Every year, I fly out to Moab to run a trail marathon with my father. I know, we’re adorable. You can tell from the title (and our past races) that we’ve never managed to quite take it seriously and this year was no different. Well, Year One I took it very seriously, but I lived in Chicago and was destroyed by mile 15, the notorious 1400+ft climb. That’s taller than the highest point in Illinois, and I drove like 2hrs from Chicago just to find a hill that gained like 100ft to attempt to train. So naturally, I didn’t take it seriously the next few years, because I knew I’d always be walking that section. Year Two I was actually in pretty good shape because I was working part time at REI Seattle and hiking to fill the void in my life, but we got stuck at a terrible freezing cold bottleneck for 30+ minutes and my father ended up with some bad muscle spasms. Year Three was a hilarious “how to fake like you can run 26 miles when neither of you have run more than 10 miles in the past year” that was surprisingly pleasant, and this was Year Four. As usual, the entire weekend was forecasted to be cloudy. The only cloudy weekend in Moab is the weekend I’m there. I love you too mother nature.
- Distance: 26.2 miles
but it was definitely longer
- Elevation: 3,000ft ish net
- Weather: 60’s and cloudy/sunny/dust stormy
- Commute from Seattle: ha! 18hrs if you drive. Don’t drive. 1hr by plane, 6hrs if SeaTac forgot how to de-ice planes, and then runs out of de-icing fluid shortly after they remember how to work the trucks because “this never happens” (IT HAPPENS EVERY YEAR SEATAC GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER)
- Did I Trip: I did not, but my father took a nice flying wipeout followed by a ninja-like recovery around mile 22
We started pretty similarly to the past few years. I stocked up on peanut butter, electrolytes, salty snacks and caffeinated gu for my father’s inevitable bonk (spoiler alert: he didn’t need it) while my father ran into a gas station at 7am to buy a Gatorade bottle to carry right before the race. So there we found ourselves at the starting line laughing at the lack of preparation. My parents made fun of my running pack, which was not light considering I was carrying 3 liters of water and enough protein bars and peanut butter for a small village. And a jacket I probably wouldn’t need. And gloves. And a camera. And my phone. And my 2lb wallet. Oh, and in classic Jakubowski fashion, my father had gone for a single 6.8 mile run a few weeks ago, and decided that was enough to run a marathon.
The start this year was weird. No one around us was snapping pictures, but I still made sure to get some good ones at the turns where you can see the trail of runners wrapping around the canyons. It was cloudy, but that was a good thing. Heat is brutal when you’re out there jogging for hours. We figured out that pounding salt tabs (Hammer endurolytes, like 2-4 pills every 5ish miles) was the secret to avoiding muscle cramps. My calves didn’t hurt for the first time in a race literally ever, which was awesome. The course was sandier than usual, which is a pain in the ass to run through. We repeatedly slowed down to take pictures, walked all the uphills and deep sand, trying to take it as slow as possible, but it still felt like we were going too fast. We didn’t hit as many bottlenecks as the previous years, which had always forced us to walk. And people were less chatty than prior years! It was weird. We’re supposed to be the fun wave with neon and cameras and laughs and stories, why are you all so serious?! Luckily, it turns out there was beer at every rest stop. But again, no one wanted it!! Guys! What is this?! Who are you?!? Yes I’ll have a Bud Light please. Good for hydration.
The trail travels through the bottom of a canyon at first before climbing halfway up the canyon wall and winding the edge for a few miles, and then drops down a short scramble to the road below. At the scramble section, there was a volunteer directing runners to the left, which was easy, or the right, which was “a technical crack.” I laughed and under my breath (or so I thought) muttered “like 5.7 technical or like 3rd class technical” to which she replied (shit! she heard me!) “eh, like two fourth class moves.” I cracked up and told her I hadn’t expected an actual response. Of course being a Moab dweller she was more than familiar with rock climbing. Moab is like rock climbing mecca. So I took the 4th class route, and then realized it didn’t make a difference because I still had to wait 5min for my father to get down the nontechnical route anyway (he would have been fine on the 4th class).
At the bottom of that scramble is where the half marathon heads back up a road (uphill! suckers!) to the finish, and the marathon runners continue on to the dreaded “out and back” (okay, we’re the suckers). We ran past a bunch of climbers and I couldn’t even watch, the FOMO is like physically painful. My father took a bathroom break and I refused to let him take a 150ft shortcut back to the course. We didn’t come here to run 21.15 miles. Also everyone’s watching.
Luckily right when I was about to throw a bitch fit a nice woman studying sociology and public health started chatting with us. We asked what she’d do with graduate degrees in those, and she said either social worker or something related to ecopsychology, which I had never heard of. It’s a totally cool concept that you’ve all probably thought about (basically, how the outdoors can be used for mental health) but I never knew it had a name. Apparently in several other countries doctors will literally prescribe outdoor activity. Like once a week you need to go to this state park for two hours, and sometimes that will even include a wilderness therapist. It’s even an acceptable reason to leave work. That’s amazing. And she was one of those people that was so passionate that then you start to get excited about it too, and she totally carried us through the twilight zone that was the (definitely extended) out and back.
We took a legitimate break back on the gravel road to dump sand out of our shoes. It just kept coming. My father took off his socks and dumped another cup of sand out of his socks. No wonder my shoes felt two sizes too small, sand took up more space in my shoes than my freaking feet did. Maybe I was being a princess (ok, a little) but soon enough we were back up and running. The next stretch is a pleasant, level mile through fall foliage that leads to the base of the behemoth climb at mile 15. And right then, the sun came out. To shine on us during the sweatiest part of the marathon. Mother nature, what are you doing. Can I get some shade and a tailwind?
The climb gains something like 1,300ft in a mile, and it shattered me the first year. Mostly because I tried to run it. Be patient, young grasshopper. The second year was slightly better since I was living in Seattle and hiking, and was not so prideful that I had to jog it. The third time was similar. And this year was spectacular! We actually cruised right up it, power hiking, no breaks, neither of us dying. Maybe it was a slower pace, but we felt strong, and were catching up to people left and right. It’s amazing because halfway up you remember to turn around and look behind you and suddenly the entire canyon is laid out below you with mountains in the distance and the river winding below and it’s just spectacular. We snapped our annual pic at the top of the climb (the sky looked rad) and started the long jog that we thought was all downhill to the finish ( AHAHA hahaha.. ah… “downhill”).
This is my favorite part of the race every year. You just finished the steep section, endorphins are high, you worked your ass off for that view, you’re on top of the world, you’re in the middle of nowhere, you’re cruising along flat terrain with open sky and meadows and towers in the distance, it’s the coolest part of the race.
Oh, and the best part? We were 1) barely surrounded by people and 2) the few people we did see, we were constantly passing. We were in the back of the pack for sure (“why is there no one around us?!” “Well… we’re not exactly going fast…”), but the bright side of that was consistently reeling the runners ahead of us in. I don’t think anyone in the slow running pack has been so happy and energetic. We hit the long 4×4 road that led us to the singletrack by the river, where we could see the finish line. This sections is genuinely mostly downhill. Finally.
Around mile 22, I heard a THUMP followed by a whumpft and a spray of sand and a gatorade bottle flying past my head. I turned around to see my father picking himself up and dusting himself off. “Still in one piece?” “It was a very elegant fall” he claimed. “Very nijna-like, really.” And we kept running. I didn’t witness it, but it must have been graceful if no weird muscles had been pulled or sent into cramps and spasms. After 4+ hours of running, grand wipeouts usually aren’t so pretty.
Oh, and that finish line that you can see from mile 21? Yeah, you run past it and then go on a 5k “adventure course” to top off the run. So don’t get your hopes up. You hear everyone cheering, you run past other marathoners finishing, and you head back out into the desert to wander (“like Jesus”). I was still deep in runner’s high (“can you shut her up?” my father said as we passed another dying runner). But the 5k is a neat course, you go through caves and massive drainage pipes and another two scramble sections, this time with ropes (it’s more 4th class stuff) so you don’t have to downclimb unless you’re impatient like me, because downclimbing means you can pass whoever’s on the ropes. I did utilize the alpine-butt-scoot at one point though. Taking a large step down and landing on my legs at mile 25.7 or whatever just sounded too jarring for my poor legs. We skipped the last aid station in favor of “getting this shit over with as soon as possible,” ducked through the last drainage pipe, and emerged into a dust storm that relentlessly stuffed grains of sand in my eyes until I gave up and closed them. Holy shit, nothing better than headwinds and dust in the last quarter mile. But it blocks out the fact you’re running through a parking lot. “Give me a few more minutes and then I’ll be done counting my steps and I’ll talk to you again.” Ok, dad.
We reached the finish line. “Ready to pretend like you feel great?!” I shouted. We sprinted across, or what felt like sprinting. The pics look more like slow jogging, but who cares. I grabbed my participation mug. Mugs >>> medals. We found my mother, who had been volunteering. “You’re late!” she exclaimed. “And you smell terrible, and now I have to sit in the car with both of you. Ask me how many bananas and oranges I have sliced today.” Sorry mom. You knew what you were getting into. Also can you carry dad to the car? He’s currently lying on a tarp groaning trying to kick sand out of his shoes.