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."

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sierra Vista Trail 50K

The sun is just barely up when I arrive at the base of the Organ Mountains in Las Cruces, NM to run the Sierra Vista Trail 50K. After I pick up my bib number I sit in my warm car and read the morning paper. Shouldn’t I be stretching, warming up or otherwise preparing to run to the next town and back? Nah, I’ll warm up in the first 5 miles.

About 30 other brave runners line up to tackle this mostly single-track trail including some of my Team Red, White and Blue comrades. When the gun goes off, I mean the “READY, SET, GO!”, we run through the parking area and down a short steep slope. Once at the bottom something doesn’t feel right. I have nothing in my hand nor am I wearing my Camelbak. Crap, I forgot my water bottle! I quickly turn around and make a mad dash back to my car. After grabbing my handheld, I see my friend Mike running from his car also. Apparently he forgot to put on his gaiters, so we run together to try to catch up to the others.

Once through the parking lot and down the hill we transition onto a gravel trail only to be yelled at by race staff. “HEY, THAT’S THE WRONG WAY! The trail’s over there.” Well, this certainly is a rocky start to what’s going to be a long arduous day. Sure enough the course is well marked with pink flagging, but we weren’t paying attention. Mike takes off and I work hard to catch up to my other friends. After 20 minutes I realize I’m going out out too hard and try to settle down into a reasonable pace. 

Eventually I make it up to the pack, where four of us run together. Clouds are hiding the sun and a bit of wind feels chilly as we run through the desert. The surroundings are characterized by tan grasses and other dormant scrub patiently awaiting Spring’s arrival. Some of the vegetation is already showing signs of wakening. Small pink buds have formed on the tips of the ocotillo cacti and the creosote bush leaves are greening. We pass the occasional barrel cactus with long red hook shaped thorns. You don’t want to fall into one of those!

The towering “needles” of the Organ Mountains, so named because they look like the pipes of an organ, are behind us. We are flanked by Soledad Canyon and the main part of the range which is flecked with beautiful homes with tremendous views. A few drops of rain fall and the air cools even more. I try to pass another runner, but when I step off the trail something attaches to my shoe and begins to whip my calf which makes me stumble. I look down to see a cane cholla cactus arm flopping around. Not too much damage is done (to me that is); less than a dozen minor scratches. These common prickly plants grow beautiful purple flowers that turn into a yellow fruit that is used to dye wool and other textiles. 

Before long we reach the second aid station where my friend and fellow Team RWB member, Josh is manning the table. He is an ultra-runner and loyal volunteer who comes out to run, crew  or otherwise help out at many of the trail races in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. 

Veterans, active duty and civilians make up Team RWB.
After running for several hours we inch closer to the mountain range where a prominent yellow formation comes into view. The trail has been mostly downhill so far and I feel full of energy. The third aid station is manned by the Organ Mountain Technical Rescue Squad. Hopefully no one will be needing their services today other than a few orange slices, pretzels and sports drink. 

Once through this checkpoint we clamber down a very steep embankment into an arroyo and continue on to Bishop Cap Peak. Last month I ran another race that started from the other end of the trail so I know this section well. We climb in and out of several more arroyos, run down a steep hill, across a flat cow pasture and onward to the turnaround point. We are greeted by Ol’ Glory when we arrive which is an inspiring sight  after running 16 miles. 

The volunteers are friendly and offer to fill our bottles. I only fill mine half way since most of the aid stations are 3-4 miles apart. So far I’ve eaten half a cream cheese sandwich, some pretzels, a few orange slices and my usual chia seed/juice mixture. It seems to be working as I haven’t felt lethargic or nauseous in the least. After hydrating, I’m quickly out of there.

This section of trail feels like home since I’ve logged many miles either racing or on training runs. I know every turn, sand pit, drainage, hill and dale. Once through the cow pasture though, things start to get tough. I’m all by myself now and start the slow uphill slog back to Las Cruces. The scenery is nice, but the sun is behind the clouds again, the wind is picking up and it threatens rain. 

I pass the Bishop Cap and reach an outcrop with cacti growing right out of the rocks. A millipede crawls across the trail so I stop for a closer inspection which is also a good excuse to take a break.  These long insects have two pairs of legs for each body segment which means this one has about, let’s see... two, four, six...thirty-eight, forty...well if he would just be still for a minute. Anyway, wouldn’t it be nice to have that many legs right now?

Once on my way, I start to really feel the mileage and have to walk some of the steeper uphill sections. I run when I can and finally catch up to a friend, Kristoffer who seems to be in rough shape. “I have a headache and feel out of it.” He confesses.  This course is tough because the first half is mostly downhill which lures you into the trap of going out too fast all the while sapping your leg muscles of strength you will need later. 

I walk with him for a while thinking Josh’s aid station should be around the next bend, but it doesn’t appear. We catch up to a few more folks who are also walking and then are able to pass them alternating between a power hike and slow run. (Notice I didn’t use the J-word, a four letter word amongst runners.) We can see for miles in every direction so you’d think we would be able to spot the aid station. Strange things start to go through your head after running 25 miles, but we just keep moving forward. We pass through a gravelly dry wash and climb out of it and the oasis in the desert finally appears. I celebrate with a few cups of ginger ale and am quickly on my way. 

Pretty soon Kristoffer catches up and then passes me. The peaks of the mountains, shrouded in fog, create a Shangri-La like aura. I try my hardest to take my mind to this lost paradise despite the aching in my feet, tightness in my shoulders and burning in my quads. Spectacular scenery and an abundance of wide open spaces keeps me pushing through. 

Finally I reach the last aid station where Kristoffer is waiting for me so we can finish together. The wind is strong whipping through the canyon here. The last stretch is the hardest because of a few very steep downhill sections. Our legs are trashed so we just bomb down hoping for the best. Spirits are high though because we know we are almost finished. We pass by some grazing cows and roller coaster along the single-track trail. The blue finisher's tent appears in the distance and then we hear cheering. We take off and cross the finish line in 6:45. 

We receive a unique finishers award designed by a local artist and then pat each other on the back for completing such a brutal run. All the participants agreed that the course was deceivingly tough and a common theme from everyone was, “I hit a really rough spot at mile_____ (fill in the blank).”

The race directors, Eugene and Dan did a great job organizing this race which also had a 30K and 10K distance. A well marked course with plenty of aid, great volunteers, spectacular scenery and a hearty meal afterwards make this an event to add to your bucket list. I especially enjoyed sharing the trail with our friends from Albuquerque and my fellow Team RWB compadres. 

See you on the trail.


  1. Excellent account of the race. Thanks.

  2. Thanks Perky. It was great seeing you out on the course. Nice finish!