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Jemez Mountain 50 Mile – 2012 Race Report

One…two…three…four…five steps…stop.

My heart, I can hear it beating like an ancient deep-bass ceremonial drum as I slowly move to the top of Pajarito mountain.

One…two…three…four…five steps…stop.

I breathe in deeply and breathe out with even greater intention and force as this seems to reduce my heart’s desire to blow through my rib-cage and escape its physical prison.

One…two…three…four…five steps…stop.

(beep) Glance at my Garmin. Last mile split – one hour.


The Jemez Mountain 50 mile was my first race distance above the 50 km in over two years due to a gradual return to the longer distances after having to work through some knee tweak issues. While not the easiest adventure (especially for a flatlander) to test my return to the distance, I was so stoked to get back on the Los Alamos, New Mexico trails after a sweet 50 km adventure last year (race report).

The entire Hanenburg tribe came out this year and I was excited to see them at the Ski Lodge twice (mile 16 and 36) throughout the day.

A couple notes about the course:

  • nearly 10,000 feet of gain for the 50 miles
  • the entire course dances between 7000 and 10,500 feet
  • the 50 mile and 50 km course changed this year due to last year’s wild fires that caused significant damage

Let’s play!

Race morning saw clear skies and mild pre-dawn temps in the low 50s.

After a few brief instruction by RD, Bill Geist, just prior to the 5:00 am start, we scooted for a short pavement section before filing onto the single and double-wide trail. I hung out near the back with no interest in pushing any kind of pace.

The start

Basic plan:

  • easy effort through mile 36-40, then reassess if have any go-jo push to the finish
  • ~250-300 cals/hr (Hammer gel and Perpetuem Solids), 5 gulps of water every 15 mins, 2+ Endurolytes per hour (starting after the first hour)

 Mile 0 – 16.4 (Ski Lodge) – The Climb up Pajarito

One observation during the early miles…silence. It was a bit strange. Often trail runners are a chatty bunch throughout the early miles. Maybe everyone was thinking about the challenging day ahead or forgot to have their early morning cup of java , but there seemed to be a bit more focus and attention to the task at hand.

Within the first few miles I noticed fellow Texan, Drew Meyer (and 2010 slam finisher!). We chatted periodically throughout these early miles.

The sun was gradually making her presence. The surrounding terrain was put on display.


You couldn’t help but be grateful for this opportunity.

I had to chuckle to myself as Drew talked about his 70-100 mile training weeks and I my 30 mile training weeks.

Drew and I moving towards Pajarito

A fun little climb in the early miles.

After nine or so miles of gradual grade, plus a couple short and steep descents/climbs, the grind to the top of Pajarito Mountain began. It was also during this time, I enjoyed some good banter with the spunky 63 year old ultra athlete, Bobby Keogh. This dude radiates positive energy!

Up, up, up we went.

I remember Drew mentioning, “How are you able to climb with those skinny legs?!?” I just smiled to myself nor did I have the energy to respond since I was the person leading the three of us up the mountain.

After a 2000+ foot steep, dig-your-heels-in climb, we were sent down an equally steep ski run.

A steep downhill before heading back up (Drew Meyer in front (red) with Bobby Keogh (red/white))

Down, down, down you go.

Then a final 1500 foot march to the highest point of the course before bombing (or surviving) the two descents to the Ski Lodge aid station where I got a great boost of energy from my family.

Descent #1

Coach giving me some tips for the remaining miles.

Nutrition and hydration had been going well but my hands were a little swollen. Increased my Endurolyte intake to the 4-6 per hour…and my hands were normal the rest of the day.

This section was tough but I was still in a happy place.

 Mile 16.4 – 33.2 (Valle Grande) – Into the Caldera

After a fairly relaxed 3-ish mile run over to the Pipeline Aid Station, we drop down into the Valles Caldera National Preserve. On the way to Pipeline I did find a way to stab the front of my shoe with a dagger-like root that stopped me in my tracks and ripped through the top layer of my shoe. Nice.

Time to get ready for a sketchy drop into the Caldera.

Steep. Loose Rock. Fun descent.

This section of the course had the least technicality, flat-ish running, but most exposure to the sun.

It also was extremely beautiful.

One of the cross country sections in the Caldera. Follow the orange flags.

The vastness of the area made me feel like this little speck of dust. It was really a unique experience.

I continued to keep the effort easy and would toss in walk breaks where needed.

Towards the end of this segment, the legs had less and less go-jo which required more and more walking.

Hung out for a few minutes at the Valle Grande aid station (mile 33.2) to try and regroup before the final big climb – the backside of Pajarito mountain.

It was starting to get tough.

Mile 33.2 – 36.7 (Ski Lodge) – Pajarito Mountain’s final challenge

This section was definitely the low point for me.

After a slow cross country hike to Pajarito, it was a seemingly straight-up hike back to near the top starting at 8600 feet and peaking at just under 10,500 feet.

No switchbacks. No trail. Follow the flags.

The sound of my beating heart echoed in my head. I felt like my heart was pumping so strongly that it was pushing on the chest strap of my hydration pack.

Step by step. Breathing was a challenge.

Five steps, then another rest break to settle down my thumping heart.

Tried to turn around and look at the surrounding beauty during a rest break but felt vertigo instead.

Didn’t want to eat or drink.

Maybe I could grab a tree branch on the ground to help support my body on the climb? Not going to happen. Each branch I touched was charred black from the fires and brittle to any stress placed on it.

I was starting to feel like these branches. Charred and brittle.

The mind began to wonder to negative escapes from this challenge…Wendy and the car waiting at the ski lodge. We can escape this uncomfortable and painful madness.

Then I thought about Joe’s recent article on EB and had to laugh at myself…damn him!

I didn’t have a single acceptable reason to quit. None!

After my watch chirped and shared a painful reminder of the last mile (one hour split), I finally reached the highest point of this climb.

I was a bit of a emotional wreck at this point.

Down one steep descent before arriving at the final descent to the lodge.

Is that Wendy and Griffin down at the base waiting? I think it is. They are moving towards me up the hill.

I give a wave. I see nothing in return but “they” keep moving forward up the mountain. It must be them.

I try another wave, and my foot slides out from under me and I land on my backside.

But it’s Wendy and Griffin…Wendy and Griffin.

As I get close to the bottom of the slope I notice it isn’t Wendy or Griffin but a lady with her mountain bike.

Nut case.

At the bottom of the descent, it is a right turn to the ski lodge area. Right then, I hear a voice yelling in the distance, “Go daddy Go!…Go daddy Go….Go daddy go!” My eyes fill with emotion. Griffin had no idea how great that was to hear and he was also extremely enthusiastic in telling me about all the great big fish in the pond at the park in town.

"The fish were sooo big!"

After sharing my ass whoopin’ on the back-side of Pajarito, I walked my way to the aid station and briefly chatted with a dude (Kyle) that was running this event for the first time and was a flatlander from Louisiana. He sounded like he was going to drop. I told him the rest was all “runnable” and the toughest was behind us. That message actually was the spark that reset my mind to refocus on gettin’ it done.

Kyle and I discussing the journey ahead.

I hadn’t ate or drank for the last hour.

Banana, Watermelon, 16 ounces of Coke, Water!

Massage out my calves and legs.

See Kyle regrouping and getting ready.

I grab another flask of gel.

Headlamp. Got it.

A couple quick kisses to the fam, then Kyle, myself, and Marianna of Virginia joined in on the march to the finish.

Mile 36.7 – Finish

Being the only person that has finished a run on this course and being familiar with this final stretch of trail, I felt responsible in making sure they made it to the finish.

We basically had an unspoken strategy to the finish. Run most of the downhill grades, walk  the uphills and flats (if necessary, which they often were).

We make it to Pipeline aid station in good spirits – 11 miles to go!

Another female runner joined us for a short period before moving on. She was moving too strong for us.

A few rollers before arriving at Guaje Ridge aid station – Just over seven miles to the finish. Allen from San Antonio caught us at the aid station and joined our group to the finish.

I was at pole position for most of the miles from Pipeline aid station and once we started running, I would take periodic brief glances back and if someone started walking, we would all shut it down.

Finally arriving at Rendija aid station and two miles from the finish. We all grabbed a bit to eat and drink. I enjoyed a small glass of beer and enjoyed a nice chat with Steve Pero.

The next two miles is mostly an uphill grade, so we powered walked it to the finish, arriving together in 15:35:31!

Marianna, Kyle, and myself (Allen had already left)

Thanks to Bill Geist and all the volunteers for putting on such a great event. It was also great to be with my family and enjoy the area for a few days before their great race day support.

The H-tribe!

Post Race Thoughts

  • The Race
    • Simply a great event and great people.
    • I really enjoy this unique area of the country.
  • Training
    • I knew I was arriving short on mileage with peak weeks at 30 miles. Planned to get in a few 40-50 miles weeks. Didn’t happen. This likely supported my fade towards the end of the Caldera as nutrition/hydration had been going well up to that point.
    • Would likely add a handful of treadmill days in training to experience a few extended climbs at a significant grade (maybe ~20%).
  • Race Execution
    • Kept the effort easy all day. I feel like I simply ran out of endurance which required much more run/walk through the runable sections.
    • Back-side of Pajarito was definitely the low point. It was a challenge to not drift to negative thoughts when moving about 10 feet before needing another break.
  • Gear
    • Dug the arm sleeves. Nice for the early morning start and when heading to the higher elevations when it got a little cold/breezy. Kept them on my arms all day. Simply slid them up or down.
    • The INOV8 Roclite 315 were great on this terrain. The lugs on the outsole provided significant  control on the gnarly descents. The shoes paired with Drymax socks – not a blister or hot-spot all day.
    • Nathan Endurance Vest – A nice amount of storage space along with up to 70 ounces of fluid. I would use it again.
    • TASC shirt – So comfy.
  • Nutrition
    • ~250-300 cals/hr besides that one hour stretch on the backside of Pajarito. Mostly Hammer gel, Perpetuem Solids and Endurolytes. No stomach issues all day. Worked well for me.
  • Bonus bits
    • The Pyramid restaurant – Tasty clean, some organic, Greek food in Los Alamos. We ate there three times during the weekend. There is also one in Santa Fe but didn’t visit.
    • Baja Tacos (Facebook page) – Best Sunday morning breakfast burritos in Santa Fe. A little place with big food. Thanks to Matt Crownover for the introduction last year.
    • Santa Fe Children’s museum – Griffin and Ainsley really enjoyed it.

Charred, brittle, but not broken!

Here’s to the next 50 mile adventure.

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David –


About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

17 Responses to “Jemez Mountain 50 Mile – 2012 Race Report”

  1. on 22 May 2012 at 7:36 pm Tyler Greenhaw

    great report! way to finish it out and see it through!

  2. on 22 May 2012 at 8:40 pm Jonathan

    Way to go Dave! Awesome that you were able to get it done out there. I wasn’t able to do it. I was running well with another guy from Katy, Nick, but when I got to the backside of Pajarito the elevation got to me. Couldn’t go more than 10-20 ft before I had to stop. A runner from Leadville helped me all the way to the top and into the Ski Lodge. By that time I had decided to drop to the 50K and save myself. I missed the noon cut-off at Pipeline by a few minutes so I felt ok with my decision beforehand to drop. My chest felt like it was going to explode and trying to catch my breath was a chore. Despite all that I was in amazing backcountry and enjoyed every minute. Two words – beautifully brutal! Glad I gutted it out and finished in 11 hours. We must be nuts. BTW, thanks for helping me with my watch! I’ve never had problems with it before but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Glad that your family provided some spunk in the later miles. I didn’t have anyone waiting for me at the Ski Lodge so it was tough heading out of Pipeline. Catch you on the trails Dave! C’mon down to the Hill Country for Capt’n Karls, love to run with ya.

  3. on 22 May 2012 at 9:06 pm Brian Hopton-Jones

    Congrats on the finish! that report really captures the difficulty of Jemez. Reading it brought back memories from last year. the climb up cerro grande last year (which sounds like the backside of pajarito with the xcountry flags) to date is the single toughest climb i’ve done in a race. i’ve never moved so slow or had something in a race kick my butt so bad. when you mentioned your garmin’s pace it reminded me of when i would look down at mine while goign up that climb and my instant pace would be blank haha. congrats once again! enjoy the recovery!

  4. on 23 May 2012 at 6:18 am Steve

    Dave, I really enjoyed reading about your experience. You really earned this one, which will make it all the more memorable I think. I think Griffin gets major credit for giving you the mental boost to keep going. That’s awesome!

  5. on 23 May 2012 at 6:53 am David Hanenburg

    Tyler – Thanks dude. I appreciate it!

    Jonathan – I noticed you finished the 50k, congrats to you bro! Proud of you. Beautifully brutal indeed. This will also be one we will likely not forget for a long time. I will likely get down to at least one of the Cap series races.

    BHJ – Thanks dude! I have never experienced being so shackled on a climb.

    Steve – Great to hear you enjoyed it. Strong memories – for sure. Griffin’s action was at the perfect time. I talked to Wendy afterwards and she said he came up with the cheer himself. Later that night or the next day when I told Griffin how much that meant to hear him say that, he responded, “Did it make you feel happy daddy?, Did it make your legs run faster?” I almost lost it again.

  6. on 23 May 2012 at 10:07 am Suann

    Enjoyed your race report! Great job at a very tough race!

  7. on 23 May 2012 at 10:55 am Jacob

    Awesome job David. These climbs are tough enough for me and I live here – I can’t imagine coming from the flatlands! I remember having my family meet me at ski lodge last year and it was so uplifting… that’s one of my fondest running memories actually and it sounds like it will be for you too. Congrats again.


  8. on 23 May 2012 at 11:28 am olga

    Man, on 30 mph! I mean, some can pull it off, but respect the distance! :)) Glad you got it done, grinding sometimes is something we need to whip some sense to us. That drop to Caldera was performed on my behind back 4 years ago. Did I tell you I officially met my husband at this run? So, memories…great race, indeed. Saw your picture on Steve Pero’s blog. When the going gets tough, beer and friends help! Family is precious, and I am thrilled they were able to be there for you. And that Joe’s words reminded you what’s you’re made of. Great job!

  9. on 23 May 2012 at 1:11 pm Bill Geist


    Great race report. Congratulations on the finish.

  10. on 23 May 2012 at 8:50 pm David Hanenburg

    Suann – Thanks so much!

    Jacob – Thanks dude! For me, seeing the fam at the base of Pajarito was definitely special and an opportunity to mentally move beyond the struggles of the last x miles.

    Olga – Come on, I completely respected the distance. Here are a few things to back that up. 🙂
    1. Started at the back with no intention of running hard. I didn’t come close to a “push” effort all day.
    2. Put extra focus on nutrition, hydration, and electrolytes because I knew if I didn’t take care of that, I would be really screwed. Not a single cramp or muscle tweak all day. Did use my little leg roller at the Lodge.
    3. My 6 hour finish (without smoking myself) at the moderately challenging OT50k on 30 miles/week of training one month earlier provided some insight that I had an OK amount of fitness. I was able to run a good amount of that course.
    4. While my volume was low, I had plenty of quality…which I believe helped support the low training volume for the longer distance on race day…assuming I run at a smart effort level. I also definitely feel if I would have put hard efforts out early in the race, that would have had way more significant negative consequences than if I had more training volume. So you definitely can’t fool yourself on race day PE/pacing efforts with low volume. More volume, I think, provides a few get-out-of-jail cards for some effort blunders.
    5. I was not over-trained physically or mentally on race day.

    Of course the above may just be a bunch of BS and I would have really preferred 50 mile weeks and would have been OK with low to mid 40s…but I didn’t get either so I had to be as smart as I could with what I did have, and do the best I could with that. Beyond training mileage, I respected the distance in nearly every way I could, there just may be something to that.

    and…I am just having fun with our discussion. 🙂

    I had no idea you met Larry out at Jemez. Cool! I know you don’t like to duplicate races but you both should come back out next year…it will likely be a different course than four years ago…would that count as a new race? 🙂

    It really was funny when I thought of Joe’s article heading up the backside of Pajarito…and every five strides I had another chance to think about it.

    The H-tribe were amazing. Yes, very grateful for their support of my adventures.

    Next year you will see me in the 40-50 mile range.

    Bill – Thanks for everything. Really a great adventure weekend!

  11. on 24 May 2012 at 9:27 am olga

    It was said with a grain of smile, my man. You did good, all things considering.
    As for going back…once the new interesting races stop popping in places I want to visit,may be I’ll that. Just not enough time/money to get it all!

  12. on 24 May 2012 at 9:31 am Libby Jones

    Great job, David – total rockstar! And great to finally meet you. Here’s my race report as I know you collect them out here for area trail races…

  13. on 24 May 2012 at 9:35 am David Hanenburg

    Olga – I know. I was just having fun with it as well. 🙂

    This does open an interesting discussion. Ultra Training: Want vs Need

    What do you think?

  14. on 24 May 2012 at 10:58 am alicia

    Awesome report! Congrats on a great race and can I say how I love that you include your whole family on race trips! I think that is so awesome! We had so much fun when we took the whole family out to Palo Duro for the trail run last fall. Making memories and getting to run – doesn’t get much better than that! Way to rock it!

  15. on 24 May 2012 at 12:09 pm Laron Thomas

    Hey cuz!
    Great work and perseverance pushing through to the finish! And fantastic coaching by Griffin and family.
    Seems like healthy longer running weeks as you mentioned 40-50 miles would definitely be helpful in running more of the latter end of the course. Too bad there’s no hills in your neck of the woods, maybe pulling tires on bridges could be helpful? Either way, I’d be interested to hear what you do to train for hills.
    If you’re interested in another 50-miler, there’s the Resurrection 50-miler here near Anchorage on July 28 this year…But it’s a long ways away, very low key, and largely self supported. Or Crow Pass Crossing for a 24-mile run in the mountains. Just trying to get you guys to come up to the northland.

  16. on 29 May 2012 at 8:23 am Steve Pero

    Dave…good seeing you and congrats on a great race!
    See you next year!
    Here’s my blog post on the aid station…your gang is the last photo.

  17. on 29 May 2012 at 8:49 am David Hanenburg

    Alicia – Thanks so much! It really was a special family experience and one I won’t forget for a lifetime.

    Laron – Flatlander Hill training – Treadmill. Hill repeats. Hilly trail running. Not much I can do with respect to the altitude. I think the biggest key is to stay within yourself on race day so that you don’t burn a bunch of a matches on one climb and smoke yourself for the rest of the run.

    Alaska trails would be fun!

    Steve – So great to meet you at Rendija aid station. Thanks for supporting all us runners.

    Sweet photo! I will add your post to the race summary article. All the best in your Hardrock prep!