I first heard about this race over a year ago and promptly put it on my bucket list. I couldn’t resist a race featuring my last name, even better that it was going to be the hardest race I’ve ever attempted. The race touts itself as “very challenging” with 3,300′ elevation gain in the first 4.5 miles, 3,300′ descent in the next 4 and then “rolling” for the last 5.5 miles.
I knew I would be hiking a lot of the first 4.5 miles. The only thing I could think to compare this race to was the Bear which I’ve done for the last 3 years, but that is only a 5 mile race with 1,762′ of elevation gain… so almost double the height in an even shorter distance. The check-in for the race was super easy with just a few tables set up with bibs, merchandise and some flyers for other races put on by the same organization and parking was in a small lot which also doubled as the start line.
It was a small race, but it was also a single track trail, so it worked out really well. I was in a pretty large group near the back of the pack and we sorted ourselves out pretty quickly as we hit some major uphills. I was following a guy in his 70’s who said early on to let him know if anyone wanted to pass. I told him I was happy to stay behind him and I made it my goal to keep up with him until we got to the top of the mountain. I did my best to keep up with him, but I also stopped to take some pictures along the way as well, especially as the sun was coming up over the mountain.
The fog and huge trees made this an incredible trail to run on and I was glad I decided to stick with the full 14-mile race instead of backing down to the 5.5 miler.
Before the race, several folks were talking about a section of the trail that turned from green to black and white and I couldn’t even imagine what that would mean, but once I got to that point, there was no question I had found exactly what they were talking about.
I caught back up to the guy in front of me at the aid station at the top of the mountain and we talked for a bit as we started down the other side. I learned his name was Keith and he mentioned he was glad to have someone to run with and I thanked him for pacing me up the hill! My goal was to make up some time on the downhill section, but as we started off, it was still really steep, just going downhill this time. There were sections when I had to side step down the hill because it was so steep and while my calves were killing me on the way up, it didn’t take long for my quads to start feeling the downhill. Around the 6.5 mile point, Keith stepped off the trail and let me pass him and about this time, I was finally able to actually start running the downhill sections. My fastest mile of the day came in mile 8 at a 10:48. Most of my miles before that were averaging in the 18-20 minute range.
I passed another girl on the downhill and then passed 3 people at the aid station that was near the start line of the 5.5 miler. The “rolling” hills in the last 5.5 milers were still enough to cause me to walk some of the uphills, but I felt good running on the downhill sections, even though I knew my quads were going to be toast at the end of the day. There were several bridge crossings on the course and the scenery continued to be amazing.
At the last aid station, I grabbed some type of shortbread cookie and ate it while I ran and at the time, it was the most amazing food ever! I caught up with a couple with (what I thought was) about a mile and a half left and just stayed behind them for awhile. About the time I was going to ask them to let me pass, I realized I could see the parking lot and even though my watch was still just over 13 miles, we were almost done. The three of us came in together, up yet another cruel (though short) hill and crossed the finish line, handed off our bib tickets, were greeted by the announcer and given our medals.
The announcer told everyone to thank me for having a mountain named after me and I happily accepted the applause from those who were still hanging around. There was free Mexican food and beer at the finish line and on-the-spot results printed for you if you wanted them. I grabbed a couple of tacos, a banana and more water and enjoyed the sunshine for awhile after I finished before the obligatory medal and trailhead sign.
I got to catch up with Keith after he finished (1st in his age group) and he said that after he let me pass him, he turned around and I was gone. I told him I had finally been able to start running and again thanked him for pacing me up those first 4 miles of hills. I know I would have gone slower if I didn’t have someone I was trying to keep up with. I ended up finishing in 3:35:30, 3rd in my age group, 7th woman and 34th overall. I might have to keep that on-demand results page just for those stats!
I’m really glad I stuck with the 14 mile race. I was 3 weeks out from re-injuring my knee playing soccer and until I did the race in New Mexico, I wasn’t sure whether or not I would be able to run this or if I would have to move down to the 5.5 miler. Even though I was pretty dead for the rest of the day and my legs were sore for the rest of the week, I loved it the whole time. I’m definitely interested in doing more trail running in the future – it’s so much more peaceful to be out in the woods running than running along the road with car exhaust and having to be concerned about whether or not people will see you and stop. Combined with the New Mexico race, I ran almost 30 miles of trails over two weekends and I’m ready to find my next trail!