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I ran the Red Hot 55k last weekend. The conditions were perfect, the vibe was very mellow, and every single race volunteer I interacted with on race day (and the night before during packet pick up) was helpful and friendly. I don’t know if it was the location or the number of trail and ultra runners on hand from Utah and Colorado, or perhaps something special about this particular race, but I didn’t come across a single jerk at any point during the day.

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Leading up to the race I was concerned with the number of runners that were now in the race – a significant increase over previous years. Though I’d never run the race, I assumed that such a big jump in participation could bring problems. I thought the run might feel crowded or cramped. Sometimes funneling¬† big groups of runners onto a narrow trail near the beginning of a race can make some people (even those of us in the back half of the pack) stressed and irritable. But there were never any logjams, even at the start.
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In all honesty, I hadn’t even really thought about a time goal; I just wanted to run a good race. And for me, for this particular event, a “good race” meant running with enough control and patience during the first half of the race that I didn’t completely fall apart during the second. My last long race didn’t go well, so avoiding even 10 minutes of a zombie death shuffle near the end of the race was very important to me. But the night before, trying to coordinate with my wife on when she should plan to meet me at the finish, I needed to make an estimate. I figured that 7 1/2 hours was doable (I’m slow), and that 7 hours was probably a bit of a stretch for my current fitness, but theoretically possible.

Looking at the course beforehand I assumed that the race sort of broke down into two distinct halves – but I didn’t realize just how different those halves were.

The first half was lots of roads.

Just past Aid Station1.

Just past Aid Station1.

There were some uphill slickrock sections in the first half that walked, but I suspect plenty of other runners were able to run them all. This part of the course didn’t feel like it was taking any more energy than it would have if the uphills were dirt instead.

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Despite looking so intimidating on the course elevation profile, the climb to the high point of the race wasn’t bad. I might have been holding back a bit too much on this section, but even so the climb to the top of the course seemed to come and go relatively quickly.

Mandatory shot looking back to the start area.

Mandatory shot looking back to the start area.

Heading back toward the end of the first half lollipop loop I was very much running within myself. There was a little climb after Aid Station 2, and a bit of soft footing, but this portion of the course was road and trail that a runner could take as quickly or as slowly as they like.

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I made it back to the T-intersection of Gemini Bridges Road (Mile 18) in about 3:22.

Then things started to feel a heck of a lot different.

Running on the slickrock was something I wasn’t entirely prepared for. As in the first half of the course, I didn’t notice the footing much on the uphills. Power hiking up the slickrock didn’t feel all that much different from going up other types of steep trails. IMG_0424

But once we got past Aid Station 4 and started the rolling terrain and the traverses, I felt a little uncomfortable with my footing. I didn’t have any muscle memory to deal with the weird cambers and angles of the rock, and I’m not naturally graceful enough to have it feel completely “right.” I had to make my way through this section a lot slower than I probably should have.

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The course marking through this section does require constant attention, so you can’t really zone out in your running. But I probably only spent a total of an extra minute or two working¬† to stay on course, though, so this feared aspect of the race shouldn’t be a deterrent to anyone interested in running it.

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Thankfully, the last few miles were mostly dirt road where I felt comfortable enough to run again.

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I finished in 6:54, and was quite satisfied with how things went.

But I’m embarrassed to say that when the full race results were posted online and I learned that my time put me solidly in the back of the pack,¬† I was a little disappointed in myself. I was hoping somehow that feeling good about my experience would translate into a performance that was objectively better in comparison to how other people ran, even though I know deep down that those two things are unrelated. Thankfully, I read a great online post that quickly brought me back to reality — these types of silly thoughts pop into the minds of lots of runners, even the best ones.

I did as well as I could have reasonably expected, and there’s a good chance I’ll be back next year.

Race Gear and Other Info:

Altra Superior: The Altra Superior was a great shoe for the course. I was afraid that the relatively thin midsole would let my feet get too beaten up, but I think the shape of the shoe (with the very wide toebox) was probably a lot more valuable to me than having more cushioning. I used Altra’s plastic rockplate under the insole, so that might have helped some. I noticed a lot of people wearing Altras during the race (although I also noticed a lot of Hokas – perhaps proof that there isn’t a single solution that works for everyone).

Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest: I liked having this vest for hydration; it was comfortable for the duration, and I never felt weighed down or that it was affecting my form. But even at my slow pace, the longest I had between aid stations was less than 90 minutes. I think I could have gotten by with one water bottle (maybe even just a single handheld), and if I had been willing to do the first hour being a little cold (and not brought a super-thin jacket, hat and gloves) I might not have needed any carrying capacity at all.

Fueling and Hydration: The aid station setups were perfect, and always well stocked. I brought my own Hammer gels along with me to start, but probably didn’t need to do so. I consumed a total of about 8 or 9 Hammer gels, 6 S-Caps, and accidentally drank a small cup of Sprite at Aid Station 1. I probably should have eaten a bit more in the section between Aid Station 4 and Aid Station 5, as I lagged a bit there.

Now……….. for next year, there are some things I’ll want to try to work on.

I don’t want to spend any time going unnecessarily slow (well…… duh!). Now that I know what a mostly comfortable (relatively speaking) race on this course feels like. I need to push it next time. I need to adopt more of a “comfortable is not a race pace” mindset. I wanted to see where I was slowest, so I used SportTracks to graph my accumulated pace (what the program calls the measure of where your average pace is up to that point in the run) and the elevation profile, then I overlaid the two graphs to see how different sections of the race impacted my running time.

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What really sticks out is that even during those downhill sections at the end of the race, my accumulated pace is going up. So even after all the big climbs are done, and I’ve got gravity working on my side, I’m still running at a pace that’s slower than what my average pace was up to that point. That’s not a good way to finish. I’m not entirely sure how to get better at running downhill at the weird off-kilter angles, but it’s on my to-do list for the coming year.