Moab Trail Half Marathon Recap

I’m just gonna go ahead and leave you this spoiler: hands down, the Moab Trail Half Marathon is the most fun course I’ve ever run!

But if you’re still interested in reading more….

Friday arrived quickly and per usual, I hadn’t packed a single bag. Thursday night had been busy and I needed to go into work for a few hours on Friday morning. Needless to say, I threw a whole lot o’ running gear in a large duffel bag and hoped for the best. If I tossed every piece of running gear into the bag, I couldn’t forget anything, right?!

#Logic

Fortunately, Moab isn’t too far from Denver and truthfully, I was looking forward to the solo road trip. Will was originally coming along but received an invite for Backpacker’s Editor’s Choice trip. Consequently, the trip fell on the same weekend as my Moab half, so he wasn’t able to join. I could have driven with some other friends but I opted to go alone. Sometimes the open road and solitude is the perfect combo, you know?

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Since Will wasn’t running, these are obviously my iPhone photos instead of his usual beautiful photos…sorry about that!

The 5.5 hour drive was easy and I managed to land in Moab before sunset. I quickly found Milt’s Stop & Eat, the location for packet pickup, and grabbed Cindy and my race bib. After settling into the condo we rented, I met up with some of my CrossFit friends for dinner. I aptly carb loaded with a pre-race beer before settling in for a good night’s sleep.

One of my fave parts about the Moab Trail Marathon is the late start. Thanks to the chilly desert temps in the morning, the race directors started the full marathon at 8:30 and our wave of the half at 9am. This meant I could sleep in until a normal hour and enjoy my typical morning routine…including a coffee search at 6am!

I also evaluated all of the gear I brought and settled on my outfit for the day: shorts, a tank and a long sleeved shirt. Fortunately, the forecast called for mid-60s and sunny which was absolutely glorious. This race suffered through low-40s and rain last year, so I was unnecessarily prepared for the worst.

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Marilyn, David, Yesenia, Renee, Cindy and me at the start

Craig dropped us off at the race start around 8:15, allowing Cindy and I just enough time to use the bathrooms, find the rest of my CrossFit crew and slather some sunscreen on our bare skin. We cheered for Brian and Brian as they took off in the third –and much faster!!–wave. Before we knew it, we were lining up in the corral. It was go time!

For a change, I had examined the elevation chart prior to the run. There was only 1800 feet of gain in the course and I knew 1000 of those feet were spread out over the first four miles. As a result, Renee, Cindy and I settled into a comfy pace without pushing it. There would be time for speed later!

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The trail took us up 5.7 miles of the Pritchett Canyon trail which also double as a jeep road. We encountered two poor souls who hadn’t realized there was a race happening– they were trying to drive their Jeeps on the course and were completely surrounded by runners! Of course, I was totally mesmerized by the staircase of rocks they were attempting to drive down. It’s one thing to run down those boulders but to drive?! Crazy!

The jeep trail eventually narrowed and we began the intense climb out of the canyon. Fortunately, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking because the last push to the top of the canyon was intense. Not only was it steep, but big boulders littered the trail, making it difficult for smaller women to climb upwards. Sand was also a factor and I quickly learned that deep sand will exhaust your calves!

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Once we reached the top of the canyon, the girls and I enjoyed a fun descent into the first aid station around mile 6. We were all carrying hydration packs so we didn’t spend more than a minute or two, but I did mash a vanilla cookie into my mouth while trying to thank the volunteer around the crumbs. This aid station was seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and we could see the tent setup where the volunteers had slept the night before. Once again, I was reminded that I need to get my ass out there next season to volunteer for some races!

We set out on a wide, sandy trail with a slight gain in elevation. We began running in earnest, making up some time from the climb earlier in the race. However, our eyes grew big and the running dramatically slowed when we reached Hunter Canyon. Holy beautiful!

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We ran along the Hunter Canyon Rim Trail for roughly two miles and I was beyond elated with the scenery and the singletrack! The narrow trail skirted the rim and truthfully, much of it was so technical that running wasn’t an option. However, the three of us kept gaping at the scenery. Was this real life?!

We learned to navigate the trail and our experience on Colorado singletrack gave us an edge on the other runners. Many were stumbling and carefully picking their way through the tight turns, but Renee, Cindy and I felt comfortable enough to run. We encountered numerous boulder drops and rock obstacles that while slow, were a ton of fun!

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Cindy climbing down one of the many rock drops

We cruised along quickly, constantly expressing our happiness in both the color in the canyon and increased pace. Our pie-in-the-sky goal had been 3 hours and 15 minutes, or a 15 minute pace. With all of the elevation gain, technical trail and literal rock climbing on the course, we knew a 15 minute/mile average would be tough but doable. Because of this, I was psyched when I glanced down at my watch and saw that we had made up a ton of time; we were sitting on a 14:45 average pace with the most technical trail behind us!

However, our joy can to  halt as we began the 2.2 mile descent down to Kane Creek Road. It was still the same tech singletrack that we loved and enjoyed, but we came to an abrupt stop as we rounded the bend. BOTTLENECK!

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Gridlock!

As it turned out, there was one section of the course with a massive jump off a boulder. In fact, it was so big that a volunteer was standing at the location, aiding every single runner so they didn’t hurt an ankle. Sadly, this technical section was moving incredibly slowly, and the girls and I stood waiting in line for 30 minutes!

At first, the three of us were crazy irritated. We had been cruising! We just hit our stride! We were having so much fun! However, we eventually realized that it truly didn’t matter. This was Renee’s first half marathon–ever– and Cindy’s longest trail run by at least 5 miles. The fact that we were almost at 10 miles, still smiling and absolutely loving the course was all that mattered!

We eventually climbed over the boulder and finished the descent down to Kane Creek Road. From here, we split with the marathoners who took a left turn. Instead, we hung a right and began the one mile climb up the road. Chilled from standing in the shade for so long, I tried to run the entire hill, but quickly realized that it wasn’t going to happen! Instead, we slowed to a power hike with everyone else and climbed to the top.

The Moab Trail Half is nothing if not an adventure and this course was relentless! Once we climbed to the top of Kane Creek Road, we assumed the last few miles would be an easy downhill road jog to the finish line. Nope! Instead, we took a hard left and descended to Kane Creek via the tight switchbacks of the Hymasa singletrack trail. Once we hit the drainage, we rain along the creek, experiencing multiple water crossings!

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Y’all, it was a hot desert day and I expected to enjoy the water….but good hell, that was freezing! The first crossing was only ankle deep and I remember naively laughing that it felt good on my swollen legs. However, the second crossing was up to my knees, and the third almost hit my waist. And the temperature? Bone chilling cold! I honestly felt my heart skip a beat in the deepest section and I truly lost feeling in my feet for a solid 10 minutes. To add insult to injury, wasp nests littered the drainage canal and Renee and a few others were stung!

After watching one gal fall off the trail and completely submerge herself in the water (!), the three of us climbed back out of the canal before hopping onto the dirt road. With only one mile left, we again assumed that we would run the road to the finish. After all, we could see the finish line and hear the cowbells! But yet again, Moab wanted to throw us for a loop. Just as we reached the parking lot, the course took another random left turn and descended back down some singletrack into the drainage ditch. With 1/2 mile left, we crossed the water two more times before running the final push to the finish. As I ran towards the crowd of people, it looked like I was running directly at a dirt wall. It was only then that I realized the final climb to the finish was right in the parking lot: an intense, steep and sandy climb was the last obstacle to conquer, and runners had to do it with everyone watching!

Regardless, I climbed out of the ditch and completely stopped 10 yards before the finish line. I had to wait for Renee and Cindy!

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Final time: 3:51:30. I looked at my Polar afterwards and it said that we did stand in that damn bottleneck for 31 minutes. Apparently we got the worst of it since we were in the middle of the pack; others in our group didn’t experience anything like it. Regardless, if I mentally deduct that 31 minutes from our final time, I’m pretty darn happy! That was right where we were hoping to be!

What I Wore: I’m playing around with a lot of gear these days to help determine what I will use for the 50k in February.

On my body: Reebok One Tank (discontinued) and the New Balance Impact 3 Inch Short. I received a pair of these for free back in July at the New Balance press event, but I loved them so much that I bought three more pairs! {If you’re interested, let me know– I saw them on Sierra Trading Post and I coincidentally have a 30% coupon code for readers!} I also wore a sports bra, but it wasn’t anything fancy. You see, I don’t have much up top so sports bras aren’t really an issue for me!

On my head: Columbia Sportswear Coolhead Ball Cap. Sure, it’s not a running cap per se, but I’ve worn it forever and it works. I keep meaning to get another one in a different color but….eh. Again, it works!

On my feet: Because I’m a terrible packer, I couldn’t find my standard Injinji toe socks that I absolutely HAVE to wear. You see, I have bunions and awful feet in general from years as a ballerina. If I don’t wear toe socks, I get blisters in between my toes like whoa! Fortunately, I did find a pair of SmartWool Toe Socks. They were a bit lower in the ankles than I’d prefer, but they did the job. I also borrowed Marilyn’s CEP compression calf sleeves. I’m not a fan of compression socks while running {see previously referenced toe blisters!}, but I’ve never tried calf sleeves. After this race, I’m still undecided. They were kinda hot but my legs felt great, so maybe? Finally, I wore my beloved Hoka One One Stinson Trail shoes. I love these shoes and am always a happy camper with them. Hoka recently sent me the Mafate Speeds so I’m looking forward to testing those out.

Final thoughts:

Seriously, this is probably my favorite race ever. The course was ridiculously fun and while challenging, it was so entertaining! Just when you’d get sick of climbing, you’d descend. You’d be bored with the jeep road and it would switch to singletrack. You’d need a mental break from the singletrack and it would throw you in the water. All of us had a wonderful time and already plan to sign up again next year. Totally worth the money and travel time!

I was also pleasantly surprised with how my legs and feet held up. Prior to Saturday, I haven’t run over 13.1 miles in almost two years. And while I was tired at the end, I definitely had more fuel in the tank. In fact, I think I could have managed another 10k if I really needed. Sure, it wouldn’t have been pretty or easy, but I could have covered more miles. This gives me a boost of confidence for the 50k in February! {Did I mention it’s now officially a 55k?!}

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14 Comments

  • Reply Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb November 11, 2014 at 5:54 am

    Sounds like an absolute blast. I want to do it next year!!

    • Reply heather November 12, 2014 at 7:35 am

      You should– I’ll definitely be going again!

  • Reply Kovas - Midwest Multisport Life November 11, 2014 at 7:05 am

    Except for the few problems with routing (I hate bottlenecks and nearing the finish line only to veer off again), this sounds like an amazing race. Gl;ad the weather cooperated!

    • Reply heather November 12, 2014 at 7:37 am

      The bottleneck was frustrating but since everything else was so fun, I can easily forget it 🙂

  • Reply Heather @ FITaspire November 11, 2014 at 11:39 am

    What a gorgeous course – need to add this to my list of races to plan on!!

    • Reply heather November 12, 2014 at 7:37 am

      You should! We’ll be running again next year if you want to join!

  • Reply Christy @My Dirt Road Anthem November 12, 2014 at 4:22 am

    Looks and sounds like so much fun! what a beautiful place to get to run! Those poor jeep people, ha!

    Great job on the half marathon. I agree sometimes a solo drive is nice.

    • Reply heather November 12, 2014 at 7:37 am

      I learned afterwards that the Jeep people were warned about the race and chose to go anyway…I feel FAR less guilty!

  • Reply eric eagan November 12, 2014 at 7:59 am

    Sounds super fun – I have multiple comments and a request – – – ANNNNND go.

    1. When I read that runners were going off in waves – I cringed – a trail race with waves almost always indicates to me too many people on the trail – Damage, liter, exploiting the trail for $$ from runners.. Then I did some searching and it does seem those trails are a bit more sustainable than the east coast trails that I commonly race and direct on so i thought HOORAY MORE PEOPLE ON THE TRAILS is awesome.

    2. Thank you so much for pointing out your volunteers – Its super fun to volunteer and every race needs them!

    3. Then I noticed your bottle neck area and I was totally put off – – 30 minutes?? Holy cow, that seems like a massive oversite in race directing and course design – but you said you still had an amazing time. I wonder if a race cap would have afforded runners to run and not get stuck standing for 30 minutes. 30 minutes not at an obstacle race could actually have been dangerous. If weather had been cold – if there had been adverse weather like extreme heat – etc… Did anyone try to go around and get back to racing or did everyone have a pretty good attitude like you guys ended up having?

    4. Way to go on running this so well – You are well on your way to that 50k

    5. Can I use this post as a discussion starter about capping or not capping trail runs!

    Annnnnd breathe 🙂

    • Reply heather November 12, 2014 at 9:58 am

      Hahhaa so many thoughts! Yeah, the bottleneck wasn’t ideal but I don’t think it really bothered too many people. Quicker runners didn’t run into any issues (a friend finished in 2:21 and didn’t experience any backup) and slower runners didn’t either. I think I really just got the brunt of it because I was in the middle of the pack with the majority of the runners. We talked to a volunteer manning the area and she said they tried an alternate route to get around the 7-foot drop that was causing the stalling. Turns out, the “new” route was slower– lesson learned! By the time we got there, she was allowing people to choose either the new or old route in order to speed things up. I went with the old route and passed at least six runners in the process. I think they learned that the old route was significantly faster and bet they do it again. Regardless, I’m not sure they have a choice. Not sure if you’ve been to Moab/southwest Utah, but climbing in/out of those canyons is tricky and I honestly didn’t see any other possible way to descend. So, because of all that, I was kinda like, eh! All in the adventure! 🙂

      As for capping– YES! I know there is lots of buzz around the lotteries for Leadville and Hard Rock and whatnot, but it’s an issue that will need to be addressed. I love that so many people are getting on trails but the impact is going to be an issue. Sounds like you deal with it a lot for TrailsRoc?

      • Reply eric eagan November 12, 2014 at 10:56 am

        We have not needed to resort to lotteries as of yet – Some of our races fill incredibly fast – others sell out about a week or two before. Either way a cap is the way to go for us. I personally and we as a company believe strongly in the care for the trail, which is simply put – too many people at any one time is not good. Add in potential weather issues (what if there is significant rain with way too many runners you have an issue). Wave 1 gets it muddy – wave 2 mucks it up – wave 3 destroys is for users for weeks and months ahead.

        We also see MANY organizations getting on the trails and not caring about this at all. Last night we led a group run through a park here and a race had just gone through (off trail, destroying sections in mud, leaving course markings, and in general making the process of caring much more difficult) As runners come to the trails in these numbers, corporations see $$$ I see damage, poorly run, and often dangerous events.

        • Reply heather November 12, 2014 at 12:19 pm

          Agreed. It’s definitely something that will become a big issue in the coming years with the rise of trail running. I’m glad to see that you guys are being proactive about it!

  • Reply RFC November 12, 2014 at 8:11 am

    iPhone pics or not, those views are AMAZING! Adding this race to my to-do list, you know, when I finally make it off of the East Coast 😛 I have a pair of Hoka One-One’s on the way, and I’m GIDDY with excitement to try them. I’ve heard nothing but good things!

    • Reply heather November 12, 2014 at 9:59 am

      Did you know which ones you have? They just sent me the Mafate Speeds and I ran in them yesterday for the initial run. I’ve gotta say– I just love Hoka all around. I think all the cushion helps my old joints!

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