Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jemez Mountain Trail Races

Several months ago, John got into Hardrock and we decided to do a couple trail races leading up to it. The Jemez Mountain 50k/50-mile races seemed to fit our timing and location plans for the summer, so we signed up early to be sure we would get in. Then we later added a 24-hour adventure race and a 24-rogaine to our schedule, on the weekends right before and right after Jemez. Hmm, maybe that was a bit aggressive. Partway through our May "race series", I'm second-guessing these plans. Ask me again after next weekend, as we'll either have collapsed or we'll be in great shape.

John signed up for the 50k, while I usually cannot resist the longer distances. By the middle of the 50-miler, I was ready to report that John was the smart one this time! The 50-mile race started at 5 am, down a little road and onto singletrack. I started at the very back in an attempt to take it easy and ease into it.

I was concerned with my legs (recovery from last weekend) and the altitude (having just driven up from Texas and now racing at 8,000-10,000 feet elevation). Breathing and heartrate were going to be an issue. I would have liked to just make it a training run, but there was a 12-hour cutoff at the 36-mile mark. This didn't sound like a problem initially, until I found out that almost all of the climbing took place before that point, and that included 3 climbs up to the tops of mountains and 2 climbs up the side of ridges. So I couldn't just relax, I actually had to pay attention and not make any mistakes.

Still, I could afford to start slowly. I focused on speed-walking, easy downhill running, and using my trekking poles for the uphills. I was really happy with my decision to use the poles, although it did require some last-minute adjustments to my gear (switching to a Camelbak bottle instead of a handheld). I had flashbacks from the GTA, and quickly got myself in the mode of mountain running.

My legs and lungs weren't quite so ready, but a slow start helped me feel comfortable for a while anyway. I passed a few people in the first singletrack section, including Naresh from Austin. Nice to see people that we know. I marched by a couple more people going up the first climb to a ridge, then a couple runners stepped aside to let me glide down the other side at a good pace.

At the bottom I found a pretty little creek and a ladder to get up the first ledge. Neat! The first 50k runner (who had started an hour after us) flew by me as I waited for him before following him up the ladder. I enjoyed the run along the creek in the cool shade, although I kept having to step aside for the front 50k runners.

After one aid station, we turned uphill in earnest for a climb up Caballo Mountain, 1800 feet in 2 miles to top out at 10,400 feet. As soon as I started up the trail, the front 50-mile runners came screaming down the out-and-back. It was fun watching them, although the first section of trail was really too narrow to make it comfortable for either uphill or downhill runners. I recognized Karl Meltzer with a cast on his arm and gave him some encouragement.

Partway up the mountain, John called out from behind me. He was doing great and we got to chat a bit before he continued his speedy ascent. Near the top he came back by the other way and it was great to see him. I topped out in a field, circled a random tree, got my picture taken, and started back down. I appreciated everyone who now stepped aside for me, and told them as much. Good job, runners! I saw Jim coming up the hill, and he was looking good.

Back at the aid station at the bottom, I noticed a jar of Nutella - wow! Normally I can't eat solid food while running, but that was WAY too tempting, so I had a spoonful on a graham cracker. Yummy. I also got water in a baggie of Spiz and carried that out with me. The back mesh pocket of my pack worked great for a baggie of Spiz, mixing it up while I ran. Another trick I remembered from the GTA.

The next section was another climb up to a ridge, and this went well enough. I was glad I had studied the course maps enough to remember that this was here. Eventually the trail was flatter and I was able to run some of the way to the next aid station, called Pipeline. I had a drop bag here, so I drank an Ensure and grabbed a couple baggies of Spiz for the road.

The 50k runners took a different route from this point, while the 50-mile runners were treated to a steep, steep drop down into the nearby caldera. I took one look down the nearly-bare side of the mountain and decide to work my way down in the woods instead. It was slow but I kept making progress. Partway down I spotted a trench in the middle of the actual route, so I made my way there. The first thing I did once in the trench was step on a rock that rolled onto my left calf. Ow! How is it that I keep hurting myself lately?

Other than that, the trench worked great because I could step down the rocks until I reached the bottom. My calf stung a bit but eventually I stopped noticing it and it didn't impede my running. I passed a couple guys heading toward a wide-open field and then I was on my own for a while. I enjoyed the quiet and the calm after dealing with all the passing back and forth on Caballo Mountain.

Running inside the caldera was interesting in that it was different scenery - wide fields, rolling hills, similar to the Mogollon Rim. But we were running on jeep roads and that got a bit monotonous eventually. I would not have complained if I had known what was coming. After a quick stop at an aid station, I followed a line of runners making their way across the plains. It was off-trail but mostly easy footing. One-by-one, the runners at the end of the line would disappear into the woods ahead.

Finally I got there and joined a group that was working their way across a talus field of large boulders. I had a decent idea of which rocks would likely be solid and which might move, but that still never makes a talus field a fun prospect for me. On the other side, I got in line with several folks starting up the steep hill to exit the caldera. We walked upwards through the woods, stepping over logs and then trekking across a field. I made slight detours to shady spots, as it was starting to get warm.

It got harder and harder for me to keep up a decent climbing pace. I tried to keep my breathing and heartrate under control while maintaining some kind of posture. The climb went on for a while. Finally we crested the top. I felt like I had been hit by a minibus. The woman in front of me asked if I was good at the downhill - I told her that normally I am, but I wasn't sure about it at that moment.

Luckily my legs were still in good shape and going downhill helped me recover quickly. I passed the woman and slowly reeled in a couple of guys. The off-trail travel gave way to a slight trail along a creek. This trail went on for several miles without shade, but I was enjoying the downhill and the gurgling brook next to me. Mostly I figured I needed to make up some time in order to make the upcoming cut-off.

The cut-off was a bit concerning to me, and it had me worried from the beginning. I wanted to take my time and just enjoy the race while not pushing too hard (this being the middle weekend between two other races, after all), but I really couldn't. I had to keep an eye on the clock, try not to give up too much on the climbs, and continue to run whenever I could. About this time during the race, it started becoming more of a challenge and less of a "run in the park".

I ran on down and around to the next aid station. Our drop bags were slightly up the hill from the tables, but a wonderful young lady retrieved my bag for me. Thank you! I took the "chair in the shade" option this time, drinking an Ensure and getting my bottle refilled. Several other people were also hanging out, and one guy seemed to think that we shouldn't have a problem with the cutoff. Although he also said that the ski hill climb would go on forever. I wasn't sure whether to trust him on either count, but I really should have.

After leaving the aid station, I focused on using my poles to keep me moving forward and upward. The trail took a turn around to the right, through some woods, through a burn area (we saw lots of those in these 50 miles), toward what I hoped was the ski mountain. At least the scenery kept changing all the time. I saw a paved road and heard someone shout encouragement from a distance.

Eventually I popped out at a ski run and jogged on down to an aid station. The woman there was very helpful and talkative, putting ice water in my bottle and answering my questions (yes, this is the very last big climb). Cool, thanks! I knew I better keep moving, who knows how long this climb will take. Actually, it started out very nicely, with excellent little switchbacks that I could have done all day. Then I was in the cool woods, very nice.

I stopped to drink my Spiz, and it was pretty much at that point that the trail turned 90 degrees uphill. The course followed a bike trail that cyclists (crazy ones) take to get from the top of the mountain to the bottom while making jumps and avoiding trees. I was just glad there weren't any bikers on the hill that day. It was hard enough putting one foot in front of the other as it was.

Partway up, a silver-haired runner from the previous aid station walked past me. My pace was slowing, for sure. The altitude was finally really getting to me. The woman from the previous climb also walked by me. I wasn't keeping up with either of them this time. It was great to see the top of a lift - almost there! Oh, not really. The trail continued to climb, toward a tower. Maybe that's the top? Not even.

I had been doing math in my head, trying to figure out whether the 12-hour cut-off was at 36 miles (which *should* be the ski lodge down below, if my math was right) or at Pipeline another 3 miles after that, if I remembered right from the race information. In the first case, I had plenty of time (assuming this trail eventually does go downhill!). In the second case, I was in plenty of trouble for making the cut-off.

I made my way up and up, following the trail as it climbed up a ridge. Every little downhill lifted my spirits, only to be followed by another climb that discouraged me. My breathing got labored and I was really, really ready to get lower in elevation. No such luck this time. The previous two mountains had all entailed a quick top-out, but this one left us up above 10,000 feet for a while. It was a full-size bus that hit me this time. More than once.

Finally, finally! There was a photographer, and the flags started down a black diamond run called "Little Mother". How appropriate. I managed a "V" sign but no real smile for the camera. It must have been a pitiful attempt at one, though, because the camera lady laughed. I looked downhill to see another steep descent. At least there were a few solid rocks here and there to step on to keep from sliding down on my butt. I was again very thankful for my poles.

Eventually I passed the woman who could climb better than me, and we both tried to figure out the best way down each section of ski run and then steep bike trails. I started aggressively using my poles for balance, and that seemed to work out. I also felt not quite as inept, having just passed someone having a bit more difficulty with it than I was.

Finally I could just run, so I ran. Down to the ski lodge and an aid station. Breathless, I asked whether I still needed to get to Pipeline before the cut-off? If so, I really had to leave NOW (it was about 4:20 pm). They assured me that I had just made the cut-off, no problem. My math was correct, my memory was not. Excellent!

I took a moment to regroup and recover. A bit of watermelon (awesome) and some Coke (it was sustaining me today), and I was good to go. While walking up the next slight hill, I saw a beautiful rock to sit on, so I stopped to drink my Spiz. The "climbing woman" (who I now know is named Rickie) came by at a fast walk so I smiled at her.

A photographer came around the corner and snapped some photos of Rickie. Then he noticed me drinking brown liquid out of a baggie and got an interesting look on his face. He asked if he could take a picture? Of course! Finally someone wants to document this :) While I finished drinking he took a few shots. Maybe they will end up on the race webpage.

OK, time to go. I was finally really relaxed. The biggest climbs were done, the cut-off was made, only a few more miles to go. I celebrated by putting on my iPod and listening to the Buffy musical. Awesome! I was so stoked. I passed Rickie not long later, trying not to sing too loudly, although I didn't really care if I made a fool out of myself. I was having a "sufferfest" kind of day, so this little interlude of happiness was a nice reprieve.

I practically ran up a hill through a field (the running part may just have been my imagination, but it felt faster than my previous "climbing" crawl), down a road, whooping it up just a bit. Back into the Pipeline aid station, I come across the silver-haired man who had passed me going up the ski mountain. I tried to quickly drink an Ensure and some Coke, but my stomach was pretty much still full. Time to go, then.

The next section started with a short climb up a wide powerline-type trail. My iPod was now playing the theme from "Pirates of the Caribbean", which is wonderfully motivating but way too short. I rewound it about 5 times to get me to the top. Phew. A beautiful view of Los Alamos appeared - very nice, but I still had quite a ways to go, mostly circling the town to come around from the back. The wind was whipping through the trees above.

The trail turned into the woods, taking a gentle, sloping drop along a steep hillside through the trees. I loved this section - and I had worked so hard to get there that I just relaxed and ran and enjoyed it. Eventually the burned-out tree section returned and the trail started undulating. With each downhill I wondered if I had reached the saddle with the next aid station, but that seemed too quick. Sure enough, a bit of uphill appeared ahead. More traversing around a little hilltop. Another saddle. No aid station. Repeat.

This got rather tedious, but finally I saw a couple runners up ahead looking like they might be leaving an aid station. Sure enough! I stopped long enough to refill my Camelbak bottle and add a bit of Gatorade powder, and then I was off. One long downhill and 5 miles to the final aid station before the finish. And lots of wind, happily mostly a tailwind.

My quads weren't as excited about this downhill, which was a bit disappointing because the trail could have been a lot of fun. I'm sure John enjoyed it. It wasn't too steep but had some interesting rocks and twists and turns. Los Alamos appeared again from a different angle. I saw the two runners up ahead, which helped me figure out where the trail was going.

After quite a bit of this, I came over a hill to find a steep drop down a road (fun!) and the two runners figuring out the trail up ahead. I ran up as the woman was calling the man back from taking a wrong route. She stepped aside to let me run on ahead. The trail started down a drainage and eventually I could see canyon cliffs ahead - very pretty.

A couple of runners down below were just getting to "Pinky's" aid station as I approached. I had enough water, I just needed to get up the next little hills and over the next 1.9 miles to finish this thing. So I walked through the aid station, quite content to skip it in favor of collapsing a couple miles down the road.

A woman runner was at the aid station when I walked through. She quickly passed me and took off up the trail. OK with me! I'm not a climbing fool today. I passed a 50k runner who was still sticking with it, good for him. I passed the guy that the woman had been running with. The tunnel appeared, so I walked up through it, wondering exactly how far I had yet to go.

The trail went up and down a bit, very familiar from this morning, but somewhere there would be a turn-off that I didn't know (because our course had started a bit differently). I saw two guys up ahead, and one turned out to be Micah True - neat! I passed them and looked back to see the woman from the top of the drainage. She seemed to be charging fast.

John "whooped!" at me from around the corner! Yay! He told me I had 600 meters and one little climb to go. I told him there was a woman chasing me. Together we made our way up the steep little section to the top, then around to the road toward the finish. The woman was still coming, so I had to run. Yep, after 14+ hours of sufferfest, I can still be competitive. And yes, I did finish ahead of her :)

The aftermath wasn't pretty - I couldn't eat, could barely drink Gookinaid, and had to sit for an hour before hobbling back to the trailer across the way. Thank goodness for a hot shower and a soft bed!! I love our home on wheels.

Results for 50 miles: 14:44:49, 71st of 100 finishers (I believe perhaps close to 200 starters?), 9th out of 14 female finishers

John did superb in the 50k (especially for not being acclimated): 6:47:11, 15th of 152 finishers - well done!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Atomic AR race report and photos

Our race report is finally complete:

Plus a slew of photos taken by the race photographers:

Thanks Kip for posting the pictures and the report!

Welcome to Earth

I'm not certain, but this may be a case of "Only in Texas":

Speed limit = 55 mph...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Start of the summer

Howie is no longer in Texas...

We departed Austin a couple of weeks ago on our way to the East Texas farm:

Dave drove up to collect us and our gear for the long drive to Georgia for the Atomic race (report coming soon). John snapped a couple of pre-race photos, including Harvey checking out our bikes:

Me and Dave trying to figure out the various maps to plot stage 1:

After the race, we went back to Texas (bye Dave!), picked up Howie, and started west. First stop was Caprock Canyons State Park for a couple of nights. We did a bike ride and short hike in the park. Beautiful scenery:

Harvey needs to learn not to endo into cactus patches - ouch!

Nice little hike up to a scenic overlook:

We biked back via a horse trail along a creek, which turned out to be good training for riding in sand and through puddles. Along the way John spotted a horny toad - cool! It was kind enough to hold still for a photo:

From there we drove uphill to New Mexico to park in Los Alamos for the weekend. More about the Jemez trail races in another post...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Atomic AR - brief recap for now

We made it through a long weekend of not much sleep, lots of driving, dampness and dirt, navigation fun, and a challenging course at the Atomic adventure race. Dave, John, and I raced as a 3-person team in this 24-hour race, and we did great during stage 1 but had a few too many setbacks in day 2. I'll put together a more comprehensive report later this week, but I'm currently in the middle of cleaning gear, repacking, and catching up on reality TV...

Stage 1: Hiked up the trail/stairs to the top of Amicalola Falls. Biked up a mountain and down the other side. Singletrack/dirt road rogaine on bikes (enjoyed that loop). Biked roads and a confusing powerline to the canoe put-in at the Etowah River. Had great fun in class I-II whitewater, hit a few rocks but didn't break Dave's kevlar canoe. Got to float down a 1/4-mile long mining tunnel in the dark! Way, way cool. Dumped the canoe in the turbulence at the end of the tunnel, got back in the boat and continued on. Enjoyed the speed of our boat in the flatter sections. Finished 23 paddling miles in 4.5 hours (nice current). Ran another several kilometers to the end of stage one. Ended in 4th place about 45 minutes behind the leaders, felt good about that.

Intermission: Got there in time to plot points for the next stage, set up the tent, and crawl inside before it started pouring rain. Very lucky with our timing. Didn't sleep much but enjoyed the rest and didn't get cold. Rained stopped not long before we had to get up. Can't ask for better. Other teams were not so lucky.

Stage 2: Mass restart at midnight. Received instructions about a course re-route due to the Etowah River being too high to walk across. Shoal Creek "should be knee deep". We tried a direct route on trails/powerline instead of running around on roads, which was an error in judgment even before we hit Shoal Creek and found it raging and over our heads. John fell in while trying to cross, decided to swim to the other side. Long delay while we tried to find a better place to cross and I eventually decided I couldn't do it. John swam back over, we backtracked to a ford where everyone else had been a couple hours earlier. Still deep/strong current, but doable (walking, not swimming) with arms linked together. Good running speed to finish the trek. Biked a few miles north toward a rogaine section on foot. Toward the end of the bike, Dave towed me up a LONG hill to pass several teams so John could jump on the ascent/rappel section without waiting in line. Fast ropes section for John :) Fun trek except we had problems with a reentrant that we had to plot using the intersection of two bearings - not sure about that plot nor the point placement, but eventually we found the point in the creek at the bottom of a different reentrant. Finished the rogaine, biked to the finish line area, hiked up stairs past the Amicalola Falls again, finally done!

Aftermath: Scraped up legs from thorny vines, bruised hip from taking a spill on my bike, minor cuts and bruises. Cleared the course (one of 20 teams to do so, out of 50-something starters), finished 14th overall and 9th coed-elite (I think). Learned some things about Georgia terrain and the style of this race. Enjoyed spending the weekend with John and Dave and had a fun adventure!!

Next up: Jemez 50-mile/50k trail races in Los Alamos this Saturday...

(if anyone sees any photos posted on the Atomic race site, I'd love to see them so I can post a couple here with my longer race report - thanks!)

Monday, May 10, 2010

TCSAR drill

John and I have left town! We've got a busy/crazy month of May in store for us, so we first moved Howie up to Frankston to stage ourselves and prepare. This coming weekend is the Atomic adventure race in Georgia, the following weekend we'll be in Los Alamos for the Jemez 50k/50mi races, and then we're flying to Oregon for a 24-hour rogaine over Memorial Day weekend. Hopefully we'll survive all of that, because in June we're heading to Colorado...

But first! I managed to fit in one last activity in Austin. I drove back for my first team training event since I re-started with Travis County Search & Rescue. I had not reapplied after returning from France, and I finally managed to get myself in order this winter. Just in time for summer traveling... but at least I should be set up to actually be a part of the team as soon as we get back in the fall.

Our team did a drill at Reimer's Ranch last Saturday. A neat place, and we should go mountain biking there sometime. I was part of a "ground pounder" team, looking for clues in a grid-search pattern.

Here is Karen and Juan marking a point on the GPS (new gear I need to buy!) where we found recently-dug dirt:

Noting a piece of a balloon on a bush:

A footprint in sand near a creek:

It felt good to be back with the team and I look forward to spending more time on SAR activities later this year. Even without my SAR dog Grete, I still think I can be useful :)

Now it's off to start prep for the Atomic race...