Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

April 17, 2013

AXS Moab Adventure Race, 13 April 2013

My first adventure race after moving back to the USA was the AXS Moab Adventure Race, part of the Adventure Xstream Race Series.

Although I am busy trying to start up a new business (more on that soon), I knew that this race in Moab was a must-do.   Any excuse to visit Moab, really!  

The race started from Red Cliffs Lodge, about 17 miles up the Colorado river from town.  Just the drive up up the river was really scenic, with the towering cliffs on each side.    It was a chilly morning as the race started at 730, although the sun was shining in a blue sky and the weather seemed perfect.

Mountain biking was the first stage, although for the first 20 miles, a road bike would have been a lot easier!   Castleton Towers came and went, along with a few other standing stones.  Racers struggled with the uphill section, which although was on smooth pavement, kept going and going and going.    In fact we climbed about 5,000 feet, almost a vertical mile in elevation.  The La Sal Mountains kept getting closer and closer, and by the time we were gasping for air at 8500 feet, there were snowdrifts still left on the side of the road.

Despite having not ridden my bike since January a mere oversight in my race training, I felt good as we slowly climbed up to snow line.   However, my chain was squeaking a little immediately, reminding me that I hadn't lubed it since cleaning my bike and having it shipped here from England.   Another oversight.  About halfway up the climb, the derailleur stopped functioning correctly and when I would stop pedaling, the chain would wrap itself up into the derailleur.  You can imagine that was not a good thing in a race....  Thinking it just needed some lube, I racked my brain to think of what I could put on the chain.  Spit?  Water?  Aha!  The tube of Neosporin from my first aid kit is greasy, I'll try that!

I imagine I looked pretty silly putting ointment on my chain, and got noticed by a few teams as they passed me.  Unfortunately, it didn't help at all, so at least on the uphills, which went on for 3 consecutive hours, I just resolved to keep pedaling constantly.   And worried about how I would ride down a hill.  Any hill.

Finally I reached the first checkpoint at the highest point in the race.  There I begged a truck full of guys with bike racks to lend me some real chain lube, which also did nothing to help the chain.   They were curious and had a look at my bike, but nothing seemed to help.  After a few minutes I had to say,  "thanks, but I'm in a race and I'll just have to deal with it."

The downhill started fast and furious, by this time on gravel, and my attempts to keep pedaling to keep my chain moving was close to impossible.  When I stopped pedaling, the chain flapped furiously against my spokes and I figured it would be a miracle if I made it down without breaking something.   What followed was a lovely descent that literally went on for 20 miles, with only one significant uphill. Every race needs at least one hike-a-bike section, right?  None of it was singletrack, just nice ridable swooping gravel, going down and down into the canyons on the other side of the plateau we had climbed.   My chain kept flapping, making it hard to start pedaling again on the small uphills and generally slowing my speed a little.  The lost time would come back to haunt me later...but the chain never broke.

At the bottom end of the road we entered Onion Creek Canyon, where our first special stage of the day came in the form of a rappel.  I had been hoping it would be really high, but knowing that we had to hike up to the top of it, was glad it wasn't too tall.  Even so, we lowered ourselves off the top of a cliff that must have been higher than I had ever rappeled before.   At the bottom, my belay device attempted to leave burns in sensitive places, it was so hot!   I dunked it in the creek before running back to my bike.

The rest of Onion Creek was a nice descent, going across the creek at least 20 times but nothing that wasn't ridable and the views were awesome.   Let me just say I love the scenery here, it's amazing!    Transition was in Onion Campground on the river, where we had dropped our running and paddling gear the night before.  I had a quick change of shoes and was off to the canyoneering section, a 6 mile loop up to the bottom of Fisher Towers and back.   A small drainage just off the road led into a nice little slot canyon, nothing spectacular but easily runnable and scenic.  I guess a few people got lost on this loop, but in my naivetĂ©, I just followed the drainage I had seen on the map and it led me right out again.   Luck?  Hmmm.   I put some time into another solo runner behind me through the canyon, and hoped it would be enough to stay ahead of her on the river.

Another quick transition and I was on the water.   The wind had picked up, yet it seemed warm enough not to need wetsuit or paddle jacket.  I tried not to think about how cold I would get if I would fall in, and resolved not to do such a silly thing.   It was my first time in a rubber Ducky raft, and I wouldn't call the river fast moving, so I wasn't moving terribly fast at times.    The wind was the biggest factor, almost pushing me to a standstill on certain sections, where I would have to paddle like crazy just to not go backward!

After an hour or so, I turned a bend and could see the finish line way ahead of me.   And unfortunately behind me, I could see another female solo, steadily catching me up with a faster sea kayak.  Honestly she passed me like I was standing still on the water, and dwindled to a speck in the distance soon after as I struggled with my Ducky.   Oh, well.   The worst of the wind blew up within feet of the finish, and while I could see the finish dock, I was still going backwards at times.  Demoralizing.  I finally managed to touch the dock, carry my boat up the ramp, and run to the finish line.  Which ironically had blown down from the wind gusts.

Rob and his mom, which had graciously cheered me on at the start of the race, spend the day exploring Arches National Park.  Amazingly enough, they were back in time to cheer me on at the finish, too!

My final time was 9 hours 20 minutes, which was enough to earn me 3rd place in Women's Solo category.  Final results are HERE.   I ended up 22nd out of 109 teams, so quite happy with that!

At the start!
At the finish!
Colorado River, race morning

Rob and his mom visit Arches NP while I am racing!


  1. Congrats on your race finish! Wow - sounds like quite an interesting experience with your bike not working and all. Be proud of your accomplishment!

    1. I'm just grateful that I get to race in such scenery, it's a feast for the eyes! Thanks!