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, glendelman.com.
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.