2011 Pajarito Trail Fest 10k Race Report

Me, caldera, 1 foot of snow, midrace

So last friday night (10/7) my plane touched down in the pouring rain in Albuquerque at 9:40pm. I grabbed my luggage, got to my car and drove 2 hours home in more pouring rain. I pulled into my driveway around midnight just as the rain was turning to snow. I went in the house, had some leftover pizza and crashed hard.

My alarm awoke me at 7am, I got my oatmeal and coffee on. Found some runny gear and some warms, looked out at the bright cold sunny day and saw the snow line was at 7700 feet or so, my house is at 7200, the race would start at 9200 feet and go up and over pajarito mountain at 10,400. Before my brain woke up Coach K and hubby were in the driveway to pick me up.

Some freshies at the lodge pre-race
Snow in Los Alamos

We drove up the ski hill and found the road snowy and very icy in spots. Got the lodge to find 3-4" of fresh snow. The 9am start was postponed till 9:15 to accommodate the people who had to park on the side of the road and hitch up. Mood in the lodge was apprehensive, but the turnout was excellent, especially given the weather. The race organizer, Petra, made an announcement saying she had run the whole course and the trails were completely snow packed and slippery and snow was chin deep in places. Panic ensued until we collectively realized chin and shin sound pretty similar in charming accented english.

The course is pretty similar to most of the races I suffer in on the ski hill. Up singletrack to the top (east side this time), over the very top of the mountian, and then down singletrack on the other side of the mountain. I did this race in 2009, the course was pretty similar, but the bottom half of the downhill was changed due to fire damage and possibly the snow.

I decided to not warm up at all. I wore shorts, a wool tank top, a bike jersey, arm warmers, wool socks and a visor. It was a bit cold sitting there at the start line, but it was sunny and I had 1200 feet of climbing ahead of me to get me warm. After some joking and greeting at the start line, I lined up in the second row and the gun went off. I cleverly did not go out t oo hard, nor it seemed did anyone else. I settled in to the back of the lead group as we initially descended slightly on the Aspenola trail. Course was slick indeed and the wind was kicking up making it kind of unpleasant. The lead pack stretched and spread out immediately and I settled in to around 10th place or so (probably about half were 10k runners, half were in the 2 lap-12 mile race).

As we started climbing the exposed switchbacks I felt really good, taking it easy, watching my footing but I drifted off the back of the lead group and lost sight of them pretty quickly. A group of three was closing in behind me, but I paid them no mind as there was lots of climbing left to do. I settled into a rhythm of running as fast as was comfortable and slip free on the steep stuff and opening it up when it flattened out. We went in and out of the woods and across ski slopes over aspen leaf dappled snow covered trails. The next time I looked back I saw no one close behind me and perhaps one runner off in the distance.

Further up the hill the snow was approaching a foot deep, slightly deeper in drifts and I was reduced to some sort of weird toe kick in climb on the steeper slope. It was hard going but I felt amazingly good. The runner behind me had closed in, but was clearly breathing much harder than me. I snuck a look back and was surprised to see that it was a young kid (12 it turned out). I was able to drop him as we hit some steeper bits toward the top. As we came out of the woods on the back side of the hill I could smell roasting chiles. Some of the ski hill workers were having a little barbecue overlooking the valle.

Me at the top of the mountain
Me, caldera, up at 10400 feet, midrace

The views were spectacular on the back side of the hill overlooking the caldera and the snow covered Jemez mountains. I took a few cell phone photos here and kind of lost my impetus a bit. We descended briefly and the kid caught up to me and then blasted by me as we started seeing some of the front runners come down the trail from the top. We ran up a steep singletrack scramble to the very top of the hill, looped around and descended into the field behind us. I still felt pretty good and tried to open it up on the slick trails to catch the runner ahead.

As we turned off the top loop to the descent we hit some off camber trails that traversed the ski hill. It was really hard to see where the trail really was. So I slipped badly a few times and took a pretty big fall in the first parts of the descent. Further down the hill I could see I was not the only one, all sorts of scrape marks leading down off the trail where people had biffed. Most of the descent alternated between offcamber singletrack to really steep little drops through the woods. It was insanely sketchy and really really fun.

Alas I am a pretty crappy downhill runner in good conditions, I was really crappy this day. The runner ahead of me was not seen again and two runners ran by me like I was standing still. I had many near spills a few real ones and lots of unstable foot plants. It was a blast. The further we got down the trail the more mud there was in the sunny spots where the snow had melted away. I had to stop to tie my shoe and saw two more runners closing in fast and I said basta and took off. Fortunately the trail leveled out a bit with some long straight trails. I was able to decisively drop them and close a bit of ground to the runners ahead of me.

The end of the race got a bit squirrely coming straight down the grassy snow covered ski slope toward Mother lift. I fell three times in quick succession, flat on my ass, but bounced right up and kept on rolling to the finish. I ended up finishing in 6th in the 10k race, one minute back of the kid and one of the guys who passed me on the downhill, but well back of the top three. My time was 1hour 13 minutes 15 seconds. 5 minutes slower than when I did the race two years back, but given the conditions and how good I felt during the race and afterwards, I think I was much faster. I was sore for 4 days or so, mostly in the hips and inner leg from trying to stabilze myself on the snow, but otherwise no big deal. There were nice raffle prizes at the finish, a good cookie and muffin spread for snacking on. Alas, the kitchen was not open so I was denied the traditional post race burrito. Overall 65 people finished the 10k and 25 did the two lap 12 mile race. The turnout was excellent given the crappy weather. results here.

Aida (pink hat) runs towards the cookies and beads
Aida's first race

Aida and Elena came up to watch the finish and to have Aida run in her first race the 100 yard kids race. The kids race was great, featuring approximately 10 kids, much pushing on the start line and much excitement about post race cookies and rewards. Aida actually started running when the starter mentioned the cookies and juice post race. Fortunately there were no DQ's for the first false start and she was allowed to line up again. The race went off and she ran the whole way to the end. I am pretty sure she was torn between picking up interesting looking rocks and running the whole way, but her racing instinct held out. She ate some cookies and got a shiny orange bead necklace for her prize. She was mildly irked that her older friends ran the 1k bigger kids race too, but that was soothed by more cookies. Hurray cookies. We returned home and I took an epic nap.


lemmiwinks said...

Cookies FTW! Great report, running through snow sounds hard.

Desert Dirt said...

damn that looked like fun. great report.

Tarik Saleh said...

Thanks pal, running in the snow is actually great fun, but racing up and down steep hills in the snow is quite a bit trickier.

Desert Dirt,
Hope to see you out there next year, it is a good one. May you heal up fast. There is another trail race up here next weekend 10/29, Ruby K's yum run, 10k in the canyons below the aquatic center, it is an excellent course, you should come up if you are running again...