After a six month hiatus from posting, I'm back with what originally got me started with this blog, Jemez Mountains. I first came across the craziness of the ultra world and Jemez Mountain Trail Run while reading Dean Karnazes' book Ultra Marathon Man back in 2008. I was 40 and in the midst of training for my 2nd marathon. The significance being that it was a Boston qualifying attempt, my goal since hitting the big 4-0. I told Gina at that time that I would run my first 100-miler by the time I was 45 despite the fact that I'd only run one 5K, one 10K and one marathon at that point. I'm not sure either of us believed it, but it was something to shoot for as a long-term goal. The idea of doing a 50 mile race for charity struck me at the time and while things didn't quite work out as originally planned, I ended up with both a 50 miler and a fundraising effort, but in unrelated events.
Fast forward about two years and I found myself registered for Jemez, finally. And to boot, I had four friends lining up with me, the first 50 for three of them, nice. With the exception of Amy, the rest of us had just run the Boston Marathon less than 5 weeks earlier and we all had pretty good races. Amy had been busy tearing up 50K trails. This would probably be the strongest overall group of runners that I had been with for a race, all of us being in the 3 to sub 3 marathon range. Of course that meant nothing here as we are all flatlanders with minimal experience at altitude. Jemez being arguably one of the hardest 50's was certain to provide a challenge for all of us.
We rented a loft in Santa Fe where we would have a runners haven for a few days. We all flew in to Albuquerque Thursday from different places and then had about an hour drive to Santa Fe. After lunch at Cafe Cafe and getting in settled in at the loft, we drove another 35 miles to Los Alamos to pick up our race packets. Incredible views along the way with snow capped mountains. We were all getting pretty excited just being there and knowing that we were less than 48 hours away from the toughest race we had ever done.
|Team Endurasoak: Nick, Shaheen, me, Amy and Jayna|
|Amy and me|
|Inside the cabin just moments before the start|
We quickly started our first climb of the day, which I later found out was just a teaser. It was about a 1,500ft climb to Guaje Ridge and ended up being the easiest of all the climbs due to the switchbacks, something the other climbs lacked. Once at the top, we had traveled 7.1 miles in just over 1:31.
|Climbing Guaje Ridge|
|Amy in a pose she would strike a few times, deservedly so|
|View from top of Guaje Ridge back down on Los Alamos|
|Top of Caballo Mountain, 10,460ft.|
Over the next 2.8 miles we would climb over 1,100ft before reaching the Pipeline aid station, the site of our first drop bags. It was there that I decided to go with a 2nd handheld water bottle, pick up my first solid food, some Lenny & Larry Muscle Brownies and ditch the arm sleeves. It felt like it was starting to warm up about now, roughly 9:15 a.m..
Just outside of the aid station was Nate's Nemesis. I had seen pictures, watched video of a runner's descent and was warned by a friend to be careful at that spot. Only when I actually stood in front of it did I realize the nature of the drop. "Holy shit" was all I could think. I've read from others that the grade decline was somewhere between 50-70%......straight down in other words.
|Starting descent down Nate's Nemesis|
|Aid station at mile 21, just before Cerro Grande Mountain|
|Starting the climb of Cerro Grande|
|Yep, there's the orange flag, that's the right way, and that's a person up there.|
|Are we there yet?|
|No, I'm not a miniature, those rocks are really that big.|
|Somewhere near the top of Cerro Grande|
|Talus on the way down.|
From the downside of Cerro Grande to Pajarito Canyon, running was sketchy. There were some stretches that were not too technical and I could actually run them as long as they weren't uphill. The paces for miles 24-28 were as follows: 16:04, 10:27, 9:51, 11:05, and 12:16. The elevation over that distance dropped from about 9,400ft to 7,900ft. If it was a smooth downhill, the running wasn't bad, but anything technical brought me to a walk.
|Good running trail through Canyon de Valle|
Those next 4 miles of virtually nothing but walking took about 1hr, 20 min and seemed like an eternity. While trying to calculate in my head how long the remaining distance would take, I estimated my arrival to be early Sunday morning. Actually, I was beginning to wonder at what point I would stop and call it a day. Climbing back up over 10,400ft, the altitude once again bothering me, the heat of the day and what seemed like no hope to be able to run at all the rest of the day, I had to consider the reality of shutting it down, quitting, previously unspoken words
|Townsite Lift Aid station at mile 32.6|
|View from up on Pajarito Mountain|
Making my way down Pajarito I unknowingly missed a turnoff and somehow started running down a jeep track. While my knee was killing me, it was a straight downhill shot and I decided to let gravity take me and run with it. However, the lack of orange flags or ribbons had me concerned until I saw a familiar sight, trail I had already run. As I stopped in my tracks and tried to figure out what in the hell I had just done, I heard another runner yell at me from maybe 40 yards away, “hey, it’s this way” to which I disgustingly responded “yeah, I know, I’ve already been there”. He was headed up a path I had taken not so long ago. I turned around and started my walk of shame back up the hill to where I had just come from. It couldn’t have been more than a quarter of a mile from where I went off track, but it felt like forever. By the time I got there, the same runner was making his way around the orange markers and down a hill that I had missed just in front of me. Maybe a half mile total off of course so not too bad.
I continued to make my way downhill anyway that I could manage, most notably slowly. I just wanted to get to the next aid station and then weigh my options, get some G2 mix that I had because I was about sick of Heed at this point. I came to the ski slope and could see a few runners down below me. From the size of them, I could tell they were quite a distance off and more importantly, I could see just how steep this slope was. Per my Garmin, it indicated that it dropped off about 670ft in ½ mile straight down. Someone mentioned that it was like Double Black Diamond slope, but who knows, I'm not a skier so it really meant nothing to me. It was steep and that's all that mattered. I stepped off of the trail and opted to try to go down on the grass instead. It appeared that I’d have better footing with the grass clumps than on the narrow dirt trail with loose rocks. Being the my footing was unstable as it was, I didn’t want to end up rolling to the bottom although it would have been much faster. Earlier I had heard a lot of whooping and hollering off in the distance so I knew that I was close to the next aid station, Townsite Lift, I just wasn’t sure how close.
While making my way down the slope in a sideways and almost backwards manner at times, I was actually passed up by 4 young hikers on their way down. If that wasn’t disheartening, I’m not sure what could have topped it. Once I made it to the bottom, there was another dirt road and I could then see the Townsite Lift station. At the time, I thought it was Pipeline instead which made no sense because I had already hit that station once before. It just shows how well my mind was functioning at that point. As I made my way down the road into the station, I was literally hopping and practically skipping to get in at anything faster than walking pace. It was all I could do to get to the stairs at the decking of the lift and ask a volunteer for my drop bag. Of course the response was that our drop bags were at the next aid station. I quickly looked at my forearm where I had written down all of the aid station mile markers to see that I had about 3 more miles to go. Slight miscalculation.
When asked by the volunteer how I was, and it was quite obvious, my response was not good. He asked what it was and I explained the issue with my IT band. He told me to come up on the deck and have a seat at which point to my surprise I noticed Shaheen and Edgar sitting there. Shaheen had badly twisted her ankle and was done. She was awaiting a ride back to the start and Edgar was just hanging tight with her. Another volunteer came to my side and asked if she could massage my leg to see if it would help to which I said sure. In my head I knew it wouldn’t do much, but it bought me time to think out my next move. She too seemed genuinely concerned and if nothing else, it was at least comforting to know they were great people who cared about all of the runners. After a couple minutes and downing 3 ibuprofen, I decided to get up so that I could stretch it and see if that helped. I had only done that what seemed like 20 times before along the way without much success, but it couldn’t hurt. The volunteer asked what I wanted to do and I said I was going to the next aid station and that I would evaluate the situation there. He looked me in the face quite seriously and said, I can’t keep you here, but if you leave your’re pretty much committing yourself to the final 14 miles. There no other place from here on in that we could send a vehicle for you should you drop. Wow, now what? I told him to let me think about it and paced around a bit in somewhat of an emotional wreck inside because I didn’t come there to run 36 miles. I asked Edgar if he wanted to go with me and he was game. Neither of us wanted to leave Shaheen alone, but we had some miles left and she was in good hands with volunteers that would take her back to the start. Edgar said to hold on until he went to the restroom, maybe the only true restroom on the course, and then we’d go. Just as we were about to head out the bell was ringing for another runner coming in and it was Nick. Yes, he was still in it and looking pretty good. Edgar quickly went over the situation with Nick and we took off out of there. Nick was going to stay back for a bit. At this point, I was 36.2 miles along and about 10hrs, 15min into the race and it was about 3:15. I had traveled 2 miles in just over 59 minutes. Turtle.
The next 3 miles I really don't remember much about them. About 47 minutes to cover a net gain of 670ft of gradual incline, nothing too steep. I was able to run the some of it my with my main focus on staying with Edgar. He did a great job of keeping us going. Before long we we made our way into Pileline Aid Station and were now only 11 miles from the finish at 5:00 p.m., 11 hours into the race. I reached into my drop bag for the final time and grabbed my iPod. I needed some "Pearl Jam: Live from Boston". I thought I had two G2 powder mixes as well, but apparently not, that sucked. Heed it would be for the distance. A coule swipes of BodyGlide on each rib cage and inside arm and we were out of there. Well, actually I also filled a baggie of Lay's potato chips and carried that out with me.
|Putting on my iPod at Pipeline. Ready to be done with this thing.|
|View of jeep track out of Pipeline Aid Station|
|View from Guaje Ridge heading back towards Los Alamos|
|Coming back down Guaje Ridge............I think?|
As we continued to make our way in, it seemed like we'd never get there and the hopes of sub 13 seemed to be getting slim. We hit the last aid station and had 1.9 miles to go and just over 30 minutes time to get there. I didn't want to to stop because I was concerned about time, but Edgar needed water and I wasn't going on without him. One of the volunteers convinced me to drink a cup of Coke while they refilled Edgar's water and that was a good move. Coke never tasted so good.
Sub 13, surely we could do it? Easier said than done. It was a struggle as it seemed quite a bit of the last two miles were uphill or rolling hills which brought on a lot of walking by both of us. As we had left the station I heard one of the runners we had passed coming in so it seemed that he was gaining on us, incentive to try to keep moving, but there was only so much we could physically do. Did it even matter what placement or time we finished? For some reason it did to me, I couldn't help it. Coming to the top of every hill and every corner I kept expecting to see something that resembled the finish line or buildings or people or anything that indicated we were close to the finish. Instead, it would just bring another turn, more hills, more trail, a 50K runner. Anything but the finish line and I was growing frustrated. And to boot, one of the other runners passed us. He appeared to be paced in for the last mile by his girlfriend or wife as wehad passed her just after leaving the last station. I yelled to Edgar "let's go, we gotta break 13" and found one final surge. Besides that, I didn't want to give up that spot and I ended up getting it back. I apologize for still being competitive at that point, but a spot in the standings was a spot in the standngs.
As I came up a hill I saw the sign I had been looking for all along. Volunteers or spectators letting us know the finish was just around the corner, and it was. As I rounded that final corner I came up on a female runner that I had traded places with a couple of times earlier in the day. I probably could have made a complete ass out of myself and sprinted past her as well, but opted not to do so. She had run a strong race and was really nice to me with concern earlier in the day when I was struggling (I know, at this point you're saying to yourself "Could you be more specific? Wasn't that pretty much all day"). I was satisfied crossing the line just behind her, done finally, 12:58:15, 54th place overall and an average pace of 15:34 per mile. Just over 9 minutes per mile slower than my marathon pace.
|Just feet from the finish line|
|Edgar finishing strong, thanks for the company buddy!|
|Twinkies? Tough Twinkies for sure, Jayna and Shaheen.|
While I didn't get my goal time, I was okay with accepting that for the time being I am just a middle of the road ultra runner. What I had done in Boston last month was thrown out the window here. But that's okay with me because that's what will motivate me for the time being. Practically the whole time out there on the course I was telling myself "never again will I run Jemez, never ever never". But it wasn't long after finishing that I started thinking, I can break 12 out there, maybe even 11? We'll see about that next May.
In the meantime, I want to congratulate all of those that gave it their best shot out there on Saturday whether they finished or not. Just attempting to tackle such a challenge is awesome and quite respectable. I always pride myself on being mentally tough, but I don't know that I could ever put into words how difficult that was, both physically and mentally. Not many would even consider attempting such a day.
I also want to thank Amy for her pictures. Most of those above are her work as I gave up on my camera at mile 17. It was too much trouble. So on top of being an ultra All-Star, she's a pretty damned good photographer. I kidded her that she could have probably knocked off 20-30 minutes had she not taken picutres. I'm glad she did. Also major thanks to Edgar. A guy I just met the day before was a major help in my getting to the finish line Saturday night, thanks man!
Thanks for stopping in for the read and I promise it won't be six months until the next one (I'm sure you can't wait). I've got something brewing that I want to share with you when all the details are figured out.