Sunday, November 25, 2018

Dead Horse 50 Miler

After my DNF at Crested Butte 105K earlier this year I knew I had to give another long race a shot before the end of the year. I had already planned to do the 50K at Dead Horse Ultra, so I figured I would just bump it up to the 50 Miler. Despite Crested Butte not going so well, I knew it left me with a great base to build upon, and I was happy to get in some really great training runs over the next two months including multiple 20-23 milers and concluding with my weekend of back-to-back marathons the first weekend of November. Given how those went and the fact that I had been told this was a pretty runnable course, I decided to set my sights on going for a 50 Mile PR. My previous PR was from The Bear Chase in 2016 when I ran 50 miles in 11 hours and 16 minutes. The Dead Horse course would be slightly more difficult in elevation gain and technicality but I really felt like I had a couple of strong months of training going into this and that it was doable if I had a good day - so I went into the race cautiously optimistic...knowing that no matter how trained you are for something, you can never really predict how your day is going to go!

I got into Moab on Friday afternoon and immediately went straight to packet pick-up where I was helping check people in from 3:45 to 7pm. After that I met some friends for dinner at The Moab Brewery before heading to my hotel where I was staying with two Skirt Sports Ambassador sisters (the three of us were each doing the three different distances in the morning too which was kind of fun!).

After heading to bed around 10 or so, I was up at 4:45 the next morning, and on the road just before 5:30 to make my way to the start. The race started at 6, but wasn't too far of a drive, so I got there with just enough time to drop off my drop bag, use the restroom, and then spend the last 10 minutes deciding how many layers to wear. It was a chilly 25(ish) degrees, which felt even colder in the dark (and the temperature would only continue to drop for another hour or two before the sun started coming up for the day).

After finally settling on both a long sleeve and light jacket, we were officially off and going at 6:00am sharp. I settled into an easy paced run for the first mile, followed by a run/walk over the second mile as we gained several hundred feet heading up to our first climb. After this short climb, it was a steady downhill mile followed by several flat miles as we made our way along a sandy road to the first aid station just before Mile 5.

Headlamps in the distance!
Looking back at the sandy road we had just ran for a few miles.
Sunrise over the La Sal Mountains!

I quickly grabbed a banana and headed up the next big climb. The sun had started to come up by this point and we were treated to some beautiful morning light. Once we got up the major climb, I settled into a nice steady pace of easy running. It was gradual uphill from here until the Mile 15 aid station. I knew with it being uphill, it wouldn't be fast, but I also knew I needed to run most of this in order to have a shot at a 50 mile PR.


Over these next 10 or so miles I really tried to focus on keeping my pace slow and steady but still running the majority. Ultra's can be difficult to pace - I knew going out too hard this early would be detrimental, but I also didn't want to go too slow and have too much time to make up later. Finding that perfect balance of "not too slow, but not too fast" would be the trick to a good day today...

The first half only gave us a small glimpse into how much slick rock we would run on later!

After what felt like no time at all, I was to the Mile 15 aid station. I quickly had some soda and a PB&J and headed out. We had a tiny bit more uphill and then it was downhill until the turnaround point. Shortly after leaving this aid station I started chatting with a guy named Clark from the Salt Lake City area. Chatting with him made the next 3 miles go really fast and before I knew it we were at the Mile 18 aid station.

I quickly grabbed another snack as I headed out. One of my goals for the day was to spend as little time as possible at aid stations so as not to waste too much time. After I left this aid station, there was some really nice non-technical double track for about 3 more miles. I chatted with another guy during this section who had ran this last year in just under 11 hours and was hoping to beat his previous time. This had me slightly worried I went out too fast, since my goal was only under 11:16, but I did my best to not worry too much about it. He was running pretty quick though so after it became a little more technical I let him go ahead as I slowed down for the next several miles to the turn around aid station just before Mile 25.

Despite the last couple of miles to the turnaround feeling like they took forever (I think just the mental aspect of having all of the faster runners coming back towards you), I finally reached the turnaround aid station right around the 5 hour mark. This left me with a little over 6 hours to complete the second half which I felt pretty good about. I usually slow a lot in the second half, and so I wanted to have some extra time later on. I also knew the way out to this turn around had been mostly downhill, which meant we had about 9 miles of gradual uphill after this.

Picture with fellow Moose Herd member Lynne - who feel into a cactus and still managed to finish the race!

The first several miles headed back uphill weren't too bad, but the longer the gradual uphill went on the tougher it got for me to keep my pace up. I had been trying to keep my pace in the 12 minute mile range, but it started creeping up the longer it took. After the Mile 31 aid station, my pace really crept up - into 13-15 minute miles as the trail got more technical and more uphill until I finally made it to the Mile 35 aid station where my drop bag was.

I tried my best not to stay too long at this aid station but still ended up with my longest mile of the day - 17:00 and change as I munched on some food for a few minutes, got a few things out of my drop bag, and used the restroom. Despite this being my longest stop, everyone said it was downhill for the next 12 or so miles, so I left the aid station determined to run the majority of the race from hereon out.

This next section was my favorite of the entire course. The views were beautiful and it was just a slight downhill as we made our way down slick rock with great views of the La Sal Mountains over the beautiful rock formations that Moab is famous for! I was happy to find myself being pretty consistent with all of my miles back in the 12:00 range. Clark, who I had chatted with awhile back caught up with me again on this section so we chatted once again as we ran into the Mile 40 aid station.

I was in-and-out of this aid station extremely quick so I didn't lose my motivation to keep running. I was also happy to see I hit 40 miles in about 8 1/2 hours - which left me fairly confident that I could PR at this point given that I still felt pretty good. 

Not too long after the last aid station was the turn off to view "Gemini Bridges" (a famous arch formation). The race had put out a sign saying "If you don't care about your time, turn here to see Gemini Bridges". Well, it didn't say how far it was to view it, so I was slightly hesitant since I did care about my time, but I also wanted to see it... After a few seconds of internal debate, I decided I was here to enjoy the views, so I might as well go see it! And I'm thankful I did, as it was literally only a couple of steps off the trail (I was worried it was going to add an extra half mile or something!)

Gemini Bridges

From here I had a few more miles of slick rock before we would get back onto the sandy dirt road from the beginning of the race. If you've never ran on slick rock before, it definitely starts to beat you up after awhile, so needless to say I was very happy to see that road around Mile 44! Just a mile left until the last aid station now...

I was happy to see some fellow Mesa Monument Striders (our local run club) volunteering as I made my way into the Mile 45 aid station in just about 10 1/2 hours. I now felt extremely confident that I could not only PR, but also run sub-11:00! Because of this I once again didn't stay long at this aid station, determined to keep my pace and motivation up. 

I now only had about 3 miles of sandy road, then a mile of uphill followed by a mile of downhill to the finish. The sandy road, however, which I swear had been "flat" this morning, now felt uphill because I was seriously struggling to keep my pace up. Nevertheless, I kept at it until finally reaching the hill. I told myself I could walk this hill but once I made it to the top I had to run the entire rest of the race in to the finish line.

View from the top of the last climb.

After what felt like a never ending climb, I finally reached the summit, snapped a picture, and then did my best to run down the other side. My 48+ mile legs though were seriously struggling with how steep of a downhill it was, so it wasn't my fastest downhill mile, but I made it before our final long flat stretch to the finish line, where I finished in 10 Hours, 26 Minutes and 57 seconds - a PR by over 45 minutes!

Finishing and SO happy about my PR!
(Photo credit:  Skirt Sister, Amy Michael)

Race: Dead Horse Ultra (50 Mile, 50K, 30K options)
Distance: 50 Miles (my garmin came in at 49.2 miles)
Date: November 17, 2018
Temperature: I thought it was around 28 at the start, but my Garmin actually says 21, and then 50's for a high, but overcast so it never felt overly warm.
Elevation Gain: 4,767'
Bib Number: 67
Official Time: 10:26:57
Average Pace: 12:32 per mile
Overall Place: 98 of 169
Gender Place: 24 of 54
Age Group (F30-39): 9 of 17
1-10: 11:06, 14:15, 10:19, 10:19, 12:33, 12:41, 12:29, 14:14, 11:34, 11:28
11-20: 11:22, 13:06, 11:49, 13:47, 14:31, 12:00, 12:09, 12:48, 11:02, 11:11
21-30: 11:48, 10:41, 12:14, 12:19, 15:06, 12:07, 13:20, 12:05, 13:13, 15:43
31-40: 15:08, 13:41, 13:47, 15:03, 17:52, 12:28, 12:43, 12:25, 13:07, 12:43
41-50: 12:12, 12:17, 12:54, 12:52, 11:56, 11:41, 15:01, 12:46, 10:58, 9:46 (moving pace for last .2)

Course Map
Elevation Profile

Post-Race Thoughts:

Overall, this race went really well for me. Given this race and Silver Rush 50 earlier this year, I can definitely tell that the more ultras I run, the better I get at keeping my pace up in the second half! The fact that this race was pretty runnable helped immensely and I think my training method of running half of my long runs on trails and half of them on roads worked out really nicely for this race (the road runs definitely helped me get better at running consistently vs. walking too much, while the trail runs obviously helped just being used to running trails/picking up my feet etc.).

My fueling went really well this race - I actually didn't feel like I ate that much, but still had enough - throughout the race I had a couple of PB&J slices throughout the day, two packages of shot blocks, coke (I actually kept a small coke bottle in my pack), and electrolyte tablets along with some other small things here and there at aid stations. 

Course wise, I really liked this course, especially Miles 30-45 as you ran along the slick rock and had great views of the La Sal Mountains. As mentioned, it is definitely a very runnable course. My garmin clocked the elevation gain in at just under 5000', but it honestly didn't even feel like that much since there were only a few steeper climbs where you couldn't run. Most of them were very gradual so you could still run or run/walk them. There were varying degrees of technicality for the trail - most of it was very runnable, the slick rock sections do start to hurt towards the end if you're not used to it but it's nothing too bad. The only sandy section was a couple of miles on Gemini Bridges Road, but only a very small section was deep sand that was more difficult to run on.

Overall, this is a great late season Ultra. November is the beginning of the off season in Moab, so it makes a great time to come visit the area without too many crowds, and the weather is typically still pretty good (although it can be pretty chilly in the morning and evening). I highly recommend this one from Mad Moose Events (and I swear I'm not just saying that because I'm an ambassador!).

Post-Race Fun:

Finishing earlier than expected meant I was back in time to shower and go to dinner at the Moab Diner with Becky and Heather (who I stayed with), along with a couple other runners Becky knew from Fort Collins! It was fun meeting new runners and this was my first time checking out the Moab Diner which was pretty good. The next day we all went into Arches National Park for a bit where we hiked around the Windows Area for a couple of miles to stretch the legs before heading home!

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