The Gemini Adventure's Desert Rats Trail Running Festival kicked off this past weekend for the 14th year. Based in Fruita, Colorado it hosts a marathon, 50k, double marathon, half marathon, and 5 miler.
Originally I was not planning on making the trip out to Fruita for the festival, but after a large snowstorm was forecasted for the front range and a previously planned event was postponed I decided to enter the 50k and make the last minute drive out to Fruita. Wow, was it worth it! The folks at Gemini Adventures really put on a great couple of races in an awesome location.
The 50k course, which follows the marathon except for an extra 4.6 mile loop, starts just off of I-70 on a short dirt road climb. From there you climb a nice, slightly technical, 1.5 mile climb up to a ridge looking toward the Colorado River canyon. A rather fun 3 mile descent takes your down to your first aid station and the start of the bonus loop for the 50k.
The bonus look for the 50k, is a great very runnable section with winding trails looking over the Colorado river and running up against some really cool slick rock walls. The 4.6 miles go by quickly as you make your way back to the aid station where you split off. Once you leave the aid station for the second time you rejoin your marathon and double friends for the remainder of the race.
The next section is probably one of the coolest sections I have seen in a race. It is not only very scenic but also a lot of fun to run and see all the runners around you. The trail winds around the top of slick rock canyons that feed into the Colorado river. Unlike a lot of trails where you don't see anyone after they pass you or you pass them the winding course gives you a great view of all of the runners on the course. It really creates a great environment. There is one pretty challenging climb during this section right around mile 17.5 of the 50k. But, once you finish it you keep winding along on some great trails toward the last aid station.
After the last aid station with 6.4 miles to go you hit the last long climb. The trail opens up a bit and turns into a dirt 4x4 road for the majority of the climb, but you get some great views back down toward Fruita and the surrounding valley. Once you peak out on the climb you follow a stunning ridge for close to two miles as you can look down several hundred foot cliffs back toward the race course and the Colorado river.
From there it is pretty much all downhill on some technical single track back to the starting dirt road and on to the finish.
Aid Stations and Finish
The aid stations seemed to be well stocked and the crews were very helpful. There is one section that is a little long between aid at 7.5 miles, but is isn't too bad and the time goes by quickly. Just be prepaid for the stretch especially if it is a hot day out. They had the usual water, tailwind along with fruit and some solid foods and soda toward the end. The soda really helped bring my energy level up for the last 6 miles.
The finish line had a lot more food with warm food made to order, which was nice on the cold and windy day. There was also a great post race awards party in Grand Junction with free food and beer.
I overall had a great day out. The beginning of the race, as most do, went out fast, but I tried to stay calm and just followed a couple of people that were moving steady and efficiently. The first climb flew by as I chatted with a couple of people and tried to keep my heart rate and pace down a little. Once the marathons left us as I started the 50k loop it got a lot quieter in the course, but I still worked to stay steady and run with someone else who was keeping a very good tempo. I ended up running with them for about 11 miles of the race. It was really nice to be able to run with someone at pretty much the perfect pace for a lot of the race. We were able to tick off a lot of good 8-9 minute miles while still being able to chat a little. At this point and through the remaining of the race we both really had no idea what position I was in.
Rejoining the marathon course was a lot more pleasant that I expected. Even though we had to pace a lot of people there was ample room on the sides of the trail and everyone was very nice. It was also fun to cheer on everyone else who was running their own races.
At about mile 17.5, right before one of the steeper climbs I started to feel the day adding up. I downed a gel and tried to keep cranking. I yoyoed off the back from the person I had been running with a lot of the race, but finally lost contact around mile 23. I definitely felt a bonk coming on and a little leg cramping creeping in. When I final aid station I downed some coke and aid some more food. I started the climb at a steady rate and tried to regain my energy. I was able to see the next two 50k racers ahead of me as I left the aid station, but they were moving a little faster than I was and started to pull away.
I mainly didn't want to bonk completely and tried to keep my effort down a little. I started coming out of my energy hole just before the top of the climb and was able to start jogging again. The ridge on the top was great for jogging, but I was just waiting for the descent to start. The descent started, and it felt good to pick up the pace again. The terrain was a little technical to really push the pace, but it felt good.
The technical descent ended and it was only about a mile to go on the dirt road back to the start. I pushed it a little and was happy I did, I made it in right at 4:45. I am very happy with the time and how the race went. I ended up being 4th overall only 11.5 minutes off the winner.
Overall I am very happy to have made it out to the Gemini Trail Festival. The course was beautiful and the atmosphere was great. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants a run from 5 miles up to 50 miles. It is definitely one of my new favorite races.