Cedro Peak (7767’) is located in the Cibola National Forest near Tijeras just east of Albuquerque, NM. I ran the Cedro Peak 45 mile course several years ago and am delighted to be here again for some fun on the trails. It is still dark and the weather is in the 50s this morning with a stiff breeze. It’s supposed to get gusty later with a slight chance of a shower, so I packed a rain shell just in case. I never want to be in the wilderness unprepared.
After leaving my drop bags with volunteers and checking in with race staff, I grab a cup of joe from the Green Joe Coffee Truck and sit in my warm car until race time. After the sun rises, about 50 ambitious trail runners line up at the Oak Flat picnic area. We start our run by winding through the picnic grounds and then descend a very steep rocky trail, but not before passing a lone picnic table. Not just any picnic table, but the one we will reach after climbing back up this hill in mile 44 later this afternoon. If my recollection is accurate, something special will be waiting for us here upon our return.
I run most of the downhill sections and walk whenever I feel since I have a long way to go today. The last thing I want to do is go out too fast. I settle into a groove and chat with a few other runners as we make our way through the pine and juniper forest. Interspersed amongst the trees are cholla cactus, prickly pear and other desert vegetation contrasting the trees and grass more associated with wetter climes.
Much of the trail is quite smooth and very runnable, but there are plenty of rocky sections too. One is a flat area with a mosaic of nasty jagged puzzle shaped rocks imbedded in the dirt just waiting to bring a runner down. Just as we have place names like Devil’s Post Pile, Devil’s Tower and Devil’s Hall; I deem this area Devil’s Throw-up. You don’t want to trip in that.
In about an hour we reach the first aid station which is supposedly 5.5 miles. I have to wonder if I’m really running that fast. I suppose it’s possible since the course has been mostly downhill so far. I fill up with fluids, eat some boiled potatoes with salt and grab some fruit to eat on the trail. I take off promptly. We run through a beautiful boulder lined canyon for a while and then, as we approach Cedro Peak, a group of fast runners meets us from the opposite direction. I wonder what’s going on and begin to think we are off course, but then remember that the half marathon runners were shuttled to the Cedro Peak aid station where they will run back to the Oak Flat finish area.
I get out of the way to let a large group pass and then continue on my way. I reach the second aid station at mile 13 after a little more than three hours. Volunteers hand me my drop bag while I shed a layer since it is starting to get hot. I pull out an almond butter sandwich and eat some fruit from the aid table.
After filling water bottles and drinking some Tailwind, I start walking up to Cedro Peak while eating part of my sandwich. The rest I tuck into my RaceReady shorts. These are great running shorts with lots of easy access mesh pockets in the back for gels, snacks, electrolyte capsules or whatever. The largest one will even hold a half sandwich, but you won’t find them at your local big box retail store as most people have no need to carry a PBJ in their back pocket while running 45 miles through the wilderness.
I stop several times on the way to the peak to snap a few photos and finally reach the top where there is an array of communication towers. Either I’m hallucinating already or a man in a bath robe and slippers is checking off our bib numbers to ensure we make it to the top before turning around and heading back down. I take in the view before leaving the peak and then run down trying to make up some time.
We lose about 1000 feet in 5-6 miles and then the trail snakes along the contour of the mountain slope with minimal gain or loss of elevation. There is a steep slope to our left into the canyon below and we pass below a rocky cliff on our right. You can see forested mountains in the distance; one has a large gash in the side from quarrying operations from a cement factory.
We get to another aid station at mile 21. So far I’ve felt pretty good, but now that we are almost at the half way point my energy is starting to wane. I don’t stay here long at all; just fill water bottles and grab some fruit for the road. I like to keep moving as I eat even if it’s just a walk. At least I’m putting miles behind me. My energy picks up as I navigate the mostly downhill terrain.
In the distance I can see a string of power lines that cut through the forest leading straight up to the top of a mountain. I remember from the last time I ran this race that I’m headed towards that gnarly uphill climb. Dread sets in, but I pick up my pace on this downhill section, because I know I will want to take my time climbing on the power line trail. The cut-off time for the next aid station is 2:00PM and I want to get there with an hour to spare.
I make my goal and am able to depart before 12:45 leaving plenty of time to finish the race. The next stretch is quite pleasant —the calm before the storm if you will. The smooth hard packed dirt trail meanders through flat grassy meadows framed in by stands of juniper trees; Cedro Peak in the distance. Easy going, right? Well, It doesn’t take long for all my skipping and Julie Andrews style twirling to come to a merciless halt.
I reach the power lines where there are several dirt bikers zipping around a parallel forest service road kicking up a great deal of dust. I follow the power lines for a bit and then meet up with the bikers at an intersection who ask, “How long have ya’ll been running?” I say, “Since 6:30 this morning, want to give me a ride to the top?”. They laugh and take off trying to ride their bikes up the steep trail that we are about to climb. This is totally ridiculous; there are plenty of other trails they could ride and I’m not quite sure what they are trying to prove. Anyway, they don’t get far because the trail turns into an escarpment with rocky steps leading to the top. I have to move completely off the trail so I don't get run over as they coast back down.
By this time I reach the steepest part and slowly begin plodding straight up the mountain. A lady catches up to me and says, “Jesus, what did I sign up for? Barkley?” My heart is beating out of my chest so I can’t reply, but simply smile and keep going, stopping every few minutes to catch my breath. There are large blocks of rock that I step up onto and sections of loose gravel that cause me to slip back a few steps. An inferno of sun radiating off the white limestone and the heavy labor cause me to overheat. I make sure to drink plenty of water and Tailwind as I climb.
I reach a little plateau hoping I’m at the top, but then the trail continues to climb. It takes forever to cover a few measly miles. I come to a sign that reads, “Caution, Speed Trap”. OK, now they’re just messing with us, but at least I must be getting close to the next aid station. I turn a corner and there is a young man wearing a cop hat with his ticket book in hand. “Are you going to write me a ticket for speeding?” I ask. “No, I’ll let you off with a warning,” he replies. Behind him sits an old rusted out car with a skeleton “cop” sitting in the front seat holding a donut. “The aid station is just a half mile further up the trail,” he says, “but would you like a donut or a popsicle?” Needless to say that was the best popsicle I’ve ever had in my life and just the right thing to get me to the top of the mountain.
I don’t waste any time at the aid station; just get my water bottles filled as I drink a lot of ginger ale to help rehydrate. I’m able to run now since the terrain is much more forgiving. I backtrack on the same trail that brought me here. I’m surprised at how much energy I have this late in the day and am even able to pass a few runners. I’m not sure if my late race second wind is from the chia seeds I put in my sports drink or because I ran a very conservative pace early in the day.
Nevertheless, I look at my watch and start to believe that I can shatter my previous time on this course which is 11:15. However, time seems to stand still when you are running for this long; as if you have entered some sort of warp in the fabric of space time. Like in a bad dream when you are running your hardest, but are getting nowhere. At any rate, I run for several more hours and finally make it back to the Cedro Peak Aid Station.
I’m ravenous by this time and spot a bowl of mixed melon, apples and tangerines on the aid station table. I greedily fill up a baggie with fruit all the time shoving pieces in my mouth as volunteers look on in horror. Keep your hands away from the wild beast as he eats lest you lose a digit or two! I leave, eating as I walk. With just 13 miles to go I think this will be enough fuel to get me to the finish line, but just for good measure, I pull my sandwich out of my pocket and nibble on that as well.
The afternoon is quite pleasant in spite of rising temperatures. The breeze helps to cool me especially as I crest the higher ridges. I pass several more people and then leap frog a lady for a while. She seems to pass me on the hills, but then I pass her again on the downhill sections.
I reach the boulder strewn canyon where the trail is very rocky in spots and then make another arduous climb. Looking at my watch again, I calculate my time and pace only to realize that I’ll be lucky to make an 11:30 finish. As I approach the end of the course there is a beautiful green grassy meadow —a perfect spot to lie down and take a nap, but I resist the temptation since I’ll be done soon. A trail direction sign reads “Deadman” which is what I feel like. I turn a corner and another skeleton dressed in running shoes greets me. I guess there really is a deadman out here. Better him than me.
I toil up the last steep climb towards the staging area and finally arrive at the picnic table. Not any picnic table, but THE picnic table manned by several young ladies ringing cowbells and cheering wildly. They offer me a celebratory shot of tequila, but I know this will only make me puke and delay my finish. I thank them all the same and run the last half mile through the picnic area and cross the finish line in 11:25. While it was a tough day on the trails with lots of climbing and rocks underfoot, the weather was beautiful, the course was easy to follow and a popsicle was available when I needed it most.
|Photo by Brett Laird|
Congratulations to all my friends and fellow runners who ran the race. You are what keeps me coming back to these trail running parties. Volunteers are such an integral part of our experience and I’m very appreciative of your valiant efforts. We can’t ever thank you enough. Thank you RDs, sponsors and the Forest Service for permitting our events. Until the Cactus to Cloud 50K in a few short weeks.
See you on the trail.