29 May 2014

Jemez 50k Race Report

“I hope that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.” 
- Maya Angelou
View from Pajarito Mountain
Distance: 52 33 miles 
Elevation gain: 11,229 6,637 ft
Time: 10:31

This year's Jemez Mountain Trail Runs -- specifically the 50k and 50 mile -- served up a dose of nasty weather that quickly identified those that were prepared for running in the mountains from those that were not. The usual dust and hot weather was not on tap for the day and while I thought the forecasted afternoon rain would be a welcome relief from the heat, I wonder if any of us expected the weather that eventually rolled in.

I had signed up for the 50 mile, but came down with a pretty bad case of head and chest congestion a couple of days before that had me wondering on Thursday if I'd even be going to New Mexico. I woke up Friday feeling a little better and decided that a weekend with my ultrarunning peeps would be worth having a rough day at the races. So I headed on out Friday morning for the 5 hour drive to Los Alamos.

I was staying with Steve and Deb Pero at their cabin in Jemez Springs, along with Robert Andrulis, who was running the 50 mile in training for Hardrock. Deb had planned to run the 50k and while I prepared for a 50 mile run, I gave myself the permission to drop down at 22 miles, if I was feeling lousy from my cold. 

Steve was working the Rendija Canyon AS, 2 miles from the finish. It's unofficial name is The Last Chance Saloon, as Steve brings his home brew and tequila for runners to enjoy as they pass through. 

The Facebook group for the race had been posting about the weather all week, so I knew that rain was in the forecast. Tom, the RD, had sent out an email on Thursday to reiterate that jackets would be needed as well. I guess not everyone saw it or checked the weather themselves, based on how the race played out, as you will see.

We got up at stupid o'clock and made it to the start line at 4:30a. Things were relaxed and while I didn't see most of the folks that I knew there (like Matt, Bill, Bob & Joe), I saw Tony Krupicka and wished him a good race before the start. He was running with Joe Grant and Jason Koop at the front, both of whom are also preparing for their Hardrock runs.

We had our headlamps on for the first 30-45 min as the sun was coming up and then were able to drop them at the first aid station 5 miles in to pick up at the finish. It was a beautiful rolling trail and the conga line spread out during that time. As we began our first small climb, I could see that the likelihood of running 50 miles was slim. I had no energy on the climbs and settled into a slow, easy pace as I ran. 

The weather was perfect. I had a tank, arm warmers, shorts and my striped compression socks on as well as a brand spankin' new pair of Sportiva Wildcats. I felt perfectly dressed and with my gloves handy as well as my Mountain Hardware Epic jacket in my first drop bag, I felt ready for just about anything weather-wise.

I saw Deb after I passed through the Camp May AS (Mile 10) on our way up Pajarito Mountain, a nearly 7 mile trip with ~3,000 feet of gain. She was feeling the need to drop due to some health-related issues, but decided to stick with me, knowing it would be a tough one for me too. I was glad for her company, which I enjoyed for the majority of the race. She actually got stronger as the race went on and finished almost an hour ahead of me. What a rock star. As I walked up the runnable climbs, I just reminded myself that the worst was over once I got to the top. Tons of people passed us here, mostly 50k runners that had started an hour later than us 50 milers.

I had been taking a VFuel gel every 30 minutes and drinking from my handhelds regularly, but the exertion from climbing had me in a bit of a fuzzy-headed state. I also had a bit of nausea -- not enough to stop eating, but enough to be thinking about it all up the climb. I took a couple of breaks to sit and eat and that seemed to help a bit. 

Besides the beautiful weather we were enjoying as well as the friendly comments from other runners, the thing that stands out to me during this climb was how much people loved seeing my rainbow socks. I chose them because they make me happy and if it puts a smile on someone's face as they're grunting up a big hill, then awesome. Their positive comments certainly gave me something to smile about as I suffered up the climb.
Coming out of Camp May
Deb, my trail buddy
Not feeling so good
Burn area
Pajarito: 1, Shelby 0
Looking back before the final push to the ski lifts
As with gravity, what goes up, must come down. We finally hit the double black diamond ski run that would be the descent that I'd been waiting for. Now I could let my legs fly down the hill, which is exactly what I did. Since I now wear my shoes a half-size larger than normal, no bruised toenails this time. I love me some good downhillin' and it was the turning point in the race. Having the worst climb over with is incredibly uplifting to my spirits.

During the 1,500 ft descent into Ski Lodge (Mile 18.6), I got to see Tony K come flying down the trail in first place after having run Pajarito a second time already. We all hooped and hollered congrats to him as he passed. It was great to see him looking so good and doing well at the race. It's been a long time coming for him. 
I got my happy back. Right here.
Somewhere between Ski Lodge and Pipeline
As we were making it up a short gradual climb to Pipeline, we saw Jason Koop and Joe Grant in 2nd and 3rd. Koop had apparently surged past Joe here and I was able to get off a couple of good shots of them both. Joe looked so happy, I had no idea he was having to go from "training run" mode to "race" mode. He did catch Koop somewhere later on and managed to hang on to 2nd place. 
Coach Koop
Joe Grant
We got to Pipeline (Mile 21.4), which is where the 50 milers split off from the 50k runners and head toward the Caldera. Since I was dragging ass worse than usual, I just grabbed a little soda and watermelon before heading up the road toward Guaje Ridge. By this point, the ominous clouds in the distance were now overhead and Deb and I figured it was just a matter of time before the rain would start to fall. With a little less than 12 miles left of our race and no cutoff, I was ready to take it easy and enjoy a nice walk in the woods. I wanted to salvage as much fun out of my day as possible after my miserable first half. 

As we crested the top of the short hill just after the AS, the heavens opened up into... SNOW! It was absolutely beautiful. However, my plans of going slow and easy were foiled as I needed to stay warm by running. Fortunately, the downhill section here (Guaje Ridge) was pure joy and once it turned to sleet and then rain, I had my waterproof jacket over my arm warmers to keep me from getting hypothermia. It worked so well at keeping my core warm that I didn't bother to pull out my gloves in the sub-freezing temps. Crazy!
Deb retrieving my fallen water bottle from the snowy slope.
Coming into the Guaje Ridge AS (Mile 25) the winds continued to blow the rain sideways, we came across a series of signs to keep us smiling. Hats off to all the hardy volunteers who cheerfully waited and served us runners in that mess. That's dedication!
"You know you're an ultrarunner when... "
The next 5 miles to Rendija Canyon were the longest, other than the climb up Pajarito. Boy, was I happy to see Steve and get a little soup and beer before finishing the last 2 miles of the run. 

It was here that we found out that the race was called due to runners getting caught unprepared for the whiteout conditions on Pajarito. Only 20 of the 50 mile runners actually got to finish their race as some runners were suffering from hypothermia as they came off Pajarito into Ski Lodge AS (Mile 38.6). Those 50k runners that were further along were able to finish, so it was mostly the 50 mile runners that were affected.

With all the runners I saw in short sleeves, I guess not everyone knew how quickly things can change in the mountains. When clouds roll in with wind and rain, temps plummet, especially at high elevations. With the afternoon storm forecasted all week long, having a waterproof jacket, gloves, hat and additional layers in a drop bag can be a lifesaver (and racesaver) for a runner. 

Since I didn't experience the snow at the top of Pajarito (elev 10,400), I'm not sure how the temps there compared to what we experienced on Guaje Ridge. I know that my waterproof jacket and arm warmers were enough to keep me warm. I felt bad for those 50 milers that were prepared for the weather but had to stop, but agree that the safety of all the runners takes precedence over anyone's 50 mile finish. 
Coming into Rendija (Photo: Steve Pero)
Getting back to the end of my race...There's a short climb out of this final aid station and I hiked it with gusto. I always get a good dose of energy when I know my race is almost over. Finished in a pedestrian 10:31 -- closer to my 50 mile PR than my 50k one. Oy vey. 
Didn't care for this climb at mile 31. Sheesh.
Our handcrafted finishers pottery bowl
As I'm writing this, we've all heard about the passing of Maya Angelou. I love so many of her quotes, but the one at the top of the page about desiring more than one can accomplish seems to sum up my feelings on my run at Jemez. As much as I wish I were a better ultrarunner -- that I had the natural talent to run fast -- I hope to never reach only for what I know I can do. I like the mystery of not knowing how things will turn out when I line up at the start. I like the fact that things do often get better and a decent end can be salvaged from a crappy start. I guess I don't mind being not good at something if I can still get it done and see improvement over time. So I keep striving, failing, learning and heading into the unknown as I continue with my ultrarunning.
Steve, Deb & Robert, who I'll see at Hardrock
Thanks to all the volunteers who took such good care of the runners out there. Jemez is really a fantastic event that is well-organized and feels like a big family gathering. If you're looking for a tough, technical mountain 50 with lots of vert, this is the race for you.

Thanks to Steve and Deb for their hospitality -- looking forward to seeing them both at Hardrock in July. Time for me to heal up the Achilles and start doing some climbing of Pikes Peak in prep for the San Juans.

I'll close with this sweet video from Patagonia:

Happy Trails,


12 May 2014

Quad Rock 50 Race Report

“Struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living. 
If you're not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you're not demanding more from yourself - expanding and learning as you go - you're choosing a numb existence. You're denying yourself an extraordinary trip.”
 - Dean Karnazes
Photo: Erin Bibeau
Distance: 50 miles 
Elevation: 11,500 ft
Time: 13:49

I was excited to get up to the Fort and have another mini-reunion with runners I have met over the past year. This race is similar to Salida in the sheer number of recognizable faces that come out and test their 50 mile fitness in preparation for a summer 100 miler. Some volunteer to get their required service hours for running hundos that require 8 hours of volunteer work. I love it that even after a short time of doing these ultras, I can expect to see people I know who actually remember me. That's how it is in a small community like ultrarunning. Elite or back-of-the-pack, everyone I have met as been wonderful.
Quad Rock 50 Elevation Profile
I went into this race feeling under trained and worried about how my Achilles would react to the mass amount of climbing required to cover the 50 miles. After my last long run of 17 miles two weeks ago, I took it easy and kept the mileage and climbing to a minimum in order to rest and recover. As it turned out, my Achilles never really gave me any grief during the race; the only discomfort was the typical hip and general leg soreness that comes after running for hours.

I met up with Samantha at Runners Roost, where we picked up our race packets and chatted with Kristin, before heading over to Cat's house to settle in. She just moved in to a new home near Old Town and was gracious enough to offer me a place to stay. We walked a few blocks to Uncle's where I had the most delicious lemon shrimp risotto. Go there and try it out. You won't be disappointed.
Cat & Dave, my hosts for the weekend
The amazing risotto, garnished with watermelon radish & mint
After not enough sleep, we got up at stupid o'clock and headed out to the start line at 4:30. After picking up my race bib, I chatted with Joe Grant, who was manning the coffee table and on Twitter duty for the day. Always nice to see his smiling face and glad to hear that I'll see him again at Jemez in two weeks, when I go for the 50 mile double.
Me & Samantha at the start
The weather was perfect at the start -- in the 30's and clear with temps rising into the 60's. There was rain predicted for the afternoon, so I kept my arm warmers and Ghost Whisperer jacket on me in anticipation of colder temps in the afternoon. It was a beautiful morning; the sun rose as we ran down the road for a couple of miles before hitting the single track.
I lost both Cat and Samantha right away, so I settled into a comfortable pace and got to work. I kept myself at the back and worked on saving my energy on the climbs and taking advantage of gravity on the descents.

The first friendly face I saw was Eric Lee, who was working the Towers Aid station, but had parked himself on the Sawmill Trail. Snapped a quick pic before heading off to finish the 1,824 ft climb up to Towers (7.1 mi).
Eric and the Towers crew went Hawaiian this year

The Towers road climb
Somewhere around here, I picked up my trail buddy Emily, who flew out from Memphis to run the race. I enjoyed getting to know her as we cruised down the Spring Creek Trail (my favorite section of the course) into the Horsetooth aid station (10.3 mi). There, to my delight, I saw my friend Julian, who was getting his Hardrock service hours in. After a few quick pics, Emily and I were on our way up our 2nd climb to Horsetooth Rock and over to Towers again (1,641 ft gain). Got to Towers (14.1 mi) and was thrilled to take an Otter Pop with me down Mill Creek.
Julian, Hardrocker and mountaineering badass
Happy in my striped compression socks
Emily and I ready to get after it
Otter Pops!
Climbs are not my forte
I descended down to the Arthur's aid station (17.5 mi), where I was greeted by Aaron Marks and his fiancee, Kristen. I introduced myself to Kristen as the one that surprised Aaron at last year's Ponderous Posterior when I recognized him on the trail. While chatting and stuffing my face, I found out that he ran both The Bear 100 and Chicago Marathon double last fall as I did. It felt good to know that someone else was as silly as me in doing those races back to back.
I missed Aaron's smiling moment
I headed out of Arthurs to start climb #3 (1,444 ft), which is where I expected to see the 50 mile front runners coming back down on their return loop. As we were ascending in the valley, I recalled seeing the first runners last year; this year it was further up the Howard trail. Hmmm... are they slower or am I faster? Caught a couple of them on my camera before getting back to the work of climbing. This is the section that feels like the longest to me for some reason. Once we started descending into the turnaround at Soldier's Canyon, the switchbacks seem to never end. 
No front runners here this year
Jared Hazen came through first

Jason Koop, who finished 6th
Despite having a rough day, Katie got top 10.
Got into to the halfway point around 6:15, similar to last year. I've heard that roughly half of the 50 milers will stop their race when they come to the turnaround point, thereby earning themselves a 25 mile finish. 
Melissa's smiling big 'cause she's done. Hmph. (Photo: Sean Lara)
With food, beer, music and your vehicle right there, it can be very challenging to leave the fun and head out for another turn around the course. I am laser-focused on getting my 50 mile finish, so I'm able to resist the temptation. I did look back wistfully as I made my way up the 1,617 ft climb and down to Arthurs aid (32.3 mi).
I'm pretty sure they were having more fun down there
It was on the 5th climb up the Mill Creek Trail to Towers (1,644 ft) that the wheels started coming off. I was eating on the climbs, taking shots of V-Fuel gel in addition to what I was eating at aid stations. My 20 oz bottle was nearly empty at each aid station when it was refilled. I don't overdo the electrolytes since they can make me sick and leave me with excess salt on my skin, so I take one S-Cap every few hours. 

For whatever reason, I had nothing left for the climb up to Towers. Somewhere along the way, I was caught by the last runner, who was being trailed by Bob the sweeper and Bill (collectively known as "Billy Bob"), Chris and Mark. So I had them on my tail, telling me that if I just kept going, I'd get it done in time. In my low point, I was seriously stressing about cutoffs. I wasn't able to enjoy the amusement of the conversation behind me for fear that all my effort to get to the finish in under 14 hours would have been for nothing. In retrospect however, that stress kept me moving and likely was the reason I finished within the cutoff. Thanks, guys!
Me and Bob, Mark & Chris (Photo: Bill)
By the time I got up to Towers (35.7 mi), it was raining and windy. I asked about the cutoff, to which I was told there was none. So, off I went down past Horsetooth Rock to Soderberg service road, secretly hoping that I'd miss the cutoff at Horsetooth aid station (39.5 mi) so I could end my misery. But as it turned out, because of the fact that I tend to descend well (even when I'm tired), I started feeling better by the time I got down to the aid station. Julian was waiting for me and told me I was ahead of the cutoff, so there was no excuse to drop. Damn-nit. I took this as a sign from God that I was supposed to keep going and headed up to Towers one last time with a renewed determination to get after that sub-14 hr finish.

It didn't hurt that I love the Spring Creek Trail and while it has 1,436 ft of climb, it isn't as steep so I didn't struggle with it like I did on Mill Creek. By the time I got up to Towers (42.7 mi), I had an hour and 45 min left to finish the final 7 miles. With most of that downhill, I had a chance. The race to the finish was on! 

I bombed down Towers road to Stout in 10 min I think. I slowed down on the rollers that eventually led me down to the Arthurs aid station (47.8 mi) and panicked as I tried to keep a good strong pace going, while leapfrogging with the guy that had passed me back on the climb up Mill Creek. He was suffering from sore hammies due to running the Zion 100 a month before, so I passed him for good on the South Valley Loop trail. 

Once I got to Arthurs with only 2.2 miles of gentle downhilling, I saw two men up ahead and decided to chase them down. Passed both of them in the last mile and crossed the finish in 13:49. Never have I been so happy to be done with a race. Cat was waiting for me and Eric got a sweet snap as I jumped across the finish line.
Jumping for joy (Photo: Eric Lee)
Billy Bob will be at Jemez too. Bummer.
So, it wasn't my best day but went well for the most part and was able to salvage an official result, although 25 min slower than last year. Once again, my ability to descent relatively fast through the entire race seems to make up for my lack of climbing speed. 

For the 2nd year in a row, I told Nick I'm not running this race again, despite the excellent runner support, epic course and so many familiar faces. If I'm faster and more fit next year, my resolve may crumble and I'll be back to go after a PR.
The sibs
In other news, it was good to get back in time to enjoy Mother's Day with my family. My huz is building a sandbox for my son's upcoming 7th birthday which we'll be celebrating early since I'll be gone at Jemez when it rolls around next week. I'm grateful for my kiddos who help keep me grounded and for my huz who takes excellent care of them while I'm away.
Happy Trails,