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"The JMTR races take place in the scenic Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico. 
The course is on technical trails with a substantial amount of elevation change. 
The 50K and 50 mile 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 strongly encouraged to consider
their comfort level on this type of terrain before registering."
~ from the race website's page on 2011 entry procedures

No wonder this race sells out so fast in recent years. It seems to me that the more gnarly trail races are, the more enticing they are to runners who are hungry for a new challenge. And the addition of the half marathon race at Jemez breeds even more potential ultra runners who are exposed to the possibility that they, too, can complete the 50K or 50-miler in the future.

Race management knows how to draw hundreds of runners to Los Alamos on the third Saturday in May.

Several hundred runners line up before the start of the half marathon.

Fortunately, they also do a great job with this race.

Despite the tough course it's one of our favorites to run and work. That's because of the dedicated people who are involved with it, the excellent organization and amenities for runners and volunteers, the friends who come from far and near to run the race, and the wide variety of trails and scenery in the Los Alamos area.


There are many advantages to parking our camper about a hundred yards from the start/finish area at the Posse Shack on North Mesa Road -- being able to sleep later on race morning, not having to find a parking spot before the start, having Cody nearby in the camper while I was volunteering at the Posse Shack, watching runners come up the hill near the finish from the back window of our camper or right out the door, Jim being able to take a shower soon after finishing and then going back to socialize with other runners at the post-race party, and having our bed right there when we're ready to crash at the end of a long day.

There is one disadvantage, however -- being awakened by the arrival of the 50-mile runners, some of whom were slamming their car doors near our camper at 4 AM. Even my ear plugs didn't block that out.

The advantages far outweigh that disadvantage.

Although I was awake, I did not get up to watch the 50-milers start their race through the stables at 5 AM. I waited quietly until our alarms went off at 5:30 so I didn't wake Jim up earlier than planned. He sleeps more soundly than I do and he needed all the rest he could get before tackling the difficult Jemez course.

BZZZ. 5:30. One hour till 50K show time.

Jim showered, got dressed, and went over to the Posse Shack to check in with race officials. It's critical to know exactly who started the race and who didn't.

Jim returned to the camper to eat some breakfast and continue getting ready for the race. Here he makes a last-minute adjustment to his shoes:

He wore his lightweight Camelbak backpack so he could carry some supplies and a light jacket in case a storm blew in during the race -- always a threat in the mountains. He did not have a drop bag out on the course. Fifty-K runners were allowed to have a drop bag at one aid station, 50-milers at two.


We both walked over to the start a few minutes before the 50K race began at 6:30 AM:


I mentioned in the last entry that race officials made a few changes to this year's race.

The 50K start time was one of the modifications based on runners' comments from previous years. Moving the time from 6 to 6:30 was designed to reduce congestion of the two-way 50K-50-mile runner traffic on a narrow out-and-back section up/down Caballo Mountain.

Jim said the half-hour delay did seem to work better in that section this year, and he was glad to get another half hour of sleep -- win-win.

Runners and crews wait in front of the Posse Shack for the 50K to start.

Jim was cautiously optimistic at the start of the race. He was a little concerned about his lack of training since his meniscus surgery last winter and subsequent knee problems this spring but he was excited about running a race again.

The sky was mostly blue, the weather prediction was good (less heat than last year), and -- despite the odds against him -- he was fairly optimistic about equaling or improving on his time from last year's race.

He had a big grin on his face when the gun went off and he could start running.


After the 50K runners took off westbound on North Mesa Road (they accessed the Bayo Canyon Trail differently than the 50-milers), I went inside the Posse Shack to give packets, numbers, shirts, and posters to the half-marathoners who hadn't already picked theirs up.

Rebecca (far right), Nena (pink shirt), and another woman
verify the numbers of the runners who started each race.

I was working at my table with a man who recently moved to Los Alamos. While running on one of the trails in the Jemez Mountains a few days ago he saw trail markers with the name of the race and started asking questions about it. It was too late for him to register for the race (it filled before March 1) so he volunteered to work it. He plans to run one of the distances next year.

When we had bits of time between runners getting their packets, he told me about some of the great trails he's found at nearby Bandelier National Monument. Jim and I plan to go down there to hike early next week.

Almost time to start the half marathon

The half-marathon began at 8 AM. When the runners were all gone I helped correlate the names/numbers of runners picking up their packets this morning with Rebecca Clark and the two women who were checking all the runners in who began the race. I was done with this job at 8:20.


Then it was time to relax for a while. I went back to the camper to eat more breakfast and get on the computer for a couple of hours.

The start/finish area and parking lot were pretty quiet. Other volunteers set up the awards table, manned the communications system, and began preparing post-race refreshments. It wouldn't be long before the half-marathoners and faster ultra runners would be back.

Right side of photo: communications trailer from the Los Alamos Amateur Radio Club

Around 11 AM Cody and I went for a two-hour hike on Kwage Mesa, through the stables adjacent to our parking lot and out to the far point above Bayo and Pueblo canyons. I'll show photos from that hike and a bike ride in another entry.

The views of the Jemez Mountains are superb from Kwage Mesa. I kept looking over at them as I walked, wondering how Jim was doing. The weather was perfect for my hike -- mostly sunny, mid-60s F., dry, and breezy -- and should have been comfortable for the runners at their higher altitudes:

Jemez Mountains, as seen from Kwage Mesa on race day;
I marked 10,480-foot Caballo Mountain with a red arrow.

Cody and I hiked a little under six miles.

I didn't notice the altitude since I was just walking, the terrain was fairly flat, and the elevation was only about 7,300 feet. Jim got up over 10,000 feet in the race, however, and he said he felt it. He isn't acclimated to that elevation yet.

I got back to the camper about 1 PM, took a shower, and watched a few runners approach the finish. Our position in the parking lot (the same as the last two years) affords a perfect view out the back window of runners coming up the last hill to North Mesa Road and the finish area. It's convenient to watch from the comfort of our camper -- but more fun to be outside cheering on the runners.

I didn't take any pictures out the camper window this time. The photo below shows the turn onto North Mesa Road from a different vantage point:

I didn't stay in the camper long. I put on my volunteer shirt and returned to the Posse Shack to get some of the yummy enchiladas Jim helped deliver yesterday and to see if I could help any of the other volunteers until Jim finished the 50K.

By now the start/finish area was buzzing with activity. Friends and families waited for their runners to finish:

One of the other improvements made this year was a different approach to the finish line.

Instead of dodging traffic on North Mesa Road, a path was marked through the field next to the Posse Shack. Runners approached the finish clock from the side, ran under a tree, and finished in the grass in front of the building:

Runners in the 50K and 50-mile races were treated to a full spread of tasty New Mexican cuisine (rice, several kinds of delicious enchiladas and bean dishes) and more traditional post-race foods like freshly-grilled hamburgers and hot dogs after 2 PM. Also available was more traditional post-race fare like fruit, brownies, and salty snacks.


One nice thing about the Jemez Mountain runs that hasn't changed in six years is the type of award for each finisher in the ultra-distance races -- local handmade pottery pieces. My favorite of the three Jim has received is the little black bear he got last year.

This year's piece is handsome, too.

All 50K and 50-mile finishers, and age-group winners in the half marathon, received small pottery bowls like these:  

Jim's little bowl is about 3" across the top. 

The artists, Benjamin and Geraldine Toya of the northern New Mexican Jemez Pueblo (below), were present just outside the Posse Shack after the race to sell other pieces from their collection: 


The top three male and female finishers in each race received larger pieces of pottery:

Co-RD Bill Geist (L) and Angela Shartel (center, the female 50-mile winner).

Runners in the 50K and 50-mile races continued coming across the finish line all afternoon and evening; the last finisher came in a little before 10 PM. (There is no final cut-off at the finish. As long as the runners clear the Pajarito Ski Lodge aid station by 5 PM, they are allowed to continue on the course.)

Between the various volunteer jobs I did during the afternoon I mingled with friends, congratulated finishers, and took photos.

Here's a very happy Blake Wood (#303), who came in 7th overall in the 50-miler and got a course PR -- at almost age 53. His daughter Heather is in the green top at right:



I started watching the finish line more closely at 4:15 PM so I could get a picture of Jim finishing his race. He was trying to get under 11 hours, which would be by 5:30 PM, but I didn't want to miss him in case he was having a great day.

Susan Gardner finished her race and advised me that Jim should be finishing soon; she ran part of the race with him and knew the pace he was on. Pretty soon I could see him through the trees, approaching the finish. He crossed the line at 4:43 PM in a time of 10:13:28 hours:


Jim was very happy with his time, considering the reduced training he's been able to do in the last six or seven months. He beat his time from last year by 39 minutes.

Jim finished 123rd out of 148 50K finishers. He was 2nd of three male finishers in their 60s. (There are no age group awards in the 50K or 50-miler, however.)

Only one 70+ male finished the race. No females over age 60 finished the 50K In fact, the oldest female finisher I see in this year's 50K results is 57.

I don't know how many runners began the 50K or how many dropped out.


We stayed at the finish area for about half an hour after Jim came in so he could eat a freshly-grilled hamburger, one of his favorite post-race foods. John Cassidy from Colorado Springs joined us for a little while:

After he got something to eat we went back to the camper so Jim could take a shower. Then we returned to the finish line for another couple hours, socializing with friends and watching more runners finish.

One of the runners Jim ran with was a young man named Garrett, who was in the 50-miler. He recognized Jim and asked, "You're Jim O'Neil, aren't you?" When Jim said yes, Garrett asked if he was related to "Runtrails.net." He reads our website! I'm sorry I didn't get to meet him afterwards.

It's really cool when we meet or hear from folks who've found our website. We've made a lot of friends this way.

Several of our friends were out at aid stations during the race. Anne Watts was helping Dick Powell on Parijito Mountain. They got done with their aid station early enough to return to the finish area and enjoy the post-race food and festivities. Here they gather 'round the grill guy:

Dick's wife Sandy was manning the aid station up on Guaje Ridge, as she's done for several years. Deb and Steve Pero captained the last aid station. Both of those aid stations closed relatively late in the race and by the time the volunteers packed up their stations and got back down to the Posse Shack, we were gone.

We were able to spend some time with Karen Pate and Pat Homelvig when they finished the 50K:

Anne joined our little group as we waited for Matt Watts to finish the 50-miler:

Ah -- there he is!

Good job Matt W., Karen P., Pat H., John C., Susan G., Garrett B., Blake W., Dave C., Rickie R., Mike J., Larry H., Diana W., Joe P., and all the other finishers of these difficult races!


You can find race results for all three 2011 events at this link.

Race staff did a great job with this whole event once again, from registration and course marking to aid stations to pre- and post-race activities. They didn't rest on their "laurels" from previous races, either. They made several changes that improved the race this year and encouraged the runners and volunteers to make suggestions for future possible improvements.

I'm glad to see that most of what Aaron Goldman originally envisioned for this race is still intact, such as the course and the local handmade pottery awards. I sure miss Aaron; this is a picture I took of him at the 2009 Jemez pre-race dinner:

He looked just as happy and healthy then as he did in 1998 when he ran with me for thirty miles in the Vermont 100-mile race, my fist attempt at that distance. We continued to see him through the years at ultra events around the country. He died at age 78 from a relatively rare form of cancer a few weeks before the 2010 Jemez race. What a loss.

Aaron's sporting one of Deb Pero's beautiful designs on the 2009 Jemez race t-shirt in that photo. Deb's another one of my favorite people. We love receiving shirts or posters at the Jemez and Hardrock races that have prints of her scenic paintings. My only regret is that this year's design was printed only on the runners' posters at Jemez and not on the shirts again.

All in all, we both had a good race experience this week and today. This is our third consecutive time at this race and we'll probably be back again.

L-R:  Pat, Karen, Jim, and Anne share race stories while waiting for Matt to finish.

Jim was tired, thirsty, and hungry after the race but he felt good about his performance. During the race he looked at his splits from last year; it was motivating to him to see that he was ahead of those times at the aid stations.

Even though his training was pretty sparse this year he finished faster than he did last year. He wasn't acclimated to 10,000 feet elevation. He hadn't run/walked over 13 miles in the past 4 months or over 18 miles at a time since the end of January. He figures all the time off for recovery from his meniscus surgery possibly made him stronger.

Now he's really pumped for Bighorn, North Fork, and The Bear 100.

Next entry: photos from Kwage Mesa

Happy trails,

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

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2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil