Some people go to Chuck E. Cheese’s to celebrate their birthday. Or perhaps one turning 50 might take a trip to Las Vegas or just relax at a spa for an afternoon. well, I’m not your average Joe. I decided that on the day I turn 50, I would run one kilometer for each year on this planet. That’s just how I roll.
Why not run 50 miles? Because I did that three weeks earlier in Flagstaff, AZ (read my previous post). Besides, I wanted to finish earlier and feel well enough to enjoy time with my friends and family afterwards. If you think running 50 miles or kilometers for your birthday is extreme, check out the Dirt Diva (Catra Corbett) who ran for 48 hours on her 48th birthday!
After planning and mapping out a course, I invited local trail runners to join me in some or all of my adventure in the Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso, TX. I had eight takers on the morning of my big day. We started on the N.E. side of town just before sunrise and began the climb up to North Franklin Peak, the highest in the park at 7192’. I decided to get the 3000 foot climb out of the way early.
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Our group separated as the fast runners, Mike, David and Jen took the lead. Angelica and Josh mostly stayed with me and Leo and Javi brought up the rear. Several times on the way up, the speedsters stopped to wait for the slower runners to catch up. The weather was perfect; a little nip in the air was a nice break from the summer heat we’ve been training in.
After running past some abandoned tin mines I started into a power hike, but jogged when I could. The mountains were totally green from the torrential downpours we had last month and the wildflowers were spectacular. I couldn’t resist stopping for lots of pictures. When we got to the top of the first rise, we stopped for a chat and then Dave and Mike ran back down. Angelica went ahead to wait for me on the west side of the mountain range while Josh and Jen decided to go to the top of N. Franklin with me.
Jen took off and effortlessly cruised up the mountain while me and Josh took it easy. We arrived at a saddle overlooking the former Castner Firing Range of Ft Bliss where unexploded ordnance is a concern. The cliffs surrounded by lush grass were very peaceful though and reminded me of the Emerald Isle. I never thought the desert could look like this. The wind was brisk here so we continued on up to the top. After a steep arduous climb, we were rewarded with a 360 degree panorama of S. Franklin Peak, Mt Cristo Rey, West and East El Paso.
The trip back down was equally tough as there are plenty of rocks, jagged steps, ruts, and deep washed out gullies. Before long we were back at a cross roads where Josh had to head back to his car. I, on the other hand, had to run over to the west side to meet Angelica and my family.
Once over the pass the downhill section was very steep and also damaged from recent rains. A deep gash sliced through the middle of the tread in parts while another section that had been shored up with logs in 2006 was almost completely washed out. When I reached the bottom, I had to stop to admire some flowers that I believe to be Lindheimer’s morning-glory so named after the “Father of Texas Botany”. I only see them in heavy rain years. Eventually I arrived at a picnic area where I was greeted by my family. They were completely bundled up because wind was whipping through the canyon making it chilly.
I visited for a bit, ate some oranges and a banana and and then took off with the help of Angelica. We started out on the seven mile “jackrabbit” loop, named after an annual trail race. Besides the beautiful scenery, the highlight of the race is a steep hill at the end affectionately known by local runners as “Big Bertha”. Once we were out of the picnic area the wind settled down and we actually started to get hot.
The trail took us through a few wide dry washes where we had to run down a steep embankment and back up again. In places the path gives way to bare bedrock and one section requires running on rock that is on a 150 degree angle. After tackling Big Bertha, I was definitely ready for something cold to drink. We enjoyed the wildflowers as we ran the Tom Mays trail in the park and then arrived back at our crew and aid station.
As I was grabbing a ginger ale, Cara asked if I wanted a cupcake. Well, it’s my birthday so why not? Chocolate with Nutella frosting! That should get me back over the mountain. Our loyal base camp manager took good care of us and then sent us on our way with some food for the trail. My energy level was back up, but not enough for me to keep up with Angelica; she made good time going back up the steep mountain. I slogged my way up the last big obstacle all the time looking forward to the run down.
Angelica waited for me at the top of the pass where some hikers took our photo when I finally arrived. We enjoyed the company of the hikers and then continued down. At the bottom we transitioned onto the Scenic Rd trail which is one of my favorites in the state park. It meanders along the contour of the mountain range with little elevation change and provides great views. Apparently snakes like this trail too, because a striped whip snake was stretched out right in our way and he was like, “I’m not moving for the likes of you!” Oh well, we just had to gingerly creep around him.
Before long we turned onto the Sotol Forest trail where there are a few challenging hills. My energy was starting to wane so I ate a cream cheese on cranberry walnut bread and then my mood picked up after 20 minutes or so. I loved running this boulder lined section of trail that winds through some drainages and enjoyed seeing a barrel cactus that was sporting big bright red blooms.
I could see the Bowen Ranch Round House in the distance and knew we were about six miles from finishing. We made a hairpin turn onto Coyote Ugly trail where we saw several large Texas horned lizards better known in these parts as horny toads. Soon we were running past the cattle corrals at the ranch with about three miles to go. I picked up my pace hoping to finish before 4:00PM because I knew my family was meeting us with pizza at the end and certainly didn’t want to keep them waiting.
The last trail we ran was Lazy Cow where Angelica was running strong. I tried my best to keep from walking, but had to succumb in a few spots while going up a slight incline. I was really hot and spent by this point and had my sights on a cold ginger ale. At last we made it back to our starting point after a nine hour day in the mountains. Cara, Maddie and family were waiting with food and drinks.
The first thing I did when I finished was chug a gatorade and a ginger ale back to back to try to re-hydrate. Usually I can’t eat right after a long run, but I was famished and dug right into some pizza and then couldn’t seem to stop. Cupcakes followed along with some quality family time.
This was a perfect birthday run with great weather, good friends, and a loving family waiting at the end. Could there be any better way to spend a 50th birthday? Watching football all afternoon? I think not! Thanks to everyone who came out to run with me: Mike, David, Jen, Josh, Javi and Leo. Of course I couldn’t forget Angelica, who went the distance running all morning and afternoon with me! Also, a huge thank you to Raymond, Betsy, Cara and Maddie who are always supportive of my crazy running adventures.
See you on the trail.