Desert RATS (Race Across The Sand): A 235km footrace in the desert of Utah with a 13 pounds backpack – the perfect challenge for a crossfitter/ultra-runner. 2012 was the second hottest year since the race was created in 2006.

Day1 (32km): 27 starters, the race started at 1:30pm in the heat of the day. I was strong for the first 22km, but then we had to fight a violent wind for the last 10km. I decided to save up my energy for the rest of the race and slow down. 26 finishers, my time was 4h42.

Day2 (63km): I ran the first 20km, but then the heat kicked in. The temperature on the pavement was 58C. I really got dehydrated and started acting drunk. Coming to the first aid station, I was in bad shape and really wanted to quit. I couldn’t handle the heat. A 20yr old med student started yelling at me: “Drink, Eat, and get out there to FINISH!”. I could not believe I was getting yelled at by a kid, but it did the trick. I kept moving, but very slowly. I didn’t think I could make the 8pm cutoff, but decided to give everything I got. It was HARD! I crossed the finishing line at 7:15pm, limping because of the blisters. The medical team took my pulse, put me on a bed and took care of me. I was 8 pounds lighter. I felt terrible and was ashamed of my time. The record holder of the race, an elite runner from Arizona who actually quit that day because the conditions were so bad, started to talk me. He said: “You were out there all alone baking in the heat for almost 12hrs and you didn’t quit. I have a huge amount of respect for you”. That meant a lot to me. 17 finishers, my time was 11h42.

Day3 (15km): That morning, I literally could not put on my shoes because of the blisters. I started the race limping and I was in pain. After 3km, I suddenly felt better and ran until the end. 17 finishers, my time was 2h10.

Day4 (84km): Today, we are going up and up and up. The climb was just never ending. The backpack was heavier that day because we had to carry our night gear. I was pretty strong for the first 45km, but then I started to have a heat rash. It was so bad that I came to a point that I could no longer move. Desperate time, desperate measure. At 4:30pm, the sun was still really strong. I changed for my night gear, which was a warm rain jacket and my black skins. It was so hot, but at least I could move. When the sun came down, I still had 13km to go. My energy level was still high, but the blisters on my feet were really bad at that point and I could no longer run. I decided to walk until the finishing line. I was all alone in the desert looking at the stars. Suddenly, right before midnight, I started to hear a LOT of noise: people screaming, cars honking, cow bells, whistle, etc. I didn’t get it. A volunteer came to find me and I asked: “What is going on”? He answered: “Elise, people are waiting for you. You still have 800m to go. RUN!” It was an amazing feeling, I could not believe everyone was still up to cheer me up. The same story happened for runners coming in at 1am and 2am. 15 finishers, my time was 16h38.

Day5: REST! Whichwas a good timing, we got a sand storm!

Day6 (42km): At that point, my feet were in pretty bad shape. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried a couple of times while I was going uphill in the first 10km. I then had the genius idea to take a couple of Advils. It did the trick and could run again. I wanted to finish this race so badly, I started to speed up and actually passed 6 runners in the last 10km. And then, finally, the last finishing line. What a relief! 15 finishers, my time was 6h35.

Overall, we were 27 runners to begin with and only 15 runners made it to the finishing line. My final time was 41h47. I ranked 13th, which is not great, but given I’ve only been running ultras for a year, I’m very happy I finished one of the toughest race in North America. This year, I survived to Desert RATS. I’m already signed up for 2013 and next year, I want to compete!!!! More than once during this race I thought “Pain is temporary, quitting last forever”.

On Friday May 11th, at the Rabbit Valley exit #2, the wind was playful, pulling tents from the desert. I-70 had closed because of the snow, and some of the 100K Classic Endurance Mountain Bike racers were forced to turn around and head home. Still, the med tent was erected, the course marked by a gang of muscular men on foot, by bike, by car, and most of the chiseled field were checking in and grabbing schwag at the LBS: SingleTracks, in Fruita, CO.

Singletracks sits on the curve of a roundabout made more for donuts or scenic circles than for traffic. The store is a house converted; a living room to host glass cases of bike paraphernalia and upcoming race leave-behinds. Another room features shorts, shirts, and sports bras. There’s goos and Honey Stingers. Off to the side is an outdoor patio stocked with tables and chairs. This is where Singletracks owner, Chris Schnittker was grilling hot dogs and cheeseburgers, schmoozing with the bikers and staff amidst a couple deep horse buckets of ice-cold beer.

The athletes, the ones who tackled I-70 or who had come from different directions left Singletracks, to complete their pre-race rituals.

Back at the Rabbit Valley parking lot, the air held a goodnight song of staff flopping their sleeping bags and brushing the sand out of their tents, as well as the distant joking and laugher of motorbikers and ATV addicts. Some campers fell asleep beneath the stars, their dogs asleep beside them.

Race morning came. The sanddirtgravel of the red curves and hills of the Kokopelli blew mists of grit, fanning us from the white burn of the sun. The racers geared up, kissed their loved ones. At 6am the horn blew and a swell of spandex and bikes emerged from a bump in the road and on down what would be the most groomed section of the race.

A guy named Bear, head medic of the event, and I drove a couple jugs of water to Westwater aid station, borrowing the communication guys’ white pickup. It was a four wheelin’, careenin’, steep drop-offs, sudden decline kind of a ride…for the truck; the wheels and underbelly metal whining and groaning at each uneven break in the road. I could imagine the race had to be much more thrilling on a bike – I mean how magnetic of an experience would it have been had I only had the metal or carbon and wheels and the exhilaration of competitive anticipation on my side. Screw vehicles. Bikes win.

Back at the start/finish line the staff had intermittent radio calls from the communication guys calling off numbers of the first and last racers to hit aid stations. We followed the leader as he hit each checkpoint, and started to grill toasted cheese and turkey sandwiches when he grew nearer. The man had us on our toes, a distant, ever-coming road hound, being scouted by flecks of men in the distance. Jerry Oliver of Edwards, CO was first overall, with a time of 4:14:52.16, beating the course record by a few minutes, and welcoming the start of toasted sandwiches and large hunks of dripping watermelon. Mike Simpson of Glenwood, CO was 1st in his age group, and 2nd overall male just shy of 9 minutes later with a time of 4:23:14.38.

There might have been some bacon elbows and knees, but if there were the racers kept mum about it. No one honked, but they did devour watermelon and the cola bobbing in ice buckets beneath the shaded tent of relaxation. There were a couple bike-mishaps, a derailleur that left the racer unable to finish, but overall, the race was an experience none should miss. Really. Tell your friends. The bloom of the racers at the start was a beautiful sight, but imagine what it would look like, what it would feel like to be pushed by a menacing pack drafting off your back, or perhaps of drafting off the back of some front-runner. The thicker the bloom the better.

Out of the few Betty’s, the fastest overall was Lori Smith of Grand Junction, CO with a time of 5:10:47.72. Lynne McDade of Lakewood, CO was 1st in her age group, and 2nd overall female with a time of 5:38:55.41.

Out of 63 racers, 16 were under the 5-hour mark, and all but two completed the race in under 8-hours.

Cathedrals on the Sand

Rising towers all around
Sculpted by water
Carved by wind

Smoothed by time
Untouched by hand
These are the cathedrals on the sand
Looming monoliths of all size
Small and large alike
We stand upon holy land
Amongst these cathedrals on the sand

No glass to stain
Nor robes to wear
Their decor derived from
Sun, heat, and cold
Multicolored stripes, striations, bands
Upon these cathedrals on the sand

Communing together awash in sweat
Filing through the aisles between
Torrents of dust and dirt
Try our soul.
Dry our soul.
Our savior and redemption awaits
In the bottom of the bottle at hand
In the shadows of these cathedrals on the sand

Grandfathers. Our oldest relations
Lie in repose
Gone before us, laughing from the south gate
I send a lonely voice echoing in the canyon walls
A prayer answered, according to magnificent plan
Within this cathedral on the sand

Views come with a heavy price
Sweat; blood; toil; pain
The giants are salve for my eyes
Balm for my tortured being
Hands laid upon wounds unseen
My heart is opened
The flames are fanned
By these cathedrals on the sand

She waits for me
Unknowing of the splendor
Only the lucky are privy to the enlightenment
The chosen ones who march in step
Fellowship of a special brand
At the cathedrals on the sand

Song of songs fill the air
Winged ones, four legged, the ones who crawl
Craft melodies of a thousand choirs
In perfect harmony
Kokopelli’s lilting flute
Haunts. Leads. Calms.
Peaceful sounds, not of man
Echo throughout the cathedrals on the sand

Over my shoulder, a vision
Of time wasted, love lost, regrets
Today is a new day, filled with promise
Of hope reborn, of adventures yet dreamed
Inspiration redefined
Drawn from majesty of the most grand
From these cathedrals on the sand

In my cathedrals on the sand

In our cathedrals on the sand.

By Greg Pressler

The sun was absent as racers entered into the funnel of the parking lot at the Mack exit, #11 just past Fruita, Colorado. The rattle of a cattle guard kept us alert as each car filed through. There was over a mile of parallel-parked cars with athletes walking or jogging into base camp to sign in for the 10th Annual Desert RATS Trail Running Festival. What might have been pre-race jitters for the crowd was by now hours of persistence for the heavy footfalls of a young man in a bomb suit who had started his 25-mile race at midnight that day. Joel Arelleno set out to cover 25 miles with over 4,000 feet of climbing wearing his 65 lb bomb suit in under 6 hours. He began at midnight in order to beat the heat, which would reach a high of 85 degrees. Joel was running to raise awareness for the Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation, “a 501 (c) 3 non-profit dedicated to helping Wounded EOD Warriors and their families when a loved one returns stateside for care…EOD – Explosive Ordnance Disposal; brave men and women responsible for disarming, rendering safe, and disposing of a variety of ordnance and terrorist devices.” To see images of this miraculous endeavor as well as other race images see,

Early on Saturday April 21, an air horn blew and the crowd of 25 and 50-milers slowly bled onto the road and beyond. At 1.3 miles the first man and woman to secure the Premium (Prime) made their sprint up the first real challenging hill, lobbying over jutting dusty rocks and bends in the road. $100 was theirs to claim for the effort, two bills waving from the hands of the race director’s wife as she cheered at the top.

A pack of lead runners, hungry for the miles to come were drifted off course a bit, and ended up completing the race with some extra distance. It takes a strong will to overcome such an obstacle, but these racers recovered, hardly looking winded at the end.

The first man through for the 25-mile was Michael Grady of Lyons, CO with a time of 3:19.34. Grady didn’t leave after he was done, he cheered for incoming racers till the last of the 50-milers came through. His upbeat vigor was inspiring – able to accomplish such a feat, and then to spend the rest of the day celebrating others accomplish theirs. The first woman to finish the 25-mile was Amelia Potvin of Carbondale, CO with a time of 3:58.38.

The smell of burgers drafted around the base camp, as each racer filed in either completing their 25-mile or pausing before heading out to complete the 50-mile. The 50-milers would take a moment at the turnaround aid station, munching on orange wedges and skittles, scooping ice into their camelbacks, wondering whether they should continue, or not wondering at all. The heat was thick at this point, and a portion of the field decided to receive a 25-mile time rather than continuing on. Despite the hard decision, everyone was welcomed with a grill party of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, toasted cheese sandwiches, potato salad, fruit salad, candy, cookies, chips, and soda, with racers and supporters sitting in the shade talking shop, or in the grass cheering for the finishers. There were a few falls, a rolled ankle, but all were taken under the wing of Bear, head medic, and each wound was delicately cleaned, and each person was handed a cold drink and a joke to lighten the mood.

The first man through for the 50-mile was Duncan Callahan of Gunnison, CO with a time of 7:44.21. The first woman was Helen Cospolich (also winner of the prime $100!) of Breckenridge, CO with a time of 9:28.29. Both Duncan and Helen are dominant forces in the ultrarunning community, almost always top finishers, and Duncan has won the Desert R.A.T.S. Trail Running Festival numerous times.

After the 25 and 50-mile races were completed, the staff and most participants met up at The End Zone Pub for awards. It had been a long day, and the pub offered the greasy food & townie atmosphere of consumptive humility. Hey, they had beer. That was pretty important. Elite runner, Melody Fairchild kept everyone enthralled with an inspirational talk of life goals and hard work. The race director, Reid Delman announced 1st through 3rd of each category, gave printed rustic rock slabs for the 50-Mile Finisher awards, and the first male and female to finish the 50-mile (Duncan Callahan and Helen Cospolich) were awarded the imprinted cowbells and a prize of $100 each. A raffle of hydration packs, water bottles, jugs of Heed, and electrolyte tablets were given to those who came to enjoy The End Zone.

The staff got a few hours of sleep and in the morning headed to the start for the last round of races: the half marathon and the 5-mile. There was a completely different energy to this group of runners. There were fathers running with daughters and couples sticking together. The aid stations were barely used, whether it was the distance or the ability to beat the heat a bit better, the racers seemed more independent.

The first man through for the 5-mile was Lou Martinez of Denver, CO with a time of 43:30.8. The first woman through was Michelle Stoll of Boulder, CO with a time of 47:57.7. Just shy of an hour later, the first half marathon competitor came through. Matt Hill of Boulder, CO won with a time of 1:40:08 and the first woman was Esmeralda Martinez of Grand Junction, CO with a time of 1:51.54.

The movement of the half and 5-mile was fast-paced and jovial, the exhaustion more illusive. This time the awards were given at the finish line, announced by Reid over the speakers alongside music.

The course was swept and the start/finish line packed up. The trailer doors were closed, and the staff soaked their hands in coolers of ice, drinking smoothies, happy to have bared the weather for such inspirational acts of strength. But we all knew full well there would be a lot to do before the next Festival. Get ready for the fun.

Have a hard workout or a race coming up? Don’t forget to wear your heart rate monitor!

If you’re a runner chances are you’ve heard people talking about what Heart Rate Zone they’re currently running in. Or what Heart Rate Zone they hit on their last tempo or hill interval workout. This language may sound foreign to you at first but knowing and using correct Heart Rate Zones for training can be the performance benefit you’ve been looking for. Using correct heart rate zones can assist you in setting up a training plan that provides instant feedback to intensity of workout, running economy, hydration levels, and accumulative training effect. Heart Rate training will also assist with realistic race pace and splits when setting goals as well as assist with prevention of injuries and overtraining.

The following 10k field test will provide you with the information to get you started with using your Heart Rate monitor and GPS watch to its fullest potential:

Field test -This test is best if performed during a 10k race. This field test can also be performed on a treadmill or on a designated running trail or path. If done outside you’ll need an uninterrupted section of road or trail that you can maintain a consistent pace for the entire 10k. Data capture is best done with use of lap function of your heart rate monitor. You will need to record average heart rate for a 10k or 60 min. interval.

Warm-up -10-15minutes at a very easy conversational pace, include 2-3 x 60sec strides to slightly above your 10k goal pace. This will help raise heart rate and prepare your legs for your 10k effort.

Test Phase -After warm-up, start your GPS lap button to record a 10k route. Run at a pace that you can maintain a consistent 10k (6.2miles) or 60 minute effort. Run your 10k at a broken conversation effort. Meaning you can talk but you have to take breaths between words. You will not feel like carrying on an in-depth conversation. Use your lap function to capture average heart rate for the first and second 5k effort of your 10k run.

Cool down-10-15min minutes easy allow heart rate to drop to 120bpm before stopping workout.

Heart Rate estimated zones– Using the average heart rate of your last 5k effort as the start of your Lactate Threshold (Zone 4) you can now map out your estimated heart rate zones. Using an average HR of 160 as an example follow the steps below:

Calculating zones:
Heart Rate Zones
Zone 1 <120bpm
Zone 2 – 120-139bpm
Zone 3 – 140 – 159bpm
Zone 4 – 160 – 170bpm
Zone 5 >171

1. 160bpm is the start of Lactate Threshold or Z4
2. Add ten to 160 to get the range for Z4 160-170
3. Next subtract 20 from 160 to get the Z3 140-159
4. Next subtract 20 from 140 to get the Z2 120-139
5. Next will be Z1 which is anything below <120
6. Next will be Z5 which is anything above Z4 or >171

Program your new heart rate zones in your watch for each access! And we will review each zone and its function and purpose in the future through On The Trails articles.

Happy Trails,
Cindy Stonesmith
Running Endurance Coach

Cindy Stonesmith CMT ACSM/HFS
Owner and Endurance Running Coach

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