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."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jemez 50 Mile Race Report

“[Kris] Kern estimates that [Jemez] is among the three toughest events in the United States with all three being almost equal in degree of difficulty.” Those are not words you want to read in the Los Alamos Monitor the night before tackling the 50 mile course.

Today is sure to be a roller coaster of an adventure. I’m here at the race site at 4:00am. Why, I don’t know, because nothing is going to happen until 5:00. After sitting in the car with Triple C (Crew Chief Cara), I go to the Posse Shack and check-in with race officials and then put my two drop bags in the proper place.

I line up with all the other runners and wait for the race director to start the race. “5-4-3-2-go” is all we get and then we are off. I’m having a hard time seeing because I only have my prescription sunglasses with me. The sun will be up in an hour and I don’t want to carry two pair. My headlamp helps me navigate the road and then everyone bunches up where we enter a single track trail. I’m in no hurry so just wait patiently until the pack thins out a bit. The trail is hard packed dirt with occasional rocks and roots. Not being able to see very well, I quickly learn that the darker colored objects are tripping hazards so I place my feet on the lighter patches.

After an hour of running, I reach the Mitchell trailhead aid station. This is where we drop off our flashlights and grab some goodies to eat. I now start the first climb of the day. I can see other runners switch-backing up the mountain. I’m taking it easy and just fast walking the hill. After a few more miles of this I reach the Guaje Ridge aid station and grab some pretzels and drink. The trail now follows a beautiful stream and then a waterfall appears. On the left side of the falls is a ladder that I have to climb and then make several stream crossings by hopping over rocks or logs. The air is fresh and cool in this lush canyon.

In three more miles I make it to the base of Caballo Mountain. An aid station is strategically placed here so I grab some refreshments and start the climb to the top of Caballo (10,480 ft elev.). Since this part of the course is an out-and-back, front runners are barreling down the narrow trail that I’m trying to get up. I try to get over to the side as best I can, but there just isn’t much room. I slog my way from 8600 ft elev. to 10,500 in two miles and the word steep doesn’t really describe what I’m experiencing. I have a lot of pressure in my head and my heart is pounding but I finally make it to the top. I’m rewarded with a fine view of the Atomic City and then I start the run down. It’s all I can do to stay in control on the sheer descent without taking out any runners who are ascending.

I’m down in a little while, fill my water bottles, and continue on to the next aid station. I have an uncomfortable headache now, and my legs are starting to feel sluggish. I take some gel and electrolyte capsules hoping that will perk me up. When I get into the next aid station a volunteer hands me my drop bag. I grab my peanut butter sandwich and some bottles with powdered Perptuem and HEED. While a volunteer fills one of my bottles with water, I inhale my sandwich and tuck the other bottle in my fuel belt for later.

Now for the tricky part. The drop down into the Valle Caldera is much like a cliff face with loose rocks and sand. There is no way to run down it and many people just slide down on their butt. A lady asks, “Why don’t you go first so when I fall I’ll have something soft to land on?” OK, here goes. I try to stay upright but start to slide down. I turn my feet sideways to try to dig them into the loose earth. Hands would come in handy about now, but I’m carrying my handheld water bottle. I try not to drop it and then see another person going down beside me with trekking poles. So that’s how you do it. Eventually I make it down and am able to start running again, but my shoes are full of rocks and sand even though I’m wearing my Dirty Girl Gaiters.

Soon I’m in the caldera, a beautiful meadow in the basin of a collapsed volcanic crater created millions of years ago. I pick up the dirt road that leads through the caldera, but now I’m nauseated. My head is pounding and I realize that the altitude is causing problems. I suck on a piece of ginger candy that I had put in my pocket and take in the view to keep my mind off of the nausea.

 I finally take a break to empty the grit out of my shoes. In a few more miles I see the aid station far in the distance. When I arrive I hydrate and eat some more pretzels to try to settle my stomach. A volunteer fills my bottle and lets me know that it is 7.8 miles to the next aide. I better fill both bottles.

I start the climb out of the caldera through the meadow towards the Cerro Grande Mountain. There really isn’t a trail, just a “way” marked by orange flags across the field. Clumps of grass make the footing tricky and there are some marshy patches. I’m not feeling good, so start a steady walking pace.

I reach a patch of woods and then come to some runners climbing up a jumble of boulders. I stop for a minute pondering; hoping that it will just go away. Since I’m carrying two handhelds now, the climbing is tricky. I’m able to hop from boulder to boulder and negotiate the obstacle to another “way” marked by orange flags. It isn’t a trail; just the direction to the top of the mountain; straight up.

I’m really feeling the altitude now and see another runner sitting on the side of the “way”. I ask if he is OK which he replies, “I’m having stomach issues.” We commiserate about our altitude problems and then I continue my slow ascent. I climb over 4 or 5 downed trees and then make it to a clearing. Is this the top? I don’t see any more orange flags. Am I off course? I backtrack a little and then see the markers continuing up through a grassy area. My head is splitting now and I can’t believe how slowly I’m moving. I finally make it to several rock cairns marking the peak at 10,441 ft. I snap a picture of the caldera. Beautiful!

Now for the run down. Tricky footing and then over some more boulders. I pick up a nice section of trail and can run now. I hear the trickle of a stream which helps distract my mind from my misery. I haven’t seen another runner for over an hour and can’t remember when I last saw an orange trail marker. My mind is starting to go. Confusion. Am I off course? I finally see another flag and then run into some older hikers. That is a good sign that I’m near the next aid station. Before I reach the aid station I see a young lady talking to a race official. “I thought I was in last place, but they keep coming.” She says. “Thanks a bunch” I think to myself.

When I reach the aid station I get my drop bag and try to pull myself together. Another young runner reports that he is going to drop and the young lady also calls it quits. I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet so I get my camelbak out of my drop bag and have some refreshments. Hoping that I’ll get a second wind, I continue on. Another 10,500 ft climb awaits me and I’m not sure that my exploding head can take it.

I walk and run for a few miles and then come to a road. I didn’t think we were supposed to run on a road. Another “last place” runner is behind me so I wait until he catches up. “Did we miss a turn?” he asks. A car passes by and then turns around. “You guys missed the trail; it’s about 75 yards back”, a man says. How did we miss that? We backtrack and then keep walking uphill. I feel awful so stop to sit on a log. I was going to at least try to make it to the Pajarito Ski Lodge aid station where Cara is supposed to meet me, but I can’t make it over 10,000 ft again today.

I call Cara to tell her I’m calling it quits. “Meet me at the next aid station”, I tell her. I keep walking, head hanging low, and make it into the Townsite Lift aid station feeling defeated. 32.6 miles in about ten and a half  hours. I’m totally wiped out and so happy to see my crew chief when she arrives. Dropping wasn’t a difficult decision to make. My body told me it was time and I know when to listen to my body.

I now know what it feels like to DNF, as this is the first time I haven’t made it to the finish of a race. I learned a lot from my experience and know that I need to do more altitude training and arrive at least 3-4 days before an event and hike at altitude as I did last year when I ran the Tahoe Rim 50. I’m proud that I ran 32 miles, over several 10,000 ft peaks, on one of the toughest ultramarathon courses in the country. I’ll be back to try again another year and have the Tahoe Rim 100 mile course to look forward to in a few months. See you on the trail.



  1. That is certainly not an easy course, so congrats for getting as far as you did. Well written report.

  2. Greg - what a bitch that sounds like! Great write up and interested to hear about the effects of altitude - supposed to be doing Leadville in August but I don't have that many 'hills' to train on in Guildford, UK and certainly no altitude.

    Good to see that you had a talk from Caballo Blanco though - I'll bet he's a bit of a character :-) Read 'Born to run' a couple of months back and that was really to blame for the Leadville thing!

    Don't lose heart for the Tahoe Rim whatever you do - put it behind you and learn from the experience!

    All the best.

  3. JohnF: Thanks for the encouragement. I'm feeling good and will be back again.

    Richard: If possible, get to Leadville early to acclimate and in the mean time, check out Kevin Sayer's articles on altitude at ultrunr.com. Good luck, you can do it!