In 1987, the New York Giants beat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI, and Giants quarterback Phil Simms kicked off what has become perhaps one of the best-known phrases in marketing history.
“I’m going to Disneyland!” he exclaimed.
Thanks to a tragically short attention span, I don’t really follow professional sports, and I’m certainly not one of those steel-trap folks who can tell you sport-trivia from decades before they were born. But this phrase rings true with me.
“Emma Walker, you’ve just shuffled over twenty miles of incredibly technical trail and slickrock!” I can hear the imaginary reporter congratulating me, “What are you going to do next?”
Despite my exhaustion, I turn to the camera and flash my best movie-star grin.
“I’m going to Milt’s Stop-n-Eat!”
It’s true, except the part with the reporter (no one interviews you if you run the 33-kilometer course slower than the person who won the 55k race). But the rest is true: Last Saturday, after almost six months of training for and worrying about Moab’s Red Hot Ultra, I laced up my trail runners and staggered twenty miles from the Gemini Bridges road to the Poison Spider trailhead.
In the course of my worrying, I scoured dozens of race reports and asked a seasoned ultra-running friend for advice.
“It’s all mental,” she told me.
She was right. You know how I got through those twenty (admittedly grueling) miles?
One word: Milt’s.
Quick aside: For those who have not spent enough time in Moab, I’m happy—thrilled, even—to explain what all the fuss is about. Milt’s Stop-n-Eat is the oldest restaurant in Moab. It opened in 1954 on what used to be Main Street. Eventually, Main Street moved, and I imagine Milt was worried about the impact on his business, but dammit if those malts weren’t so good that nobody cared what street the restaurant was on.
Today, you can order at the counter inside, or, if you know what’s good for you, eat your double bacon cheeseburger with a side of tots and like three containers of that special sauce on one of the picnic tables haphazardly arranged in the side yard.
I thought about Milt’s right out of the gate, as we climbed a snow-covered hill out of Gemini Bridges. I rhapsodized about that perfectly melted cheese as I passed the first aid station and choked down a package of Honey Stingers, imagining them as tiny cheeseburgers despite that the label read “Orange Blossom.” At mile 6, where the trail stops pretending to switch it up and becomes exclusively slickrock, I felt grateful that Milt’s employees are always considerate enough to ask if you want everything on your burger, and that “everything” includes mayo. (Seriously, what’s up with being made to ask for mayo?)
Just after the second aid station, I made a friend whose pace matched mine. We ran together for a few miles, during which time I did my best not to let my eyes, overtaken by delirium, see a human-sized tater tot jogging along beside me, because she was very nice and interesting and because I have social skills.
When, at long last, I spotted the Colorado River from atop the Poison Spider Mesa, I waxed poetic to my new friend about the singular pleasure of a chocolate malt, and how I believed I was finally ready to take my relationship with Milt’s to the next level: Would I finally take the plunge and order tots AND onion rings?
“I’m vegan,” she told me. Perhaps not everyone is motivated to run entirely by the prospect of stuffing their face with an unholy number of calories. Ah, well. More Milt’s for me!
I thought after the race was over and I was sated, I’d know right away whether I’d caught the ultra-running bug or if it was time to hang up my proverbial dancing shoes. I guess I was too tired the night of the race to care much one way or the other, but on Sunday night, just for fun, Bix entered our mileage and times into an algorithm dreamt up by someone much smarter than me. It said I’d burned just over 2,000 calories in my four-and-a-half hours of suffering. He, in 34 miles and six-and-a-half hours, had burned 3,500.
As he told me this, of course, my eyeballs became tiny cheeseburgers, the way Donald Duck’s flash dollar signs when he’s found a way to get rich quick.
Think of the burgers you could eat to make up 3,500 calories! Of the tots! The chocolate malts! Do I want to run an ultra? Yes—yes, a thousand times, yes!
Last Friday, as I got things squared away to duck out of work early for Moab, a coworker wished me luck on the race.
“Are you ready?” she asked.
I launched into a vivid explanation of my post-race plans with Milt, my one truest love, and was soon on the edge of an olfactory hallucination.
“Jeez,” she laughed nervously, probably wondering how I’d managed to make it this far with so little in the way of social graces, “Are you going there for the race or a burger?”
The race was hard. It was many miles of steep slickrock, punctuated only occasionally by technical, ankle-breaking jeep trail, and at the end of it, I felt better than I expected to. Or anyway, I didn’t collapse. Blah blah blah, insert thing about feeling strong and being proud of my accomplishment, etc. But, yeah, Milt’s made me feel pretty good, too. I guess if I had to answer that question now that this race is over, it would be the same answer I gave her last week:
Can it be both?