Moab Trail Marathon Part II: Done and done. All’s Well!


The word “awesome” is thrown around in a casual way. You go to a restaurant and order the onion rings and the server may exclaim, “Awesome!” with genuine earnestness and enthusiasm. Now, I love onion rings but this type of thing does not actually generate anything a reasonable and honest person would call awe.

Puny humans!

Puny humans! (click for the original pic)

In contrast, my experience at the Moab Trail Marathon absolutely filled me with awe. Both the environment and the effort were like nothing else I’ve experienced. The language fails me and I can’t adequately describe my enthusiasm and wonder about the whole event.

Moab is another planet.

The Scorched Earth Wall. A colossal fiend. (Click pic to get the original.)

The Scorched Earth Wall. A fiendish foe. (Photo: Allison Pattillo |


I’ve seen pictures and they fail miserably to portray the truth of the land. I come back to the word awesome… and that word fails too. The size and scale of the rocks, cliffs, canyons, vistas and mountains was titanic. It bordered on terrifying. (This is coming from someone who lives near and ventures frequently into the Rocky Mountains.)

It is a no-joke hostile and potentially dangerous place too. We ran over, jumped down and over and slid down some very unforgiving terrain. A wrong step could have caused major problems and all sorts of injuries. (I’m not saying this to tell you how daring I am but I need to describe the terrain accurately.)

The ground was very dry for the most part but there were some muddy spots and we had to run through a few streams. The vast majority of the terrain was the classic Moab concrete-like slick rock but I was surprised at the amount of sand on the trail. I hadn’t expected that. Nor did I expect to begin the day the way it began…

The Universe has a sense of humor.

Athletes in all sports often have game/race-day rituals and we don’t like to stray from those patterns much at all. It’s rarely a good idea to experiment with things like pre-race breakfast or any part of race-day nutrition on race day. I brought my typical multi-grain hot cereal, nuts, fruit, butter and protein powder that I planned on cooking in the breakfast room. I would have that with two cups of coffee then about 1/2 hr before the race I would down three scoops of UCAN with coconut milk. Too bad the electricity went out in Moab at 4:30 AM.

So I was up extra early. (My wave started at about 8:20 AM.) There was nothing hot to eat or drink at all. I couldn’t go hungry so I downed all the cereal makings except the cereal itself. (Wasn’t sure what uncooked multi-grain cereal would do to the GI tract.) I couldn’t buy an energy drink or coffee in any stores because they were darkened and the cash registers didn’t work.

Looking down from Scorched Earth. The La Sal mountains are in the far background. The picture doesn't come close to doing the scene justice.

Looking down from Scorched Earth. The La Sal mountains are way back there with the snow. This pic doesn’t come close to portraying the drama of the place. (Photo: Allison Pattillo |, click for the original pic.)

No caffeine?! What sort of sick joke was the universe playing on us?! (Perhaps my long-departed, sadistically funny Uncle Roy had been put in charge of events on earth…)

This story doesn’t get a lot more interesting. Panic and anger wasn’t going to help. This episode was a minor hiccup. I was fed and adequately caffeinated by race time and I felt rested. A lesson has been learned: Bring an alternative breakfast and an energy drink next time.

Notable and notorious highlights

Two sections of the race stood out. Well, let’s be clear. Every inch of the whole race was dramatic in an operatic kind of way. It was all soaring and full of perfect, humbling, breathtaking solitude. (Do you get what I’m saying? There was a lot of cool stuff to look at.) My thoughts return to two sections: one beautiful and amazing, the other, nasty and maddening.

The climb up the Scorched Earth Wall was the sort of thing to challenge Godzilla. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, this bit of geography looked like the Wall if the Wall were built on a desert on Mars. This was about 1000 feet of climbing in about 1.5 miles; all of it on hostile, dry, red, broken rocks. It it started around mile 14.

This leviathan towered to my right, looming like red storm clouds. At first glance it almost brought hysterical laughter. The psychological effects were semi-devistating. I’d encountered this type of thing on long bike rides in the mountains. The idea of running/walking up this incline was a cosmic joke that would cause Sisyphus to weep! The height and distance were massively intimidating. Looking up this eminence I could see tiny moving specks which turned out to be my fellow competitors moving up and up and up. I had work to do.

I walked most of this thing but I ran what sections I could. Mentally I wanted to slow down and plod. I didn’t though. I marched as fast as I could and I passed maybe 5-10 people.

The views from Scorched Earth Wall were splendidly desolate. This was the only place where I regretted not bringing a camera. Looking back from the trail I could see the La Sal Mountains which were powerfully enchanting as their snow-capped peaks contrasted with the red, desert-like rocks of my immediate surroundings. All of this dramatic massive scenery was tremendously humbling to my minuscule human existence.

Another part of the race was far less inspiring and wonderful. It was more of a cruel and brutal joke. Whatever malevolent supernatural force had cut the power this morning had also clearly influenced the race course design.

At just past mile 21 I could see the finish. It was a ways away but I could see and hear the end of the race! I had to run a stretch of trail along the Green River and I would be right in the neighborhood of the finish. Almost done! But “almost done” in a marathon can be an eternity of anguish.

Once to the finish area I still had three miles to go in sort of an out-and-back lollipop loop. This was no victory lap. It was horrendously difficult. I still had a rope ascent and descent as well as tough running up and down very challenging terrain.

(Let me be clear: My mom may read this blog post so I won’t use my foulest language to express my experience over this final stretch. I invite you to insert all the foul words you’d like though. I recommend a liberal sprinkling of the S-word, the F-word, a couple of words that start with C, a multi-syllable word starting with M. You may know others.  Use them!)

Muscle cramps had been threatening for several miles. I felt like I could cramp to death at any moment. I truly thought at any moment I would experience a body-wide muscle seizure from my eyelids to my toenails and I’d be reduced to crawling. I was particularly fearful of cramps while doing the ropes section.

This wasn’t true mountain climbing up some vertical surface but it was using a rope to climb up and down very steep inclines. At this point in the race, this was nothing to take lightly. A cramp and/or a wrong move would likely result in some serious and ugly discomfort at best.

By some amazing miracle, I never was leveled by cramps and I have no idea why. I did manage to lose the trail right near the end so I was rewarded with about an extra 200 m of running, again proving that the universe is a perverse practical joker.

My training worked.

Winner Mario Mendoza navigates the rope ascent.

Winner Mario Mendoza navigates the rope ascent.














The modified Hansons Marathon Method plan worked very well for me. I felt strong and able for the vast majority of the race. The plan had me running lots of miles and many of those miles were run on tired legs. As difficult and tiring as the training was, it was exactly the preparation I needed.

I also believe the weight training I did was very effective in preparing me for the run. There was significant climbing in which I had to step up over and over and over…. and over. That meant my glutes, hamstrings and adductors did a lot of work.

I did step-back lunges with a barbell on my back for several weeks prior to the race. This exercise did a nice job of preparing those muscles and that movement pattern for the work to come.

Finally, a significant point of pride for me is that I overcame several injuries and aches and pains prior to this race. My ACL was rock solid and I had no knee pain. My perpetual Achilles/heel issue were no where to be found. I vanquished these foul foes to past it seems.

I will give much thanks to Denver-area chiropractor Nick Studholme and Boulder-area movement coach Mike Terborg. They were absolutely critical to my completing the race. It’s also nice to have a wife that encouraged/tolerated all my training.

Next time

I have some very definite ideas on how to better train for this race next time. As I just said, the step-up/lunge movement pattern is essential for this race. I had to move this way while in a significantly fatigued state. Unfortunately, near the end of the race I felt serious cramping sneaking in, particularly in those stretched-out, stepping-up type of situations.

(Contrary to popular belief, cramping doesn’t seem to be very closely related to either hydration or electrolyte status. Rather, as discussed here and here, cramps are more likely brought on by a very high effort and the associated intense and repeated muscle contractions of that effort.)

The SAID Principle dictates that I train along the lines of both the specific movement requirement (stepping up repeatedly at varying angles while in a fatigued state) and energy system requirement (highly exerted and fatigued.) My idea is to complete a long run and then do a high volume of step-ups (either at the gym on a plyo box or a picnic table near the trail), weighted step-back lunges, and various 3D lunges both up on to and down from various boxes. I’ll also do some jumping down in this fatigued state as the run frequently required me to jump down from rocks of various heights and land in control.

Look at that grin! Can I get an IV of beer?

Ya got a beer?


The post wouldn’t be complete without a little blatant display of my abilities. Full results are here.

  • Net time: 5:20:31 (I was hoping for an under-5-hour finish but I’m pretty pleased with this.)
  • Overall place: 171 out of 486
  • Place by gender: 141 out of 303
  • Place by age category (40-44): 17/41

I found my wife and a couple of friends right at the finish line. I plopped down and very quickly my thoughts coalesced into along the lines of, “I don’t want to train for another marathon for a while. Maybe never.” I was cooked. Spent. Demolished. Wiped out. Eviscerated. I was real damn tired too. I was looking forward to some serious eating and drinking, a soak in the hot tub and NOT running for a little while.

This was a grueling experience. The race was just the capstone of the process too. Training for this thing took a lot of time and involved frequent strenuous effort. Weekends were dedicated to long runs and resting. I spent a lot of weekdays in a semi-stupor. By the finish I was fairly certain that it would be a while until I ran another such race. Not for nothing, I’m also one of those runners who develops blisters under his toenails. Several. You do the math.

Fast forward to Tuesday, 72 hours after the race. As I reflect on this event I keep saying to myself, “I don’t know how I CAN’T run this again.”

Moab Trail Marathon Part I: Preparation & Running My A%$ Off.


I’m running the Moab Trail Marathon on Saturday. This will be my first trail marathon and my second ever marathon. I will admit to being a bit nervous. It won’t be easy… or difficult. It’ll be tough as hell. I’ve put in the work though, I’ve had several very good runs lately and I figure I’m as well prepared as I can be. I’m estimating of about 4:48 to 5:14.

I’ve been using the Hansons Marathon Method and I adapted it a little for trail running. There are two Hanson plans and I used the beginner plan as this was my 2nd marathon. The Hansons plan features a whole lotta running. Mucho time on the feet. There are three main workouts as well as easy run days. Wednesday is the only day off though I took a few other days off as needed. Here are some thoughts and observations:

The week

Here’s the day-to-day rundown of a week on the Hansons beginner plan.

Monday: Easy Run, 4-7 miles
Tuesday: Speed/Intervals (@ 5K pace, Week 6-10, 3 miles total), Strength (@ 10K pace, Week 11-17, 6 miles total)
Wednesday: Off
Thursday: Tempo/Race Pace, 5-10 miles
Friday: Easy Run, 3-6 miles
Saturday: Easy Run, 5-10 miles
Sunday: Long Run, 8-16 miles, alternating weekly with Easy Run, mostly 10 miles
Total Miles Per Week: 40s-50s, mostly in the mid 50s for second half of the program

I ran trails twice per week. For the first several weeks my trail runs were Thursdays and Sundays. My thinking in replacing the Thursday tempo run with a trail run was that the highly variable pace of trail runs made the tempo run unnecessary (or maybe less necessary). One Thursday I couldn’t make it to the trail and I did a tempo run. I enjoyed it and I thought I noticed the following week’s runs felt better. So I switched to tempo runs on Thursdays and started back-to-back trail runs on Saturday and Sunday.

I don’t believe I could have run two long trail runs in a row at the start of the program. It seemed like a very daunting proposition! Many ultra-running plans feature this pattern though so I knew it was possible. I believe back-to-back trail runs are ideal in that part of the Hanson’s plan is to create “cumulative fatigue” in preparation for the week’s long run. Since I’m running a trail marathon, it makes sense to create a lot of this fatigue on the trail. I would love to find out from a trail running coach or coaches if this seems like a prudent strategy.

Tough Tuesdays

Tuesdays were often nasty. Tuesdays were track workouts for the first several weeks of the plan. They totaled three miles of work. Track workouts were interesting psychologically speaking. They were intimidating but exciting in their very Spartan way. They weren’t “fun” but I always felt like I accomplished something significant when I completed them.

Tuesday track workouts transitioned into “strength” workouts. These were six miles of work. I did the strength workouts on the road though because that much running on the track would’ve bored me stupid.

These workouts were tough by themselves both physically and mentally. That they came after five days of other runs made them titanic undertakings some days.

I felt rough by Tuesday. Tired, shot, worn-out and trashed. Some days I’d look at the Tuesday workout and think, “What sort of insane fool is going to do this?!  Oh… that would be me I guess…” And I’d give the Hansons book an obscene gesture. Oh well… Had to get that work done. Weekly mileage was 40-50 miles per week. This was by far the most I’ve run in my life.

The long run

The longest run in the Hansons’ plan is 16 miles and there are three of those in the beginner plan. That’s shorter than a lot of typical marathon plans which typically hit 20 miles. These long runs come every other week with shorter long runs (around 10 miles) on other weeks.

That “short” 16-miler comes after three days of running though including a somewhat long Saturday run.. So you go into the long run on some tired legs. The Hansons claim the plan trains you for the last 16 miles of the marathon. Sounds plausible to me.

All those long runs were trail runs and they were never easy. The roughest of the bunch was the Herman’s Gulch to Jones Pass trail. That started at about 10,000 ft. and topped out at over 13,000 ft. Took me 4.5 hrs. It was an overall brutal experience. The terrain was very challenging and it took me about a full week to recover from that excursion.

Did I mention being tired?

The result of all this is that at times I’ve been utterly wiped out. I had about one weight training workout per week. It’s all I could handle! I’ve learned that as I’m apparently a little older than I used to be (not sure how I allowed that to happen) I need rest and recovery more than I need more/harder work. I took a few Mondays completely off but not too many. I recognized that the plan is the plan for a purpose.

Early in the plan I sometimes substituted a mountain bike ride for the easy runs and/or for the Saturday run. Those mountain bike rides were often very challenging and I think they made the following day’s long run very difficult.

Many easy miles

Many of the miles on the Hanson plan are done at an easy pace. Some coaches insist that too many “junk miles” can be detrimental and that easy run days or recovery runs should largely be avoided.

In contrast, the Hanson Method suggests real and important benefits of easy run days. Here is part of their discussion on easy runs:

Easy Running: A lot of bang for your buck
Easy running is the foundation in which all other training can be built from. By itself, easy running will directly contribute to:

  • tendon development
  • specific muscle fiber adaptation
  • bone development
  • mitochondrial growth/distribution
  • glycogen storage/fat utilization
  • general endurance
  • improved running economy
  • improved VO2max
  • Capillary density

I would add to this that easy runs are a good time to work on running technique. It can be a time to think about foot placement, posture, cadence, addressing a possible crossover gait or other issues. The easy runs are low-stress and permit us to focus on needs such as these in a stress-free situation.

Final thoughts

It’s Tuesday and the race is on Saturday. I’m thrilled to report no real injuries. I’ve never run this much in my life so I’m very happy to have overcome the aches and pains that have plagued me for many years. I believe trail running may have some injury preventative qualities centered around movement variability. I also appreciate the psychological effects of running in nature. I’ve written about both those things here.

Bottom line is that I’ve loved the process. From the track workouts to the long runs in the mountains to the ho-hum punch-the-clock runs (of which there were many) I can say I have truly enjoyed the preparation for this race.

I’ll post more about the process later.

The Big Running Plan Begins


There’s a big event that I’ve had on my mind for years.  It’s the Gore-Tex Transrockies Run. This year’s gig is six days, 120 miles with 20,000 feet of elevation gain. I’m looking at running the 2015 race so I figure the mileage and such should be about the same. Go here for maps and descriptions of this year’s stages.

Preparation for the Transrockies run means a whole lotta running this year.  I need to do more trail races and another marathon, most likely a trail marathon. I’m running a lot (for me) right now. I’m up to about 30 miles per week. I’ve got a 5k this weekend and more races planned (more on that in a moment.) The very good news is that everything is feeling solid and strong, including my stubborn, chronic Achilles/heel trouble.

I’ve also consulted with Denver-area running coach Jay Johnson. I saw him speak at the NSCA Endurance Clinic a few months ago and I became very interested in picking his brain a bit. I’ll be communicating with him every month or so to fine tune my workouts and run plan. Speaking of which…

My first and only marathon (two years ago) was based on the FIRST Run Less, Run Faster plan.  This plan has only three run days per week: a track workout, tempo run, and a distance run.  Two days a week were devoted to a cross-training workout on a bike or rower.  I also ran the Ft. Collins Half-Marathon and Park-to-Park 10-Miler based on this plan. It’s a minimalist running plan. It’s very useful if there’s limited training time available. This plan got me through several races but I want to know if a different type of plan will increase my performance. I’m curious if more running will make me a better runner.

The Transrockies run is a lot of running for several days in a row, thus with the SAID Principle in mind, it makes sense to me that I should train in as close a fashion to the race as possible. This time around, I’m going the maximalist route with the Hansons Marathon Method.  (I also need to get the Hansons Half-Marathon Method.)

Something to consider with this high-volume plan is the opportunity to practice running. That is, with all the miles and the recovery runs, I get the chance to refine my running skills. Running is a skill just like playing a horn or driving a golf ball. Running improvements don’t come just from the obvious increases in fitness that come from speed work, tempo runs and tough long runs. Matt Fitzgerald discusses this idea in a Running Times article called Rethinking Junk Miles:

You see, running is a bit like juggling. It is a motor skill that requires communication between your brain and your muscles. A great juggler has developed highly refined communication between his brain and muscles during the act of juggling, which enables him to juggle three plates with one hand while blindfolded. A well-trained runner has developed super-efficient communication between her brain and muscles during the act of running, allowing her to run at a high, sustained speed with a remarkably low rate of energy expenditure. Sure, the improvements that a runner makes in neuromuscular coordination are less visible than those made by a juggler, but they are no less real.

For both the juggler and the runner, it is time spent simply practicing the relevant action that improves communication between the brain and the muscles. It’s not a matter of testing physiological limits, but of developing a skill through repetition. Thus, the juggler who juggles an hour a day will improve faster than the juggler who juggles five minutes a day, even if the former practices in a dozen separate five-minute sessions and therefore never gets tired. And the same is true for the runner.

 (BTW, Russian kettlebell and strength expert Pavel Tsatsouline discusses the exact same principle but with regard to strength training.)

The Hansons Plan has me running often in a fatigued state. The longest run I do though is 16 miles. Most marathon plans feature a 20 mile run. So why only 16 as a longest run? This 16-miler will take place after several days of running. I’ll have a tempo run then an 8 or 6 mile run the day before the 16-miler. The idea as they say in the Hansons book is that I’ll be training to run the last 16 miles of the marathon. Sounds interesting and plausible to me. That goes along with something Coach Johnson suggested. He said that at some point, in preparation for the Transrockies Run, that every other week I should run back-to-back long trail runs. Again, this goes to the idea of training specificity. I imagine I’ll do that next year.

Here’s a list of races and potential races I plan to run this year:

  • 3/2/14 – That Dam 5k – Denver: I need to run a 5k so I can derive my training paces for the marathon plan.
  • 4/6/14 – XTERRA Cheyenne Mt. Trail Run 12km – CO Springs: Don’t know anything about this race but I’m looking fwd to it.
  • 5/4/14 – Ft. Collins Marathon 13.1: Ran this one last year and had a great time.  Went out a tiny bit too fast though.  Hope to better my time of 1:47.
  • 6/7/14(maybe) – Boulder Sunrise Duathlon 3.1 mile run / 17.3 mile bike / 3.1 mile run – Boulder: My wife is doing this triathlon. I don’t swim well enough to do a tri but I’ve done some duathlons and this might be fun and a change of pace.
  • Summer – 5k: Coach Jay Johnson suggested I train for and race a 5k. He said putting in that speed work would be useful for a Fall marathon.
  • 8/23/14 (maybe) – Continental Divide Trail Race 15.5 mi. – Steamboat: Ran this one a couple of years ago and it was brutal but beautiful and a very laid-back kinda thing.  Wouldn’t mind taking it on again in a better pair of shoes. Not sure if this one fits into the overall race plan.
  • 9/20/14 – Aspen Golden Leaf Trail Half-Marathon – Aspen: This race got a great write-up in some running magazine (Runner’s World?  Competitor?) recently. We’ve never been to Aspen. Sounds interesting. Should be good preparation for the marathon.
  • 11/8/14 – Moab Trail Marathon: This is my main race. We’ve never been to Moab and this is a great reason to go.

That’s my plan right now. I’m very excited about this! I’m feeling great right now. I really love the process of getting to these races. I love the anticipation and the training. We’ll see what happens.