A bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn....

It's gonna get harder before it gets easier. But it will get better, you just gotta make it through the hard stuff first.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Drama in Manzano Mountains

Tijeras Canyon splits Sandia and Manzano mountains East of Albuquerque, NM. Sandias are more known as mountains and are North of Canyon (which translates as Scissors from Spanish), and Manzano are more high hills on the South side. In those hills, in Cibola National Forest, Cedro Peak races were put on by Jim Breyfogle.

It was a first-time event, and it was cheap to sign up, close enough to drive and not book flights, and Larry used to live there. On top of it, we had friends in the area, an ultrarunner Bobby Keogh and his wife Diana, and my Gail's sister-in-law. So, we had a place to crash before and after. Plans were set, and once Stephen boarded the plane to Oregon on Thursday evening, we were in a car driving West.

Friday's hike in Sandia.
We arrived rather early on Friday, and checked out Sandia peak area for some hiking. The trail was quite rocky and took us above 10,000 feet with great views on other peaks and the city, as well as lots of snow around. But we knew that the course of Cedro Peak was dry and clear. We checked in at the Fleet Feet in ABQ, where Jim the RD greeted us with words "Hood 100 was one of the best 100's I ever ran, all single track and all runnable", and his lovely wife laughed at my name (I got by double for runs to avoid confusion). A great night spent with Bobby and Diana re-hashing out ultra experiences and failures set us up right for the next 3M drive to the start. Yep, we were that close. And the temperatures were 25F where Bobby lives...

We are spoiled Texans, and Diana gave me an extra shirt for the start. It turned out to be a bit warmer where the campground was, and I simply wore my Moeben sleeves and a long sleeve shirt and gloves, which I planned to drop at mile 12. Before the race I checked out the girls entered and figured I am running for second (as it turned out, the girl I feared didn't come, but there were a few that had no linked results, so you are always in the unknown). My bib number was 65, what was the number of the school in Moscow I had finished, as well as bib I had at my first 100, Umstead. I was running my 100's marathon and ultra (ultra #81) and intended to have a grand time. Of course, I couldn't figure out how to open my clip-on light and never changed the battery, but it was supposed to get visible in 20 minutes after the start, so I wasn't concerned. As the blow-horn went and we took off, I locked into a line of pretty speedy crowd and abused a light shining from behind. It turned out to be Jason Espalin from San Antonio, TX, who's wife emailed me a day prior about coming. We chatted for a couple of miles, came to an intersection where the markers were vandalized and all front runners were coming back at us from the left. Things got figured out - and I have to point out, this was the ONLY spot where anything with marking happened at all. The course was extremely well marked (and over-marked). This short stop worked as a breather and the daylight broke. I settled in again, and now Tanya Espalin was right behind. By now I realized I can't talk. I have an altitude-induced asthma, and coming from sea level throws me for a loop. usually, though, the speed work I do in training helps building lactate threshold and I am an avid advocate of intervals and hill training. this season, however, as well know, I was sitting on my ass sulking the injury and then jumped into racing. This course quickly reminded me how essential conventional training is.
Course profile, it's out and back 16M, and loop of  13 or so, not sure how it goes here.
Pretty soon I had realized I can't talk and need to back off. I began taking walking breaks, but arrived at first AS exactly on my predicted time. The air was warming up, we hit the climb, I set up for a power walk, and at some point, about 1:50 into the race, has sensed something familiar before even turning my head. Larry was coming up from behind. It was funny how I had sensed it before even recognizing what is it happening. He had a strained face and was breathing as hard as I was, and I was also very surprised how long it took him to come up on me - and thought he might be running a much smarter race than I am today. I bid him goodbye as he charged up the hill, and kept my walk, thinking that 1) I should take things as they come and be wise and 2) I am a back-half runner and things might get better.

Second AS, Cedro Peak, at mile 12, was exactly spot on too. I picked up my gels from the drop bag, filled the bottles, dropped my extra clothes, and went up the peak. The course is snaky here with traffic going at each other in 2 ways. Now, a full disclosure: I can't read maps. I mean, I probably can, I just don't bother straining much over it. In my mind, I pay an entry fee for 2 reasons only: to have water at the AS's as advertised (however often or rare no matter, as long as I know ahead of time), and a course marking as advertised (and this race said "lots and great" with course marshals at crucial points). I don't do GPS, don't carry maps and directions, forget what my name is soon after I start. I simply come to run my fastest time for the day on this route, that's it. I was vaguely aware that 45km had a turn-around somewhere where 45M (the race I was in) had continued on to make a huge lolly-pop loop add-on, but no clue where (or where I was on the course, anyway). We reached the peak, went down the rocky trail, then a mile on a dirt road to a sign and 3 volunteers standing next to it. I had began feeling really good at this point, and yelled something up. they waved at me happily and said - "You can go back up" while pointing to a couple of guys further down. We had bib numbers that if they were up to 75 - you are in "M" race, if above - you are in "Km" race. I yelled my number "65" and "45M" for a good measure, and they ushered me around the cone. I said "Hooray, I love walking up, I am tired of running" and thanked them and well, went back up. I really began feeling well, and was powering up good times. There were 2 more points were volunteers directed us in those double-streams, and to each of them I said the number, and each said "Glad to see yo back, last time", and soon after...I arrived at Cedro Peak AS.

WTF? I might be stupid when running, but this particular AS had my one and only drop bag, which I were to reach at mile 12 and at mile 33 on my way back, AFTER I am done with a lolly-pop. I was confused and asked "Why am I here?". The happy women responded 'Yes, you are quick, welcome back!". I thought to myself, next should have been an un-manned water station, but who knows, may be it was a last minute substitute? I asked where shall I go, and was pointed...back on the course to where I came from when ran INTO mile 12. Confusion was reaching it's all high, and I stood there for 20 seconds. and kept asking yet another woman "I am in 45 MILES, where should I go?" and she kept pointing where lots of guys were entering the single track back, then said "Lets me ask an AS captain, I'd hate to send you the wrong way". 

"I'd hate to go the wrong way" I exhaled, and the man came and said "yes, 45 milers go same way as 45km, go", so I went...It was sweet single track on this section, and I ran fast, feeling well and trying to catch up time I spent talking and asking questions. But as I ran, things did not make sense to me. I was obviously going back to the finish...12 minutes into this I stopped and waited for 2 guys to catch me up, asking what race they are in. "45km, and we are heading back home". I stood dumbfounded, then turned around, choking and still not comprehending what's going on. Another 2 pairs of runners confirmed that they are 45 km going back to the finish line, and I should be going for a loop. Slowly things were making shape in my brain, but I was still hoping I was simply mis-directed out of a Cedro peak AS and only lost 2 miles of this out-n-back extra. As I ran into an AS, I yelled "Where should I go, I am in 45M, why did you send me back to finish?" and they stared...brought a huge map out...realized that I, indeed, would have to go that way EVENTUALLY, AFTER the leaders would come back FROM THE LOOP! Oh, my God...I was turned around with 45km racers, went back over Cedro Peak, which I wouldn't have to do till mile 30, and now was seriously stuck! I contemplated to drop, then to go and finish 45km. In my mind though, with dead and frustrated brain, 45km wasn't an ultra. I came to run my number 100 "over-marathon distance". I was pissed, scared and had so many emotions. I couldn't even articulate my thoughts. I asked what should I do? They said they'd give me a ride to the turn-around, but no free cars available, and showed me a road connector that dropped a mile away from that infamous turn-around. I took a connector, raging in my thoughts, and saw Steve and Deb Pero getting ready to sweep the course. I yelled and demanded that allowed ride to the turn-around, and Steve obliged, but the road was rough, and half a mile later I jumped out (I didn't want to ruin his car, and the speed was as slow as my running). Steve tried to calm me down saying "it's all for fun", and I snapped "What fun? I do fun in TX, locally, free entry and no travel! I came to run a race here". (FYI, Steve and I go way back and we talked after, where I apologized, and he said he pretended to be my crew and absorb my anger). I ran to that turn-around, where only one guy volunteer remained, and now the signs were clear in the view (they were blocked by 3 people when I was there last time). I exhaled "Why did you turn me around, I asked 3 times, I am in a 45M race?" as I ran by without an answer (he did tell this to Jim the RD and apparently wasn't phased out by my rude comment, but I did bring apology there as well). I took on a road and still had no clue what is happening and what the damage is.

Red line between Cedro peak and 45km turn is what I did twice. Black line is what I retraced back after Cedro peak AS, blue line is extra  mile I made out of AS and then had to come back. 

I ran. And ran. It was a good mile on a dirt road, and then a drop down the powerline cross-country, and up powerline, and I arrived to a water AS exactly 1:15 later than I should have been. Oh, horror. A full realization settled in. I now vividly remembered the course and figured out where I was. And, looking back and forward the Powerline trail, I was officially LAST RUNNER on the course. 
Bushwhacking, photo by CP45
A huge lump raised in my throat as I assessed my situation. I was out of the race, that much was obvious. I was frustrated because I simply had never been in anything like that. Oh, I got lost plenty of times, I am known to "not follow Olga, she will lead you off". I had never been mis-directed and so far out behind. I took few steps and entered a sweet downhill single track. Quickly I passed a guy, and now was not the last one. That didn't up my spirits, because it wasn't fair, and nothing to boast about. The guy was running his race, and I didn't belong there, not today, anyway. Surprisingly, between all this, my wheezing calmed down. I locked into a cruising speed on a great single-track. I caught up with Bobby Keogh, who was stunned to see me, and stayed with him for a minute or two to tell my story. I began telling myself to enjoy the trail, the course and the views. I know it sounds really bad, but until this moment, for the last hour or so, I forgot why I do such things and how much I love to simply be out in the back country, running single track. I began to breathe calmer and run smoother. It was lonely for most of the times, coming on a guy or two every 20 minutes or so. I wasn't pushing, I was simply running. I had no plans, and didn't allow myself to think about anything at all.

Views, photo by CP45

I looked at my watch as I arrived to an AS, and my split from Powerline Water Stop was exactly what it was predicted. I shrugged my shoulders, and without much but "Thanks" to volunteers moved on. It was still a gentle downhill, a couple of dirt bikers came up, a couple more...a few more struggling runners passed...and I was at Coyote AS, manned by Jim's wife. She greeted me by name, and I broke in. I stood there, telling her story, slowly realizing I will have to go over Cedro Peak AGAIN, and how much I don't want to, wishing she can make a decision for me. She gave me a hug. And 2 extra gels (since this detour wasn't planned in my nutrition, yet I was taking my gels and S-caps on the clock). I began to smile as I walked away, things looking brighter for some odd reason, if only to be able to have off-loaded my burden of frustration. The feared PowerLine climb has began, and I was OK. I was Ok at last.
The view on PL climb ahead, straight up a mile cross-country. Photo by CP45.
3/4 way up, by some old broken rusted truck, Ken Gordon, the RD of Mt Taylor 50k whom I met at sing-up at Fleet feet, then at first AS, and who ran all of our Bandera 100k races, was there serving Popsicles on ice. Holly cow! Now, I don't eat popsicles, but I surely appreciated the gesture to be there in the middle of a bitching climb with icy heaven! I stopped and told him a story too, thankful for an ear willing to listen. I relayed how much I don't want to go over Cedor peak again, how unfair it seems to me, how I am not in a race anyway having been lolly-gagging for the last 2-plus hours, and that I don't want to do it not to catch up anyone, but simply don't want to, since even without that climb I will have an extra 4 miles at least, and how I don't want to take onto this decision myself as I don't want to be DQ'ed at all, in my 100's long race in particular, or be viewed as a course-cutter. He looked at me and said he can call Jim and ask him. Wow! As soon as Jim picked up, it was obvious he was aware of the situation and had already decided to send me out on that connector road again, and the wheels were turning, and while that road was still a mile, it wasn't a climb over a peak on a rocky trail for 2 miles. Heavens, god! I was so relieved. I stood there for another 5 minutes, I just couldn't and didn't want to leave. We chatted about my former PCT50 and Hood 100 races, about Tejas trails, HCTR, Hardrock, Hoka vs Sportiva shoes, life, racing...he said I look much better than anybody on this climb, and finally I had to finish that powerline climb and get back on the course. 

My life suddenly had turned around for the better. The relief of the Powers Of The Race being in the know was overwhelming. I had felt a spring in my step, and as I came onto a road, I began to run inclines and flats. The energy was flowing big time. It probably helped I was taking it easy for so long, and was being fueled and hydrated no matter what. I ran and ran, and came to Cedro peak, again, for the 4th time of the day, with a smile, focus and another apology. The ladies were all good and warned about my dropping in from a different path. I spent only a minute loading my last gels from the drop bags, and finally, for this day, my race had began. I knew where I was, how much is left, that I am on the course with the rest of them, in the right place, and in 12 miles I will be done regardless. I took off like a mad woman. There isn't much to say about those last 12, besides that I ran it in same split as out (and it has more general up back), I was full of strength, determination and focus, passing a dozen of guys and rocking the thought of how proud I am for not dropping and dealing with this crap.

2 miles before the end my i-Pod died, and in a dead silence I could hear the finishing line long before I could see it. I charged, and ran, and around the corner folks cheered me on, and another quarter mile later I see a finish line, Larry snapping photos, and ever-present Ken Gordon shaking my hand. 


10:15:45 was my final time, 4 bonus miles, for 3rd female and 1st master. I really wanted to cry for those last 2 miles, but right now it seemed to be inappropriate anymore. I stood there and kept apologizing for being such a drama queen and having had so many troubles that Jim had to take care of on the fly. I am really grateful how it all ended up to be. Could I have caught the 2nd woman, who was done in 9:33? I don't know, and frankly, it is so not essential. I have a story to tell. Seems that I rarely go to this kind of events without ending up to have an adventure, a story, a broken bone or few...and may be that's why I keep going back. there is never a dull moment in ultra-racing. It really shakes me up, puts me in uncomfortable situations and allows me to figure out how to get out of them. I love this unknown about every race, #20 or #100...

LARRY had an amazing run himself, smart and with an awesome kick in "back-half". My man is becoming a very wise runner. He pressed on, and in the last 12M passed 12 runners (that gal including), finishing extremely strong in 9:26. He baby-ed me, gave me food, and listened to my disasters (of which he was aware as it was a talk at the finish line). We drove to our friend's house, took hot showers and ate some food. After a not very restful night (quite usual after an effort race), we drove to Sandia Peak, had some Starbucks coffe, and took on the road, driving all the way home by 11 pm. It was a great trip, indeed.

As for the race, I highly recommend it. The mountains are awesome, the altitude is manageable, the trails are sweet (and mostly single-track), lots of it is soft panderosa type, although quite some is rocky and technical (I was thankful I wore Hoka's in state of the foot, it helped big time to sooth the pain - and, of course, the trusted DryMax trail socks!). The marking is awesome (please disregard volunteers directions and read the signs!:)), the food at the finish line is great, and it is going to be a fantastic event for good. Thank you, Jim!

Full photoalbum of the trip is HERE (we didn't run with camera).
Steve Pero's photos from the course while sweeping

23 comments:

  1. Olga, that looks like a beautiful race! Sorry to hear about your situation, but, amazing performance considering.

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    1. Larry "the map guy" had just confirmed that my total detour was 4 miles, indeed.

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  2. Nice work! Sometimes these things just happen. I dispute your claim though that you are a "back half runner."

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    1. I mean "second half runner" by saying this:)

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  3. What a great story! :) I'm glad it all worked out for you in the end. That can really play with your mind to be sent off course, but you persevered and conquered! Glad the foot seems to be holding up okay.

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  4. Nice job, Olga! Way to work through a bummer situation and finish the race. Problem solving is a great skill to have for ultras.

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  5. Glad you spotted me 4 miles so I could beat you!!! Very proud of you for hanging on and getting through to the finish.

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    1. I am sure you would have run away, if you saw me!

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  6. Hi Olga, thanks for coming out to the race. Sorry about the confusion there at the 45 km turn around. I'm glad we could work something out. I am also impressed that you continued on and finished. Great job.

    Jim

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    1. Jim, thanks again so much for the whole race. It was an honest mistake, no harm, and I loved the course. Tell Emilie hi, and best to the growing of this race and to your own adventures!

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  7. Great recap, Olga! Sorry it was such a mess - I hate those kind of situations! Same thing happened to me at Grasslands - got turned around twice - and it was so difficult not to quit. Good for you for staying on the course!

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  8. Wow Olga...not sure how I would have handled that situation. I'll start asking myself "what would olga do?" when I get pissed off on the trail. I'm curious about your Hokas...My feet always hurt and I just run through it. Absolutely hate it when I step on a rock with the ball of my left foot....pain pain pain.

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    1. Mac, Hoka worked perfect. It was my second time running trails in them, and the first was that Tuesday for 6 rocky miles. So, I took a chance, but Sportiva Crosslights have me lots of pain on our little hike/run on Friday. I was not disappointed. I was apprehensive racing in a shoe I only wore for roads before, but it was stable and I wasn't tripping (my fear). The ride down was very aided too:)

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    2. The more I think about it, the more I think I need to get myself a pair. I love running so much and think that I would love it even more if I didn't worry about my feet all the time. But that's a lot of bones for 1 pair of shoes. What if I love them? :)

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    3. I got a pair from Backcountry.com for $99. Watch for sales. You may get lucky too.

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  9. Your race report made me smile, reminding me of Danni's Slickrock 100 and an incident where I, the useless pacer, led us in the wrong direction after an accidental detour, and we ended up at an aid station we had left six miles earlier. Danni's earnest and justified cursing earned us some sympathy from the race director, who admitted that the course markings were confusing for a lot of people, and we worked out a similar deal. I'm horrible with race course markings, good or bad. The "ribbon code" still baffles me.

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    1. Jill, I remember this part! As a pacer, I had been petrified a number of times when I believed I took my runner off course, but was fortunate to not really do it onto other, rather myself:) I am truly grateful the RD worked out a deal for me - and for Danni too. While it's not really a case to use, accidents happen. As you know, I really suck in following the correct way, so I was just mostly upset that this time it wasn't my fault per se. But at the end, I guess, it's a lesson to truly rely on own brains to make a decision.

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  10. Olga,i knew the course well,so when i got to the turnaround,they asked me what i was in,i said 45,so they said turn,i wish.Think having a 45 miler and 45 kilometer made it a little trickier for the aid people,think they were mostly concerned about the 45 k. people going farther.Might have been better you didn't know beforehand about that 20 mile loop from Cedro Aid back to Cedro Aid,it's a beast with those steep sections,hope you make it back,piece of cake for you minus 4 miles.Well done.

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  11. Way to go Olga, I don't know how you stayed in it. I can't find my way out of my back yard. I would have been a mess. Running more miles just hurts, emotionally. Congrats!

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  12. Oh boy, a big detour. That's never a good thing physically or mentally. Great job hanging in there. I could feel your frustration in your post! Been lost before too, I am very directionally challenged. Congratulations on hangning in there and on your 1st place finish!

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    1. 3rd place, 1st old chick, you know, when the menopause and dementia set in, like in my case...:)

      Thanks, everybody! Sometimes I have flashes and can't believe myself I went on. I think my brain was so fried it just wasn't capable of making any other decisions, it was programmed to finish. LOL.

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    2. Ha ha! You just wanted to make sure you finished the race so I couldn't give you any grief. :)

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  13. You're AWESOME Olga. I'm ridiculously directionally challenged, probably one of the reasons that I don't try adventure racing.
    Might try the Hoka's as well but don't know where to find them around here...well, when I get off the ship anyway. ;)

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