Saturday, August 27, 2011

Quad Crusher: A Taos Ski Valley Up and Over 10K Race Report

A couple weeks back the GeekGrl and I traveled to Taos, NM to run the Taos Ski Valley Up and Over 10K, a race I have wanted to do for a few years now but just never got around to it. The 10K starts at the base of the main ski lift and is a loop course taking a service road up to the top of the lift and then back down. I don’t have the foggiest idea what kind of vehicle could make it up and down those service roads but I do know the trip would be terrifying.

The trip up the mountain is a 3 mile power hike with a little running if you happen to be a strong enough runner. However, there were plenty of people who tried to run as much as possible regardless and this resulted in many slowing dramatically within the first two miles. I kept up a steady hike with a very little bit of running on the slightly less steep parts.

Upon reaching the top the service road plunges abruptly back down the mountain. The road is covered in rocks and the footing isn’t very good. I ran as hard as I could but had to be a bit conservative because I didn’t want to crash and burn. I was able to pass a couple people and was passed by one guy who was in a barely controlled fall.

By the time I crossed the finish like I was hardly had any strength left. The aftermath of the race set in before the day was out and it took a good four days before I could run again. My quads were completely trashed and I had a huge bruise on the ball of my left foot where I had landed hard on a rock. With a time of 1:17:38 I ended up 21st out of 59 men and 22nd out of 80 overall. I seriously doubt I could have run any faster under any circumstance. The Taos Ski Valley Up and Over 10K is incomparably difficult but definitely something worth running if you are in the area.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A New Experience with an Old Friend: A La Luz Trail Run Race Report (sort of)

I first moved to Albuquerque as a teenager in 1984. I didn't know anyone and the only reason I was in Albuquerque was because the experiment with me living on my own to finish off high school in Wichita Falls, TX wasn't working out so well. I called my dad and asked him to come get me and so he did. Those were pretty lonely times in my life with my senior year in high school being a complete mess smeared across two different states and three different schools: Wichita Falls High School – Texas, Del Norte High School – New Mexico and Southwest High School – back to Texas but this time San Antonio.

This is one fact of my life that I truly hate. I have no real options for a high school reunion. The place I graduate from, Southwest H.S., I have no connection to, I went there the last semester of my senior year and while I made some friends I have no connection to them or that place. The place where I actually have connections is Wichita Falls but even there my connections are spread between my time at Rider High School and Wichita Falls High School and I didn't graduate from either. It just seems sad for a non-graduate to go to a reunion but I do long for that sense of continuity in my life. In my 12 years of schooling from 1st grade to 12th I went to 13 different schools spanning an area of about 200,000 square miles.
That is a lot of space for a young man to become lost.

When I arrived in Albuquerque back in 1984 I was depressed and alone and even then I knew what I had lost in departing Wichita Falls before graduation. Given my young life as a transient Wichita Falls was my last, best hope at having an enduring link to my past but I could not pull it off by myself and I felt like I was risking my future just for the possibility of having something that I had long craved but never had – stability, continuity, a history grounded in place. It was a hard decision for a young man to make but it was inventible that I chose to leave because at that point the unknown future always looked far more real to me than either the present or past. The future was my comfort zone; I knew it would always be there for me.

To be able to literally wander in the wilderness while I was figuratively already there was a great comfort. It didn't take long for me to discover the La Luz trail though I can't for the life of me figure out how I got from where I was living to the trail head. I suspect that first time my dad took me. I wasn't in Albuquerque very long though, maybe a month and a half or two months before winter break and then it was off to San Antonio to finish off high school living with my mom. I remained largely in the wilderness there too. She lived out in a rural area on 15 acres of land at that time and I spent hours with a double bladed axe clearing the land of scrub trees. I probably did my work pretty haphazardly and don't know that I actually accomplished a lot of value because it was mostly me trying to pound out my anger.

Not long after graduation I was back in Albuquerque and back to the La Luz trail. There is a place on the trail where you can descend into a kind of hidden grotto where a small waterfall splashes down from above and lands at the feet of a mighty pine tree. It is cool and secluded. I loved that place so much that I never bother going further up the trail. I would often just go to my place and sit and think.

In the years between high school and college while I was away in the Marine Corps I would often go back to visit the La Luz trail while on leave still never ascending beyond my quiet grotto. Despite my relatively limited acquaintance with the trail it had somehow become the center of my universe. Enduring, wild and quiet it stands apart from mortality as humans know it. Simultaneously indifferent and welcoming it is always there and wherever my travels took me I knew it was there simply existing until I returned again.

My post-Marine Corp years as an undergraduate at the University of New Mexico saw me once again up on the trail hiking like a mad man both on the trail and around some of the small side trails in the area. In my mind I was trying to become human again. My time in the Marine Corps has gotten much better with time and distance but when I first left I felt quite damaged and I needed to reclaim myself. I called these outings my "In through the Outdoors" outings; a not so subtle play on Led Zeppelin's album "In though the Out Door", which, incidentally, was also named because, in a sense, they were trying to get back to who they had been as well.

For whatever reason, probably because I had found so much richness at the bottom of the trail, it never even occurred to me to try and get to the top. I had seen people running up the trail and had known people who had climbed to the top but the upper reaches of the trail, even the entire rest of the mountain, held no interest for me, that is until I got into ultra-running.

However, once I began ultra-running I was spending all my time running pretty much everywhere else on the mountain except La Luz. Maybe somewhere in my subconscious I viewed La Luz as my emotional salve and that isn't something I feel I need these days. I have actually been a bit resistant to running La Luz, again, maybe because I didn't want to go back to that place I had long ago left behind.

But back to the trail I went to run the 46th annual La Luz Trail Run. The race begins at 6100 feet elevation and nine miles later finishes at an elevation of 10,678 feet. Other than the first mile and a half when everyone is on open road and jockeying for position I was passed only once during the entire climb though I passed maybe 50 people on the way to the top.

It felt good, I felt strong. My relationship with the trail has changed completely. We are long-term friends and I no longer need it for my own purposes. I am free to simply be with it and not just on it and in my head. Maybe this is the story of the Giving Tree from the boy's perspective. If it is I can assure you the boy feels enormous gratitude. The tree, the trail, was a solid center when I needed it most and I like to think I am better for it.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Chunky Monkey Race Report and Other Non-Monkey Related News

I didn’t plan on actually writing up a race report for a 10K but I figured I had some interim new to post before my next race, which is tomorrow, so what the heck.

Back on July 17th I ran the Chunky Monkey 10K for the second time. It’s a cool little local race and if run in conjunction with the Cherry Garcia, which I also ran, you get a little medal for completing the Chunky Monkey Challenge. The Cherry Garcia was June 26th and it was 98 degrees at the start. Both these races start at 7:00 in the evening and both take place on the same flat, two loop course near Albuquerque’s Valley High School. I ran the Cherry Garcia in 52:31, which I thought was surprisingly fast considering I was only 10 days out of running the Bighorn Trail 100 and it was 98 degrees. My time earned me fourth place in my age group. When I ran the Chunky Monkey I was better rested and it was a whopping 3 degrees cooler, so only 95 degrees. I ran the Chunky Monkey in 50:47 and ended up winning my age group. I probably shouldn’t mention that for whatever reason my age group was almost the slowest age group among the men with the exception of the two age groups above 60 but that’s the way it was.

So, in non-monkey related news, sadly I did not make New Mexico’s Army 10-miler team. I did make first alternate though so that’s not too bad. I gave it my best shot but this was something that was kind of sprung on me and the only real chance I had to run a fast 10K qualifying time was two weeks after I set my 50K PR and at a time when the weather was already heating up. Next year I’ll know it’s coming so I’ll try and get in my qualifying time when it’s cooler and I am better rested. I will need to knock about 90 seconds off my current 10K PR to be in the running for a spot on the team.

In better non-monkey related news, I DID make the New Mexico Army National Guard’s marathon team! I am very pleased about making the team and now will get to go to Lincoln Nebraska in May of 2012 to compete in the Army National Guard’s marathon, which means I’ll have a shot at making the All Guard marathon team. Now, realistically, I am unlikely to make the All Guard team because that would mean dropping my marathon time by about 15 minutes. But…I guess you never know. I am seriously considering trying even harder to lose more weight and implementing an actual marathon training program rather than just logging ultra-miles and using the marathons as training races. The things that make me think that a marathon in the 3:15 – 3:12 range might be possible is that my marathon PR, currently 3:28, was run the weekend after I ran two other fast marathons and I wasn’t doing any marathon specific training and I wasn’t doing any speed-work. So, maybe it is in the cards.

I also need to drop my marathon PR to 3:25 to have any hope of making it to Boston. But that’s only a bare minimum. The way Boston is doing qualification now is by taking the fastest first in order of speed. My qualifying time for 2012 is 3:30 so I’ll get to apply for Boston 2012 but they take the fastest first until the race is full so I’m guessing I won’t make it. For Boston 2013 and beyond my new qualifying time is 3:25 and the fastest first thing still applies so, yeah, I have a lot of work to do.

Tomorrow I have the La Luz Trail Run, which is a 9-mile race up the side of the Sandia Mountain. This year will be its 46th running but the first time I’ve ever run the race. You get in by lottery only but I think that most people do end up getting in. I’m hoping for a time of about two and a half hours, we’ll see.

Finally, I’m a bit skeptical about my training for Wasatch. I have been putting in the miles religiously but the problem has been that the mountains in pretty much all of New Mexico have been closed due to fire so I’ve done very little in the way of actual mountain running. I suspect that Wasatch will end up being a lot like my experience at Bighorn this year; I’ll have the endurance to finish but not the climbing strength to do well. Bighorn had a 35 hour cutoff and I ran a 33:11. Wasatch has a 36 hour cutoff so I’m predicting something in the 34 hour range.