Defending my USATF Trail Marathon Title
By Adam Peterman
|Photo courtesy of ATRA
As I lay in the back of my Subaru Outback getting pelted by a mixture of sand and rain at 3am, I couldn’t help but think to myself: “I wish I was a little shorter so I could close the hatchback of my car” and “Am I really racing a marathon in 5 hours?”
Erin and I had travelled to Moab, Utah to race the Moab Trail Marathon, which doubles as the USATF Trail Marathon National Championships. I won the race last year, but because of so many race cancellations due to the COVID pandemic and a case of overtraining this summer, I hadn’t really run many races since.
A week before the race, Jesse Carnes, my dad, and I partook in a brutal workout–the Sentinel/4 mile. In this Missoula-specific workout, you run up Mount Sentinel via the ridge trail as fast as you can, jog down to the base, and then run a flat 4 mile as fast as you can. You can read more about that in Jesse’s excellent write up. The workout went well given the icy conditions: 19 minutes up Sentinel, 20:11 for the flat 4 mile. After that workout I felt pretty confident going into the Trail Champs, but I try to not put too much stock into workouts and how things feel until the gun goes off.
Flash forward to the evening before the race. Erin and I were enjoying a nice evening at our campground near the race start. The wind was beginning to get gusty, but I didn’t think much of it. Right before we planned on going to our tent to sleep, the wind really picked up and blasting sand down the canyon. This didn’t seem like an issue until I observed sand flying beneath the rain fly of our tent, through the screen, and into the tent. Time for plan B.
|Photo courtesy of Adam Peterman
We pointed my Subaru nose to the wind, opened up the hatchback door so my feet could hang out the back, and crawled into our bags. This worked for most of the night, until the wind grew so strong that it seemed to be traveling around the car and shooting sand back up through the open hatchback. The night passed in a blur of tossing and turning; get up to shut the door, get up to crack a window, getting up to open the door again…you get the picture. We finally woke up around 5:30, disgruntled with our restless night, but urged onward by the scent of coffee and the onset of some pre race nerves.
Although the night before the race wasn’t ideal, I feel like it doesn’t really matter how you sleep the day before the race as long as you’ve slept well the rest of the week. Erin and I both laughed off last night’s sandstorm and focused on the task ahead.
There were about 20 men in the elite heat all wearing masks and social distancing at the start line. The starting line feels different during the COVID times: less jostling, less joking around, more awkward, but I think everyone just felt so grateful to be at a race again.
The gun went off and I found myself at the front with former University of Colorado runner, Andy Wacker. Andy is notorious for taking races out hot from the gun, but I was happy to be running with an old friend from Boulder.
The first 4 miles, the route follows a rocky jeep trail that climbs gradually up Pritchett Canyon. Andy and I were moving along at a pretty fast clip, and within a couple miles I was thinking “there is no way I can hold this effort for 3 hours”. I started to drop back a little, but Andy would yell words of encouragement at me. “Let’s work together and gap the field!” I loved the positivity so I would run back up to him and push the pace before dropping back again.
This went on for a few miles, until at mile 8 I just knew I was running over my head. I dropped back and ran at a pace that felt sustainable to me given the hills and technical running ahead. I chilled out on the first big descent and immediately got passed by David Sinclair, winner of the 2018 Rut 28k.
Once I was in 3rd, doubts started to creep into my head. I chose to ignore the negativity and focus on what I could control. I started taking a gel every 20 minutes and continued to keep my effort consistent.
I moved back into 2nd place on a flat road section, continued to keep my effort controlled but hard, and finally caught back up to Andy at the top of Hurrah Pass, a 1.5 mile, 1000 foot climb onto the slickrock plateau overlooking the Colorado River.
We ran together for another few miles before I offered to take a pull into the wind. I felt pretty good after taking in a bunch of calories and was excited to finally lead for a bit. To my surprise, once I started leading, my lead grew. Now I was fired up to be feeling good this late in the race, so I picked up the pace and made sure to keep eating and drinking.
The course has a long descent from mile 20 – 23, where you pass by the finish line and complete a 5k “adventure run” section that takes you up a ladder, a steep slickrock part that requires a rope, and a small cave. During last year’s trail marathon I blew up terribly during the last 10 minutes of the race and could hardly stand up after finishing.
|Photo courtesy of Peter Maksimow
This year, I made sure that didn’t happen. Because I’d taken so much GU and water, I came through mile 23 feeling pretty good and was able to cruise through the final 5k without bonking and was even able to really enjoy the final mile.
The pandemic has had devastating effects on so many people and their families, so it feels wrong to complain about how COVID has affected my life through cancelled races that I cared about. But I will say this: 2020 was the first year since college where I went all in on running again. I work for RE Events, I coach cross country at Hellgate High School, and I train for races. When COVID wiped 2020 races off the calendar, I felt like I’d made a mistake in caring so much about something that didn’t exist anymore and something so selfish. Running this race, seeing old college teammates, and crossing the finish line was a wonderful feeling after a year of uncertainty. Let’s hope that 2021 holds a little more normalcy!