A year is a long time to be working towards a goal - espcially when there’s so many individual milestones to be met along the way. In 2018, ...

Jul 2, 2020

Bears Ears Ultra

Way back in February, I signed up for the newest race in the Mad Moose Events line up - the Bears Ears Ultra. I’d toyed with the 50 miler, but with the timing being two weeks before Silverheels didn't make sense. Then all things COVID happened and the race itself was even in question! Luckily, things fell into place for Mad Moose before the race and we were back in action for the brand new race. Just the 50k and 30k this year - with new precautions in place to help keep us safe. So I loaded my camping gear into my Subaru, packed up my food and running gear and hit the road. 

After a short run at Moab Brands, I was heading south again. It's an amazing drive from Moab down to Monticello - the glimpse of the canyons, then huge walls of red rocks and finally the mountain rising up from the terrain. It was those mountains we would be facing then next day. The Abajo mountains. I got my bib number from Denise and did some social distanced socializing. It did feel odd to be around that many people, even though we were all several feet apart. I got the scoop on camping for the night, then decided to drive up the mountain to check things out. I was expecting a slow drive on a rutted dirt road. Instead, a smooth blacktop road greeted me. I drove past where everyone was camping then to the turn off for the race start. Along the way, I passed where the course dropped out of the mountains and joined the road. There would be a few miles on black top! I followed the ribbons onto the dusty dirt road, making note of the hills and shadeless terrain. It would be a hot finish to the day. I puttered about the start/finish for a bit, pondering camping just up the road. With just me and my Subi, I could pull off parking almost anywhere! But I decided that part of racing was being social. Even from a distance! Back to where everyone else was camping! Besides, hard to miss the start when camped with the race directors. 
The start/finish line with Canyonlands in the back ground. 

Home for the night!

Morning came too soon. This was the first time I've slept in the Subi in a while and there are some things I need to work out for future solo adventures. But it was race morning! I did as much prep as possible in my car, then decided to drive over. 

The hint of sunrise on the lake near the start finish. 

Everyone was taking photos of the amazing sunrise!

The race started in waves - with the faster men  in the first wave, then the faster women. I was in that second wave, but not feeling super confident. After all, I'd been running a lot of miles, but nothing super fast. As the men started and the women were called up tot he line, i had to keep reminding myself that this was a test of some skills I'd been working on prior to Silverheels. Pacing, power hiking and being efficient in the aid stations in the time of Covid. So when the women started and the leaders sprinted out from the gate, I let them go. If later in the day, I was in a position to race, I would. But not at the start. 

The first section of the course was deceptive. The gentle climb up the dusty dirt road spread the women out quickly. I knew there was a good chance that some of the faster guys in the later waves would catch us and I had a feeling that plenty of people would go out way too hard on the gradual road climbs. The first six miles were all road - from the dirt road down to the blacktop to a lesser used black top road leading to the first aid station. I kept focusing on Run smooth, run easy and just staying in my own head. And looking around! The views around every corner were amazing. After the first aid station - which I ran through because I as usual had stocked my vest with more then I needed for that first section - the course finally got onto trail. Rocky single track winding through the trees. A bit of a climb first, followed by a fun descent into a creek. Then more climbing. And more climbing. Since most of the trails weren't on any mapping software yet - we didn't have an elevation profile to follow. I'd studied the course map as best as I could and knew there would be some major climbs coming. 
But those climbs were tempered by the views. Completely different then what I normally see on my long runs! Canyonlands in the distance, the red rocks framed in the lush greens of the mountains. 

Hard to see how steep the climb is from this angle - but the runners ahead of me are well above me!

One of the classic views of the day. CanyonLands - lit up by the early morning sun.

Finally we topped out for a bit. A short little descent and we reached the junction where the 50k added on the extra loop. This was a pretty nice course design - stacked lollipops for the different distances. The 30k did the base loop, with the dirt road into the start/finish as the lollipop. That base loop was a pretty steep challenge in it's own right! For the 50k, we dropped off the base loop to add another lollipop on the flanks of the mountain to the west. Had the 50m been held, they would have added yet another loop onto to that! Each loop had it's own nature views and amazing singletrack trails. 

The 50k dropped down to Red Ledges, then climbed back up

At the second aid station, I refilled with some water. No snacks needed - I was still well stocked. Then back into the woods for the loop back to the aid station. I would occasionally see glimpses of color ahead of me - another runner on the course. But mostly, the air was filled with the sounds of nature. Aspens rustling in the wind, ravens crowing. I was lucky enough to find one really cool raven feather and two awesome turkey feathers on the section! Yes, I stuck them in my hair for the rest of the race. I'm a sucker for really cool feathers and have been known to stop more then once for a nice one mid-race. We climbed for whet felt like forever, then finally started going downhill. With Silverheels coming up, I was more cautious on the downhill then in the past. Nice and controlled, nice and steady. I knew that would lose some time, but didn't really care. I also knew that what went down, had to go back up. On the first trip to the aid station, I'd looked down into the ravine below the trail and seen the blue ribbons fluttering along the trail far below us! It was as much a climb as I thought it would be!

Finally back to the aid station and this time I needed to refill everything. I'd completely finished my water on the loop. I wasn't as efficient at I wanted to be - but that was one of the things I wanted to address. Some things to work on for sure. After reading the course description, I knew it would be a long slog up to the next aid station. But I'd misjudged the distance to the next aid station so didn't get as much water as I should have. We retraced our steps back up to the junction with the 30k and then kept climbing. That was the theme of the race! Climbing.... Occasionally when the trees opened up and afforded a view above the trail, I was able to catch a small figure moving through the meadow above me. So far above me. Time to march and work on my power hiking! It was on this long climb where I started catching a few of the 30k runners and some of the men who'd started ahead of me in the 50k. As anticipated, the easy start had lulled some of those guys into a harder pace. Now every minute gained was coming back to haunt them in spades. 

High point of the course!

At the summit, I had another women right on my heels. Guess it was time for racing and for taking a few chances! Once again, I ran out of liquid before the aid station. This time, I was a little more efficient, but the volunteer accidentally gave me HEED instead of water. I couldn't figure out why my hands were sticky after trying to wash them until I tasted it more carefully. Whoops... At least it was the last aid station and a relatively short distance to the finish. Just one more major climb to go. The lady behind me left the aid station a few minutes after I did and was slowly making up ground on that climb. I knew I would have really be smooth on the plunge down the mountain to get any gap for the final push on the roads. Eyes on the trail. No more staring at the views! Even so, I didn't really let myself get crazy. Bigger fish to fry in two weeks! Once off the trails an onto the road, I took a quick glance behind me. No sight of her coming down the double track. There was about three miles left. Time to switch to road runner and really open it up. I did see some 7s on my watch in those last three miles!

Overall, Bears Ears was an amazing event. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a scenic challenge, where the climbs and the views will take your breath away. Hopefully they will have the 50 mile next year - I'd love to see what that next loop brings!

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