Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Back to Jemez.

Pre-race (over) confidence: Up and down, no sweat.                            Photo: Randy Grillo

I’ve never felt good at Last Chance Saloon, the final aid station of the Jemez Mountain Run. Three years ago I was here after 50 miles in the mountains, and my stomach couldn’t take anything. At the 2016 Jemez, I wisely opted for the 50k, but when I arrived at the final aid station only two miles from the finish, I didn’t feel much better. I didn’t want to eat, but needed something so filled up my bottle with ice and coke and started marching up the switch backs that lead up out of the aid station.

Feeling Fantastic 8 seconds in! Check out that Heel Strike! Textbook.                  Photo: Randy Grillo

Jemez almost didn’t happen this year. Back in January I had made plans with Truyols to fly into Juarez, cross the border and then drive or take a bus up to Santa Fe. Stop in Alamogordo along the way and visit my sister. I’m not sure why neither one of us looked at the mileage: it’s around 300 miles from El Paso to Santa Fe. We would have to make that trip twice in 3.5 days, as I couldn’t ask for more than two days off of school. While not impossible, pretty ridiculous, especially considering I can't drive for more than three hours before my lower back starts freaking out at me.

It seemed that events were conspiring against the trip. At school we planned our big NWEA celebration on the Thursday I was supposed to be flying. And then Truyols went back to Spain to get a job because he refused to relocate to Playa Del Carmen. If you can't understand why anyone would refuse a work relocation to Playa Del Carmen, you don't run in the mountains. 

Putting this in there because I don't run with a camera and don't have many photos. 

  One late afternoon I was sitting alone in my office at the end of the day, coming to terms with cancelling the trip. No visiting my sister in Alamogordo; no hanging out with Randy and Pati in Santa Fe; no trip through the mountains in Los Alamos. Damn, I should have just booked a ticket directly to ABQ, I thought to myself. And just for fun, I checked, expecting tickets in the 600-800 dollar range.

296 round trip from Mexico City to ABQ. Wow.

You know you are in New Mexico when...

Never seen tickets that cheap to a smaller hub in the US like ABQ, but still, 300 bucks is 300 bucks. I hesitated for a few minutes and then I remembered the ole’: “we usually regret the things we don’t do.” I pressed submit, and the trip –in a shortened version—was on. I’d be arriving at midnight on Thursday and flying out at 6:00am on Sunday.

  The original plan had been go to Jemez and run the 50 miler again. I’d finished in 15:30 in 2013, my longest 50 mile time by more than three hours. A tough course with two long climbs, Jemez is a great race but requires showing up with your A game. Two weeks before the race I ran the Mountain Challenge 33k in Chico, Hidalgo. A short run but with lots of steep climbing. I went out fairly hard and paid for it on the return: I was crawling up the climbs. I started to question whether I was prepared for 50 miles in Jemez. I also began to fret about the 6:00am return flight, so a week before the race I sent an email to the RD requesting a drop to the 50k.

  I could have dropped down distances during the race, as Jemez does a very tricky thing: any 50 mile runner can decide to run the 50k, but this decision is made 20+miles into the race after a very long climb. Many runners make this switch, and one of the great mental hurdles to finishing Jemez 50 mile is taking that left turn at Pipeline Road aid station and dropping down into the Caldera.

  By the time I got to the first aid station, it was pretty clear to me that it was not going to be a spectacular day. I felt like I was working too hard, and feeling like you're working too hard in the opening hour of a 50k is a bad sign. I arrived at Camp May ready for the long climb up Pajarito. This was a new single track trail winding between new growth trees that are returning after the 2011 fire. Warning to future Jemez runners: there is a big old false summit on this trail. When you think you are at the top, you still need to head straight up a couple ski runs. And then finally the descent to the ski lodge. Speaking about the descent: Jemez is a logical and easy course to follow, and it’s flagged fairly (though not excessively) but this descent mixes it up from cool single track in the woods between ski runs, and occasionally it just barrels straight down. It's fun to run, but not a "logical path." Pay attention here and watch the flags.

 I normally don’t use a drop bag for 50k, but they had the option so I picked up the other half of my gels, applied some more sunscreen (which they also had in the aid stations—they think of everything in this race), changed into a short sleeve shirt and I was off. I felt decent and was able to run everything until the climb up to the aid station.
Pipeline Road aid station is where the 50 milers have to make the choice: turn right and finish with the 50k, or drop down into the caldera and go for 50mile. I was so happy I’d made the choice a week earlier…

  …I thanked myself for that decision all day long.

Jemez boasts a great finish: a long 7 miles of descent on single track before arriving at the final aid station –Last Chance Saloon, or Rendija Canyon—with a two mile climb back up to the finish. I was descending decently all day, but it was not to last. This area –like almost all of the race—is totally exposed because of forest fires in 2000 and 2011. I slowed and it was a struggle just to keep running. A couple runners passed me. Not the finish I was hoping for, but you play the hand you are dealt, and I finally struggled into Last Chance Saloon, flirting with nasuea and lacking energy. It was hard for me to believe I’d finished the 50 miler in 2013. In fact, I’d felt great on this section three years earlier (despite barely making it out of the Caldera) Funny how the mind works: having set my sights on the 50k, the 50 mile seemed unfathomable. And how the hell had a completed two 100 mile races? Was I a runner in decline? Had a run my last ultra? Should I just forgo water and fill up my bottle with ice and coca cola?

I could at least answer one of those questions: it would be the coca cola train to the end.

Those were the thoughts I had as I primarily hiked up to the finish. There were a couple times I swung my arms and shuffled my legs in an attempt to mimic jogging. Unconvincing. A dude passed me just shy of the final steep climb up to the Possee shack. A dude I hadn’t seen all day. Nothing quite like being passed by a dude you haven't seen all day. There was a fleeting thought of chasing him. Fleeting. Apparently I'm afraid to vomit, or just like to avoid pain.

And then I put my hand on a cactus trying to pass a couple 15 mile racers who were still on the course.

 There would be no glorious recovery.

 However, picking the spines out of my hand turned out to be a great diversion, and I ran up to the Possee Shack for the finish and there was Grillo already a few beers in after his 15 mile finish. I had to lay down for about 30 minutes, but I eventually recovered and began drinking the excellent Session IPA that Bathtub Brewing, a local brewery and sponsor of the race, was pouring for free.

  Randy and I stayed to watch runners from the 50k and 50 mile finish.  While it wasn’t great running weather, it was world class beer drinking and veggi burrito eating weather, and we made the most of it.

 if I can find 297 dollar round-trip tickets I’ll be back next year.

Leaving Jemez

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