Thursday, June 9, 2011

Jemez Mountain Trail Run – 50 mile race recap - May 21, 2011

Course Description - Single track trails and dirt roads in and around Los Alamos, NM in the scenic Jemez Mountains. The 50 mile course will run through the wild and scenic Valles Caldera National Preserve.

My adventure started on Thursday night with a nice 8 hour drive from Phoenix to Los Alamos, New Mexico. The climb out of the Valley of the Sun immediately led to much, much cooler temperatures in the elevations of Flagstaff and my journey along I40 East into New Mexico. Dark ominous clouds seemed to build along side of me as I continued driving into the night. Soon they would pass me once and for all as I was forced to pull over at a rest area for the night as the darkness and solitude of the road had drained me.

As the sun broke free from the darkness in the wide open Albuquerque sky I awoke fresh and invigorated, well, I woke up anyways. Immediately I noticed that the dark ominous clouds had decided to rest for the night around me as well and they had brought there friends along for the ride as well. Things did not look good weather wise for the race the next day.

As I finished my drive into Los Alamos rain drops started to fall and it showed no signs of letting up anytime soon. But just as I thought that, the rain ended and the clouds started to push off toward the mountains. It was as if they just wanted to say hello and tease me for a bit. Well it had worked as I had already began to think of how the creeks would be running, the fresh mud I would have to tromp through, and the snow, Lord no, tell me I didn’t just say or think of the S word! Yes I always think of the worst that could happen first in races such as this because that way I can be prepared for anything, well atleast I thought that I could be prepared for anything, but all of that was about to change as race time drew nearer.

As I awaited the chance to check into my hotel I did some last minute shopping at Smith’s Grocery Store and then walked around town for a bit. I found a unique department store called CB Fox which doubled as the runner’s store as well, took some photos of some funky buildings and just tried to adjust to the elevation a bit. After awhile I drove out to the Posse Shack, the starting area for the race, and did a little pre-race review of the surroundings.

The fresh, cold, damp air filled my lungs as I stared down my opponent, the mountains that were to be my playground on the next day. My eyes locked in on some snow on the peaks and I just knew that I would somehow, someway end up near that area. I was scanning everything that I could, trying to take mental pictures of every up and down that I could see. It was so beautiful. It was so amazing. It was so overwhelming.

Before I knew it, it was time to head back into town and check into the hotel. I unpacked all of my things and got everything in order and set to go. Shortly thereafter I walked over to the Crossroads Bible Church and waited in line as the race crew finished up getting everything ready for the packet pickup and pasta dinner.
I always feel out of place at events like this as I see all of these super athletes that show up with all of their fancy gear and their sculpted and finely chiseled bodies. I know that I am not in their class, no where near it for that matter, but so what. I am having fun and some how, some way, I am getting it done. It isn’t always pretty, ok, so it is never pretty…and it isn’t always fast, ok, so it is never fast but it is working and I am getting ever so slowly closer toward working on my goal of completing a Half Marathon, a Full Marathon, a 50K, a 50 Miler, and a 100 Miler in every state. Yes I know not every state has a 100 miler…yet…but I can hope that maybe someday they will…and when that day comes I WILL BE THERE!!!

Yes, just like my friend Giri in the races, I sometimes get off track a bit as I write up these adventures and for that I apologize and say, deal with it, because it will happen again sooner or later….

In getting back to this adventure, I got all signed in and picked up my goodie bag, bib and shirt and then immediately found my way over to the dinner room. I appreciated the fact that the race had asked the runners to try to bring their own plates and silverware if possible as the church had donated all of the food to the runners at no cost to the race organizers so that more of the proceeds from the entry fees could go to the local organizations in need, such as the Los Alamos High School Cross Country and Track Teams, the Valles Caldera National Preserve, and even for two scholarships funds that benefit the LAHS students. Needless to say I had remembered to buy a Tupperware bowl and was able to have it filled up so that I could take my leftovers back to the hotel for a meal after the race the next day! Always planning!!! Wooohooo!!! Hey…it was a small bowl!

After eating and chatting with some fellow excited and nervous runners and listening to the race director’s welcome and brief briefing, I excused myself for the night and headed back to the hotel. After getting all taped up (KT TAPE – plug for a future sponsor??????) and drinking the last of my SUGAR FREE VANILLA ICED COFFEE (from McDonald’s – another shameless plug for a future sponsor???) I got ready for bed. I just laid there for what seemed to be forever, constantly thinking about the race, telling myself not to go out too fast, telling myself not to ever give up, telling myself that this was not going to be the day that I would get my first DNF in 174 races, telling myself to relax and to go to sleep. Before I knew it, the alarm roared in the background and demanded that I jumped to attention and answer its call. It was time to get a move on. It was time to test myself once again. It was time.

As I pulled into the parking lot near the Posse Shack I immediately felt the nerves kick in as my pre-race stomach reared its ugly head once again and I immediately had to head over to the port-a-johns. Yes I am nervous and I would never tell you any different, but to be honest I think that it is also sort of a sign of respect that I have for the challenges that lay ahead of me that causes this to happen – and I think that it is a good thing as it helps to keep me grounded and it also helps to keep me from having to stop for a potty break to early on in a race (haha)!

After taking care of business, I checked in at the starter’s table and then headed back over to my car for my things. I had planned on starting the race (about 17 miles worth) in my new New Balance 814s that I bought from my friend Mark Cosmas’ new running store – appropriately called iRun, but at the last minute my old friends (a pair of Saucony AT shoes with 600+ miles on them) called out to me and asked for one more run in the woods. I could not deny them their last wish and so I made the switch, saving the NB814s for another day (of which there will be many).

As I toed the line with 189 other runners, my old friends thanked me for trusting in them and my new Zane Grey 50 Mile Finisher’s Fleece kept my old bones warm in the cold and crisp morning mountain air. Before I knew it the whistle had sounded and we were off. The adventure had begun.

Leg 1 – Start to Mitchell Trail Head (Miles 0 to 4.9) – Distance 4.9 miles – Elevation Gain 907 feet; Elevation Loss 734 Feet – Limited Aid Station (located at the end of the leg at 7,553 feet)

As I had stated, the start of the race was held at the Sherriff’s Posse Shack at 5 AM and it was cold. But you soon forget about how early it is or how cold it is as soon as you get started. The sound of 190 runners stomping through the dusty paths alongside the horse corrals was deafening as we headed away from the starting line. I had brought my voice recorder along on this run instead of my camera as I knew that this would be more of a technical run than a normal trail run. As someone had stated at the pasta dinner and I was soon about to find out, this race was like running the toughest trail race you can remember blindfolded. In other words, it was deemed as being Zane Grey on steroids, as this was the toughest race that I had run to this point (Race Director Joe Galope is da man!!!!). Would this be the case? Only time would tell.

As I was in the middle of the pack to start I was immediately incrusted in a layer of dust. It got so bad so fast that I could feel the grit on my teeth in a matter of seconds. Luckily within a matter of minutes we had cleared the stable area and began our journey back into the woods. I immediately began to notice the elevation difference as I started to travel along the wooded paths. As we weaved in an out of trees and rolled up and down over little bumpy hills of what I like to refer to as being the outer woods, because you aren’t really deep into the woods yet, even though you technically are, the first two miles seemed to really fly by fast as the human land train of runners motored on.

After the first two miles however the path really narrowed to more of a single track and the train really began to slow down, atleast the bunch in front of me. I quickly found myself stuck behind 5 or 6 people that seemed more interested in talking than climbing. It never fails and it always irks me something fierce. As I have explained before and most of you know, I am not fast, especially on the flats for some reason. But the hills, most specifically the climbs are a strong point for me and I hate wasting the chance to make up some ground or to build a little bit of a cushion when I can. This was one of those opportunities and it was on the verge of being wasted. But not this time, as I was not about to let it slip away on me if I could help it. So I bided my time and I picked my spot and then made my move as a wide turn on a switchback allowed me to sneak by all of them at once and immediately begin to pull away and started picking up time once again. Before I knew it I found myself deep into the woods, far off of the beaten path and at the end of the first leg of my journey.

Leg 2 – Mitchell Trail Head to Guaje Ridge (Miles 4.9 to 7.1) – Distance 2.2 miles – Elevation Gain 1540 feet; Elevation Loss 170 Feet – Limited Aid Station (located at the end of the leg at 8,852 feet)

After quickly refilling my water bottle and grabbing a few chips to munch on I began my next leg of the adventure with the reading of a sign along the side of the path that stated merely “Welcome to Mitc”HELL”” and as I would soon find out….Hell was a very appropriate portrayal for this leg of the race as it seemed as if Satan himself had designed this part of the course. Mud from the recent rains had turned the path into a rutfest which intensified the strain on my leg muscles as the mud caked my shoes and made them feel 10 lbs heavier.

In addition to the mud the mountain path’s incline grade increased drastically and almost instantaneously. I must admit though, it was fun and it was beautiful! I wish that I could have taken my camera along with me too, much I was worried about the 2 cut off times (especially after almost missing the last cutoff time at Zane Grey). We were literally going back and forth on switchbacks up the side of a mountain. We have to climb over downed trees and run through sawed up trees. I can’t say it enough, it was beautiful. It reminded me a lot of the Zane Grey course (the obstacles) and the Imogene course (the climb) all mixed into one. As I remember it, the best way to describe it was that it was like we were an enormous colony of ants and we were all zig-zagging up this hill on this single track trail. I could look up or down and all I could see was the same things for what seemed like miles – tiny specks of people moving in a line one right after another. It was an awesome sight to see.

Out here I didn’t feel like the outsider in a room full of superstars. I was in my element. I was having fun and so I marched onward and upward.

Leg 3 – Guaje Ridge to Caballo Base (Miles 7.1 to 10.1) – Distance 3.0 miles – Elevation Gain 835 feet; Elevation Loss 1050 Feet – Limited Aid Station (located at the end of the leg at 8,640 feet)

Upon reaching the Guaje Ridge Aid Station at the end of Leg 2 and topping my bottle off once again I started back out on my journey. As stated before, this leg of the course was 3 miles long and it would take me to what was billed as one of the toughest spots of the course, the Caballo Base and its immediate climb to the mountain top thereafter. I was excited about the upcoming challenge, but that was yet to come. In the meantime I would myself in the middle of the old saying…”what goes up, must come down” as the previous leg’s climb quickly became an afterthought as a sudden and step downhill frolic was presented before us. I could immediately feel the switch in the muscle group of my legs and body being used as I bulldozed my way down the path into a canyon basin. I remember doing quite a few Superman - “I believe I can fly” – imitation along the way down the hill, but somehow I managed to catch myself each time. And each time thereafter I can remember trying to remind myself to slow down, or to be more careful, or even to remember to respect the course and to not get too out of control or even too cocky. Then there were times that I remember being thankful that there had been, what seemed to be strategically placed, a tree that you could either run into to stop yourself or to grab a hold of and swing around to make a quick turn on a switchback in order to keep you from running off the wrong side of the mountain’s downhill. It was exhilarating and dangerous at the same time. It provided me with that rush that can only be best described as a moment of pure rapture or ecstasy if you will. By the time that I reached the bottom of that hill I was so out of breath, the veins in my head were pounding, and my face cheeks hurt from having laughed so much from the fun I was having. I swear that if anyone heard me as I was coming down that hill they would have wondered what the hell was wrong with me. Yeah, yeah, I know, people wonder that already…

My little scamper was then followed by a brief run alongside of a creek and a few tiny creek crossings. And then, out of nowhere, I found myself stopped in my tracks standing at the base of about an 8 to10 foot waterfall and I immediately said to myself, “Ok, just how am I suppose..” and that is when I saw this Rot Iron (rebar) Ladder that was bolted into the rocks on the side of the waterfall wall. I immediately started laughing. This was so frick’in cool. I had never had to climb up a ladder in the middle of a mountain run before. I swear that I must have looked like the Cheshire cat with the huge shitty grin that I was sporting. It was so much fun that had I not been in a race I would have loved to do it again just for the heck of it (there is always next year).

As I then continued on in the 3 mile section I started to remember about the upcoming Caballo Mountain fun that I was about to embark on as the evil and sadistic course director, a man after my own heart, had started to but out little signs strapped to the trees to let you know that you only had about a mile to go until the pain and suffering would begin. It was awesome! It was a tough course. I was only about 9 miles in and I was already tired and feeling it. This is what I pay for and I was sure that I was going to get my money’s worth and then some on this day.

Leg 4 – Caballo Base to Caballo Top (Miles 10.1 to 12.1) – Distance 2.0 miles – Elevation Gain 1771 feet; Elevation Loss 45 Feet – No Aid Station (located at the end of the leg at 10,480 feet)

After having gone through Mitc”Hell” and the Superman Flight School Academy,  I found myself at the Base of the Caballo Mountain section of the course. This was the one area of the course that I had read about and feared, but yet looked forward to so much. What is wrong with that statement?

As I knew that there would be no aid station at the top of the mountain, I chugged the rest of what I had and then refilled it to the brim, ate a few orange slices and grabbed a handful of chips for a quick snack. As I started out I heard the reminder that the downhill runners had the right away and an ominous “good luck”. And with that I told myself, “Ok, here we go, Caballo Mountain, 1816 feet up, 1816 feet down. 2 miles each way.”

As I immediately found out climbing Caballo Mountain was all that they advertised and more! It was tough and that was just the first ¼ mile. Atleast for me it was tough anyways, because it was at this point in time that I was able to see just how far behind the leader I was as I was passed by flash of light and then a residual breeze that followed shortly thereafter. I was stunned. Here I was, just 10 ¼ miles into the race and here was the leader, already 3 ¾ miles already of me! (By the way…Flash’s name was Nick Clark of Fort Collins, Colorado and he finished in an amazing time of 8 hours 7 minutes and 45 seconds, a mere 1 ½ in front of the second place finisher). While deflating I knew that in my own right I was hanging in there!

Over the next few minutes I was passed by the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place runners as they were making their return trip down from the mountain top. Granted they were not moving quite as fast as Flash was, but they were still booking along at a pretty nice clip. As I stepped out of their way on the narrow path I made sure to cheer them on in their efforts. I must say that it did make it hard to get going once again but that is just one motivation to try to get faster and stronger as you go.

Note to self, and to anyone else that might find themselves in a situation such as this….when you step off of the path behind a fallen tree make sure that you completely clear the log when you start back out again, because the shin does not appreciate being forced to try to go through such a log….

As I continued my slow climb to the top of the mountain, I was passed by more and more runners on their way back down the mountain, but I am proud to say that I was never passed by anyone coming up the mountain from behind me on their way to the top. Hey, it is a little victory in my cap, but I will take it! Besides, that is something that I can say that I have in common with the race winner….lol.

Leg 5 – Caballo Top to Caballo Base (Miles 12.1 to 14.2) – Distance 2.1 miles – Elevation Gain 45 feet; Elevation Loss 1771 Feet – Limited Aid Station (located at the end of the leg at 8,640 feet)

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity I made it to the top of the mountain and there waiting for me (and the other runners of course) was a decent group of race supporters and a photographer. After rounding the tree, which signified actually making it to the top, I yelled out my bib number to the checkers and immediately began my trip back to the base.

As I ran back down the mountain I began to notice a bit of a trend as I could see the look of pain and agony on the faces of the climbers coming up at me and I immediately wondered if I too, just minutes ago had been the bearer of such a mask. The simple answer to that is yes, there is no doubting it but I knew that for most they were not enjoying it as much as I had. I must say that I was having fun seeing those looks as well now that I was on the opposite end of the pain spectrum. Sorry, but atleast I am being honest. I love brutal courses!

Before I knew it I had made it back down to the base, but not before seeing my first glimpse of the leaders of the 50K race that had made their way over to the mountain and were making their trek up and down the mountain as well.

Leg 6 – Caballo Base to
Pipeline Road
(Miles 14.2 to 17.0) – Distance 2.8 miles – Elevation Gain 1,169 feet; Elevation Loss 222 Feet – Full Aid Station (located at the end of the leg at 9,580 feet)

Again after filling up, I immediately headed out on the next leg of the course as I knew that I needed to make it through the next 2.8 miles before the 11:30am cutoff time for 50 mile runners arrived. I also knew that if I arrived there after 11am I would be encouraged to switch over to the 50k race and I didn’t want that to happen because to me that would be just like getting a DNF (atleast in my heart anyways) because I wouldn’t be finishing the race I set out to start.

As I continued on I munched on a few fig newtons and chewed up some gummi worms in an effort to get a little bit of sugar in my system. Once again I found myself climbing across the side of a mountain. There were little bits of rolling sections but for the most part it was uphill for the majority of the 2.8 miles. No rest for the wicked and so I rolled on.

7 –Pipeline Road
to Valle Grande (Miles 17.0 to 21.0) – Distance 4.0 miles – Elevation Gain 49 feet; Elevation Loss 1,009 Feet – Limited Aid Station (located at the end of the leg at 8,640 feet)

I was amazed at how fast I actually went through the previous 2.8 miles as it seemed like a lot less to be honest, but I think that I was just so amped up after having conquered the mountain portion of the course that I used that to propel me right into the aid station.

As soon as I arrived at the full aid station I immediately asked for the time and was amazed to hear that it was only 10 AM. Some how, some way I had managed to build up an hour and a half cushion. I was so thrilled but I knew that I still had such a long way to go yet and so I grabbed my drop bag, which had been grabbed for me as soon as I entered the station, pulled out all of the supplies that I figured I would need until the next drop bag station and moved on.

I did decide that I would give Tammy a quick call in order to update everyone on my progress. That call was extremely short lived however as I came suddenly upon a sign which read “ski carefully or you will lose your lift tickets.” I was puzzled at first and then I saw the meaning behind the sign, a 600 + foot drop straight over the edge of a mountain side which was made out of nothing but loose gravel and shale. My jaw literally dropped as I stood there just staring down. I remember saying, “Yeah right” as I literally didn’t know what to do and how to proceed. Of course I knew the answer. I had to run and slide and pray for the best. And so I did. Well, I don’t think you could actually call it running as I initially ran over the edge but then gravity kicked in and did the rest as I literally was pulled down the hill and I ended up dropping down to my butt and allowed myself to slide. I actually found myself switching my slide from side to side as if I was actually skiing and it seemed to help.

Just as I reached about half way down the slide area I managed to grab ahold of a pine tree to slow myself down a bit and I was actually able to take a quick glance back up toward the top and that is when I saw two others standing there with their mouths agape and looks of disbelief shined out from their bugged out eyes. I knew exactly how they felt. It was so intense. It was so extreme. It was like nothing I had ever experienced or even expected. I loved it and knew that it would be fun to do again, just not anytime too soon. Give it five minutes or so anyways….

Throwing caution to the wind I continued on down the rock slide area and before I knew it I was standing as the bottom and letting out a huge sigh of relief. That had been so unexpected and such a rush. I was so glad that I had been allowed to experience such a thrill.

Immediately after finishing the drop zone I found myself on a jeep track/dirt road that opened up into a clearing and a beautiful meadow land presented itself in front of me. The scene was so breathtaking. The road just seemed to run forever off into the distance. There were a few small lakes in the basin of the meadow and some trees running up over the mountainside. It was just like a painting out of a Thomas Kincaid Gallery.

As I snaked my way along the dirt road I found myself lost inside the painting. From a distance I started to see a white dot in the midst of all of the greenery. Slowly it started to take form and I could tell that it was the next limited aid station as the miles quickly vanished beneath my feet. Soon I found myself coming upon an oasis in the middle of nowhere and with it came the end of the beautiful brushstrokes as a new and very different canvas was about to be presented to me to run and play on.

Leg 8 –Valle Grande to Pajarito Canyon (Miles 21.0 to 28.7) – Distance 7.7 miles – Elevation Gain 1,598 feet; Elevation Loss 2,444 Feet – Full Aid Station (located at the end of the leg at 7,780 feet)

Next up, 7.7 miles, the longest leg of the course and this was to be no picture perfect painting. There would be no dirt road and no peaceful jaunt in the meadows in store for me from this point forward. Instead, upon leaving the aid station we were instructed to cut our way across the grasslands and to follow the flags in the field as this first section of the course would have no set path for us to follow.

The marsh, as I came to call it, was my worst nightmare as I hate running through grassy areas and this was even worse as it was more like running on top of and through mounds of dried straw all the while we were slowly making our way uphill toward a tree-lined area that was to act as the entrance to another mountainous zone. To make it even worse my legs were now starting to remind me of all of the downhill that I had put them through as I tried to tromp the best that I could through this marshy mess. In total there was about a mile and a half of the crap and I wasn’t the only one that seemed to be enjoying it oh so much as the field soon filled with other “runners”…actually it looked like a scene out of the movie “The Night of the Living Dead” as the zombies stomped and staggered through the graveyard, I mean the grassy marshland.

Finally I set foot into the trees and began climbing in the mountains once again. Then, all of a sudden, the trees disappeared without warning and I found myself standing in front of a field of boulders that stretched out and up the side of the mountain. As I would later learn this was what is called a scree field. Boulder upon boulder upon boulder layed there and in the midst of them orange flags and streamers were sticking up out of the madness and maze of jagged rocks. The path was clearly presented however it looked ten times easier then it was. I immediately thought of Lori Hickernell as she loves boulder hopping…well I think that even she would have been in awe of this site. I was huffing and puffing and hoping and teetering back and forth. As I would come to find out, the path that was laid out wasn’t that easy to follow and I quickly learned that so long as I progressed in the general direction of the path I would be alright, or so I thought. I ended up back tracking a few times before I finally said the hell with it and just fixed my eyes on what I saw to be the highest point on the mountain and just started heading in that direction. Somehow, someway it worked and I found myself near one of the summit areas as I had basically zig-zagged across and up the scree field.

Then, just as I began to celebrate the mini accomplishment I noticed that another lovely grassy marsh awaited me. I thought my legs were dead before, well now they were beyond dead, so dead in fact that I immediately fell as I stupidly attempted to try to run and it was so funny because I got it on tape as I was about to record a little rant about another crappy grassy area. This time I immediately thought of Sandra Fontaine as she once told me to have a mantra like “relentless forward progress” so I brushed myself off and continued to progress my way up the hill. It was horrible, but it was awesome. It was horribly awesome!

It was at that point that I noticed to runners going over the top of another section of the mountain of to the right of me. It was obvious that they were about to get seriously lost so I yelled out to them and saved them. As it turns out they were two fellow Arizonans and in the end ended up beating me by about 25 to 30 minutes.

After reaching the crest, which came at about 10,000 feet, I found myself staring down at another scree field, and yes I said looking down at. As I would come to find out however it was a hell of a lot easier to scramble down a scree field then it was to try to climb my way up one. I was amazed to find myself leaping and jumping from rock to rock with more confidence and agility then I expected. I was able to channel my inner dare devil as I scurried my way to the bottom in the blink of an eye. I was actually proud of myself…another little accomplishment for myself as I normally am overly cautious on the downhills.
Next up was a run through what I can only describe as the floor of the forest, it was a welcome change for a bit, but I knew that a major uphill had to be coming soon because this was too good to last for too long. I also knew that I had to be close to the end of the 7.7 or 7.8 miles for this leg of the trip, or so I hoped, because not only did it feel like it but I was almost out of water.

As I continued along I came across a two plank wooden bridge and I immediately thought of Monique Coady and her love for such bridges. This one would have really been in her top ten favorites as this “bridge” crossed a gully which was only about 20 feet deep however the bridge was only held together by a few L shaped braces here and there. It was enough to give me a good chuckle and take my mind off of how tired I was as this leg of the run seemed to be tougher than all of Zane Grey’s 50 miles, but boy was it fun! Just then I rolled into the Full Aid Station. What a welcome site.

Leg 9 – Pajarito Canyon to Townsite Lift (Miles 28.7 to 32.6) – Distance 3.9 miles – Elevation Gain 1,281 feet; Elevation Loss 54 Feet – Full Aid Station (located at the end of the leg at 8,980 feet)

After taking a quick break to refill my water bottle and to eat a few snacks I prepared myself to venture onward. As I headed out of the aid station I had failed to look at just how long this leg was however I knew that I had about 7 or 8 miles over the next two legs to cover in order to make it to the final cutoff point. In addition I had failed to look to see what the elevation gain and loss was for this leg. In all of the prior legs I had made certain to look at the distance and elevation signs that the race crew had placed there for us at the exit of each stage - in this case I had not.

This leg of the course started with a bit of a downhill, which actually surprised me as I knew that I had another massive climb coming shortly, only I couldn’t remember whether or not it was before or after the last cut off point. Shortly thereafter I did come across a little bit of an incline as I entered into what I called “the valley of the burned down trees”. There were downed trees and burned trees that were still standing. In between it all was a tiny path that was to lead me through all of the destruction and there was a lot of it. While it was sad to think that everything that had once grown here had been destroyed it was still beautiful in its own right. To see new growth starting to bloom beneath the charred remains of another tree was a sign of rebirth and hope for the future. I immediately thought of how, someday soon another runner would come flying through here and be shaded by this young sapling and the once charred remains would be here no more. It would be as if it had never happened. Then as I came over the top of a tiny crest I got a breathtaking view of the mountains across the way. They were spectacular. They seemed miles away and they were covered with snow. I knew that somehow I was going to end up on top of them, I just knew it.

Leg 10 –Townsite Lift to Ski Lodge (Miles 32.6 to 36.2) – Distance 3.6 miles – Elevation Gain 1,409 feet; Elevation Loss 1,173 Feet – Full Aid Station (located at the end of the leg at 9,220 feet)

It was 2:30 pm when I reached the Townsite Lift Aid Station, which meant that I now had 2:30 hours to go the next 3.6 miles and make my way out of the next aid station as the cutoff at the Pajarito Ski Area was set for 5:00 PM. It was now all or nothing time and it was now mega-mountain climbing time as I was about to find out. Another important rule was that any runner leaving the ski area after 4:00 pm would be required to carry a light, which is what I planned to do anyways as I knew that I would not be finishing before it got dark.

This aid station immediately reminded me of Lori Hickernell as this was the beer stop on the course as they had bottles available for the runners. Drinkers with a running problem….silly people.

As the name of the aid station denoted the start of this leg was located at a ski lift pickup spot at the bottom of a huge ski slope. As I started my way out of the aid station I tried to convince the crew to turn on the lift as I knew that a trip up the slope was in my near future, but they just wouldn’t do it.  One of the workers did say they would do it for $100.00 but when I asked if they would take an IOU or a check they laughed and said “NO.”

Whew, this was insane! I was literally zig-zagging back and forth and upward in between to ski slopes. So in other words I was in the wooded area in between the slopes, you know, the place that no one usually every goes in. Boy was it steep! I was huffing and puffing and plowing my way toward the top. There were a bunch of false summits and obstacles along the way (downed trees and rocks). It was fun! And I just knew that these sick bastards were going to make me run/climb clear to the top and then just run right back down one of the slopes and I was actually looking forward to it, they were my kind of people and I hoped that they wouldn’t let me down. Somehow I knew that they wouldn’t.

It was slow and go and I was so glad that I had a bit of a cushion going into this last leg before the cutoff. Onward and upward. Once I finally reached the top of the mountain I came across a set of TV Towers and I immediately thought of my friend Giridar (Giri) Gajapathy as he always loves to take me on runs to neat and crazy places and there always seems to be a set of TV Towers at the summit. Giri would have loved this!

When I made it to the top of the mountain area I thought it was appropriate that the name of the ski run was called “Muy Loco”. I thought that I had to be close to the aid station when I reached the summit, but had I actually thought about it more, a ski lodge is never at the top of a mountain, it is usually at the bottom of the slopes…duh! Such was the case here…as it was no where to be seen. There was some patches of snow present there however! BRRRRRR!!!! It was cold and windy on top of that mountain.

As I came across a ski patrol area I looked to see if there was possibly a restroom open…but there wasn’t. Oh well. Moving on we had to run across the top of a ridge road over to another ski patrol area and then all of a sudden you come across a sign that says “Oops…” and then the trail flags disappear down over the side of the mountain, but it wasn’t down a ski slope area that I expected. No, this was much worse, but so much better as this was a rock slide area and it was steep. Did I mention that I loved the sickness of the race director’s awesomeness! “Oops…”???? You gotta love that!

I kept thinking to myself that this sure was a long 3.6 miles…a very long 3.6 miles. After a few more downhill sections of rocks and trees we broke out into the open at the top of another ski slope area and just as I had predicted…it was now time to run straight down to the bottom of a ski slope area. My God it was steep and it looked as if it would never end. I actually could not believe how long it took to get to the bottom of the slope, however given how tired my legs were I was just happy to still be moving at this point and in reality gravity was actually working against be as it wanted to pull me down the hill so much faster then my body would allow at that given point in time and since I knew that I still had about 14 miles to go after this I had to conserve something for the rest of the race so I didn’t allow myself to give in to the gravity. Maybe next time I will just let it all go and fly down that slope like I truly wanted to.

Leg 11 – Ski Lodge to Pipeline (Miles 36.2 to 39.1) – Distance 2.9 miles – Elevation Gain 644 feet; Elevation Loss 244 Feet – Full Aid Station (located at the end of the leg at 9,580 feet)

WOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOO!!!! I made it to the final cutoff station with an hour to spare! The first thing that I did to celebrate was to make my way into the lodge for a potty break! I was so thankful that they had the lodge open for us!

After literally sitting there for about 5 minutes with my legs a quivering, I got back up and ready to go. As soon as I got back out onto the deck of the lodge and started refilling my bottle I couldn’t believe how many people were sitting there and calling it a day. This turned out to be one of the biggest breaking points in the race for so many of the runners. I knew what everyone had been through and could understand and respect their decision but it was time for me to continue on. As I did I could not believe the round of applause that I got, not only from the race staff but from the retiring runners as well. I appreciated it but had mixed feelings about it as well as I didn’t want to appear to happy or excited and sort of rub it in so instead I just turned my head back and nodded in a sign of thanks, acknowledgement and appreciation.

This next leg of the race would take me back around to the
Pipeline Road
once again and after that last extreme leg the mild climb and loss of this leg was very, very welcome. Since I had made it through the final cut off and now faced no more restrictions in regard to finishing I decided to do a recovery fast walk during this leg; however I didn’t want to take it too slow and risk starting to cramp up or ruin what was to this point a decent race time for me.

Leg 12 – Pipeline to Guaje Ridge (Miles 39.1 to 42.8) – Distance 3.7 miles – Elevation Gain 316 feet; Elevation Loss 1,048 Feet – Limited Aid Station (located at the end of the leg at 8,852 feet)

The 2.9 miles was in fact slow and go, but it was well worth it as I knew that I would have a lot of downhill yet to come and for as tired as my legs were I appreciated the little break that I had given myself. Case in point, this leg of the race did have another 300 feet of gain, but there was also another 1,000 feet of loss and I really didn’t know how steep it was going to be and how rough it was going to be on my legs. Granted I had run this section of the race earlier, but it was in reverse and much, much earlier and on a set of much, much fresher legs.

As I started out I felt as if they had put the entire incline at the start of this leg as I found myself a climbing once again. This portion of the leg was steep, steep jeep trail and I honestly did not recall it from earlier on in the race, but I was sure not going to forget about it now as I quickly found myself power marching up this road. It was painful but it was a good pain. It is times like this in my races that I think back in my life to a few short years ago and I remember everything that I had to go through to get to where I am today and everyone that helped to get me to this point as well. It always gets me through, just as it did once again.

After finally reaching the top of the climb which actually only encompassed a short portion of the total 3.7 miles I found myself with a long steady and slow decline and I figured that it would continue like this for the rest of the leg. Boy was I wrong as after coming around a bend I found yet another steep, steep climb. I must say that constant switching back and forth from the climbs to drops in this race added so much to the overall challenge.

After the last climb of the leg I slowly cruised through the last mile or so of the leg which was a lot of downhill. It wasn’t too steep which was appreciated and it was winding so it wasn’t just a straight boring path to help lull me to sleep, which at this point in the race would have been very possible.

Leg 13 – Guaje Ridge to Rendija Canyon (Miles 42.8 to 48.1) – Distance 5.3 miles – Elevation Gain 36 feet; Elevation Loss 1,792 Feet – Limited Aid Station (located at the end of the leg at 7,080 feet)

After arriving at the Guaje Ridge limited aid station I began the second longest leg of the race, but I knew that after I was finished with this one I would only have one more leg to go and it was only 1.8 miles. I could do this! There was no stopping me now! It was all downhill from here? Well, you hear that one a lot in races and it usually is a pretty mean joke, but atleast for this leg of the race it was pretty damn true as there was only 36 feet of gain and almost 1,800 feet of loss, and this leg of the race was true to its advertising. And to be honest, at this point in the race I would have preferred it to be the reverse because my quads were hurting!

As I continued down the leg of loss, if you will, I began to race the sun as it began to quickly work its way behind me and toward the backside of the hills and mountain tops that were now behind me. I was able to see bits and pieces of the town in front of me but yet it seemed so, so far away and a bit higher then I was for this point in the race. Could it be that there would be one last climb left in the race still yet to come? I honestly hoped so. But for now I continued on in the winding path of gentle downhill which sort of reminded me of parts of the Javelina Jundred course and some of the rocky downhill sections on the 15 mile loops. Then I quickly found myself thinking of the Mesquite Canyon Challenge and the goat trail and the canyon portions as I found myself working my way down into a deep canyon basin in the middle of a woody section. It was so cool!

Another thing that I quickly found myself thinking about was the hotspot that was forming on the bottom of my one foot…but I guess that is what happens in a 50 mile race when you don’t change your shoes – but atleast it took this long to start heating up.

Leg 14 –  Rendija Canyon to Finish (Miles 48.1 to 50.0) – Distance 1.9 miles – Elevation Gain 426 feet; Elevation Loss 206 Feet – No Aid Station

After reaching the bottom of the canyon I finally made my way into the “Last Chance Saloon” aka the final aid station of the race. Whiskey shots were plentiful to all that had made it this far – although I did not and could not partake. I did however refill my water bottles and exited the saloon. I had 1.9 miles left to go and I was ready to get done. The sun was just about gone now and I put my headlamp on just for good measures even though it was still light enough out.

The small climb leaving the aid station felt a million times larger than it actually was and I got pissed off when I got passed my an older guy who was cutting the course short by going off the path and blazing his own trail.

When I got to about a mile to go I could see the freeway leading back up into the Posse Shack area and the hill that took you back there however my path would not take me out onto the freeway as I had to take the backway into the finish line area.

The closer I got to the finish line area the darker it got so finally I turned my headlamp on and made my way slowly toward the finish. The path quickly narrowed and turned into a stair/rock climb, a very steep stair/rock climb. Each step seemed higher then the next, a lot of which was the fact that I was tired and my legs were dead. Finally I made my way to the top of the “stair” and I found myself at the back of the corral area at the rear of the Posse Shack. After slowly but quickly making my way around to the front of the Posse Shack I crossed the finish line! Whew! This was brutal and well worth it. This one pushed me to my limits and left me wanting to do it again and again. I will get that pint glass for 50,000 feet of cumulative climb… for now…Total elevation gain 12,011 feet; Total elevation loss 12,011 feet

1 comment:

  1. Much Enjoyed as always...! By the way, it's us older grizzled guys that look more like Ultra Runners to me... Those young fast boys seem more suited for the roads and their little tri suits :-)