An ultra-marathon runner paces himself with the La Sal mountains as a backdrop [Photo courtesy of Kristin Wilson]

Running coach and ultra-marathon runner Ryan Krol, of Boulder, Colo., was training in the foothills of Boulder when he heard the ominous warning of a rattlesnake.

“He rattled at me and I jumped about 3 feet, then it took a few seconds to register what was going on,” Krol said.

After spotting the rattler a mere few feet from himself, Krol noticed that the snake was preoccupied with gorging itself on a prairie dog. Counting his blessings, Krol continued on his training run, perhaps with a bit of extra energy after his close call.

Krol is one of about 40 runners expected at the inaugural running of the Behind the Rocks Ultramarathon on March 29, said Justin Ricks of Grass Roots Events, co-director of Behind the Rocks. The race featuring two distances, a 53-mile course and a 30-mile course, “was created to highlight Moab’s last hidden gem, the Behind the Rocks Wilderness Area. The course was designed to highlight the technical slickrock trails of Moab, the views of the Behind the Rocks Wilderness area, and the snow-capped La Sal mountains,” Ricks said.

Krol has completed more than 20 ultra-marathons since 2009, and was inspired to begin racing after volunteering at a 100-mile race in Mt. Hood, Ore.

“I had volunteered at an Ironman before, and was so used to everyone thinking that is crazy,” Krol said. “When I saw people running through the cold mountain night for 24 hours I thought, ‘Now this is crazy, and I want a piece.’”

Even with so many “ultras” under his belt, Krol is excited to run at Behind the Rocks.

“My favorite place to go is Moab; it is a magical place,” he said. “From the lush forest of Oregon to the high mountains of Colorado, nothing moves me like Moab. I don’t know what it is, I agree with Edward Abbey, I guess.”

Krol was introduced to Moab after running in the Red Hot 55 km and 33 km, which he has participated in the last three years.

“It first caught my eye when I saw pictures of snow on the race against the red rocks,” Krol said.

Physical therapist and ultra-marathon runner Brandon Stapanowich, of Manitou Springs, Colo., will be running the Behind the Rocks race for the Pearl Izumi Ultrarunning team and is looking forward to his first race in Moab after visiting the area for the first time last spring.

“I’m excited to explore some new-to-me parts of Moab in the Behind The Rocks Wilderness Area,” he said. “The course preview videos that Grass Roots Events posted on their website have me salivating over the terrain. Colorado mountains are great but technical slick rock is hard to come by at home. I’m definitely looking forward to a challenging day,” said Stapanowich.

Ian Torrance, a running coach, ultra-marathon runner, and former Moab resident currently living in Flagstaff, Ariz., will also be running at Behind the Rocks. Torrance has been competing in ultra-marathons for nearly 20 years, and Behind the Rocks will be his 180th ultra-marathon, with 51 victories.

Describing his passion for running, Torrance said “I just like testing myself. I like to compete. I like the trails. I like where the races take me: the scenery, the mountains, the desert, the forest. (Behind the Rocks) traverses some of the seldom-used Moab trails and Jeep roads. I’m really looking forward to running along the rim of Hunter Canyon and descending into Gatherer Canyon. I’m also looking forward to the celebration at the finish”.

The race’s starting and finish line will be at the Behind the Rocks trailhead, about 10 miles south of Moab on U.S. Hwy 191. The 53-mile race begins at 7 a.m. and the 30-mile race begins at 9 a.m. Festivities begin the night before with a pre-race dinner, check-in, and packet pick-up for racers from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Eddie McStiff’s in Moab. The dinner is free for registered runners.

First annual running of Behind the Rocks race

My favorite place to go is Moab. It is a magical place. From the lush forest of Oregon to the high mountains of Colorado, nothing moves me like Moab. I don’t know what it is, I agree with Edward Abbey, I guess.”

When: March 29, 7 a.m.

Where: Behind the Rocks trailhead, about 10 mi. south of Moab on U.S. Hwy 191