You’re not acclimated, don’t launch, don’t launch! These words resonated in my brain as I’m standing at the start of the Cedro Peak Half Marathon located in the mountains just east of Albuquerque, New Mexico and about to start a trail race at a little over 7,000 feet elevation. Having literally no experience running at this altitude the last thing I wanted to do was take off like a bat out of hell with the lead pack thinking I could hold my own and end up wasted on the side of the trail two miles in.
Don’t launch, don’t launch! God I feel good, a little cold but good. As the count down started from ten I’m staring down the road, a jeep trail that leads slightly downhill and after about a hundred yards turns violently left to a single track trail seemingly hidden by a forest of Juniper Trees. I was standing ahead of most of the field of runners with maybe 30 runners in front of me, waiting to hit the trail in five short seconds, three seconds, one second, GO!
I launched. Man did I launch, like a caged mountain lion I shot off dropping half the field in front of me before even hitting the single track. Yep I screwed myself, it happened, I knew it but I didn’t care. Here I was screaming along this amazing, electric trail and after a mile I was stunned by how incredible the trail was. Finally I got my head calmed down and came back to reality and settled down. Slow down, slow down, you’ll blow up unless you pace yourself, the climbs are yet to come. I backed off and three or four runners passed me but I kept the lead pack of maybe fifteen or twenty runners within around two minutes of me.
After a lung burning climb to a ridgeline we dropped down a jeep trail. Thankful for the chance for a recovery I lean back and enjoy the effortless decent and began chatting with a couple of other runners just in time to completely miss the poorly marked turn that would lead to the Lone Pine Connector trail and the race. Bombing down the jeep trail we are greeted by the lead pack who realized we missed the turn, and after checking my gps we determined that we were two miles down trail from the trail we should be on. I couldn’t believe the attitude of these people, just so happy to be out there running, laughing enjoying the day, not a single person in the lead pack was sour about the situation, good people.
Having gotten back on course, we managed to add four miles to the race and once we were running along the Lone Pine Connector trail the race was truly back on track. Then the climbs came and the trail gradualy changed its mood from a rolling, twisting joy ride to a section called “Bear Scat”. Huge climbs appeared seemingly out of nowhere and I was left to speed hiking up these lung burning ascents. Strange enough, as I was speed hiking Bear Scat my legs were beginning to recover as my lungs continued to burn and by the time I got to the top of Bear Scat and joined the next section “Poker Chip” I was oddley refreshed.
I bombed down and through Poker Chip almost laughing at how effortless the running was. I was crushing the flats and bombing down the decents, the small climbs now and then would be my reminder that I was not in comand here but I continued to smile and enjoy the world around me. I was catching runners pulling back time I had lost earlier when out of nowhere I arrived at the aid station which was suppose to be at mile 6 of the race, but for me it was mile ten with seven more to go. I loaded up water and nutrition and bolted down the trail just the same way I arrived.
I continued to reel people in and was feeling good that I was back in the thick of the race even though I was roughly forty minutes behind my projected time that I had assigned myself prior to the start of the race. Running along rolling hills with gentle climbs and fun flats it suddenly dawned on me that with about three miles to go my legs were almost dead with fatigue so I needed to run smart and stop trying to kill every climb, after all my race was kind of over with the extra four miles so I was just out here enjoying the day with everybody else.
During a lengthy downhill I managed to miss a heavily mark turn to the next section called “Dead Man”, but after getting turned around pretty quickly I may have lost only a few minutes. Dead Man was no joke and the next two miles became a battle of attrition, hands on knees pressing my legs into the ground in an attempt to drive my body forward up steep and rocky climbs. There was nothing left in the tank, a bit of nasua hit just as my right hamstring was cramping up slightly. Head down I stared at the trail directly in front of me, sweat rolling down my face and dripping on my arms and legs, the fatigue was nearly unbearable.
The Power Line, a perfect name for the last section of trail. Not because the trail in fact follows a power line, but for the fact that for some reason I started feeling better and with half a mile left I started flying again, dodging rocks, tree branches, small climbs and the odd person on the trail. Before I knew it I could hear the finish line, I was fueled by the thought of the finish line, that wonderful day ending, pain ending finish line. Just like that 17 miles later I’m standing there savoring the support of the people there cheering for my finish, me just another guy crossing the line they still cheered.
A little later I was told I should see where I placed so I walked over to the race directors table and looked down at the standings. Staring down I look at my division and there it was, my name, 3rd place………………..what a day.