We arrived at Taos ski resort on Friday early afternoon and checked into a nice room right at the bottom of a ski lift/race start - that was sweet! We hiked a bit of the course, knowing which "ski runs" it will take as we spent last Christmas skiing there, then decided we'd be better off using our time buying a lift ticket and walking down the first 2.5 miles of the race - what we did. The air was clean, fresh, cool, and moist with rain (and it drizzled on us on and off, and then poured for the next 5-6 hrs). Tall trees are both Larry and I's favorite part on Universe, that, and the fact that we are in the mountains! You can safely say we were in heaven. But we also knew not acclimated (the race started at 9,500 feet and going up to 11,900) and not trained for such steep grade either up or down, we are in for a lot of pain...
And pain cave we felt! Morning dawned with no rain, cloudy, but perfectly mid-50's. With the late start at 9 am, we didn't know what to do with ourselves for a few hours, until a group of 135 runners (a very low key event) assembled and off we went...
I ran all of 200 yard or so from the start and turned into power-walk, which was not broken until I crested the top! And even with the hike, I couldn't find my lungs, my legs, tasting metallic ("blood") in my mouth, breathing heavily, head pounding, leaning into the hill, and moving my legs, one step at a time. The kilometer markers helped since my Garmin decided to not turn on, and I clicked first 2km in 20:30, next 2km in 22:30 as it got steeper, and got to the top (sweet Lord, I recognized it from our ski trip!) in 57:30 total. There were folks around me who'd either shuffle all the way up, or exchange running and walking, but we the group I was in was steady, neither one of us was gaining or loosing much, in fact, as those who ran were getting low of "gas" near the top - and the last mile was the steepest - I pulled away some.
As I walked across the flat top for 50 yards, I wasn't sure if my legs can turn to run down - but as we dropped, I picked the pace up and busted dropping down quickly, passed about 6 guys, while 2 little kids (who turned out to be our Texas Matt Crownover boys, what are the odds!, Matt and his wife ran too) blasted by me like gazelles. Soon I realized I am not trained not only for steep climbs at altitude, my downhill legs, while naturally good, had lost their ability to accept the pounding and have a quick turn over and to top it with some technical loose rock/gravel/wet grass, there were parts I went gingerly. I did what I could, knowing last 2km are rather flat and I will suffer even more. At 8km I looked at the watch and saw 1:15. My estimated time was 1:40, so I knew I was beating it big time, and if just keep on going however consistent, have a chance of sub-1:30. But I am not a flat runner to begin with, and at altitude, and after subjecting my poor untrained legs to 3M up and 2M down, running was tough. I just had nothing but a shuffle...and about 6 people passed me back, including a girl! I kept her in my view and almost reeled her in on two of the down sections of that flat mile, but on the flats she pulled away - and I had no fight in me at all, giving up mostly mental than anything, holding on just a hope for a finish and saving some legs for tomorrow...I got it done in 1:27, and lost a minute to that girl for 10th female and 3rd in my age group. Oh, well, it was definitely fun! Having shower in the room at the finish line was a bonus, and the goodie bag was better than majority of what I ever got from an ultra!
What was not fun is the drive with screaming gluts and quads! Both Larry (1:16 finish time) and I would be crippled getting out of the car in ABQ, driving to check on my start line for La Luz run, eating out...for crying out loud!! :)
I had no expectations of my next race, and that was such a calming feeling. Not to mention, all that pain from a mere 10k was so extreme - I have now a theory, considering the fact that I had none of this not only after Bryce 50 (there were no steep climbs/descends) but also after Beacon Rock 25k, which it being James Varner's thing had serious steepness to each, could it be that if the event is steep AND short, that very lactic acid builds up and doesn't get to be washed away as it does if you continue running/walking/whatever? Anyway, crippled and still having to participate in a race that goes up the top of the mountain from 6,100 feet to 10,100 feet, I somehow made a careful prediction of finishing in 2:30 (and if something really wonderfully weirdly good happen, may be closer to 2:15).
The start for this race was more "normal" at 7 am, Larry dropped me off at the road and I walked half a mile to the start, where 400 runners gathered. I spotted Rickey Gates, an elite trail runner, and shook hands with him, then a gentleman Frederick spotted me (he reads sometimes my blubbers, finished Hardrock this year) and we chatted some. I felt nervous for this challenge and was trying not to set any goals, and to make peace with the fact that everybody and their grandmother pushing a stroller will pass me - and as off we went for the first 1.8M on the winding road, everybody of all shapes and ages did pass me, indeed (or it felt like it, masses and masses). I ran exactly 0.35 miles (more than at Taos, ha!) then switched to power walk interspersing it with some jogs here and there when road would flatten out. We turned onto single track, and the trail rolled - up, flatter, up, little flat - and continued like that. It wasn't nearly as steep as Taos was, but it was a single track, with quite some roots and rocks, and we were single-filed, where making passing was not too easy. But the views were amazing, and you could see runners snaking up the switchbacks all the way up and down the mountains for what seemed like miles (may be kilometers).
I just kept my breathing in check, sipped on my water bottle, and power-hiked with some very short stints of flat runs. And as my power-hike settled in, I begun slowly to reel in others, some of those very masses who passed me before, one by one, somewhere around mile 4.5. The race actually had water stops on trail with volunteers hauling in jags of water! I didn't need it, but made sure to thank them all. Some runners were not very kin to be passed, and sometimes I would get stuck, before making a bold move. The biggest passing happen around mile 7.5 for a mile as we were hoping over boulder fields on the side of the mountains, and all the road runners were so unsure of the footsteps, and also those who chose to run up (the grade was quite runnable, let be honest) - ran out of gas, and my hike was just getting turned on (although my leg muscles continue to ache throughout). I got around over a dozen of folks on the boulders, and another half a dozen in the last mile, and that was a sweet revenge. If only the race was longer! Knowing that I had a mile and half to go at some point gave me an extreme boost! But then as I heard cowbells and was hoping the race is shorter than advertised (the Garmin showed 8:7), my good friend Ken Gordon, who manned an aid station - not a finish!) - announced to me I still had a kilometer to go! I smiled, but wanted to tackle him - the race ended up being longer instead, all of 9.3M.
Off we turned into last segment, that actually included a staircase - a real concrete staircase with 36 stairs! - and all still up and up on a single track. The finish line was anticlimactic - we turned around last corner, I heard Larry yell "Good job, baby!" - and walked under the clock, just like that. 2:24, not where I secretly hoped for, but better than I gave myself permission to, and totally satisfied considering how untrained for this specific events I was, how high of an altitude it is, and the fact about sore muscles and the double - that apparently is very famous, popular and respected in New Mexico.
We stopped on the way down at the Burger Boy, a place Larry used to live near and dreamed about, Larry had completed a run up high on ski trails he used to hike and ski on - with tears in his eyes - and the whole drive back to Austin all we could do is dream about days when we finally make the move to live in the mountains. because face it, love is something you can't force. You can accept many things in life, deal with them to the best of your ability, even make the best of it - but like with a person, love is a pure feeling that you can neither force nor get rid of. We love mountains. It was a hell of a great trip to remind us that, rejuvenate and give us some spice until the next exploration back into the mountains.
|No trip is complete without a visit to a local yarn store.|
|One of the two projects finished during the trip.|