My heart, I can hear it beating like an ancient deep-bass ceremonial drum as I slowly move to the top of Pajarito mountain.
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.
(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
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
This section of the course had the least technicality, flat-ish running, but most exposure to the sun.
It also was extremely beautiful.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Post Race Thoughts
- The Race
- Simply a great event and great people.
- I really enjoy this unique area of the country.
- 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.
- 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.
- ~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 – EnduranceBuzz.com