About my blog

Welcome to my trail running site. I enjoy being on the trail where I can take in nature and clear my mind. I prefer running in the mountains, but anywhere rural will do. I have completed four 100 mile trail races and many other ultramarathons. I spend countless hours running in the Franklin Mountains in El Paso, TX. I call it "going to church". I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Thursday, August 8, 2019

100 Miles of healing in the Borderland, El Paso Strong!

El Paso, TX is a beautiful city that wraps around the largest urban wilderness park in the US, Franklin Mountains State Park. North Franklin Peak tops out at 7192’ with views of three states and two countries. Just across the southern border is our sister city of Juarez, Mexico. Overlooking El Paso, Juarez and Sunland Park, NM is a 29’ tall statue of Jesus of Nazareth on the peak of Mt Cristo Rey. Thousands of devout Christians climb the smooth trail leading to the top several times per year. The Rio Grande slices through the middle of the two large cities and a levee trail heads north. These trails and mountains are my home and where I go for therapy and to meditate, heal, take in nature and ponder everything that is great about my life and the Borderland. I cover a lot of miles in this beautiful place and recently ran 100 miles in a week.
Mt Cristo Rey 
N. Franklin Peak
I rarely run that much in a week unless you count the weeks that happened to include a 100 mile trail race. Several times in this past year I dabbled with high mileage training weeks and two of them I did just last month. For the first time in my life, last January, I ran 100 in seven days just to see if I could do it. Of course it was cool which made it a bit easier and I chose routes that didn’t have too much elevation gain, but I still ran some miles in the Franklin Mountains. I ran between 10-20 miles each day and, while I was tired at the end of the week, I made it without any problems. None of my runs were very fast and at least one was on the Rio Grande Levee road which is completely flat. 

N. Franklin Peak in the distance

When I’m training for a mountain ultra of 50-100 miles, I usually focus on my weekly long run and build up to a 30-40 mile run about a month before the race and then taper back down. Sometimes I do back-to-back long runs if I don’t have time to spend all day in the mountains due to my work schedule or family events.

Apache Plume
Sweet acacia
However, training in the summer heat in the Desert Southwest can be a huge challenge. Options are: 1) running at night where rattlesnakes are out in abundance and harder to see or, 2) travel two hours to Cloudcroft, NM where you are in the Lincoln National Forest at 8,000-10,000’ where it’s 20-30 degrees cooler. Well, I’ve recently discovered another way to deal with the heat here in the desert and that is to run a 100 mile week of 10-20 miles per day.

Can you believe man walked there 50 years ago?
The beauty of this training plan is that you can be finished by 9:30-10:00am before the heat starts to destroy you. Unfortunately you have to wake up at 4:00-5:00 in the morning and possibly start in the dark with your headlamp, but it’s worth it. Even though it can reach 105 degrees for the high, the mornings are very fresh with views of the moon and stars, gorgeous sunrises and singing birds to keep you company. You can pack a lot of miles into a week’s training plan and even do some back-to-back runs of 15-20 which is great training for an ultra.
Cactus wren
Franklin Mountains State Park (Eastside)
Taz is my life coach and personal trainer.
What do you do with all that free time when you are on the trail for 3-5 hours? If you are like me, your mind wanders all over the place and you start to worry about all the things you have to do later or about other issues in your life. This can lead to a run that is far from the present moment and not very therapeutic. I recommend focusing on your breathing and taking in the natural beauty that surrounds you. Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh writes often about walking meditation. While walking is better, I have found that I can do it while running if I just slow my pace a bit. He writes inspiring gathas or poems that help you practice mindfulness. Try reciting this gatha the next time you are out on the trail walking or running:

Taking two or three steps for each in-breath and each out-breath,

Breathing in “I have arrived”; Breathing out “I am home”
Breathing in “In the here”; Breathing out “In the now”
Breathing in “I am solid”; Breathing out “I am free” 
Breathing in “In the ultimate”; Breathing out “I dwell”

"The mind can go in a thousand directions,
but on this beautiful path I walk in peace.
With each step a cool wind blows.
With each step a flower blooms."

—Thich Nhat Hanh

Paintbrush flower, N. Franklin Peak
In early July I ran 100 miles in six days mostly because I had plans with my family on the seventh day. I did two 20 milers that week with several shorter runs in between. Just last week I did another 100 mile week in seven days with back-to-back 20 milers at the beginning of the week. Hopefully all this training pays off next month when I run the Wildland 52K in Jemez Springs, NM. This is a small, low key event where half of each race entry benefits wildland firefighters. 

“…we will split the proceeds between the Eric Marsh Foundation and the Wildland Firefighter Guardian Institute.  Both organizations were created after the Yarnell Hill tragedy, when 19 of the Granite Mountain Hotshots perished. The GMH was in the Jemez fighting the Thompson Ridge Fire just weeks before they died; working alongside the La Cueva VFD and USFS Jemez Ranger District fire fighters. This is just one small way of showing our gratitude.” —Wildland 52K

The course will be very challenging too with 8000’ of elevation gain. “The course was intended to help display the rigors of wildland firefighting…[with] rugged, unimproved, steep and very technical [trails], requiring your full attention and grit.” Sounds like a lot of misery and fun don’t you think? Without suffering there can be no bliss.

Greater earless lizard
Black-tailed rattlesnake
Anyway, I had some great runs this summer and as always, carried my camera along to capture the beauty of the Borderland. I encountered many creatures including several species of snakes, tarantulas, millipedes, vinegarroons (whip scorpion), deer, rabbits, lizards and plenty of birds. When you cover 100 miles in a week’s time you are sure to see a lot of natural beauty and amazing wildlife. This is my therapy, my solace and my church where I go everyday to heal. This is just one of the many things El Pasoans and Juarenses are doing to recover from the tragic events of this week. The humans of El Paso, Juarez and the Borderland will emerge from this stronger than ever. El Paso Strong!

See you on the trail.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Running Ridgway State Park Colorado

Last month I was supposed to run the San Juan Solstice 50 Miler in Lake City, CO, but like Hardrock 100, it was cancelled this year. Massive amounts of snowfall and avalanches in the San Juan Mountains have left many trails and high passes inaccessible. In addition, avalanche debris threatened to clog streams and rivers in and around Lake city which could cause flooding. This race has been on my bucket list for many years and I was excited to finally have the opportunity to run this year. Fortunately, I have the option of rolling my entry over to next year so I will get to run anyway; God willing and the creek don’t rise.

Sneffels Range, San Juan Mountains

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Bandelier National Monument

I recently had a few short adventures in Bandelier National Monument in white Rock, NM which is next door to Los Alamos, NM. I ran the Jemez Mountain Trail 50 Miler last month and decided to visit this nearby park. Parking is limited so they require you to take a free shuttle bus at the White Rock Visitor Center. Since I was saving my legs for 11,000’ of elevation gain the next day, I decided to walk the short main loop trail to see the cliff dwellings and out to the Alcove House (2.5 miles total). 
Frijoles Canyon with the Jemez Mountains in the background
Visitor Center
Big Kiva
I started my hike at the Bandelier Visitor Center that sits adjacent to cliffs of tufa or volcanic ash. The cliffs are pocked with honeycomb like weathering known as tafoni. Some of the holes were enlarged to create cavates (pronounced CAVE-eights) by ancestral pueblo peoples who lived in the cliffs and surrounding area. This indigenous population also built structures beside the caves where they thrived for many years by hunting and growing bean, corn and squash. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Jemez Mountain 50 Miler 2019

This past Memorial Day Weekend I made my annual pilgrimage to Los Alamos, NM to run the Jemez Mountain 50 Miler. This race is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to get. In this area, there can be unpredictable weather, drought, wildfires and even a bear attack. These types of events have forced the race to alter the course almost every year. This year was no different. Although we weren’t allowed to run in the Valle Caldera National Preserve where a woman was attacked by a bear during a marathon several years back, the National Forest Service allowed us to run on previously burned trails that have since been restored.

Valle Caldera National Preserve

The morning weather was a pleasant 50 degrees where about 110 of us started out in the dark with headlamps. In just 30 minutes or so the sky began to lighten and we passed some honeycombed cliffs of tuff (volcanic ash). Close by is the Bandelier National Monument with similar cliffs where ancestral pueblo people built homes carved into the tuff. The beauty of the Jemez is what keeps me coming back year after year.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Lost Dog Trailhead

One morning last year I was running my regular route from the Lost Dog Trailhead in West El Paso, TX when I stumbled upon some survey stakes along the trail. This land, adjacent to the Franklin Mountains State Park, is owned by the city and managed by the Public Service Board (water utilities). Some of it has been sold off for development in the past. I was concerned that the stakes indicated another development plan on my beloved trail system along the foothills of the Franklin Mountains. 

Development along the foothills of the S. Franklin Peak.
The red "box" shows the trails that would be lost.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Grand Canyon R2R2R 2019

A barrage of rockfall startles me as I slowly plod upwards towards the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Rocks rain down crashing through the trees landing in a pile at the base of a cliff where the trail turns a switchback. Parts of the North Kaibab Trail are littered with rocks and boulders and a sign posted earlier warned: “Look and listen for falling rocks…A trail crew is currently working on the slopes…there is a high potential for rockfall. Use caution when hiking in this zone.” Well, what does that mean? Use caution? What am I supposed to do when rocks come down? I didn’t bring my hard hat.

Rocks litter the N. Kaibab Trail

Monday, March 25, 2019

Bataan Memorial Death March

KABOOM! Uh-Oh! I think I pooped my pants a little bit. Nothing like having soiled running shorts before you’ve even completed the first mile of your marathon. Just kidding, but those starting canons at the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, NM were loud. Really loud!. Surprise!

Heading through the misters
Every year I show up before dark, along with thousands of other marchers, to honor the survivors and remember the fallen of the Bataan Death March in the Philippines during WWII. There are always some survivors in attendance as well as members of congress and other dignitaries. This was my eighth year braving the cold, wind, heat, sand and hills of the 26.2 mile course. No matter how much we suffer though, we can never fathom the horrors that these WWII heroes endured. This event, the largest joint military/civilian athletic competition, ensures that the survivors know how much we appreciate their sacrifices. At the time of their march and detainment, POWs thought they were completely abandoned as the following poem attests, 

We're the Battling Bastards of Bataan,
No Mama, No Papa, No Uncle Sam,
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces,
And nobody gives a damn!

—Frank Hewlett