Jemez 50K Rockhopper trip report. by Chris Russell
Here is my actual Jemez race report. The report is in the email but I also attached a Word document of it for those who prefer to read it off of Word. It is a pretty long report (big surprise). Both Elizabeth and Michelle have some great pics of the course on their respective FB pages. Check it out if you haven’t already.
A couple of things I forgot to mention in part 1.
– A couple of appealing things about this race is it really is only a day’s drive away which adds a lot of flexibility in transportation options. Granted it is a long day but the drive can be made in 12 hours (accounting for convenience store gas and food stops). Also it is a huge bonus that it is same weekend as memorial day. It was very nice to have Monday off to recover. I see why so many Texans come out to do this race.
– Los Alamos maybe the funkiest shape city in America. Imagine a hand, with parts of the city on each finger. Imagine a canyon between the fingers. So you may be a mile away from your destination but have to drive 15 minutes around a canyon to get there. The hand part of the city inclines up totards the mountains.
I will break up the race report by A/S legs.
Start to Mitchell Trail Head (5 Miles, 907 ft Gain, 734 ft Loss) – Starting off the weather was great. The sun was just rising and temps were comfortable in the mid 50s. What I really enjoyed was the lack of humidity!! The race started on one of the fingers, that I was previously talking about, and after a little bit of pavement and wider jeep road, we dove left into a canyon and were on some fairly wide single track. We (Spleens, Elizabeth and I) all let Michelle set the pace the first mile. I like running with Michelle early because she starts off very conservative and doesn’t worry what others are doing because she knows that as she warms up she’ll likely catch up with them later. I would guess about 2/3 of the field was ahead of us that first mile. After about a mile, the field had thinned out and my legs were getting loose so I went ahead at a little faster pace with Team Spleen right behind. This section was a lot of fun to run. Very shaded but a lot of smooth single track with some fun rollers. Some shorter gradual climbs but nothing steep. Knowing we would have some steep climbs later on, I elected not to run any of the inclines and wanted to save my legs. About the last mile of this section we climb out of the canyons and onto the “hand” part of the Los Alamos and emrged into the sun. With a few exceptions here and there most of the rest of the race was in the sun. I felt very relaxed as we cruised to A/S 1 and was expecting a good day. I was already starting to pass people that had started off much faster. I was carrying two handhelds and a 70oz pack so I was able to cruise through the first A/S without stopping. Team Spleen was right behind me with Michelle not far behind them.
Mitchell Trail Head to Camp May Road (5.4 miles, 1454 ft Gain, 1108 ft Loss) – Most of this section had us running “across the hand” and still at the base of the mountains. It was a Pandora’s style trail except rock was darker and we would dive in and out of narrow canyons. Tanya really liked this section and caught up to and passed me. Sometimes I forget how fast Tanya is when she is feeling good. I stayed not too far behind her. During this section, I found myself talking to a guy that lives in El Paso. I told him that people in SA don’t have the best impression of El Paso but he said he loved living there. He said it was great for outdoor activities. He had the Franklin Mountains close by and the Guads and Cloudcroft/Ruidoso were within a couple of hours drive. He added that he also would go to the Gila wilderness and that it was only around 3 hours away. Almost made me want to live in El Paso. After running across the hand we headed west towards the mountains. We hit a couple of real good climbs before arriving at the Aid Station. As we got close to the Aid Station, we had to cross a highway which had a wire barrier. There was a traffic guard there directing runners and ongoing traffic. The wire barrier was fairly high and the guard mentioned that it was some runners “struggled” with it. I stepped right over it. I think I gained a few seconds on the field there. After the highway we had a Mt Fuji type climb without as much loose rock. As I got to the top of the climb I saw both Jason and Michelle hitting the bottom of the climb. In the back of my mind I kept thinking it was a matter of time before Michelle (and her shredded quads) caught me since she is stronger on 2d half. Tanya and I hit the A/S a couple of minutes after the climb. I totally refueled by bottles and pack. I knew the next A/S was 6.6 miles away which made it the longest leg and it had 3,000 feet of climb with another 1,600 feet of descent. I did not want to be low on water.
Camp May Road to Ski Lodge (6.6 miles, 3047 ft Gain, 1634 ft Loss) – Almost immediately we started to gradually climb up as we left the A/S. There were a few flat runnable sections early but most of it was a very gradual steady up. The altitude was affecting my breathing a bit and neither Tanya nor I decided it was worth burning up energy trying to run some of the gradual inclines. One of the nice things was the first mile or so was in shade until we crossed the road again into a burned out area and was splashed in sun. The other big change was the trail became permanently dusty often alternating between brown dirt and volcanic ash. Initially the trail paralleled the road which meant the climb was steady but not steep. I continued to stay with Tanya and was really enjoying talking to her. I hadn’t run much with Tanya lately, and it was great to get a chance to run together. It seems from the moment I met Tanya at the Tiger Mart that fateful day in Dec 2009 (Brian and I were on our way to Bunmart) we have been really good friends and have always had a fun, comfortable, joking relationship. She has paced me twice at Cactus and I have paced her at Rocky but we rarely run much together during a race. One of my fondest memories about Jemez was getting to spend so much of it running with Tanya. I don’t think more than a 1/4 mile separated us all day.
Anyway, one of the things I had been noticing was how much stronger Tanya’s hiking and climbing had become (even since I paced her at Rocky this past Feb). Plus she also appeared even more “fit” to me. So during this section of trail, I told Tanya how impressed I was with her hiking. Tanya told me the past 2 months she had been doing a 25 minute core and glute workout 3 times a week. Now I would have been happy if Tanya had left it at that. But because I was a captive audience she went through the blow by blow of her workout. “First I do a plank for a minute, rest 5 seconds, then I lift my right leg for 30 seconds, rest 3 seconds, then I lift my left leg………” Keep in mind, I am already feeling inadequate after watching the Team Spleen pre race performance from the night before and I know she has the power of the nitro drink also circulating through her body. But now hearing about this amazing core workout she was doing really had me feeling totally outgunned. After about 5 minutes of her describing her workout…I said “Tanya, I’m getting exhausted just hearing about your core workout and I’m not even doing it, can you please stop?”. Thankfully she did, but I wasn’t spared. As we made another climb, that she cruised up, she commented about how much easier it was to hike up these hills now that she had much stronger glutes. So as if hearing about her rock solid core wasn’t enough, I was now subjected to hearing about her powerful glute muscles.
However, as amazing as Tanya is, she wasn’t totally spared Jemez humiliation. As we were running down a short steep 20 foot downhill she took a really hard fall and was totally covered with black ash. Falling is nothing unusual in a trail race. What was unusual was the cause of Tanya’s fall. She didn’t trip but one of her calf muscles totally cramped up, and she lost her balance. While laying on the ground, she was immediately surrounded by about 4 other runners checking to see if she was okay. She waved them off (out of embarrassment I think), and I helped her up and we continue to steadily climb.
About this time I started to get a little cocky. “This climb isn’t so bad”. Certainly nothing more difficult (other than altitude) than what we get in Tx. Well the trail gods have a way of exacting vengeance upon those who get overconfident. The trail then took hard a left into some trees at the base of the steep part of Pajarito Mtn. Right before I dove into the trees I looked up and several hundred feet above (and what appeared to be a 45 degree slope) I see a couple of runners pop out of the trees only to pop back in. Gulp. So we began the steep and very slow climb up Parajito Mtn. The trail did have switchbacks thankfully but they only lasted a few feet. It basically felt like I was climbing lucky repeatedly (without rocks but with lots of altitude). I struggled at first to find a rhythm (I was trying to push up too hard with my calves which was natural because of the steepness of the slope). I finally got into a rhythm by trying to engage my hams and glutes and consistently put one foot in front of the other. The altitude also made it hard to go very fast as I would quickly run out of breath and have my heart leap out of my chest whenever I pushed it. However, I was still passing people remarkably enough and staying relatively close to Tanya (which was a big accomplishment given her powerful glute muscles). I also regularly drank water during this time to avoid dehydration and possible altitude sickness. One thing that amazed me was when I was talking to Matt Hart (50 mile winner) after the race and he said he ran up that climb. Can’t comprehend that.
Tanya and I finally get to the top of the climb, which was exposed, see some ski lifts and start celebrating. We did it! At the top, the trail went left into some trees and we started flying downhill. Well after a few minutes the downhill stopped and we were climbing back up! What is this about? I thought we were done?!! It was a classic false summit. So after a steep few hundred feet of climbing we reach the top and were greeted by a great view of the Caldera. It was my favorite view all day. Tanya and I took each other’s pic with the Caldera behind us. The great thing about a camera is you can use it as an excuse to catch your breath while others assume you are taking a pic. We speculated on whether Ghost was on the Caldera that very moment (part of 50 mile course). The other interesting feature at the spot was this humongous Chris Russell size bench. I still regret not taking mine or Tanya’s pic on it, but I attached one of Michelle sitting on it.
After the Caldera overlook, the trail quickly plunged straight down a ski slope. It was steep. The challenging part, besides not falling on one’s face, was halfway down the trail took a sharp right onto regular single track. If one wasn’t paying attention they would keep on going. Some people may know David Infante. Michelle said David ran straight down it, and blew right bast the right turn and continued on down. She saw him walking back up once he realized he was off course. The downhill single track section into the ski lodge was a blast to run. The trail switch backed down about a mile, alternating between being in trees and big open views. Plus it wasn’t very rocky. I tried to cruise down it efficiently without hammering my quads because I knew much of the reminder of the course was downhill and wanted to have the legs to run it. I passed a couple of more runners (not as comfortable with technical downhills) and cruised into the ski lodge really pumped I had the worse over with. Tanya announced she was hitting the restroom. I only had my 2 bottles filled because I knew it would only be 2.8 miles to the next A/S and I was out. I knew Tanya (and her powerful glutes) would eventually catch me.
Ski Lodge to Pipeline (2.8 Miles, 629 ft Gain, 293 ft Loss) – After the steep climb and subsequent downhill of the last section, this section was a nice change of pace. It started off on a rolling jeep road along a fence for about a mile until it turned into a dusty single track along a scenic high mountain meadow. The single track eventually crossed the meadow and had a short decent uphill climb followed by a 1/2 mile of fun single track downhill and then a little uphill into the Pipeline A/S. I moved pretty well in this section and passed several people. My energy was good and legs felt good. The main thing that slowed me down was the altitude was affecting me more than I wanted. It didn’t feel like I was sucking through a straw but I would get winded fairly quickly when running. Plus the single track was slightly uphill. My strategy was to run until I got winded, power hike for a bit and then repeat. Near the end of the section that was downhill, I found myself starting to get a bit light headed and dizzy. This caused me to have to stop and walk until dizziness went away. However, despite the altitude related issues I was pleased with my progress and somewhat surprised I was still ahead of Tanya (and her powerful glutes) and Michelle (and her shredded quads). I would find out later that Michelle was having her own bizzare adventures on this very section. I refilled both bottles but still no need to refill hydration pack as the next section was listed as only having 316 feet of climb and 3.5 miles long.
Pipeline to Guaje Ridge (3.6 miles, 316 ft Gain, 1048 ft Loss) – Okay if this section had only 316 feet of climb I’ll subject myself to a Chris Porter body wax. Very quickly after leaving Pipeline A/S we begin a climb that I can only best describe as several of the powerline hills stacked on top of each. Climb a hill, about 50 yards of flat and climb the next hill. Repeat. My climbing wasn’t great here and the altitude was affecting but I was moving okay. Once I got to the top, the jeep road ran right along the ridge of the mountains with steep drops on both sides. It was spectacular and my second favorite view after the Caldera. It was very flat though, either rolling down or up (see comment about 316 feet of climb). One detriment to being on an exposed ridge was the wind! It was “hold onto your hat while running” wind. I was also still having issues with periodic dizziness (from altitude) and was experiencing a headache as well. I just kept trying to drink and eat to help deal with it.
Eventually, the course dove left down the mountainside and the rest of this section was very narrow sandy downhill single track (with the occasional flat or brief up). The trail was along the mountainside which really kept me from bombing down it. One misstep and I could find myself tumbling down a few hundred feet. We were also back into the burned out area of the course. I just tried to focus on keeping my steps short and maintain decent turnover. I eventually caught up with a guy named Bryce. In talking to him I learned it was his first ultra (he said marathons were getting too big). He was only 23 and did para rescue for the AF. He was stationed in ABQ but had been in San Diego the past month for training (rough life). He was surprised that I was retired AF because he said I didn’t look that old. I liked this guy!! Anyway it was nice to have someone to talk to as I had been running solo for the past several miles. We ran together into the next A/S.
I took a little bit of time at this A/S. It was very remote and totally exposed. The water had to be carried in by hand for the race. I had some dust in my shoes I dumped out. I also decided to refill both bottles and my hydration pack. It was over 5 miles to the final A/S and it was starting to get warm. I also knew the next section was totally burned out and exposed. As I was refilling everything, Tanya (and her powerful glutes) and about 3 others all come cruising in. Tanya tells me that she is really happy with how her race is going and I leave the A/S with Tanya. One funny story, as we were leaving the A/S Tanya announced to the A/S workers, “Ok, I’m leaving now.” Does she think she is Elvis or something?
Guaje Ridge to Last Chance (5.3 miles, 36 ft Gain, 1792 ft Loss) – This whole section was dusty, exposed (great if you like views), windy at times (sand blasted), downhill or flat (maybe two short uphill climbs) and the burned out trees gave it a post apocalyptic feel. It was also eerily quiet (well when I wasn’t talking to someone). I tried to run behind Tanya starting off and there was another gal behind us. Right off the bat I was having a hard time keeping pace. My legs felt okay but I was still having some dizziness issues and the top of my right toes were rubbing against the top of my shoes. It was very uncomfortable. Plus my feet were sore. After a half mile I gave up trying to keep up with Tanya. She and her powerful glutes were really running well. Plus the other girl was right behind me and it was stressing me out a bit. So I pulled over and let her pass. I needed to get back to finding my own rhythm. I got into a comfortable pace and made it my goal to at least try to keep Tanya’s blue Rockhopper shirt in sight.
Unfortunately, the toes of my right foot made it tough to keep a comfortable pace. The rubbing of the toes against the top of the shoe wasn’t fun. I finally decided to stop and pull my orthotic out of my shoe hoping it would give me a little extra room. While doing this I kept expecting Michelle (and her shredded quads) or Jason (and his nitro infused body) to catch up with me. Surprisingly no one did. I put my shoe on and started running. Taking the orthotic out really helped. My foot was more comfortable and I found a good running rhythm. After a mile, I caught up to the girl who I had let passed. She was walking. I talked to her a bit and she said she was from Denver, she was only 29 and this was her first ultra as well. While the altitude didn’t bother her, the heat was really starting to get to her. That was the one advantage to being from San Antonio, the heat didn’t bother me much. The sun got intense but it wasn’t humid and the heat never felt overwhelmingly brutal like it does in a mid afternoon run. I asked her what got her into ultras and she said her boyfriend decided to do Leadville. She added that she is very competitive so she signed up for Leadville so she could beat him. Chuck S. and Michelle H. they were not.
I soon put some distance on the Denver girl. Passing her really gave me a confidence boost! I was a bit down after not being able to hang with her or Tanya earlier. I now had some added energy and picked up the pace. There was a rare uphill climb up ahead and I saw Bryce at the base of it about 30 yards from me. Bryce had left the previous A/S a couple of minutes before me and had taken off with some energy. So it felt good to have caught up to him. As I was passing him, I asked him if he was okay. Like the Denver gal, he was being affected by the heat. He only had one water bottle and he is a fairly tall guy. I tried to give him some water because I had loaded up but he wouldn’t take it. I wished him well and tried to push the pace. After that brief climb, the course went onto a jeep road. It went straight down hill and was steep in places. It sort of reminded of the downhill into Crossroads. I really had a lot of energy and ran down it at a good clip, passing 2 more people in the process. After a half mile or so, the course took an immediate right onto more dusty single track. It started off mostly flat and then went uphill for a short bit before descending into a canyon. I saw Tanya’s blue shirt up ahead on the uphill (about 200 yards ahead of me). It was comforting to still see her in sight. I will say that seeing great friends on the course is really a big emotional boost and it is nice knowing that they were sharing same experience as you.
Soon after descending into the canyon, I saw a sign that said Last Chance A/S 1 mile ahead. We all know how that works. That last mile (even though it was mostly downhill and I finally hit some shade) felt like 1.5 miles at least. Anyway as I got into the A/S I saw a sign that said “Pumpkin Pie available”. Wow! I never had pumpkin pie in a race before! So when I got into the A/S they asked me what I needed and I said “pumpkin pie!”. The volunteers responded with a big cheer! Apparently I was the first person all day who had asked for pumpkin pie. They even asked me if I wanted whip cream! Tanya later said she heard the cheer from the A/S (she had just left it) and she wondered what the cheer was about. Anyway, the pumpkin pie hit the spot and I was ready for the final 2 miles.
Last Chance to Finish (2 miles, 426 ft Gain, 206 ft Loss) – Last Chance Aid station was down in the bottom of one of the canyons below Los Alamos which meant there would be some climbing the final 2 miles. The climbing started almost immediately with a steep 200 to 250 foot climb. I could see Tanya partway up the climb. After the top of the climb the trail leveled out. I passed one lady and soon caught up to Tanya who was walking. I tell Tanya there is a lady right behind her. Tanya said, “She can pass me, I don’t care.”. Like most ultrarunners I have experience that same feeling but Tanya had been having such a great race that I wanted her to finish it style and I figured it would help me as well. I said to Tanya, “Well why don’t we try to run a bit?” So Tanya started running and for the next 8 miles we ran. Okay it wasn’t 8 miles but it felt like it. The last 2 miles lasted forever. Anyway, we ran most of it with the occasional short walking breaks up an incline. I was really pleased my legs were still able to run (even though my feet were really sore). We were winding our way through the canyon that we would have to climb out of to get to the finish. We were moving pretty well for that point in the race and passed 3-4 people. Finally we come to the base of the final climb. This climb is hard to describe. Just know it was very steep and very narrow. 2 people could not climb it side by side. It went up about 100 feet and I followed Tanya up. When we got to the top I could see we were only 50 yards from the finish. I thought it would be really cool to finish this race together with my buddy Tanya, because we had run so much of it together. But once Tanya got to the top, she engaged those powerful glutes and flew across the finish line smoking me by a few seconds. So much for my vision of us finishing this race together!!:) Jason later told me, “See what I have to deal with!”. Anyway our official finishing times was 7:50 and change (although the clock said 7:48 when we crossed).
Both of us were really happy with our race. It was the first race I had been really happy with for awhile. Out of 195 finishers (majority from high altitude states like NM and CO), Tanya was 71st and I was 72d. However, Tanya was 2d Texan (out of 36) and I was 3d. Tanya was 2d low altitude female as well. After the race was over Tanya and I laid around helplessly on the grass and cooked in the sun. We were both so tired I don’t think we said more than a few words to each other outside of, “Did you see any of the other Rockhoppers come in?” Speaking of which…below is a brief recap of the other Rockhoppers and their races.
Jason and Elizabeth (8:40) – Jason started well but the lack of training miles from his ITB injury really took its toll the last 7.5 miles and he slowed down quite a bit. Still he persevered on and when he was recovering at Last Chance A/S Elizabeth caught up to him. Elizabeth struggled up the big mountain but once she got to the top she really made up ground cruising the flats and hammering the downs. She said she passed a lot of people. When she caught up to Jason, he told her to go ahead and Elizabeth told him “you are coming with me!”. So Elizabeth got Jason moving and they finished strong. I think Elizabeth had the best race of the Rockhoppers. She fully expected to take over 10 hours and I had estimated between 9:30-10 hours for her. I later apologized to her for underestimating her. Jason despite his struggles at the end still beat his time from 2 years ago.
Michelle (9:01) – In part one I mentioned that according to Navajo tradition a coyote crossing your path is bad luck. Unfortunately, the coyote that crossed Michelle’s path on the drive up appeared to throw some bad luck Michelle’s way. The first half of the race went according to script for Michelle. As previously mentioned she started off conservatively and started to pass a number of people on the climb up the mountain and even found some time to take pics. She felt real good heading into the Ski Lodge A/S and was soon running down the jeep road towards Pipeline A/S when misfortune hit. A sharp little rock that had wedge itself between her sock and achilles up on the mountain had dug itself into her Achilles on the run down the mountain. It didn’t bother her too much but was becoming more painful on the trail to Pipeline A/S. About a mile after leaving the Ski Lodge, Michelle decided to get the rock out of Achilles. She literally had to dig it out and it left a good size gash in her Achilles. She didn’t realize the next A/S was only 1.8 miles ahead so she decided to return to Ski Lodge to have it treated. Unfortunately, digging the rock out actually made it hurt worse so she had to walk back. On the way back she was passed by a girl named Claudia who was heading out. Claudia finished a few minutes behind Tanya and I which means Michelle was likely right behind us before she stopped. Anyway, Michelle returned to the Ski Lodge where they bandaged her up and tried to talk her into dropping. In true Rockhopper fashion Michelle decided to continue on. She was able to run some but had to walk any ups or downs (any incline made it very painful). She had it further wrapped up at Pipeline A/S and from there she finished the race. Once again she was able to run flats but had to walk any inclines (up or down). She said it was frustrating not being able to run a lot of the runnable downhill sections. All told she likely lost a good hour with the extra 2 miles and additional time in A/Ss, not including the additional time lost walking. Without the injury she would have been solidly under 8 hours but really displayed a lot of Rockhopper toughness in finishing and getting it done under tough circumstances. Great effort.
Derek and Jennifer Moore (10:34) – One of the most enjoyable parts of the trip was getting to hang out with the Moores some. I know many of the other Rockhoppers don’t them well but if you do see them at a race strike up conversation. You’ll enjoy it. Anyway, they both agreed it was the toughest 50K they had done. Listening to Jennifer describe the very steep climb up the mountatin was a riot. She said she would grab the tree in front of her. Use it to pull herself up and past the tree. She would then lean against the tree and catch her breath. Repeat. I was laughing really hard listening to her discuss it. But the Moores are tough Texans and they got it done as well.
Lorenzo (50 miler – 11:20) – Renzo was only one of us who did the 50 miler. He originally had planned on doing the race with his brother-in-law but his brother-in-law wasn’t able to go. Because Renzo assumed he would be running it with his brother-in-law he didn’t train as much assuming he would go at a slower pace. But with his bother-in-law out of the race Renzo decided to give it is best despite 25 mile training weeks. Renzo said he was real happy with his race given his level of training.. He ran most of it with Matt Crownover. Matt is better on flats and Renzo is better on climbs/descents so they pushed each other during the weak areas. Overall it was a good training run as he ramps up for Leadville.
– While Jemez was challenging I never felt overwhelmed. What was nice is that it only had one really steep climb up a mountain. Personally I found that this made it a fun course. There is talk of returning to the old course next year which has more climbs. But I really enjoyed this course.
– Living in Texas we can’t totally prepared for the altitude and extended climbs but I did find doing afternoon hill repeats went a long way in getting me ready for the race.
– With this being a cupless race, the hydra pouch worked well for me. I like my shot of coke or mtn dew at an A/S. My hydration and fuel worked well. I grabbed something solid at every A/S and ate gels and Justin’s packets in between.
– My new NB Leadville shoes worked well. My feet got sore like they always do (when will Hokas make my size) but they were a comfortable shoe to run in overall and handle the terrain well.
– I look forward to doing this race again….50 mile perhaps?