Last weekend I drove with my family to the Taos Ski Valley in Northern New Mexico so I could run the Up and Over 10K. I usually don’t travel for such a short race, but this one takes you up to 11,000 ft elevation making for a tough climb in thin air. Besides, any excuse to travel to the “Land of Enchantment” to beat the West Texas heat is an opportunity not to be missed. The trip itself is worth the effort because you travel along the Rio Grande which is much more grande the closer you get to its source which is actually in Colorado. The Rio Grande Gorge is on the way and you can see the large gash in the plateau, which resembles a mini Grand Canyon, as you approach Taos.
We arrived late at night, but I still got ample sleep since the race start was only a three minute walk from our hotel. The 9:00am start gave me plenty of time to have several cups of coffee and some breakfast after picking up my race bib and timing chip. The weather was cool with some fog up on the ski slopes. As several hundred runners lined up to start the climb, I recognized a lot of familiar faces and got caught up on everyone’s latest running adventures.
The race began at 9000’ elevation so most of us started off with a slow steady grind up the gravel road as a few fast runners took off. I stayed in the back so I could get some pictures of the pack, but then started to pass people. I had no time goal in mind; just wanted to enjoy the morning. I wasn’t sure how I would feel in the altitude since we drove up the day before and acclimating wasn’t possible. Overall I felt pretty good, but slowed quite a bit on some very steep sections.
The road switchbacked up the mountain taking us underneath the ironmongery of pylons, cables and bench seats that shuttle skiers up the mountain in the winter. Soon we were high enough to get a glimpse of the Disneyesque ski village below and then a few peaks shrouded in clouds came into view. Most of the runners including myself were breathing hard and a few stopped at times to let their heart rates recover before continuing.
A teenage boy was plodding along with his mom and would stop about every few minutes or so and put his hands on his knees to catch his breath. I could tell he was really struggling and felt his pain as I had been there before in previous races. Eventually I passed him, but not before telling him “good job” and “keep it up, you’re doing great.” When I reached the 4K mark a couple was standing beside the road; apparently waiting for a friend to catch up. A sign read “You are almost at the top! Breathe ‘n smile” so I asked if they would take my picture which they obliged; thereafter I reciprocated.
It took me an hour to reach the top having only covered three miles. Here’s where the “fun” begins. I always dread the steep downhills more than the climbs because you lose all control as gravity takes over. There was a lot of loose gravel and recent rains had formed gullies in the road that made for poor traction. I tried to go as fast as I could because braking really does a number on your quads. Tacking back and forth like a skier helped to slow me a little bit, but there were times when I was prepared to go ass-over-teakettle ending up at the bottom of the mountain. Occasionally we hit a flatter section which brought some relief from my quick leg turnover.
As I ran down, I could hear screaming and cheering coming from one of the aid stations. Before the race I saw a friend, Perky who was volunteering on the course. She had some cowbells with her, but I heard no cowbell as I came down; only screaming. What was going on? Anyway, I blasted through a few muddy sections and then started to slow as the hill continued to flatten out. I really needed that cowbell to keep me moving, but it just wasn’t there. After all, you can never have too much cowbell especially in a mountain race. If you doubt me, just ask Christopher Walken. Finally I came into Perky’s aid station only to discover that the cowbell she had been rattling so enthusiastically all morning had broken. Too bad!
Nevertheless, her smiling face, cheers and overall enthusiasm recharged my energy so I was able to continued on. I ran over a bridge that crossed a picturesque stream cascading over some rocks. The slope steepened again and I passed a few more runners. As I approached the end though, a young lady blasted past me like I was standing still, but I still finished in 1:40.
Taos Up and Over is a fun, but challenging race in a beautiful part of our country. Sleeping minutes away from the starting line is a plus and the race is short enough that by the time altitude sickness sets in you are done. Unlike most of my races that take a full day or two to finish, I was able to spend the rest of the day with Cara and Maddie. We especially enjoyed the German fare at the Bavarian restaurant and took a scenic ski lift ride up the mountain.
|Photo courtesy of Perky|
See you on the trail.