Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jemez 50 Miler

So the Jemez 50 miler is in the books. This is a 50 mile race on rough trails in northern New Mexico with 12,000 feet of climbing in 5 major climbs, three of which go over 10,000 feet. A good race, supposedly one of the toughest 50 milers in the country. The short version is that I finished in 15:36. The long version is below . . .

Here's the profile of the race.

The trip was a pretty typical one. Scotty was waiting for me as I walked off the plane, and after a line at the Hertz counter that reminded me of the bread lines you used to see in cold war Moscow, we finally got our car and headed from ABQ to Los Alamos. Unfortunately, we missed our exit by about 30 miles, and by the time we got to the briefing, we were fairly late. Scotty’s friend Mike and his wife Fran were there and gave up their seats at the table to us. Mike was planning on running the race at one point, but he was recovering from Massanutten, so he turned it into an impropmtu vacation. After scrounging up the last of the spags, we listened to Caballo Blanco of Born to Run fame and headed back to the room. Actually, Mr. Blanco didn’t have much to say and seemed painfully shy, but his you tube video he showed was interesting. Apparently if you finish this race that they put on in Copper Canyon, you get 500 pounds of corn. I guess you are supposed to give it to the indians who live there, but I might be tempted to keep it. I REALLY like corn muffins. But I digress.

After going through my bag and discovering my portable XM and camera had been stolen out of my checked bag (bummer), I organized the rest of my stuff and hit the sack.
I was up before the alarm went off, and about 4:10 AM, Scotty and I rolled from our hotel in Espanola, about 20 min outside of town. The only problem was that neither of us had bothered to check the directions to the start line before we left, although I had some idea of where we were going. Scotty was able to find the directions in his bag , and we made it with several minutes to spare. After some socializing and half a donut and the usual port a potty stop, the crowd started moving down the road, meaning that the race I guess had started. I missed it.
Scotty and I at the start. Scotty looks drunk. Probably too many donuts. All pictures here courtesy of Scotty thanks to my camera getting stolen. Stupid US Airways.
Mmmmm, donuts.

So off we ran through some horse stables and then onto a horse trail system that paralleled the road we had ridden in on. The first 5 miles were rolling, and Scotty and I were still together at the first aid station where I stopped for a quick refill at 57 min or so. I then headed out, but didn’t see Scotty. I figured he was up ahead somewhere and put my head down for the first big climb of the day. It was pretty straight-forward - switchbacks up a burned ridge that were fairly steep. You could see the runners all out in front of you, which made for quite a sight. At the top there was a small aid station, so a quick refill and a few chips and then straight down a moutainside. I mean straight down on a game trail that zigzagged in an approximation of switchbacks. I had a ball and bombed down the trail, passing a few people that had gotten me on the uphill. Before I knew it, we were at the bottom at a ladder over a dam. After a quick climb it was onto an idyllic trail through the trees along a creek.

Running the roly polies at the start before aid station 1.
After aid station 1, after running through a creek bed, you headed up the 1600 ft. climb of Guaje Ridge.

Runners all going up Guaje Ridge. Every white speck is a runner. The crest in the picture is about 3/4 of the way up. From there, its a quick traverse and then a final push to the top.
Here's the famous ladder climb. It comes right after the descent from Guaje.

For whatever reason I was already struggling a little, which was a bummer because this trail was very runnable, and I was running maybe 3/4 of the time. I did have a yard sale wipeout at one point with my radio going one way, pack another, hat another, etc. It was crazy. Every muscle in my body cramped - hamstrings, calves, chest, biceps, etc. It took me a few minutes to shake this off, but then was up and at it again and actually ran a little better. But I took the cramping as a sign to eat more salt pills and did just that. Passing through the aid at mile 10, it was a 2 mile climb with 1800 feet of gain to Caballo Peak. At over 10,500 feet, it was one of three climbs over 10,000 feet. Then it was straight back down the same trail again. The climb was not as bad as I thought it was going to be, and it was great to see the leaders come bombing down the trail, as usually you don’t get to see these guys. It was also great to get good words from everybody and give them right back. There is a brotherhood/sisterhood to trailrunning that you don’t get in any other sport that I know of. We are all out there together, and we want to do our best, but we want you to do your best as well and let the chips fall where they may. Its a fraternity of idiots. Misery loves company, so they say.
Believe me, this elk was feeling better than I did after my fall and cramp session.
Typical section of the creek trail on the way to Caballo.
Heading up Caballo. This gives an ideal of the typical steepness of this section.

From the top of Caballo. You can see the Pajarito ski area in the background. We would top that for our last major climb of the day at mile 34.5. This was mile 12.

So up we went, then around a random tree at the top, then back down. I had thought Scotty was way ahead of me, but he was coming up the trail still, battling the altitude and the three ultras he had done in the last 4 weeks as well as a bad back. Crazy. That dude is monster tough.

Again, I passed people on the downhill but couldn’t keep it going when I got back to the creek. Pretty soon it was a steep climb out of the drainage onto a really fun jeep road to the Pipeline station. This is where I took my first break, pillaged my drop bag, and ate a groovy grape popsicle. I was doing a poor job of eating and staying with my salt pills, and nothing looked good at the various food tables except for that beloved otter pop. While I got organized I talked to a girl who was thinking of dropping to the 50K at that point. We were about 5 hours into it and only covered 17 or 18 miles. But, I told her, we had also covered 3 of the 5 big climbs, and there was only one cut off, at mile 36, so why not stick with it and try to make the cut, and if she got pulled, then she did knock out a 50k and gave it her best shot at the same time. I have no idea if she took my advice because I took off, but if she did, given the climbs coming up, she probably hates me with all of her heart and soul for talking her into going on.
A typical section of the climb to Pipeline. It is steep and somewhat forgotten about given the other climbs, but no fun.

The plunge off Pipeline to the Caldera was ridiculous. Take the steepest slide at the water park, one that’s about 300 feet tall and straight down, then cover it in 2 feet of dust and loose gravel. Then run down it. That’s pretty close. When it straightened out, it was great, but in the process of going down, I almost lost my otter pop. Very uncool.
The big descent with the Caldera in the distance. No pictures really capture how ridiculously steep this is.

The view of the Caldera from the top. The road we would run on runs through the center of the picture than off to the left.

The Caldera was probably my favorite part of the run. It was an undulating fire road that cut across this giant meadow framed by 10,000 peaks all around. It was very runnable, and I made decent progress with a few walking breaks. Before I knew it, I was at the mile 21 aid station. A quick clean out of the Pipeline drop mess that was all in my shoes and I was off on the cross country portion of the course.
Running a typical section of Caldera fire road.

The first part was a pleasant gradual climb across the clumped grass of the meadow. The second part started with bouldering section followed by a climb straight up the side of the mountain. And I mean straight up. To paraphrase Tim Robbins in Anchorman, no switchbacks, no mercy. I was climbing well though for someone my size and at my place in the race and managed to pass a few people I had been swapping spots with in the Caldera. Topping out over 10,000 feet a second time on Cerro Grande, there was some tree jumping and then onto a primitive trail that became a very runnable trail along a creek downhill. Unfortunately I started pooping out here so didn’t hold my pace as well as I should have on this section. Rat bastard. At some point, we had to go over a barbed wire fence. Somehow, I screwed this up and caught my running shorts on a barb. Thus ended my shorts which I had run every ultra I have ever run in as they ripped from top to bottom. Luckily I had tights on underneath, so I was able to run through despite my wardrobe malfunction.
The Cross-country portion. We would go into the trees, then up to the saddle and up to the left to top out on Cerro Grande.
Just a fun day of bouldering. Or not.

After awhile I came on the Pajarito aid station and decided I needed to try to get some food down here as nutrition was becoming a real issue. Fortunately, they had the magic formula that worked at Grand Teton: potato soup! Salty with lots of carbs and easy to swallow. Between that and some ginger ale, I was ready to go again, and headed out. I pulled into a group of 4 of us and we just put our heads down and did the gentle climb. It was getting hot, but I was not affected too much by either heat or altitude or wind. It was about 80 I guess in the canyons, and the wind was blowing at a steady 20 and gusting to 40, but the wind was cool, I thought, and I felt pretty good considering the mileage I had put in to that point. When I pulled into the Townsite Lift station, I heard someone calling my name, and it was Mike and Fran! Man was it good to see a familiar face. They were super encouraging and snapped my pic as I got ready for the last big push of the day.

It started gentle enough, and I let it lull me into a sense of security. It went from runnable to straight up parallel a double diamond ski slope. And there was no trail. You would run from an orange flag next to a rock to an orange ribbon on a tree 200 feet and 200 vertical feet beyond to an orange ribbon tied to a squirrel another 200 feet and 200 vertical feet ahead, etc. Finally, I saw the top. Nope. This was just the top of this ski slope. But you could still go higher on the mountain, so off you went perpindicular to the slopes, still going up. Finally I came to a blue bench made of skis and sat down for a minute, enjoying the view of the Caldera and literally hanging onto my hat in 40 mph winds.
You would think the top of the lift would be the top of the climb, right? Not in this mother scratcher. You do get an idea of the steepness of the climb, however.

About 5 minutes after continuing, I had reached the top of the final climb over 10,000 feet after 3200 feet of climbing, 1,800 of it in the last mile and a half. I came to the downhill to get me back to the ski lodge that was the 36 mile cutoff. I still had plenty of time, so I wasn’t too worried, but the steepness was similar if not more than the Pipeline drop, so instead of following the flags straight down, I ran my own switchbacks until the trail ducked into the woods and became runnable. I ran over several of the mountain bike obstacles to provide a little variety and came cruising into the ski station. There were Mike and Fran again! Too sweet. With a few more good words and the news that Scotty was hanging in there, I took off up some gentle slopes towards Pipeline again. I ran what I could and probably could have done better, but was at Pipeline before too long. I had thought it was all downhill from there, but there were two climbs to go. They looked intimidating as I came to each of them, but they really weren’t that bad. And I ate another Otter Pop at Pipeline to give me some strength.
Looking back from just past the ski lodge aid station. The slope we ran down is on the right.

Then came the fun. It was 8 miles of downhill ridge running, and I was hauling butt! Well, relatively speaking. I had saved enough to really do some damage here and was having a blast, although it would have been more fun with someone to chase. I blew through the second to last aid station and kept going. About 2 miles after that, things fell apart. I tried to take a salt pill and blew banana chunks and whatever else was rotting in my stomach all over myself and the trail. I then tried to take a gel about 2 minutes later and lost it and more banana chunks. That was it for eating for the day, so I knew I had to milk what energy I had left before I lost it. I kept it together for about 2 more miles, and then the bonk came. I struggled through the bottom of the canyon into the last aid station.
Typical section of the downhill ridge run.

From there it was 2 miles back to the top and I chatted with a guy from Spokane for most of the way, the first person I had seen on the trail since mile 31. Eventually he had some legs and took off and I fast hiked it up to the blacktop where I stumbled a few steps across the finish in 15:36, good for 83rd place. Of course, Mike and Fran were there to cheer me in, and we had fun chatting and cheering for Scotty and the other runners when they got there.
My shirt after the race, covered in dirt, grime, banana puke, and snot. Wearing white for an ultra is not the best idea for the fastidious. Fortunately, I don't fall under that category.
My ripped shorts. Such a bummer. I bought these for 50 cents at a Goodwill store in Tucson in 2002 when I needed something to play basketball in. I've worn them for every ultra and long run since. So sad. Maybe I can repair them with some more duct tape. I have no idea what the goo is next to the rip.

Overall, it was a killer race. I heard 300 started and only 100 finished (I was later corrected that 158 started and 100 finished - 63 percent finish rate, no doubt lowered by some who dropped to the 50k option which can be awfully tempting . . . Thanks for the correction, Beist!), with the rest either dropping or dropping down to the 50K. So 83rd ain’t too bad, but room for improvement for sure! I could have run stronger on the flats and the very last climb. Bleah. Well, it was a training race, and I’m already feeling up to run tonight - a good sign! If I can use this as a stepping stone to White River, then I’m in good shape. As usual, I was relatively unaffected by the heat and altitude, but I still need to get stronger on the flats to cut serious time off. The good was the climbing, the views, the company, and having some legs for the last 10 miles. The bad was walking some of the early flats and the some of the downhill from Cerro Grande when I should have been tougher and losing track of my nutrition.

Big thanks to Mike and Fran for the good words and friendly faces, to Scotty for bringing this race on the radar, and to the race director and all the great volunteers out there who make it possible. More soon! Bring on White River! Sub 12 here I come!!


  1. Time to rethink those minimum goals for White River and Cascade! You did awesome! And I like what your blog does for those photos! Sounds like it was a theft--sorry to hear.

  2. Badass Bro. Nothing pimps your running gear like puke racing stripes. Well done. Looking forward to San Diego escapades........

  3. Nice report and congratulations on the finish. For the record, 158 runners started the 50 mile and 100 finished. Finishing rate of 63%.

  4. Nice report. I wish I had been out there running it with you, but it was fun to watch and cheer!

  5. @masonham - somehow, I think recovering from the butt kicking you gave Massnutten gives you an excuse

    @whaeck - try telling that to the ladies

    @beist - thanks for the correction. sounded like a high dropout rate from my original post. never believe what you hear!

    @scotty - the photos make the blog. thanks again!

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