It was nearly 100 miles into the Moab 240, and Jessi Morton-Langehaug saw something laying on the trail. It was a quartzite rock that shimmered in sunlight. “Olive would like this,” she thought as she picked it up and put it in her 20-pound pack.
For the next several miles, she would carry that rock she handpicked for her 6-year-old daughter. Little did she know that the rock would be a metaphor for the 140 miles ahead, and that all that it represented would eventually lead her to a first-place finish.
That quartzite rock, however, symbolized much of what Morton-Langehaug experienced over the course of the race. Some parts were dark, while there were moments she shined. She found times when the daunting load was relatively simple to bear, while others felt heavy. And much like that rock that she saw sitting on the trail, Morton-Langehaug had moments of rest, and there were times when she required a kind soul to help carry her through.
According to Morton-Langehaug, who began racing ultras in 2016, the Moab 240 was a bit of a daunting task to begin with. “When asked how I was feeling going into the race, I told people I was approaching it as a hundred mile, then some 50’s because the distance all together felt incomprehensible,” she wrote in a Facebook post.
With several 50- and 100- mile races already under her belt, this was a reasonable way to look at a 240-mile trek. What she didn’t totally account for, however was the heat of the Moab desert, and due to that, she suffered from dehydration early on. “Day one was tough!” she wrote. “It was so hot and exposed. I messed up on how I read the water chart and thought the next water station was four miles away, so I left mile 17 with two liters of water. The next aid station was over 15 miles away and very exposed. I fell behind in my water intake… I hit my first real low… It was hot…”
At that time, Morton-Langehaug was in the lead, and second place was closing in. Losing her lead could have brought her down even more mentally, but meeting up with another person on the trail, was just what she needed to keep moving forward. “... Another badass from Canada named Jessie Thomson came along and asked if I wanted to walk to the next aid station with her,” Morton-Langehaugh wrote. “We held hands and trudged through the heat, both of us out of water for the last four miles. We shared stories and I instantly knew we would be friends!”
The miles slogged on like the sand she was trudging in, and her feet began to feel it. At each aid station starting at 100 miles, became a time to count, pop and treat the blisters that were appearing. Morton-Langehaug said that she brought four different pairs of shoes with her and a medical box, and there was nothing she needed at the aid stations that she didn't have. “When I came into a major aid station, I sat in the back of my outback and ate food, while my crew, Tom Fletcher and Bobby Seeberger taped my feet,” she said. “I took the extra time at the aid station to take care of myself and it made a big difference. I also took the time to really enjoy my time. At the major aid stations, I laughed and joked with my crew. I had so much fun."
During tough times, good music helped carry her through, both serving as a way to drown out pain and bring light and energy. Morton-Langehaug described putting in her earbuds so she could “go dark” for a while, as well as a time when jamming to the rock band “Heart” was what kept her on her feet.
Sleep deprivation and weather added to the challenges. A storm with 20-40 mile per hour winds blew in just, and things got really hard. “A storm blew in and we had 20 to 40 mile head winds as we climbed up a rocky Jeep trail to the top of pole canyon,” she wrote. “When I got to the top my mom said, ‘Jess, you need to rest here because if you play this next leg right, you’ll win this race. You are stronger than the girls behind you.’ I told her to set an alarm for 30 minutes but I woke up in 15 and Aaron and I headed back out. This is where I came alive.”
The fall leaves lined the singletrack of the La Sal Mountain range, and Morton-Langehaug felt like she was flying -- until she got lost for nearly an hour on the course. A nap, refuel, some new tape on her feet, and a fresh set of feet by way of pacer, John Maack set a positive state for the final 40 miles. “I felt great at first and was so happy to be running so well post 200 miles,” she wrote. “After about five miles on a fire road I started to get so tired because I didn’t have the beautiful Le Sals to distract me. My attention kept going to my painful feet. I laid down beside the road to try to get some energy back and to get weight off of my feet. I hit another low.”
It was at that low when her pacer, John Maack helped to redirect her energy into a strong finish, and when she had to dig deep within.
“At the last aid station, I tried to fix my feet,” she recalled. “John kept saying,’ try not to think about them. I know they hurt but you need to try to pull your energy somewhere else.’ … “At one point, in a very grumpy manner, I told John I just wanted to get done, no more stopping, everything is going to hurt. … I started chanting my mantra out loud, ‘Pain is temporary. I am strong.’ I did this over and over as I tried to hold back tears of pain and fatigue. Crossing that finish line felt so dang good. I can honestly say I left everything on the trail. I gave it my all.”
After 240 miles totaling 80 hours and nine minutes, Morton-Langehaug not only crossed that finish line as first place female, but she came in three hours ahead of the second-place woman.
Bringing that win with her to the Cocodona 250
The finish that day, would be the start of something that would catapult her into elite runner status. It would put her in a position of a projected top three female finish going into the prestigious Cocodona 250 race in Arizona that will be held on May 3, 2021. The rankings come from Ultrasignup which calculates your ranking from prior races. And while Morton-Langehaug is excited to be ranked so high among other talented runners, she understands that there are variables outside of ranking algorithms. She knows that she will have to work hard to reach her potential.
“I think there is some truth to the ranking, but I also think there is a lot more that goes into how well a runner performs,” she said. “How do they handle the heat? How do they handle sleep deprivation? Everyone has bad races, and I had a few bad races last summer where I kept throwing up and my health wasn’t great. To be honest, I try not to think too much about my ranking. So much can happen in a long race like this, and my ultimate goal is to enjoy the experience. However, I would be lying if I said I wasn't’ going for an overall top 20 spot or a podium finish.”
Morton-Langehaug says that she is both excited and nervous for the Cocodona 250, but hopes that her preparation will show in how she performs. “I am equally excited and intimidated by this race,” she said. “It will be 15 miles longer than any race I’ve run, and in heat that I’m not used to training in right now. I have been using a sauna to prepare for the heat. I also spent my spring break in Arizona where I ran the rim to rim to rim, followed by the last section of the course. I also ran 10 miles of the Sedona section.”
As far as a goal time, she says she’d like to finish under 80 hours, and not just because it’s a goal time. Morton-Langehaug would like to have time for a little R and R. “I am renting a condo in Sedona for the race, and I would love to finish in time to at least enjoy it,” she joked. “I am also really excited about the concept of this course. I love that we get to run through so many towns. I am stoked for the saloon. I most likely will not have a shot of whiskey, but the idea of having an aid station in a saloon is genius because It shows that the race directors want us to enjoy ourselves and that is what I plan to do.”