Friday, May 30, 2014

Jemez Mountain Half Marathon - My First Tail Run

Ive never done a trail race...never.  Did not know they existed until the end of last year but several months ago after my daughter and I volunteered at a trail race and posted about it on Facebook and my blog, and old friend messaged me and said “You know, we have trail runs up here too, if you are ever interested at running above elevation 7200’ we are waiting for you here in Los Alamos”.   I took the bait, and we decided on the Jemez Mountain Trail Run half marathon.  Without even going to the web page and checking everything out, I registered, seriously, I did not look at course profile, did not read any race reports, did not research about running in higher altitudes I just registered,.    To her credit she tried to warn me about the following:

  • Its steep
  • Its Technical
  • Its rocky
  • It’s high, at least high for those of us who live at 500 ft.
  • Most sea level dwellers don’t understand the implications of running from 7000’ to 9,000’.
I did not listen.

·       Now, I am smack dab in the middle of half-iron man training, and that training took precedence.  I did not embark on a typical half marathon training plan, the only trail running I did was long runs on a flat relatively compact train down the street from my house.  There was nowhere for me to get any altitude training, so I resolved this endeavor was not going to be about time, it was going to be about finishing.  And honestly, the longest run I achieved between February (my last half marathon) and May 24th was  6.5 miles on May 11th.  I was not too worried; I’m a pretty strong runner.   

As the race approached I looked at the course profile and freaked.   

Then I decided to read about running at higher altitudes when you do not live at those altitudes. 

I freaked some more. 

But this was an adventure I was going to follow through with.

My family and I decided to drive out to Los Alamos, and we left Thursday night.  The weather was horrible and rainy Thursday night and not much better Friday morning either.  We had a brief break, but as we approached Santa Fe the temp dropped to 39 degrees and it was hailing something terrible.  I am thinking to myself, crap, I did not bring clothes appropriate for 39 degree weather (not sure why mountain did not clue me in).   

We arrived in Los Alamos around 5pm Friday.  Not what I wanted because I wanted a full 20-24 hours at the elevation there before the race.  When I called Elisa to let her know we were close, she was worried about getting all the touristy things done, and I told her, we are go with the flow type people, what we do, we do, what we don’t, we don’t.  Then she asked, so you won’t care if we don’t do the race?  And I said, oh, we are doing the race all right
Race morning dawned with balmy high 40 temperatures.  I donned my running capris, a running T-shirt, and took a running hoodie just in case.  

Second thoughts?  Maybe.
Elisa and Me before the race.

We arrived at the starting line and off we went.

At the start line

 I run based on perceived effort most of the time.  I try not to worry about time. For a girl who has lost 120 lbs, it is really all about being out there and staying active.   The first few miles were on a paved road, and I was feeling good.  It felt like I was running 9:30-9:45 miles.  When I looked at my GPS I was shocked I was only averaging 12-13 minute miles.  That is what altitude does to you.  Around mile two we were running behind a subdivision that an old friend and colleague  from Florida lives in.  He and his son got up early to come cheer us on, I was able to snap a picture of Bill and I as I ran by.  
Bill and me along the race.   
I honestly cannot remember too much from first 2.5-3.5 miles as I was acclimating to the altitude. We left the road and entered the trail and starting ascending.   I do remember it was beautiful, gorgeous, and as we ascended, views opened up to the valley below and mountains in the distance.  I did not snap many photos as every mile or so I took short clips with my Go-Pro with the intent of making a video of my experience.   The first 4 miles we did walk/run intervals.  Seriously, I was not prepared for the difference the altitude made in effort and breathing. My splits looked something like this
At about mile 5 the slope seemed to get steeper.  Our walking intervals became longer.  We trashed the headphones and caught up on the 19 years since the last time we saw each other.  At about 8500 ft (about mile 5.5), I started getting dizzy, but if I focused on the ground it was manageable.  I suppose we peaked somewhere around Mil 6.5-7 arrived at an aid station (staffed with amazing volunteers) refilled our water, grabbed some snacks and started the descent.  My uphill splits looked something like this:
          Mile 1    11:23 min/mile
·        Mile 2    12:43 min/mile
·        Mile 3    15:27 min/mile
·        Mile 4    15:15 min/mile
·        Mile 5    21:52/mile
·        Mile 6    24:28/mile
·        Mile 7    29:43 Min/mile

Somewhere along the trek up Mt. Mitchell
Along the trail
      My friend Elisa is amazingly quick footed running downhill, me not so much, she broke out ahead of me.   The next 4 miles I jogged downhill, but I fell three times.  I earned myself a nasty gash and trail rash on my right shin, a doozie of a bruise on my left knee, and a nice bruise on my chest where I hit a boulder.   After the first fall,  I ran into Amy from Denver and we chatted for a while along the trail.  She offered her first aid kit for my leg but I declined, did not want to interrupt my groove.   After the second fall I hung out with a man (did not catch his name) but learned he was a triathlete too, we chatted for a while then I took off at a slow jog.   After the third fall I decided it was best I start walking instead of risking injury and putting my half iron man in jeopardy. 

Proud battle scars.
 By this time I was really hoping for a 4 hour finish but when I came to the last aid station at mile 12.5ish they insisted on cleaning out my leg and dressing it.  I spent a glorious 10 or so minutes there eating gummy bears, eyeing the tequila, chit chatting with the amazing volunteers.   When I left the aid station the volunteer said, you have 24 minutes to make 4 hours.  You can do it.  Well, maybe, if it wasn’t almost entirely uphill I could have done it, and if my leg was not throbbing so much.  The first mile or so after the aid station was fairly steep.  And to add insult to injury, after a gradual downhill run (in some really pretty forest with lots of greenery) I turn the corner to face a rock chute, that goes up hill with rock “stairs" some of which were as high as my chest.  So much for sprinting out the lat 400 yards or so, my daughter appeared at the top of the chute, “c’mon Mama, you can do it”.  When I got to the top I was “hobbling” and she asked “ Mama, can you run just a little”  so we jogged through the finish chute.  By this time it was quite a bit chillier than when we left, the skies had turned  ominous, but I finished about 14.5 miles in 4:14.   My normal half marathon time is around 2:22, the last 14 mile race I did in Jan I finished in 2:34.

The rock chute before the finish
My splits for the last part of the run looked like this:
·        Mile 8    15:15 min/mile
·        Mile 9    12:00 min/mile
·        Mile 10  13:40 min/mile
·        Mile 11  15:13 min/mile
·        Mile 12  15:32 min/mile
·        Mile 13  20:21 min/mile
·        Mile 14  16:23 min/mile

As it turned out they had to cancel the 50 mile race, the weather on the peaks had turned cold with below freezing temps, snow, and from what I Understand white out conditions.  I totally would not have been prepared for that.

I learned a few things:
  • I was mentally prepared, I knew it was going to be tougher and different from any race I have ever participated in before
  • I think I was as physically prepared as I could be given the conditions and my priority on my half iron man training.
  • There was some benefits received from running only flat compacted trail every week.  (believe it or not, I was not nearly as sore as I expected to be, I could sit, walk stand without almost no discomfort days following race)
  •  Nothing could prepare me for altitude running short of day trips to higher altitudes to run, but I am too far to do that.
  • Running by perceived effort and listening to m y body went a long way. 
  • I would have been in big trouble of weather turned earlier, I did not have near the type of clothes I needed to survive sub freezing temps. 
I plan on coming back, I have the itch to attempt the 50k.  The race was well organized, the people  friendly, and who can deny the beauty and tranquility of a trail run?

Thanks to the organizers and volunteers!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are amazing to have done this race, let alone have it be your first trail run. You rock! No pun intended given your close connection to those rocks during the race. I am so happy an glad that you came with the family too and can't wait to see you gain. xxxoooo