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,


1 comment:

  1. Best of luck with the Achilles and see you in Silverton!