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.

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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!

 

 

Where I Have Been and Where I Am Going….

Wow.  It’s been almost two months since my last post!  Life got busy and while writing about running may have fallen to the wayside, my running workouts and races did not!  Since my last post:

1. I ran the Shamrock Shuffle 5k with my 6 yr old daughter.  And she ROCKED it!  In Albuquerque and the surrounding suburbs there seem to be some standard 5k and 10k routes that all the race organizers use and the one the Shamrock Shuffle uses I try to avoid….because it is uber hilly.   But I had these great new socks

Screenshot 2014-05-02 12.04.39and they needed to be used in a St Patty’s day race – surprise, surprise New Mexico has only one such race on the uber hilly course.  We decked ourselves out in as much green as possible and headed across town to the race.  Not only did I have to run the hilly course, but it was my turn to push the stroller with our almost 4 yr old.  Ugh.  I could barely keep up with my daughter in the race, she stopped several times to let me catch up and finally at mile 2 had to tell her to go on ahead, “Just follow the rest of the people, ” I panted.  And she did.  She PR’ed the race by around 10 minutes, with a finish time of approx. 34min.  Wow.  Just wow.  I have to give props to the guy dressed a green chili pepper costume.  He started out in front of us and Cate had a fire in her to “beat the green banana!”.

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The Green Chili Costume looked something like this…

She passed him by mile 1 and only needed to be reminded that he was gaining on her near the finish line for her to kick it in to high gear for the last 100 meters.   Cate ended up winning her age division for the race and was so proud of herself to get the special 1st place medal.  I didn’t mention to her that she was the ONLY PERSON in the  girl age 6-9 division.

 

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My Irish lad ready to rock the 1k.

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Sweet victory!

2.  I ran the Albuquerque Half Marathon on April 19th.  About two weeks before the race a tweaked my hip during a tempo run, and being the type A person I pushed through the training plan instead of taking a few days off to rest it.  Resting when I am injured is really, really tough for me and something I need to work on.  So needless to say, on race day my hip was still bothering me – so much that I couldn’t push myself to keep the pace I had been training for.  That morning I thought I would try taking two ibuprofen to see if it would dull the pain, but by race time my hip was still hurting AND my stomach was upset from the medicine.  Double whammy.  I should have learned my lesson from Ragnar DC that ibuprofen and I don’t get along….

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Where’s the Immodium?

By mile 3 or so, I resolved myself to just getting to the finish line and to take in the scenery.  And that is what I did.  I finished – 16 whole minutes slower than my 2013 time – but I finished.  Lesson learned: Not every race is going to be epic and it sure is nice to let the pressure go and enjoy the commeradery of other runners out for a race on a beautiful spring morning.

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Where I am going:

1. Tomorrow I will undertake my very first TRAIL RACE!  I have signed up for the Valles Caldera 10k which takes place at 8,000 feet above sea level.  Weather is predicted to be beautiful and I am excited to wear this shirt that I received from my friend Aimee:

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I think “My Pace. My Peace” will be the perfect mantra for me tomorrow.  There is something really exciting to me about doing a race that I have never done before because there is no pressure to ‘do better than last time”.   Whatever I accomplish tomorrow will be a PR.  And maybe that is why starting to trail race will be a new goal.  Every trail is different – different altitude, different obstacles, different elevation gains/losses.  And short of doing the same race year after year, I won’t be able to compare say a 10k in the Valles Caldera to a 10k in the Sandia Mountains.  I like the thought of that…

 

2.  Ragnar ChicagoScreenshot 2014-05-02 12.07.04Ragnar Chicago is just one short month away and my team and I are getting really excited.   We are being sponsored partly by Breadsmith, so we thought we would pay tribute to them in our team name: This Is How We Roll.  We’ve ordered t-shirts and magnets to tag other vans and have finalized which leg will be run by which runner.  I’ve been assigned Leg 9 and be in Van 2.  This will be different than my last Ragnar (Washington DC) when I was in Van 1 and was able to sleep from midnight to 6am.  I personally think Van 2 has the harder job in a Ragnar because they have to run from noon-6pm, midnight – 6am and noon-6pm roughly – running through the hottest part of the day and the dead of night.  If anything, some really funny stories will probably come of it due to serious sleep deprivation.  Here’s a picture of my sis and I doing some Ragnar practice while she was visiting last week!

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3. La Luz Trail Run.

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Sign on the first 2 miles of road leading to the trail head.

I’ve signed up for the lottery drawing for an entry into what 2001 Trail Runner Magazine selected as one of the “12 Most Grueling Trail Races in North America”.  Yes.  I voluntarily have signed up to run 9 miles and 5,000 feet elevation gain up Sandia Mountain.  I kind feel like it is a right of passage as and Albuquerque runner to complete this race.  And that is all I will be doing if I get in: just making it to the finish line.  The lottery takes place May 8th.  We will see if this is my year.

 

So that is what I have been up to these last couple months and my plans for the summer.  What are your summer racing plans?