"Dear God, when will the hurting stop."
The more I run 50 mile races, the more I embrace the fact that as I get older, I am indeed losing my mind. To admit that I trained and paid and then actually showed up to have someone "figuratively" beat me with a bat for 9 hours just isn't something normal people do. But that's the reality when it's Bill Geist the RD for the Jemez 50 miler holding the bat!
I ran this course two years ago and remembered bits of it well but this year’s course would be slightly different because of the fires last year. I didn't really know what to expect coming into the race. I was cautiously optimistic based on my previous finish but the course this year would be difficult and it looked like there would be a strong field.
The race started at 5am just outside the Posse Shack in Los Alamos. Mike Ferris bolted off the line in a sprint start that put him about 200yards ahead of the rest of us from the get go. I held second with a solid pace and eventually caught up to Mike at about 3 miles. We chatted and ran together into the Mitchell aid station (AS) at mile 5. Jeremy Duncan had joined us at the point and we continued to run together as we circumnavigated the northwest side of Los Alamos. We hit Camp May AS at mile 10.4 and Jeremy passed me for the lead. Camp May AS is at the "bottom" of the first big climb. Pajarito peak, at an elevation just shy of 10,500’ would be served up twice during the race. The climb starts out mild but gets very steep very quick. There’s a quick descent about 2/3’s of the way up to the bottom of a chair lift and then the climb begins in earnest. Jeremy and I chatted and climbed to the top together but he told me to go ahead on the descent so I did. The descent meandered slightly but was mostly a straight shot down the ski slope. I kept thinking to myself..."I have to do this again in about 4 hours on legs that will really be tired...this is gonna suck!"
I arrived at the Ski Lodge AS, mile 16.4 and had the lead but as I was leaving Patrick Garcia ran through like a bat out of hell with a big ole smile on his face! He was looking really strong and I felt like I needed to hold back a bit if I was going to make it up the climb in a few hours.
The 3 miles to Pipeline AS was okay. As always the descent from Pipeline down into the Caldera was an adventure! The run through the Caldera was beautiful. It's a steady light descent throughout with some rolling hills here and there. Every so often I checked to see if anyone was catching me and I didn’t see anyone. At one point I did catch a glimpse of Patrick out ahead and guessed he'd probably put about 6-8 minutes on me by that point. At Obsidian AS – mile 26.6 - we took a hard left to head back to the Valle Grande and all of sudden Jeremy was right behind me. I wondered if maybe I'd slowed too much or if I hadn't seen him come up behind me. However by the time I had reached the Valle Grande AS at mile 36.7 he was no longer in sight.
The distance from Valle Grande AS to the Ski Lodge is only 3.5 miles but it was by far the hardest part of the day. The trail is cross country and is almost entirely unrunnable because of the wild tufts of grass and rock strewn throughout the meadow. Once you get through the meadow it is a straight shot up the side of the ridge to a saddle and then another steep straight up climb to the peak. I was huffing and puffing the whole way up, taking 10-15 steps and stopping to breath.
The rest of the race was really a blur. I made it down the ski area without falling and came into the Ski Lodge AS at the 36.7 mile mark, 6 minutes behind Patrick. I knew that 6 minutes would be really hard to make up at this point in the race. I was actually more worried about getting caught from behind by someone coming on strong at the end.
The return trip tops out just past Pipeline AS and then there's a gradual descent all the way to about mile 48.4 At mile 43, I'd put 3 minutes into Patrick's lead so I knew something was up and that he must be hurting but I was too and didn't know if I could catch him. I actually was more interested in breaking the 9 hour mark which had been my unspoken pre-race goal. It was going to be close. At mile 48.4 I was only 2 minutes back of Patrick but the course starts to climb again to the finish and my legs were just toast. I'd started cramping, my breathing was pretty labored and I had entered that really really dark painful place. I made up another 30 seconds on Patrick and finished just over the 9 hour mark with a 9:05:31. And
I've never been more proud or excited to finish a race like this. I left nothing on the trail, but gave it everything I had. These races teach me a lot about myself. There are times when I want to stop, or rest and sometimes I don't feel like I have what it takes, but when you finish running a 50 miler, no matter how long it takes, you know you do and that you've faced your demons and crushed them underfoot.
There are moments when I question why I'm doing this to myself but when I consider the incredible beauty of God's creation, the natural rhythm of running; the feeling of being in tune with what's around me, the birds, the sun on my back the smells of the mountains and of the sage in the meadows, I am at peace
Thank you Lord, for letting me run and for giving me pleasure in it!