendar ❤
“Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to help you grow.” -Caroline Myss