Run: Canyonlands Half Marathon

The site has been dark lately, principally because I’ve logged very few miles, hours, and pitches outside in the last few months.

Fully six months ago, my college friend Nate had asked if I would be interested in running a race in Moab. Sure, I replied. It was to be just a few weeks after a marathon (Napa) I was planning on running, so I’d be in great shape and the 1/2 distance would be little more than an afterthought, a vacation run.

Well, I bagged training for the Napa marathon not long after I started, have logged 30 thousand air miles in the meantime, and have been home about 1 day in every 3 so far this year. I have long contended that one “could run a fast 10k off the couch”. It looked like I was going to see myself, and raise the stakes to boot. I had managed to find myself staring down a half marathon with zero training. Not like “very little” training, or “neglected the run but have been on the bike” training. Nothing.

The flight from San Francisco to Salt Lake City is basically nonstop beautiful, and the drive down to Moab is becoming almost comfortable. I find myself doing it every few years now. [Audiobooks are key] I rolled in to Slickrock Campground around 11pm and greeted Nate and the others from Boulder and Salt Lake City that had come out for the race. Oh and yes, I said camp. There’s nothing like sleeping on the ground the night before and after a race, but the group had spoken, so I acquiesced.

Morning broke after a freezing desert night and I focused on not admitting what lie ahead. The course heads straight down an incredible steep-walled valley (HW 128). After a long pre-race wait because of the shuttling required on a one-way course, we were off. The start was a bit clustered, as pace pens were limited to 6:00, 7:00, and “others”, which was quite as diverse group… Fortunately I had no intention of PR’ing or even getting beyond a fast shuffle, so the initial mob scene wasn’t an issue for me.

I told Nate I had one goal in the race: negative splits on every mile. To achieve that with the kind of shape I was in meant going out _slow_. Good sense, no pressure, and conversation, ll kept me from getting ahead of myself. The scenery was fantastic, and the course profile had its own beauty; rolling easy hills and net downhill.

Canyonlands Half Marathon

In the end I did keep to my goal of negative splitting and ran a composite 8:45 – a duffer’s time for sure, but I ain’t that fast even when I’m trained. I’d exceeded my expectations, and, as usual, exceeded any notion of common sense at the after-race feed tent. Why, why, why, do I insist on taking one (and sometimes more) of everything on offer? Chocolate milk mixed with oranges mixed with energy drink mixed with bananas mixed with cookies…

The weather had cleared and a perfect high desert 70 degree day invited us to stick around for the post-race celebration, but what? No beer? That’s right. This is Utah. And the band, bless their hearts, was, well… they were trying their best.

Fortunately, Nate and Erin had brought some of Colorado’s finest: Mountain Sun Brewery Growlers. Growlers are just huge mason jars filled with beer. Delicious Mountain Sun beer. The rest of the afternoon was spent playing music, wondering aloud about Utah culture, and getting far more buzzed than is advisable directly after running for a couple of hours in the desert.

I drank about a gallon of beer before falling asleep that night, having taken no water since the race. At some point we were eating at a restaurant, though that is hazy, and we also at some point ended up at what was clearly a locals-only saloon. I also woke up in the middle of the night from a dream in which I was at a work party, shirtless and eating grapes. Funny how the brain gets these messages across: YOU ARE TOO HOT AND DEHYDRATED. The next morning the I and the group were far less hung over than we deserved. Maybe it was for the best that we all passed out by 9pm.

Easily sleeping 12 hours is one of those mysteries of camping that I really don’t want to solve. I remember my dad would always wake up at some predawn hour on canoeing and backpacking trips. When I finally stumbled out of the tent he would have already read 100 pages of his book and have breakfast ready to boot. I’m not there yet; I’ll fall asleep with the sun and wake up 10-12 hours later if I have no alarm set.

The rest of the group was on the same wavelength, and after breakfast Nate and I set off to do a little climbing.

I can summarize the main points quite succinctly: I do not like Entrada sandstone. <End>

I had found a fun little climb in my pre-trip googling. Wilson Arch was close to Moab, moderate, and, well, that was all we needed. About 10 miles south on 191, there she was in full view of the road. We roped up and I promptly got scared. The first moves off the deck didn’t seem hard, but the exposure and angle of a fall meant about 25 feet if you blew it. And climbing prowess wasn’t the only determining factor – chunks of rock broke off in my hands under less than vigorous climbing. [there is a crack to protect the first moves that takes .3, .4, .5 camalots] This was like climbing a vertical sandbox. Handholds evaporated, feet slipped on the sand, and nothing, NOTHING, seemed trustworthy. The climb is essentially a free-solo. Fortunately most of it is very low angle. We broke the climb in to two pitches. The only protection on the first is at the first moves, and the only protection on the second is [.75 camalot] halfway up. The leader and the second are both equally exposed on this thing. I realized as I was bringing Nate up the final pitch that if he fell, he was going for a loooong ride off the side of the arch.

Thank god that the beta about a rap anchor came true – three bolts, and all as solid as they’re going to get in sandstone. This was a lifetime rappel: a free hanging 100 feet through the center of an arch. I was giddy the whole way down and the truckers honking their horns added to the experience.

Wilson Arch

Full up on the taste of fear, we parted ways, Nate headed back to Boulder and me to SLC to catch an early-morning Monday flight. The drive back was stunning as ever, with the transition from high desert to alpine topography/geology one of those miracles that reinforces the natural vastness and diversity of the United States.

Race Grades:

Organization = B

Course = A

Post-Race = C

Overall = A- (tilted by an really good schwag bag)

Wilson Arch Climbing Grades:

Approach = A

Route = D

Rappel = A

Overall = C (probably better if you’re mentally prepared for a free solo)