Gypsum’s Lucas Rivera tackles the Moab 200, running for Speak Up Reach Out
Lucas Rivera hasn’t yet closed the books on his Moab 200 fundraising effort for Speak Up Reach Out.
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GYPSUM — For 107 hours — from Oct. 12-16 — Lucas Rivera, of Gypsum, ran his way through the desert and across the mountains around Moab, Utah, to achieve a personal goal and aid a personal cause.
Think of it as commitment in motion.
Rivera, the health and wellness supervisor for Mountain Recreation — formerly the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District — is an ultra marathoner and a supporter of the local suicide prevention group Speak Up Reach Out. He combined those two passions in his most recent effort — the Moab 200. Actually, that’s a bit of a misnomer because the race covered 243 miles.
“It was supposed to be 238 miles, but they got hit with a huge snowstorm so they had to revise part of the course and it actually made it longer,” Rivera said.
But then, what’s 5 more miles when you’ve already spent more than four days trekking through a landscape that included both baking heat and frigid cold? It takes a special kind of person to take on that challenge, and Rivera is plainly that kind of guy.
“It’s about seeing how far you can push your body. It’s about having your limit but pushing past that limit,” Rivera said. “There’s something about tackling an adventure this big.”
In search of a challenge
As a young athlete who played both high school and college football, Rivera hated distance running. But he always liked taking on a physical challenge. He came to work for Mountain Recreation after college and in 2011, he learned about the local Tough Mudder race.
“I started training for that and I thought, ‘How am I ever going to run 10 miles?’” Rivera said in a 2017 interview. “I had never been a fan of running. It just wasn’t my thing.”
But that race was the athletic equivalent of a gateway drug to Rivera. From there he went on to run progressively tougher races, including the World’s Toughest Mudder in New Jersey and the Leadville 100. The Leadville race taught him some valuable lessons. He didn’t finish the first time he attempted the race in 2013, which led him to adopt a year-long training regime. He successfully ran the Leadville 100 in 2014 and again in 2015 and 2016. He found himself engulfed in the fraternity that exists among ultra marathoners and he learned about an incredible Triple Crown series of 200-mile events — the Bigfoot 200 in Washington State, the Tahoe 200 and the Moab 200. Last year, Rivera completed the Bigfoot 200 and he set his sights at the Moab 200 in 2018.
But as he was training for the event, Rivera decided that he wanted to take on an additional challenge. His goal became two-fold — to complete the Moab 200 and to raise money for a cause that is close to his heart.
As a member of the Mountain Recreation staff, last year Rivera attended a suicide assistance training presented by Speak Up Reach Out. It was a powerful experience.
“People want to help, but I would say the vast majority of the public doesn’t know the steps to take to assist someone who is suicidal,” Rivera said.
“I have family members who struggle with mental health issues, from the veterans’ side of things. That’s what has driven me to pursue helping people out,” he said.
The Speak Up Reach Out training taught him how to talk with someone who is contemplating suicide and how to help him or her through a tough time.
“People feel helpless and Speak Up Reach Out is a small-budget organization that does a lot,” Rivera said. “I want to be more involved with Speak Up Reach Out and the support and help they can offer.”
He decided to make his Moab 200 run a fundraiser for the local suicide prevention group. Ultimately he collected pledges and donations totaling more than $10,000 for Speak Up Reach Out.
“Next year, I want to hit my $100,000 goal,” he said.
The Moab 200 was every bit the challenge that Rivera expected.
“The temperatures were 70 degrees during the day but in the canyons, where everything is rock, it radiated that heat,” he said.
But after the sun went down, it was a very different story. Temperatures dipped down to 9 degrees at night in the La Sal Mountain Range.
“That caused a lot of racers to experience hypothermia and a lot of them had to drop out,” Rivera said.
There were 155 runners at the start of the Moab 200 and 108 of them finished the race.
“That’s a high finish rate for an ultra race. It shows the people know what they have gotten themselves into,” Rivera said.
After facing high humidity in last year’s Bigfoot 200, Rivera said the dry conditions for the Moab 200 were more reminiscent of Gypsum weather. The stark landscape of Utah was also a big change from the lush vegetation of Washington State.
“It was gorgeous in its own way, though,” he said.
Not that he spent a lot of time enjoying the view. The Moab 200 featured a 243-mile course that looped in a huge circle. Runners had to watch their footing on slick rock as they made their way to the various trail markers and checkpoints along the course. Out on the trail, Rivera had help from a pace crew that included his wife Brittany, his dad and five local friends. He also had running buddies out on the trail.
“Ultra marathoners are probably the friendliest athletes out there,” Rivera said. “You bond a lot because you go through so much together.”
“Sleep deprivation is obviously the hardest part,” Rivera continued. “The biggest challenges were to not let myself fall asleep or get lost. Racers can get lost for hours at a time.”
Rivera figures he slept for about seven hours total over the four-and-a-half-day race. He would grab a 10- to 20-minute nap along the side of the trail and his goal was to run 22 hours at a stretch.
“The rocky conditions were hard on your feet,” Rivera said. “We saw a lot of banged up, battered, zombie-looking feet out there.”
He went through three pairs of shoes and socks during his run, where he burned more than 50,000 calories.
Once you get past the agony of the physical challenges, Rivera said running an ultra marathon brings remarkable mental clarity.
“It really helps me recognize how good I have it in my life,” he said.
Back home again
At the conclusion of the Moab 200, Rivera ate three hamburgers and passed out.
“I fell asleep in a lawn chair right at the finish line,” he said. “The total recovery takes a solid month. The sleep deprivation is the hardest part to recover from, more even than the physical soreness.”
Within days of returning home, Rivera began training for his next endeavor — The Lead Man Series.
This Leadville series runs over the course of a single summer and includes a 50-mile bike race or run, a 100-mile mountain bike race, a 10K train run and the Leadville 100.
“But I am going to up the ante — I am going to be the first person to make the Leadville 100 a 200-mile race,” Rivera said.
He plans to run the first 100 miles with all the other racers and the second 100 miles solo.
“It’s a big goal. I would really like to do that,” he concluded.