Game Changer: A Race Read by Kaitlin Pace

Game Changer – an event, idea, or procedure that effects a significant shift in the current manner of doing or thinking about something.

Some of you may remember the last recap from my first trail race.  This one has slightly different tone.  Today I bring you “Game Changer” – the true story of a girl and the trail race that would change her running life forever.  Or something cheesy like that.  Just go with me on this one.

How It Got Started:

Back in October, a friend set up a Facebook group to encourage people to check out the Moab Red Hot 33k/55k.  Most of the group were on the fence about signing up, but I knew Dan + Julia already had and since I was still coming off a high from the PC North Face Challenge, that was enough for me to fork over the $100+ and register for the 33k.  



My friends are SUPER funny.  Thankfully someone else stepped in and offered to write me a modified training plan based off of what he used for a 50k last year.

I followed this plan more probably closely than any other training.  This was going to be my longest race in general since Fall ’14 and my longest race/run on trails by far.  I practiced running long and slow and got in almost every mile while climbing as much elevation as possible.  My biggest goal was just to get both physically and mentally prepared for the beat down I knew this race would give me.

33k Trail Goals:

  1. Time Goal of 4:30:00
  2. Make it to the finish line before Dan (he was running the 55k, they also started 30 minutes earlier so it was going to be close)
  3. Finish before my GPS watch battery died (approx. 4:00 hours)

Race Stuff:

About a week before the race an email went out with an update about the course.  It had snowed more and there had been less thawing than there had been in years so they were anticipating some rougher terrain than usual.  Awesome!

I started getting really nervous on Thursday night.  Up until that point I had managed to convince myself that Moab would be another long run, just in a really cool and new place.  But race anxiety always sets in and I worry about being slow and being disappointed in myself.  I knew my nerves would peak at the sound of the race gun and I just hoped that I’d be able to calm down as I started on the course.

The Race Director didn’t have much better news for us on the course when arrived for the start.  Statements we heard at the Pre-Race Meeting (and my coinciding thoughts):
“…Running on snow + ice, at times snow may be ankle deep.” (No.)

“The jeeps were able to get winched up the waterfall after all.” (Um, OK…)

“The finish section will be a Junk Show.” (What the hell is a “junk show?!”)

“Don’t get injured between aid stations 2 and 3 because we won’t be able to save you and you’ll have to be airlifted out.” (Dear. God…)

Needless to say, I did not have high expectations after this.  I prepared to drop my goals and focus on just finishing without injuring myself.

We lined up and the second the gun went off, I tried to quiet my anxieties and focus on just getting comfortable.  The first mile was uphill and indeed snow packed, but I was more than prepared after running many sunless trails in the Boulder woods.  Miles 2-5 were quick, probably faster than they should’ve been but I was already feeling good.  “You’re prepared, you can do this!” I kept telling myself.

As we began our big ascent, the scenery really began to shine as the star of the race – it was obvious why Moab is listed as one of the top trail running destinations.  While tempted to stop and dig around for my phone to take photos, I was afraid if I stopped that I wouldn’t be able to get myself back going again.  Fortunately my new friend Mike took some photos of the views while he was racing.  Pretty cool right?!


(Photo credit Mike Bell)

Going into the second aid station I was still feeling strong.  Despite the climbing and new experience of running on entirely rock I felt solid, well fueled, and ready to keep pushing on.  I was surprised by how little I had walked so far and this gave me a huge confidence boost.  When I hit 10 miles, I was ECSTATIC to find out that I was still under 2:00! I had planned on this taking me just under 4:30 and while I knew there was still plenty of race left, the hardest climb was done and I knew I just needed to keep my easy pace going mostly downhill.  For the first time I was practicing some self-encouragement – “You got this.  You are doing AWESOME!” as I continued teetering and jumping down the rock.

At the third aid station all the runners around me were in great spirits as we began the final stage.  Despite Strava info that indicated the race would be closer to 19 miles, I tried to remain in the mindset that I had to last until 20.5.  The final few miles had some varying terrain – slick rock, snow piles, and sand-like dirt/mud.  We hit a flat + soft dirt point where lots of people around me started walking.  My head games began at that point and I started playing “5 more minutes, then you can walk”.

I had been passed by the lead 55k runner with a few miles to go and knew that Dan may not be far behind.  I was a little nervous that I’d find myself heading into the stretch, hearing his voice and picturing him quickly overcoming me at the finish.  I was determined to not let that happen.  

Despite being a little rocky, I picked up my pace and welcomed the last mile of switchbacks on hard dirt.  I remember seeing and hearing Julia at the final curve with some encouraging “PACE!!” yells and I cruised into the finish line with clock ticking in at 3:36 – almost an hour faster than I had planned for!

IMG_0839Despite my screaming hips and hamstrings, I had never felt so happy and accomplished at the end of the race.  Not ONCE did I doubt or get frustrated with myself.  Not ONCE did I wonder why I was doing this or swear about how much I hate running.  I had run my own race, and had enjoyed almost every single second of it.

After almost 10 years of un-forced running/racing I’d had experienced an entire race of running joy.  I know there will still be difficult races and runs, but I also know for sure that I am able to enjoy running while it’s happening and not just eagerly anticipate it all to be over.  This was my Game-changer race people (see what I did there?), and I’m not ever going back.

Special thanks to the following folks:

  • Ryan Wooderson for creating the Facebook event
  • Paul Rohde for my training plan
  • Dan, Julia, + Robyn for constant encouragement on the trails
  • Mike + Mark for taking a chance on a stranger and letting me stay and hot tub with them
  • Murphy Lee and Jermaine Dupri for helping me push through the race with their sick beats running through my head.



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