Monday, May 19, 2008

Jemez Half Marathon
2,743 vertical
5th place overall/3rd 30-39 age division

We arrived at the race start/finish line at 5:40am after a fairly good night’s sleep, as Kevin was running the 50k starting at 6am. I watched he and the Roachs start, then had ample time to pace around and get ready for my race. Eating before an intense race for me is always difficult, but this morning I had no problem, perhaps eating too much? (2 packets of oatmeal, a few chunks of banana, a serving or so of Perpetuem and a few swigs of Hammer Gel in addition to water and Heed).I had a mellow warm up, maybe a mile+, but some of that were just trips back and forth from the car to the start/finish. Going into the race, I had no idea what to really expect, but Jason and Bill were thinking that I could do pretty well here. Jason gave me a heads up on one of the guys in my race, a successful runner from Albuquerque who runs for Team Inov-8 named Greg Feucht, so I stood on the line and made note of his whereabouts and was also sizing up everyone else who looked fast.The horn sounds the race start and we are off at a quick pace. Greg takes the lead, followed by a collegiate runner named Ben Fletcher who runs for Penn State I think. The first mile or so is on pavement/sidewalk and we form a tight group and continue to put distance on those behind us (I would guess a 5:30ish pace). I can’t wait to get to the trail, as I feel like such a klunker on the road.Greg and Ben start to slowly drift away on the downhill, but not by much and I keep them in sight most of the time, maybe 10-15 seconds back for a while. 2 or 3 miles into it, I am now only catching occasional glimpses of them and realize that they are much better runners and I will be fighting to hang onto 3rd, unless I can make up some time on the upcoming climb of around 1,800 feet or so. As the real climbing begins, I start to catch glimpses of Ben and it seems as though I am gaining on him. This keeps me motivated and although he is walking at times, he is digging deep and still moving quick up the steep hillside.I see that Greg is making great progress up the hill and he is clearly the strongest of us. It takes me most of the climb, but I eventually pass Ben with a few switchbacks to go until the high point/junction/aid station and move into second place and am happy with my placing at this point. However, also at this point, a guy named Hans is creeping up on my heels. I blaze through the aid station, as I have a mostly full hand bottle, but they both slow to swig water.I am now cruising down the somewhat technical downhill as fast as I can go, but Hans races past and is quickly out of sight. Ben also cruises past and I think he is long gone, but I quickly discover that although he passed me quickly, he only gains about 40 seconds. As the trail rolls and switchbacks it’s way down the ridge, I can tell that I am slowly gaining time back on Ben. I get the gap down to maybe 25-30 seconds and think that I have a chance to catch him, especially on the series of small climbs to the finish as I know that I am a stronger climber. My legs feel great and although the downhill is not my forte, I am holding my own.I make a right at the key junction I was warned of, but somehow missed the flags that marks an immediate sharp turn to the right after that (that I too was warned of, but in my haste passed it by) and ended up going straight on a well worn trail. Because of the topography here, I failed to notice Ben make that key turn and later noticed that he was not ahead of me on the trail. That was the first red flag, but then I notice a lack of flagging (not entirely unusual when the trail is good), then I notice that there are no fresh footprints. Oops. I cuss myself and hesitantly trot along in limbo and disbelief. I pull out my map and think that I might be able to cross country back to the course, but after a hundred + feet of trying this, I realize it would be hopeless to make reasonable time across the scorched earth and downed trees. All kinds of stupid things go through my mind at this point, including quitting, but unless I was severely injured, there is just no way I could do it. Quick! Quick!, gotta decide something NOW one way or the other.I begrudgingly backtrack to the trail and have to do a good bit of climbing up steep and loose sandy trail and go back over some rollers to regain the course. Back at the junction, I notice the flags that I missed and am spitting a few choice words with steam coming out my ears “how the F&*#!! could I have missed this!??”. I lost a full 10 minutes here floundering and now my already taxed legs are starting to cramp from all the additional stress. I pass a hiker and she informs me I am now in 6th place. Not as bad as I thought, but I am terribly upset with myself over the blunder. I push down the canyon as hard as possible to salvage what I could. At the bottom, I pass a guy to move into 5th and explain my blunder as he was a bit confused as to where I came from so quickly. He tells me 4th place (the race winner from two years ago) is 4 minutes ahead. I push and push, but my quads are fried and don’t have much left. The last 2 miles seem to drag on forever and I finally roll in to the finish at 1:58:33 and hang onto 5th.I guess in the long run, it does not really matter as I did not miss out on a prize, but I was sure I could have pulled off 3rd place which was a big goal of mine. I also hoped to break 1:50, and would have for sure if it were not for the 10 minutes of extra credit exploration, so I was pleased with that. I was also encouraged by the fact that I was 2nd over the big climb which is what I have been focusing on.Despite the blunder, it felt good to be in the mix for most of the race and I feel my training is coming along on target. This was also the first real test for my knee in a race situation in quite some time and it felt absolutely perfect on the ups/downs and after the race. I actually never thought of it once until somebody asked how it was afterwards.This was a very well run race and I really enjoyed myself. The pre-race dinner was great, they gave out an awesome tech race T, the course was awesome, aid stations were great (although I never used one), the people were amazing (the race organization and competitors) and there was so much good food to eat afterwards. There was just a really friendly and laid back feel to the entire day despite it being a race and I would highly recommend going next year. I certainly hope to go again.A few side notes:14erworld was very well represented at this race by Jason Halladay, Bill Geist, Gerry and Jennifer Roach, Kevin Lund, Bill Blazek, Sean Cunniff who all ran quite well and seemed to have a great time.It was awesome to finally go visit Jason and Bill in Los Alamos and see where they live. Los Alamos seems to be a really great town and I can’t wait to go back and spend more time there.Thanks to Kevin for driving us down there, Jason and Bill for their huge contributions to the race and to Bill Geist for providing lodging and great breakfast burritos.Race web site with results and pictures: