Race Report: Moab Rocks Stage Race

Moab Rocks 3-Day Stage Race

My husband Peter and I originally signed up for the Moab Rocks 3-Day Stage Race in March 2020…right before Covid hit. Peter had done the race in 2019 and really enjoyed it. The stages weren’t super long, the trails were awesome, and the race organizers, Trans Rockies Race Series, had put on a well-run event.

After three postponements the race was finally held this October and we drove out to Moab with our dog Domino to finally experience it! Since it is a cross-country race, Peter brought his Rocky Mountain Element and I brought my trusty Giant Anthem.

To prepare for the race, we used Peter’s knowledge of what to expect (slick rock, a few long fire road climbs, lots of punchy climbs and descents, rocky ledges). I still had some fitness from racing the Grizzly 100 at elevation in Big Bear a few weeks prior, so to prepare I rode my Anthem on as much rocky terrain as I could in Laguna Wilderness Park, Aliso & Wood Canyons, and Santiago Oaks. Overall, I felt pretty good going into the race.

Stage 1: Porcupine Rim, 23 miles, 3,400 ft elevation gain. The first day the course consisted of a long, roughly 3,000’ fire road climb up to Porcupine Rim Trail. From there Porcupine Rim is a fun, rowdy descent to the finish. Little did I know this day would become one of the toughest days I’ve ever had in a race or even on the bike, period.

It started out great. My fitness helped as I cranked steadily away at the climb and I knew I was in a good position as I had dropped several ladies on the climb up. As I started on the single track I was alone and immediately started thinking, “wow, this is pretty gnarly” as I wound my way along several sections that were very technical and rugged. Then I started to realize there were no course markings and sure enough, the “trail” ended abruptly at a cliff! Dismayed, I realized I had to walk back and try to find the race course. Eventually I found the turn I had missed, not knowing how much time I had lost and how far back I was.

Fortunately the actual course was easier than the trail I had been lost on and soon I was flying downhill, passing several guys and having a blast. Pushing a little harder than I should have (having no knowledge of the trail), I made the mistake of blindly dropping over a ledge only to discover a little boulder at the bottom. I stuffed the front wheel on it and went flying over the bars. As I was in the air I knew it was going to hurt. It took a few moments after the crash to catch my breath and make sure nothing was broken on myself or the bike. I realized I was pretty badly hurt on my right thigh, and I couldn’t put any power through the pedals.

I decided to continue and try to find the medic I knew was somewhere ahead on the trail. He advised me the shortest way out would be to turn around and go back, but he said the trail to finish the race got easier from there. So of course I had to forge ahead!

The way down was slow and painful, and I was mentally defeated in every way. Tears of frustration and pain were running down my face for the 7 miles I needed to go to get to the finish. But I FINISHED. At the end I found Peter had also had a rough first day. He had missed the mass start due to a last minute scramble for his Camelbak, he had gotten a cut in his tire near the finish and had to run to the finish line, and then he heard (wrongly) that I had been medically evacuated out the other way. Needless to say he was relieved to find me in one piece and walking.

We headed back to hotel discouraged and I was unsure if I would even be able to start the race on day two.

mountain bike racer in moab utah

Stage 2: Klondike Bluffs, 25 miles, 2,200 feet of elevation gain. The next morning I woke up sore and hardly able to walk, but I knew I had to at least try to start the race. I figured I had nothing to lose and felt no pressure. Peter was also ready for a fresh start, having replaced his tire the night before. We arrived at the Klondike Bluffs for Stage 2 and to my surprise when I started pedaling to warm up (a necessity for a brisk 36-degree morning) I actually felt ok! Somehow muscle memory must have taken over because I had an awesome day. The trails at Klondike Bluffs were a little more classic XC style and so much fun. There were just enough punchy aspects and technical features to keep you concentrating and be anything but bored.

As we started and wound our way along sections of slick rock I soon came to understand why Moab is a world-class riding destination. I did get lost again, but this time it was only for a few hundred yards. I learned I needed to constantly look around for the course markings to make sure I was on the right track among the mazes of slick rock. I fell in with a group of 3 guys who were riding about the same pace as me, and ended up leading them along for a large chunk of the race. They said they wanted to follow my lines through the technical sections (not knowing I had never done them before), and it was so fun and motivating to charge through those sections with those guys pacing behind me.

During the last seven or so miles I found myself alone again, then I was passed by a speedy woman. Not knowing if she was in my class I found an extra spark of competitive spirit and reeled her back in slowly but surely. The last four miles felt like a sprint as the singletrack opened up to a flowy fire road to the finish. I used my fitness to my advantage and passed her with about two miles to go. It turned out she was in the next younger age group but it didn’t matter, it was so fun to have a little competition and salvage a great second day out of a miserable first day.

I was happy and proud to end up second in my class that day.

Finish line moab rocks 3-day stage race

Stage 3: Mag 7, 28 miles, 2,300 ft elevation gain. The last day of the race was also the longest distance. The course for day three was kind of a mash-up of the first two days — a mix of XC style flow with some fun chunky descents and, of course, some tortuous fire road climbs. The weather continued to be glorious, with bluebird skies and a chilly morning start warming up to around 70 degrees.

I continued to have trouble walking and was generally bruised and scraped up. I had fairly severe pain in my hip as I warmed up for the race but I figured everyone else by this point was also probably feeling some sort of ache or pain so I was determined to tough it out. As we started the race on a long climb my hip warmed up and I was soon cruising along. My main goal for the day was to NOT GET LOST. My second goal was to ride smoothly, with no pressure to try to win after the disastrous first day.

I found myself thoroughly enjoying the challenge of clearing the many technical punchy rock slab climbs and working through the fatigue of the two previous days. I never felt I was going especially fast but I felt I accomplished my goal of riding smoothly. I also accomplished my goal of not getting lost, finally!

Towards the last half of the course my body definitely felt every small bump and jolt — enough that I half-wondered if my suspension was broken! I knew it was just me though, my bike was amazing the entire race despite the beating I gave it. I don’t think I had a single mis-shift or other issue the entire time. My Kenda Booster tires were perfect for the terrain, even being over a year old! I was alone for long periods of this stage, only to have one of my competitors come flying past me in the last section of the race. This time, seeing how fast she passed me, I knew I didn’t have the legs to catch her, although I did end up catching and passing another competitor in my class.

podium for moab rocks stage race 2021

At the finish line Peter was waiting for me, having had a great day on the bike as well. We enjoyed a celebratory beer and chatted with our newly made racing friends. I ended up 3rd in my class for the stage and surprisingly 3rd in my class in the GC! I was so glad I had persevered and made it through one of the worst physical and mental tests I’ve had on the mountain bike on day one.

Overall, I was so impressed by the friendliness and organization of Trans Rockies Racing. They had a terrific basecamp set up, raffle prizes, beer, and great attitudes. I also had a great time with my fellow competitors, who came from as far as Mexico, Hawaii, and Canada. I loved the course set up and would love to go back for another race.

I learned a lot about myself during this race, including how challenging it can be to re-calibrate your attitude after a rough day, but how rewarding it is to persevere and try to approach a race from a different angle and attitude than normal.

Lastly, I’d like to give a big shout-out and “thank you” to the race organizers, volunteers, medics, fellow competitors, my husband Peter, my sister-in-law Jennifer (who came out from Florida and helped us tremendously), Travis at Velofix who checked out my bike after the crash, Domino, and of course, The Path Bike Shop.

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I hope to get back out there soon!