2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Web Journal
 
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
 

  RUNNING & WORKING
THE JEMEZ MOUNTAIN TRAIL RUN (JMTR)

SATURDAY, MAY 22

 
"The JMTR races take place in the scenic Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico.
The course is on technical trails with a significant amount of elevation change.
The 50-mile and 50K events include extremely steep climbs and descents on very technical
terrain. On the course, runners will experience high altitude (over 10,000 feet above
sea level), scree fields, stream crossings, fallen trees, and other obstacles . . . Runners are
encouraged to consider their comfort level on this type of terrain before registering."
 
~ from the Jemez Mountain Trail Runs website
 
 
Hint to race directors: make your race sound especially challenging and it'll fill up quickly. The tougher an event sounds, the more appealing it becomes to many trail runners! The same is true these days for adventure races, mountain bike races, and other similar events.

If it's highly "technical," they will come.

I haven't been on that much of the Jemez course but I've read the detailed course descriptions and heard what runners had to say last year about the 50K and 50-mile races. Everyone who's run either of the ultra races agrees that JMTR is one of the tougher events at those distances in the country.

The 50-miler is especially rugged, with some very rough terrain and four ascents over 10,000 feet high; there is "only" one ascent that high in the 50K but it's a doozy with the additional challenge of loose footing and a narrow trail that is used by runners going up and down at the same time. Jim's attempt last year to finish the 50-miler was dashed when he missed a turn on Pajarito Mountain more than two-thirds of the way through the race and subsequently missed the cut-off at the Ski Lodge Aid Station.

His goal this year is to have more fun in his races and less stress trying to beat cut-offs. Two good ways to accomplish that goal are to run more 50Ks with generous cut-offs (like JMTR) and continue entering fixed-time races (like ATY).

PRE-RACE ACTIVITIES

Friday morning we moved our camper over to North Mesa to a parking area between the Posse Shack (start/finish of the race) and the North Mesa Stables. We really liked the convenience of this spot last year so we snuggled in between some large trees just like we did then:

By late afternoon several other Jemez entrants in various types and sizes of RVs and vans had settled in for one or two nights. We were especially happy to see our friends Marcy and John Beard and socialize with them for a while before we left for packet pick-up.

We were surrounded by other vehicles all day today during the race but nearly everyone had gone by 10 PM. Most of the campers remained overnight and left Sunday morning.

Since I wasn't running the race I volunteered again to help with various duties before and during the race. My assistance wasn't needed mid-week for stuffing the race bags but we both helped on Friday afternoon with packet pick-up at the church where the pre-race briefing and dinner were also held.

There was a steady line of runners for the two ultras and a half marathon. Four of us handled race numbers and raffle tickets for numerous giveaways during the briefing and after the race:

Runners picked up their handsome shirts and posters at another table. The light sage green short-sleeved "technical" shirts sport this year's new race logo:

The runners in all three races received the same shirt, as did some of the volunteers. I was happy to get one of the attractive, comfortable race shirts when there weren't any of the bright orange cotton volunteer t-shirts left in my size this morning.

The poster is quite nice, too, from a painting by local artist Secundino Sandoval:

About 60% of the 600+ entrants picked up their packets on Friday afternoon. Jim and I worked from 4:40 to 6:30 PM handing out race numbers and explaining how the raffles worked (one drawing at the briefing, one during the race).

By the time the line dwindled down enough for us to go get some dinner in a nearby room, most of the pasta and other items were gone. I had encouraged Jim to leave earlier to go eat but he felt responsible for processing as many runner numbers as possible and simply waited too long. Ironically, he hadn't even volunteered for that job. I did. He saw the need for more help and jumped in. We supplemented dinner in the camper when we got back home.

Finding a place to sit inside to eat during the race briefing was also a problem. Although the new church has a large auditorium, the place was packed. Since he's run the race before, Jim decided to skip the briefing and go outside to eat where there was more room. I eventually found a seat inside when a kind young lady who was finished eating let me have her place.

I stayed just long enough to hear what Micah True AKA Caballo Blanco had to say. He's one of the central characters in the popular book Born to Run and was invited to speak during the briefing. He spoke for only a couple minutes, then showed a short video of the Tarahumara Indians in Copper Canyon, Mexico. A longer talk is scheduled in Los Alamos tomorrow afternoon but we will be gone by then.


Micah True, left, speaks to the runners as co-RDs Kris Kern and Bill Geist confer to the right.

I also heard a short tribute to race founder and veteran ultra runner extraordinaire Aaron Goldman, who died of liver cancer a few weeks ago. There is a picture of him in my Jemez entry last year.

Aaron was a special friend to us, always full of encouragement and good cheer even after his terminal diagnosis. I first met him at the 1998 Vermont 100, my very first 100-miler  We ran together for thirty miles or more in the middle of the race. I'll never forget that experience, listening to many of his running stories and great advice to a 100-mile newbie. We saw him at several races since then, including ATY, and periodically corresponded by e-mail. What a genuinely nice man he was!

I'm really missing his hugs and smiles this weekend. Rest in peace, Aaron.


Friday night's sunset over the Jemez Mountains, as seen from my desk in the camper

As always, it was fun to see a bunch of our other ultra running friends when they picked up their packets and after the briefing. Because of all the 100-milers we've attended in the last twelve years we tend to know more runners who enter the longer ultras. At Jemez we saw more familiar faces in the 50-miler than the 50K, which is typical. Many of them are using Jemez as a build-up for tough 100s like Hardrock this summer or fall. We don't know any of the half-marathoners, who are mostly locals.

THE RACE

We were in bed by 9 PM last night for our multiple wake-up alarms at 5:15 this morning.

We deliberately missed the 50-mile start at 5 AM. I was wearing ear plugs and didn't hear any of the commotion going on right outside our camper. Jim was real happy to sleep in "late," get dressed, and have only a short walk over to the Posse Shack to check in before his race began at 6 AM. That's Jim in the white sun shirt below:

He needed that shirt to ward off the sunshine during the race all day. Although he enjoyed cooler weather and wind on the ridges, the canyons got pretty hot. He finally took it off in the last couple miles of the race through the Rendijo and Bayo Canyons.

Jim was one of 141 runners who began the 50K at 6 AM; it was the smallest of the three races. He lined up at the back of the pack with John Beard. I took these pictures as the runners started their first half mile on the North Mesa Road before dropping down onto single track trail at the Bayo Canyon trailhead:

 

 


John Beard waves to me and Jim (on right) smiles for the camera. The adventure had begun!

THE 50K COURSE

From the JMTR runners' manual:

The 50 kilometer race has several steep long climbs. Runners will ascend Guaje Ridge, drop into Guaje Canyon, take a side trip to the top of Caballo Mountain and back, ascend out of Guaje Canyon, run along the rim of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, run an out and back section to the Pajarito Ski Area, and descend Guaje Ridge back into town to the finish.

Here is the course profile:

The high point in the 50K is Caballo Peak at 10,480 feet. The Pipeline Road aid station sits at 9,580 feet, Ski Lodge at 9,220 feet, and Guaje Ridge at 8,852 feet. You can see other aid station elevations in a chart in the runners' manual.

It's obvious from the elevation profile that most of the course is run above 8,000 feet. The lowest point is in the Rendijo and Bayo Canyons near the start and finish.

Here's a Google topo map with the 50K course superimposed on top so you can see its configuration. The line at the top left is the out and back to the top of Caballo Mountain between 13 and 16 miles into the race. The line at the lower left is the out and back to the Ski Lodge AS between miles 19 and 25. To zoom in or out on the map, click on this link.

That link also shows how the 50-mile course is laid out.

All Jemez runners in the 50-miler and 50K must reach the Ski Lodge AS by 5 PM. That's the only cut-off in the race. If they reach that one in time, they can continue on to the finish. The 50-milers have 12 hours to reach that aid station at 39.1 miles. The 50K runners have 11 hours to reach it 22 miles into their race -- a much more generous time limit.

That's no guarantee that all the 50K runners will finish the race, but it sure gives them a better chance of completion. This year a little over 94% of the 50K runners who began the race beat that cut-off and continued to the finish line. Only 64% of the 50-milers did.

One new twist this year that was advantageous to the slower 50-milers was being able to drop down to the 50K during the race when they reached the Pipeline aid station. Nineteen runners out of 156 starters took that option to avoid a possible DNF. They got credit for a 50K finish but were not eligible for overall or age-group awards.

THE CALM AFTER THE STORM

No, there weren't any storms today but race morning at the Posse Shack was plenty busy from about 4 AM when the 50-milers began checking in until the half marathoners began their race at 8 AM.


The Posse Shack is calm during the lull between the half marathon start
and the time when runners in all three races began crossing the finish line.

I didn't volunteer to help with check-in or late packet pick-up for either the 50-mile or 50K race because I knew Jim wanted to sleep as late as possible before his race began. If I'd gotten up to work at 4 AM or 5 AM for those races I would have awakened him.

So I did what I did last year:  worked the half marathon check-in and late packet pick-up from 6:30 to 8 AM. It was pretty hectic the last half hour but with three of us working the crowd of 242 runners who showed up for the shorter race, we survived. I have my own ideas about how the process could be stream-lined with one little modification so runners don't have to stand in line so long (Jim said that was a problem with the 50K check-in also) but let's just say that this is how it's always been done and the woman in charge of the process sees no reason to change it . . .

I helped transfer the half marathon starters' information to a master list, then joined in the group effort to reorganize the Posse Shack to accommodate runners at the finish (packed away the shirts and registration materials, set up tables, chairs, awards, food, etc.).

With such a large number of runners this year (653 total entrants and 539 total starters) there was plenty of work to be done at the finish and out on the course all day -- as well as all the work that was done to organize and set up everything before the race, including several remote aid stations.

Volunteers at the finish were almost as exhausted as the aid station volunteers who straggled in during the afternoon and evening after their long shifts in the mountains were done. Finishers came in over a 12-hour period of time. Some were on the course over 16 hours. This race has a dedicated core of volunteers who work very hard to keep the runners safe and happy.


Half a mile into the 50-mile course runners get a great view of Caballo Mountain
and the Jemez Range.  This trail quickly drops down into Bayo Canyon.

About 10 AM I went out for a two-hour walk with Cody. We followed the route the 50-milers take down into Bayo Canyon the first half mile, then went the other direction so we didn't interfere with any of the race participants returning to the finish.

It was a beautiful morning but already hot in Bayo Canyon. I hoped Jim was drinking plenty of fluids and getting enough electrolytes. I'd later see some seriously dehydrated runners come into the finish with crusty salt all over their bodies. Clear, sunny skies + high elevation + arid atmosphere = perfect conditions for dehydration and sunburn.

Before returning to the camper to eat and clean up, Cody and I watched some of the runners come in on the Bayo Canyon Trail about a third of a mile before the finish:

Runners then negotiate one last rock climb, top out on North Mesa Road, and turn right to hustle to the finish line as fast as they can.

Like last year, I was able to sit in our camper, look out the back windows, and watch the runners make the turn off the top of the trail onto the road. The next view from my desk looks toward the finish line,

which runners could see as soon as they hit the road:

The Posse Shack (red roof, below) was a busy place from the time runners began returning mid-morning until the last ones finished after 9:30 PM:

 

The timing crew worked the finish line next to the white canopy, above, which housed the computers that kept track of all the runners.

 

Terrific burgers were grilled up outside and more delicious food (like shredded chicken and bean enchiladas in a tasty green sauce -- yum!) were served up inside the Posse Shack. There appeared to be plenty of food even for the finishers who came in during the evening and night.

After my morning hike I relaxed in the camper until about 2 PM. From then until Jim finished about three hours later I watched runners finish. While outside near the finish line I had to keep moving my chair to find shade under the relentless sun. A breeze helped, but not much. I worried about Jim frying out on the course, but he said he didn't get hot until the last couple miles when he dropped into the canyons before the finish. I mingled with runners and helped inside the Posse Shack when volunteers needed a break.

Recognize this runner?

That's Karl Meltzer right before he reached the finish line. On a good day he probably would have won the 50-mile race. Today, doing a "training run" because of his broken left arm (see the purple cast?), Karl was 7th overall out of 100 finishers in the 50-mile race with a time of 10:02 hours.

I was real happy to see Jim approaching the finish:

Jim was more than happy to sit down, eat, socialize, and relax inside the Posse Shack for a couple of  hours after the race:


L-R:  Jim, John Beard, and Naresh Bhagavatha after finishing the 50K

He patiently waited in line for a hamburger hot off the grill and enjoyed some of the homemade Mexican food volunteers prepared.

Volunteers and crews were also invited to share the food both pre- and post-race. That's generous these days when rather steep additional fees are required for uninspired meals at some races. Although volunteers almost always get to eat free, runners and especially crews sometimes have to pay extra.

INTERESTING POST-RACE STATS

Jim is very glad that he chose the 50K distance this time. He finished in 10:52 hours and placed 120th out of 152 finishers. That's his slowest 50K since he began running trail ultra marathons in 1997. He also says it's the toughest 50K he's ever done, primarily because of the footing.

You can find 50-mile results at this link and 50K results here.

Briefly, 193 runners entered the 50-miler and 156 showed up at the start. That's a very high 19.2% DNS (Did Not Start) rate! This race does not keep a wait list. Runners have to enter several months in advance and the race fills to capacity quickly. Thirty-seven people dropped or didn't make the cut-off at the ski lodge, 19 switched to the 50K at Pipeline (a new option this year), and only 100 runners finished the 50-miler, a 64% finish rate.

The top three men in the 50-miler are all in their 30s. Nick Clark was first in 8:26 hours. Diana Finkel, age 38, was first female and 12th overall in 10:32. The third female was Susan Gebhart, age 55, in 12:21. She was an impressive 30th overall of 100 finishers. Good job, Susan!!

The oldest female finisher in the 50-miler was Rickie Redland, age 56. The oldest male finisher was 67-year-old Ian Maddieson.

The overall winner in the 50K was 32-year-old Sean O'Rourke in 5:29. The first female, 38-year-old Petra McDowell, was 5th overall in 6:08. The oldest female finisher was Janice O'Grady, the only woman over 60 to complete the 50K; the oldest male finisher was Bill Moyle, age 71.

In the 50K, 171 runners entered and 141 started the race. That's a 17.5% DNS rate, also high. There were 133 finishers eligible for awards. Including the 19 runners who dropped down to the 50K during the race, the total number of 50K finishers was 152.

That leads to an interesting statistic: 94.3% of the runners who were initially registered for the 50K officially finished the race, partly (mainly?) because of the generous time limit. When you add in the nineteen 50-mile runners who switched to the 50K mid-race, you have a finish rate of 107.8%!

That amuses me. You can find some other interesting race stats here.

HANDSOME AWARDS

The top three overall male and female runners in the 50-miler and 50K were honored in a mid-afternoon awards ceremony in which they were presented with handsome pottery pieces made by Birdell Bourdon of the Santa Clara Pueblo. I took these photos of some of her pottery before the pieces were awarded to the runners:

 

One of the nice traditions of this race has been the locally-made pottery pieces given to the runners. That was one of Aaron Goldman's original concepts when he began the race five years ago. I'm glad Bill and Kris have continued the tradition. Birdell was also selling other pieces to interested collectors after the race.

Smaller pottery pieces were awarded to each finisher, who got to choose their own from a variety of figurines. There were so many left when Jim finished that I don't think all the runners realized they got a finishers' award.

Jim asked me to pick one out for him. I chose this cute little bear from dozens of figurines that remained:

He's about 3" tall and makes a nice paperweight.

We travel light in our Cameo 5th-wheel camper and can't take decorative objects with us on our extended treks across the country, except those we collect in races on each trip. I think this little fella might become a permanent travel buddy, though. I'll always think of Aaron Goldman and his ultra running legacy when I see it.

FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT THE JEMEZ MOUNTAIN 50K

Jim's a tired puppy tonight, not fully trained for the altitude, elevation change, steep slopes, or bad footing at Jemez. Even though it was "just a 50K," he didn't have as much fun as he would have if he'd been better trained and acclimated.

He also dislikes the unattractive burn areas through which part of the 50K runs. That's not the fault of race organizers but a fact of life after the devastating Cerro Grande fire ten years ago. It's a much bigger problem for local runners and residents who have to look at these denuded mountains every day, remembering how beautiful they looked when they were full of thick pine trees.

Jim was able to get enough fluids and food at the aid stations but by the time he arrived at most of them, the special food items were already gone. He appears to have taken in enough fluids, calories, and electrolytes during the race. He still had energy at the end; he just had to go slow because of the altitude and treacherous trails.

On the positive side, Jim did have fun seeing lots of our friends before, during, and after the race. He ran and walked carefully enough to avoid injury. And he's not totally spent, just tired and a little sore. He'll recover in a few days and be stronger for his next race, another challenging 50K, in two weeks. This was good, strenuous training for subsequent races this summer and fall.

Right now he says he'll never run this race again -- because of the terrain, not the ambience and people involved. We'll see what happens when registration opens for the 2011 Jemez Mountain Trail Runs!

Next entry: scratching the travel itch -- adios Los Alamos, hello Colorado Springs

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

Previous       Next

2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

-