Last month I traveled to Southeast Utah to attend the Moab 240 and learn about “angel pacing” and find someone engaged in this type of pacing. While hanging out at my first multi-day ultrarunning event, I was also introduced to the unique challenges 200-mile events provided competitors, race crews and organizers. After a very long weekend in Moab, I caught up on sleep and wrote about my key take-aways from 200-mile races.
In this article, my friend and race Cocodona 250 (Mile) race director Steven Aderholt, shares his first-hand experience running his first 200-plus mile race at the 2020 Moab 240. We cover topics including his motivation, training, race-day stories, post-race thoughts and future plans.
[TAYTE POLLMANN] Why run 200 miles and how did you decide to race the Moab 240?
[STEVEN ADERHOLT] Over the years, I’ve had friends run 200-mile races and it always seemed crazy to me. I’ve done plenty of 100 milers and the thought of going two (or two and a half!) times that distance sounded horrible. However, the allure of the challenge was definitely in the back of my mind.
In 2019, I hiked 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Mexico to Lake Tahoe. Each day I covered 20 to 25 miles and my longest day was 39 miles, while carrying a 40-pound pack on my back. It was after this adventure that I started to seriously consider running a 200-mile race. Most of these 200-mile races have cutoffs that equate to around 50 miles per day, a distance that without a heavy pack and a sleep break each night seemed feasible.
It was on a big adventure with a friend that I fully committed to run the Moab 240. Matt Gunn, a well respected race director, all around badass, and phenomenal human, and I spent 5 days in July running in Southern Utah, putting the final touches on his beautiful GSSR (Grand Staircase Stage Race). I had recently been hired by Aravaipa Running to put on the Cocodona 250 race to be held in May 2021 and Matt observed that race directing a 200 plus mile race without having run the distance wouldn’t be very authentic. He challenged me to run a 200-miler. I knew he was right. I needed to experience the distance for Cocodona to be a success. So, one month before the race, I registered to run the Moab 240, my first 200 plus mile race.
[TAYTE] How did you train for this race?
[STEVEN] I don’t follow a typical “training plan” for races. Long adventures with friends and playing other sports besides running seem to keep me in just barely good enough shape. Determination does the rest!
[TAYTE] How did you feel leading up to the race and were you prepared physically and mentally?
[STEVEN] Leading up to the race, I was in the Cascade Mountains with friends and we did some long fast-packing days to top off my “training”. In terms of being fit, I felt good, but my body was paying the price of taking many spring and summer hiking/running adventures. On training runs over 25 miles, my ankles and hips screamed at me. These pains made me nervous for Moab. I’ve done 100-milers with bad pain and it isn’t fun. I figured Moab was going to be a deep foray into the pain cave. I took the last three weeks off from all activities except yoga and submitted myself to multiple sessions of massage and acupuncture. I was dreading the race.
[TAYTE] What was your race plan?
[STEVEN] My race plan was to put in around 65 miles per day and sleep until sunrise. If I could move consistently between three to five miles per hour, that would allow for seven hours of downtime each night. However, I also knew that once the pain started, my pace would slow and it would eat into my sleep time. I envisioned a constant slog-fest of pain, stumbling through the desert. Despite the challenges, I decided dropping out of the race was not an option. Personal failure in front of my professional responsibilities to Aravaipa and the Cocodona runners would be too embarrassing. I was dreading what I figured would be days in the pain cave, but I wasn’t going to back out.
[TAYTE] How did you feel before the start on race morning?
[STEVEN] The traffic into Moab was pretty bad, so I missed bib pickup the day before the race Fortunately the race staff worked with me and checked me in. Just before going to bed the night before the race, I couldn’t find my bib. I looked through all my gear and turned my van inside out. It was nowhere to be found.
As a race director, it is extremely embarrassing to be the runner who loses their bib and I was frustrated with myself. Not a good place to be hours before toeing the line. In the morning, a few minutes before my start wave, the race director had someone hand write a bib for me. This was the most disorganized, last minute, lack of planning before a race I’ve ever run but I was surprisingly calm. Over years as an ultrarunner, I’ve learned to relax and go by feel as opposed to being uber-organized before a race.
[TAYTE] take us through how you felt at different points in the race. What were your low and high points?
[STEVEN] Miles 18 to 38 were the hardest of the race. It was HOT and many of us ran out of water. My body began to hurt, I started cramping and I was passed by several runners. My spirit was low. I started to question if I could do this and doubt grew. Negative thoughts started to spiral. I knew I had to get to Indian Creek aid station (mile 72) to reach my crew. I focused on my body, how much food, water, salt, and caffeine I would need to consume. I started to put positive thoughts in my head and shutout the negative. The temperature started to drop and the harsh desert light from the sun softened. The colors of the desert, red rock walls of Lockhart Basin were glowing. I smiled. The pain receded. It was fun again and I picked up my pace. I reminded myself that ultras are all about highs and lows, you just gotta ride it out. The doubt was gone and I knew I was going to finish the race. From then on, for the rest of the race, everything fell seamlessly into place.There were moments of exhaustion and pain but mostly there was the enjoyment of moving through beautiful terrain with good friends as pacers and hanging out with my crew at aid stations.
[TAYTE] How did your crew & pacers help you finish the race?
[STEVEN] I have such fond memories of Moab and nearly all of them revolve around my pacers/crew. Each of them are dear friends and it meant so much to share this experience with them. My crew captain, Stacey, and I have been through so much together in life. She is a pro at crewing. She knows when to be soft and supportive and when to kick my butt out of an aid station. In addition, I had seven pacers and placed them on sections of the course based on logistics, such as what day/time they could arrive in Moab or needed to leave. It worked out perfectly. It was as if my pacing needs at each point of the course matched perfectly with each of my friends strengths. It was yet another lesson in life for me to let go and not force control. I wouldn’t have changed a thing in organizing the crew.
[TAYTE] How did you feel running in the day versus the night?
[STEVEN] The days were hot, especially the first day which reached nearly 90 degrees. The evenings were the best. The sunset lighting and views were spectacular and temperatures were perfect. Nighttime brought mental fatigue and cold. Climbing up to the top of the La Sal Mountains on night three was bitterly cold. My pacer, Alex, did a great job of keeping me moving through a dreamlike state. My cognitive ability and balance was sluggish and it felt like my brain was underwater. My Kogalla light ran out of battery, followed by my headlamp, yet Alex kept me stumbling forward.
[TAYTE] Were you able to stick to your race plan and how did you organize your running and sleeping?
[STEVEN]I stuck closely to my projections and sleep plan. I slept three and a half, three and two and a half hours each night respectively. This translated into five to seven hours off of my feet each night, which worked well for me. Each day I felt fresh and was able to move more quickly and pass other runners. After mile 35, only one person passed me while I was moving for the rest of the race. Runners would overtake me during the night as I slept but I was always able to catch and pass them during the day because I was moving well. The strategy of sleeping more worked well for me.
[TAYTE] What were your most memorable moments from the race?
[STEVEN] My buddy Matt Gunn paced me from mile 102 to 122. It was a beautiful run, the sun set on pink cliffs as we climbed out of the desert and into the pines of the Abajo Mountains. We talked a lot. A week later we lost Matt. His loss shattered all who knew his kind quiet soul. I miss him so much and am so grateful to have shared his last run. There were so many memorable moments with each of my pacers at Moab. Friendship and connection are really what this life is all about.
[TAYTE] Was this the hardest race you’ve ever done?
[STEVEN] No, not the hardest. Everything becomes easier when you look back at it but this race really went pretty smooth and there were so many enjoyable moments. I don’t remember it as hard.
[TAYTE] What’s next? Another race? Some other challenge?
[STEVEN] Well, a little rest first! Then I’d like to do the Hardrock 100 I also plan to run the Cocodona 250 in 2022 after directing the race. Mostly though, I look forward to enjoying more long adventures with friends.