From the time I had first heard of it last winter, I had very high expectations for the Moab Slickrock 100. As I watched the early registration lists fill with big name runners, my excitement only grew. As I pulled into the Jug Rock staging area and saw the place fill up, took in the world class vista and breathed in that desert air, I felt like I was in the right place to test myself. The only hiccup a few days prerace involved the registration lists not being handled well and my name not appearing in the list, giving me concern that I was not registered. This was smoothed over by a call from the RD Aaron and all was well. He assured me that I could have just shown up and they would have got me in, because they were "so laid back." I though to myself, "laid back?" I would prefer an RD to be obsessive over organization and details like this so I don't have to worry about it." I shrugged it off and we finished packing and readying our home for the trip.
We checked in and waited for the prerace briefing when I saw RD Aaron roll in in his Escalade and started spreading the word that the entire north side of the course was wiped out and we would be doing loops on the south side of the course. He had beached his Jeep in a quagmire of quicksand and had to hike out, leaving it behind. Meanwhile they had been frantically remarking a modified course consisting of basically a loop and two-thirds of the southern half of the course. I must admit I was disappointed by this news for a few personal reasons. I believe that 100 milers are incredibly bad for the human body in so many ways. I believe the body only has so many great efforts in it before the body stops performing at its peak. The endocrine system can only take so much. Just look at the shelf life of many top champions. Many peak and are never heard of after only 2-3 years. Thus, to justify doing this to myself, it had to be worth it. To me, "worth it" means a pure loop or one way course consisting of only the finest terrain and scenery. It must have inspiring competition and ensure that my absolute best will be required to compete. The course must not feel contrived in its attempt to make up the arbitrary 100 mile distance, instead exploiting the terrain with logical and aesthetic purpose , i.e. a loop around an entire mountain range, or the route the miners took to get around the hills with their loot, etc. Slickrock had promised all of this, but it was not to be.
I quickly accepted that I would be doing a multi-loop course and prepped for the briefing still optimistic the RD would cook something up worth running. From the start of the briefing, it became apparent that this ship was sinking fast. There were no maps, conflicting distance estimates, no one understood the flow of the race, the aid locations, etc. People were demanding answers and not getting them. Total deer in headlights for everyone.
|Deer in headlights.|
We were told that the promised water stops between aid stations were not going to happen meaning 12+ mile gaps between aid. I left the briefing with less knowledge and confidence than I started with. I truly did not understand where we were going and knew that my only hope was a well marked course and well educated volunteers out there to guide us. This I still had some hope in given it was one of the RD's three fundamental priorities (from the website):
Our Three Priorities:
1. Well-stocked and staffed aid stations
2. Well-marked course
3. Positive and fun environment at the start/finish line (raffle celebration and pizza)
1. Well-stocked and staffed aid stations
2. Well-marked course
3. Positive and fun environment at the start/finish line (raffle celebration and pizza)
So, I had a fitful night of rain and unrest. I had come all this way and trained so hard, but I just could not shake the feeling that I should bail and save myself for another day. The RD's offer to refund entry money was a solid move and I strongly considered taking the deal. I rationalized this was standard jitters and wound up toeing the line with everyone else in the 100M and 50K, including some 50 milers who had not heard the start was moved 5 or so miles away. DOHHH. There was not a clear start area, so people just stood around in the red mud. After a false start, someone said "Go" or made some sound and we lurched forward with many asking "was that the start?"
|Starting line mud.|
I fell in with Ben Hian and Glen Redpath and clicked off the first 5 or 6 miles of road running at around 7:40 pace to the turn off of Rd 313 onto a jeep road. A few miles later, 50-60 runners missed the sharp left turn and the lead group went all the way to 313. This added 5-6 miles in my estimation and GPS watch observation. Four of us stood there debating what to do, before we decided to go back. It turns out most everyone went that wrong way. They did not follow us, because they did not see us. They went that wrong way because the markings were not apparent. We burst their bubbles as we ran back towards them, spreading the news.
Back on track, the "lead group" now several miles behind those who made the proper turn made our way to the first "11 MILE" aid at nearly mile 17. My fiance B refueled me with a Nutella Tortilla, fresh bottles, and I was off. Not too much later, there was another aid at Crips Bottom where I saw Ryan Burch. I felt good to see an experienced ultra guy out there volunteering. This made me feel like there was hope this race could come together after all. However, that would be the end of my warm and fuzzies for the organization of this race.
Meanwhile, Glen and I pulled ahead of Ben and the other So Cal guy and began our chase of the few runners ahead that did not go 5-6 extra miles. I think Ben took a detour in this section and So Cal dropped? We carried on a great conversation touching on beers, bowhunting, city life, country life, work, training, racing, etc. The best miles of the race happened next as we climbed high into the slickrock and got some amazing views. We had to work really hard together to stay on course and were concerned that this could get rough at night because the markers were very far apart and non-reflective. However, the sporadic white blazes on the rock were helpful and we found our way through without losing too much time or distance. We dropped into Poison Spider passing hundreds of bikes, motorcycles, Jeeps and dune buggies along the way. Most were very courteous, but the fumes were nasty much of the way.
We refueled and hit the paved section, which was promised to be 6-7 miles long to the Long Canyon aid. It was actually almost 9 miles, but we clicked them off well at around 8 minute miles. As we ran, we discussed how we were not looking forward to repeating this section later on. Little did we know, we would get our wish. At the Long Canyon aid, I fueled up and we made another quick transition into the biggest climb of the day. Up, up, up to Pucker Pass, named for the way the wall close in on the road. I passed some of the rock climbing B and I had done in years past. The passage under the boulder was cool near the top. I wish this were a trail instead of more dirt road, because it is a really interesting area.
|Some scenery n'stuff.|
There was a water drop at the top of the hill, which was nice. We made our way along a dirt road and finally pulled up close with the last remaining 100 miler who went the proper way early on who was near some 50 milers. Then, luckily, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a pink ribbon on the right. We stopped and discussed what to do. It looked like it indicated a right turn, but the runner ahead just kept going. When we decided to turn, I yelled out to the runner and waved my arms. He appeared to stop and look, but kept going and dropped over a hill and out of sight. Glen and I committed to the turn. There were no confidence markers, but within a quarter mile, there was another junction with another ribbon. We had made the proper turn and were on our way with only minor doubts if we were on course. The doubts never totally went away all day.
After several more miles of dirt road, we made it to Dead Horse aid where we were informed the course was again changed and there would be no second loop. What there would be, we had no idea, but it was clear from now on we had to go aid to aid and just do what they told us. They told B we would have to likely do lots of laps around the parking lot at the start/finish area. When she told me that, I told Glen I would quit there if that were the case. He agreed. We were instructed that we would run down the pavement of 313 to a dirt road, then go right and drop down to revisit Crips Bottom aid- 9 miles of dirt road. Then, we would turn around and run the 9 miles back uphill to Dead Horse aid. Sounded incredibly lame, again no trails, just dirt roads, but easy enough and off we went.
|Trojan brand GoreTex.|
|Glen and I pounding more road.|
|Lots o'scenery out there.|
|Cool shot as we ramble up some Jeep road.|
We made good time and hit the turnaround aid. I ate some bars and cookies, and we split. Because it was an out-and-back section, I measured the distance until we encountered the next runner. Predictably, it was Ben Hian and his pacer Rock Horton looking strong. They were 4 miles behind Glen and I, but we still felt the pressure to keep the tension on. We ran the entire 9 miles of uphill arriving back at the Dead Horse aid in the low 70 mile range and feeling great. We took our instructions carefully from the aid station leader and left promptly. He told us to run down 313 a mile and a half to the Horsethief Campground Road, then go left and follow that road until you get to the finish area, "you can't miss it." We did as we were told and were soon way off course and pretty cold, without food or proper clothes for several hours. Why did we keep going even though we saw only 1 pink ribbon marking the turn? I wrote my reasons on Tim Long's (footfeathers) ultra news site: http://insidetrail.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/weekend-wrap-at-inside-trail-mackey-3-peats-and-slickrock-circus/#comments..."1. They had been making up the course and giving us directions as we went. We did not know where the next aid would be or how far the race would go until we got to the next aid. At that last Dead Horse aid, we got crystal clear directions from the guy in charge there to proceed down that road until we hit the start/finish aid, “You can’t miss it.”
2. Because they had just made up where we were going, we assumed it was self explanatory and markers would not have been placed yet.
3. Lack of marking was par for the course. People were lost all day. Especially the people out front- in all 3 races.
4. After 4-5 miles down the road we encountered 2 Jeeps with some DNF runners trying to get back to the s/f via the course. They could not find it either. We asked if one would go on ahead to the finish and come back toward us if they discovered that this was not the way. They agreed and continued on. The other Jeep turned around. We never saw either one again. One of those Jeepers told my crew that they saw us “back on track” thus preventing us from being searched for after being MIA for several hours. Not sure where they came up with that one.
5. We could see the s/f and were clearly moving towards it.
6. We heard that turn was remarked to be pretty obvious later in the race, those who followed soon after Glen and I reported it was a single ribbon low to the ground and entangled in brush. I never saw it so I don’t know.
7. Because I was with Glen Redpath who is one of the true masters of the 100 mile distance. We agreed that this was the proper way.
7(sic). Because we were tired runners who had banged out lots of fast miles and mistakes happen. It is hard to see things in the dark when moving at 8 mph. It is REALLY hard to see them when they are not reflective."
So that is why we kept rolling to the very lip of a very deep precipice, before taking the walk of shame back toward the Dead Horse aid. Finishing was out of the question, even for Glen, whose reserves are as deep as anyone's. We spent too much time in the cold without food and clothing and were now in pure survival mode. We thought someone would come for us as the hours clicked by but we remained ready to go as far as we needed to get warmth. Near the Horsethief Campground I was able to rouse a sleeping CU Boulder student camper with a golden heart named Will and he happily obliged to give us a ride. I stopped my watch at around 91 miles for the day. Rescue equals total failure to me and I have never done it in all my mountain adventures, but this was getting dangerous, so the choice was easy.
Will took us the few miles back to the Dead Horse aid, but our prayers were not answered there. I told them I was hypothermic, but the volunteers and EMS guy took no quick action beyond inviting us into the aid tent, saying they could not leave to take us anywhere, but they could call us an ambulance. The song, "Black Betty" by Ram Jam began playing in my tired mind and I thought of this: "amber lamps." All we needed was our crews at the finish area, not an amber lamps. I was fading fast in the cold. They found a blanket for Glen which helped him. The aid guy that misdirected us earlier did find two hot packs which went cool to my icy skin within 3 minutes. I was probably a little too blunt, but I just could not get a sense of urgency from these people. Thankfully, "Good Will Hunting" as I had begun calling him agreed to tote us all the way to the finish area. We were saved. It took sitting in my hot truck, in a puffy coat and eating plenty to stop my shaking as we relived the day's adventure with our crews. B plied us with hot drinks and sandwhiches. Glen and I agreed that it was worth it for the experiences we had and the friendship we developed out there. And just like that, it was over. I crashed into the tent and my Slickrock 100 was done. My crew DNF'ed me with the RDs at the finish and I went to bed- only to be awakened a few hours later by cries of "has anyone seen Jeremy, he hasn't came in yet." That woke me up and I hurriedly dressed and went to DQ myself again. I was up, so we bailed early and began our drive to Colorado.
Some comments on how to improve on their 3 Priorities:
1. Well-stocked and staffed aid stations. Some of the stations were ok and well run. Others were not where they were reported to be, or like the water stops, non-existent. There was really no place for runners to get warm and very little soup. Pepsi was offered, but Coke is it! Aid volunteers tried their best but were not educated properly by the RD to carry out his vision. This is a result of poor communication, adverse circumstances and WEAK CONNECTION TO THE MOAB COMMUNITY! Had I known they were not Moab people, I would have NEVER signed up. Boots on the ground are critical. Boots on the ground allows quick action and back-up plans when conditions are bad. Community ties means an army of volunteers with critical junctions manned. Where were the HAM RADIOS? The RDs sold this thing out but did not think to spend a little on making sure its people could communicate as situations arose. When I dropped at DH, I couldn't even alert my crew that I was safe and request a lift. Not sure what I would have done without Good Will. Unthinkable for a 100.
2. Well-marked course. See everything above. Epic fail. Reflective/glow markers at reliable intervals or nothing. Signage or manpower at critical points. Or, just don't sell the race as being well marked. Tell people to carry maps and take responsbility for their own routefinding. That's fine with me too if advertised accurately.
3. Positive and fun environment at the start/finish line (raffle celebration and pizza). What raffle? The pizza was cold, thin and far from free, which I thought was the norm for post race celebrations. Are free BBQ/cookouts not the norm? I thought they were. What was at the s/f area was chaos and confusion. People scratching their heads and standing in a cold, muddy pit, wondering what the heck was going on. That's what I saw. It still is cool to watch people finish a long one and I saw some come in early the next moring before we left. Not all bad for sure.
Ben Hian won the race with Rhonda Claridge taking second and Chris Boyack third. Once back at the s/f area, the runners went 5+ miles of dirt road to a turnaround at a washed out road, then back. Another lame, dirt road out and back, so I did not miss anything. The official finish was about 90 miles, but Chris actually went back out for 10 more to get his hundy. That is awesome. With all the confusion and controversy, the day never felt like a race past the first few hours. It was more like a day where everyone had to pull together and help each other just to stay on course and survive it. So, I did not get the race of my life, glimpsing the bottom of the well, as I had so melodramatically proclaimed in my silly "manifesto" from a few days ago. I didn't even get one step of my beloved singletrack. However, what I got was much more valuable. Make no mistake, next year I will choose a different hundred to run, but I have no regrets that I did it. I had a wonderful day with great people in the desert. I ran pretty well and had great energy throughout- never hitting a low point- until we were lost of course. Plus, I feel fine and will recover strong to fight another day. Life is good and I'm going rock climbing in Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho on the way back home.
I wish the organizers the best of luck going forward and hope the criticism is accepted and implemented. I also wish them better conditions because the cards were certainly stacked against them. I think they are good people who were dealt a tough hand and it can only get better for them from here.
As my Old Man used to say, "I'm just an old lump of coal, but I'm gonna be a diamond some day."