This race is held between 6500' and 8000' above sea level with approximately 7000' of ascent and the same amount of descent. Thin air, steep hills, very rocky and technical terrain...a trail runners delight!
My schedule for April shows 3 ultras and 1 trail marathon. This race was specifically selected because of it's high altitude and steep terrain. I wanted this race on my schedule so I could use it as a challenging training run. And it delivered!
Despite my full race schedule, I have only 1 goal race for 2012 and that's the Leadville 100. I ran it as my first 100 miler last year and missed the "Big Buckle" by 55 minutes. I'm intent to not let that happen in 2012 and races like this will help me get strong enough to improve on my time.
The "I Love Rocks" logo on the beer glass they gave away should have been a sign of things to come. Cool swag though!
My intent for the day was to run easy and not concern myself with when I would finish. Based on the information at hand, I assumed a leisurely pace would have me finishing in 9 hours. In retrospect, this is a laughable assumption.
Before the 6:00 am race start, I met up with Dan (DPC), an acquaintance from Runner's World Online. Dan is a local and was running the 45 km option. We chatted a bit before the race, wished each other good luck, then took our places at the start line.
A shot of the runners milling around the start line.
With very little fanfare, we were off into the early morning darkness.
The first leg of the race takes us to the aid station, approximately 4.5 miles from the start. The trail made a gradual descent at first and eventually dropped into a steep technical slope. At the 2 mile mark, we reached an intersection with no trail markers. We had to choose left or right and had no idea where to head. After a few minutes of bumbling around the woods, somebody found a marker down the trail and off we all went!
This is the profile for the first 4.5 miles. What this doesn't show is the massive amount of rock on the trail. Not much flat running here!!!
I was in and out of the first aid station quickly. This is a "No Cup" race. This means you MUST have your own hydration gear with you...because there aren't any cups at the aid station. I filled my handheld bottle, and off I went!
We had about 7.5 miles to the next aid station. As evidenced by the profile below...still not a lot of "EASY" running to be found.
This section takes us to the second aid station and this is where I can meet Jo for the first time.
At this point, I was feeling really good. The sun was up and it was getting warm. I ditched my headlamp, my arm warmers, and grabbed my sunglasses.
Jo also got some good pictures of Dan heading into, and out of this aid station.
The next leg of the race takes us about 4.5 miles, up over Cedro Peak, and eventually to an unmanned aid station on the power line road.
At the descent from Cedro Peak, the 45 km runners turn around and head back to their finish line. I couldn't help but feel envious when I saw them make the turn. Part of me wanted to go with them.
Here's the profile from Cedro aid station to Powerline. Steep climb up, and quad crushing downhill to follow.
And here is where the race really began to get challenging...
So far, I've been metering out my effort, trying to keep plenty in the tank. The hills have been relentless and for the first time in a LONG time, my knees began to scream in protest. The constant elevation change was taking it's toll.
After Powerline, our next stop is the Four Corners aid station, a mere 4 miles away. ONLY 4 MILES!!! Should be easy enough?!?!?! Here's what those 4 miles look like!
This race is beginning to become demoralizing.
I believe that I had set a personal record for uttering swear words under my breath.
I paused at the Four Corners aid station for quite a while. The altitude was drying me out faster than I could rehydrate. I drank about 20 ounces of water and another 20 ounces of Heed. I filled my bottle and headed out.
My next stop will take me to the 26 mile mark, and will be a stop where I can meet Jo for some extra care and attention. At this point, I'm still on track with all my split times that I had given Jo in advance. But I could feel that original plan slipping as the day wore on.
Here's the profile from Four Corners to the Coyote aid station. It almost looks easy!!
I had previewed this section of the course the day before and knew I would be running a short section of gravel road...uphill. As soon as I popped out of the woods, I could see Jo in the distance waiting for me.
I fueled up, hydrated, chatted with Jo and headed out. At this stop, I told Jo that I was probably going to fall off my race plan because I had seen some of the trail heading back to the finish and it was UGLY.
About a mile after the Coyote aid station, I could see Jo again. She was perched on a distant hill top and to my surprise, she was holding her camera. This has a singular dreadful meaning...I'm going to have to run that entire hill if she plans to take pictures of me. UGH!!!
Headed toward Jo...
Almost there!!! Sweet relief!!!
The next part of the race really sucked...
We only had to run 2.3 miles back to Powerline aid station. ONLY 2.3 MILES!!! Easy stuff...
Powerline was the unmanned aid station that we had hit earlier in the day. This means warm water that tastes exactly like the plastic jug it is stored in. Not much of a treat.
I had seen this trail off to the side of Powerline earlier in the day and I knew it would be tough. This profile is for this 2.3 miles section. The last mile is where the pain really set in.
I live at sea level and we're well over 7000' at this point. My little pink lungs were burning as I made my way to the top.
The only bright spot along the way was when I found a magical little man handing out popsicles about 200 yards from the peak. That popsicle absolutely made my day! My legs were trashed and my lungs were trying to pop out of my mouth, but that magical little man provided me with a moment of escape.
After Powerline, we were headed back to Cedro aid station where I would see Jo for the last time. This would be the 32 mile mark and also the place where a lot of runners elected to finish the unofficial 50 km version of the race. A lot of people dropped here.
By this point in the race, the rocks were really taking their toll on my feet. They felt bruised and battered all over. The rocks also became increasingly more difficult to avoid and I began to batter my toes mercilessly.
This section had hills too...
Despite the difficult nature of this trail, I was actually feeling surprisingly good. My knees hurt, my feet hurt and my lungs burned, but I could still run well and was having fun!
Me coming into the Cedro aid station!
I was happy to see Jo, get fueled up and banter with the aid station crew. They were all such amazing and supportive people. I took some extra time here because I won't get aid again for about 7.5 miles and the day is getting very warm. My voice is cracking a little and I haven't peed during the entire race.
Jo reminded me that all I have left is a half marathon. Not comforting to hear really...
There are a few more hills between me and the final aid station.
During the stretch of the run, I began passing a few runners, making small talk along the way. I was still running pretty well and was just focused on getting to the finish line.
I had been pretty lighthearted all day because this race isn't a race to me. It's a training run and I was feeling pretty carefree about the whole thing. I had to keep that attitude in check when passing other runners that I knew were truly suffering. No doubting it, this is a painful race.
My handheld went empty about 2 miles from the aid station and this worried me significantly. We were now in the hottest part of the day, and I was desperate for hydration. There are no streams or natural water sources on the course, so my only hope was to get the aid station alive.
When I finally made it, I drank as much water and Heed as I could stomach. I spent plenty of time getting refueled before heading out.
Only 4.5 miles left to go. And a few more hills!
Coming to the finish was mentally exhausting. At the top of every rise, I was sure to find the finish line...but NO! More running and climbing...mostly climbing.
Eventually, I could hear the magical and soothing sound of a cowbell signaling the end of my training run.
I ran into the finish, still feeling strong but tired.
I crossed the finish line in 9:52:59, good enough for 24th place.
My main objective for the second half of the day was to stay fit and healthy enough to participate in, and enjoy the Bull Run Run in Virginia next weekend. This forced me to take it much slower than I would have liked, but the physical benefit of this race was well worth the temperance I showed while running it.
The Race Director and all the great people from the Albuquerque Road Runners were amazing people and they put on an excellent event. I would recommend this race to anybody looking for a challenging race that will test every aspect of their running ability.
Up next...Bull Run Run 50 miler!! Hope to see some of you there!