Red Rocks of Sedona 2 Day Stage Race Report – Renee Gale

Race: Red Rocks of Sedona 2 Day Stage Race

Runner: Renee Gale

Race Date: 03/25/2023

Location: Sedona, Arizona

Results: 36 of 46 overall Saturday, 40 of 41 overall Sunday

Strava Activity Link:

Photo: Arnold Begay

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. The Red Rocks of Sedona really are red and it is so beautiful no matter where you are on the trails.
  2. The routes I ran this time in Sedona were less rocky than the race I ran there last year. It had been raining the week before this race and almost all the trail surfaces were nice, compact mud that felt comfy under my feet. Of course that meant a lot of crossing over a wet “Dry” Creek.
  3. I really like the smallness of this race – it makes for a very friendly atmosphere both with the runners and the race staff. One of the race facilitators even recognized me from last November. Also, you get to pick your distances each day from 55k/35k/19k Saturday and 50k/30k/17k Sunday.

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

Because it had been raining all week, there were flooding issues with the routes on Day 2 of the race that made the original planned course unsafe. The course was re-routed from what was going to be more of one big loop to a course that included an out and back followed by three loops originating near the start line. Being a slower runner, I had to do a lot of hopping off the single track to let others go by both coming at me and coming up behind me. That would not have been an issue on the original planned route.

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

Not weird but semi-entertaining: after the race, one of the runners sat down next to me on the curb and started chatting, telling me this was his second year at the Sedona Stage Race. He started unravelling a couple pounds of tape from both his ankles telling me that last year he ran this race, that it had been his very first trail race and that he had run the race in combat boots because he has bad ankles. Then he proceeded to pull up a photo of himself with a gigantic bare belly from before he started running. Apparently he has lost over a hundred pounds since then.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

I had been dealing with a hamstring injury for over six months leading up to this race. It would get better, it would get worse. I ran a 20 mile race in November and a 50k race in December with this sore hamstring and finally in January, it just wouldn’t let me run anymore. I did some physical therapy, took off a couple of weeks and then when I resumed some running, I had to rely on cycling for cross training. I was only able to run 3-4 times a week instead of 5-6. Also, I didn’t have the opportunity in this training block to run back to back long runs which would have been helpful as this was a 2 day stage race and I had never before run long distances back to back. What I did well was manage the whole PT and cross training to the point that my hamstring finally healed and I was able to run both days without any hammie issues. Another thing that has helped immensely is using poles. My coach made the suggestion thinking it would allow me to stand taller when I hike and run hills, taking pressure off the hamstring. I used the poles throughout both days of running and they even help me mentally. I feel safer from falling as I have certainly had my share of tumbles!

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

I learned that I can start a race running with sore toes! This was one of my biggest concerns going into the race. After a long run, my second toes are always super sore, especially the next day and the thought of doing a long run starting out with sore toes was making me anxious. What I found out was that the toes were not my limiting factor – it ended up being my quads that gave me problems. I ran 13 miles on Saturday and had planned to run 20 miles on Sunday. By the time I got to mile 12 on day two, I was having serious doubts on getting to 20. My quads were so sore on the downhills that I looked forward to the uphills so that they would get relief. For a couple of miles, I forced myself to keep on going – I really wanted to get to that 20 miles. I would run to the count of twenty, then hike to the count of twenty over and over until finally I just couldn’t anymore. So instead of doing the last loop, I hiked to the finish for a final distance of 14 miles.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

The RD requires that we run with the app “Ride with GPS” or an equivalent (Ride with GPS gives voice cues for navigation). The course is minimally marked and it is very easy to get lost. We were emailed the GPX files to download to our devices and didn’t have to buy the app to use the specific race courses. The app worked perfect on Saturday; however on Sunday, I did end up going the wrong way even though I had the course loaded on my phone. I pre-maturely took one of the three loops in the re-route (due to flooding); the app didn’t beep at me to tell me I was off course because the loop was part of the course; I just took it at the wrong time.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

It’s just so pretty in Sedona. In the hotel the night before I was listening to the local TV channel explain how, because of its beauty, over 100 movies have been filmed in Sedona, mostly in the early 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Lots of never-ending eye candy on the trail!

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

Both days, the courses were easier than the race I ran here in November. Most of the trails were compact mud and less rocks than I experience on the bulk of Arizona desert trails. I would say elevation gain/loss wasn’t difficult either. A little less than 100ft gain/loss per mile. There was only about a mile of trail that I had a hard time with because it was a little rockier, narrower and at the edge of a cliff but at that point, my quads were toast and I was mentally tired too. The trickiest part of the course was all the water crossings on Day 1. What is normally a dry creek bed had standing water in it and I had to step my way across on small rocks that poked out of the water. There were multiple crossings and each one had the effect of slowing me down as I had to first find the shallowest path across and then once across, I had to locate the continuation of the trail which wasn’t always evident.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Though small, this organization, Trail Running Escapes, is pretty organized. The race director is so easy to communicate with and very responsive.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

I would say not a strong field – this is a small race, I think the limit is 100 runners/day across all distances. Plus it’s fairly new, this being the second annual event. This woman sat next to me right after finishing the race and she was so excited to find that she was 1st female overall in the 30k, that it was totally unexpected and a nice surprise. She asked me if I was “Renee Gale” and when I said yes, she showed me that I was listed as 2nd female overall in the 30k and I laughed! I had signed up for the 30k so the system didn’t yet know that I had dropped down in distance. I ran 14 miles in the time it took her to run 20! Anyway, I emailed the RD and she dropped me down to the 17k race which is nice because I understand that every race is different and sometimes one just gets a DNF.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

Sedona is a tourist town so if one decides to run this race, get a hotel as soon as possible. The mid-range ones are expensive, I think I saw like at least $300-$400 a night for your standard hotel. I stayed in a budget-type hotel which was $350 for two nights. The race itself seems pretty easy to get into since it’s small and not well known.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

The aid stations were stocked with water, Skratch, coke, ginger ale, salty snacks, fruit (bananas and unpeeled tangerines), gels (Muir), chews and bars. There were restrooms on day 1 but none on day 2.

Weather and typical race conditions

Both in November and now in March, the temperature starting out was in the low 30’s. This weekend, the high got to the mid 50’s. It was perfect running weather, partly cloudy on Saturday, sunny on Sunday. Earlier in the week, it rained a lot and at first it was looking like it might rain on Saturday. But as the week progressed, the probability decreased and we ended up with no rain.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?

From the race website: “All racers will be required to carry their phone with the Ride with GPS app loaded with each day’s route OR wear a watch/device with the race’s GPX/TCX files for navigation purposes. This is mandatory!”

How’s the Swag?

I got to say, best hoodie t-shirt ever: it’s soft, form fitting, tasteful addition of decals, something I can actually wear out in public rather than as pj’s! Also received a belt buckle which I don’t know what I’m going to do with.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

I would give this race a 5 out of 5. I love running the trails at Sedona.

Photo: Arnold Begay