Yesterday I completed what I consider the hardest race I have ever participated in. The La Luz Trail Race.
The La Luz Trail is a beautiful trail that runs up to the top of the Sandia Mountains – the mountains that border one side of Albuquerque. I have long thought of the La Luz Trail Race as a right of passage and something I NEED to do as a runner from Albuquerque. This year, I threw caution to the wind and put my name in the lottery even through I rarely ever run trails and had only hiked the trail once before in the 12 years of living in New Mexico. I was lucky enough to be one of 400 people selected to do the race, and so my ‘training’ ensued. With other race commitments and travel plans this summer, I only made the accent up the trail three more times before race day. I did do some extra hill repeats this summer, but not necessarily at the altitude the race runs at.
Yesterday I got up at 5am to run up a mountain. The race begins on a twisty, turn-y, steep Forest Road that leads to the trail, which I was not excited about but now realize that it is a great way to ‘sort out the runners’ before hitting the single track trail.
I started near the back of the pack because I knew I was going to have to employ a run/walk approach right from the start and I was so pleased to see others doing the same thing. The first few miles on the trail are a slow incline of switch backs and I found myself sticking with a group for awhile until I had an opportunity to pass and catch up to the next pack of runners. By mile 5 (of 9) of the race I had found ‘my people’ – the group running the pace I could keep up with and that helped me keep pushing forward. At around mile 6 the dreaded ‘rockslide’ starts – 7 or 9 switchbacks across loose boulders that you have no choice by to walk across and the trail gets increasingly more steep from here on out.
This is where the mental toughness starts to kick in. One foot in front of the other. Hike with purpose. Don’t slow down. Just keep moving. I focused my gaze to the persons shoes in front of me and just tried to keep up. As we neared the final turn off at 8 miles, I was really feeling the altitude effects – light headed and my legs were burning and fatigued. Up to this point I hadn’t stopped once on the trail, but found that I had to catch my breath two times before getting to the finish line. This portion of the trail is the more brutal – steep and a set of stairs that just seem like a cruel joke after what you have already gone through.
I would say this is the portion of the race that I most regret not being familiar with. I had only run the last mile of the race once before and it would have been nice to be a little more familiar with the twists and turns during this section and to be able to judge how much more of the race was left. The second time I stopped was just about 200 feet from the finish, but I didn’t know that until I rounded the corner after I caught my breath.
Every race is a learning experience. This race I learned that I am stronger than I thought. I ran about 1:30/min per mile faster than training runs, and in some portions even faster.
In trail racing, it is nice to be familiar with the race course – probably more important than road racing because the terrain can very so much. If I do this race again, I will do a lot more training runs covering the whole course.
Up next: preparation for the Duke City Marathon on October 19th. I have two half marathons that I have committed to – the Rio Grande Half next weekend and the Chips and Salsa Half in September. Both these races fit nicely into my training plan for the full marathon and it will be nice to try out my pace for race day and see how it feels.