Behind The Rocks 50k (2016)
By Christopher Harrington
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Setting up camp

I'm an alpine junkie. I like thin air, long climbs, dirt, and the smell of pine trees. Dry desert slickrock and sand is new territory. I hadn't even experienced this terrain at all outside of a few miles in the Eastern Sierra's high desert. That said, what's a race if you can't get just a little outside of your comfort zone?

The FRXC convoy left Denver on Friday 4/1, direct for Moab and Behind The Rocks Ultras, put on by Mad Moose Events and Justin Ricks. There was something for everyone to test themselves as the race boasted 30k/50k/50 mile distances. This would also be a maiden voyage to Moab for some of us.

I went back and forth between signing up for the 50 miler and 50k, finally settling on the 50k. I felt tuned for long slow days outside after finishing the season last year with two tough 100 milers. I understand the demands of that distance and my body and mind seem (so far) to be well suited for them. My goal in 2016, though, is to get faster so trying to test myself with a longer tempo seemed an appropriate goal as I could act a little more recklessly without really risking a dreaded DNF.

Joining in the 50k (his longest race to date) was Ryan Denison. After sharing some tough miles with him during training and seeing what he could do, I was psyched to have a teammate on the same distance who I knew would have a strong performance. 

Mark Marzen towed the line at 6am for the 50 miler. After coming in a little slower than (I think) he would have liked at 2015 Collegiate Peaks 50 miler, primarily because I sabotaged him with double espresso gels, he was ready for this thing. The early morning desert temps gave him a case of hilarious uncontrollable shivering and chattering. That mixed with his child like excitement was one of the more entertaining things I saw all day.

Nick Leuck, Katie Brooks, and Corrissa LaPlace all joined in the 30k. For Nick and Corissa, this would be their first, and longest trail race. Katie had originally signed up for the 50 miler, but nursing a bad hip, opted to run the 30k after a clutch session of dry needling. 

THE 50k

My race plan was to start out fast, and I succeeded at least at that part, running an average 7:30 min/mi for almost the entire first 16 miles. I hoped to stay just inside of an endurance pace zone and save myself some lactic acid for a long but gradual uphill climb on the second half of the course that I knew would be the real difference maker. I let a bit of recklessness take over, however, pushing harder to stay in sight of the top dogs. In previous years, only two runners were coming in under the 5 hour mark, which was my goal. About 10 people appeared to start this thing with something similar in mind, so I assumed there would be a couple of blow ups that I could take advantage of later on. I would be very wrong about this.

Bandit on the loose

The slickrock and sand mangled my feet a little differently than the trails I'm used to and I developed a quarter sized blister on my right arch near the first aid station at mile 6. Filling up my handheld, I convinced myself I would deal with it at the end of the race and went onward, because #ultrarunning.

The course trails became more rugged and views more spectacular as we skirted along canyon rim singletrack. I wanted to stop and soak it in, but racing, especially at this distance, doesn't provide much room for that. At mile 16, there was a bit of a scramble down to the bottom of a canyon and I missed the course markings along with a couple of other runners resulting in a little back tracking.

At the canyon bottom, I filled up my handheld once again, slammed a cup of coke, a cup of water, and literally climbed back up the canyon for the 8 mile uphill to the next aid station, somewhere in the mix for a top 10 finish. At the top of the scramble, I heard Ryan yell and saw that he and another runner had made the same wrong turn that I did. I stopped and pointed down to the scramble before taking off again.

I cruised pretty comfortably for about 4 miles but at mile 20 my wheels came off on a shorter steep-ish climb. It wasn't anything that demanding, but my legs, heavy from the fast last 20 miles, didn't have the juice I had hoped. I knew that I didn't need to run the uphill hard, but that I did have to run it to stay in the mix. My frustration grew and as I power hiked upward I was passed by two runners. 

Not long after, I heard Ryan shout a, "woooo wooooo!!" behind me near the mile 24 aid station. I shouted back but kept moving because it was apparent he would catch me at our relative clips. Shortly thereafter we were sharing some miles that kept me motivated. Ryan said his quads were banged up and I told him I couldn't run hills, so we agreed I'd keep him cruising downhill (which I felt great running quickly) and he could pull me uphill. Fair trade?

At one point he gave me a good prodding when I started hiking, "Harrington doesn't get tired!" and I ran uphill for the first time in 6 miles. At the sight of another small hill I reverted back to power hiking much to my frustration. Ryan popped in his ipod headphones with what could have only been some yacht rock, proclaimed he was "going to the cave" and took off only a few minutes behind 10th place. 

I kept plodding along, eventually getting to the top of what I considered the final climb. There, I stopped and dropped into a squat stretch, telling myself, "You're 3.2 miles away from the finish, man the f*ck up and run." I managed to average 7:40 min/mi for that last 5k, the finish line in sight nearly the entire time.

The FRXC crew was lined up near the finish chute cheering, but at the same time I saw them, I also saw the race clock reading 4:55:21. Not wanting to see 4:56 on that clock for some arbitrary reason, I ran the last stretch hard finishing in 4:55:33 which was good for 11th place. Ryan, after his journey to the cave, had overtaken 10th place by a minute to finish in 9th at 4:51:43.

LATER AT TENT CITY

The squad said I looked angry at the finish chute, which was likely a combination of my frustration with poor hill climbing and the physical appearance of my downward turned mustache. I also knew I'd be coming in close to 5 hours, so the quicker I crossed that line, the quicker I could eat an enchilada and do some cheering. You know, the real reason I came out here in the first place.

In the 30k, Nick came in 20th OA with Corissa and Katie coming in at 26th female and 32nd female, respectively. Everyone was happy about their results and looked particularly good in their new clean white FRXC singlets, if I do say so myself. 

We waited along the finish chute, sharing stories and cheering on runners with cowbells and Whitney Houston. People asked what time Mark would be done, my estimate being between 3pm and 3:30pm if things were clicking. We got concerned and pushed that estimate out when a lot of strong runners were still out on the course. And then, out of the deadly Moab desert just minutes after 3pm, a bearded nonchalant man in a white tank top and black sunglasses came trotting up the hill with the stoic professionalism of a hitman and confidence of a Ryan Gosling meme.

"Is that Mark? No, can't be. I think that's...IT'S MARK!" 

We erupted into wild celebration and Mark finished in 9:02:54 for 8th place as the first FRXCer to officially get blood on his white singlet. 

It was a great first visit out to Moab. Racing alongside the people I've trained with made everything especially fun and motivating. Finally, I want to give a special thanks to Caitlin, Lauren, Kody, and Jeff for supporting and encouraging all of us runners over the weekend. #fam.

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