If I lose my footing and slip, I’m going to tumble to the bottom of this rocky gulch faster than it takes to say, “that’s going to leave a mark”. I gingerly place each step working my way down the slope. My friend Ryan and I started the Cedro Peak 45 Miler at 6:00 am just east of Albuquerque, NM in the Cibola National Forest.
Our loyal running partner and crew chief, Josh, selflessly woke up early to give us and a few other friends a ride to the starting line since he is recovering from an injury. Much of the course so far has been on hard packed dirt through the beautiful forest. Running in trees is a welcomed change from the training we have been doing in the desert and we also enjoyed passing through a spectacular cliff lined canyon strewn with boulders.
Reaching the summit of Cedro Peak (7800 ft) wasn’t too difficult. It was actually anticlimactic as there were just a few radio towers up there, but we did stop for a minute to take in the view and snap a picture or two...or three...or...ok I took like 10. But we are now at mile 15 going cross country down into a gully to reach another trail on the other side.
I continue to pick my way down the precipitous gradient and reach the bottom only to have to go back up a very steep incline on the other side. After this obstacle is behind us we reach a power line trail that continues up the mountain. Soon we are back on some fine single track and pass along some rocky cliffs interspersed with dead gnarled trees. I admire the aesthetic quality of their twisted trunks and the unique shape of their limbs like a natural sculpture in an open air museum.
After stopping briefly at a desolate “water only” aid station, we grind down another steep hill and then run along some smooth sandy trail for a while. Ryan and I have been focusing on running from aid station to aid station knowing that each is about 4-7 miles apart. SInce he has been tracking our mileage with a wrist gps, he asks, “shouldn’t we be getting to the next aid station soon?” I studied the aid station chart with bleary eyes at 4:00am, but cannot remember the locations except for one at mile 26 and we are only around mile 19. He nervously asks, “Are we still on course? I’m getting low on water.” Now I start to second guess our location and too wonder if we are off course. This happens to me every time I run an ultra, but at least this time I’m in good company.
After a bit of anxious running, I remember that I printed the course map and tucked it in my fuel belt just in case. We consult the map and discover that we should be approaching a check point at mile 20 as long as we are not lost. We keep running at a good clip and finally make it in to the aid station where we recharge our energy stores with snacks provided by volunteers. Ryan is brave and tries a pickle while I stick to crackers and fig newtons. Water bottles topped off, we continue on our way.
|Cedro Peak behind Ryan|
We run downhill for a while and then enter some open meadows with great views of the surrounding forest and Cedro Peak. The sun is high in the sky by now and I’m starting to feel hot and physically drained. Eventually we arrive at the next checkpoint around the full marathon point, so I grab some ginger ale and guzzle it down. It goes down warm, but I don’t care. I rest while Ryan gets his drop bag and makes a shoe change. Before we leave I spot a grainy looking bagel on the snack table and don’t hesitate to snatch it up to take with me on the trail.
“Which way do we go now?”, asks Ryan. “See those power lines way over there? You have to go up that.”, replies a volunteer relishing the fact that we have to climb 800 feet straight up the mountain within a mile. Well at least we have something to look forward to and a good excuse to walk. We better get a move on if we are to finish before the cutoff time.
Feeling as fresh as one can after running a full marathon in the mountains, we continue with a decent pace until we reach the power line trail. It slows us to a steady slog, but we pass another runner who appears to be whipped. I lead for a while and then stop to sit on a shady rock while Ryan takes care of some personal business. When he catches up, I ask, “Do you want to take a short break?” He replies, “No, not until we get to the top.” Good idea, let’s get this over with, I think to myself.
When we reach the top, the “water only” aid station that we passed through earlier suddenly appears like an oasis in the desert. No one is here, but there is a table with fluids and a styrofoam ice chest. I take a look inside and, to my amazement, find popsicles. Popsicles! Can you believe that? Surely they will be a melty mess, but when I pull one out it is still frozen. I think about eating one, but am afraid the sugar might make me nauseous. Too bad; I opt for some boring H2O instead and sit for a few minutes.
After a short break, we cruise downhill for a while and then start our arduous ascent back up the Cedro Peak, another 800 foot climb. I feel spent by the time we get there and look forward to the next stopping point. Shortly after passing over the summit we reach a well stocked aid station where I sit in a chair and put on sunscreen. I eat some boiled potatoes with salt and put some crackers in a baggie to eat while I run. Only 12 more miles to go.
The last leg is tough. We go down to 7000 ft and then climb a rocky technical trail back up to 7800 ft. Ryan’s encouragement is a welcomed addition to what I usually encounter late in an ultra when I’m all alone fighting to finish. He’s running strong so I try my best to step it up so we can finish soon.
When we reach the last aid station, we inquire about how much further it is to the finish line and how many hills we will encounter. “It’s only four and a half miles, mostly downhill, except for the last mile.”, informs a race volunteer. I reply, “That should be easy; we run that far everyday...um...just not after running 40 miles.” The man responds, “Yeah well, just pretend that first 40 didn’t happen.”
Ryan and I are elated that we are closing in on the finish so we waste little time and are quickly on our way. We are dealt some long stretches of smooth hard packed downhill running. I think we are both amazed at our ability to run after traveling for over 10 hours with 6500 feet of elevation gain. I attribute my late day energy to the chia seed and cranberry juice mixture that I’ve been drinking all day and the steady pace that we have maintained throughout the race. It pays off because we begin to overtake runners who are walking the last few miles.
In less than an hour and a half we approach a picnic table with a clear glass bottle and a few shot glasses. Two older gentleman check off our race numbers, inform us that we have less than a mile to go and then ask, “Want a shot of tequila?” That would be nice, but I’m too close to the finish to take a chance on breaking my ankle in the last few yards.
Soon we reach the park, where we started early this morning, and begin to run on pavement. I spot Cara and little Maddie sitting in the car watching runners. I wave to them and Cara says, “Where’s the finish line? I’ve been driving all around looking for it.” I just smile and say, “I guess it’s this way.”
A race staff member informs us to turn right at the pink flamingos; the staging area is decked out with classy yard art and Christmas lights. We cross the line at 11:25 where we are greeted by our friends. Cara and Maddie arrive a few minutes later, so we all celebrate with food and drink at the Oak Flat Picnic Area.
|L to R: Marco (3rd place M), Josh, Greg, Kyle, Marissa, Ryan, Melody (5th place F)|
Ryan finished strong in the longest race he had ever run and before I could even change out of my damp shirt he had already obliterated a loaded burger. Cedro Peak Ultra is a well organized race on a scenic challenging course. Having a running partner throughout the entire day made the race for me. Thanks Cara, Maddie, Ryan, Josh, race volunteers and fellow running friends for a great day in the mountains!
See you on the trail.
Full results are here: Results