After a subpar race a month earlier on Antelope Island I needed to race again and soon to get the bad taste out of my mouth. The Red Mountain 50k in Ivins Utah, near St. George, seemed to fit the bill. I checked out the race profile and realized it would be hard not to PR my 50k time. Basically the entire course is downhill. I wasn't too thrilled about the 19 miles on the road, but it would be a good opportunity to get some leg turnover in and run a fast time. So I signed up the night before registration closed.
The morning of the race came quickly, I woke up feeling refreshed, relaxed and ready to go. I slept unusually good for a pre-race sleep. My brother in law Ryan, lives in St. George and he agreed to drive me to the start line and save me a few minutes of sleep and not having to take the bus to the starting line. He also was going to meet me at mile 12 where the trail met the road and help me out with anything I needed.
The start line was the same as the St. George Marathon , a big dirt shoulder with a few port potties. It was pretty windy and cold up there (nothing surprising there). It was also quite dark still. I decided to wear my headlamp realizing I would be able to see in about 30 minutes after the race started but didn't want risk running without one. I would just drop it off to my brother in law at mile 12. Running on trails without a light can be rough and I didn't want that slowing me down
The time came to get to the start line. The race director then was going to have us sing the national anthem, but the sound system didn't work, so we all just pledged allegiance to the flag instead. That was a first for me for any race. Kind of cool actually.
Before I knew it, we were off. I settled into a 7:00 mile pace right off the bat. Not too fast, not too slow. I was just giving myself a chance to warm up a bit, feel out the competition and see where my body was at. I can usually tell how my race is going to go a half mile into it, unlike Antelope Island a month earlier, I felt great and got excited.
By mile 4 I was all by my lonesome out in front . My watched beeped at me and I looked down and saw 6:19. No wonder. I better check myself, so I backed off a bit and just concentrated on my nutrition and the course markers and enjoyed the run. Miles just started to click by one after another with little effort and went by without any incidents until mile 9.
After a quick pit stop at the aid station, I was off once again. I ran around the corner and saw the course markers pointing west and continued down the road. Shortly after that, there was a good sized creek I had to run through followed by a pretty big hill... I thought to myself, " I don't remember this being on the course profile." But I just saw markers pointing this way so I just shrugged and continued up the hill.
Once I got to the top of the hill, that awful feeling of "you are going the wrong way" started to creep in. For some reason I just kept going thinking I would see markers around the next corner, then the next. But there was nothing. Now I was starting to get worried after that last mile and not seeing anything and almost started to panic.
By the time I came to a major intersection with no markers about 2 miles down the road I had to make a decision. I was definitely going the wrong way. I had to either go back and run an extra 4 miles for the course or continue on and hope the road would drop back down on the course.
I started to picture the Google map I was looking at the night before in my mind and I remembered seeing a road on top of a ridge line on the west side of the river that dropped down to the course. I was 75% sure this was it. Any sane person would have just gone back, but for some reason my instincts were telling me it would be fine. So I turned up the road and continued running the wrong way.
My mind was racing now. I don't think I have ever ran a race the wrong way on purpose before. Was I committing race suicide? I basically just threw the race out by doing this. I was able to look down over the ridge line and see the Santa Clara River, that deep stream I crossed 2 miles back. If this road just kept on going, I would just jump off the side of the road and bush whack my way back down to where the course really should be.
The road continued on for another mile or so and then started to drop and head towards where the I was hoping it would. My adrenaline was pumping. I looked down at my watch as it beeped at me, 6:04. I didn't care at this point. It was mile 12 and I was supposed to be on the road by now. All I could think about was how many people would be ahead of me when I found my way back. I continued to run down the road pretty hard and all of sudden it turned north and then east.. there was the aid station and the road. What a sight for sore eyes. My watched beeped for mile 13. I only ran 1 extra mile. My instincts were right.
I met my brother in law as I got onto the main paved road and asked if anyone was else had come by yet and no one had. Something wasn't right. Did everyone take the same wrong turn? What was going on? We were supposed to come down a road north of the aid station, I came down a road west of the aid station. I clearly remember the arrows pointing to the river to cross, I couldn't think of anywhere else I could have gone wrong. More on this later.
My watch had a total time of 1:31 for 13 miles, my pace was still on where I wanted it to be. (even with the extra mile) I took a deep breath and took off down the road feeling anxious about what could be going on behind me. Talk about a roller coaster of emotions during a race.
About 10 minutes later, my brother in law came driving up behind me. He told me a couple runners came down the same road about 7 minutes after I did. That helped me relax a bit. I then turned my attention back to the race at hand.
Instead of adjusting my race plan for the extra mile, I just let go and was still going to race for the 31 and not care what happened after that. I started to fly down the canyon road. I knew I would pay for it later on, but at this point it didn't matter. I would deal with that when I got to it. Feeling pretty crisp, I covered the next 13.1 miles in 1:20 and I just ran a 2:51 marathon. I still had 6 miles to go. It was getting hard to ignore that extra mile.
I survived one more mile and the wheels started to fall off. Not terribly, but I had to slow down, my legs were just trashed from all the downhill running that I was not used too at the pace I was moving. The last 5k could have just been another 10 miles. It was a bear. As I got closer to 31 miles, I knew it was going to get my goal of a sub 3:30. I unofficially passed 31 miles in 3:27:58. I will take it. But I still had another mile or so to go. I finally crossed the finish line in an official time of 3:36:19 after 32.2 or so miles.
After talking with race director and another 50ker who was familiar with the course, they said someone had sabotaged the course the night before and re-marked it to go the wrong direction (to cross the river and up the hill). That is unbelievable. Everyone made it back ok as far as I know, most people ended up running an extra mile (if they ran the same route I did) or 2-4 extra miles if they turned back. This could have gotten real ugly and someone could have gotten into some serious trouble going the wrong way. Thank goodness no one got hurt.
All in all it was a good race experience and kind of crazy at times haha. If you want to PR your 50k, this is one to do for sure. Highly recommend it.