What New Mexico does have that is somewhat unique is its' strangely designed roads. The layout of the highway system in the northern part of the state in particular has always baffled me and seems haphazard at best, and the road systems in the towns never seem to be very conducive to efficiently traveling from one place to another. The funny thing is that although the nonsense of the road systems in New Mexico sometimes annoys my sense of logic, the affected result - longer driving times between locations - has never really bothered me. The scenery and culture that is experienced when driving through northern New Mexico is always enough to keep me engaged and not let the miles wear on my mental state. I can't help but think that maybe the seemingly random road systems were actually strategically planned to route the traveler near and through all of the most scenic and interesting parts of the landscape so that the travel would become more of an experience and less of a means for getting from point A to point B.
So does all this mean that I consider the roads to be the best or most unique attribute that New Mexico brings to this country? Not by a long shot: that honor belongs to the New Mexican green chile.
If you look closely at the picture of Guaje ridge above, you'll notice that the mountain appears to be growing a thin covering of whiskers. Those whiskers are the remains of what used to be trees that got burned up last year in the Las Conchas fire, which at the time was the largest wildfire in recorded New Mexico state history. Because of the lack of trees, the exposure on the course was high and the temperature on the ridge got a little bit toasty during the run. I can only imagine that the 50k and 50 mile runners who descended the ridge later in the day would have been heating up as they ran this section. Along the ridge, the remnants of what used to be the forest consisted of sparsely scattered standing tree trunks that had been mostly consumed by the fire yet somehow managed to remain upright. The sound of the wind whistling along the ridge while running through the burn area coupled with the sweeping views into the valley to the east made for an interesting setting.
Due to the open terrain that allowed for good visibility, I was able to play spectator to the battle among the lead runners for all of the first half of the race. Rob Krar, Kris Houghton and Ryan Woods all went out at a steady pace on the intial road section, then started pushing the pace once on the single track. Jason Bryant fell in behind the lead group, and I stuck with a group of five other guys that kept a steady pace through the initial gradual climbs through the canyon. Once our group began the more direct climb up the slope to the ridge, I could see Rob in front with Kris close behind him. I could also see that Ryan looked to have dropped off the pace somewhat and Jason was pushing to catch him. Our following group began to string out some as we climbed to the ridge and once I left the aid station at the top of the ridge I found myself alone running through the burned forest.
As we descended off the ridge and back into the canyons, I could see that I was gaining some ground on the two runners directly in front of me, but wasn't feeling confident that I'd be able to catch either of them as they appeared to still be running strong. As we began the final rolling ascent over the last two miles to the finish, I began gaining ground more steadily. All of a sudden the guy directly in front of me seemed to hit a wall and slowed down dramatically, which allowed me to pass and put a gap on him quickly. Less than a quarter mile from the finish line we had to scramble up through a rocky washout with some pretty technical footing. As I began ascending this section I was trying to give a last hard push. I could see that the next guy ahead of me was struggling to push through that final climb, and he stepped to the side and told me to pass him. After unexpectedly gaining two positions in the last mile of the race, I crossed the finish line in what I thought was sixth place.
After doing a short cooldown run with Kris I came back to the finish line and people were starting to ask "Where's Jason?" I hadn't seen Jason since he crested the ridge halfway into the race and I assumed that he had finished well before me, but no one had seen him show up at the finish line. Shortly after, we also realized that Gina Lucrezi had not shown up at the finish line yet as people who had been running behind her were finishing. As it turns out, both Jason and Gina had missed a turnoff during the descent and had run down a canyon in the wrong direction. Jason ended up continuing down the canyon and caught a ride in a truck with a guy who was cutting fence posts, and Gina ended up reversing her path and hiking back in to the finish. At the time that they missed the turnoff, Jason was running as the third place man and Gina was running as either the second or third place woman, and they both ended up not finishing the race. Due to Jason's excursion off the course, I ended up in fifth place in the standings rather than sixth.
Once the confusion of the missing runners had been sorted out, we had a good time just hanging out eating the post-race meal (including some great spicy green chile enchiladas), drinking beer that Santa Fe Brewering Company had provided, and enjoying the sunshine. The awards for the race were beautiful handmade pottery bowls which were made by a local family. The bowls were freehand painted in a theme that depicted the race course and the effects that the recent fire had on the course.
After leaving the post-race party I started making my way out of Los Alamos and back into the valley, catching a good look back at the mountains and the runout of the canyons below them.