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."

Friday, September 23, 2016

Franklin Mountains Trail Runs (Volunteer)

What’s harder—running the Franklin Mountains Trail Runs or volunteering at the Franklin Mountains Trail Runs? After three days of volunteering as a Team Red, White and Blue member, I’m starting to wonder. I had a great time giving back to the sport I love by helping at this Trail Racing Over Texas (TRoT) event that was held in the Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso, TX on 9-11 September. The race itself was very tough on the runners. I’ve run the 50K course in training and have made many trips to the top of North Franklin Peak (7192’ elev) so I have felt their pain.

Team RWB member gettin' it done. 
Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer/Trail Racing Over Texas
Many of the photos in this post were taken by Myke Hermsmeyer. Please visit his photography site for galleries of the races. 

In fact, my first volunteer duty was to climb to the top of the peak marking part of the course on my way. Two other volunteers went with me in the pitch dark wearing headlamps and we enjoyed a spectacular sunrise on our way. The first race was the King and Queen of the Mountain, a 6-9 mile race to the summit and back choosing any route. My friend Tommy handed out “summit” bracelets, the runners' proof that they made the summit. Another volunteer, Robbie checked off bib numbers while I had the most important job —ringing my cowbell. You can never have enough cowbell in a race like this.

The view from N. Franklin Peak.
I also brought my American flag to display on the summit and took a bunch of pictures of the runners. The wind was whipping pretty good up there and a chill nipped our fingers early in the morning. About 40 runners started the race and the first one to the top and overall King was Marco Zuniga with a time of 52:38. He is an El Paso native who now lives and trains in Durango, Co. While Marco had a smile on his face when he arrived, most of the other runners did not, but I fixed that by offering more cowbell and a photo of them with Old Glory. Tracie Akerhielm, a Team TRoT and Altra sponsored runner, was crowned the Queen of the mountain with a time of 1:21:43. 

So glad to have finally  arrived on the N. Franklin Peak.

My second day of volunteering was the longest and most exhausting. During the 50K Ultra SkyMarathon® I worked the Mundy’s Gap aid station on a remote part of the course. Once again, before sunrise I hiked two miles up the mountain with three other volunteers. The wind was really off the scale and I was worried about setting up the tables and keeping the snacks from blowing away. 

The Mundy's Gap Crew (from L to R): Becky, Greg, James and Brett.
Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer/Trail Racing Over Texas
We weren’t able to assemble our shade canopy, but I displayed Old Glory by duct taping it to a sign post. It held for a while, but was making a terrible snapping sound like a wet towel in a middle school locker room. Eventually the stripes came unstitched and the flag disintegrated in the high winds. Unfortunately the Stars and Stripes had to be retired and is now completely out of service. 

I took this when I was screwing around during the King and Queen.
After setting up, we tried to calculate when the lead runners would pass through our station. Mundy’s Gap aid is the 10 mile point and then runners complete an out-and-back trail to the top of N. Franklin Peak; then they return to the aid station (mi 14) and continue the rest of their 32 mile loop. Well, the lead runner came in too early and we were very concerned that he missed a turn, but he didn’t stop at our aid station; just kept going bounding up towards the peak. I took a picture of him with my cell phone because I forgot my camera. (I know, can you believe it!). 

 Tarahumara runner Arnulfo Quimare (note the huarache sandals!)
Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer/Trail Racing Over Texas
Anyway, by looking at his bib number we determined that it was Miguel Lara one of the Tarahumara Mexican runners (Rarámuri) and so then we weren’t sure if he got off course or was just setting a blistering pace. Nevertheless, I ran back along the course to check some direction signs and flagging in case the wind had taken it out. When I arrived the signage was in place and all the runners were going in the right direction. He was disqualified for missing a turn, but we were nonetheless honored to have him and Arnulfo Quimare, another Tarahumara runner, grace our mountain with their presence. In addition to running, they provided handmade awards to the winners of the race and were an inspiration to all the runners who participated. 

Brett helping lead runner Jim Walsmley.
When I was out checking signs on the course, I also climbed up a ridge to check flagging and the wind almost knocked me off the mountain. I’ve never experienced anything like it. While I was attending the aid station, one runner told me his prescription glasses were blown completely off his face and lost in the scrub. Luckily he had a pair of prescription sunglasses in his pack. If you are in need of hats, sunglasses or other items, just bushwhack around West Cottonwood Spring on the West side of the Franklins. 

Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer/Trail Racing Over Texas
After a while things got pretty crazy at our lemonade stand. Once the mid-pack runners started to arrive, the front-runners were returning from their trip to the peak so it was like a big chaotic party. I was the designated PBJ maker mostly because it’s my specialty. The real tricky job though, was to keep runners from continuing their loop before going up to the summit and back. They received a wrist summit band at the top so one of us had to act as the gate keeper. One runner inadvertently ran past us so my friend Brett had to chase him down so he wouldn’t get DQ’d. 

Of course we saw our share of scrapes, scratches and thorns and one guy had a major sock malfunction. On the way down the mountain his toes ripped through his sock and threads wrapped tightly around his middle toe cutting off the circulation. When he took his sock off there was a 1/4 inch deep thread mark around his toe. He’s lucky he didn’t lose it. Brett was able to repair his sock with duct tape and we sent him on his way a much happier camper. 

The winners of the 50K race: Jim Walmsley and Maggie Guterl (Maggatron)
Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer/Trail Racing Over Texas
Jim Walmsley, Morgan Elliot and Christian Gering were the top male finishers while Maggatron (Maggie Guterl), Shandra Moore and Kristina Pham won the top female spots.

L to R: Morgan Elliot, Jim Walmsley, and Christian Gering
Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer/Trail Racing Over Texas
After the last runners came through, it was time to pack up and start hauling gear over the pass and down the mountain. I made 3-4 trips using a cargo frame pack that I strapped stuff to. Everything from bags of garbage to two folding tables. I never felt more like a sherpa and was completely beat when I got down the mountain. I hadn’t eaten much all day so went to the finish line where I hit the Sun City Concessions food truck. Their steak quesadilla never tasted better. 

I hung out for a while with friends and waited for some of my fellow Team RWB Eagles to finish the race. While the winners finished in under five hours looking fresh as daisies, many runners came in after 12-15 hours appearing quite bedraggled. The terrain is very rugged out here and the race had over 8000’ of elevation gain making it the toughest 50K in Texas. 

My friend Tommy was working search and rescue and was sent out several times with bottles of Pedialyte to rehydrate runners and walk them into the finish line or wait with them until an ATV arrived. The last section of the course is appropriately named Tommy’s Revenge because he hates it so much and this is where most runners bonk, turning the last five into a death march.  

Tommy got his revenge!
Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer/Trail Racing Over Texas
Watch: Determined, The Rise of Maggatron

After the race I went home to get some sleep, but only got about four hours. The next morning I was back bright and early to set up for the half marathon race. This was an easy day because I got to park my car right next to the aid station. Our first customer was Marco Zuniga who won the King of the Mountain several days earlier. Marco, who also won the half marathon race, is the owner of the Colorado Running Ranch in Durango. If you are looking for high altitude training with excellent coaches, he is your man. Christian Gering, the 3rd place finisher in the 50K race, is also one of the coaches. The first female through our aid station was Tracie Akerhielm who also won the Queen of the Mountain so both King and Queen were also the half marathon winners. 

Marco smiling after reaching N. Franklin Peak.
Tommy showing Tracie the way back down.
We only took care of one casualty at our aid station. A lady came in who had taken a nasty fall. She had the nicest looking salon fingernails I have ever seen; all except one that is. The long nail had almost been torn off during her fall and her finger was bleeding. After flushing it with water, I noticed several small slivers of gravel imbedded between her nail and finger. I worked on it with tweezers and was able to get one out, but I was causing her too much pain. The next aid station was only a little more than a mile away with medical personnel so she soldiered on. 

The Half Marathon
Even the half marathon proved to be a brutal race. TRoT also offered a 5 and 10K distance so there was a race for everyone. Our Team RWB chapter was well represented both on and off the course. Thank you to all my fellow team members who eagled-up and helped out during the races and congratulations to those who finished.

State Park Superintendent, Cesar Mendez was
greeted by his son after finishing the 50K!

Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer/Trail Racing Over Texas
His expression sums it all up!
Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer/Trail Racing Over Texas
The races will take place again next year, but in November with cooler temperatures. I was grateful for the opportunity to volunteer and was presented with a special award following the race —a Tarahumara hand made pottery. In addition, thanks to the race director, Rob Goyen, I’ll have the opportunity to run the Franklin Mt 50K course next February. The only problem is that I’ll have to do it three times! The Inaugural Lone Star 100 is coming Feb 11-12. Better start training. 

See you on the trail.

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