Race Report – 2011 Desert RATS 148 Mile Race by Martin Schneekloth

(Stage 1)

Day 0.5
In order to save some money on travel expenses and to acclimatize to the elevation, we arrived in Moab, Utah from Huntsville, Alabama via Denver, Colorado on Saturday afternoon in the second smallest plane I had ever been a passenger on. The pilot couldn’t have been more courteous. Our destination was the Desert RATS 148 Mile 5 stage (6 day) race that takes place at one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen within the Continental US. It’s a point to point stage race that runs along the Kokopelli Trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah. During this race, you run along the Colorado River as well as some of the most awesome cliffs, canyons and rock and mountain formations with terrain just as varied as the scenery.

(Richard just after landing in Moab, Utah.)
Shortly after we arrived in Moab and took in the amazing scenery that immediately greeted us on our 20 mile ride into town, we checked into the luxurious Inca Inn at the end of town, just two miles from the Arches National Park. We had opted to rent a pickup truck (last car available in the Enterprise Rent-A-Car lot) to have some flexibility prior to the start of the race on Monday. I had to admit, for these surroundings, a big truck was more than appropriate for the terrain.

Briefly after checking into our new temporary residence and taking a short nap, we headed into town to meet up with some of Richard’s running buddies from last year’s Racing The Planet Atacama Desert Race for a quick dinner. We decided to head back to the hotel early in order to get up early on Sunday morning to do some sightseeing.

Having a rental allowed us to venture out on Sunday to go to the Arches National Park and take in some amazing sights, including the “Delicate Arch”, which allowed us to get in a little 5k trail run while seeing some fantastic natural sights.

(After a nice pasta lunch we did some last minute shopping for the mandatory gear list.)
We had to leave some items at home (e.g. knife and large bottles of sunscreen), since we only had carry-ons and didn’t check any luggage in order to make our connecting flights and we desperately wanted to avoid being detained by Homeland Security. Which reminded me, this didn’t keep Richard from proclaiming rather loudly and within earshot of one of the nice airport security folks checking our luggage at Huntsville International Airport: “My bag is going to explode when he opens it!” Obvious to both of us, he was referring to the fact that he had been struggling to get the carry-on bag closed with all of our running and camping gear and energy gels crammed in there, but how was the security guard supposed to know? Only my quick action to diffuse the situation by explaining what Richard was referring to when making his statement kept us from being detained…or maybe it was just the fact that the security personnel realized rather quickly that Richard just made a stupid, stupid comment.

Back in our motel room at the Inca Inn, we decided to do one final check of our mandatory running gear as well as our night gear bag that contained our camping gear. The mandatory gear would be validated during our race check-in Sunday afternoon at the race host hotel, the Archway Inn, just half a mile down the street. (The image below shows my inventory list for this trip. This list will also help me decide what gear would truly be a necessity for any future events).

Richard and I attempted another short nap, but we ultimately ran out of time and headed to the Archway in around 5pm on Sunday for the mandatory gear check and race check-in. After handing in our registration form, medical releases and two passport pictures, we received an expedition journal to be carried during the race at all times. Aside from my picture, it also contained emergency contact info as well as any additional medical info, e.g. allergies, etc. Along with the journal, we received additional race swag. Obviously, we didn’t receive the finisher’s awards in the picture until after the successful completion of the race. Oh damn, I just gave away the end of this story;-) We would also be weighted by one of the three doctors that would accompany us during this 5 stage race before we headed back to the hotel.

(Pre-race and post-race swag.)
We had to turn around again after a quick Subway sandwich dinner to attend the pre-race briefing at 7:30PM that evening. At that time, we finally got to meet all of the other competitors, 31 runners in total, as well as race director Reid and his entire team of volunteers. After sizing up the competition (just kidding) we quickly settled down to listen to Reid’s introduction of things to come. If there is one of Reid’s rules that I won’t ever forget, it was this “STAY ON THE TRAIL!” Not because I got lost, but because it represented the first three rules of this race;-)

Once the pre-race meeting concluded, Richard and I headed back to the motel just in time to see the Dallas Mavericks raise the NBA trophy for the very first time, Go Dirkules! Richard and I headed to sleep pretty soon after in preparation of the days to come.

Day 1
As usual, Rich and I woke up fairly early and indulged in some free continental breakfast and coffee before grabbing our gear and heading to the race headquarters, the Archway Inn in Moab, Utah at 10:30am to drop off our night supply drop bags and to get on the shuttle that would take us to the race start in Grand Junction, Colorado (the picture below shows my three tent mates and me on the couch and some of Richard’s Atacama Desert race buddies just behind us. Everyone still looked pretty relaxed).

(Everyone still looks pretty relaxed before the start of stage 1.)
We got a bit of a late start as the shuttle was late, so the original start was delayed from 1 pm to 1:50 pm at the Kokopelli Trailhead just 30 mile or so outside Grand Junction. The bus ride took about 90 minutes and every one of the 31 racers seemed to be excited and pumped to get this thing started. Half way into the trip we urgently needed a pit stip. Everyone had been hydrating for the race and what resulted was a scene from an open air concert, 14 guys lined up behind the gas station, trying to get rid of some of that hydration ( I think there actually might be a picture floating around about this particular sight).

(Shuttle ride to the starting line near Grand Junction, Colorado.)
Last year’s winner Sean Meissner (pictured above with sunglasses) returned to defend his title. After arriving at the Kokopelli Trailhead, you wouldn’t have been able to tell by looking at our faces that we were about to embark on an exciting yet intimidating adventure…148 miles of running through desert and mountainous terrain.

(Richard and I were “coolness” personified;-)
As we lined up for the start, Richard and I lined up behind Sean to give him a run for his money…no, not really;-) but we did hang with him for about 200 yards. Once we settled for a reasonable pace (again, not really as we came out way too fast for this unfamiliar climate) we kept chugging along. Immediately after making the first couple of turns on the winding trails, we were greeted by images like the one below that would accompany us for the remainder of this race, unbelievable canyons and mountains all around us, tiered ledges accompanied by steep cliffs all the way to the Colorado River.

(Just one of the amazing views shortly after the start of stage 1.)
The first thing I had to deal with immediately after starting was the extremely low humidity of 2 percent. Couple that with a high of 95 and a maximum elevation of close to 5000 ft and you’ve created something my body needs to adjust to big time. I ended up with a dry mouth and throat and a runny nose all day. I immediately checked with one of the three race docs following the conclusion of this stage and he confirmed that this is the usual reaction to this climate for first timers. I also ended up with wind burn in my right eye, but not a single hot spot or blister at this time (keeping fingers crossed).

Considering the circumstances, this first stage, the “Salt Creek Stage” of approximately 19 miles went ok, with an aid station and check point at mile 6. No problems there, enough fluids and food and felt good. However, between the first aid station and the water drop at mile 16, I almost ran out of water, couldn’t stay hydrated. Between these two points, we had to do a major descent to the footbridge across Salt Creek followed by a major climb straight back up the hill on the other side of the bridge. I loaded up at the second water station, grabbed some Pepsi and Oranges and moved on. We had slowed down significantly at this point, since the climb to the second aid station was massive and we came out too fast too early. We slowed our pace and went to the run/walk, running .5 miles and walking .5 miles until we reached the finish at mile 19 something in 4 hours and 47 minutes. The elevation, low humidity, high heat and ascents and descents kicked my butt!

(Footbridge across Salt Creek.)
Once we arrived at the finish, I immediately went for water. The crew had already set up our tents. I drank 5 bottles and still couldn’t use the bathroom until well after 8pm. But once I could go, I kept on going, so at least I was finally rehydrated. Prior to the briefing for the next stage, we received a fantastic dinner, mashed potatoes, chicken and all kinds of fruits and veggies. This race has an awesome crew.

(My tent buddies Alex, Rich and Doug, from left to right.)
Tomorrow’s stage will be a tough, 40 miles with just two aid stations and two water drops. We are going to run the lowest and hottest section of the race with little access to drinking water for almost 12 miles, so very conservative pace and water consumption is key.

Race Report – 2011 Desert RATS 148 Mile Race (Stage 2)

Day 2
Simply put, this one was extremely taxing on me, mentally and physically. This stage, “Milt’s Stage” had been adjusted slightly to “only” 35 miles due to some flooding along the Colorado River. This stage was aptly named after Milt’s restaurant, which would be catering the dinner following this stage. I heard buffalo burgers would be on the menu, which would be awesome. This stage was on the lowest section of the Kokopelli Trail, which meant extreme heat, 95 degrees in the shade, 125 on the ground in the sun. Humidity was a bit higher than yesterday, but it was negligible.

(123 degrees ground temp + 2% humidity = insanity!)
After two miles, we ran through McDonald Creek Canyon. We had to descend toward Bitter Creek around mile 8 and would climb again to the mesa top before getting to our first aid station and check point at mile 13. While the expedition journal called for an aid station at mile 5, we wouldn’t have access to water and aid until mile 13, and in this heat, it was tough.

During the stage prior to the first aid station, we also had our first scary encounter. We had been warned about scorpions and rattle snakes at the pre-race briefing, but as usual, I didn’t pay too close attention to what was said, other than “there is no need to suck on the wound if you are bitten”. I didn’t think it mattered anyway since we wouldn’t encounter any dangerous wildlife. Well, I was wrong, but only a little. About 10 miles into today’s stage, I was running ahead along the left edge of an ascending trail and Richard was following closely. I thought I’d heard a hissing noise but I paid no attention, until Richard’s uttering of “Wow” or something like that made me turn around just in time to see him jump to the right side of the trail asking if I saw that. “Saw what?” I proclaimed, “the rattle snake that hissed at you” Rich responded. Oh crap, now I was glad I didn’t actually see it. By the time I had turned around, the rattler had crawled under a rock. Aside from that briefly scary moment, some of the landscape early on this course was quite amazing.

(Another beautiful section of trail disappearing on the horizon.)
While there was a water drop at mile 21 which was not just helpful but essential on this really hot day, the second aid station would not be available until mile 28. This was obviously part of the challenge and a challenge it was. The staff had reduced the combined number of water drops and aid stations due to the shortened course for the day. This reduced access to water took its toll on us, especially on Richard. He really struggled to stay cool and overheating continued to be his biggest challenge. As we were making our way down a blacktop road from aid station 1 towards the water drop at mile 21, Richard finally told me to go ahead.

(Spectacular view from mesa top.)
He planned to continue to go very slow until his stomach felt better. The picture below shows Rich and I still running together earlier in the day. Unbeknownst to me, he initially decided to call it quits under the railroad bridge at mile 22. When one of the crew docs approached, he stated as much, not wanting to go on. However, the experience of the doc showed, when he suggested Richard wait about 20 minutes while he went ahead to the aid station. The doc would return in 20 minutes and if Rich still wanted to quit, he would take him. However, if Rich was gone, all the better. Luckily for Rich, Maya, Marilena came by to dowse him with water, which allowed him to finally cool off. They were followed by Alex, who informed him that he still had plenty of time to make it under the cutoff to the next aid station. That’s all Rich needed to get going again, thank goodness.

The section after the water drop mostly consisted of a trail similar to a jeep road that ran alongside railroad tracks for some time. After we turned away from the railroad tracks, the trail started winding its way towards the horizon alongside some power lines and not much else to see other than endlessly flat desert terrain with no finish line in sight. My only goal was to make it to the next aid station at mile 28. I figured, from there I would only have to go another 6 miles and I could walk those if I needed to. My blisters had not gotten any better and I just wanted to get off my feet. However, there were still quite a few miles between me and my sleeping pad.

(For a moment, I thought we were in the African Savanna.)
I made it to the second aid station about 1 or 2 hours under the cutoff, so there really had been no reason for me to be worried about it. But I was getting really tired. The last 6 miles of this course were as “challenging” as the previous 6 miles. Long, flat sections of trail with no end at the horizon. Little to no wind and high temps did the rest, slowing me down to mostly walking. When I finally spotted the finish line, I was ecstatic. I knew that tomorrow’s stage would consist of only 11 miles. For that reason, the RD called it the “sprint stage” while we runners considered it a rest day;-)

I did much better with fluids and electrolytes today vs. yesterday, but this stage finally destroyed my feet (blisters) and wrecked my body (exhausted). It is way too early to be getting blisters, ya’ll.

When Rich finally made it to the finish line, he too got his well deserved rest. Luckily, he did not quit during this stage. It would have been one lonely adventure for me;-)

(Richard resting comfortably in our new home.)
There was one serious climb on this section of the course, but I actually enjoyed that part. Mostly, we ran through desert terrain with no wind or shade. While the scenery wasn’t quite as breathtaking, it was desert terrain. I started to push a little after I left Richard, but that burst of energy didn’t last. The last 6 miles consisted of me walking it to the finish line. This was the toughest stage to date. Luckily, this was also the first campsite during this race that was located just 100 yards from the Colorado River, allowing us runners to cool our legs nicely before the rigors of the next stage. And while we were told that there would be no cell coverage along this section of the trail, Rich and I managed to climb a hill right next to our camp site, giving us just enough bars for a quick call home.

Race Report – 2011 Desert RATS 148 Mile Race (Stage 3)

Day 3
This stage, also referred to as the “Sprint Stage” was extended by two miles for a total of 11 miles to make up for the shortened stage yesterday. There were no aid stations available today and they really weren’t necessary anyway as it was a short race very early in the day. Isn’t it funny that everyone referred to today as a rest day? The course today ran from Fish Ford to Highway 128.

(Me pointing the way to the finish…or was it the porta-potty?)
As we entered the trail we went through remote rolling cow pastures and over slickrock, until we finally made the short but steep climb away from the river.

(One of many many steep climbs.)
The footing was generally ok, but we went over winding trails before steadily running up and down on single track trails along the Colorado River. One section was pretty muddy due to recent river floods. I barely required any water and only drank about a liter. I started the day with three small blisters and ended the day with three larger blisters.

(Some of the beautiful winding trails.)
Richard and I had decided early on in the day that we would each run our own race. I wanted to get off my feet as soon as possible to continue to rest my blistered feet. I also wanted to show that I could actually run a little, too. The last couple of days had been a struggle between adjusting to the elevation and dry heat and the blisters that continued to develop on my feet.
I initially thought this stage was going to be almost 13 miles, so when I actually saw the finish line, I still had way too much energy in the tank. I ended up semi-sprinting to the finish, feeling excellent and itching to do more, if it weren’t for the before mentioned blisters. Once runners reached the finish line for this stage, we were shuttled to today’s campsite that had to be moved from the original site due to flooding. This campsite was located right by Dewey Bridge at the Colorado River allowing us runners to take “ice baths” in the cold river.

(Our campsite right next to the Colorado River, very cool!)
I was able to run pretty well, but I am really worried about the 52 mile expedition stage tomorrow. If these blisters would get any worse, it was going to be a struggle. There would be a lot of uphill mountain running with at least 4500 feet elevation gain. Rest, rest and more rest and refueling and rehydrating was on the agenda for the rest of the day. We finished before lunch time, so everyone just lounged around for the rest of the day, exchanging running stories, comparing blisters and trying to nap under one of the big shade trees as it was impossible to sleep inside our tents, way too hot.

I guess some of the crew got so bored, they decided it would be a great idea to jump off the Dewey Bridge into the Colorado River. The current was so strong, one of them barely made it back to camp after floating along in the river fighting the current. We finished the day with an excellent pasta dinner in preparation for tomorrow’s stage. The food was absolutely amazing throughout the trip.

Race Report – 2011 Desert RATS 148 Mile Race (Stage 4)

Days 4 & 5
These were definitely the most difficult 52 miles I’ve ever run. Since this was going to be the longest stage of the race, we had a 7:00am start and thank goodness for that. The staff had shuttled us to the start of the race so we could continue the race at the same location we completed yesterday’s stage and I was in the first group that arrived at the starting line of stage 4. The sun was already cooking us and we had 52 miles of beautiful scenery and serious mountain trail ascents and descents ahead of us. Considering my blistered feet, I knew I was going to be in this for the long haul, with my target time closer to the official 20 hour cutoff rather than a PR.

(Me at the start of stage 4, 52 miles of fun in the sun.)
Richard and I went out easy and still managed to post a decent and unexpectedly fast 10 miles to the first aid station and check point, which was located at our camp site for yesterday’s stage. Prior to reaching the first aid station, we did however catch a glimpse of the LaSalle Mountains. If you look really closely, you will notice the snowcapped mountain range in the back. Once you realize that we’d have to climb and cross this mountain range before the end of today’s stage, the enormity of the challenge would become quite apparent.

(The snowcapped LaSalle Mountains in the distance.)
The first 10 mile section was mostly rolling hills, no real climbs or descents. That changed quickly after the first aid station and check point, which we reached after crossing Dewey Bridge (and the Colorado River) which was located near the campsite we had left just a couple of hours earlier. These check points were located and every full aid station.

Racers would be required to hand in their personal expedition journals to be checked in. We would also have to randomly show one of the mandatory gear items we were required to carry with us during the entire duration of the race. There was only one exception to this rule, The glow sticks only needed to be carried during the 52 mile expedition stage. Everything else had to be with the runner at all times. Failure to be able to present one of those requested items would lead to a time penalty at best, disqualification at worst. The only way to continue from a check point after failing to present a mandatory item would be to have another runner or someone else provide you with the missing item. No runner was allowed on the course with a missing item. One of my tent mates, Alex, almost fell victim to this rule. Thankfully, he was able to continue after receiving a severe time penalty.

After aid station 1, it was a continuous climb with a couple of downhills. Up and up we went. We wouldn’t see another aid station or water drop for 12 miles, which required some good fluid, salt and electrolyte management in order to stay healthy, yet make it to the next water drop without running out.

(I’m taking some time out during one of the climbs.)
Fortunately, we made it to the drop without serious problems, although Richard had run out of water. I managed to keep my fluid and electrolytes somewhat balanced and never really ran out of water at any point of the race. Between the first aid station and the first water drop, we ran through the Cottonwood Canyons that offered everything a trail runner’s heart desires and then some. We had some serious technical climbs and some serious descents to deal with. One of these canyons inspired me to jodel and thankfully, Richard was quick enough with his camera to capture any video footage of it. The echo was pretty cool, but thank god he didn’t record it…it wasn’t pretty.

When we reached the water drop at mile 22 or so, we refilled our hydration bladders and bottles with much needed water. We also noticed after refilling the water dispenser that there was hardly any water left for the remaining racers (about 10 or so following behind us). As a result, some of the other runners were not quite as fortunate, some due to no fault of their own (water drop did run out of water), others struggled to carry enough water to make it from aid station to water drop to aid station in the midday heat. Richard’s body started to reject any type of electrolytes supplements. He couldn’t swallow SCaps, Endurolytes or Hammer gels without all of it coming right back up. I started to really to really feel my blisters get worse whenever we descended into another canyon or valley. As a result, we needed to make some speed adjustment, speed hiking most technical sections and only running when we both felt comfortable, which didn’t happen too often. Because we slowed down quite a bit, it gave me the opportunity to capture some of the local wildlife that accompanied us throughout the race (see images below of a typical lizard and a snake).

(These little fellows were crossing our paths on every stage.)

(This one wasn’t as scary as the rattler from two days earlier.)
When we finally approached aid station 2 around mile 28 around 3 or so in the afternoon, I was ready to devour the two turkey and cheese sandwiches I had made the night before to be dropped off at this aid station for lunch. It was a late but very welcome lunch. If there is one thing I’ve noticed, it’s that my appetite has never ever suffered during any ultra event and I hope it will stay that way. Throughout the course of this weeklong race, other runners would stare at me in disbelief at these aid stations as I was wolfing down my sandwiches in 95 degree heat with parched throats, causing others to stop chewing and almost choking on their sandwiches, unable to swallow anything due to the dry heat. Not me, I couldn’t wait to eat my sandwiches during these long stages.

After we left aid station 2, we began to cross Onion Creek a few times. A local had informed us earlier to be aware of the Creek’s tendency to rapidly flood without any warning and that it could cause us to be stuck in the middle of nowhere. While I would have loved to press on to avoid any flooding, we really didn’t have the energy to push. Instead, we kept our fingers crossed that no flooding would occur…and we got lucky.

Around mile 40, we finally reached the top North Beaver Mesa, allowing us to get a much closer glimpse at the LaSalle Mountains, signaling the fact that we were indeed getting closer to the mountains and the much desired finish of stage 4. To reach this mesa, the climb seemed literally endless. Every time I dared to suggest that we had reached the top, we would realize that we would descend again before climbing right back up again. This went on for miles and miles…until we finally reach an elevation close to 8500 feet.

(Richard after reaching the actual top of this section.)
Shortly after peaking the top, we reached a water drop around mile 41 at a T-crossing in the trail. After getting some additional water, we turned right in pursuit of the final aid station about 4 or 5 miles down the trail. During this section, I had the opportunity for a nice long chat with RD Reid, who had caught up with us on his mountain bike while checking on some runners. During this conversation, I got the impression that a hot dinner would be served at the last aid station, so all Rich and I were thinking about after that conversation was to just make it to the next aid station to get some hot chili. When I finally reached the aid station (I had decided to push a little until the aid station and to wait for Rich there) and asked for my hot chili, all I got was blank stares. As it turns out, I had misunderstood Reid’s comments about dinner. Dinner would be waiting for us at the finish line, instead. However, once more the amazing crew of volunteers came through in a big way, offering me their own bowl of chili and a hot dog that had been dropped off for their dinner. While I was hesitant initially, it didn’t take much convincing for me to eat that hot dog. I had decided to leave the chili for Rich, who had been struggling with stomach issues all day. Turns out, he was more of a hot dog guy himself, complaining about the fact that I had the hot dog. Oh well, I shared the hot dog and we went on our way to finish out this stage before midnight. Shortly before we reached the last aid station, rain started to pour down on us and the temps became slightly lower as well due to the higher elevation. Thankfully, we had packed our windbreakers and they kept our body temp at a perfect level.

The final 8 miles consisted of another major 2 mile climb to the top, followed by a steep 6 mile descent on an asphalt road, all the way to the finish. My feet were shredded and the last 6 miles, well, let’s just say they didn’t feel good. We ran walked the final six miles, not really wanting to run, but wanting to complete this stage. We actually ended up running quite a good pace on the last 6 miles, but it wasn’t pretty. When Reid informed us that we only had a quarter mile to go, we started to mobilize our last reserves.

As we turned the final corner heading to the campsite and finish line for stage 4, I could hear the screaming and yelling and singing at the finish line. We were still 300 yards or so out and all I could think was that they were already celebrating the finishers that came before us and that they had started giving out the awards for the day, because they didn’t want to wait any longer for the remaining runners. Boy was I wrong. As we came closer to the finish, the yelling and screaming, howling, clapping and banging pots and pans became louder and louder and I quickly realized that all finishers were actually watching our headlamps bopping up and down in the darkness and cheering us on to finish. I am not one to get all touchy and feely, actually quite the opposite is true. But when I realized that they were cheering for us, that was the most special moment of my short ultra running career, sending chills down my spine and “almost” making me tear up…just a little…almost. When I finally sat down to rest and eat some hot food (3 grilled cheese sandwiches, a bowl of chili and two hot dogs) I was excited to have completed this stage.

(I wasn’t able to see the actual campsite until the next morning.)
The course itself was absolutely amazing and even though we took plenty of pictures, the enormity of this landscape can’t seem to be captured on a small digital camera. You’d just have to be here to understand. Beautiful trails, canyons, mountains and valleys. Most of the course just kind of blends together and I am just happy to be able to state that we made it to each aid station with plenty of time to spare against the cutoff clock, even though we had to walk a lot.

When we finally left the last aid station at mile 44 at 9pm, right before the final 2 mile climb and
The 6 mile asphalt descent to the finish, we were ready to get this done. We ended up “smoking” this final leg and ended with a negative split for the entire 52 miles, running the second half slightly faster than the first 27 miles.

Race Report – 2011 Desert RATS 148 Mile Race (Stage 5)

Day 6
Today would bring the conclusion to what has been an amazing week. The final stage of the 2011 Desert RATS 148 Mile stage race, the “Marathon Stage”, would take us along a tough course, starting with 6 miles of climbing on an asphalt road until we would reach the first aid station and check point. Richard and I decided during the first mile of this stage that we would both go our on pace on this final stage. I knew that I wouldn’t have to run after today, so I figured “screw the blisters and see what you can do today”. While Sean was out of sight pretty quickly, I maintained sight of the remaining front of the pack, never losing them completely over the 6 mile climb.

Once I reached the first aid station at the top of the 6 mile climb just before entering the dirt trail, the field of runners had stretched quite a bit. After refueling, I started to run my own race, trying to crash the downhills while speed hiking all uphills. As a result, I was able to maintain a steady pace, keeping my overall pace per mile for the first 13 miles at under 12 minutes. This included the 6 mile climb at the start as well as a 5 minute wait at one of the trail intersections that stomped me. Before I would venture down the wrong pass, I figured I’d wait for the next runner to point the way. While it did cost me 5 minutes, it did save me from taking a wrong and potentially race ending turn.

Just after leaving the first aid station, I practiced my good deed for the day. Mike, the runner just ahead of me, had completely missed the turnoff to the trail right after the aid station and continued to run down the road. I started to whistle quite loudly and consistently, but to no avail. Mike just would not turn around. However, the aid station crew must have heard me and one of the jumped in a car to see what was going on. After seeing me and me gesturing that someone had gone on in the wrong direction, they quickly caught up to Mike and sent him on his proper way. And how did he pay me back? By passing me 20 minutes later;-)

I turned right onto Sand Flats Road around mile 10, heading for a mostly downhill run towards aid station 2 at mile 15. This aid station was located at the entrance to the major challenge of the day, a 5 mile out and back section up and down Porcupine Rim trail, where runners would have to retrieve a numbered rock at the turnaround point before heading back down to the aid station. Because I was running stronger today, I actually saw the race leader Sean exiting Porcupine Rim just as I entered it. Wow, he was already 5 miles ahead of me, bummer. As I made my way up Porcupine Rim, quite a technical trail I might add, I continued to see the remaining field of front runners pass my on their way back down. This was probably the most fun I had during the race as I finally got to see all of the runners during the stage. Normally, you would see each other at the start and the finish, but not really during the race.

I ended up running almost even splits for both halves of the total 26.5 mile distance. I actually made up some spots on this last stage finishing 15th for the day and 16th for the week out of a total of 31 runners. While my goal was to run sub 5 hour for the day, I ended up with 5 hours 12 minutes. After exiting Porcupine Rim and heading to the last 7 miles to the finish, I started to slow down just a little, walking a couple of times when I could’ve possibly run. I was almost kept from finishing this stage altogether. About 4 miles from the finish a cowboy (seriously!) on horseback started unloading a large herd of cattle right in front of me with nowhere to go but through the herd. Of course, even though I slowed down to a walk, I spooked several cows and a bull, sending them charging back to their owner. I just kept my fingers crossed that he wouldn’t pull out his revolver to put me down where I was standing;-)

When I finally spotted the finish line, the runners and crew were once again at hand to cheer me on and will me across the finish line. It was absolutely awesome. And to top it all off, none other than the winner of this even, Sean Meissner, took off my pack after I crossed the finish line, sent me to a chair and filled up my bottle with ice water. What a class act this guy is!

(Me, Sean (what a class act) and Rich at the finish line.)
Final comments
Finally, I would like to thank all of the runners that I met during this journey (yes, I am calling it a journey as this was so much more than just a race). You all have been inspiring and wouldn’t have enjoyed it half as much without you. A special thanks goes to Reid and all of his crew members and volunteers. An extra special thanks goes to the kitchen crew for the week. Every morning and every evening, they whipped up the most amazing food in the middle of nowhere. I might have actually gained a little bit of weight, which was really hard to imagine after a week like this. But it just shows how excellent the food really was. The aid, the food and the overall hospitality we received during this event was absolutely amazing. I truly hope to be able to participate in this event again in the future. It is an extremely challenging event in one truly beautiful place.

And now I’m ready for a shower!

(The entire staff and racers at the finish line.)
You can find the final results for the 2011 Desert RATS 148 Mile multiday stage race here.

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