This past weekend was the inaugural Ultra Santa Fe trail race, held in the Santa Fe National Forest of New Mexico. The race included four distances: 50 mile, 50 kilometer, 13 mile, and an uphill 1 mile.
The event had been on my radar for a few months; I bought my plane ticket back in April with the intent of visiting some college friends and running the 13 miler. Before I knew it the race was only a few weeks away and I was second guessing my fitness and wondering whether to register. Despite living in New Mexico for three years I never really felt fit at that elevation, and Santa Fe at 10,000 feet is nearly 5,000 higher than where I lived and trained in Albuquerque. A year of running at 2,000 feet in Las Vegas made me nervous about the altitude, to say the least.
Finally I registered for the race on Wednesday the 7th, just three days ahead of the event. I flew out of Vegas early Thursday morning and landed in Albuquerque late morning. It was freezing on the plane, so my first stop after picking up my rental car was a nearby coffee shop that a friend from architecture school helped designed. Next I dropped by REI to pick up some supplies for the race that I hadn’t wanted to pack in my carry on, as well as a new pair of compression sleeves and running socks.
Following a quick lunch with a friend I dropped by bags off, changed, and jumped in the car to head to the Sandia Mountains for my first taste of elevation in over a year. To loop around the back side of the mountains and drive to the peak is about an hour and a half – longer than I’d normally travel for a short run but I really wanted to get in at least a few miles at elevation before the race. After looking over a few different trails I finally decided to park at the visitors center and take off from there. I wound up following the Crest Trail #130, or rather, I attempted to. I got off the trail a few times but still found my way to the Kiwanis Cabin and over to the Sandia Peak Tram.
On the way back I managed to stay on the right trail the whole way. One of the things I love about New Mexico is the variety of ecosystems and landscapes. On one side of the mountains lies the high desert, while on the other there are grassy meadows and pine trees.
Thursday was a night out with friends and I spent most of Friday relaxing and recovering before the race. After my friend got out of work Friday we headed up to Santa Fe to check out Meow Wolf. I’ve been so eager to visit since the opening earlier this year, so even though it was the night before the race I still went. The exhibit is located in an old bowling alley owned by author and Santa Fe resident George R.R. Martin. Meow Wolf is an interactive art installation that allows the visitors to be immersed in the mystery surrounding the House of Eternal Return and its missing occupants. You are invited into the house where you can then freely open drawers, look under beds, read books, browse family photographs, and more. There is a story to be told and a mystery to be solved, however I didn’t have time to fully discover all of the home’s secrets on this trip. This place is an absolute must-see and next time I am in town I plan on allocating at least an afternoon to a closer study of the space.
Finally it was race day! My race actually started pretty late (9 am) but the ski resort was an hour and a half drive from where I stayed. I woke up at 6, dressed, stopped for a coffee and gas, and was on my way.
I had never been to Ski Santa Fe before, but the location was easy to find and parking was really well organized. I wasn’t able to pick up my package ahead of time so I made sure to arrive with plenty of time to do so in the morning. In the package was an edition of Trail Runner Magazine, a sticker, some pamphlets about staying safe in the wild, and our bibs (no timing chips). Unfortunately they had already run out of shirts in my size but were sure to take down my information and address so they could send me one, which I thought was pretty awesome considering they could have just said tough luck. They also had out some snacks that everyone was welcome to.
I always get a bit jittery before races, so after I had gone back to my car to change shoes I headed back to the start line and found some other runners in my distance. I usually find that a lot of people, even experienced runners, get a little nervous before hand and joking about it is a good way to relax and meet new people. Before I knew it we were all huddled at the line ready to go. I didn’t know how I would feel running at such a high altitude so I positioned myself towards the back of the pack.
There was no gun or buzzer, just a man shouting “Go!” and we were off. The first half mile or so looped around the lodge, through the parking lot, and down a paved road. After that we got on a single track trail through the woods. This is where things got a little dicey. Once the pack began to separate and thin out a little it got harder to tell which trail we were meant to follow. At one intersection in particular the trail forked and both directions were marked with flags. It turns out one was a reroute that looped back to an earlier spot on the trail, however several people followed this path, adding to their time and distance and causing at least one runner to be disqualified after he failed to make the cut off time for an aid station.
I felt pretty good going through the single track and really enjoyed running through the woods – not something I do too often in Las Vegas. Had the entire race been held on such trails I would have loved it. The actual trail, for me, left much to be desired. After three or so miles on the single track we were dropped down onto an access road; that is a wide, gravely dirt path that is neither trail nor road, just the pain of both and the joy of neither. We stayed on the road for around 7 miles, all of which were uphill, taking us between approximately 9,000 and 12,000 foot elevation.
Upon reaching the peak we were told to run up and over a grassy hill, with no trail in site. Okay…after cresting the hill we passed through the second aid station and began the final ascent, with about 2.5 miles remaining. The uphill was tough but the downhill was nearly dangerous. In most places there was no established trail, or at least none that was easily spotted, and the incline was so steep and rocky that going too fast was a sure way to get a sprained ankle, at the least. I usually like the finish races strong with a solid push to the end, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible for me on this trail. Nonetheless I still crossed the finish line feeling accomplished in my longest race to date.
After the race I ran into a friend from college and grabbed a meal and drink from Santa Fe Brewing (included with our registration!).
I ended up finishing 3rd in my age group and getting a pretty cool leather cuff. I thought this was really nice and much better than a medal or plaque, especially since they were made by a local tribe and support a local business, Dirt Gypsy Designs. My overall position was 9/41 for women. While I am happy with this finish due to the difficult course, it also motivates me to keep pushing and working harder.
Overall I had a fun time with the race. Pros: beautiful location, well stocked aid stations, friendly staff, fun, good prizes, after race food and entertainment. Cons: poor trail markings, not the best (in my opinion) trail, not enough staff or photographers on the trail. There were a few organizational issues, but for the event’s first year it was really well put together. I may or may not return next year depending on the course.
The rest of the weekend was spent relaxing and visiting with friends before flying back to Vegas Sunday. I was delayed a few hours at the Albuquerque airport after a “suspicious device” was found in the terminal. It turned out to be a false bomb, and while it angers me that people use 9/11 to cause further distress, I am glad that airport security took precautions to keep everyone safe.
With this race behind me it’s now time to really get serious about the next one, the Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon in November!