This was the first race I have ran since I hurt my foot back at the end of last summer and had to withdraw from the Headlands 50k. I’ve been getting in some good runs and the legs and foot have been good despite an occasional shin splint from overuse. I took three days off, had an acupuncture treatment and took care of myself so I’d feel ready for the race. I was feeling fairly competitive and wanted to see how well I could do if I actually tried.
Fortunately, the terrible, brown out, dust storms we had been having in the southern desert for the past few days stopped on Sunday morning. This was also the first day of daylight savings, which made the 8 am start pretty dark. Ben and I drove down from Las Cruces at around 6:30 am. West El Paso was in desolation at this hour, no coffee shops were open and the gas station was out of gas. I was glad I had eaten well before we’d left but Ben was getting a little hangry. I wanted to avoid any stomach issues and ate about 2 hours before race time. It turned out to be beneficial. Not only did Ben run without eating but he ran with a 45 pound backpack to get in some final training for the Bataan Memorial Death March next weekend. Crazy guy!
This was the first time I had ever been to the Franklin Mountains State Park. I knew there were trails and a little climbing but had just never ventured down here. The parking lot and starting line provided a very nice vista of the Organ Mountains and desert to the north. Apparently one could run the Sierra Vista Trail all the way from Las Cruces to where we were starting the race. That would be a cool but long run. Chris from Up and Running El Paso was directing this event and it turned out to be nice, low key outing. Approximately 60 or so participants showed up in the early morning cold for the race. I finally got to put a face to some of the El Paso trail runners (Ryan and Greg) that I’d been talking with online.
I still feel very unsure about how to race, especially in shorter races that I know I can finish but still have to pace myself. This race was 7.5 miles and mostly technical, single track trail. This type of trail is what I like but moving quick for that distance is still a little difficult. We started out on the road and I was probably 7 or 8 back and just feeling out the legs. I stretched and warmed up a lot and the shin felt good but the pavement felt strange in the Inov8 Trail Rocs I was wearing. I just did a review of these for Trail Runner magazine and they’re great on technical, loose terrain but feel weird on hard surfaces. Anyway, as soon as I hit the off road I felt good. The single track felt fast and I was enjoying the quick pace and jumping around on the trail. The cold, wind was making breathing a little difficult but I just kept moving at a a pace where I could stay aerobic and keep moving.
As usual, my legs didn’t really loosen up until about 2.5-3 miles in but by then they were also feeling the quick pace and almost cramped up on me. I passed a few folks and one guy was right on my tail until we got to the top of a hill. I kept moving and I no longer heard his footsteps behind me. Sometimes persistence pays off better than speed. Just keep moving was what I told myself. I was really enjoying the technical trail and the desert was opening up to grand vistas. I kept catching the front runners in my site as I rounded some corners. At one switchback, the first two guys were trekking off through the desert. I guess they didn’t see the pretty obvious turn in the trail, despite the bright pink flagging. I yelled at them to show them the trail but they kept going on the shortcut. This was a little unsettling but I kept moving.
I passed another guy at the top of a climb and he looked pretty worked. Only one more in front of me but he seemed to be going pretty strong. We made a turn toward the west and the best view of the trail was displayed. It was an amazing site as I ran down the fast, single track that hugged the hill side. I could see the guy in front and kept as fast a pace as I could but the legs were getting a little tired and I knew the last mile was a climb.
The last climb was runnable and my legs weren’t feeling too peppy but I managed to keep running up the hill with sites on the frontrunner. The wind was still blowing down the canyon and making movement and breathing arduous but the top and finish was near.
I crossed the finish line in 1 hr and 2 min. to take second overall, just a minute behind the first place. I felt good about the run and knew I had given my best but couldn’t help but think about how much that little short cut through the desert made for the first guy. Although I had read about race and trail ethics, this was the first time I’d ever come in contact with it and it made me think a little bit. Anyway, I still got my little plastic trophy and post race sandwich so it didn’t matter too much.
The Jack Rabbit was a fun race and good speed training (without touching a track or bothering with stop watches) for future races. such as the Jemez 50k in May! I’ll be back down to El Paso to run these beautiful trails.