I stand among a group of jittery, hyper-fit folks in the dim predawn light. We're engulfed in sinuous red rock. Sunrise explodes over the horizon, bathing the starting line in light and warmth. We turn east, an instinctual response to the change in our environment. Everything glows—faces, legs, rocks—in an otherworldly shade of red. This is the starting line of last month's Red Hot Moab 55-Kilometer trail race on February 18.
Into this serene landscape the race director shouts "Go!" through a megaphone. A few hundred runners bullet away. And we begin our journey across the dirt roads and slickrock of Moab the backcountry. I'll run about 33 miles today, a healthy distance to kick off an ultrarunning season. Ultrarunners run and race distances in excess of a marathon. I'm one of these funny creatures. We run for hours, sometimes a day or more, without stopping, often for cash prizes but more often just for the endorphins and challenge.
Today, though, I'm only chasing fitness. I hope to gain some from this race and apply it to harder events later this year. I move in in a blur of red dust broken only by brief conversations with other runners, the quiet of my own mind, and views of the Moab landscape. I have to put my head down to run. With about 10 miles remaining, I have energy to spare. I shift into the next gear and go.
I catch my breath for a quick exchange with another runner upon a stretch of slickrock called the Golden Spike, named for the way its yellow sandstone tilts toward the sky, "How about that sunrise?" I say. "I could hardly believe it was real," he replies. "That's rocket fuel for times like these." Powered by nature—or just a bang-up sunrise—we rocket on. —Meghan H. Hicks