Monday, May 18, 2009

2009 Jemez Mt 50 Miler

If anyone in the vicinity of Los Alamos happens to see my ego laying around could you package it up and send it to me? I'd really like it back. Postage guaranteed. Thanks.

I got my ass handed to me by this race. Difficult isn't the appropriate way to describe this race, defining is a better term. This race will tell you if you really know what you're doing as an ultra-runner. Do you know how to train for a race? Do you know where you're at with your running? Have you been slacking on your training? Do you give a race everything you've got? What do you need to work on? Jemez Mt will answer all of this for you.

I'll save you the gory details and simply say I made it 17/50 miles, and I'm DAMMED proud of myself for making it that far. So, what happened?

My girlfriend Erin and I flew out to Albuquerque on Thursday night. A friend of hers from Santa Fe who we were staying with picked us up from the airport and drove us up to Santa Fe. We got in very late so we essentially just turned in for the night once we got there.

The next day we got some shopping done and walked around for a while. I was a bit worried about the altitude, Santa Fe is at 7,000', but didn't seem to notice it. Later that afternoon we headed up to Los Alamos for packet pick-up. We got to the high school around 6 and found it full of runners. The pasta dinner was free for everyone so Erin, Cheryl and I indulged while listening to the RD talk about the course conditions, etc. I was feeling pretty good at that point, pretty confident I could pull of a finish.

I think my first mistake was not staying in Los Alamos the night before the race. It's a 45 or so minute drive from Santa Fe to Los Alamos. That's 45 extra minutes of sleep I could have banked the next morning. So, instead of getting up at 3 am, I could have slept till 3:45 or 4 am. That would have been nice.

So, we headed back to Santa Fe. I took it easy the rest of the night. Eating a bit more and turning in around 9:30 or 10:00.

At 3 am my alarm went off. Argh, it was early. I stumbled around a bit, ate some food, and got Erin and Cheryl up. We were out the door by about 3:45. I drove up to Los Alamos and Erin even managed to stay awake the entire time, which was really nice. Probably to make sure I stayed awake also.

We got to the start at about 4:45. The start was at 5:00. This was cutting it way too close for me. I still had to stretch, visit the port-o-potty and simply relax before the run. I managed to get one of those three things accomplished before the run - the visit to one of the two port-o-potties they had at the start. (If anyone who puts the race on reads this: you guys did a great job of organizing everything, but PLEASE have a few extra port-o-potties out there next year...2 doesn't cut it).

I got done with about a minute to spare. The folks who were behind me in line probably started the race in a sitting position. I barely had time for a quick picture with Erin before we were off.

The beginning of the race is deceptively flat. We ran along a road for a bit, then veered off onto some gravel roads and finally onto some single-track trail that took us to the start of our first climb. It was really dark out so I didn't get much of a chance to enjoy the scenery. We hit the first aid station about 5 miles in. I was feeling good at that point. The altitude didn't seem to bother me. My legs did feel a bit heavy and sore - like they were building up lactic acid, but I wasn't sure. I got some water and headed out in short order.

Then the fun began.

Aid station 1 sits around 7,000'. Aid station 2 sits at about 8,750'. They're 1.8 miles apart. You do the rest of the math. This, for some reason, did not compute with me before the race. This was clearly a walking section.

I had a good stride starting the climb. Quickly I noticed I had begun to develop a sharp pain in the lower left side of my back. Odd. I took two ibuprofen and hoped for the best. A few weeks before, at the Freestate 100K I had run into a similar problem with the lower right side of my back. I hadn't had lower back problems for years. Hmm.

I kept going. Up and up. Slowly yet surely my legs started to burn, bad. I wasn't short of breath yet, but I could feel the burn, so to speak, with each step. People passed me. More people passed me. Etc.

I was about 6 miles into the race and I was already hurting bad. That was such a demoralizing realization. It's ok I'd tell myself - I'll fly down the downhills. I subscribe to the Greg Burger school of downhill trail running: "if you can safely stop within 50 yards you're going too slow". I'd make the time up.

I hit aid station number 2. Finally. My legs felt like I'd just finished my third lap (60 miles) at Rocky Raccoon. Wow, the view was amazing and holy crap it was chilly! My back was still hurting so I popped another couple ibuprofen. All I could think was "time for a downhill!". This was going to be fun.

Then I saw the downhill. Hmm, it wasn't very runnable. It was really steep. Shit.

I made my way down, running when I could, using trees to stop me when I needed. All I could think the entire way down was "this would be near impossible if it were raining". I couldn't imagine that course in the rain. You'd need trekking poles, repelling rope, a helicopter, pick-axes, and ten buddies just to make it up and down some of those trails.

After finishing the downhill the course meanders through a breathtaking canyon. The trails were lightly worn and we followed a stream much of the way. It was a gradual uphill and it was all I could do to keep myself from sprawling out on the grass and writing my own version of "Leaves of Grass" or "Walden Pond" it just seemed that relaxing. The environment there almost demanded that you take some time to appreciate its beauty.

I forgot about my back and my legs and my sorry disposition. I didn't care about the time or med school or the MCAT. I was in my own little world and it was fantastic. Then I hit aid station 3 and with it another uphill.

You visit aid station 3 twice. Once when you're coming in from aid station 2 and again when you're coming in from aid station 4. Now, I need to take a second and thank the volunteers. This is literally the middle of nowhere - and it's a pain in the ass to get to. These folks hiked in the day before, setup camp, and started purifying drinking water by hand for the runners. Yes, they did this all by hand. Amazing. I still can't believe the volunteers in this place. I was bitching and moaning about the race and all I was carrying was my Nathan pack. I didn't have to hike all the equipment in that these folks did. They were fantastic.

So, this part of the race takes you to the highest point on the course at 10,480'. I felt every inch of it. Best I could tell we started around 8,500'. It's a 2 mile trek to the top, so that makes for about a 20% grade. That's steep.

I was ok for the first few minutes. Then the back pain kicked in and the legs started burning again. I took some more ibuprofen and mustered on. After about 5 minutes all I could think about was saying f-it and turning around and heading back down the mountain. But, I didn't. I kept going. Very slowly. I had to stop every 50 yards or so and catch my breath and let my legs recover. This was not going well. After what seemed like forever I hit the top.

There were some amazing views from Caballo Top, I didn't stick around too long to enjoy them. The wind was blowing hard and I was itching to get back down the mountain. It was cold up there and the wind didn't help.

I did a pretty good job running down the mountain. I had to walk some of it but most of it seemed runnable. It was tearing up my quads tho. The constant downhill was tough.

About 200 yards from aid station 3 I saw one of the volunteers coming up the trail towards me. He was shouting "shoo, shoo" and clapping his hands and looking up to his left. "WTF" I wondered. Then I looked to my right and saw this giant black ball of fur running away from the both of us. "Holy Crap! Is that a bear!?" Yeah, a big black bear was high-tailing it up the mountain. It seemed ginormous. I only got to see it for a few seconds, it was quick and it didn't seem to want to be seen.

I got back to aid station 3, grabbed some food, got more water, and headed off for the next leg. I'd covered 14.2 miles and felt worse than I did after the 100 miles at Rocky. I could barely run and my back still hurt. I took another two ibuprofen and realized I'd taken 8 and hadn't peed yet. Great, I was gonna need rehab if I kept this up.

I walked most of the way to aid station 5. There was a lot of uphill here and at some point I just decided I was done. It had been almost 5 hours and I hadn't even covered 17 miles. On the way down from aid station 4 to 3 I didn't notice any 50 milers coming up the mountain. I figured I was one of the last. This was pretty pathetic in my view.

Erin was waiting for me at aid station 5. This was pretty fantastic considering she had to hike 3 miles just to get to the aid station, uphill. She brought me a bunch of stuff and said generally supportive things to me even though I was grumpy and not chipper. I thought about it for about a second and told her I was done. My legs had nothing left. I just wasn't feeling it.

In retrospect, I dunno, it's pretty depressing to think that I quit after 17 miles. It told me a lot about myself and my running.

First, I don't train properly. Full disclosure time. Know how many miles I banked in the months leading up to Rocky? Maybe 150. I did two weekends of back-to-back 10 milers and one weekend of a 20 miler one day and a 10 miler the next. Sprinkle in a few short runs around the city (all less than 5 miles) and you have my Rocky Raccoon training. I finished that race in 24:39. I essentially didn't train at all for Mother Road. I only ran 50 of 100 there. I also didn't really train for Brew to Brew, save for a few random weekday runs. I really need to get my crap together and find a consistent running schedule.

Second, I gotta shed some of this extra weight. I eat like I run a 50 every weekend. It's adding up. I'm back to 200 (from ~185 in Feb). That's just unnecessary weight I'm lugging up those 2,000' climbs.

Third, I think the stress of my life is affecting my running. The MCAT, my research and school are weighing on me tremendously. I can feel it in that I don't find a clear head as often when I run. I'm not sure what to do about it. Get through the next two months, I guess.

Training for this race in Kansas is something that would be difficult. One of the hardest parts, I think, was the relentless uphill and downhill sections. We don't have that here - where you get 2 miles of solid uphill or downhill. I'm used to a couple hundred feet up, some down, rinse, repeat. It gives your muscles a break. There were no breaks here.

The altitude is tough also. I say that, then I think back to when I ran Pike's Peak back in June. I was fine up to about 12,000'. I was also in much better shape than I am now. I think training hard where I'm at will make the altitude issue somewhat moot.

This race was a good wake-up call for me. It tells me I'm going to get whipped at the Pike's Peak Marathon if I don't get my crap together. It also tells me I'm going to let Greg down at Leadville if I'm not careful. At least I know where I'm at now.

I do know I'm going back to Los Alamos in 2010 and I'm going to run the whole 50 miles.


Happy Trails said...

I like the blog and I would have to concur with the toll that stress can play on your life and your running. It can zap your energy and mess with your head and I honestly believe it negatievly effects training. You are going to have set priorities for yourself. The MCAT and med school are hard and require a great deal of time and hard work.

I cannot give you much advice on the running as I am struggling with my own life issues and I can feel the stress is effecting my running. I am not an ultra runner yet either, so my advice would be null and void. While I am aspiring to get there, I feel I have to take care of some business before I can focus on training. In the meantime, I am concentrating my efforts on my weaknesses, which are consistency and patience with running. Because there are so many other things demanding of my time and energy, I have to just make sure I stay consistent with the running, whether it be a short and fast or long and relaxing. Remember why you run and feel it give you energy, not takith away.

Sometimes it takes a humbling experience for us to take a look at what it is we are trying to do. I was humbled at the recent Rock Creek 1/2 marathon, which is nothing compared to what you just attempted. Just my 2 cents worth of suggestions. Good luck and hope to meet you sometime.

Mary Ann

Anonymous said...

We all have races like that. The good news is -- what an outstanding report! Made me feel like I was here. If it makes you feel any better, you're not the first ultrarunner to underestimate Jemez. You'll get it next year.