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Desert RATS, (Race Across the Sand) 6 Day Stage Race

I was looking for another adventure, we had done a 4 day stage race in Minnesota, and a 6 day race in the High Desert of Colorado and Utah seemed like it would fit the bill.  If I could organize a group of 5 or more we would get a group discount of 30%.  I managed to find another 6 people from Southern Ontario so the race was on.

This is a very tough race, 148 miles on the Kokopelli Trail from Grand Junction Colorado to Moab Utah.  With daytime temperatures around 99F and steep rocky climbs of up to 8,500’ in one day, this was no ordinary Ultra.

Stage 1    20 miles

Stage 2    39 miles

Stage 3      9 miles

Stage 4     52 miles

Stage 5     26 miles

Stage 1 – 20 miles, gain +2529’, decent -2402’, A taste of things to come:

We were bussed to the start outside Grand Junction Colorado to the Kokopelli Trail head.  After group pictures the race started at 1:00.  It was very hot mid 90’s I would guess, but I felt good and started near the back cautiously running an easy pace.  We are required to carry large amounts of water, I had a 3L Camelbak.  The first few miles skirt around the rim of a canyon overlooking the Colorado river.  I stopped to take several pictures.  The first Aid Station was 7 miles in.  Upon reaching we are required to show one of the mandatory gear items and give a “Board Score” of our well being.  This is a number from 6 to 20, with 6 feeling great, like lying on the couch, and 20 being I can go no further, I am done.  I feel like a 7, so that is my number I give.   Soon after 5 of us take an incorrect turn at a trail intersection, misinterpreting the signs.  We go about a mile out and a mile back off course.  Later again same thing, this time going a total of 3 miles off course.  After rejoining the correct trail I catch up to my buddy John who has taken up a seat in one of the few shady spots under a rock overhang.  He looks beat, but says he is okay, just resting.  I start a climb of 800’ or so and hope John will make it.  At the top of the hill is Aid Station 2.  Feeling a little beat my Board Score I give is 13.  Running and walking now, but feeling the heat.  Soon I am down to a walk.  Walking up a hill, suddenly in two steps I get dizzy, heart rate goes up, breathing becomes shallow and either I lay down or am afraid I will pass out.  I manage to get my feet elevated on a rock near the side of the gravel road but I am in full sun.  Another runner in front of me, Maya has similar conditions and is also lying on the road.  She asks me to join her under the shade, but I cannot make it any further.  I rest for maybe 15 minutes, some people pass and offer assistance, but I say I’m okay and just need to rest.  I finally feel well enough to get up and start walking.  I now am feeling nauseous and continue to walk.  About four miles to the finish.  I have run over 100 Ultras and have never felt this bad, especially in only 16 miles.  I am obviously dehydrated and have been bit by the Desert Rat.  John catches up to me and we walk in together.  It is now 8pm and it has taken us 7 hours to go 20 miles.  I try to eat and hydrate when I get back, but still don’t feel great.  I set up my tent and get ready for the 7:00 am run tomorrow.  I am worried as it is 39 miles and I barely made 20.

Stage 2 – 39 miles, + 1584’, -2195’, Bit by the RAT again

Breakfast at 5:30, race starts at 6:30am.  Feeling great, just going to take it easy.  First 14 miles go very well and I stop to take some pictures.  After a steep climb of 400m or so, we reach the top of the Mesa.  We run along this plateau for a while then descend to the first aid station at 17 miles.  It is now 12:00 and very hot.  I fill up the Camelbak and bottle so I now have 3.5 L of fluid.  We have a 5 mile section of road to the next water stop.  We I make it there I am very hot and tired.  I have just walked the last 5 miles as it is so warm I am just trying to manage.  The next aid station is 6 miles away.  After a couple of hours I start to lie down on the trail to rest.  There is no escaping the sun.  Every hill I go over I hope to see the aid station but no luck.  I finally can’t go any further, nauseous, and no energy, I lie down again unable to go any further.  A jeep comes up over the hill behind me.  I quickly scurry over to the side.  It is Jeremy, one of the medical team doctors with other runners inside whom have dropped.  I too will join the bus back to base camp.  I start to throw up for the next 4 hours and end up in the Medical Tent.  I do eventually feel better and head to bed.

Stage 3 – 9 miles, +609, -630, Time to hydrate

The doctors were great, but today I will skip the 9 miles and just try and hydrate.  I am still feeling nauseous and the medication for this has helped slightly.  I get transported to the finish line with Kyla the runner liaison and we watch the runners come in.  I am trying to drink, but it is hard to get the fluids in.  By the end of the day the doctors are not too happy with my lack of peeing and they decide to give me an IV in the the back of the jeep.  I take in 3 bags and after I feel great.  Tomorrow is the 52 mile day and I decide again to pass and I haven’t been able to eat much the last 3 days and I am still dehydrated.

Stage 4 – 52 miles, +8544’, -6128’, no run for me

With just 12 hours since my IV, I thought it best to skip today super hard stage.  Runners will have 20 hours to complete this stage but it is a steady uphill climb with over 8,500’ of vertical ascent to a height just over 8,600’ at the 46 mile mark.  Glen Delman the race photographer has asked me if I would like to join him for the day.  He will be taking pictures all over the course.  We hike in about 2 miles to get some great shots of the runners with the rocks in the background.  Glenn has a huge outdoor resume which includes being on the Rocky Mountain Rescue Team, working in Yosemite National park, Ultra runner, Ironman, etc.  We make a brief stop at Aid Station 1 before heading up to Onion River Aid Station 2.  We spend about the next 6 hours here, Glenn hikes back in for more pictures and I decide to help out the runners as they come into the Aid Station. The first runners in report that the lead runners went off course and they are now overdue.  We get out the map and look to see which trail they may have taken.  Best guess is a 6 mile dead end lookout trail.  If they go to the end they will be 12 miles off course and will run out of water.  Sure enough they come in a little later and they went the whole 12 miles off course.  They fill up, eat, and off they go again.  Later we hear of a runner with a bad ankle, walking and out of water.  Dr. Rob, loads up with extra water, first aid supplies and heads off in his 4 wheel drive Jeep to extract the runner out.  4 wheel drives take a beating out here with the very rough terrain.  Rob’s jeep has had transmission trouble, Jeremy has already had several flat tires.

Later Glen and I head to Aid Station 3, 46 mile mark at the top of the course, 8,600’.  We drive a very rough road which I am amazed to see his Subaru survive.  We pass many of the runners checking on them as we go by.  We reach my friend Dave who is near the top, but struggling and moving very slow.  We offer him a seat in the car, give him some cold pop, but he insists on carrying on.  We and the doctors will watch him carefully over the next few hours until the finish.

Rest Day – swimming the Colorado River!

Friday is a well deserved rest day for the runners.  A sleep in, small breakfast then a big brunch at 12:00, then is off the the beach on the Colorado River via the Coyote Shuttle.  We had a great swim in the river, had fun in the currents and relaxed in the shade.  What a treat this was.

Stage 5 – 26 miles, +2841’, -4832’, 6 miles up, 20 down!

I decided to give this day a shot.  We had a 6 mile uphill and 8 mile downhill then a 2.5 mile out and back uphill,  then 7 miles downhill to the finish.  I walked the first six miles as I wanted to be cautious and we were at 8000’.  Even running the gradual down hills at that elevation feels like an effort.  It was a great day, much cooler at this elevation and we had a cooler north wind.  After 14 miles I reached the second Aid Station.  This is where we had to do a 2.5 mile out and back on a rugged trail.  To prove we went all the way we had to carry a small rock back with a number on it.  About the size of candy Easter egg.  As a joke Glenn had a large red sandstone about 10”x10”x2” marked Canuck, with a maple leaf on it.  This was very funny!  To carry on the joke I decided to carry that rock back the 2.5 miles.  It wasn’t heavy, just a little awkward.  We all had a big laugh at the Aid Station when I brought it back.  I then cruised down the mountain the last 7 miles to the finish, 6:21.

Recap

Great Event.  Even though I struggled, Reid and Gemini Adventures put on a first class event.  Great meals, great team of medical aid and the good times around camp and during the run are priceless.  I still am considering going back next year to finish this race.  My struggles where related to dehydration.  Even though I drank over 4 litres one day it still wasn’t enough.  You have to always be sipping your fluids.

Jim Morrison, Team RunningFree

Race Info: http://geminiadventures.com/new/?page_id=130

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