Today was the fourth running of the Valles Caldera Marathon in the Valles Caldera National preserve. This is one of New Mexico’s primer wilderness areas both for it’s accessibility and its beauty. One of the best things about it is the fact that since it is a wildlife preserve there is very limited access to the public, which is particularly awesome because like I said, it is very accessible, right off NM state highway 4. There are few times per year when the Valles Candera opens its gates and when it does it is like a visit to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory…well, without the Umpa-Lumpas that is.
There was a small group of Outlaws present including MG and Michi running the half-mary and Bones, Flamin Mo, 8-ball, Dread Pirate, the GeekGrl and yours truly all running the marathon. I was a bit skeptical on my abilities coming into this race probably because I have been skeptical of my abilities going in to every race this year. I think it is because I have done less cycling and swimming than in any previous year but of course this was a run so, whatever. Well, I guess the deal is that I keep comparing my fitness last year to this year and I don’t quite measure up this year but I keep telling myself I need a bit of a rest.
In any case I was heading into this run hoping for something between 6 and 6 ½ hours mostly because of the elevation gain and the altitude the race is run at; between 8000 and 10,000 feet. The profile doesn’t exactly make one say “Oooh, now there’s a PR course if ever I saw one.”
In any case the course, despite its difficulty, is absolutely stunning this time of year; large open meadows with wild flowers, tall pines flanking dirt roads creating a cathedral feeling, white barked aspen in small groves, sweeping mountain top vistas and herds of elk browsing in green fields and drinking from lazy streams.
Another nice element of the run is that it is exclusively on dirt forest roads or jeep trails so it is all runable, well, except when it is too steep to run. I felt good when I took off and was able to hang with or in sight of the faster Outlaws doing the race. Both my climbing and descending were working well and I passed the half-way point still feeling great and still with the fast kids. However, at this point I got some discipline and knew I was running to far out front for my own good considering that I had a half marathon to go and I have a half-iron in two weeks so I geared down and focused a bit more on the scenery. Somewhere between mile 16 and 18 two guys passed me so I decided to keep them in sight to see where things led. Right about mile 19.5 there is a monster steep climb and it is here where I seriously closed the gap on them, which had grown to about a half-mile. On the steep downhill I closed the gap the rest of the way and passed one back. Between miles 21 and 23 I played leapfrog with them and so I decided these are the guys I am going to be racing.
I started picking up the pace and figured that I would try and leave them behind and I started closing on two more people whom I caught at the mile 24 aid station. At this point I decided I wanted some soda for that final kick but when the aid station voulinteer opened the bottle it started spraying everywhere. I was now standing there wasting time with a group of voulinteers watching soda spray from a bottle. Secretly I was pissed because my lead was being eaten up by this nonsense and they two people I had tried to catch were heading on down the trail. I kept my cool though because I know it was just an accident and I didn’t want to be rude and just run off into the woods.
By the time I got my soda three people had caught up to me, including the two I had just worked to put behind me. I took off a couple seconds before them and started pounding down the trail as fast as I could, which was surprisingly fast for this late in the race. Within a mile I caught the two that had left me standing at the messy aid station and I put them behind in short order. The final mile and a half or so is in a fairly wooded area so I couldn’t really tell if someone was closing on me but I decided to back off again and try and save something for an emergency kick. About a half mile out from the finish I saw one more person who was now walking and I had a chance to catch. I picked up the pace again and then one of my favorite songs came on the I-Pod, Halleluiah by Rufus Wainwright. It was sheer bliss. I suppose it is a bit of a dark and somber song but I find the refrain “Halleluiah” very uplifting.
I passed one final person and the song ended the second I crossed the finish line, Halleluiah! It was the perfect ending to a perfect race. I came in at a respectable 5:22 and still felt great. It looks like I’ll lose a toenail from this one but nothing more, no injuries heading into buffalo Springs 70.3. I hung out for a little while trying to rehydrate a bit and then I ran back out onto the trail to meet up with the GeekGrl and join her on her final leg. She finished up a full 15 minutes under her goal time. We collected our finishers medals, hand made, hand painted ceramic medals, and headed home to enjoy our new pond.