Melissa Beaury of Moab, second place overall and first place finish for women, strides out the last few miles with friend Tess and Tess's dog Jon.(Photo courtesy by Dean Hill)

Sixteen ultra-runners ran for more than 50 miles along the western slopes of the La Sal Mountains to the slickrock desert below last Saturday. Following a northern route, they crossed three mountain passes, the highest, Burro Pass, peaking at 11,000 feet. These athletes were running Moab’s “Alpine to Slickrock” race, also known as the MAS50. The MAS50 is an ultra-marathon organized by Moab local Chris Martinez, owner/operator of 360 Moab Adventures, a trail running guiding company.

Martinez first put the race together in 2004 with the help of friends and fellow runners. He described the race as being “the best of both worlds of Moab, alpine and slickrock.” The course offers views of Arches and Canyonlands national parks, and the Colorado River, and was intentionally set by Martinez for mid-September to coincide with the colorful changing of the leaves.

Runners began at 6 a.m. at 6,400 foot elevation at Pack Creek. The goal is to finish by 8 p.m. at the Slickrock bike trail head. Of the 50 runners signed up, 31 showed on race day, and just 16 made the cut-off times to finish the race.

Navigating trails by flag markers, runners were supported by seven aid stations along the course. Early in the course, markers were tampered with, setting all 31 runners off course, adding an estimated five miles to the original 50. To boost runner’s spirits, aid stations offered surprises such as mimosas, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and ramen noodles. Supporters, pacers, and even racers’ dogs met up with and joined the runners at intervals.

The mood among race organizers at the Slickrock finish line was relaxed and jovial. Martinez manned the course throughout the race, in contact with aid stations reporting back about runner status. At 4:28 the cowbell sounded as the winner of the race, Ian Torrence of Flagstaff, Arizona, rounded the corner a quarter-mile away. Wearing a shirt that read “Run like an animal”, a smiling Torrence broke through the finish line with a time of 10 hours and 30 minutes, making the race his 167th ultra-marathon and 51st win. Eighteen minutes later, Moab’s Melissa Beaury arrived in 2nd place overall, and as the 1st female runner.

Upon finishing the race, runners were led to chairs and given ice water and nourishing snacks. Gingerly removing shoes and socks, they examined their feet and shared their sentiments on the journey.

Richard Neslund, a long-time runner from Louisville, Colorado, said Moab is his “favorite place.” Gesturing towards the slickrock backdrop at the end of the race, Neslund noted the changes in scenery.

“You know, at mile 12, it felt like a rainforest; everything was covered in fallen tree limbs and wildflowers. And the aspens were incredible,” he said.

Runners also remarked on the positive atmosphere and camaraderie of the race.

“I like that it’s small because you can actually talk to people,” Megan Morrissey said.

Neslund, a consultant by profession, agreed.

“Leadership and teamwork come to an ultra – everybody helps everybody,” he said.

For many runners, including the top two female runners, this was their first ultra.

When asked if he thought it was possible for anyone to do an ultra-marathon, Ian Torrence said, “Yes, absolutely. You just have to want to.”

Torrence will be a guest runner during an April running tour with 360 Moab Adventures.

Tagline: Go to 360moabadventures.com for more information on trail running tours, and grassrootsevents.net for information about future races in the Moab area.