First Trail Race
First Non- Obstacle Race
I’ve wanted to run an ultra-marathon since I read “Born to Run” by Christopher Mcdougall in 2010. Problem was, I never had the time and didn’t want to sacrifice precious overseas travel time to run an event in the USA. This was a piss-poor excuse though, so I made time this year by sacrificing my 4th of July weekend to get out and explore the countryside of Moab (a place on my bucket list). 2 birds one stone I’m happy as hell to have found this race.
About the Race
The MAS-50 climbs up into the mountains (Alpine) east of Moab, runs north along the range, and descends again into the desert (Slickrock) of Moab. Hence the name.
In the Directors words:
First conceived in 2004, the MAS 50 is the event that brought attention to Moab’s trail running scene. Alpine to Slickrock says it all, where else can you cross three mountain passes at or over 11,000 ft. and finish on beautiful slickrock terrain? The MAS 50 is an ultra that will leave even the most seasoned runner wishing he had trained harder! Past runners have even referred to this race as a “mini Hardrock!” If a gritty, physically challenging race is on your to-do list, then you will want to add the MAS 50 to your ultra calendar.
Race Length: 50 miles (80.5 km)
Elevation Gain: 12,000 feet (+240 ft/mi)
Elevation Loss: 14,000 feet (-280 ft/mi)
High Point: 11,000 feet
Low Point: 4,500 feet
I didn’t train specifically for this event for 2 reasons:
1 – This race is sandwiched between 2 – 15km OCR races that I want to perform well in since they have a purse.
2 – I figured that I could run a good 50-miles on a whim, and wanted to test that idea out.
Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin Hydro Pack with 3 liters of water
12x Honey Stinger gels
2x Buff – Head and neck
Compression tights and short sleeve top
INNOV-8 Mud claw 212
In my drop bags I put 3 bottles of my WTM mix: Protein powder/ carb powder/ and chia seeds.
Plus a bag of PB pretzels
There are 7 aid stations: I’d put my drop bags at aid station #2 (15 miles), #4 (25 miles) and station #6 at (36 miles). I ran the first 3 laps of WTM on a few bags of gummy bears and didn’t take my first mixed drink until mile 15 anyway. After that I figured I would depend on the aid stations and save myself some money taking my mixes every 10 miles, then tough through the final 14.
My biggest worry coming into the event was to get lost by missing a marker, thus adding extra mileage to the 50 mile run. This is the biggest factor in DNF’s and a common problem in past performances at this race.
So I planned on following the leaders through the darkness and to keep my eyes off the ground and up in the trees where the markers were.
Day before we met at Eddie Mctiff’s restaurant to get our race packets and drop off our aid station drop bags. I drank 3 beers and ate beef skewers with rice.
I woke up at 0300, ate a clif bar, dressed, and drove to the finish line so I could catch the shuttle to the start line at 0345. I was still super tired from only sleeping 5 hours so I skipped the attempts at conversation (didn’t want to make friends to run with anyway) and tried to go to sleep. I could hear everyone making the typical nervous pre-race jokes.
We arrived at the start line at 0430 – 30 minutes before the start. I sat down near the starting line to relax while everyone else stood around stretching. Director Martinez slowly leaked a series of course tips “follow the pink and black ribbons, blue ribbons mean you are going the wrong way”……..”if you haven’t seen a pink and black ribbon in more than 200 meters you are probably off-track”……That last one stuck with me. I wish I didn’t hear it.
The race started at 0500 and it was still dark. I didn’t have a head-lamp so I chose the person I thought would be the leader and decided to follow him. The race started super slow compared to my usual OCR events, and I jogged my way up to 3rd place behind a girl named Melissa and the male leader. Both had head-lamps but I liked Melissa’s pace better so I settled in behind her.
The first 3 miles we followed a gravel road that gradually climbed into the mountains. I hated this section because the gravel pieces were baseball sized and every step the rocks rolled under your feet. I dragged on at a 10:00 min/mi pace and prayed for a trail. The male leader had disappeared by mile 2 and I made a move on Melissa once it was bright enough to move without a head-lamp. This was around mile 3-4.
Once on a trail and in the woods I was in the zone and happy. I moved through the bushy, un-maintained trail constantly searching for race markers. I came to pack creek and crossed it moving into the woods. I ran for about 4-minutes without seeing a marker and decided I must have made a wrong turn. I ran back to the creek cursing myself and saw Melissa arrive at the creek and follow it uphill. I had taken a wrong turn.
Back on track I passed Melissa again, cursed myself, and moved faster to get my lead back.
Around mile 8 I knew that the first aid-station would be coming up soon. I figured I added a half-mile to the race with my mistake and figured I’d hit it at mile 9. I was running down a gravel road, hadn’t seen a marker in over a mile, and my watch was reading 10.2 miles. FUCK, I must be off track again. I stopped, took a crap, and started running up the gravel road the way I came down. I was cursing myself because I would be adding an extra mile of uphill running to the race! After about half a mile a saw Melissa running my way. FUCK, I was going the right way. I had just missed the first aid station somehow. I turned around and took off downhill at a 6:00 min/mi pace to get my lead back. By this point I was pissed at the course marking system, but I had figured it out. On single-track, the course was marked every 200 meters, on roads, it was marked only on turns. Boom, okay, time to race.
Around mile 13 a guy came bombing down the hill behind me. He had a racing bib and told me he had gotten lost and ran an extra 4 miles. He was the original leader. Guess I had been in 1st place until then. He took off like a mountain goat and I never saw him again. He went on to win the race. The MAS-54 for him.
Since I had missed the first aid station I was living off gels and water. I hate gels and was dying for a protein shake. Around mile 16 I hit the 2nd aid-station (my first) and asked for my drop bag. I drank the WTM shake and it was sour! It had gone rancid, must have been left in the heat. I slammed it anyway, ate a bunch of their watermelon, and took off with my pretzels in hand. The volunteer notified me that I was in 2nd place and 1st place had an 8-minute lead. As I ran up the hill trying to eat dry pretzels I heard the cheers of the volunteers down below. Melissa was right on my ass.
As we climbed the pass Melissa was slowly gaining on me and I knew she had me. I turned around and snapped this picture:
She was tough as hell, a natural runner, and killer hill climber. I stepped aside, let her have the trail to pass, and I fell in behind her trying to keep pace. I held with her over Geyser pass and passed her again as we descended down a dirt road. I asked if we were done with the hill climbs yet. She laughed and pointed at the mountains to the left, “we are climbing over that pass (burro) the highest then have to climb miner’s basin, the crux”. My heart sank and she cruised by, I followed her until we turned left for the hill climb up Burro Pass. She disappeared from sight and I would run the rest of the race alone.
Being 20+ miles in my legs were smoked from the constant climbing and I fell into a walk/run combination up and over the pass. Going down the steep trail on the other side I let loose and bombed the trail splashing through the constant stream crossings. I kept hearing the bushes move around me and glancing back to see if it was 4th place moving in for the kill.
I hit Warner lake aid station and ate 2 PB&J sandwich’s, anything was better than the gels I was living off for this race. I hate gels. The volunteer refilled all my water systems and I took off for the crux of the race. The climb up Miner’s Basin, 1,500 feet ascent in 1.5 miles. I power walked this whole segment because I still had 22 mile to run afterwards. I would save some energy.
Finally at the top of the pass I leaned forward and let the hill take me down. The next aid station had no volunteer so I grabbed a few gels from the bag and skipped filling my water. The trail disappeared and the ribbons followed a paved road that slowly climbed uphill. Fuck! Another climb. This one was gradual enough for me to run.
Next, the ribbons turned right down a dirt 4×4 road. A guy in a jeep offered me a ride and I turned him down with a laugh.
Next turn was onto the porcupine rim trail that ran alongside a cliff and had some amazing view of the castle valley. I leap frogged down the whole trail with 2 MTB’ers and ended up beating them in the end. The trail was mostly downhill but had a few climbs and I guess they couldn’t hack it on the bikes.
At the end of the trail the ribbons followed another 4×4 road downhill to the last aid station. By now the heat was getting to me and I was draining my water at the rapid rate.
At the last aid station I refilled all my water sources, drank a coke, and asked how far I had left (my watch was reading 43 miles). They said 7 miles all downhill on the road. I was stoked. I took off at an 8:00 pace and logged my fastest miles of the race. The last part of the race was a great run with some beautiful views and a nice breeze, but I was sick of the heat and sick of being dusted by passing vehicles.
I crossed the finish line in 10:41 in 3rd place and sat down to have a PBR. I hung around and chatted with Director Martinez and Melissa. She had run this race 2 times before and was going for the women’s record. She finished in 10:33 and did not beat her best time of 10:13. The difference was the heat, last time she ran the race was in September. I earned a finishers medal and a hydration belt as an award for my placement.
I finished in less than 12 hours on a brutal 50-mile course and am happy with my performance. I could have had a better nutrition plan but having my WTM drinks go rancid was not something I could foresee. Who knew they would sit in the heat all day? Whatever, I proved I could run a good race through a bad nutrition plan.
Running an ultra and a trail race in general was a cool experience. The vibe is far more laid back and a great change of pace from all the testosterone in OCR. I won’t be doing any more ultra’s this year…maybe next year.
Thanks again Chris Martinez for an awesome event. A lot of work goes into hosting these races (marking the course) and I appreciate everything. Especially the PBR and sandwich.