Red Rocks of Sedona Race Report – Renee Gale

Race: Red Rocks of Sedona

Runner: Renee Gale

Race Date: 11/05/2022

Location: Sedona, Arizona

Results: 18 of 22 overall

Strava Activity Link:

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

  1. The views along the course are spectacular, this had to be the most beautiful area I’ve run in. Most of the route is single track and meanders through Ponderosa Pines, buttes, pinnacles, mesas, and canyons. I especially enjoyed the Hiline Trail where we climbed maybe 200 ft and ran a narrow path alongside a cliff edge for more than a mile with a constant view of the valley below.
  2. The weather was perfect – the morning started out in the mid-30’s and got to the low 60’s by the end of the race. Running in the Arizona desert, I usually don’t encounter much shade but there was more shade than I expected. I can’t really remember how much but I just remember it being really pleasant and much appreciated.
  3. One other nice aspect of the race was my fellow runners – very friendly! I think the field was limited to 100 runners giving the race a more intimate feeling. The ones who got there on the first shuttle (like me) had to wait in the cold for two hours before the race and a bunch of us found a place to hang out and chat in the alcove of the church where the race started.

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

I must have got lost at least 3 times. Most of the course was decently marked but there were a lot of trail changes. They had the turns listed on a piece of paper that you could take a pic of with your phone. There were 50 line items on the list and I need reading glasses to see my phone. When I’m running I got enough going on in my head without trying to decipher their turn instructions even if I could have seen them. One time I veered off course and it took me seven minutes to find my way back. One thing that makes it difficult to stay on track is when we would run over these great big rocks – those famous Red Rocks. I would be running on a trail and come to these huge expanses of rock that have no vegetation (so nowhere to hang a ribbon) and they go in every direction so I would stop and look at the horizon for some sign of where to go to next losing time, getting frustrated. In fact, I found out post-race that three people I had sat and talked with at the start line got so lost, that they decided to make up their own course for a while, then they called the director and got picked up, not finishing the 20 mile course.

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

This was the most technical course I’ve raced and also the longest. Having fallen and broken my forearm in May, my biggest goal in every race and trail run is to stay upright. I managed to do that even over many miles of rocky trail. Maybe 18 miles into the race, a female runner in front of me fell when her foot planted on a loose rock. That was a good reminder to me to keep my focus on being safe. These were big boulders on a steep descent with not a lot of footholds. I decided to shimmy down the worst of it on my bum. I think I’m most proud of the fact that I kept going and kept a positive attitude when faced with some obstacles. At mile 11, the toe of my shoe hit a rock and the pain shot up my leg into my hammie where I’ve been having some pain for more than a month. At that point, the trail was studded with uneven rocks and my hammie hurt for about two miles after that. The pain made me think I might not make it but I took a let’s just keep going and see what happens perspective. I feel I practiced a lot of mindfulness during this race – I’m learning to listen to my body. I was open to seeing what would evolve – I didn’t think “quit” nor did I think “push through the pain no matter what”. I just took it easier over those rocks and eventually felt better.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

Having never run this distance, my awesome coach Frank suggested I start out the first few miles at the low end of my easy-pace HR. I had planned on doing that but got focused on a secondary goal of keeping a certain average pace. That goal pace was slower than I’ve been running my long trail runs so I thought I was being conservative by meeting that pace goal even though my HR was averaging a bit higher than we had set. Half way through the race I realized I couldn’t keep up the “conservative pace” and settled into something more sustainable. I’ve heard it said don’t try something new for a race, for instance new shoes or eating food you’ve haven’t tested while running. Well I have always run with audio cues, one of them tells me my HR. I was worried about battery life on my watch so I turned off bluetooth which meant no audio cues. This meant looking at my watch a lot more than I’m used to and this might have affected my focusing on the HR goal. In summary, my lesson is an old one – don’t try or do something different for a race than what you are used to.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

My foot was developing a blister when I got to the first aid station. I was planning to do something for that, I had some bandages with me but I totally forgot. Then when I got to the second aid station, I still didn’t do anything. I think I have an issue with spending too much time at the aid station and I want to get going (especially after losing time getting lost). My lesson is I need to take the time or do some better preventative work.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

Sedona is a tourist town and the course was open to hikers and mountain bikers. That became more of an issue later in the race, not so much in the earlier hours.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

So so beautiful! Way too many photo op decisions!

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

For me, this was very technical. Running over those great big red boulders was difficult. They are very uneven, pockmarked and then I’d have to jump across any creases between boulders. I would get to a nice downhill section but couldn’t push the pace because the path was studded with rocks of all different sizes and shapes. I’ve been running on lots of rocky trails in Arizona but some of these were a bit trickier. I rolled my ankle a little and I’ve never done that before. The Hiline trail was pretty narrow and at the edge of a cliff, not too rocky but there were enough rocks and roots to give me pause and slow me down even though at that point, it’s pretty flat – I didn’t want to fall off the cliff!

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

It was well organized. They had shuttles to bus us to the start line and that was no issue. Coffee while we waited for the race to start. The aid stations were well stocked and the volunteers friendly and helpful.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

This was the Red Rocks of Sedona’s first race. There was a marathon (27 racers), a 20 miler (22 racers) and a 10 miler (59 racers). I would say probably not a strong field but I don’t really know.

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.

Since it’s a new race, it wasn’t hard to get into. However, Sedona is a tourist town. I booked my lodgings a little more than 2 months in advance and could only get a budget hotel, minimum amenities at $190/night.

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

Two aid stations for the 20 miler – at 7.2 miles and 14.5 miles (I didn’t get to the second aid station until 15.5 miles due to being lost, etc.) The race email said “Skratch electrolyte drink, Salt Stick chewable tablets, Muir Energy gels, Skratch bars, Krispies and Chews as well as salty snacks, bananas, coke and water” I don’t remember seeing any coke until I got to the finish line but I might have missed it because everything else was there. There were also mandarin oranges which I would have liked but they weren’t peeled or cut in half and I didn’t want to deal with that.

Weather and typical race conditions

Weather was clear. Strava shows that when I started the race at 7:45, it was 34 degrees. The high for the day was forecast for 63 but I didn’t check when I was done. A cold front had moved thru Sedona a few days before the race but the day of the race was pretty typical for November.

How’s the Swag?

Got one of those typical heavy medals on a ribbon which is fine. But I LOVE the race shirts that we got. It seems higher quality than usual and the graphics on it are pretty cool – fits really nice too.

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

I would give this race an 8 out of 10 – it was spectacularly beautiful, challenging and great single track.