Towards the latter half of 2012, a group of Dallas running friends talked about a trail race to participate in outside of Texas.  My friends discussed doing the Jemez 50k in Los Alamos NM.  The excitement of having discovered the joys of trail running and having completed the Palo Duro Canyon 50k in Oct 2012 were still fresh in my mind.  I enjoy trail running because it is a chance to see the nature not tainted by the vast expanse of concrete jungle around us. 

After the Palo Duro Canyon 50k, I was scheduled to run the Rocky Raccoon 50 miler, however those plans came to a grinding halt after a major injury on Christmas day.  Fast forward 2 months later, with the help of encouraging friends, I managed to complete the Cowtown half marathon in late February and run the Grasslands trail marathon with my friend Angela Turnage in late March.  This gave me increased confidence to think about running the Jemez 50k, which was less than 2 months away.

A couple of things complicated the training phase for the Jemez 50k.  Angela broke a bone in her foot and could not run for a few weeks.  Also work and family life became busier.  I pretty much tossed away all training plans I had, and focused on running three 7 mile runs during the week on a hilly route in Allen, followed by 10 – 12 mile run during the weekend.  My friend Susan Batterman was gracious enough to help me out on my long run (20 miles) three weeks before the race.  This was a great confidence booster.  After that, it was taper time to Jemez.  I decided to have faith in whatever training I got in over the last two months.  Out of the original group of friends, Steph, Marcus, Nikki, and I decided to run this race.

Fast forward to race weekend.  The family (Jay, Nirisha and I) drove to Los Alamos.  We left on a Thursday and stayed the night at Amarillo.  On Friday we drove to Los Alamos.  On the way, we had an hour break in Santa Fe, so that I would have an opportunity to carbo-load with some Indian food at the Annapurna Vegetarian café (organic, gluten free, vegan).  Below is what I consumed for lunch

Kitchari (thick rice and lentil soup), and a yogi bowl (rice and chickpeas)

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After lunch, we headed over to Los Alamos and checked into the Comfort Inn Suites.   Below is the hotel elevation (and the temperature of my wrist….apparently subtle hints of nervousness descending upon me)

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Steph reached Los Alamos a couple of hours later and we all decided to meet up at packet up at the Cross Roads Bible Church.

We collected our race packets.  The tech shirt was awesome.  I also purchased a hydrapouch for drinking Coke at the aid stations

Always great to see good friends at an out of town race (Steph Hill)

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Our race T-shirt.  Love the elevation profiles for all three races on the shirt.  Thank goodness I signed up for 50k and not the 50 miler (aka double torture). 
One elevation climb from 7500ft to 10400 ft. was all I bargained for.

Also the hyrdapouch was great (had Jemez race logo)

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We also met Marcus, Nikki, Gray Wright, Jacqueline over at packet pickup.   Nirisha, Jay, Steph and I decided to eat at the Blue Bistro for dinner.

Below is the 2nd carbo-loading meal of the evening (eggplant and portabella rack with a side of couscous and vegetables, followed by a side of mashed potatoes).  It was incredible.  I was ready to experiment doing my first long distance race sans pasta loading.

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After dinner, it was time to start getting ready for the race.  The best support crew in the world (Nirisha and Jay) had ensured that all my items were packed.  My strategy for the race was to

1)      Have fun and not worry about my finish time.  It was important to just finish.  I planned to start at the back of the pack and run slow in the beginning.

2)      Not study the map and where the elevation was going to increase significantly.  Even though this sounds silly, I thought it was best to not know what was coming.

3)      Eat Fig Newmans and drink water every 30 minutes.  Have one S-Cap every hour.  Drink 2 hydrapouch cups of Coke at every aid station

4)      Run on downhill’s (it was more like shuffle) and walk on uphill’s (ended up being more like walk and crawl)

5)      Minimize wait time at aid station to no more than 3 minutes.

6)      Pack a change of clothes, socks, and the Stick (for massaging my calves at mile 17)

Here is Nirisha and Jay watching TV, and yours truly preparing for the race.  By the way, the Anton Krupicka Ultimate Direction Race Vest was great.  It allowed me to use my hands for balancing on the course

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Race day arrives!

I got up at 4:20 AM on race day (my race start for 50k was at 6:00 AM).  I ate 4 Fig Newmans and drank two cups of coffee.  Nirisha and Jay got up at 5:15 AM and drove me to the race start.

I was very surprised to see several friends from Dallas (including Kenny Davis).  I think the number of Texans in this race outnumbered every other state……just saying

Dave Z, Gary W, Sabine N, Claudia Z, and myself at the race start (Sabine and Claudia both ran an exceptional 50k race).  Marcus, Nikki and Jacqueline are in the other picture

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The race begins! – Oh @rap, it is for real now – Mile 0 to 5

At 5:55AM, all the runners lined up.  I went right to the back of the pack.  I was not nervous at all.  My game plan was to have no plan and instead be flexible during this race.  Before I knew it, the race started.

Nikki and Marcus are in the below start picture.  The next picture is of some of the awesome volunteers who helped make this race a success. I understand that they were loading a truck to take bag drops to the Mile 17 marker. 

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I started running slowly.  The first half mile of the course went through several horse stables.  If you were asleep before, just running past these stables was enough to wake up your senses.  After the stables we descended into the valley.

For the first 5 miles, I pretty much stayed at the back of the pack.  I followed my race strategy of eating and drinking every 30 minutes and ingesting an S-cap every hour.  This paid dividends later on in the race.

Here is the course at mile 3, a self-portrait, and the trail in front of me

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The one thing on this course is the lack of placement of porta pottys.  I totally understood as there no humanely possible way of doing so.  So therefore at mile 4, I veered off the course to take my one and only potty break.  It was time to move on again.

The first aid station was at mile 5.  I saw Nikki, Marcus and Jacqueline.  Nikki gave some great advice on saving my energy for the back half of the course (which was true).  After filling my water bottles, it was time to start moving.

I felt great for the first time and started moving comfortably, overtaking several runners at this point.  I also made sure to walk the uphill’s and run the downhill’s (these were some very steep downhill’s).

Mile 5 to 9

There were several uphill’s anddownhillss, but nothing that made me too nervous.  I took some more pictures of the scenery and sunshine before reaching the Los Alamos labs grounds (where taking pictures was forbidden).  Little did I know that we would all be climbing up the mountain very soon.

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Mile 9 to 17 – someone please tell me why did I sign up for this race????

Now if I had taken the time to study the elevation map, this is where the course suddenly climbs up from ~8000 ft. to 10400ft.  Nirisha and Jay met me before the aid station at the 10th mile.  Seeing them was a mental boost for me.  I kept moving after refueling at the aid station.

At first I was wondering why people were carrying ski poles for climbing.  Of course I discovered why in the next 15 minutes.  The climb up the mountain was something else.  Forget about running, walking, crawling etc.  I had to hold onto tree branches to just climb up the hill.  I don’t think I have ever been this out of breath.  There was a time I started to lose my sanity and walk off the course to some unknown destination, but thankfully some runners yelled at me to get back on the correct course.

The only thing I could do was to keep taking deep breaths and keep moving forward.  I kept repeating to myself that I was not going to quit.  Dropping out was just not an option.  After what seemed like a lifetime, I believed that I finally made it to the top of the mountain (I found out 5 minutes later that I did not…….)

Here is some perspective on how high the climb was.  The first picture is Los Alamos from the “bottom” of the mountain, and what it looked like after climbing quite high (not even to the top).  This was essentially a climb up to the top of the mountain where the ski lifts stopped

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Here is where I met my new friend Michelle from Florida (she took the above picture of me).  Michelle had just run Boston this year, and run Big Sur the following weekend.  She had her Boston shirt on.  This is one of things I love about ultra-running, where runners meet new friends on the course.    From the 14th mile to the finish line, we ran the rest of the race together.  This made the run memorable, especially now that I had someone to talk to during the run.

We continued the mountain climb to the top where the ski lifts ended (Yes we went all the way to the top).  The 50 mile runners had to make this climb twice, and I was happy I had to do it just once…….

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Here are some other beautiful scenes of the Caldera and a steep downhill that we had to descend (the pictures do not do justice on the steepness of this downhill).

I almost went down the entire hill, and when Michelle stopped me just in time to course correct me.  Thank heavens, otherwise I would have added some choice new words to my vocabulary if I had to climb all the way up.

In spite of struggling on the course, we could not help but appreciate the beauty of the course.  This is what trail running is all about.  It is not about the PRs and how fast you can run.  It is about enjoying the nature around you.

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Finally after making it to the top, we descended into the valley to where the ski lodge was located.  The downhill was such a welcome change.  There we met Nirisha and Jay.  I also got to meet David Hannenburg (Endurance Buzz), who was such a friendly guy.  He told us that the worst was over (he was 90% correct, as we still had hills in front of us, but not as steep as what we had finished).

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I changed my socks and cap.  I also took the opportunity to use the Stick on my calves which had some slight cramps during the steep climb.  It was time to take off again.  Michelle and I took off again.

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Mile 17 to 29

As we took off, what else to expect but another hill in front of us (600ft climb).  We were both thinking the same thing…WTH…….  Well it was time to walk up the hill and talk.  I learned that Michelle was a vegan also.  She shared some of her Vegan snacks (Picky bar and some other sesame seed bar) which were really tasty.  I also learned about the Vega One Sports drink.  We then talked about beer (and off course I boasted about my brewing).  I would have to say that time flew by quickly.

We ran into other runners and after a while we are all were running together, shuffling on the downhill’s and walking up the inclines.  There is this special bond between runners on the trails especially when the going gets tough.  We all stuck together and encouraged each other to finish.

We arrived at the Mile 23 aid station, at which point I stopped eating and started drinking Coke to get a quick energy boost to the finish.  We kept on moving until we reach until the last aid station (Last Chance saloon) at mile 29.  Oh boy it was hot!

At mile 29, they supposedly had rattlesnake soup, but I was too tired to remember asking about it.  I instead drank more coke, while the adventurous Michelle had a little beer.  We were already tired of the hills.

Mile 29 to 31

And as we left the last aid station, we had more hill climbs in front of us.  We did our best to keep moving forward.  We kept encouraging each other to not stop.  Michelle and I decided we were going to break the 9 hour barrier to finish this race.  The other thing that kept us going was the thought of drinking cold beer at the finish line (beer is my favorite post-race recovery drink)

The last quarter mile was a steep climb to the finish line.  It was at this time my quads seized up and were cramping like crazy.  Although I was yelling with pain, I kept moving until the finish with Michelle a few seconds ahead of me.  We came around the corner and I saw Nirisha and Jay and was so happy to be done.  Thank goodness we were done (yes I wrote the same sentence twice because I was happy to be done!) 

My finishing time was 8 hours and 57 minutes (Michelle finished about 20 seconds ahead).  I was incredibly happy.  I came into this race thinking that it would take me 11 hours to finish, so breaking 9 hours felt like a gift from the heavens.

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Below is the best cheering squad (my wife and son)

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Also cheering at the finish line was Claudia, Sabine (two rock stars in the 50k), Kenny D, Dave, Steph H (congrats to you both on your half!), and Gary W.

The first order of business was to get a beer.  Other things were secondary.

Below is a picture of Michelle and me enjoying a Santa Fe Brewery IPA.  Two pictures were taken because Steph and Nirisha said I needed to smile for the picture.

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We all waited for the other Dallas runners to arrive.  While waiting on the runners, Dave Z was kind enough to give me a Negra Modelo.  What a great treat it was.  We saw Nikki, Marcus, and Henry Z.  I was sorry that I could not wait for Nick Polito (promise we will next time).

Also I talked with other ultra-runners.  It was quite a great atmosphere.  I talked to a gentleman from Colorado who has done the Leadville 100 three times.  I also got to talk to several runners from Texas.  I still think there were more Texas runners in this race, than from other states J

The common thing I noticed amongst all the runners was how down to earth they were.  It did not matter whether you ran fast or slow, everyone was very friendly to each other.  This is what I love about the running community.

After a couple of hours (and a dinner of soy burgers), it was time to leave as the family and I were exhausted.  We all said our goodbyes.  I hope that I can meet all my current and new friends again in future races.  It was a great end to an exciting weekend!

Concluding thoughts

–          The Jemez race was an incredible unforgettable event.  Even though I did not mention this enough in my report, the race director and volunteers did a fantastic job in putting together a world class event

–          This race was a 50K hike with running breaks.  There was a lot of walking involved.  I wish I practiced more power walking during training.

–          When running long distances on the trail, it helps to focus on enjoying the race.  Always start slow, and you will end up finishing strong.   Take the time to look at the beautiful scenery.  It is hard to find such beauty in the city

–          Socializing post-race is as important as running in the race.  I met some great people during and after the race. 

–          Don’t worry about how long you took to finish the race.  Finishing is victory enough

–          If you are looking to spice up your running, look no further than doing some trail running (and races).  It is so addicting J

–          Am I ready to run this race again?  I think so.  Do I want to do the 50 mile version?   Hmmmmm…..Ask me in a few months……

–          And finally, thank you for taking the time to read my race report.  Hope you enjoyed reading it as I did running it.

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