This year's race was a similar, yet entirely different experience from last year. The route, of course, remains incredibly challenging, the scenery inspiring, and the race organization exemplary. However, the run itself turned out to be more of a time trial than the race it was last year when Ryan Burch and I battled all morning for top honors.
At the base of Caballo Mountain, 10 miles into the race, I could sense that I was in for a good run. Coming back down the mountain from the summit, I had already built a 10-minute lead on the rest of the field, and so by Pipeline at mile 17, right before the steep scree-like drop into the Caldera Wildlife Preserve, I started getting pretty focused on splits and trying to shave minutes on my segment times from last year.
Top Caballo. Photo: Rachel GraznowI knew I needed to find 19 minutes to take down Kyle Skaggs' course record from 2008 - the year he re-wrote the record books at Hardrock, redefining the sport of ultrarunning (as a racing pursuit) in the process - and a further eight minutes to dip under eight hours.
At the turn onto the cross country section of the course, I was six to seven minutes up on my 2010 time, meaning that I had to find 13 minutes over the top of the two remaining 10k'+ peaks (Cerro Grande and Pajarito) and the bomber descent to the finish to set the new Jemez standard. I remembered that I'd had a bit of a bad patch last year on the climb out of Pajarito Canyon to the base of the final 2.5k' climb up Pajarito Mountain, so figured I could be a little conservative on the Cerro cross-country grunt and still make up some good time by Pajarito.
I pulled into the Pajarito Canyon aid station with an exact match on last year's split over the big grunting off road section, which I was happy with because I had chased Ryan pretty hard coming down off Cerro Grande last year. With the four-mile climb out of the canyon ahead, I knew it was time to start turning the screw if the course record was going to happen. Running alongside the river, I passed Hardrock champ Diana Finkel coming the other way on a training run. She gave me some good encouragement, which was nice, and I plugged on out of the canyon through the aspen and the big burn scars from the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire. The Pajarito aid came quicker than I expected, and four minutes faster than last year.
Ten minutes up, nine to find, 18 miles to go, and one mountain left to climb.
My mantra in the early stages of the race, after I'd decided that I was feeling good and ready to push out a hard effort, was to run everything but Cerro Grande (which is simply not runnable given the grade and rough terrain). I ran all of Caballo, versus 80 percent last year (netting a measly two minutes) and hiked Cerro as planned. However, Pajarito once again dropped me to my knees, and I ended up hiking most of the really steep stuff. So a Fail on that particular goal.
When I did finally hit the top, after a bit of re-routing up high and a couple of insignificant wrong turns, I was psyched to bomb the descent to the ski lodge, where training partner Senor Slush (conveniently in town for his niece's graduation) was waiting to pick up some pacing duties.
Cruising into the lodge aid, a young lady told me that Scott was in the can. I hadn't planned on stopping there, so asked her to tell Scott to catch me up once he was ready to start running. A couple of turns into the rolling and shaded double track and Scott was on my shoulder. I explained the formula: 12 minutes up, seven to find, one 3,000' drop to negotiate, 14 miles to get it done. Scott got right to work and pulled me along at a faster clip than I probably otherwise would have run. I had to back off on the small climb up to Pipeline, dropping into my grind gear, but otherwise was happy with the new effort level. We picked up another three minutes in the 2.9 miles to Pipeline.
I had Scott scoot ahead as we got close to the aid station to fill my bottle with ice and coke. I had gotten a fill of coke instead of water at the Pajarito aid, and it was going down well and offering up some good energy. Up to that point, I had been through three EFS Liquid Shot flasks (1,200 cals) and was feeling kinda done with the gel thing. So aside from a few nips of EFS in the last four miles, I ran the final 14 miles on liquid sugar alone.
Out of Pipeline, I knew we had to get up the powerline hill - the last significant climb of the day - before we would truly be howeward bound on the 10-mile descent to the finish. Again, I made it a mission to run the entire thing, knowing that I had dropped to a walk a few times on this climb last year. I got a big rush once we hit the top and jetted off at a ridiculously fast pace - 5:40s, according to Scott's GPS - in search of the turn onto the singletrack. I was foiled by a last little grunter that I'd forgotten about, which forced me back into my grind gear, but by the time we hit the singletrack turn, the digits - according to our best calculations - looked to be telling us 7:15s over the last 10 miles to break the record.
Early in the descent on some of the smoother and less technical sections, Scott was giving me real-time pace readings in the 6:40s. This meant I definitely had a shot, but that it would be close as there were still a number of short hills to get up and the trail would become slower as the turns increased - not to mention that I had 40 miles in my legs already.
We hit a mix of seven and eight minute miles all the way down the drop into town, depending on the number of uphill gear changes we had to make. The mental calculations were coming thick and fast as Scott reeled off the mile splits, and it became increasingly clear that the record was within reach, but that it was going to be tight. I kept feeling like I was slowing, but Scott kept giving me seven to sub-seven minute pace checks. I honestly thought he was lying to me to keep me motivated, but by the final aid station with two miles to go, the calculation was easy: cover the last 2 miles in under 19 minutes for the course record.
The pace ground to a crawl coming out of Rendija Canyon on the final set of switchbacks, but I knew I had enough left in the tank to get the job done. That was until we found ourselves off course and looking for flags. Do what? Fortunately, the panic was short lived and Scott had us back on track after a detour that cost a precious minute or two. With a mile to go, we had - I think - eight minutes to get the job done.
We hit the final rock scramble back up to the finish with 8:07:low on the clock. I knew the course record was 8:08, but had no idea what the exact time was in terms of seconds, so wanted to dip under 8:08 to be sure. Making the final turn onto the home straight, I could see 8:07 on the finish-line clock and knew then that the record was going down. Soon after crossing the finish, the announcer declared a new course record by thirty seconds. I lit up a huge smile.
I had to work hard for this one, so the payoff felt great. Last year at the Wasatch 100, I had been chasing Kyle's splits all morning, and really thought I was going to go under his former course record. But then I took a massive wrong turn at about mile 40 and had to give up on that idea. This year at Jemez, I managed to stay focused and get the job done.
This run was particularly sweet for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I love everything about this race: the course, the people, the exemplary organization, and the immense challenge of humping up and down those mountains. But perhaps almost as significant for me was taking down Kyle's course record (only one left now, I think). Both Kyle and Tony were redefining the sport just as I was getting into it four or five years ago, changing the calculations on what was possible in long-distance mountain races. Never in a million years did I think I would be toppling or even getting close to their times.
In my mind, Kyle's Hardrock run of 2008 remains the biggest game changer the sport has ever seen, and probably will ever see. Obviously that one still stands, but I know there are a number of guys out there looking at that 23:23 and thinking that it's within reach. I won't be setting any standards at Hardrock this year, but I do believe that with a focused effort I might have a shot next year, if I can get back in.
To finish, a word of thanks to the Koehn family who were unbelievably hospitable in opening up their home to Nick and me this weekend. Post-race steak, beers and jacuzzi - I mean, c'mon. You guys are awesome!
Our wonderful hosts for the weekend.
Also, a tip of the hat to Brendan Trimboli who ran a very well-measured race to finish in second in his first ever 50 miler, and also to the other three Colorado boys who made up the top-five Colorado sweep (Ben Dunn, Nick Pedatella, Corey Hanson). It should also be noted that Corey broke his finger about two miles into the race, but still finished up the race in a strong sub-10 hour showing. Now that's ballsey.
First Aid........41:10..............42:10Guaje Ridge...26:53 (1:08)...26:56 (1:09:06)
Base Caballo..32:27 (1:40)...30:22 (1:39:28)
Top Caballo...33:00 (2:13)...31:39 (2:11:08)
Base Caballo..15:45 (2:29)...15:11 (2:26:20)
Pipeline..........31:32 (3:01)...31:04 (2:57:24)
Valle Grande..31:15 (3:32)...29:02 (3:26:27)
Top Cerro.......???????????...40:17 (4:06:44)
Paj Canyon.....1:21 (4:53).....41:12 (4:47:57)
Pajarito Base..44:16 (5:37)...40:34 (5:28:31)
Pajarito top....32:25 (6:10)...30:04 (5:58:35)
Ski Lodge.......18:14 (6:28)...19:59 (6:18:35)
Pipeline..........25:37 (6:54)...22:15 (6:40:50)Rendija Cyn....1:12 (8:06)...1:07:55 (7:48:45)
Finsh...............19:56 (8:26:17)..19:01 (8:07:46)