A La Luz Finisher!

Yesterday I completed what I consider the hardest race I have ever participated in. The La Luz Trail Race.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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This ‘finisher’ picture should be titled, “EXHAUSTED!”

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.

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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.

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The shirt only finishers receive. I think I will wear for a week straight.

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.

I Just Signed Up For What?

With Ragnar just a a few short weeks away, I have been training hard.  The last two weeks I have put in over 30 miles each week along with about the same on the bike trainer.  I still have some aches (hip/priformis) and pains (shins), but nothing that will stop me from racing with 11 friends over 200 miles.

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While gearing up for this epic adventure, I decided to throw my name in the hat for another – the La Luz Trail Run.  The race is run on National Forest trails, so they limit the number of runners on the course to 400 people, hence the lottery system to get in.  I kind of feel that this is a right of passage for an Albuquerque runner and after living here 13 years I thought I should give it a go.  On Monday afternoon I got the email:

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No turning back now!  I’m in!  Did I mention that when I signed up for the lottery I had only hiked La Luz once in all my years living here?  I remember it being hard, but I had hiked it with a bunch of girlfriends and I remember the miles flying by.  As a Mother’s Day present to myself, Tom and I got a sitter last Saturday to ‘run’ the trail and see how it felt.

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Start of the Trail Head. Looking fresh.

We started out at 7 a.m. with some water and a couple gu, and I stowed away 6 fig newtons for us to celebrate with once we got to the top.  We started out strong.  We ran all the flat parts and hiked up hills quickly for the first three miles.

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My view for the whole trail…trying to keep up with Tom.

 

It was beautiful looking down on the city from so high up.

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Pictures never to the view justice. I wish I could bottle the crisp, clean air and scent of piñon to accompany the picture for my readers.

And then we got to this…

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The Rock Fall area – switch backs of boulders, rocks and pebbles for at least a mile and a half.  Last time I hiked the trail I didn’t remember it going on for so long, but this time I certainly noted it.  We practically slowed to a crawl  to get through this area without falling.  I don’t know how the people in the race attack this section of the course, but I am going to make sure that I just take it easy so I don’t twist an ankle and DNF.

After the rock fall, the course twists and turns a few  more times and then your at the top!

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We made it! Tom was so kind to take it slow so I could keep up with him.  Time for those delicious Fig Newtons…

And while this sign marks the end of the race, you still have a mile or so to get back to the tram that returns you to the bottom of the mountain.:

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I would say the run to the tram was probably my favorite part of the day because you are on top of the mountain, running fairly flat trails and have a beautiful 365 degree view of New Mexico.

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We finished the course trail in about 2 hours 4 minutes – that included a couple Gu stops and photo ops.

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Crazy Elevation Gains!!!

 

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Miles 5 and 6 = Rock Fall!

We did not start at the actual ‘start’ of the race – which is 1.8 miles of forest road, so I guess I can hope for about a 2hr 40 min finish in August. The course winners last year completed the course in 1hr15min for men and around 2 hours for women.  I certainly won’t be the last person up the mountain, but I won’t be anywhere near the front.   I’m looking forward to the training this summer, although spending three weeks at sea level in Wisconsin probably isn’t going to help much – even their largest hill is nothing compared to our mountains.  But, the best thing about running a race for the first time is no matter what I complete the course in it will be a PR!