The women who can take you off your bike and into your running shoes on slickrock
When you hear Moab, you probably think of mountain biking, and why not? The red, slickrock trails have drawn mountain bikers from around the world for decades now. But just as there are guides for mountain biking the area’s iconic trails, there are running guides, too. These skilled trail runners know the best loops and every twist and turn each has to offer. And that’s because they live and breathe the town and its surrounding wilderness.
Sheri Simmons and Melissa Beaury are two such guides. While they both cross over from the mountain biking world, they are skilled trail runners with a passion for sharing their love of the outdoors on foot as much as on wheels.
I met these two powerhouses in late March when I headed to Moab to attend the Run Wild Retreats + Wellness, hosted by Elinor Fish. We spent four days running in different locations around the Utah desert, each providing more eye candy than the last. Simmons and Beaury shared their knowledge, not only of the trails, but of the Moab area in general.
“A friend recommended that I try running, so at the age of 40, I decided to run a marathon.”
Simmons, 59, has lived in Moab for 25 years, originally laying down her stakes as an outdoor guide with a wilderness first responder certification. She soon found herself working as a mountain bike guide, too, but it wasn’t until many years later that she even considered running. “A friend recommended that I try running, so at the age of 40, I decided to run a marathon,” she says. “I had always thought running would be too hard on my knees but was pleasantly surprised that wasn’t the case. I was hooked.”
Along the way, Simmons volunteered for the local Canyonlands Half Marathon and eventually became one of its directors, turning it into the for-profit Moab Half Marathon Inc. She created two more events, all the while running a variety of races herself in an effort to better understand good race directing.
Because Moab’s trail systems are so extensive and accessible, Simmons naturally migrated to dirt. “All of my regular running routes are on trails,” she says. “At one point, I’d love to cover every mountain biking route by running.”
“I built a straw-bale house there, the first of its kind in Utah.”
Beaury, who’s been in Moab for just six years, originally moved to town to work as both a mountain bike guide and a babysitter. When a local outfitter needed extra help to guide trail running clients a couple years ago, its owner turned to Beaury, who’s always been a runner.
Today, she guides a variety of runners on the local trails. “I’ve led groups, couples, and individuals,” she says. “Each one is different and has different goals.”
It might be that she helps an ultrarunner with a big race coming up. “I’ll sometimes get people who are here for work or vacation and they don’t want to let their training go,” Beaury says. “Others just want to see the sights from the vantage point of a run. I tailor the runs to the client’s needs.”
For our retreat, Beaury and Simmons tag-teamed, one in front and the other working sweep. I often ran nearer to Beaury, and I appreciated the tidbits of geography and history she shared along the way. “It’s a passion of mine to understand the area,” she says. “I feel compelled to tell folks what they’re seeing because it’s such a great area.”
Our sights included ancient petroglyphs, vivid red and yellow desert flowers, and small pools of water where Beaury searched for pre-historic tiny shrimp to show us. Not to mention the ever changing terrain and sometimes seemingly disappearing trail, all of which our run leaders expertly guided us over.
Leading the life of a trail guide takes a certain moxie that reaches beyond a love of the outdoors. It requires an embracement of the simple, yet beautiful pleasures in life, a trait that both Simmons and Beaury posess.
Take the two women’s living arrangements. Simmons, when passing through Moab for the first time back in college, put down $35 on a piece of land. “I built a straw-bale house there, the first of its kind in Utah,” she explains.
“Right now, Moab is perfect.”
Beaury, upon arriving in town, discovered a severe housing shortage. With no other options, she and her boyfriend pitched a tent. “We lived that way for a year until we could get into more permanent arrangements,” she says.
She currently lives without a car and therefore rarely leaves Moab. Although, the occasional trail race in Colorado will sometimes draw her away.
Both women recognize that Moab is on the verge of bursting in size. Beaury isn’t sure how she feels about that. “I expect I can continue with this job and lifestyle as long as I want,” she says. “but if it reaches a point where it’s too big or crowded, I’m not sure if I’ll stay.”
Simmons, on the other hand, welcomes the growth. “There’s no stopping it,” she says, “so the issue becomes how to manage it.”
For now, both are content with the lifestyles they’ve carved out for themselves and the opportunity to share the land they love with passing run tourists. “Right now,” says Beaury, “Moab is perfect.”