The race has been ongoing since 1985 and so is one of the oldest continuously running races in New Mexico. However, it is a fairly small race because it is basically a skyrunning event, lots of elevation gain coupled with high altitude. The race gains just over 2100 feet in just under 6 miles with a starting elevation of about 10,000 feet and a peak elevation of just over 12,000 feet. My Garmin gave a starting elevation of 9,990 and a peak elevation of 12,024 feet.
The race, despite being called a “trail run”, is run exclusively on a dirt service road that is used to access the radio towers on top of Tesuque Peak. The road is kind of rocky in many places, not enough to be called technical but definitely enough to make you pay close attention to your footfalls. The other aspect of the race, probably the best aspect of the race, is the amazing fall colors. At the time of the race the high altitude Aspen groves are in their full fall glory and the entire mountain race is dappled in green and gold.
I wasn’t really expecting much from myself as far as racing goes because I have not been training much at altitude and I haven’t done much climbing at all this season. Since I’ve been focused this year on recovering from last year and running flat marathons I’ve spent all my time either in the gently rolling foothills of the Sandia Mountains or down in the Bosque flat lands. In any case, this was really just a supported training run and a chance to get out of town and run somewhere new.
Race morning was cold up on the mountain. I think the morning temperature at race start was 35 degrees but I still opted to wear shorts and a short sleeved shirt with gloves and arm warmers. I knew I’d warm up pretty quickly once the race started.
When the gun went off I started running but my pace was too quick. I rapidly became winded and had to slow down as runners more acclimated to the altitude surged past me. I was able to regroup pretty quickly, get my head in the game and approach the race as I should; power hike the steep stuff, run anything that was flatish and jog anything that was only a mild incline. Using this ultra strategy I quickly regained control over my breathing and was able to run the race on my terms rather than being reduced to slogging up the mountain. However, this meant having to watch several people disappear ahead of me but I kept telling myself that I would most likely catch them on my way down.
Several people who were running just up ahead of me or near me were running continuously, no walk breaks just a slow steady jog. Even though I was keeping up with them I was still impressed by their efforts. I knew that if I tried to run this thing continuously I would have blown up within a mile or two and been forced to walk. I’ve done enough racing to know that I have to run my own race using my own strategy and part of that strategy is to never put myself in a position where I have to walk. I will always start hiking or walking before my body tells me I must and that keeps me stronger longer. Using my strategy at Tesuque I slowly churned out the miles playing leap-frog with several runners for the first couple miles and then gradually leaving them behind while catching new runners as I neared the peak. The views from the top were amazing. With the crystal clear New Mexico sky you could see for miles in all directions but I didn’t linger because I wanted to see how many people I could catch and pass before the finish line.
The descent off the peak was invigorating at first and then it became increasingly sketchy as my legs tired and the rocky road continued on and on in a relentless descent. On the way down I averaged about 7:23 minute miles, passed several people and was passed by no one. Even though the road was not technical the rocks, dappled shade and weariness caused by staying so focused on your footing really took its toll. About half-way down the mountain a guy maybe 10 yards ahead of me tripped on a rock and went down hard. I imagine it was pretty painful because there was nowhere soft to land just a packed dirt road imbedded with rocks.
I continued my descent and tried not to think too much about the guy who went down because I knew that would start making me paranoid and overly cautious. Onward I hammered trying to stay focused and trying to stay upright. I finally reached the finish line in 2:03:59, not a great time but it put me in the top third of the pack overall and I felt really good about my effort. As I waited for the GeekGrl I helped myself to the best breakfast burrito I’ve ever had at a race finish and in New Mexico that’s actually saying a lot.
The Big Tesuque Trail Run is a very cool race, tough but well worth repeating. If you’ve never run it and are in the area I would definitely say this is a must do race, a real New Mexican classic.