Today we bring you Mindy Gail Hyatt, who finished the Moab 240 Trail Race this past October. For those unfamiliar with the race, it is 240 miles and over 31,000 feet of climbing in Moab, Utah. This is an amazing accomplishment! Here is her race report:
What an adventure...another mix of awesome and awful. I still feel like words and photos can never fully give the experience justice.
We arrived in Moab a couple days before race start and already felt the energy of Destination Trail races. Our campground site was just a couple rows over from race headquarters which is quite impressive. Packet pick up the day before and then again at the start line was also part reunion meeting up again with others we had met last year at Bigfoot and when pacing Moab as well as other friends we had met at other ultras.
I wish I could say I toed the start line with confidence. The start line for me was a mix of nerves and excitement and some "what the hell was I thinking" thoughts. It's a feeling I now know too well and also know it has led to various outcomes. It was a little reassuring having paced sections of the course and having some familiarity with those as well as the crew accessible aid stations, but I still had a lot of unknowns. One being the newly added 13 mile section that now made it a true 240 mile distance. Another change for this year was moving the start time from 0600 to 1200. This was to help with avoiding some of the expected extreme daytime heat of day one. I was happy for the later start in terms of not having the awkwardness of gathering at the start line in the dark with headlamps beaming in different directions. Once I was awake and ready, the time waiting around before heading to the start line just added to the nerves though.
My goal time was to finish under 106 hours. I didn't register for the race because it was a Western States qualifier, but since there was an option of using it as one, it gave me a good goal time to have. At whatever point that the 106 hours finish didn't seem feasible, I planned to switch the goal time to the goal of finishing by the 116 hour cutoff. Having paced the last section last year, I knew I didn't want to repeat that sketchy edge of the rim section in the dark again if I could avoid it. The six hour later start time didn't seem timing would be in my favor for avoiding the finish in the dark though.
I have to start off with the shout out to Rob, my once again awesome one man crew and for all he did to make this an amazing finish for me (bonus, he's really cute too!). He also did a great job of capturing the event and keeping everyone updated with Facebook posts and texts. I am super thankful for the comments and texts of cheers and encouragement from friends. Rob took screenshots and read them to me at the aid stations and it really, really meant a lot to hear them and to know friends were following along with the tracker.
Rob was able to be at seven of the fifteen aid stations (which he put in over 600 miles of driving to do so). Many of the runners had a team of crew as well as pacers, so Rob taking on the crew job alone was a significant amount of work for him. He not only took care of me, but often went out of his way to help other runners while he was there as well. Some runners came without any crew or pacers (here's looking at you Tommy- he came over from Denmark and was solo for the event). Runners with crew had the advantage of using a warm crew vehicle for sleeping. Runners without crew had four of the aid stations with a sleep station option (not always ideal) and/or had to rely on trail dirt naps (Tommy seemed to master making trail naps look like they were the most peaceful sleep ever - though he may argue that point).
The race date happened to also fall on eclipse weekend (the swag bag even included a pair of viewing eclipse glasses) and Moab was one of the prime viewing areas. Starting mid day on a very busy tourist weekend meant the first miles running through town to go into the valley area had high daytime temps and more crowds than an early morning start time would have had. Once through the main area, we would randomly come upon people camping in designated camping areas or random dry camping spots. At one point on day one I came up to a group of people camping and as I got closer they began cheering. Then music began playing and they all began singing loudly "I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more....".
I don't run with music, but will often get a song in my head that I then can't get rid of. So off and on for the remainder of the race, this was one of the songs that played in my head over and over. The second song was a repeat song from Bigfoot. I met Melody early on at Bigfoot and then got the Avett Brother's Morning song lyrics stuck in my head. Melody was back for Moab and "because even though I know there's hope in every morning song, I have to find that melody alone...have to find that melody alone...have to find...the melody...alone..." once again played over and over in my head for this race- especially when on the trails alone and at night.
Other mantras that I would repeat to myself often were "Just keep going, no feeling is final", "Be strong, be fierce", and another nighttime favorite "The day will come. The sun will rise. And I'll be fine (thanks again Avett Brothers)". If it wasn't songs or a mantra going through my head, it was often numbers. I'd count often on the climbs. Literally counting my steps. I'd pick a number to get to before I'd take a rest just to keep myself moving- sometimes as low as ten. Other times it was just comfortable silence listening to nature and really not thinking about anything but getting to the next aid station. I had many miles alone, but did spend more miles this race tagging up with another runner and or leapfrogging. Sometimes fun distracting conversations, other times all just trudging along in silence just content in knowing someone else is nearby and that we are on the right course.
My first poor choice of the race came at Amasa Back aid station at mile 17. This was the first aid station with crew and Rob was there will all the crew things and I was feeling really great. Tailwind is the sponsored liquid nutrition provided at every aid station. Unfortunately, I haven't had great luck with it. Rob refilled my flasks with my go to Ucan energy. I had packed a bag for every aid station that allowed one and he had mine ready for me. Every drop bag had an Ensure, Ucan bars and/or gels and random snacks to refill my pack. I ate some aid station food there- a quesadilla, drank my ensure and wanted to quickly get back out on the course while I was feeling great and the sun was still up. I knew I wouldn't be seeing him again until Indian Creek aid station at mile 68, but failed to realize I also wouldn't have any drop bags before then. I added only couple snacks to my pack and didn't grab any Ucan. Mile 29 was Base Camp aid station and it was located at real house in the woods (real bathroom and sink to use) (Sidenote: there was also an entire wall in the hall with top to bottom shelves filled with National Geographic magazines, which I thought was really cool).It was night time now and the temps had dropped, but was warm enough to get by with a puffy coat on top and still wearing only shorts. Melody and Anne came into the aid station not long after me and asked if I wanted to leave with them. I don't mind being alone at night on the trail, but it is much more fun being with people so I gladly accepted the offer. I ate a grilled cheese here and probably something else, but failed to grab much to go. Sometime along the way as we were making progress toward I think Oasis aid station (which would be mile 54) or maybe the next (it all runs together now) I mentioned to Melody how I couldn't wait to get to the aid station and drink an Ensure. This is where she kindly reminded me that we didn't have drop bags at the next two aid stations. Not only did we have 50 miles between having crew, we also had 50 miles between drop bag access. Somehow I had missed this. I was quickly realizing I had not been taking in as many calories as I should have been and it was catching up with me. I finished off everything I had in my pack. Melody helped me out by giving me a pack of cookies and I felt well enough to not have to dig into my required 500 calories emergency stash. I made sure I ate well at the next aid station and stock up the vest with snacks. Some time along this stretch, Anne was keeping up a really great pace and she wanted to continue pushing so she took off ahead of us (and ended up as 2nd place female! Go Anne!).
I came into Indian Creek aid station (mile 68) more than ready for some sleep. I had been up over 24 hours at this point. Unfortunately the sun was up, the aid station was active with many people, and the energy and excitement for the eclipse was pretty strong. I did not quite share the energy and excitement. I did my basic 'getting into the aid station routine': take off my pack to refill, drink an Ensure, eat some food, take care of my feet...and then I just wanted to sleep. I took a couple different views through the eclipse glasses during all the routine things. It was early stages but I checked the box of seeing some of the eclipse and settled in for what was a planned hour and half rest. I didn't go well. I couldn't turn off my brain and couldn't get comfortable, and the sun shining didn't help. I maybe ended up with about 45 minutes of sleep, but it was enough for me to get out and get myself moving again.
I moved pretty well throughout day 2 and kept up well with nutrition. About five miles or so before Bridger Jack aid station (mile 97) the sun went down and the temps were really starting to drop. I had my puffy coat on and was determined to just keep moving to stay warm instead of stopping on the trail to pull out another base layer shirt and my pants. It was a fine plan while I was moving, but as soon as I came into the aid station and stopped moving, I started shaking and could not stop. I was handed broth and was shaking so much it was spilling out. I was trying to get a spot by the fire and a blanket and was basically unable to put a sentence together. Once I sat down, I realized I needed to get up for some food as well. I then made the rookie mistake of hanging my twelve pound run vest on the back of the chair. The beef broth was in the cup holder. I proceeded to stand up and the chair immediately fell backwards and the beef broth covered both the chair and my tracker and vest. I sat by the fire again trying to get warm and contemplating my life choices. This was really the lowest part of the race for me. I couldn't get myself warm and knew there was still a lot of night left and the temps would be dropping even more. Melody came into the aid station soon after and she was feeling pretty rough herself. She said she planned to sleep some there and I told her I would wait and leave with her. I had those random thoughts of dropping at this point and knew if she went back out, I would follow (also, it was a no drop aid station, so there was really no easy way to leave in a vehicle...so that helped). I added my layers and wrapped up again by the fire, covered my head was able to get about 30 minutes of sleep. I left the aid station with Melody and her pacer and it actually felt really good to be moving again.
We made it into Shay Mountain aid station (mile 114) together and were very happy to have our crew vehicles to sleep in. Rob had folded up the back seat of the truck and make a padded pallet on the floor which worked much better than trying to sleep on the bench seat. It was daytime and sunny again, so not the ideal for sleeping but I managed to get in an hour and half of pretty decent rest time.
I had paced Chris the previous year from Shay Mountain to Road 46 (mile 170) so I was familiar with those sections already. The new added section was the first section leaving Shay Mountain to Monticello Lake. This was my favorite section of the race. I was alone most all of those 13 miles and the views were absolutely beautiful. All the views of Moab are incredible, but the open meadows, snow, and bright yellow aspen trees of this sections just seemed even more special at this time. I'm thankful I was able to complete this section in the daylight.
I came into Dry Valley aid station (mile 144) on the 3rd night and had some really amazing views of the stars on the way. This was another crew access aid station and I was finally able to get a solid two hours of sleep in the dark. I left feeling really strong and ready to get through the night. I leapfrogged often with a fun group of guys (three amigos + a pacer) that were planning to stay together the entire race. I'd hang with them at times, then we'd separate and eventually meet back up. We made it into Needles aid station (mile 158) just after the sun had come up. The aid stations had all been fantastic, and this one was as well. It just had the added touch of bistro tables complete with table cloths and I think some fancy food options (crepes I think?) that I probably should have taken advantage of. Though I'm pretty sure I stuck with my standard breakfast burrito and crushed it. Just before heading out of the aid station, I took a shot of fireball with the three amigos. I felt that about a mile down the road and was pretty ok with it.
Road 46 aid station (mile 170) was another crew access aid station and Rob was once again the rock star crew. And they had Pierogies!! I had a quick ten minute chair nap and was also super happy to see Tommy again at that aid station. He gave me a roll of peppermint RUZZ (Denmark mentos!) and I didn't realize at the time how much I would appreciate that treat later on the trails.
I'm not sure at what point I met up again with Melody, but it was before or at Pole Canyon aid station (mile 185). Rob paced Chris from this section up to Geyser Pass last year and I have heard the stories multiple times over the past year... very difficult climbs, not a well marked or easy to follow course, and just basically the worst. Melody can climb like a mountain goat and I can not. Despite me reminding her I was going to be slow on the climbs, she wanted to tag up to do this section together. I am grateful. It was awful and soul crushing and I'm sure she had some time of regret. She had the course map on her watch and I did not. If she was off course, the watch would alert her (most of the time). I had the course only on my phone Gaia app (which works even on airplane mode)- but when it's cold and you have hiking poles, plus gloves and you're in the middle of a trail climb, stopping to take off the gloves to pull up the map on your phone to check your location is just not ideal. Especially on that section, so I was super grateful to get through it with her help. It was a very long stretch and we took a couple dirt trail naps. Again, it was great to have her with me, as it's probably not the greatest idea to sleep on a trail alone when you smell like beef broth. We slowly trudged through this section. I probably counted my steps more on this section than any other. I came into the Geyser Pass aid station (mile 200) so elated that I had to remind myself that this wasn't the finish line and I still had 40 miles to go. Rob was there for the final crew access aid station and we knew I had time to get another good sleep and still not have to chase the cut off time. I shoved eggs and hash browns in my mouth while the medic took care of a couple feet issues. My feet were holding up way better than I expected. I did my usual routine of pre-taping the hot spots and slathering Boudreaux butt paste all over before putting on wool Injinji toe socks at the start of the race. I wore the same pair of Topo trail shoes the entire race. I took off my shoes and checked my feet at almost every aid station and cleaned them well with wipes. I added tape as needed to hot spots, reapplied the butt paste, and changed socks if needed. The only issue that came up was one toenail on each foot that had a blister underneath. Only one of these was painful enough to have the medic drain and take care of and she did a fantastic job.
I crashed hard for a good 2 hours in the back of the truck after this and finally was able to get in a good sleep during the night (hello darkness my old friend). Rob appreciated that I slept well, but did a great job of waking waking me up and pushing me to get back out on the course quickly after that.
Melody and I once again left the aid station together, both well rested and ready to get it done. We had some good flat and downhill sections and were able to get in some slow running at times. The sun was coming on strong though and I was not running the sections as long as she was able to. Not wanting to hold her back as I did on the climbs to Geyser Pass, I encouraged her to go on ahead while she was feeling strong. I kept up a steady pace and came into the final aid station, Porcupine Rim (mile 221.5) just before sunset. Melody was still at that aid station and had waited to go out together for our final night. I chugged my final Ensure, ate some food (more Pierogies!) and put in my request for a 10 min chair nap first.
Porcupine Rim to the finish line is a mostly downhill section with more technical and rocky terrain and is very much mostly on the rim (think slickrock and drop off edges) and not easily navigated or incredibly safe at night. The views are all incredible. Or, so I hear. I saw some of those incredible views at the very beginning of the section when pacing Chris last year which included an amazing sunset. But, Melody and I started just after the sun went down and missed those views.
Melody had been struggling with shin pain most of the race. She started slowing down more and wanting to stop for a quick rest more often. I would get a bit ahead and then wait. I finally had her get in front of me to keep at her pace knowing we had plenty of time. Then I realized she would sway off to the side and at one point she began talking about being out there on the trail to sell baseball caps. She was falling asleep walking and the sleep deprivation dreaming/hallucinations took over a bit. I switched into mom/nurse mode which made me not nearly as tired myself as I had been previously. Once I was able to convince her the 1 minute random breaks to sit wasn't going to make the shin pain go away and we needed to just pick up the pace and get her off the rim, she was able to get herself moving at a steady pace. Finally getting off the rim and onto the road back into the town met us with a significant temperature drop. We took the time to stop and put on as many layers as we could and kept up with an increasingly steady pace. Destination Trail has three 200 mile races (Tahoe 200, Bigfoot 200 and Moab 240) and competing them all in the same year is considered the "Triple Crown". Melody was one of four females to complete the Triple Crown this year. As we neared the finish line, I asked her is she wanted to go ahead of me to have a photo of just her at the finish line to go with her other two finish photos. She wouldn't have it.
Rob and her crew (with her dogs) met us both just up the hill from the finish line and ran in behind us.
It was super meaningful to cross that finish line along side Melody with our support team cheering us in.
111 hours, 34 minutes and 34 seconds.
So many beautiful views! The scenery definitely helps to make a race special and I do take the time to appreciate it. But the core of making any ultra race I've completed or been part of special is the people. The volunteers, the people I have met and spend time with on the trail, and the people back at home I trained with that played a big part in me getting to cross the finish line. The ultra running community is truly special and I think we're the luckiest people in the world.