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May 20, 2013 Comments (0) Race Reports

Desert RATS Trail Running Festival


Gemini Adventures hosts more than just a race in Fruita, CO in April of every year. By all definitions it is truly a festival. They start with a pre-race dinner at a local hotel on Friday, the marathon and double-marathon on Saturday, followed by awards and a party, then a half marathon and 5 miler on Sunday; a whole weekend of events. With proper planning runners should attempt to attend all of the weekend’s activities as it will make the experience extremely fulfilling.

Gemini Adventures prides themselves on scenic courses, and this one certainly fits the bill. Located in the high desert of southwestern Colorado, the course sweeps through desert landscape and red slickrock cliff buttes. Supplied with plenty of aid stations and a well-marked course, this race is great for new trail runners and ultra veterans alike. TAUR gear review specialist and Altra ambassador, Leslie Howlett, was sent out to the race to see what all the fuss was about and to run her first ever 50 miler. An elite triathlete turned trail and ultra runner, she is pushing into the longer distances. After having to end her race early at the Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50 miler in March due to a quad strain, she set her sites on the Desert RATS Festival. She reports on her experience below.

A view of the course

Leslie: In this race the RD offers a $100 bill for the first man and first woman up the hill at 1.3 miles. I figured I’d test the waters and go for it if I had a chance but decided to rein it in after being 3rd at close to the 1 mile mark.  No biggie.  It did take me several miles to get my heart rate back in check, probably not the smartest move, but didn’t hurt me in the end.  The 5.9 miles to the first aid station were almost exclusively technical slickrock. The runners behind me seemed to be running really fast and I was getting a little tired of having people breathing down my neck. I either needed to pull over to let 4-10 of them pass at a time or running hard to stay in some open space and avoid being passed by a wagon train. After that first aid station the slickrock went mostly away, the course flattened out, and the field spread out. I finally felt like I could settle into a groove and run my own pace.

I put my headphones in earlier than usual because there just wasn’t anyone to talk to. However, I did meet up with 3 ladies around mile 13 and ran with them for the next 10 miles.  That was nice. Most of the time we were fairly spread out. I don’t mind being in my own head, but it was nice to chat and pass a few hours together. Heading back to the start/finish to get ready for lap number 2 I was feeling a bit tight and sore and hoping the next 26 wouldn’t feel like this, but there was no quad specific pain and no question I’d head back out. I enjoyed pushing what felt like a good pace on the mile of dirt road back to my husband.

With the three ladies I ran with

At the start of the second lap I chose to switch hydration vests. My husband, Jeremy, switched me out of my Ultraspire Surge into a Nathan VaporShape, which was already filled with the gels and pills and food and water I wanted. No worrying about forgetting to switch something or calculating how many gels to reload with. Perfect. I left the halfway point feeling good. I didn’t push as hard going back out as when I was coming in, but I felt fine. The second loop runs in reverse so there was a steep downhill section around mile 30 which really bothered my knees so I ended up walking most of it. The first aid station of the second loop came a little faster than I expected which was nice. I put an ice pack on my knees for just a minute and that alleviated the pain I was experiencing. My husband was there waiting for me and said he would meet me at the next aid station and run the last 12 miles with me. I left that aid station feeling amazing! I was seriously flying for what felt like an hour. Anything seemed possible! Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and I went into a low. It wasn’t a true bonk and certainly wasn’t related to nutrition, I stayed right on top of that. No real pain in my legs either, just more of a mental bonk. I expected to be able to see the next aid station for quite a while, even if it weren’t close, and it just never came.

Finally I saw the aid station and came tromping in a little grumpy and ready to see my husband…who wasn’t there.  Oh boy let me tell you, I was as mad as a wet hen!  I’d been without water for half an hour and was due for a gel a while ago but wasn’t going to take it without water, went through a discouraging hour+ and all I wanted to see was him. And he wasn’t there. Luckily he did show up a mile or so down the trail after getting lost and going to the wrong aid station.  He waved to me. I didn’t wave back.  I told him I was happy to see him but in actuality was not very happy with him, at all. It didn’t last though. We quickly kissed and made up and were on our way. It was nice to have him there, to have someone to talk to.

I figured once we got to the last aid station I knew we had 5.9 to go and could set a new goal.  We’d be almost done, pretty much home free. What I forgot was how winding and how many blasted slickrock switchbacks there were in that next 5 miles. That really was ok though.  I came to finish and was happy my husband was with me. My first 50 miler (52 miles actually) was over and in a respectable time of 10:55.

Coming into one of the aid stations

I’m pleased with the way the race was run.  Organized, scenic, plenty of aid station support, good flagging, and very supportive race staff all over the course.  It is a race I would recommend, especially for someone newer to ultra running or someone looking for an early season race that’s not too challenging.  Thanks for a great race Reid!

To read more about what Leslie is up to, check out her blog!


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