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'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Mt Taylor 50K

After years of hoping to run the Mt Taylor 50K, my wish finally came true. The mountain itself is bigger than life. Not only because it’s 11,300 feet high, but also because it is sacred to the Navajo and other Native American people. Ancient myths were born here like the story about a slain monster, his coagulated blood flowing down the volcano and the head, known as Cabezon Peak flung to the east. (I saw this rock formation when I ran Deadman Peaks 50 last year.) 

Our race started just before sunup near Grants, NM. I didn’t bother to bring my headlamp, just a small penlight to provide enough light to keep me from tripping in a hole. However, I am carrying bear spray in a holster attached to my hydration belt. You just never know what you might encounter in the Cibola National Forest.

Right away we climb a steep forest road that turns into a trail. The course is a figure 8 with three significant climbs, but I’m feeling up for it today. The weather is a bit chilly with very little wind. I settle into a fast walk on the really steep sections, but try to run whenever I can because I plan on taking a lot of pictures today. I meet quite a few of my running acquaintances on the trail and enjoy their company as we all try to conquer the hill together.

La Mosca in the distance
 As we near the crest of the ridge the sun bathes the grassy slopes in a warm glow. I stop to take it all in as runners pass me. The spectacular sunrise exposes scores of mesas and peaks for as far as the eye can see. As I continue higher, the La Mosca lookout tower with its accompanying ironmongery looms before us, but that is not our destination.

I climbed the hill with Ferdinand and Brett
The forest road finally flattens out and we run through a grassy meadow flecked with Engelmann and blue spruce. I skirt a few large mud puddles and commence the run down the long and winding road. The path takes me through the forest with large patches of beautiful fall color where quakies, or aspen trees have turned bright yellow. An interesting tidbit about quaking aspens is that an entire stand can be one organism sharing the same root system. The largest living thing on Earth is the aspen!

[Michael C. Grant of the University of Colorado] studied an aspen clone in Utah consisting of a calculated 47,000 tree trunks covering 106 acres. It is calculated to weigh 13 million pounds…He named the stand Pando for the Latin word meaning "to spread" 
—Norm Vance (pagosa.com)

Once at the bottom of the mountain, I arrive at the Continental Divide Trail where a directional sign reads, “←Mexico 634M Canada 2466M→”. I've always been intrigued by our long distance national recreation trails and find it amazing that you can follow one of these trails all the way to a neighboring country.

Anyway, I head towards Mexico along the divide and run past some tall and girthy ponderosa pines and come to a grove of aspens with black splotches giving it a sort of Holstein cow look. The scars are from elk and deer nibbling on the bark. Before long I return to the starting area, the half way point of my journey. So far I feel very good, but the hardest part of the course is about to begin —the seven mile climb up Mt Taylor. Will the Mountain Gods be kind to me?

Aspen with tree scars
Mt Taylor is a volcano that was active between 1.5 and 3 million years ago. I begin the climb along single-track trail that becomes very rocky in parts. Soon my lungs are searing and I start to get a headache from lack of oxygen to my brain. I reach a grassy ridge where I begin to slow. Runners pass me; I have to stop to catch my breath. A tiny horned toad about the size of my thumb is right under foot. I’ve never seen one that small before and want to take a picture, but I’m too slow and he scurries into the tall grass.

As I look to my left I can see that the mountain continues rising up, up, up; no end in sight. I keep going and reach a flat part which brings a little bit of relief. I start to think the hardest part is behind me. After passing through a grassy dale I make my way past a beautiful rock outcrop and continue on. Many runners are higher on the mountain and I can see switchbacks. I wonder if I’ll ever make it because I feel dizzy and lethargic with a lot of pressure in my head. All I feel like doing is wandering off the trail to lay under a tree and sing my death song, but I keep plodding on.

Soon I see some hikers coming down from the summit and I ask, “Are we there yet?” They let me know that it’s only a quarter mile further to the top so my spirits pick up and I make one last hard effort to get it over with. After making a hard right, the peak comes into view and I see a group of people  standing around taking pictures. 

In no time I’m standing on the truncated rim of the volcanic crater and the view takes my breath away. My headache suddenly disappears and I decide to hang out for a while to take it all in. I take pictures from every angle and look far out to the edge of the forest and the desert floor below. After getting my fill, I run down to the aid station which is only about a mile away.

I’ve been warned by my friends who have run the race before that there is still one last tough climb ahead of me. After hitting the aid station, I travel down a jeep road that twists and turns leading me all the way down to Water Canyon. At the bottom I see a turn onto a single-track trail where a lady catches up to me. Having run the race before, she confirms that this is the most miserable climb of the race since it is extremely steep and we are 28 miles into the race. 

Aid Station
We go it together encouraging each other up the mountain. We stop frequently, but make steady progress. After climbing about 1000’ in about a mile, the La Mosca lookout tower comes into view again, signifying that the end is near. I reach the last aid station, but just keep going knowing that I will be finished shortly. I crest the last hill and run the final few miles into the finish area.

I get my finishers medal and am greeted by some of my fast friends who already finished. They congratulate me and then I sit in the shade for 20 minutes to recover. Mt Taylor 50K is a premier race in one of the most beautiful forests in America. The course is challenging, but the aid stations are spaced well and the volunteers are wonderful. The swag and bling are pretty good too. Congratulations to all my fellow runners who finished this difficult race. 

See you on the trail.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Franklin Mountains Trail Runs (Volunteer)

What’s harder—running the Franklin Mountains Trail Runs or volunteering at the Franklin Mountains Trail Runs? After three days of volunteering as a Team Red, White and Blue member, I’m starting to wonder. I had a great time giving back to the sport I love by helping at this Trail Racing Over Texas (TRoT) event that was held in the Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, TX on 9-11 September. The race itself was very tough on the runners. I’ve run the 50K course in training and have made many trips to the top of North Franklin Peak (7192’ elev) so I have felt their pain.

Team RWB member gettin' it done. 
Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer/Trail Racing Over Texas
Many of the photos in this post were taken by Myke Hermsmeyer. Please visit his photography site for galleries of the races. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Blister Prevention

Ultra runners love nothing more than showing off their black toes, lost toenails and blisters. If you doubt me, just hang out at an aid station or finish line of a 100 mile endurance run especially one with creek crossings and swampy conditions. You are sure to see runners proudly comparing their blisters to see who has the gnarliest feet. They share photos on social media and wear their pus filled protuberances like badges of honor.

This is the last cute feet picture you will see in this post.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Silverheels 100 Miler

Lungs don't fail me now. Come on heart you can do it. 1-2-3-4-5 steps, rest. Breath...1-2-3-4-5. Repeat. How much farther can it be to the top? This is truly a soul crushing climb up to Hoosier Ridge at over 12,000 feet elevation. My lungs are searing, my head feels swimmy, but I keep plodding relentlessly hoping I can make the top. Finally I reach a sign, the turnaround point where I'm supposed to pick up a playing card to prove I was here. I look around for the deck of cards only to find a marmot turd and a few chewed spades and hearts. I pick up half a card and stop to take in the expansive view of the Mosquito range of Colorado. It really is spectacular and most of my discomfort temporarily subsides.

I'm at mile 42 of the Silverheels 100 miler that started in Fairplay, CO south of Breckenridge. Several days before the race, I received an email informing the 40 participants that the course isn't 100 miles at all, but over 105 with 18,000+ feet of elevation gain. This is the most ambitious run I've attempted to date and I have a lot of doubts about finishing it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Santa Fe Lakes and Peaks

I recently spent a few days in the Santa Fe National Forest training for my upcoming 100 mile trail race, the Silverheels 100 in Fairplay, CO. The race is run at an average elevation of 11,000' with a high point of over 12,000 feet so I needed some serious climbing at high altitude. Santa Fe, NM seemed like a great training location with several peaks in the 12,500' range. Besides, the mercury in the Desert Southwest has regularly risen well over 100 degrees so I needed to head for the hills to beat the heat.

Santa Fe Baldy

Monday, July 4, 2016

Franklin Mountains 50K 2016 Course Preview

With the Franklin Mountains 50K Trail Run in just a few short months, I decided to put together a course preview for you. This year the race, in El Paso, TX, is part of the Altra US Skyrunner® Series meaning it must have a minimum amount of elevation gain per distance. Here are a few definitions from the International Skyrunning Federation to help you understand:

“SKYMARATHON® – minimum distance 30 km and under five hours (winner’s time). Minimum 2,000m vertical climb

ULTRA – Races over 50 km between five to twelve hours for the winner.

ULTRA SKYMARATHON® – Races that exceed the parameters of a SkyMarathon® by more than 5% with more than 2,500m vertical climb.” (2500 meters = 8200 feet)

2016 Franklin Mt 50K Elevation Profile
So yes, you will be doing a lot of climbing in this race. Around 8250 feet! I ran the course last spring when the weather was still cool and it took me 10 hours to complete. Keep in mind that I’m a mid to back of the pack ultramarathoner.  I’m sure our elite and Flatiron runners from Colorado will be twice that fast looking fresh as daisies as they sprint across the finish line, although heat will be an issue this year. It’s the rest of you I’m worried about. If after reading this, you decide the 50K is too much for you, consider running one of the other distances that Trail Racing Over Texas is offering the weekend of 9-11 Sep, 2016 (5K, 10K, half marathon, King/Queen of the Mt). Hopefully this guide will help you survive the race and still have a good time. Isn’t that what our sport is all about? 

Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, TX

Friday, June 17, 2016

Life in the Desert

The desert here in the Southwest has been teeming with life even though the mercury has soared into the triple digits. I’ve spent a lot of time running the trails in the Franklin Mountains State Park lately and have come across plenty of beauty as well as a few surprises. 

Eagle claw cactus
On one very long and scorching run, the eagle claw cacti were in full bloom. I’ve never seen so many splashes of purple along the trail. You hardly notice these inconspicuous barrel cacti at other times of the year because they blend in with the landscape and some barely protrude above the ground.