The Bureau of Land Management hosted a free half marathon and 5K-race event on the trails in Red Rock Canyon in the Red Rock National Conservation Area this morning. Desert Sky Adventures did the race management and the volunteers were members of the local firefighting community who were raising money for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. The event was limited to 300 runners and the spots filled up in less than 48 hours. I got a spot for the half marathon and my wife ran the 5K. Red Rock is gorgeous and I spent a decent amount of time training on the roads out there in the Nov-Mar time-frame.
Packet pickup went smoothly yesterday and was held behind the toll booths at the entrance to Red Rock. We received nice tech shirts and a few firefighters were there with one of the probies doing one push-up for every dollar donated. I have a hunch he did a lot of push-ups during the three hours that the pick-up was open.
This morning, we got up at 5 AM and left the house about 30 minutes later. We got to the entrance of Red Rock a few minutes before 6 AM and found a parking spot near the visitor center. While we waited for the time to tick down, we snapped some photos and talked to a friend from the Las Vegas Triathlon Club.
A few minutes before 7AM, Molly from Desert Sky Adventures gave the half runners some quick directions and then a firefighter led us in the National Anthem. After that, it was race time. Molly directed us to the start line, gave us a quick countdown and we were off.
The race started in the overflow parking area below the visitor center. We had a very short bit of pavement, maybe 50 meters, and then we started up the Grand Circle Loop. "Up" described the beginning of the run. As soon as we hit the trail, we began to climb. The trail ascended up mix of dry creek bed and singletrack. The surface was a lot of fine pebbles and sand on the climb and the creek bed had a lot of loose rocks. At the 1.7 mile mark, I had to stop and dig some rocks out of my shoe that had been digging into my ankle since the .4 mile mark and I gained a new appreciation for the gaiters that I see some trail runners wearing. After that brief pause, I continued up the hill.
The first aid station was at the 3.6 mile mark where the trail crossed Scenic Loop Drive. It was manned by two firefighters and was well stocked with Gatorade. After a quick drink, I continued up the hill.
At the four mile mark, the trail did a hard turn to the right as the White Rock Loop Trail joined the Grand Circle Loop and the climb decreased in steepness for the next .6 of a mile before starting a half mile of downhill. After that brief reprieve, the trail began uphill for the next .8 miles and I continued up the hill.
Just before Mile 6, the trail crested and there was another aid station. As before, it was manned by two firefighters and as an added plus, had ice in the Gatorade. The sun was getting high in the sky and the temp were creeping into the 80s so the ice was welcome.
After getting a quick drink, I started down the trail for the easiest half mile of the trail. It was a downhill section on the White Rock Mountain Road. At the bottom of it, I crossed back over the Scenic Loop Drive on the Grand Circle Loop and began a series of rollers that took me to the next aid station at the 8.5 mile mark with another crossing of the Scenic Loop Dr at approximately 7.5 miles. This stretch of rollers was primarily on rocky single track until I reach the sandstone slick rock at Mile 8 and dropped down into some more pebbly dry creek bed that took me to the aid station which was located int the Calico Tanks parking area. After a quick drink, I crossed the parking lot and rejoined the trail.
The next two miles were a mix of single track and limestone slick rock with a lot of small up/down elevation change as the course worked its way through limestone boulders. After slipping early on this section on the slick rock, I realized that this primarily downhill section was not going to be the quick part of the trail that I thought it was going to be. At 10.5 miles, I climbed out of the slick rock canyon and grabbed my final cup of Gatorade at the aid station located at the Calico I parking area. I pressed on down the hill.
At this point, the rest of the trail became single track with a lot of loose rocks. Just before Mile 11, I crossed over the Scenic Loop Drive for the final time and soon after that, joined the Moenkopi Loop and stayed on that until I rejoined the Grand Circle Loop. About a half mile back down the creek bed and I was at the finish at 2:36 which put me at 26th out of 107 finishers. Given that early on I realized that this race was about finishing and staying injury free, I have zero complaints with this time and was shocked to see that I was that far up in the pack. My knees, especially my left one, were aching from the twists of going over the rocks and my quads and calves were screaming from all of the elevation change.
The takeaways from this race were that I learned a good challenging route that I can use for training once it starts cooling back down and if I ever get serious about trail running/racing, I will need to invest in trail shoes because my road Hokas just did not get enough traction on the sandy/pebbly or slick rock sections.