Saturday, May 29, 2010

Testing, Testing: A Jemez Mountain 50K Race Report

Last weekend was the Jemez Mountain Trail Runs, which includes a 50-mile, 50K and half Marathon. The GeekGrl and I were registered for the 50K and were planning on running it together but that didn't work out so I ran from mile 6.2 on my own. I had considered signing up for the 50-mile as an early test of my fitness for Leadville but knowing how incredibly tough the Jemez runs are and wanting to run with the GeekGrl I went with the 50K. Of course that turned out to be an excellent decision considering that I have been partially sidelined with a knee injury for the past six weeks. It turns out that my injury was indeed a severe bone bruise and the only thing that would heal it was time so Jemez was really my first true test of the knee on mountainous terrain and over long distances.

So...the knee held out and there wasn't any pain. Yea!

By the time the GeekGrl and I hit mile 6.2 we were a little more than 2 hours into the race and she was feeling horrible and was already somewhat dopy. I knew that she shouldn't continue because we had essentially only completed the smallest of the real climbs in the race and she just would not enjoy life from here on forward. The 6.2 mile aid station is also a particularly good place to take inventory and drop if you are going to because then at least you can finish off the half-marathon and get back and relax without having beaten yourself to death. So, I headed out to finish up the 50K and the GeekGrl ended her day with a half-mary, which is actually 14ish miles.

I was very pleased to see how well I was able to run the downhills and hike the uphills. I know I had lost a step or two due to my limited recent running and the fact that I stayed to much flatter terrain. I also knew that at some point along the trail my endurance would give out but in that first couple miles after the GeekGrl and I parted ways I was flying. By the time I hit the massive climb up Caballo Mountain I was wondering how long it would be before I saw some of my friends that were also out on the course. In relatively short order they came flying down the mountain towards me. The climb up Caballo is and out and back off the main trail and is about 2 miles up to the peak and then 2 miles back down.

I pressed up Caballo and was still feeling good. It was a long slog up for everyone but I seemed to be doing better than most, at least most of the people who were also heading up at the same time as I. I passed several people on the way up and kept on passing people on the way down. Right after departing the aid station at the bottom I passed a couple friends, one who was feeling sick and the other was just staying back with him.

Shortly after the climb up Caballo there was another climb that was much less significant but still pretty painful. At some point around mile 18 or so I had become incredibly sick of the super heavy waist pack that I had cinched around my waist. I was carrying so much crap because I was planning on running with Misty so I had extras for the two of us but after she dropped it just became dead weight that was difficult to manage at my faster pace. The pack seemed to be bouncing more and more and I had to cinch it tighter and tighter until it was just painful so I took it off and tried carrying it slung across my shoulder. That didn't work at all, I couldn't run, but it was nice not to have my guts cinched and bound but after a while I had to put it back on to keep from walking more than the final third of the race.

Everything continued to go well until I hit an area called the wasteland. This is a part of the course that was completely wiped out bu a massive fire about six years ago. By the time I got to the wasteland it was really hot outside and the winds were blowing pretty hard and of course there is not one square millimeter of shade to be found for about 5 miles. The wasteland was a crushing blow. The one thing I know about myself as a runner, I can't do heat. My water was hot, my lips were dry and starting to crack and my throat was parched. I could not force the hot water down my throat so I was unable to drink for almost five miles and several people ended up passing me.

When I finally descended out of the wasteland I was panting like a dog and stumbling somewhat. I was glad to be out of full exposure to the wind and sun but down in the valley in the semi shade of the pines it was still hot and the scent of pine in that heat made it very difficult to breath. I just kept pressing ahead to the final aid station but I was pretty miserable.

Finally I could see the aid station about 100 yards ahead and then I saw the GeekGrl running at me. I could tell she was going to run down and give me a hug but she was running downhill and fast and I knew if she even touched me I would crumble onto the trail so I held up my hand and said “Don't touch me” and she ran off to the side and asked what she could get for me. I gave her my bottles and asked for as much ice cold ginger ale as she could get. I immediately plopped down in a chair while the GeekGrl got me something to drink and eat. The other people at the aid station were swarming me asking a million questions, what do you want, do you want this, do you want that, are you ok, what can I get you was relentless. I didn't have time to think much less respond. I finally told them that I was confused and they were completely overwhelming me and my wife was getting me stuff so please leave me alone. Immediately some guy walked up to me with a five gallon jug and said “I can fill you up with this!” and I just glowered at him and he left.

I love the volunteers out on the course. There is no way we could do the sports we do without them but it really is important to be able to kind of read the athletes as they come through. People who are still leaping around and running fast can cope with the relentless cheerfulness but if someone comes in parched, panting and wobbling they probably just need a friendly face and a little low-key TLC.

I drank down about 40oz of ice cold ginger ale, some cold water and the GeekGrl wiped down my legs with an ice-cold sponge. I sat in the shade for a while and recuperated. Dread Pirate and her hubby were also there lending support. I was really happy when they told me I only had another 1.9 miles to go because I thought I still had another 3 miles but my Garmin was off.

After maybe 10 minutes I started to feel chilled and felt ready to go again so I got up and headed out for the final stretch. There is a moderately steep climb out of the ravine where the final aid station sits but once I was out of that I was back to running again and was feeling pretty good. At this point there was nobody else around so I figured that I would just end up finishing alone but in the past half mile or so I spotted someone out in front of me. The person looked too far ahead but I thought I'd try and pick up the pace to see if I could pass. In the last tenth of a mile there is a steep rock face with a cut in it and you have to climb it in order to get to the road and the finish line. When I turned up that rock face I saw the guy I had seen earlier and he was near the top of the climb. I figured that if he had nothing left I could catch him so I got down on my hands and just scrambled as hard as I could. He must have heard me coming and had nothing left because he just kind of shuffled off to the side and let me go by.

I crested the top, got on the road and jogged it in to the finish. Nine hours and fifty four minutes. I think I could have taken 45 minutes off that had I run alone from beginning to end and maybe a bit more had I been able to keep cool but all in all I had a good run given the recent low training mileage.

Now it's time to try and get back on track with my Leadville training.


  1. Certainly a report filled with the dogged perseverance we are accustomed to here at Studies in Clydeology. It was worth the wait. Plus pictures and you know how I love pictures!

    Great job out there. I saw the profile on Misty's blog, and holy Christ, I can not even imagine, then throw in a trek across a treeless inferno? You da man!

    This will be a nice big "I survived that. I can do this" deposit in the Leadville bank.

    So glad to hear the knee was strong and not giving you any pain during this hellish run. That has to be a good omen for Leadville training.

  2. Sounds like another epic training day out there.

    You are a trooper for hanging on to the food for so long, it is hard not to be weighed down by that.

  3. Wow, you make ultra running seem so much fun <-----Sarcasm!


    Every report you write really does push me that much closer to signing up for a 50k...first.