Earlier this month I ran the Sierra Vista Trail 30K in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces, NM. I ran the inaugural edition of this race about five years ago when it was free and have watched it grow into a legitimate trail ultramarathon while still maintaining a real down-home feel. Runners from El Paso, Las Cruces, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and all places in between gathered for a day of beauty, camaraderie and, of course, some misery while tackling the Sierra Vista Trail beneath the towering needles of the Organ Mountains. The race is organized by the Southern New Mexico Trail Alliance and offers 5K through 50K distances as well as a kids fun run. I decided to do the 30K since the Bataan Memorial Death March was looming several weeks later.
I arrived at the race start with a few of my fellow Team Red, White and Blue members known as Eagles for the eagle on our signature red shirts. Team RWB is a national non-profit that was started around 2010 to support veterans through exercise and social events. Our members are also involved in community projects and believe that we can help veterans overcome the obstacles of returning from war, separating from the military and transitioning to civilian life.
|A group of Team RWB Eagles from the El Paso chapter|
A few misconceptions about our group is that we only run and that only veterans can join. In fact, Team RWB offers many other fitness opportunities like biking, CrossFit, hiking, yoga and triathlon training. While all chapters may not offer all these options, we are always looking for new ambitious people to step up to lead an activity —maybe you. In addition, there are national camps that give veterans opportunities to be mentored by elite athletes and coaches. Some of the camps have included trail running, triathlon, rock climbing, yoga and GORUCK leadership camps.
|Some stats about Team RWB |
Many people believe they cannot participate or join Team RWB if they haven’t served in the military which isn’t true. In reality our goal is to help veterans integrate back into civilian life and the best way to do that is to create supportive communities made up of both civilians and veterans. Exercising together and achieving a common goal is therapeutic and an important part of transitioning to civilian life whether you are a wounded warrior, suffering from PTSD or simply trying to find work after a career in the armed forces. Team RWB is free to join and anyone is eligible, so check the website for the closest chapter near you and to find events that you would like to attend. Click here to join the team.
|(Photo courtesy: Mark W.)|
My race started with about 90 of us running along a dirt road to spread out the pack before we entered the single track of the Sierra Vista National Recreation Trail. While there aren’t any long mountainous climbs, there are plenty of short steep arroyos and rolling hills to negotiate. The trail is hard packed dirt with some rocks and lined by prickly cacti of all sorts. Dry grass and creosote bush make up the surrounding landscape with the beautiful organ Mountains always in view. I had a hard time running because I wanted to stop to take pictures of the awesome scenery.
The weather was already on the warm side when we began at 8:00am. After about a three mile climb, we made it to a rocky outcrop near some upscale homes with tremendous views of the jagged towering peaks. We crossed a road and arrived at the first aid station where I filled up with water and ate some fruit. The next part was a long gradual descent where I was able to open up my stride letting gravity do most of the work. I caught up to one of my friends and ran with him for a long while.
|A typical hill|
In a few more miles we arrived at the second aid station where we stopped for some hydration and oranges. Several Eagles met up with us and we ran as a group for a while. When we entered a wide dry wash my friend commented that this was the section where people got lost the last time we ran the race. I concurred, remembering that indeed, I had met several confused runners on this part of the course in years past. Well, we didn’t think much of it and continued on talking more and running less.
Suddenly we came upon a girl who said that we were off course. “Look, there’s orange flagging and runners way over there!” she said. Sure enough, we had missed a turn so we cut through the desert to find our way onto the single track trail. This was at mile seven where the trail and a dirt road enter the wide gravely drainage. The trail and the road exit the arroyo on the other side, but we took the wide road instead of the single track trail even though it was clearly marked. The moral of this story is to always pay attention, especially when you are engaged in conversation about your black toenails, IT band injury or how much vert was in your last race.
Once we started running again, we noticed another runner who made the same mistake as us, so yelled at him to help him back on track. After running for a few more miles we were all getting a little weary and began looking at our gps watches wondering where the nine mile turn around was. Well, it didn’t come for another 1.5 miles and that’s when we realized that our 18 mile race just turned into over 20. After resting for a few minutes and filling water bottles we headed back the way we had come.
|Strong Eagles gettin' it done!|
I pulled ahead of my friends because I wanted to take some pictures of wildflowers along the trail and knew that I would be slower on the way back. I passed a trio of runners, one seemed to be suffering knee pain, so I asked if they needed help before I continued on. I arrived at some Mexican gold poppies so stopped for some photos. These yellow flowers only bloom in years where there is sufficient rainfall so this should be a good spring for wildflowers.
|Mexican gold poppy|
|I'm not sure what these are called.|
Soon I was back at the dry wash where we got off course and made sure to pay attention so I didn’t miss the turn onto the single track S.V. trail. The next three to four miles were pretty dismal as I made the gradual climb back into town. I slowed considerably and the sun was beating down on me. Nevertheless, I kept my long sleeve shirt on to protect my skin and also pulled my buff up onto my neck and face. Unfortunately, the backs of my calves were in the full sun and I paid dearly for not putting sunscreen on them. Several 50K runners, who started an hour earlier than us, passed me on this hill, but I eventually made it to the top where the aid station was waiting.
I fueled up and took off past the rock outcrops and the last three miles were mostly downhill. I was glad when the Organ Needles finally came into view and I could see the campers and tents of the finish line. I finished in 4:35 and immediately sat down in the shade. Many of our Eagles were also recovering and I had a lot of company to share my experience with. The Sierra Vista Trail Run never disappoints. There is something here for everyone whether you are a seasoned ultrarunner, 5Ker, child, spectator or veteran.
All our Team RWB Eagles had a great time running this race and are gearing up for the Bataan Memorial Death March which is this weekend at white Sands Missile Range, NM. Please help spread the word about our organization and consider joining if you aren’t already a member. Don’t forget, it’s free and a great way to support veterans. Team Red, White and Blue; enriching the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. It’s our turn.
|(Photo courtesy: Mark W.)|
See you on the trail.