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Running: Brainerd graduate completes grueling 240-mile Moab event

Ultra trail runner Julie Moulton of Pillager smiles as she runs near an aid station during the Moab 240 race in Utah. The Brainerd High School graduate placed 17th among women, 69th overall. Photo by Scott Rokis

By almost anyone's definition, Julie Moulton is crazy.

The Brainerd High School graduate has taken her passion for ultra-trail running to the ultimate level. From Oct. 12-16, she completed the Moab 240 Endurance Run, a 238.3-mile, five-day foot race through some of Utah's most beautiful and challenging terrain.

The race course is a massive loop that begins and ends in Moab, Utah. It follows the Colorado River through Canyonlands National Park and makes its way across the Abajo and the La Sal mountains back to Moab.

It was Moulton's first 200-mile race. She completed the grueling course in 103 hours, 7 minutes, 35 seconds, placing 17th in the women's division, 69th overall. Of the 153 runners registered, only 111 (84 men, 27 women) finished the 238.3 miles in the allotted 112 hours.

Runners from all over the world participated, but Moulton was the only racer from Minnesota. At 29, the Pillager resident was also one of the youngest. Only seven finishers were under age 30.

Moulton (formerly Julie Tertin) graduated from BHS in 2007 and attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She is a client services specialist at Blackridge Bank in Baxter. Aside from one season as a BHS Nordic skier, she was not an athlete in high school or college.

"I didn't start running until after college," Moulton said. "After college, I moved back home and lived in the Pillsbury Forest I had nothing better to do, so I ran down my driveway, and then I ran down the state forest road, and I found myself really liking it, so I thought I would do the Run for the Lakes (Marathon). That was my first half-marathon and it was great."

That was 2014. The next year she ran Grandma's Marathon in Duluth and then jumped into ultra-trail marathons, running her first 50-mile race in 2016.

"Moab is an absolutely beautiful place and my husband (Brent) and I go there every year to rock climb," she said. "So when I heard about this 200 race, actually it's about 240 miles, I thought, 'I don't know if I can do it, but I'm gonna try it.'"

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Moab 240 facts:

Race dates: Oct. 12-16, 2018

Race course: 238.3 mile non-repetitive single loop

Registered racers: 153 (113 men, 40 women)

Finishers: 111 (84 men, 27 women)

Men's winner: Piotr Hercog, 42, Poland, 60:14:47

Women's winner: Jessica Pekari, 33, El Paso, TX 77:26:01 (9th overall)

More information on Moab 240 and Triple Crown of 200s can be found at www.grandslam200.com/home.html

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When asked about preparing for such a race, Moulton said it's all about "time on your feet. I've run about 2,600 miles so far this year. It's time on your feet, early morning running, night running and headlamp running."

Already this year, Moulton competed in a 100-mile race in El Paso, Texas, and three 50-mile races in Minnesota and South Dakota as well as several other shorter races. She trains by running one night a week and on weekends in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area trails and also spends time running in the Pillsbury State Forest and Northland Arboretum.

Over the course of the Moab 240, racers climb and descend 29,467 feet of elevation. Temperatures are in the high 80s in the canyons with freezing cold and snow in the mountains, creating a challenge for runners. Racers run on cattle and wildlife trails and rocks, with very few groomed, established trails. The cutoff time of 112 hours equals nearly five days to finish.

There are 14 aid stations about 20 miles apart throughout the course with food and water, and in six of them, tent sleeping stations. Sleeping is limited to six hours. Medical assistance is also available at the aid stations.

"You can also sleep out on the trail if you want," Moulton said. "I tried not to use the sleep stations and originally I had planned not to sleep more than two or three hours a night at the most.

"The first night I slept one hour and most nights I ran through the first half or second half of the night, except for the night I got delayed."

Moulton explained runners have to carry whatever they will need on the trail. She ran with a hydration pack, electrolytes, as much water as her pack could hold, jackets, gloves, hat, emergency blanket, GPS tracker, snacks, headlamp with extra batteries and any other layers of clothing she could fit.

"After the first 73 miles, you are allowed to have a crew meet you at an aid station," she said. "They can't carry anything for you, or really do anything other than meet you and have your stuff there. But then you can have a pacer (another person) with you. I was lucky to have a pacer with me. They can't carry anything, but they run with you and keep you from getting lost.

"If you start hallucinating, or get disorientated, it's helpful to have them there for safety. So I did have someone with me, for sure most nights, and then some of the days."

Members of Moulton's crew included her husband Brent, and friends Rick Berg and Erin Kelly who helped as pacers.

"Brent has zero interest in running," she said. "He hates it, but is an excellent crew. He does all the logistics, he meets me at the aid stations, and helps with everything else. And I am lucky I had two friends, two really crazy friends, who were willing to go sleep in an Impala (Chevrolet) and run around the desert with me."

Moulton described how her five-day adventure unfolded.

"The race started in Moab on a perfect morning and we headed up through Hidden Valley," she said. "It's hot in the canyons with temperatures around 80-85 degrees, so we were boiling. I was in a tank top and shorts with sunscreen and sunglasses.

"As the day goes along, you're simply in a maze of canyons. And then the sun sets early—it sets below the rim of the canyon—and it is instant cold.

"The nights are very cold and as we start climbing the Abajo Mountains, it's getting real cold. I mean we are climbing 8,000, 9,000 feet, and it was freezing cold. That was the second day.

"The third day, we actually climbed the La Sal Mountains, which is a beautiful mountain range with 12,000-foot snow-covered peaks, just gorgeous, but freezing. This year, I believe, it was 14 degrees up there and there was over 2 feet of snow. At the aid stations, there's hot food and fires you can sit by with little chairs and blankets where people try to warm up, and then keep going."

The toughest part of the race for Moulton came during the second day about 140 miles into the race. "The furthest I had ever run (before) was about 105 miles and at about 140 miles, I came into an aid station and my feet were hurting really bad," she said. "I stopped and changed my shoes and socks and I noticed there was a big blister on the bottom of my feet. The pad of my foot had actually ripped beneath all of my toes and there was a big rip in between each toe.

"The medical staff delayed and kept me there for about eight hours for my feet to dry out. I had some really bad blisters on the bottoms of both feet. I wasn't pulled from the race, but was told that I would have to wait there until they could properly bandage me before I could continue.

"At that point, looking at my feet, tears just started falling out of my eyes. I wasn't crying, but I was just worried. I still had over 100 miles to go and I thought my feet were wrecked. The No. 1 rule of ultra-running is don't wreck your feet.

"(When they let me continue) I actually went on alone. I didn't have a pacer. I just needed to remember why I was doing this, and kind of reconnect with the race, so I went off by myself. That was a good thing for me to do and kind of got my head out of that dark place.

"There's no way you can't run without highs and lows, even if it's a marathon. With an ultra, you have higher highs and lower lows. I didn't quite know what to expect and it was long highs and then long lows and that point was a long low for me.

"When I got through the La Sal Mountains—that's the longest and hardest part—I knew that all I had to do was get back to Moab. That was a high for 60 miles because I knew I could do it. I knew it was done—I just had to get there, even with my wrecked feet."

After the race, her feet were swollen so bad she couldn't wear street shoes. The bottoms of her feet were raw and she wore slippers for the next two days on the way home.

When asked if she would do it again, Moulton gave a resounding "yes."

"Absolutely," she added. "There's something called the Triple Crown. Very few people do it, very few women do it, and very few young women do it, so I think it would be really neat to do."

The Triple Crown starts with the Bigfoot 200 in Washington in mid-August followed by the Tahoe 200 in California and Nevada in September and concludes with the Moab 240 in October.

"I would like to do it next year, but I need to figure it out," Moulton said. "This year went well. I finished well, and completed the task, but I did it too slow. And that was because of my feet, but now I know how to take care of my feet."

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