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. In years past, I have completed four 100 mile trail races and many other ultramarathons. I spend countless hours running in the Franklin Mountains and the surrounding desert in far West Texas, which I call my church. My little Mexican hairless dog, Taz tags along sometimes. I am slowing down in my old age and am mostly running 50K trail races these days.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Mt Taylor 50K 2018

I try my best to not break my ankle as I navigate rocks and other tripping hazards at the base of Mt Taylor near Grants, NM. The sun isn’t up yet, so I steal a little bit of light from those running with headlamps around me. Wouldn’t it be a shame to get injured in the first half mile of the Mt Taylor 50K trail race? I’m careful and take my time; the sun will be up in 15 minutes anyway. Before long I’m power hiking up a forest road with about 180 other runners. The weather is perfect; about 45 with little wind and dry as a bone. We will eventually go to the peak at 11,300’, but not before we run a 16 mile hilly loop to make sure our legs are good and trashed before the brutal ascent. 

Mt Taylor as seen from Sandstone Bluffs, El Malpais National Monument

As we approach the top of the climb warm light begins to illuminate the Fall colors of the quaking aspen trees —mostly yellow with hints of amber and crimson. Lurid aspens contrast sharply with the earth tones of the Engelmann and blue spruce that crowd around them. The beauty is interrupted by La Mosca lookout and an array of cell phone towers and other ironmongery perched atop a nearby peak. To keep my energy up, I eat a banana and some boiled potatoes that I tucked into my pack. After reaching the top of the first major climb I pass through an aid station where perky volunteers fill my water bottles. 

I run down the forest road and pass a group of runners. One says, “I was wondering where that jingling sound was coming from.” I’m that annoying guy that wears a bear bell on his pack and runners love to give me a hard time about it. I reply, “Keeping bears away is my super power.” (You’re very welcome!) Running down is really fun so I go as fast as I can because I know my pace is going to come to a near screeching halt later this afternoon. In a few more miles I reach the Continental Divide Trail where a sign reads “Mexico 643M; Canada 2466”. I head towards Mexico climbing a steep single track trail through ponderosa pines interspersed with stands of aspen.

I try my best to keep a fast walking pace, but my energy is waning and runners begin to overtake me. I eat some almond stuffed dates and dried apricots hoping to get a sugar boost. Another man passes me and comments on my jingling so I say, “Just call me Santa. I could sing some Christmas carols for you if you’d like. Jingle bells, jingle bells...”  Well, that gets him moving pretty fast up the bear-free path (you're welcome) and he is out of sight in a short while. I pass through a few more aid stations and make it back to the staging area where I put on some sunscreen and eat some fresh fruit. My legs are pretty tired at this point, but I am looking forward to climbing sacred Tsoodził, the Native American name for Mt Taylor. 

The Navajo recognize four sacred mountains in their nation that represent the four cardinal directions. Blanca Peak, Sisnaajiní, is the Eastern most mountain located in E. Colorado. The North mountain is Hesperus Peak, Dibé Nitsaa, located in the San Juans in W. Colorado. The West mountain is San Francisco Peaks, Dook’o’oosłííd, near Flagstaff, AZ and of course, Tsoodził near Grants, NM is the South mountain. 

Watch: “How to Pronounce the Sacred Mountains in Navajo”

I leave the aid station, which is also the start/finish line, eating some banana bread that I had stashed in my drop bag. I cross a dirt road and pick up a single track trail. A tall lanky guy is in front of me ears adorned with earbuds wires dangling freely beside his neck. “Passing on the left!”, I say. No response. Hmmm…I’ll try the other side. “PASSING ON THE RIGHT!” I shout. No response. “RATTLESNAKE!” No reaction. “WATCH OUT! ZOMBIES!” Nothing. I finally get annoyed and go off the narrow path to get around, making sure to run as close as possible to him. 

Gnarly single track

I begin the slow steady climb to the peak hoping the Mountain Gods will be kind to me today. The last time I ran this race the altitude made me somewhat dizzy and I had a lot off pressure in my head as I was nearing the top. The forest is pleasant; not too hot with a gentle breeze. The trail is steep, but I simply concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other without worrying about my pace. I grow weary with heavy legs as I climb higher into the thin air. I become lost in my thoughts and start thinking about the Navajo Blessing Way prayer that is printed on our race shirts. This condensed version that replaces the word “walk” with “run”, inspired me to look up the original prayer last night which reads:

Today I will walk out, today everything unnecessary will leave me,
I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.
I will have a light body, I will be happy forever,
nothing will hinder me.
I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.

In beauty all day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.

With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
My words will be beautiful.

These words are beautiful and help motivate me up the sacred mountain. Eventually I pop out of the forest into a rocky grass slope where there are great views of the valley far below. I plod upwards and can see other runners struggling ahead of me. I make it to the top, but it’s just a false summit. The trail continues along a ridge and then climbs some more. A series of switchbacks comes into view, but the first turn looks like it’s light years away and I wonder how long it will take me to reach it. I will have a cool breeze over my body, I think to myself. I keep plodding on in much misery and reach the first switch. I will have a light body, I will be happy forever, nothing will hinder me. My heart is pounding and my breathing is very labored, but I reach the second switch. I peer out into the vast view before me, In beauty all day long may I walk. 

The climb to Mt Taylor

I pass a runner who seems to be struggling worse than me and then I reach another guy sitting on a rock resting. I ask if he is OK and he says, “I’m just trying to catch my breath.” I dare not sit down for fear that I may not be able to get up again. Slowly I keep putting one foot in front of the other occasionally looking out at the beauty all around me. I feel very old and think about my 55th birthday that I’ll celebrate in another week. In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk. It looks like I’m nearing the peak so I put a little pep in my step. I reach the last switch and can see people standing on the summit. I continue on, climbing the last few steps and a photographer takes my picture in front of the sign marking the summit. I enjoy the view with rolling mountains of golden grass and evergreen trees neatly divided by the ridge line resembling yin and yang. Volcanic cones, mesas and lava fields carpet the valley floor far in the distance and a wind energy ranch sits on top of a nearby plateau. 

"Yin and Yang"

I could stay here all day soaking it all in, but I have eight more miles to go. I start down a steep technical trail and then traverse a grassy slope. After passing through another aid station I run a forest road with a lot of rocks and ruts in places. The vivid aspens are spectacular and then I reach a stand of droopy moss covered evergreens that look like something out of Tolkien’s Middle-earth. My legs feel like rubber and even though I’m going downhill, I have a hard time keeping a fast clip. At least there is some shade cover as the sun rises higher in the sky. Finally I reach the turn onto single track where a sign reads “Caldera Aid Station One Mile”. This is going to be the longest mile of the race because it is straight up. I waste no time and start the arduous climb. I catch up to a running acquaintance and we commiserate while tackling the hill, both stopping frequently to catch our breath. When almost to the top, I pass the largest evergreen I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure how this one survived the logging heyday, but the girth is very impressive indicating it has been here for hundreds of years. (Engelmann spruce can live to be over 500 years old.)

I reach the aid station with only two more miles to the finish line, but still continue climbing for a while. I come to a sign that reads “Heartbreak Hill” with a picture of a person wearing a wingsuit. I look down at the double black diamond slope and am not sure my rubbery legs can carry me to the bottom. If I had a wingsuit right now, I would jump off this mountain! I bomb down the trail letting gravity do its thing and almost go ass-over-teakettle a few times. Near the bottom I reach a gully full of bowling ball sized rocks. An older gentleman is hiking down so I know I’m nearing the finish line. “If only there were more rocks right here!” I say, “maybe they could add some more for next year’s race.” He chuckles and I run home to the finish line finishing in 8:26, one minute slower than the last time I ran this race.

I sit and recover for quite a while and then enjoy some much deserved food while I wait for a friend to finish the race. Mt Taylor is a great event with many ambitious volunteers making sure runners have a positive experience. The course is well marked with plenty of aid stations not to mention an abundance of scenic views. Congratulations to all the runners and a big thank you to all the volunteers and race staff! May you run in beauty on Tsoodził.

Photo: Mark Ladd/Chris Black 
Photo: Mark Ladd/Chris Black

See you on the trail.

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