Sunday, February 17, 2013

Racing at night in the mountains: Carrera Nocturna

  I needed a long run in the mountains this weekend, and when I saw that the 12 hour night race was offering a six hour option, I thought, why not?  I ran my first 50k on February 2 at Ray Miller with Jeremy, and my focus for the next three months is getting ready for the Jemez 50 Miler on May 25, which will be my first 50 miler.
  I didn't have any experience running at night other than the first 50 minutes of the Ray Miller race. So on Thursday I got out to the Mountain in Desierto De Los Leones and ran up in the light and came down in darkness. My headlamp is a very basic Petzl model which provides just enough light to run and just as I was finishing that run I wiped out pretty hard (about 1 minute from the end of the run) on a root that left an ugly bruise on my thigh. It served as a good reminder to take it easy at night.
  This race was the first "timed" race that I've run, and it consisted of two loops, only the second of which would be repeated. The first loop I've run many times in other races (Camino Largo y Sinuoso) and in training. It starts in El Zarco (a little outpost about 2 kilometers before Marquesa) and climbs on some winding singletrack to a smooth ridge road that descends slightly for about six kilometers before crossing a wooden bridge and then it climbs up a rocky fire road that winds to the top of the Cerro de San Miguel (12,500). This out and back section was billed as 25k, but my Garmin showed a bit longer. The second loop began with the same singletrack climb to the smooth ridge road, but then we would veer off to the right and follow the road as it slightly climbed to an aid station about 7.5 kilometers which was the turn around. The 12 hour runners would keep running this second out and back until morning, but my goal was to run both loops once, getting in 40k or 25 miles. At this elevation, with over 4,000 feet of climbing, I knew there was no way I'd finish the 40k under the 5 and half hours which would have allowed me to continue on a third loop. I also knew I really didn't need to be running 55k at this point in my training.

  The Ray Miller race went really well for me, but I struggled with the Nathan pack. It's such a hassle to get into an aid station and have to deal with removing the pack, opening the bladder. And then repeating this again and again. It's a time killer. I knew there was an aid station at the top of the mountain (12.5 kilometers), and then we would return to the aid station at the start, and there was a small aid station at the second loop turn-around, so I went with one handheld (Ultra Direction, 20 oz.). It was perfect. I stuffed gu's in the pockets of my shorts (and kept a few more in my car at the start/finish) and I wasted zero time in aid stations. I'm done with the pack except for longer, solo training stuff in the mountain. 
  Mexicans tend to overdress for the cold, and most folks were wearing running tights, multiple layers and jackets. Standing around getting cold before the race, I started to second guess my choice, but I stuck with the shorts and two thin layers (long sleeve Ray Miller Race Shirt/and a thin pull over base layer) with the Patagonia Houdini jacket. When the Houdini jacket arrived in the mail, I was a little put off with just how flimsy it seemed considering the 99 bucks I spent on it. However, the only thing I can say now about the jacket is that it is genius. Tie it around your waist or stuff it in a pocket and you forget about it, but it was the perfect light weight layer and I was never cold, even on the long, slow, steep climb up to the summit. A buff around my ears and a thin pair of Nike gloves and I was dialed in: the perfect amount of gear: not too much, not too little.

  Finally the race started and we began the ascent to the ridge trail. I kept it to a fast hike, which was about all that could be done anyway as the trail is so narrow there is nowhere to pass. Once up to the road my plan was to keep it steady, but comfortable until the climbing began. A handful of folks passed me here, but I knew they were either front runners catching up with the lead pack or people who I was going to see on the climb. On the climb I just hiked hard and steady. Except for a couple early sections that flatten out or descend a bit, I didn't run. I saw some runners trying to maintain a running cadence on the hill and eventually I hiked past them. It's just too long of a climb and too steep to gain anything by running for anyone but the super stars.

  The descent was all about not biting the dust. I felt good and I was catching a few people and trying not to drift as I ran in a little cone of light. A few more night races might convince me to upgrade my Petzl headlamp. I think the one I have would be perfect for those late nights reading in a tent. The night sky was stunning. Not a lot of opportunities to for star gazing when living in a city of 20+ million, but out here on the other side of the mountain, the view was incredible
  After the descent it was a slight climb back to the final descent to the start. This section seems to always kill me, and during the carrera larga y sinuoso a number of people caught and passed me here, which was miserable so late in a race. I passed some folks in the first section and then just focused on running and not slowing down. For a long while someone was right behind me, but I never looked back to see who it was and finally he drifted back. 

  I made it back to the start, got some gu's and few hits of coca cola from my car, grabbed a bag of M and M's, went to the bathroom, refilled my water and  headed back up to the trail for my second, and last loop. It was pitch black and I had never been on this trail before, but the route was obvious and well-marked with glow-in-the-dark reflectors. I was struggling to run here, and was reduced to a walk at some points. I did catch up to the eventual winner of the 6 hour race at at one point, who seemed to be struggling a bit, but then she was gone. After the turn around I started to feel better and played a game where I would run hard to a distant glow-in-the-dark marker and then shuffle for a bit. One guy flew by me in this section, but other than that I was alone: run...shuffle...walk a bit, repeat.
  And then I was done. I didn't feel horrible. I was tempted to head back out there, a part of me was caught up in the 12 hour idea, but my plan had been 40k/6 hour race, so I called it a night. I'm usually racing away after races to go somewhere else, but I had the luxury here of changing into warm clothes, eating some incredible caldo de pollo and hanging out with the Solo Para Salvajes crew and watching the 12 hour runners come in and then head back out for another loop. 
  I felt a sting in my foot, but didn't think much of it, but when I got home and showered I saw that I could have slid the skin off my long toe like a used condom. I've never had any blister issues, so I can only attribute it to the thin dust which just works its ways through shoes and socks during this dry season.

  A solid training run for the Jemez 50. Got some gear decisions figured out and just over 4,000 feet of climbing, and everything over 10,000 feet, topping out at 12,500. Here's the Garmin Data.

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