A Frenchman running in the desert in great company -my race report of Behind the Rocks Ultra 50 k-

People who are part of the Rocky Mountain Runners know me as Yves (you would pronounce it Eve, and that’s not a feminine name at all where I’m from, that’s even a Saint in the Christian calendar -19th of May-), and the Frenchman that joined them a couple months ago for some fun on the trails. Truth is, I got to Boulder about two years before that to do some research at CU, in the Chemistry department. I had no idea this place would be this awesome! On the sport side, I played soccer in France until I broke my ACL ligament and meniscus about four years ago today. My roommate, another French guy that I met in Boulder through some other friends (and for the record: we never met before, are of the same age and if it can get any bigger than this: we’re from towns 6 miles away from each other!) introduced me to trail running a year and a half ago. I knew some trails of Boulder before that, I had hiked some, but when he mentioned running up and downhill on these, I really though he was crazy! But it really is where it started. When he could not always find time to share a run (he’s also postdoc), I continued to go on my own. Needless to say that I suffered my share (but who doesn’t?), and after becoming 17.5 pounds lighter, I could be faster than him on the uphill! After logging a run a week, I cranked it to two, then three plus a hike at the weekend and eventually to three plus a long run at the weekend. I then heard of some crazy folks running for 25 miles straight and tagging all Boulder’s summits one after another (another thing that probably started in Ryan Smith’s mind and that got viral on the web). After suffering of a little dehydration during a couple of these runs and realizing that water and sugar free banana bread were not the only thing you needed for such a distance, I thought that I was ready to try it with these crazy folks. That was on a Thursday, the 29th of January for a Sanitas/Gelato run. Ever since, except for four nights total, I’ve been running every day. The best part being that my body reacted well to it, a few twisted ankles aside (playing soccer really ruined them), but Gina and her needles could heal ‘em pretty well, and wearing tape (duct tape most of the times, yep dirtbag runner’s style) never hurt anybody. Also, you can imagine the influence these people can have on you to register for a race. A week later, I was registered for Behind the Rocks Ultra 50 km.

After the last long run (the Walked Ranch lollipop) I went on with the group before the race, Lassen told me that he thought I would do very well, a week later. But hey, racing, in my mind meaning going the fastest you can, doing it in a desert, by 85 degrees, really?! Sorry, I’ll pass, I honestly thought, I just couldn’t. What I could try to do though, would be to see if my body can survive these conditions at first (I think I remember my mom telling me that she would be sort of sad if I happened not to come back alive from this hostile place), make it to the finish line and just have fun with the other cool people after all this!

On Friday the 27th, during the afternoon, Ryan Smith, Silke, Kea, Adam, Lassen, Erin, Matt, Julia, Rush, Jon and me all met in front of the Southern Sun to caravan to Moab, Utah! I rode with Jon and we could have a nice conversation, talking all the way about running, science, our families and life in general. A stop in Fruita later for dinner after about 5 hours of driving, and we eventually got in Moab and Behind the Rock (that is located about 10 miles east of the downtown) to set up camp at about 9:30 PM. Jon being sure that the race would start at 07 AM the next morning, and in order to be there to cheer on the 50 miler RMR racers, alarm was set at 05:30 AM. The night was good, I could get a good amount of sleep, not feeling especially stressed. I made sure all of my gear was ready for the race before I went to bed in my 5 person tent (yep tons of room in there, I could eve-n stand in it). And everything was. I decided to run with my freshly new RMR singlet, my backpack in which I stuffed two 9 ounces water bottles, plus a half full 15 one in the back and two sets of Cliff Bar blocks (I really don’t like the gels, and I don’t feel like they do anything for me). The alarm clock went off at 05:30 and I could already hear the excitement of the 50 milers. I taped my left ankle (I put some under tape on it before the grey one), geared up, but brr it was cold out: 45 degrees! I put two layers of coat and observed the very low key start of the 50 miler (no gun shot, nothing fancy, just a “go” at 06!). Then we could discussed with Nicola who was there too to race the 50 k, and he say that no, the 50k was starting at 08! Fine, that would give me a little more time to digest my half baguette that I stuffed with butter (salted and Irish to be precise, and when you’re from my region it has its importance) and Nutella. I also put an extra layer of pants on top of my shorts, but my feet had time to get cold in my La Sportiva Bushidos!

I -hung around Nicola, Andy and Jessica’s tents waiting for the starting time and 08 o’clock came with the first rays of sun. It got warmer already. But, damn, I had my over pants to remove, good thing my tent was 10 yards away from the starting line! I spotted the green jerseys that were Andy and Jon, met with them and the “go” was said! Nicola and some crazy folks had flown away already! I asked Jon he was minding some company for some time, but I realized that I could go at a 07-07:30 minute pace pretty easily. So I went, passed quite a few bunch of folks, and began running with Andy and this other guy from Oregon. A thing to mentioned, that made me think that I would have such a boring time during the race is that for two to five minutes after the start (that was fun and full of excitement), the thing became fully silent, with nobody talking! I thought for a second: the long Saturday runs are much more fun with the RMR, why did I decide to go on a race?! Even if we almost got lost a few times, we could get to Aid station 1 pretty rapidly after about five miles, grab a cup of water Julia handed and continue. Until the following aid station that was 10 miles away, I think that I spent more time contemplating both sides of the race, as it was so beautiful: picture some slick rocks in front of you, white peaks on your right and red rock formations on you left. All this under a blue sky. Then I corrected my mind: I made the right decision coming there to race, this landscape was worth the whole thing.

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One of the views we could contemplate during the race. Here Rush, Adam and Kea running back to the campground after the end of the race

 

Andy felt a little less well, he let me and the Oregon guy pass him. My shoes were gradually filling with sand. Short before a downhill driving us into a canyon, we met a few people coming from the opposite direction. I wasn’t sure which race they were from at the time, but eventually came Nicola and a big smile on his face. We were safe and reached aid station 2 after 2h15 min. I knew this one was a key one, as it would go uphill for about 10 miles after that and the sun would get very sharp from this point. I grabbed 2 cups of coke, one of water, refilled one of my small bottles and emptied my shoes of the sand that they were containing. Time I was tightening these, the Oregon guy was gone. Andy reached there and told me he was feeling “so-so”. I went back on the way up the canyon and saw Jon. He let me know I was in 4th position at this time. I heard him but did not really take this into consideration. This was only half race. After cheering on every runner I was encountering, I had to take a right. Two bikers sitting at the junction, under a bush told me I should go left, as 2 fellows took this way. But no, people at the aid station told me I had to take a right, and it was clearly indicated on a sign in the ground: “Straight ahead, to aid station 3”. I would then hear that these two guys went straight to the first aid station and realized they were not on the right path. You’ll open your eyes next time! This right turn taken, it was going uphill and it started to be kinda hot. Some wind was there to cool it down a bit. I hiked most of the uphill, but I could see this Oregon guy doing the same a hundred yards or so in front of me. I knew I was suffering a bit, Andy was not in a great shape, so I could keep that way. The next person was some five good minutes behind Andy. Then we passed that kid who was trying to keep up with Nicola on the first half and who ended up being dehydrated. He was wandering on the trail, I gave him a little water, told him the next aid station was only a mile away or so. It was more like two and a half, but next time he’ll use his brain, not only his legs and realize the importance of filling your water bottles at the aid stations! I reached aid station 3, caught up with the Oregon guy, he told me that there was only 7 miles remaining in the race and that I would catch up on him. I answered him: “yeah yeah”, but thought: “let’s just stay in a reasonable shape until the finish line”. People at aid station 3 were adorable. This man saw all the salt on my jersey, gave me some salt capsules, put some electrolyte in my water. I had again 2 cups of coke, one of water, half a banana and bite in these pieces of oranges. The latter were the best in my life! I moved on, gently made it to the last aid station, drank half a cup of water handed by Julia. She told me that I was 2nd or 3rd. Again it was not of any kind of importance for me. I pursued. There was four more miles or so to go. I saw Erin, gave her a little water (hers was too sweet) and the finish line was in sight. I made it to run the last mile, made sure to wave and smile at every person cheering on me. I gave my best profile to Jessica, present there to picture this. And that was it, finish line was crossed in 5h12min. I did not break the 05h mark that was more or less my hidden objective, but that’s gonna be for the next time! Nicola was there too to congratulate me, so was the Oregon guy that got here roughly five minutes before me.

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Thumbs up as I made my way to the finish line. More looking like someone going to a music festival as some of my friends pointed

 

Half an hour later and few pints of water I drunk, I was able to stand again, and hang out with the other RMR that either already crossed the finish line (30 k runners) or who were there to crew. I could see Alberto sprinting at the finish line to make it 15 second before the person that finished fourth in the 50 miler. Silke also finished strongly to grab 1st female place. Jon, Andy and eventually Neeraj also made it. Lassen got to campground as well, but in a different shape. And it was time to grab a few beers and enjoy a good time with everybody!

Time for refreshments!

Time for refreshments!

I am overall extremely happy that I decided to go to Moab to have this great experience. The presence of so many other RMR made it fantastic as well and the organization that was also very good. A race with this distance made me realize that training is a parameter to do well, but so many other things can happen: you can take the wrong turn, get dehydrated or have some stomach issues. I got lucky that none of these happened to me. It is definitely to be done again! Thanks to all the RMR who helped me in this adventure, you’re awesome!

The Green gang

The Green gang

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