Moab 240: If You're Going Through Hell Don't Stop
"Why would you come back to do this again?" Dustin asked me incredulously, wiping crusty salt from his eyes and cooking in the magnified sun on a dirt road that led straight to the horizon with no sign of shade.
240 miles is an insane amount to run (even I know that).
240 miles is not similar to 200 miles. I've run three 200s and two 240s, and the two animals aren't the same. That extra 40 is something else.
You can't run that far without a reason. If you want to experience one of the rawest feelings of IDGAF, try running ultras. You need a match to start your fire, but you also need enough fuel to burn to stay lit.
Context: It took me a long time to figure out who I was and what I valued, and even longer to express those things (in fact I'm still a bead traveling that string). Visiting Moab in my young 20s was the first time I looked around and saw a bunch of dirty desert people in the grocery store and thought, "My people!" I love my Minnesotans, I get so homesick my stomach aches sometimes, but I don't care about Disney and I didn't marry my first boyfriend and I don't want to put cream of soups in everything. It has always been hard to feel like I fit in there. Moab opened my eyes to other kinds of people.
I finished the Moab 240 a few years later, and that gave me the confidence to chase the Triple Crown of 200s. I finished Bigfoot, Tahoe, and it was likely either myself or Catra would take home first place female, depending how Moab went. I was confident I could do it. But, for those who have read my blogs for a while, you know that my life fell apart that year.
I was living in such a hard cognitive dissonance with my values and drinking to escape my reality while paradoxically also trying desperately to get healthy, be stronger, and do hard things - but the truth is that I didn't have tools to fight the battle I was in (I actually didn't even know the battle I was fighting). I ended up hospitalized (for the third time) due to alcohol and forcing my husband into a divorce he fought me over until I gave up and gave him everything just to get out. That was the least of my injuries at that time.
I'm not sure if you've ever been rocked by loneliness or hurt so much that your soul concaves in and crushes itself like a vacuum, but that's where I was. The people closest to me didn't understand me because I didn't know how to let anyone in. At that time, I'm not sure I had the clarity to even be honest with myself, at least not with any perspective. I had no voice and a million poor decisions to live with.
I decided to sacrifice the race and everything I had worked for and check myself into treatment (with my sister's amazing support). Alcoholics at their bottom often say that they were going to die if they did not change, and maybe that sounds dramatic but it's not. There's this incredible sense of dread at the end. Either this will kill me or I will kill me. Alcohol also has a very sneaky way of making you do things you'd never do - never never never do - sober. You don't think you'd try to drink yourself to death until you realize how little you matter and how little you care, and alcohol makes that argument extremely sexy. Even saying that hurts my heart because stories rush through my mind of myself and others; some things cannot be undone.
Races are like time capsules. I had DNS'd (did not start) the race and spent three years cleaning up my heart and doing the work ("It works if you work it"). It felt like something I had to go back and finish. Sobriety puts a big emphasis on becoming aware of how you're showing up in this life. No more running away. I know I've written about sobriety a lot more lately, but hitting three years is really big for me and this race brought me back to that time.
Edward, Dustin, and I agreed to run together. We are The Three Pack and we shared the same 80 hour goal and 80 hour pace chart (thanks to Edward's fine planning). Then, we decided the night before not to overly-commit because 240 miles is a long way and you don't know what will happen. We agreed to start together and see what happens.
If you want to know about the race beta, ask me. This isn't going to be a course play-by-play.
Moab is hot. Really hot. Even when the temps are ok the sun is relentless. You could read in a lawn chair for a day and be exhausted at the end.
Moab is dry. By the end, my nose was caked with blood and it hurt to swallow.
The 240 is a ton of road, and I mean a ton. I know some people love this, and I talked to one during the race actually, but I find it tiring as I like trails and mountains more (even if they are slower).
The first day went smoothly until it didn't. We climbed up the trail through hidden valley, hit the slick rock and made our way to the base of Canyonlands NP where you traverse along the bottom shelf for 45 miles. It's flattish exposed gravel. Dustin and I didn't even pick up poles until mile 71, and that was a great decision.
Edward started dry heaving. He got sicker and sicker as the day went on, and the poor guy would try and try to puke but couldn't. He all but stopped eating and drinking. Everything was too dry and water sips brought him to his knees. We took more sit breaks than I can remember and tried to find shade when possible. The poor guy rallied and rallied, but he hurt.
I realized after a few hours that even though the race was young, we were falling behind the pace schedule early. Way behind. I started watching the females passing us as I sat in the dirt and waited. I had a hard time letting this go and I was bummed. I had one really hard moment of realization. You can't abandon a sick friend, and Edward would not have abandoned us if the roles were flipped.
I let it go. I decided it wasn't the most important thing. There's probably a good argument to be made about running selfishly and with ego, and in some ways I suspect it's even healthy and sort of a measure of honesty, but in this case it felt wrong. He was trying to keep up, felt horrible, and needed breaks to calm his heart rate. We changed the plan, and with different expectations come different anxieties.
We were desperate for the sun to finally go to bed. When it did, we thought we'd move faster and catch up a little. Maybe it wasn't all lost? Spoiler: it was. We struggled to get to Indian Creek (our first drop bag and sleep stop). Edward had been plagued by the temptations of the DNF, but he did not listen to them.
We slept an hour and a half on cold loud cots and moved on. Moving again the first night is not so bad. This isn't even 100 mile territory yet, which is familiar to us all.
The morning led us through another round of hot canyons. Miles and miles of it just to try and get to Shay Mountain. On the plus side, I found a really great dog camping that made me miss Zia. Edward was feeling better, but he was not recovered and not totally done heaving yet.
The push to Bridger Jack, mile 100, was difficult. We found two great dudes - Peter and Steven - to help share the burden of mileage and find the humor. I had a bad pinky blister that I'd lanced that was burning and wet in my shoe, and at this time our feet were all pummeled and tender. 100 miles is plenty, except when it's not even halfway. I was very much feeling like the Moab 100 made a lot more sense. Looking back, the Moab 100 still makes more sense to me, but that's not what we came for. I have Dustin to credit for keeping up the tenacity on this; his eye on the finish never wavered.
Edward needed to sleep at Bridger and we parted ways. To be honest, I thought this might be the split of The Three Pack. He was not eating or drinking or talking and surely needed to rest longer. Dustin and I headed to Shay and started climbing the night, which was long and cold. Nothing in Moab is short. Every single aid station is two miles further away than where you need it to be.
We honestly had fun climbing Shay. The night was calm and lovely and we were finally in our beloved mountains. The climb is steep at places but not as hard as I remembered. It's broken in a lot of places and inconsistent. I liked it.
That night we slept 2 hours in a tent at Shay Aid, and that was the best sleep of the whole race I think. I wasn't exactly warm, but I wasn't shivering. We got up and started again, but we were still so exhausted that we bivvied in the woods for 30 minutes a few miles later.
When we woke up, we ran into Edward before the sun rose.
The third day is hard to explain. It's this. It's this road through hell for a long time. The heat made Edward sick again, but we each took a beating.
We could see the La Sals way in the distance, which is where we needed to get to, but 40 miles is a long way away via hot flat road. It is especially discouraging when you can see it all in front of you.
Storms came in around us but never above us, which was beautiful and tragic. We felt the tiniest drops for a moment once.
The Dry Valley Aid station fixed us up, fed us, and was really huge in helping me go forward moving well. I developed what I call the Texas Walking Blister: it's a deep callus blister under the ball of your foot behind your big toe that hurts like a knife. It pushes up between your big and first toes and it's tough to lance and worse to walk on. I needed help taping it (it's hard to even see it on yourself, let alone bandage it). I had it on both feet. We needed to run more, but we couldn't.
We picked up Edward's pacer Lexi at Road 46 and she was insanely fun. It was such a welcome boost of energy and fun; Dustin and I area really lucky we got to share miles with her too and somehow make it through the night to Pole Canyon. We tried a new tactic: bivvy for sleep instead of use the station, but it backfired. Our bivvies made us damp with our breath and we woke up shaking and frozen. It was torturous to get moving. We did both a 45 minute and a 60 minute attempt. Laying in my foil, wearing all my clothes, my little socked feet throbbed and my hips screamed. My back, my sides, every position felt awful. I settled on my stomach with my arms under me and let the ground soak up my heat while my hands fell asleep and tingled beneath me. You don't fall asleep or dream; your world goes black and then it's time to move.
I also had some significant chafing I've never had before, and it became unbearable. I stuffed a headband down my pants to try and stop the friction.
At Pole Canyon, a medic volunteer named Shawna asked how we were doing.
"I need underwear," I said quietly into my burrito.
"That's not really a medical problem," she laughed.
"Well it's going to be," I said. She cocked her head and told me to follow her to the back of her truck to talk more, and when she understood the issue she generously gave me her own clean underwear to help me with the seam problem in my shorts (which was no longer a small issue). I'm really excited to send her a Victoria's Secret gift card.
We finally made it to the buttery La Sals and it was magnificent. The colors of Moab are unbelievable. Red hot canyons, electric yellow aspens, skies in every hue of blue and sunsets that span purples, pinks, and oranges; dark green pines and puffy cotton clouds. The pictures do not communicate the impact of this landscape, but I wish I could show you.
160 miles into a race is a beautiful thing. Your tired, sore legs actually start to heal and recover. It still feels lightning shoots from your hips if you lay wrong or lift your leg up too high, but the muscle soreness starts to fade. Running again did not feel as exhausting as the previous day in the sun on the road.
We took two short naps, but not more than 7-10 minutes.
Edward switched pacers for the final forty miles, and Brian joined us at Geyser Pass. I've heard it said that Moab is a 200 mile race with a 40 mile finish. Once you get past Geyser, it's forty miles back to town and you're done (with only one aid station in between, and who's going to drop at the final aid? If you get past Geyser, you get your buckle).
Shout out to Porcupine Rim: the best burrito I had the whole race, which is saying something because of the sheer number of burritos I consumed in four days, and a really energetic atmosphere that felt so comforting. We were tired, we were past tired, and they knew we were going to finish and reminded us of it.
We got up in the middle of the night and started the final 18 miles to town.
I think this part was hard. A pacer's job is to pull their runner, care for their runner, and advocate for their runner. Brian and Edward pulled ahead and took off, then waited, then pulled ahead, then waited, and for a long time Brian and Edward ran down the road off the mountain while Dustin and I followed. They waited for us at the final aid station while we all took a long break and slept one more time (2 hours, but it was worth it) and then they took for the final time and headed to the finish.
We struggled. It was harder just us two, I think, trying to keep each other up and split the burden between us without hitting lows at the same time. I tried to summon the last of my energy and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. I was ready to be done. Dustin was ready to be done.
We stayed happy, though. That's important.
You can't finish this race without all the patience in the world. With yourself, with the course, with your legs, with your friends.
I went there to finish something I had started. I went there, like a little kid being measured against a wall, to see how much I'd grown.
I showed up. I showed up for my friends and I showed up for myself. I felt trepidation in the days leading up to Moab. I procrastinated on packing, I delayed looking at the course again, and I avoided reading my old posts about it until the last minute. It takes courage to go back and look at yourself. Hopefully you've never had to meet (or remember) your worst self or go back to the time your world was a catastrophe, but somehow I doubt it. If you live hard enough, you've been there too.
I am also relieved. That was the dominating emotion at that finish line.
I didn't meet my goal, but I left that out in the desert and I guarantee it will re-form into a new goal for next year. I made a choice about what was important, which somehow this particular race always seems to demand of me. The sweetness of the finish is always earned.
I'll make you a promise about these races: you will cross the finish line and you will be re-calibrated and right-sized again. These kind of distances will re-proportion all the drama and exaggerations in your life and remind you of your why.
They will demand you answer their questions.
They will bring up your past.
They will hurt you, tempt you to stop caring, trick you into doubt.
But that's the thing. You will find the find the wind to lift you up. You will hold someone's hand, share a joke, wait for that next hug at the aid station. You will let your tears hit the dirt and you will continue on, trusting that the hard time will end.
It works if you work it.
How did I get here nobody did force me
I must have brought myself
And I can see all around me all this pain and misery
How did I ever create this hell
And I can hear my guardian angle scream
If you're going through hell don't stop
If you're going through hell don't stop
In the darkest night a sliver still shines
So pick up your head and walk
If you're going through hell don't stop
Thought becomes word and word becomes action
Action turned into habit it's just habitual chain reaction
Of thought becoming word and word becoming action
Action turn into habit got to break that chain reaction
Of thought, I thought therefore I was locked in a prison of my own mind
And there's many miles to go on the road to Shangri-La
But I know I'm gonna find it in my own time
Cause in the end it's all ok
And if it's not ok it's not the end.
"Don't Stop" by Wookiefoot