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  • Rachel

Moab Trail Marathon/USA Trail Marathon Championships

Updated: Jan 8, 2019

Figure 1: Arches National Park. (photo credit: Danielle Lohr)

My first real marathon! I’d run seven 50-kilometer trail races over the past three years but never a marathon. I’d also not done specific training for a race but decided 3 weeks prior that I’d like to try it for this race. Fortunately, I have a free built-in coach in my life! (Tyler!) He’s been coaching athletes for four years and writing his own workouts for even longer. He also knows that I don’t like being told what to do so it turns out he was the perfect coach for me, striking a delicate balance between focused training and fun!

I was initially drawn to this race since I only have a few years left in graduate school before I have to go back to medical school, and I wanted to give myself a shot at a world team when my schedule was slightly more flexible. I applied for an at-large spot last year and didn’t get it, and read that the selection committee encourages athletes to run the qualifying races. I wasn’t expecting an automatic qualification, but thought that at least I’d be able to put down a solid performance and give myself a better shot at an at-large position.

In several other races this year, I was having some serious nervous stomach problems resulting in projectile vomiting before races (both at the Cortina Sky Race and Speedgoat). So, one of my big development goals at Moab was to keep down breakfast. Fortunately, my friend and training buddy Danielle was travelling with me to the race and she also happens to be a certified dietician! She suggested that I try potatoes for breakfast, so we went to the Moonflower Community Cooperative and picked up some local spuds. We cooked them up the night before in our AirBnb Trailer while listening to an Ann Trason podcast (highly recommend). We also headed to the start/finish line the night before so we could do a little shake out and pick up my packet. I was blown away with how technical it was! I was trundling across human-made plank bridges, through sand, up and down ladders and following the orange tape markings until I found myself at a wall of slick rock. I saw the orange tape continue but couldn’t work out how I could safely continue. (the next day they had a fixed rope there) I knew I would have to complete the distance in 4 hours or so since we had to make it back to Salt Lake City for our 6 PM flight, but after my 1.5 mile, 20 minute shake out I was feeling slightly nervous about hitting that time requirement, but the show must go on!

The morning of the race things went smoothly, Danielle has an extremely calming presence and I think this rubbed off on me because I felt nice and relaxed. This means that I kept the potatoes down, yahoo! I had no idea who was going to be at the race, other than Kristen Findley, a track and field phenom turned trail runner. My running buddies in Portland ran Hood to Coast with her and said that she’d be there, I was looking forward to meeting her! At the start line I also saw Kelly Wolf and Stevie Kremer. I witnessed Kelly dominate the Lavaredo Ultra Trail race in June so was stoked to be lining up with her! Seeing these badass women around me, I thought that a top 5 finish would be reasonable and I would be proud of that.

Figure 2: Kids race! (photo credit: Danielle Lohr)

The race started out reasonably, stayed with the lead women and felt super calm on the climb up Pritchett canyon. My race plan was to stay calm for the first 10 miles, with the motto, “don’t panic.” Then I’d channel some confidence for the next 10 miles, and compete for the last part. Growing up my mom would always say “calm, cool and confident,” so I suppose this wasn’t too far off that. Since I was feeling so calm, I ended up pushing the climb a bit more and found myself in the lead at the top of the first climb. I knew the other women would be coming in hot so I pressed on the next section, which was relatively flat and straight, though a bit sandy. I was running with a guy who said he was actually more of a mountain biker, which was awesome because he was picking the best lines on the technical terrain! We descended into the second aid station (Hunter Canyon Rim Trailhead) at mile 9.7 and a man was cheering me on thinking I was someone else, so I yelled back, “it’s Rach!” I hope I didn’t offend him, I realize that may have not been the most tactical way to let him know that I wasn’t his friend. I recognized this area from a VO2 max Productions video, it was nice to see something familiar even though I’d never been there. I didn’t stop at either of the first two aid stations, I’d been scarred too many times for dicking around at the buffet station and getting passed. My water bottle was sufficient up until that point and I’d packed a few gels so was feeling like I was staying ahead of things. The next section was a one mile out and back into Hunter Canyon (don’t forget to punch your bib!), I love it when races have out and back sections so you can cheer on the other runners as they go by! After this we were back on the road for a bit, this was a great spot to open up the stride a little bit and not have to worry about tripping. I knew there was a big climb coming up so decided to refill my bottle at the 14 mile aid station called Cattleguard at turn to Scorched Earth Wall. It was certainly true to its name! It was hot and exposed, but so beautiful! I was so glad I’d stopped to refill my bottle. Ever since the Columbia River Gorge fires took away our vertiginous playground, I haven’t felt like much of a strong climber, so this was a difficult section for me. I tried to keep my eyes up the guys ahead and not let the gap increase too much. On the out and back section I saw that there were a few guys between me and the next pack of ladies, so I figured if everyone stayed in the flow of things I'd get a bit of warning before I got passed. Near the top of the Scorched Earth Wall, we heard some rocks shifting above us. I figured it was another runner but when we looked up from our uphill grind, there was a HUGE bighorn sheep floating through the air, orthogonal to the trail. It landed swiftly on the other side of the trail and kept booping down the trail like it ain’t no thing. “That was amazing!! Man, I wish I could do that!” were some things we said to one another. When we topped out on that climb I was hit with a side stitch, I’d been planning to bomb the descent but that was proving difficult with this flank ache. So, I stopped and did some stretching, took some deep breaths and tried running again. The twinge was still there so I repeated the stretch, breathe, shuffle cycle until it wasn’t. Then I bombed downhill. It was getting to be pretty warm in the day and quite a few of my male compatriots were saddled with severe leg cramping. I backed off a little when I saw this and took it as a sign that I needed to drink more and make sure I had enough electrolytes. It was such an awesome descent off that climb, careful to stay on trail and not disturb the exquisite cryptobiotic crust. I was so glad I’d decided to wear my Hoka Torrents, they’re super light and tacky and instill a sense of confident on reckless descents. I was trying my best to channel my friend Taylor, I saw a video of her descending like a mad woman on the technical trails at Speedgoat (also in the Torrents) and was so inspired! Eventually the trail circled back by the finish line, where I got to see Danielle standing up on a bluff! Yay! The aid station there was at mile 23, and I stopped and downed some cool electrolyte drank in an effort to avoid cramping, especially considering the “obstacle course” that lied ahead.

This was the section that I did my shake out on! Now I was jamming up ladders, across rickety planks, through a cave, up a fixed rope section where a nice man gave me a hand, through some tortuous deserty spots, around some playful slickrock (kinda makes you feel like Tony Hawk) and eventually rappelled down another fixed rope section to the final aid station, ending on the flat road and scrambling up one last steep section to the finish (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Finish line! (photo credit: Danielle Lohr)

As soon as I crossed the finish line, the USATF folks congratulated me and told me I’d have to pee in a cup. Cool! I love it! I hadn’t factored this into our 4 hour timeline and was willing to bet that my glomerular filtration rate was fairly low considering I’d consumed less than 50 oz of liquids over the course of the race (not including the 2x Huma Gels and 2x Spring Energy Gels). After drinking 4 bottles of water (bottled, so sad because plastic waste) I was finally able to muster up the 90 oz of urine (it was either 80 or 90 oz) needed for the test. I was impressed with Tara Richardson’s ability to micturate so quickly after finishing, bravo Tara! We were out of there before 12 PM and made it to our flight on time!

Figure 4: "Some people's trophies are bigger than others." (photo credit: Danielle Lohr)

Dani and I ran into some champion wrestlers at the SLC airport and having recently partaken in a sporting event of my own, we bonded over our athletic activities!

I’m so happy for a healthy body and strong heart that carried me around the desert that day and am excited to represent the USA at the 2019 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Neuquen, Argentina where I can finally put that Spanish major to use.

Hooray for Territory Run Co and my lab mate Sam for feeding my cells while we were gone!


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