Monday, May 23, 2011

2011 Jemez Mountain 50k

We started our trip spending the night with the Voekses in Kansas City.  They would be watching our dogs, Roxy and Juko, and they kindly let us crash at their place so we didn't have to make an extra Lawrence/KC trip.  We figured bringing the dogs at 10pm would be much kinder than 4am the morning of our flight.  Their house is pretty awesome and you can tell they put a lot of time and effort into personalizing it.  Take, for example, this giant painting of a...musical type thingamajiggy...(amp?)  They both love music and Erik plays bass in a local band.  They are awesome.

Our flight to Albuquerque (by way of Denver) was to leave at 6:45am.  While it was painfully early, it got us into town at 9:30, which would leave us with plenty of time to travel to REI, travel to Los Alamos, scope out our campground, etc. 

We drove up to Santa Fe and stopped at REI to pick up last minute stuff, stuff we couldn't bring on the plane (camp fuel), and of course to buy stuff we didn't really need.  It's REI!  Nick got a new 70L pack was on sale!  We got lunch at a decent, but not overwhelmingly awesome, brewery near REI.  Nick got whatever was on the menu that he could put green chili on.

We drove to Los Alamos and figured out where packet pickup and the race start/finish was then headed out to Bandalier National Monument to find a campsite.  We knew we were in the right place when we ran into Kansans, Terry and Sherri Rider along with Phil Sheridan.  Terry and Phil would be running the 50 miler and Sherri would be crewing for her husband.  After a bit of chatting, we decided to head back into town to drive around town a bit before the packet pickup and race dinner.  I was fading fast and snoozed for a bit while Nick picked up a few things from the grocery store.

We were some of the first in line to pick up packets and eat dinner.  I wanted to go to bed ASAP.  I think the altitude was really sapping my energy.  We chatted with a few new people at the pre race dinner and ran into Steve Breeding, Jordan Breeding, and Theresa Wheeler (also from Kansas) before we booked it back to camp.  It didn't take long to set up camp (thanks to Nick) and get our race gear together for the next day, so we enjoyed some hot chocolate and read Trail Runner magazine until it started raining.  This seemed like a perfect time to head into the tent.

Luckily, mountain rain is much lighter than Kansas rain, but it was still nice to be inside the tent.  It was a little chilly, so I snuggled into my sleeping bag, wearing my jacket and gloves and began snoozing soon after.  I was surprised at how well I slept.  I tossed and turned a bit but never had trouble getting back to sleep and I didn't get too cold.  So that settles it.  I CAN camp the night before a race and not feel awful.  I should say, as long as it doesn't get much below freezing.  I think it was probably in the 30's to low 40's.

We woke up at 4am and Nick boiled water so we could have oatmeal and a hot drink.  Him - coffee.  My weak stomach - hot chocolate.  We got on the road right when I was hoping, at 5am, the start of the 50 mile race.  I was glad we left so early, because we were able to park in the same lot as the 50 milers.  Later in the morning, the road would be closed up to the start/finish and runners would have to park farther away. 

Once we got checked in, we did a lot of meandering, put on sun block, and finally removed our extra layers of clothes to expose our skin to the chilly morning.  The race director kept things happening right on schedule.  We started exactly when we were supposed to, at 6:30.  I admired his punctuality.  I decided to start off with my rain jacket strapped into the back of my Nathan pack.  I figured my Moeben sleeves would keep me warm enough at the lower elevations and I would keep my jacket with me, in case it got cold or rainy in the mountains.

The course started off with a little decline, but that didn't last long.  Once we got on the trails, we started gradually heading up.  I chatted a little bit with a guy from Albuquerque who was training for Leadville.  We both picked the race specifically to get ready for the LT100.  Everybody around was tickled that I was from Kansas.  They were probably waiting for me to keel over and die any minute.  I lost track of Albuquerque man for a while.  I never did get his name darnit.  I tried finding him from the results but there were tons of people from Albuquerque who ran.

I started walking a little more as the terrain got a little steeper and we entered a barren region that appeared to have been stricken with fire and/or disease, because ALL of the trees were dead.  Nick had run with me for a while but we got separated and he ended up a little ahead of me, but I made no effort to run faster to catch up.

Once we passed through the first aid station, where I didn't stop, we began a steeper climb.  When I finally noticed the conga line of "runners" going up what seemed like a never ending series of switchbacks, I realized we were about to ascend Guaje Ridge.  I was keeping an ok walking pace but some places were so steep I just had to put my hands down on the ground to stabilize myself because it was so hard on my legs.  Every once in a while we'd hit a slight downhill for about 10 or 20ft and could run a few steps.

We had a great view from the top of the ridge and I jokingly asked the volunteers at the top of the aid station if this was a false summit.  It wasn't.  If I thought the ascent was hard, going back down the other side of Gauje might have been worse.  It was terrifyingly steep at the top.  The trail was about 8 inches wide, with loose dirt and gravel and a steep drop off on the side.  My footing slipped at one point and I almost slid off the side.  There were extremly sharp switchbacks and when I was lucky I could grab a tree going around the corners.

I managed to get down the really scary parts without any injury.  The valley below Guaje Ridge was absolutely gorgeous.  Green and lush with a small stream running through it.  I believe it was at a water crossing that I received my first and only owie of the day.  I stepped on a split log that spanned a crossing and either the log turned or my footing was just bad, but my foot slipped off and the inside of my calf got up close and personal with the roughly split surface of the wood. 

Albuquerque man, who I had met back up with going down from the ridge, asked if I was ok.  I glanced down quickly and just saw some scratches.  I was afraid I would be loaded with splinters.  Luckily not.  I shook it off and kept truckin'.  I noticed that it started bleeding a bit and thought about getting it cleaned up at an aid station, but never rememberd when I was actually at one. 
Eventually we began another gradual climb to the base of Caballo Mountain.  This looked to be the most daunting task of the day based on a view of the course elevation profile.  I grabbed some food from the aid station at the base and grudgingly began my 2 mile ascent to the peak of Caballo.  It was extremely difficult.  I figured it would take an hour if not more to reach the top.  For my KC friends, think about how it feels when you're running Ogg Rd and multiply that by 3.  But in this case you're walking not running.  That's how it feels to hike Caballo.  For people who have done's significantly steeper than Hope Pass.  I have no idea how long it took because I wasn't paying attention, but I do remember thinking that it seemed shorter than I was expecting.  Somehow I figured I would have to be walking long enough to start bawling before I reached the top.

Well it was plenty long and plenty steep.  As 50 milers and 50k-ers descended, I would step off the trail to let them through.  Just as much for selfish reasons as for politeness.  When a runner came down I felt justified in stepping off the trail just so I could take a little break.  Bring on the runners, I thought!  It was nearly impossible to eat anything on the ascent.  When I did stuff food in my mouth, I chewed with no regard for manners.  That's right, wide open.  Bite, open, gasp for air.  Bite, gasp, bite, gasp.  Swallow.  Sometimes I didn't even taste the food!

I suppose I started feeling a little "off" about half way up.  I wasn't sure if I was feeling altitude sickness or if my nausesa was due to a late start to fueling.  I didn't start eating until 1.5 to 2 hours into the race.  When I started getting a headache and feeling lightheaded, I recognized that at least a good part of it was altitude.  But it was all worth it for the view at the top.  I stopped to take pictures with absolutely no regard for my time or passing the next person.  This was a training run.  And a true adventure. 

The descent down Caballo was not as treacherous as I thought it would be.  I found it easier (less scary) than the descent from Guaje.  My buns were burning, which I took as a good sign.  Nick and I had just read an article on good walking techniques, and it pointed out that you should try to use your glutes more and not drive with your calves and quads.  I found this difficult to accomplish given the steep grade up Caballo, but I must have done ok because my quads weren't trashed coming down.  I started feeling better once I descended a thousand feet or so and hoped the altitude sickness would not continue to plague me.

Once I got back to the Caballo base aid station, I took my time eating, electrolyting and discarding trash from my pack.  Of course, since I had just been going down down down, it was time to go up up up.  The initial climb leaving the aid station wasn't so bad but after about a half mile, the steep grade set in.  This was actually the shortest of the 3 really big climbs but it might have been the hardest after the cumulative pain of the first two.
I walked and chatted with a couple girls on this ascent.  One lady from Santa Fe and another from Laramie, Wyoming.  We commiserated about the difficulty and treacherousness of the course. They both decided to slow down and let people pass, so I trudged on, slowly.  Luckily, this climb wasn't as long as the other two but it definitely felt like the hardest after surviving Guaje and Caballo.  The trail finally stopped torturing me and there were even some nice downhills and flat parts on the way into the Pipeline Road aid station.

I ate a big piece of watermelon there and headed out to the Ski Lodge aid station, which was 2.9 miles away.  This was a beautiful section of the course.  Lots of tall trees, fields of grass.  I managed to drop my phone somewhere along the way after taking a picture of said trees.  I backtracked to look for it once I realized I'd dropped it.  You'd think it would be hard to not notice a) you dropped your phone instead of putting it in your pocket and b) a black phone lying in the grass.  But somehow I managed to not notice both of those things.  After adding a half mile or so and getting passed by a whole bunch of people I decided to continue on.

When I saw Nick coming back from Ski Lodge, I let him know where I dropped it so he could keep an eye out on his way back.  But the day was so beautiful, so I didn't spend much time worrying about the phone, even though I would have loved to snap some more pictures on the way.  One day, I may rival Gary Henry's efforts to spend more time taking pictures than running.  One can only dream though.

Unfortunately I was still struggling with a sensitive stomach.  I did ok running down hills but any time I tried to run the slightest incline the tummy threatened mutiny.  This was rather frustrating since my legs felt amazingly good considering what they'd already been through.  I had no signs of pain from my recent achilles tendon or IT band injuries.

I made it to Ski Lodge feeling happy.  Enjoying the weather and scenery at least.  It also felt closer than I was expecting.  I wasn't keep tracking of time at ALL, so this was just my gut feeling.  The Ski Lodge was a really cool place.  There were loads of people there cheering and they called out my number as I ran toward the aid station, which was on a big wooden patio.  As I perused the food at the station, a volunteer came up with my drop bag.  I was surprised and delighted by this!  I'm used to getting my own drop bag which is no problem.  This was just one example of how these volunteers went the extra mile to put on a great event.

While I was at the aid station a volunteer yelled out and asked if anyone named Laurie was there.  More than one person piped up, including me.  He was looking for a RUNNER Laurie.  Ooh, still me!  Someone had found my phone and dropped it off with the volunteers back at Pipeline.  Awesome.  Not only were the volunteers great, but the runners too!

I then began feeling just the slightest twinge of competition.  I wanted to leave the aid station before a girl who got ahead of me while I was searching for my phone, so I put on some sun block, ate a sandwich and skedaddled.  The trip back to Pipeline was slower than the trip out.  It was a little more up hill going back, and my stomach was not getting better.  Run down, walk up was becoming a habit.  I also walked the flats sometimes.  I was still in good spirits though and glad to get my phone back at Pipeline.

I didn't stop long at Pipeline.  Just long enough to get directions for a volunteer.  The remaining 11 miles would be MOSTLY down hill.  Well the first half to three quarters of a mile were up another steep hill.  The volunteer said this was the last big one.

It was getting warm and it turned out that most of the remaining miles were totally uncovered.  After a couple miles, I left behind all signs of grass and the remaining vegetation was low lying bushes and dead trees.  My stomach was in bad shape.  I really thought I'd start feeling better as I was descending quickly to a more reasonable elevation.  Maybe it was the heat or maybe I just couldn't get past the elevation once it hit me, but things only got worse.

I could still run down hill and when I finally hit the second to last aid station I drank some ginger ale and ate some ginger snaps.  I have no idea why I continue to consume ginger like it is the best thing in the world to cure an upset stomach.  I can't remember a single time that I've run an ultra and ginger has miraculously cured my stomach problems.  Well at least it tastes good anyway.

The next aid station was 5 miles away, and I was really thinking I'd descend out of this hot, open, dead tree hell at any time!  But the course just wound around and around these barren foothills.  I eventually had to make a pit stop to take care of some business which I became convinced would not wait to be dealt with at the end of the race.  The good thing about mountain races is the plentiful supply of boulders.  They're great outhouses.

And of course I got passed by about a billion people while I was taking care of business.  Well it could have been 5 or a billion.  Who really knows?  Now I was starting to feel a little competitive and also encouraged by the presence of other people.  For a long time I couldn't see anyone in front or behind me.  I kept a pretty good pace down into the last aid station.

I grabbed some chips but didn't stop for anything else.  Not the beer or whiskey or pumpkin pie, all of which were merrily advertised on signs leading into the station.  I spotted a couple leaving the aid station who had gotten ahead of me earlier when I was looking for my phone.  "I can catch them," I thought.  I kept up with them for a while and even started closing in, but my stomach was just not having it.

I backed off and just coasted the rest of the way.  I'm used to finishing my races strong, but I went into this one just wanting to finish.  Just wanting to train.  Just wanting to have fun.  And honestly, it didn't matter if I passed that nice lady from San Antonio.  This would be my slowest 50k time ever and two minutes wasn't going to change it, nor would it make my day any more awesome.  It had already been so wonderful.

Well my day did get a little better when I saw Nick's bright yellow calf sleeves.  At first I thought he must be heading back toward me to keep me company after his finish.  But when I called out to him and he didn't answer, I realized he was walking away from me.  I surmised that he was having about as tough of a day as I was.  When I finally caught up to him, I found out that he too had the dreaded upset tummy.  I definitely wasn't happy that he was feeling bad, but it was a wonderful experience to cross the finish line with him for the first time ever, in 8:55:20.  Yes, I did succeed in breaking my personal record for worst 50k time!  Hooray!

Well I learned some things from the experience.  1) My legs are strong enough to run/walk/trudge a mountain course.  Thanks to hill training, working out with my personal trainer, and luck.  2) I am in for some serious unpleasantness at Leadville if I don't go out early to acclimate.  The Jemez course peaked at just above the elevation of the town of Leadville, which is one of the lower points of the race.

Anyway, we had a fabulous time at the race and we LOVED Los Alamos.  This was a perfect vacation for the two of us.  It was almost a vacation vacation.  I keep saying that one day I would like to take a trip that doesn't revolve around a race, but I'm not sure that will ever happen.


  1. Congratulations Laurie - After seeing the elevation and flyover for this race, finishing a 50k on this course is a huge accomplishment. Great job.

  2. Awesome job Laurie! You're one helluva trooper as well as an inspiration :)