Moab 240 Mile Endurance Run-Race Recap
Moab 240 Mile Endurance Run
October 12-16, 2018
“Man, it sure is getting dark fast. “ I thought that as I hurried down the Porcupine Rim Trail. With roughly 234 miles behind me, I tried to really hustle to make it out of the wilderness by nightfall and on to the three mile section of road into town before nightfall. What I wanted SO BAD, for the race to be OVER, seemed so close now. I thought of what it would feel like crossing the finish line of the Moab 240 Mile Endurance Run, which would be my longest yet. I thought of how awesome it would feel to lay on my bed back at the cabin and not have to move my legs. I thought of how I would have a cold beer and gorge myself on sushi and ice cream after a good, deep sleep. All the things I wanted were just a few more miles away.
I had flown into Salt Lake City around 10 AM then made the 250 mile drive into Moab. I arrived at the race check-in about 30 minutes before it started. I saw a lot of familiar faces and recognized the race staff from Tahoe 200 which I had completed twice last two years. Back at my cabin at the Moab Valley RV resort, I made final checks of my six drop bags. A race this long takes tremendous logistical planning. Where would I need my warmest clothing? Where would I want to have a fresh pair of shoes and socks? Will I need those ice spikes for my shoes at the high elevations? What about extra batteries and extra headlamps? I had deliberated over this for the last week and finally had everything set, or so I thought.
I had a very relaxing prerace dinner alone back in my cabin. I wanted some last time to myself to focus like a laser on the race that would start in the morning. As is always the case, I slept poorly in anticipation of the huge undertaking that would begin at 7 AM. I had really made a point of banking as much sleep as possible over the last one week. I knew it wouldn’t get much over the next couple days.
Finally, the alarm went off at 05:50. I looked outside my window and saw runners quietly scurrying around the starting area in the dark, wearing their headlamps. Surprisingly, there was almost no noise. After getting all suited up and making a final check of my running pack, I headed over to the start area.
I felt confident. I felt strong. I felt ready!
I told myself to focus on two things this race: be patient and be persistent. I would recite this mantra innumerable times over the next couple days.
At exactly 7:00, we were off. We ran the first four miles or so through the city then headed up into the foothills above town. We all settled into a nice relaxing pace. We enjoyed overcast 55° weather, perfect for running an ultramarathon. During these early miles, I tried not to think about the fact that I’d be running 240 miles or so. If I think about the magnitude of the challenge, I get overwhelmed and start having negative thoughts. I told myself to enjoy the journey and to break the event up into manageable sections. This is another example of how there are so many life lessons to be learned in Ultramarathons. One must enjoy the journey of life and not always focus on the future/finish line.
Around mile 12, we had our first significant climb. We all took it easy, of course needing to conserve our energy. Before long we left the Moab area and entered a mesa that led us over to a trail that followed the Colorado River. The views were absolutely stunning. Insert picture here. It was here that I really settled into a nice groove. I was running approximately 12 minutes per mile which is a good solid pace for a 200+ mile race. I made sure to eat and drink frequently all the time but especially at this early stage.
I had placed some laminated cards in my shorts pocket which reminded me of some execution tools that my mental skills coach Brian Alexander had given me: 1. Focus on being positive. 2. Power through negative factors. 3. The W.I.N. Principle--What’s Important Now? 4. Express Gratitude – I would ask myself along the way what are three things that I’m grateful for right now and why? 5. Adapt/Be Resilient. 6. My Why-- I constantly strive to maximize my potential and secondarily to serve as an example for others to do the same.
Arriving at the mile 53 Aid Station (AS) which was called Breaking Bad because of an abandoned trailer out in the middle of nowhere, similar to the TV series, I noticed that I was feeling perfect. Roughly 20% of the way into the race, things couldn’t have been better. A few miles previously, I caught up to an English guy who was working on his pack. He said “My rucksack broke.” I thought what the hell is a rucksack? I offered him a spare bungee cord to repair it and he said “What is a bungee cord?” We were runners from opposite sides of the globe, with differing cultures and lingo but still with one common mission: finish this magnanimous event. That’s one of the cool things about ultras: we try to help each other out while not worrying about competing against each other. We all want to see us individually do our best.
I asked the AS Captain how many runners had come through so far and he stated about 20. I couldn’t believe this. I told myself that I did not belong this far up in the standings. I told myself I better slow down or I would get into trouble.
However despite trying my best to run conservatively and cautiously, I passed through the miles 74 and 86 aid stations feeling the same. I made sure to take maximum benefit of these stops by consuming as many calories as possible and hydrating well. I would take a salt tablet and an Ensure and an occasional Red Bull for the caffeine. My right Achilles bursa was starting to make some noise but good old Motrin would take care of that. What works absolute wonders for me is what I call “Ibuproffeine.” For me, Motrin (Ibuprofen) and a Red Bull can cure almost any problem in an ultramarathon. However, it didn’t help the pain of me having scalded my lips and tongue from the first spoonful of some way too hot soup I took in at a previous aid station. I felt this every time I ate anything and even when I drank from my water bottle.
At Shay Mountain AS, Mile 121, I tried unsuccessfully to sleep. I couldn’t. It was too damn cold and there was too much noise from people’s crew chit-chattin’ and from the sound of the cursed zipper from other runners entering and leaving the sleep tent. I had hoped to get a decent rest here which was the half way point. I had slept only a little over two hours at Tahoe 200 last year when I finished in 76 1/2 hours. That should be enough for this race too, I thought.
After a brutal steep, seemingly unrelenting climb (where one of my hiking poles had become stuck in the collapsed position, rendering it not usable and forcing me to climb with only one pole) towards the end of this 14 mile segment, I had really exerted myself physically and mentally. Only one mile before the AS, I laid down on the trail to take a 10 minute rest. A guy driving a four wheeler stopped to see if I was still alive. I told him, “Barely.”
After 20 minutes of trying to fall asleep (I noticed my heart rate was 120 here), I said “Screw it…I’ll just have another Red Bull.” I changed my shoes, socks, shorts and tights and headed out into the wild dark yonder for my second night of running. With no one to be seen for miles ahead of me or behind me, I challenged myself to keep a strong clip. I had no choice but to force myself to get a critically important good rest at the next sleep station in 28 miles.
From Mile 140 to Mile 153, I made decent progress to the Dry Valley AS. Once there, I reloaded calories into my gut and rested in front of the heat lamps. A medic sliced open a few blisters and applied some tape to my feet. Then, I headed out into the dark again. It felt as if the temp had dropped 20 degrees while I was at the AS.
For this next section, I simply FROZE MY ASS. The effects of the sleep deprivation really magnified the cold. I couldn’t generate any body heat. I had pretty much entered a barely functional shock state. I lost my ability to thermo regulate. Despite wearing all my warm clothes and wrapping myself with my emergency Mylar space blanket, I still was shivering while maintaining a slow jog.
Hating life now, I struggled to make it to the Wind Whistle AS (Mile 153), where I was treated by two volunteers who ignored my chippy attitude. Feeling majorly cranky from the brutally rough night, I complained about the AS being so hard to find around the back of a big campground and about how they needed some better damn signage. They killed me with kindness making me feel like a fool for being so rude to them. As the only runner at the AS, they treated me like a rock star. The girl fed me soup, a huge breakfast burrito and hot chocolate. With my gut full, she then tucked wool blankets around me as I laid on a cot by the fire and propane heaters. Though the temp was 15o, I felt warm and comfy. With ear plugs I had waiting for me from my drop bag, I got a solid hour of the deepest sleep I’ve ever had in my life. Upon awakening with a fresh, positive attitude, I apologized for my previous behavior. I made a full change of my gear, loaded up my pack, woofed down some scrambled eggs and more bacon, then headed out into the cold, windy morning air for the 18 mile wide open section to the next AS. I would leap frog with my new friend from Guatemala, Byron, who unbelievably ran without tights on his legs. I couldn’t imagine how he did it. I even had wind pants on top of my tights. I welcomed the sun on my face as it helped me warm up.
In about nine miles I found a protected gully on the side of the road where I would take a five minute break to stretch and rest my brain and legs. I SO wanted to rest longer but I demanded of myself to be tough and disciplined.
Byron and I arrived at the next AS together where Jason, one of his crewmembers lent me a rain jacket which would provide me even more warmth for the next long 17 mile, cold section up to Pole Canyon AS. We were told to expect frigid and icy conditions for late miles of this brutal segment. I had to prepare mentally. I went to consult my laminated mental tools card but realized that it was back in a pair of shorts I had changed out of earlier! Disappointed, I told myself that now was a time to be Resilient and to Adapt!
I made good progress on the gradual climbs and flatter sections. The last eight miles truly seemed like I was going nowhere. I entered my third night of running and was “treated” to a never-ending rocky slog. I had become a little altered again, with the vision of a large man walking alongside me but not saying anything. He never responded to my comments or questions and I was getting so mad at him for ignoring me! How rude! A few miles previously I had the illusion of my shadow being a woman running alongside me but always keeping an equal distance from me. I called her “Susan” but she too kept blowing me off!
I don’t think I saw a single runner for the 17 mile segment going into Pole Canyon. When I finally got there, I saw a few runners huddled around the heaters and a campfire, trying to escape their frozen, prison-like predicament. I wanted to try to sleep again but the only two cots by the heaters were taken so I rested by the fire. I couldn’t get comfortable in the camp chair. I sat as close as possible to the fire to absorb as much warmth but I kept having to flick off sparks from the fire landing on my clothes. If I moved away, I got cold again. F&$K!
The AS Captain warned us about how brutally cold it would be at the high elevations of this next section which contained precarious ice on the trail. He said to expect temperatures in the single digits.
I knew that this 23 mile section would make or break me. I knew that if I could conquer this next segment, I would effectively have this race in the bag. It was gut check time. I became afraid that I didn’t have enough warm clothes and that I was really in a bad way with regards to not having had enough sleep. I didn’t want to be in a position where I might need rescue. My greatest concern: I didn’t want to be a burden on other runners. I even told a couple runners that I was thinking about dropping. I knew I had the fitness and the mental toughness to make it. It was the cold that I worried about. I suggested to a few other runners that we stick together for safety and they all agreed that it was a good idea.
I decided to go for it! I put on every piece of clothing I had and told two guys that I’m heading out, knowing that they would probably catch up to me. I remember taking the first step out of the aid station and asking myself ”Am I making a huge mistake?”
I ended up pairing with an Italian runner named Cesare, who now lives in San Francisco. He actually got pneumonia doing this race last year and had to drop out. The two of us helped each other pretty much this whole section. Misery loves company! My good friend Todd Evans, who helped me through Tahoe 200 two years ago, passed me in a group of three other runners. They were making good time and their company provided a pleasant diversion from the task at hand. A couple times before and after they passed us, I couldn’t find the reflective trail markers forcing me to double back probably a total of two miles, costing me time and exposing me to even more unnecessary cold.
The race organizers provided us with a delightful gift of a one mile, pretty much straight uphill climb forcing us to sometimes use our hands. Hiking poles were absolutely essential to keep us from falling backwards and to allow us to use our upper body to assist our weary legs. Seriously, a workout of taking two steps at a time up the stairwell of the Empire State building would have been easier than what we had to endure. Near a water only stop, (which was not available because it had all frozen solid by now!), I got a chuckle out of another guy I was suffering with who told me to stop. He said he saw a bunch of bears ahead. I told him he was losing his mind and probably hallucinating. Yup. What he saw ended up being some cattle over in the bush!
Reaching the highest elevation on the course, around 9000 feet, we now trudged through icy snow on the trail. The morning light had come but the temps were at their worst. I put some chemical hand warmers in my gloves and gave my chemical foot warmers to Cesare. They worked quite well. As we began the descent towards the Mile 202 AS, I expected it to be around every corner. I reminded myself to be”patient and persistent” again. After what seemed like forever, I became very, very frustrated and negative despite my greatest efforts not to be. Cesare and I again lost the markers forcing us to wander around an open area for about 20 minutes. We came upon a shady looking hunter who didn’t provide us much help as to where the next AS was. We finally found the trail again and slogged on.
I had become so beat down physically and mentally and again I was so damn cold that I questioned my ability to make it to the next aid station. I told Cesare to go on ahead and have somebody walk back from the AS to get me. He told me that if I allowed that to happen, I would be disqualified. This was a punch to the gut. I realized I had no choice but to simply keep moving forward.
I can’t describe how frustrating it is to expect the AS to come every time I reached a plateau in the trail or an open space. When it doesn’t come time and time again, it can break a man’s spirit and will. I would not let that happen. I simply pushed on! I knew that as long as I kept moving forward, I would make it. I reminded myself that the last 38 miles were pretty much all downhill and they would be during the daytime. This was a powerful magnetic force drawing me on.
Finally I reached a very large clearing in the trees that looked like an absolutely perfect place for an aid station. Nope. Foiled again. There was simply a one foot wide path in the deep snow weaving all around this area. I saw two trucks parked off in the distance yet away from each other fooling me into thinking this was it. But the path did not lead that direction. How could this be I asked myself? I kept following the path which eventually led back into the woods. Thinking that I might have passed the aid station, I doubled back yet again. I yelled out to no one “Where’s the aid station!?” No answer. I turned around and headed down the trail again. After yet another half hour, I finally saw what appeared to be “Eden” down the trail in a low area near a lake. This was it! Oowah Lake Aid Station-Mile 202! Hallelujah! Praise Jesus! What an amazing relief to finally get here. I experienced true elation. In my mind, the race was effectively over and I had conquered it. I had fallen back in the standings but I didn’t care one iota! I really slowed down a lot these last 23 miles but my mental discipline and fortitude allowed me to push through.
Again, the AS volunteers treated me wonderfully. Filip, an experienced ultra runner himself, managed the stove. I asked him to cut up some banana slices to put in some pancakes he was making and he gave me a funny look like”What the hell are you thinking?” But sure enough, he surprised me by bringing me a plate of perhaps the best banana pancakes I have ever had in my life. Slathered in thick sugary syrup, I devoured them in three forkfuls.
I was able to sleep here for 45 minutes despite my heart rate being 120 again when I checked it as I laid down. The aid station captain woke me up at the time I asked her to but then I asked for another 15 minutes. I so wanted to sleep a couple more hours but I knew I had to get the damn race over with. I could sleep as much as I wanted when I finished.
After my last change into some fresh socks and shoes and some new clothes, I headed out at 12:30 pm for a 20 mile section then the final 16 mile section was which was to be pretty much all downhill. MY original goal had been to finish by 3 pm which would have been 80 hrs. That time out of reach, I made a new goal of finishing by sunset. I didn’t want to run during a fourth night. After a one mile climb through some snow, I then started running at a steady 10 to 12 minute pace. I was a man possessed. I weaved through Aspen groves enjoying the snowcapped mountains off in the distance. I reminded myself how grateful I should be and how fortunate I was to be in this place and at this time.
With each step closer to the finish, my spirits rose. I did the math in my head and realized that if I continued to push, I could make about 84 or 85 hours. I’d still be very happy with that. It’s kinda funny how 30 miles can seem like a short distance when measured against 240. I ignored the fact that I had more than a marathon to go. I just focused on going as fast as I could under the circumstances and minimizing my stops. I felt very strong running during a five mile section of nice smooth asphalt road. I kept it up on a well-graded gravel road leading into the Porcupine Rim AS.
At the AS, I consumed a couple hundred calories and reloaded my water bottles without sitting down then resumed my push for the last 16 mile section into the finish. Before long, the trail became very rocky yet a decent downhill, making running at a fast clip precarious. I had to watch every step so as to not roll my ankles. Anytime I had a chance to put the hammer down on good terrain, I did. Suddenly, I noticed the sun was awfully low in the horizon and that daylight was waning. I hadn’t checked my light sources in a while. I then realized there was a chance I would finish after dark after all and that I might have a problem. I told myself to get as close to town as possible before it got dark. My sense of urgency heightened big time. It kept getting darker and darker. I pulled out my headlamp and turned it on and… it was dead. “Uh oh.”
I pulled out my cell phone which I had kept on airplane mode to save battery and noted that it was at 13%. I plugged in the battery charger but… It was dead. Oh crap! With a sliver of moon going below the horizon, I had no choice but to use the flashlight on my cell phone knowing it would burn the minimal remaining power. Then with virtually no twilight remaining, my cell phone went dead. Now I was in big trouble. I had nearly caught up to a runner ahead of me way off in the distance. I blew my emergency whistle as loud as I could and yelled at the top of my lungs for him to stop so I could catch up to him and follow his headlamp the estimated three miles to the end of the trail section of the race. Then I could follow the road for the very last three miles. However, he could barely hear me. He must not have understood the fact that I was telling him that my batteries were all dead and I was stuck. Without any light to bounce off the reflective ribbons that marked the course, I was effectively “lost at sea.” To say it was painful to watch that runner continue on, basically blowing me off, would be an understatement. There was absolutely nothing I could do.
I wandered around aimlessly looking for a ribbon. It was futile. It had now become about 98% pitch black out. Though not panicking, I realized I had gotten myself into a very dire and potentially dangerous situation. With only two hours of sleep so far and an estimated 234 miles on my legs and with the temperature dropping, I realized I would have to hunker down for the night until morning light or at least until someone came along. I needed light. Please, God, just give me some light.
In a borderline shock like state, I started to shiver almost uncontrollably. I stumbled towards certain shapes thinking that they were some trees that would provide me protection. When I reached out to them, I ended up getting poked by cactus needles instead. I found a rock formation jutting out two feet from the ground. I decided to dig a foxhole under it to provide me some shelter which could protect me from the cold environment and occasional cold breeze. Getting colder by the minute and with now persistent violent shivering, I covered myself as much as possible with the rocky dirt trying to conserve as much body heat as possible. I curled myself up into the tightest ball I could and pulled my hood down over my face with just a slit for my nose so I could breathe. I pulled the bottom of my jackets down over my curled up legs. I fell asleep for an estimated 10 minutes but then was awakened with violent coughing and shivering. The brief nap felt good but then I realized that I better not fall asleep again or I might not wake up as a result of hypothermia. This was the first time in my ultramarathon career that I thought there was a chance that I might die. I didn’t think I would but the mere thought of the possibility was tremendously unsettling. To be quite honest, it was pretty scary.
Not knowing how far I had gone off trail, if at all, I fumbled around with my GPS tracking device hoping to send the signal to race headquarters that I needed to be rescued. But in the dark, I couldn’t see the buttons. I didn’t mess around with it anymore for fear that I might turn the device off which would be a disaster leaving me completely disconnected from the world and unable to be found.
I told myself that the absolute only thing I could do at this point was hunker down for the night and wait and wait and wait trying to stave off hypothermia. I was so damn close to the end of the race…yet SO FAR AWAY.
For five hours I huddled under that rock covered with dirt continuing to shiver and cough. I thought I might be developing pneumonia. I told myself I had to eat and drink to try to generate some core warmth and was able to get down a protein bar and little bit of my Tailwind electrolyte drink. Fortunately I had plenty of food with me so I knew that would help for me up a little bit.
Suddenly out of the blue, I heard a guy say “Hey, are you all right?! Are you a runner?” I turned my body away from my “den” and was blinded by two headlamps shining in bright LIGHT in my face. In my semi-altered state, I thought that I might have died and that I was actually going to heaven. Though now it seems obviously silly, I remembered people saying they saw a bright light right before death. It took me five to ten seconds to realize that these lights were from here on Earth and that I was now safe and sound.
My emotions changed completely from gloom and doom to sheer elation. I realized that I could follow the light from this runner and his pacer in. I was now safe and sound. I couldn’t thank the guy and his pacer enough. He had heard me coughing violently and with his headlamp, saw the reflective striping on my running vest lying next to my foxhole. Unbelievably, it turned out that I actually had been almost directly next to a reflective trail marker. But again, without any light to shine on it, I could not see it.
I thanked my ”rescuer” and his pacer repeatedly but got pretty much no response. I could tell that they were hurting big time as well. About a half-mile later, I saw a bouncing headlamp coming up to meet us. The guy said “Hey, are you Russ Reinbolt?” “Are you OK? We saw that your tracker wasn’t moving and that you looked like you were lost before that.” I told him I was fine but that I had lost the trail and that all my batteries had gone dead from the cold. Riley, one of the race managers lent me a bright headlamp as we finished off the rocky trail section. Ironically, his headlamp was so bright that we were almost blinded by the light when previously I had absolutely none. I couldn’t believe the turn of events. I had gone from sheer desperation to sheer euphoria in just a few minutes.
My emotional spirits were skyhigh. Physically absolutely exhausted, I skipped down the trail to where it met the road. I then powered the last three miles back into town, gratefully enjoying every step of the way. Around 2:30 am, I entered the Moab Valley RV resort/finish area which was now a ghost town. I made the turn into the finishing chute, crossing the finish line in a truly surreal moment. A race official congratulated me then I collapsed into a camp chair in front of some heaters. Another volunteer brought me some warm soup, which tasted oh so sweet. I WAS DONE! I couldn’t believe the ordeal that I had endured.
I have great respect for all the other runners whose experience surely parallels mine, but with their unique, individual twists.
I have to say, I pretty much maximized my potential in this race considering the circumstances. If I were to do it again, I would SLEEP MORE, take warmer clothes and make sure I had a pacer for the night-time sections. And I would carry backup lights and battery chargers, even if not likely needed!
I hope my ordeal encourages others to set goals in any aspect of their lives then work their best at achieving them!! GO FOR IT!
Great thanks to race director Candice Burt, and her Destination Trail Staff and all the volunteers and runners for such a fantastic race. Thanks also to Scott Rokis and Howie Stern for their amazing photos.