This was a “training through” race. My big race is Bighorn 100 in 4 weeks. The goal was to have really good focus in this race, to do well, but not go out too hard and have to recover much in the days following the race. I need to be able to put in another week of high mileage, quality work for Bighorn after Jemez. I won't have the luxury of a rest week after Jemez. Instead 1 more push week.
The temps were predicted cooler, upper 30s at start and high around 65, pretty perfect conditions for a long day. I met up with friend Grace Mills, a wonderful ultra-runner and human being. She introduced me to several of her friends that would also be on the course that day, including Cindy Stonesmith.
Jemez course starts on the single track trails in Los Alamos, around 7,000ft. We would top out a couple of times at 10,500 feet. The course has 10,500ft of climbing and about the same descending. Initially, we climbed rocky single track trails up Guaje Ridge. About 6 or 7 miles up I met Cindy. We climbed together and got to chat about our upcoming races and goals and family. She has Western States coming up. We had run many of the same races. She had also been to Bighorn and helped give me an idea of what the course is like. We continued to climb rocky trails to the ski resort around 10,000 ft, followed by a really stinking steep climb up the boot pack trail straight up the ski slope to the peak. I took the lead up and we both worked to keep our effort in check, knowing at mi 35 we would be doing this again. Cindy kept check on how long it took us, to use it as a measuring stick for round 2.
We topped out where the trail then switchbacks down rocky single track trails down the backside of the mountain, down to about 8,000ft. I took the lead on the down and created a little gap between us. Mother nature was calling loudly, so i ran a little harder to gain enough of a gap that i could get off trail and hidden to take care of business without spectators. Sure enough Cindy and a few other runners came zipping past. They never saw me, thankfully. I got myself back together and back on trail, but it would be 20 miles before I ever saw Cindy again.
I hit the aid station at the bottom and readied myself to go back up and over another ridge. This was a difficult section. Mile 20-28. Solo climbing, the day heating up and no sign of Cindy. At the top of the ridge you can see down into the Caldara….just amazing beauty and exposure across kind of a volcanic basin of grassland.
After dropping a steep mile down, the 4 miles across here are steady runnable uphill miles under a warming Sun. This section starts at about mile 28. With 2 big climbs under my belt, and more to come, staying focused on running this section was tough, the temptation to hike strong.
The last ½ to 1 mile climb out of the Caldara is silly. 32 miles in, straight up loose sand/rock/scree. One foot up, one slide down or sideways. Grabbing tree limbs, rocks to keep from tumbling back down. The next couple miles we got to enjoy easy single track rolling trail again into the ski lodge. Time to regain a little strength, open the legs up and contemplate the steep climb to the peak that had already been endured once before.
At the ski lodge, mi 35.5 I got to see Todd, the kids, and friends David Sooter and Katie Bryant and their little munchkin River. One year old River was chillaxin’ in his stroller. I was so excited to see everyone I was squealing and almost yelling “HI! YOU ARE SOOOOOO CUTE!!!” his look of “Oh dear God that crazy stinky dirty lady is gonna Get me” had me settle down just a tad. He then seemed very amused and ready for me to lift him up. He's obviously been exposed to stinky, loud ultra-running women before….ahem, Katie.
They asked if I needed anything, “just a fresh pair of legs would be nice”. I hugged and kissed the kiddos and hubby and started the trudge back up the ski slope.
It was a relief to see Cindy again. As I rolled in, she was already climbing out. That made me feel that maybe as tired and slow as I felt, I was not losing as much ground on the other gals as I had thought. She was definitely a stronger climber than me, so I didn't push to try and gain any ground on that climb. I hoped I would catch her on the down. I need up climbing with a nice guy. I focused on the backs of his heels as we climbed. Matching his short, relaxed steps. We chatted a little. I mentioned the desire for fresh set of legs and he replied, “ those are the legs that are gonna carry you home”. I smiled and realized I had a pretty good set, with lots of experience to get me there.
Down the other side I caught up with and passed a few guys and another girl. No sight of Cindy rolling into the aid station at mi 40ish. Leaving this aid station was more climbing. I was less than enthusiastic here, but ran the climbs I knew were runnable (very slow) and hit it on the down. My uphill legs felt sucky, but my downhill legs still good. I was relieved to go down again and at the bottom of that down I caught back up with Cindy. “Hey stranger!” I yelped. So happy to see her, as I had missed our running together, and motivated to try and keep up with her now that I found her again.
She relayed that she thought I had just dropped her and was way ahead. I explained I was half naked when she passed me, and I really didn't want that to be her last image of me. We laughed a little, and I let her lead us up the next climb. It took work to keep up with her And I sorely wanted to let her go. With under 10 miles to go, I just had to believe I had it in me to keep up.
We had some descending, so I took the lead and worked at a moderate effort down. As much of an effort as it was for me to hang on to her on the ups, I could feel it was a similar challenge for her on the downs. We hit mi 45ish aid station and caught another female. We headed out together and quickly passed her and another guy and worked more downhill running.
The last aid station left us at mi 50 with 2 more miles of mostly climbing, and a little flat just before a steep little jut up a crevice. I let Cindy take the lead, knowing this would be painful, and it was. I teased her that it would be payback time for the descending I dragged her through. She seemed to take great joy in returning the favor….kidding of course. I really struggled to stay within close reach. We hit the crevice together and climbed up and out. With 100 or so meters to the finish we decided to nail it together. Neither of us had any desire to Sprint or try to overtake the other. I think our combined effort pushed us both to beyond where we would have ended up solo. This was a really awesome race experience added to many before. Enjoyed the beauty of the terrain, the mountains, and the people most especially.