Sunday, June 1, 2014

Jemez Mountain 50 mile

It was about time to step it up to a 50 miler, and Jemez seemed like the perfect place. My first trail race 3 years ago was the Jemez mountain half marathon. I was hooked, and inspired by all the 50k and 50 mile runners. I knew someday I wanted to come back and enjoy more of the trails through the rough and rugged Jemez mountains.

I decided early this year that I wanted to run Jemez again, the only question was would it be the 50k or the 50 mile? I really wanted to run the 50k course since I thought it suited me well, but since I felt good after winning the Cedro Peak 45k in April I decided it was the perfect time to jump into the 50 miler.

Coming into the race I was feeling great, no fatigue in my legs which I typically experience in the weeks before a race and I was feeling confident in my ability to survive 50 miles. The Jemez course is well known as one of the toughest 50 mile races in the country, with an actual distance just over 52 miles and 11,300ft of both climbing and descending. It would not be an easy first 50 mile run, but it was just the style of course I love.

We arrived late Friday night in Los Alamos and quickly got to bed for what would be a short nights sleep. I woke up at 2 am, an hour before my alarm, wide awake and ready to go. I tried to get back to sleep, but that was impossible. I finally gave up at 2:45am. I sneaked into the bathroom for some coffee and breakfast, so I would not wake up our 16 month old son. I was chuckling at the ridiculousness of the situation as I sat on the toilet sipping coffee while eating 3 hard boiled eggs, a slice of bread and and a slice of cheese. It was the closest I could come to my favorite pre run meal of scrambled eggs on toast.

I struggled with what to wear. The forecast was calling for rain, but I wasn't sure when it was going to start. Little did I know how crazy the weather would get towards the end of my race. I settled on sending my rain jacket and an extra shirt to the ski lodge in my drop bag. I had arranged to get a ride to the start of the race so my wife and son wouldn't have to get up so early for the 5am start. This worked out great and I was soon standing at the start line ready to run 50 miles.

The start was relaxed and I was feeling pretty calm. We headed off into the darkness at the command of the race director. I was surprised how many people were flying by at what seemed like way too fast for a 50 miler and I soon found out why. After a short stretch of gravel road we hit single track and everyone around me slowed to a walk. I wasn't concerned though as there was plenty of time for passing.

We quickly hit the jeep road through the bottom of the canyon, which allowed the field to spread out. My plan was to keep it easy for at least the first 30 miles and reevaluate. I wanted to finish in one piece and knew that starting out too fast was risky. It was a beautiful morning for running as the surrounding mountains were beginning to wake up, birds were singing and the air was fresh from the previous days rain.

I rolled into the first aid station at mile 5 with 49 minutes on the clock, dropped off my headlamp and cruised on through. I was running with two 16oz bottles filled with Tailwind nutrition, so I didn't need to stop for anything yet.

From here it was some nice rolling single track, with rocky areas mixed in. Around mile 6, I caught up with Jacob who had gotten ahead of the traffic jam near the start. I settled in behind him as I figured our paces would be pretty similar. It was nice to run with a local who knew the course well as he kept me informed along the way.

As we approached the second aid station, I was able to get my bags of Tailwind dumped into my bottles while hiking the steep climb. We arrived at the second aid station 10.4 miles into the race at 1:52, quickly filled my bottles and headed out for the climb up Pajarito mountain. The trail climbs 2800ft in the next 7 miles to the top of Pajarito ski area before plunging down 1500ft to the ski lodge aid station. I felt great on the climb and hit the top 90 minutes after leaving the aid station. The beginning of the descent to the ski lodge was steep, straight down a ski run! I tried to take it super easy as I didn't want to fry my quads early in the race. It was tough to go slow since it was steep, but we soon hit some mountain bike trails which made for a little more gentle downhill grade.

We cruised into the ski lodge aid station, 18.6 miles into the race at 3:40 and quickly grabbed my drop bag. I fumbled around trying to get my bottles refilled and restock my Tailwind supply, which I had divided into pre-measured ziplock bags. Jacob was out before I even opened up my drop bag! Guess I need to work on my drop bag speed.

The 2.8 miles to the Pipeline aid station went quickly, but I couldn't help but wonder how much slower this section would be the second time as we would repeat this section of the course later. We arrived at the Pipeline aid station 21.4 miles into the race with 4:09 on the clock. No need to stop, we just plunged off into the Caldera down Nate's Nemisis. Straight down steep, loose, and rocky nastiness, it was a good time! I had heard about this section and was looking forward to checking it out. At the bottom we decided to stop and empty the rocks and dirt from our shoes, as it wouldn't be fun to have that grinding on our feet for the next 30 miles.

Once down into the Valles Caldera, it was nice smooth jeep roads for the next 3 miles to Valley Grande aid station at mile 25.4. We arrived at 4:40 and paused to top off our bottles. My Tailwind was going down fine and I didn't have any stomach issues yet. We headed down the road until the flags lead us off across the meadow on a faint trail. From here it was a mostly cross country route back up and out of the caldera. Follow the flags up and over dead burned trees, rocks and brush. The climb didn't seem too bad, although it climbed 1000ft in just over a mile, it was nice to hike after a long stretch of runnable trail.

At the saddle a trail appeared once again as we began the 5 mile descent to Pajarito Canyon aid station. I couldn't get into a rhythm and my downhill stride was feeling choppy. This was frustrating because it seemed like a nice cruiseable downhill grade. I tried to relax and slowly began to catch up to Jacob and Michael who had pulled away from me at the top of the descent.

Once we reached the bottom I quickly caught Jacob and Michael, who had slowed to a hike at the beginning of a short climb. I was feeling pretty good so decided to keep on cruising. Michael had pulled away from me after the short climb, but upon arriving at the aid station I found him sitting in a chair. I arrived at Pajarito Canyon aid station 31.4 miles in at 5:59. I was hoping to see my crew here, but I was bummed when they weren't there. Turns out they arrived shortly after I left and just missed me, sounds like it was a rough morning for the crew.

I quickly filled up my bottles with the help of some volunteers, who were kind enough to pour in my Tailwind for me. My hands weren't working as well as they were earlier in the race. I headed out for the 2600ft of climbing over the next 5.5 miles back up to the top of Pajarito Ski area for the second time. I could see Michael coming behind me, but still no sign of Jacob. It was cool running up the narrow canyon and getting encouragement from some rock climbers along the way. I paused to rinse off my face in one of the many cold stream crossings, as the sun was starting to warm things up quite a bit. The climb was kind of a slog the this time, mostly hiking with some short stretches of running. I was starting to pass a few 50k runners now, but I was surprised to not see any 50 mile runners up ahead.

As I was approaching the top of the climb, I noticed a runner ahead that appeared to be a 50 miler, and I was catching him fast. I was surprised to find out it was Scott Jaime, who has done some amazing things in his career, including setting the fastest known time on the 486 mile Colorado trail and placing 3rd at Hardrock 100 last year. It was great to meet him and chat about Pearl Izumi shoes as we were climbing. Although it felt good to pass such an accomplished runner, I'm pretty sure he was just out for an easy stroll trying to get in some solid training for this year's Hardrock 100. I pulled away from him as we were approaching one of the many false summits of Pajarito mountain.

As I began the ski area descent, it was obvious that the beautiful weather was about to end. The skies were getting dark, the wind was picking up and I could see rain over the caldera. I debated whether or not I should grab my rain jacket for the last stretch or continue in my t-shirt, as the temps had been comfortable all day. My legs were hurting at the beginning of the downhill, but quickly began to feel good as I descended. The last mile into the Ski lodge, my legs felt great and I was moving well. I was excited because the remaining 14 miles were mostly downhill and I figured there was a good chance I could break 10 hours.

Rolling into the Ski Lodge I was excited to see my crew for the first time. They were bundled up and out on the deck cheering me in! I arrived at the Ski Lodge for the second time, 38.6 miles in with 7:42 on the clock. This was farther than I had ever previously run and I was feeling great! My wife helped me get my bottles filled and the weather helped me decide that grabbing my rain jacket was a smart idea as it was beginning to rain. I told my son I would race him to the finish, grabbed a smooch and headed off towards Pipeline.
All bundled up waiting for dad to arrive at the ski lodge.
Shortly after leaving the ski lodge, the rain started to pick up. I fumbled around holding my two bottles and pack while trying to get my rain jacket on. It probably would have been easier to stop, but I wanted to keep moving since I knew it would be close if I wanted to break 10 hours. I was surprised how good I felt on the gradual climb to the Pipeline aid station at mile 41.4 and arrived at 8:16. The volunteers were yelling at me to come into the aid station tent and get warm as it was now getting pretty cold and starting to snow, but all I cared about was the finish. I yelled out my race number and kept on trucking.

I was not ready for the pipeline climb out of the aid station. I knew there was a climb, but this was much bigger than I was expecting! I passed a few 50k runners on the climb into the blizzard, which helped motivate me to keep moving. As I was cresting the climb I glanced back to see Diana Finkel behind me near the bottom of the climb. I had been waiting since mile 8 where we passed her, for Diana to come cruising by. She is well known for running smart in tough ultras and sweeping up all the guys who went out too fast. Now I had a little fuel on the fire to keep moving in hopes of staying ahead of her.

This is where the weather got crazy, all out blizzard with 30 mile per hour winds! I was glad I grabbed my jacket, but wishing I would have grabbed my hat and gloves as well. Although my core was dry, I was freezing and could no longer feel my hands. My hope of a fast downhill to the finish disappeared as my body tensed up from the bitter cold winds. Every step began to hurt as my body was too stiff to absorb the downhill running impacts. There were a few brief moments where the winds and rain would calm down and allow me to warm up. I moved well until the winds would kick back up, so I knew it was the cold and not just tired muscles that were causing me to move so slowly. I was bummed that a sub 10 hour finish was now impossible but had already shifted into survival mode. Just wanting to get off that ridge.

I went through the Guaje ridge aid station at mile 45.3 with 9:02 on the clock. I once again just paused to give the volunteers my race number. I was not drinking much due to the cold and didn't need to refill my bottles as I was expecting.

It seemed like the ridge went on forever and I was now passing many other 50k runners who were in just as bad or worse shape. I had nothing to offer for help so kept moving as best I could. I've spent a lot of time in the mountains and back country and don't think I've ever been so concerned with how cold I was getting. I finally dropped into the canyon out of the wind and arrived at the Last Chance Saloon aid station 50.3 miles into the race, with 9:50 on the clock. It looked like a lot of fun, but all I wanted to do was get to the finish and get warm. I had to weave my way through the crowd of runners who were huddled under the tarp trying to get warm, and headed out for the final 2 miles.

I had been dreading the climb out of this aid station all day. It's not really much of a climb, but I wasn't sure how painful it would be after 50 miles of running, I couldn't believe how good I felt on the climb! I ended up running most of it and my legs felt great. The final mile of slight downhill was spent looking over my shoulder, fully expecting somebody to have caught me on that painfully slow descent down Guaje ridge, but there was nobody. I started the final rutted out climb and was still able to move well to the top of the canyon. It felt great coming down the homestretch knowing I was about to finish my first 50 miler. As I crossed the line I was surprised to see my crew standing outside the Posse shack cheering! I was fully expecting them to be huddled inside out of the weather, so that was pretty awesome.
Looking and feeling like a drowned rat at the finish.
I crossed the line after 52 miles and ~11,300 ft of climbing and descending over the rough and rocky Jemez mountains in 10:13:11, good enough for 7th place overall. I was pretty happy with my time considering the craziness that consumed the last 11 miles. I had no idea until the finish that the race had been called off and there would only be 20 finishers in the 50 mile race! Unfortunately I was so cold I had no desire to kick back, relax and enjoy the finish line festivities. My wife said I was functioning like a really slow computer, taking way to long to respond to simple conversation.

Local handmade pottery finishers award.
Despite the crazy weather, it was an amazing day of running. The course was awesome and I wish I would have had a camera to capture the amazing scenery. The race organizers and volunteers did a great job keeping everyone safe, it was a good call ending the race early. It got pretty scary out on the open ridge lines and there was the potential for people to get in serious trouble.

Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2 shoes
Injinji Trail 2.0 midweight mini-crew socks
CEP calf compression sleeves
Patagonia Strider Pro shorts
Amphipod Ergo-Lite 16oz bottles
Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket

~1800 calories Tailwind nutrition
~160oz water

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