The Fruita Trail Running Festival is a weekend event for trail running fanatics. It is put on by Gemini Adventures, who also created the infamous DESERT R.A.T.S stage race. Reid Delman is the race director, and does his very best to create an organized, heavily-stocked race that includes some of the best single track in Colorado. The race starts at the Mack trailhead at the Kokopelli trail. The Kokopelli trail is a 142-mile trail that starts in Loma, Co and ends in Moab, UT. It is a long stretch of mostly winding singletrack well-known amongst mountain bikers but a trail runners dream.
There was a 25 and 50 mile option; I opted for the 25 miler. The course rolls between elevations of 4,500 and 5,400 feet with over 4,000 feet of climbing. There were five aid stations, heavily stocked with goodies, at approximately five-mile intervals. The volunteers were wonderful and very helpful… I will explain exactly how helpful in a bit!
There were about 300 people starting on Saturday morning, half of whom were running the 50-miler. The 50-milers did the loop twice, just in the opposite direction. I decided to start off a little bit behind the front of the pack. Sometimes 25-mile races are more difficult, since runners are forced to go all out pretty much the whole time. I am definitely not a speedy runner; endurance, yes, but sprinting is not my forte. But I decided this was going to be for fun and to just toss my competitive side out the window. I was running in my new Rock/Creek Patagonia draft tank, my favorite Patagonia running skort and my brand new Montrail Mountain Masochist trail running shoes.
I started off with a 2.5 liter of NUUN-enhanced water in my pack, along with four GU gels. I usually do a gel every hour so figured that would be enough, especially considering that the aid stations were loaded with other energy-packed foods. Usually at the beginning of races I feel heavy and tired. It takes me about five or so miles into the race until I get on a good rhythm. For some reason I felt great right from the start this day.
But, unfortunately, a bit of a technical issue came about that put me in a funk. At around mile three I felt water trickling down my back. At first I thought it was sweat, then maybe just a bit of a leakage problem in my running bladder. About five minutes later a gush of water came running down my backside. Figuring I had no other choice but to stop and investigate, I pulled my borrowed — yet new — bladder out to find that the entire seam on the side had ripped open!
I found myself at mile three with absolutely no water left, and no reservoir to even carry it in when I arrived at the aid stations. I also remembered, the night before, Reid saying that there would be no cups at the aid stations so in order to cut down on waste. Being environmentally-friendly, I agreed with this at the time, but looking at my seamless water reservoir I was praying that a cup made its way to the aid station somehow. Mile five and the first aid station came up. They did have a paper cup! I asked the volunteers if they had an extra bladder or hand-held and no one did. I realized that I was going to have to take this paper cup and chug as much water as I could at each aid station.
Keeping in mind we were in the desert, I knew that the sun was going to be beating overhead fairly soon. I looked around at the scenery and the amazing singletrack I was running on and just decided to take it all in and realize that my half marathon was just going to be a bit more challenging than I had planned. I still felt pretty good and continued to soak in the scenery. Beautiful mesas and canyons surrounded us. I had been here the year before but this time seemed so much more surreal. There is something quite serene about the desert and the open space. Everything was exposed to the human eye, including the rolling singletrack that would take us through the canyons and surrounding vistas.
Continuing on with my plan of chugging water at each aid station, I realized around mile thirteen that this was not going to last long, or at least not get me to the finish line. It was about 9:30 and the sun was already beating overhead. The desert does not provide for much shade so I was not finding much reprieve from the heat. I got to mile fifteen and a miracle happened. I decided to ask one more time if anyone had an extra bottle. A guy named Chris remembered he had one in his car. He bolted up to the parking lot and came running down with the most wonderful thing, a handheld bottle. I acted as though he handed my a wad of one-hundred dollar bills. At that moment it felt like it though. I am sending out a big thanks to Chris, the man with the handheld. “Thank you so much…you saved my race!”
After receiving a bottle I was fueled up and my mind was no longer straying from the race. I was happy with my time and how my body felt despite the short stint of dehydration and negative thoughts. The race was still following the Kokopelli trail system and it seemed as though we were primarily on wonderful skinny single-track. It was technical enough to keep one focused, but not so technical that I would be too concerned with my bad ankle. Around mile 23 we crested up over the hillside and ended up finishing the last stretch on a dirt road. I saw the finish line and heard my friend Stephen cheering me on. Another runner and I decided to sprint towards the end having me crossing the finish line at 4:03:37.
I ended up being 4th female overall and 2nd in my division. All in all this race was amazing and despite the minor set-back I saw this as a great first season race. I would highly recommend this race to any and all trail runners, beginners or experienced. It contains the perfect amount of singletrack and scenery to have one keep coming back for more.