I just did it! I am now signed up the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, Europe’s premier 100-mile race. I started the race in 2011 but dropped out shortly after halfway. My season had been long and I was out of condition, both mentally and physically, to run 100 miles around Mont Blanc. In retrospect I should have finished the race, no matter how long that took, but I was miserable and decided to drop out instead. That won’t happen this year. No, in 2013 I will be primed to not only finish UTMB, but to finish well. And to do that I need to start getting into shape early, and I’m going to do that the only way I know how: by running a 50k six months prior. That’s right – the Red Hot 50k.
The Red Hot 50k is just one of a host of early season ultras that have become more popular as the race schedule has become longer. Founded in 2006, the Red Hot runs through some of the most scenic trails just outside of world-renowned Moab, Utah. Nowhere on Earth is quite like Moab. It’s a land of paradoxes: a barren landscape that fosters life; a desert characterised by water. And it’s a land that is always changing – what was once a lifeless desert turned into a mining mecca and then morphed into a mountain biking and jeeping paradise and now is a combination of all those and more. Moab epitomizes outdoor sports with its trails, its unique landscape, its outdoor culture and the endless possibility for adventure provided by the great expanse of wilderness right outside one’s door. In other words, Moab is the perfect place to hold an ultramarathon.
The Red Hot 50k holds a special place in my heart. I grew up in Moab, and though I didn’t start running ultras until I moved to Durango, Colorado at the age of fifteen, my first two races were in Moab. The Red Hot in 2009 was my second-ever ultra, a landmark race for me because I had the experience of one race behind me, but the gusto of a novice in competition. I managed to squeeze out a fifth place behind such legends (in my eyes at least) as Karl Meltzer and Dave Mackey. Since then I have run the race every year except 2012, when I just sort of went climbing instead while all my friends ran the race. I even won the race in 2011. But the results have become less important for me than the experience. The fact that the race is in Moab means I get to go home for the race, something I almost never get to do with the kind of race schedule I have had lately. And the fact that the race is early in the season means that people are more relaxed. Positions aren’t unimportant, surely, but neither is this the uber-competitive UTMB. Everyone – friends, all of us – just goes for a pretty long hard run. It’s about getting into shape and having a good run in the desert more than anything.
The course certainly provides a solid amount of desert viewing. It begins on the Gemini Bridges trail, which takes runners right into the heart of the backcountry. We then take a large loop to the north, ascending an anticline that at its top reveals incredible views of Arches National Park and the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park. The next section of the trail weaves across the Poison Spider Rim on the Golden Spike trail, providing magnificent views of the Lasal Mountains, the Colorado River and the town of Moab itself. Finally, the course connects into the Poison Spider trail for a fast finish across the mesa and down to the river. The best part comes next: beer. And a party at my house. And perhaps a swim in the river if you haven’t had enough suffering for the day.
When the time comes to run UTMB, I am going to be standing on the start line with clearcut attrition on my mind. But next weekend I’m going to be at the start line of the Red Hot 50k shaking hands and talking to people when the gun goes off and surprises us all. Then I’ll run as hard as I can and just try to get back into the motions of racing after not competing since the Hasetsune Cup in Japan in early October. The sport of ultrarunning is many-faceted, and I try to make the most of each facet. One of those primary facets is to have a good time, so next weekend at the Red Hot, that’s what I’ll be doing. And I won’t be alone. If you get the chance to come out for the race, make sure to stop by and say hello. This is an exciting time to be an ultra runner.