Monday, July 2, 2012

Angel Fire Endurance Run Race Report

The hardest part about starting a race report for me is the actual starting.  Once I get going and the memories from the mileage start flooding back, it's just a matter of trying to type as fast as I'm thinking.  Right now it's all so fresh and I'm still tired from traveling home yesterday but I'll try to put my thoughts down in a way that makes some sense, before I forget anything.

Angel Fire Endurance Run is a first year event that offers 50K, 50 mile or 100 mile options.  From what I heard, this race was the brain child of Jack Christian and he was instrumental in making it happen along with race director Chisholm Deupree with lots of help from David Wood, Keith McCombs and Kevin Hayes.  These guys worked their tails off to make it happen and I'm so very thankful for all their hard work and bringing this race to life.  I was signed up for the 50K and thank goodness, because this course was TOUGH!!  Since we all knew that this race would be at a lot higher altitude than what we are used to running at, we left early Thursday morning for the 8-9 hour drive to Angel Fire so that we'd have Thursday night and all day Friday to acclimate a bit.  Nancy did all the driving which was awesome for Melissa, Peggy and I!  :)  Lucky for us Nancy LIKES to drive.  We never ran out of things to talk about and had a blast.  The drive went fast and when we started seeing the mountains in the distance I got super excited...I always feel that way when I get near mountains.  It awakens a different sense in me and I feel very alive and full of energy.  I never get tired of being in the mountains!

We arrived at the Angel Fire Lodge at around 4:30 pm (we gained an hour when entering New Mexico, yay!) and got checked in.  I had no idea what to expect of the lodge and was pleasantly surprised.  It was beautiful! Our room was spacious and had a huge balcony.  After unpacking and getting settled in we all headed to Hatchas Grill in Angel Fire for some mexican food and it was delicious, then took a walk around the lodge and down to the main road to try and figure out first part of the route for Saturday's race.  We were in bed early because we'd all decided that a morning run to shake out the legs was much needed.
First night in Angel Fire

Shake out run Friday morning

My running gals!
Me, Peggy, Melissa and Nancy

Friday morning we took off on foot from the lodge and followed the pink course markings for the first 3.3 miles of the race and back.  We turned around at Monte Verde lake which would be aid station 2 during the race.  It was so gorgeous and we were all having SO much fun.  Such a treat to be running in cool fresh mountain air when we'd just come from Oklahoma were it was 104 degrees and humid.  We ran around the golf course, through a beautiful hilly neighborhood and stopped at the lake for some pictures.  Since Nancy and I had the race the next day we turned back at the lake while Peggy and Melissa kept going on a trail around the lake and went up Lady Slipper trail another two miles.  We definitely noticed the higher elevation and breathing was more difficult but since the temperatures were so much cooler that helped offset it and we had a great run and ended up with almost 7 miles.  We decided that was PLENTY for us (maybe even a bit much for the day before an ultra) so we went back to the lodge and had a delicious breakfast at the coffee shop, then headed to our room to relax and put our feet up.

OH- and one other thing...when we woke up on Friday Peggy had pictures for us of a bear that visited the lodge Thursday night after Nancy and I had gone to bed and she had pictures of it.  It came right up to the front door going through trash cans.  So wish I would of got to see it!
Bear outside of the Lodge

Friday night was the pre-race meeting where we picked up packets.  Chisholm went over logistics and gave instructions.  After the meeting, Nancy and I spent the evening relaxing, preparing our race packs, mixing our drinks and preparing our race food.  I always try to be totally self sufficient on long trail runs (even if I know there are aid stations) and had packed trail mix, Fig Newtons, S caps, 5 gels, GU Chomps, 70 ounces of water with NUUN and some Tums.  We went to bed early but unfortunately could not sleep.  One thing I learned from this race is that it's hard to sleep for the first few nights when you are adapting to a high altitude.   I think I might have drifted off once or twice and slept a total of about an hour.  Not a great way to start off a race, but I felt pretty good Saturday morning.

We headed down to the start line (love that the starting line is in the parking lot of the lodge and that we could walk there in 5 minutes!) at about 4:50 and were off at 5:00 am.  It was dark but not dark enough to need headlights for long so I didn't bring mine.  By mile 2 the sun was coming up and we had a beautiful sunrise to look at.  I fell into a comfortable pace with Joel McCarty, Mike Sullivan and Haley Larson.  I'd just met Haley the night before and we clicked right away and had a similar pace.  She lives in El Paso, TX currently but is about to move to New Orleans, LA and we already have plans to meet at Rocky Raccoon to run our first 50 miler together in February.  So much fun meeting new trail loving running friends!  Unfortunately, when we hit the Monte Verde aid station at mile 3, I kept going and she stopped.  I was moving slow and thinking her, Joel and Mike would catch me at any moment and they probably would have, but I got lost at mile 4 and went over a mile off track before realizing it.  The trail was marked very well and I should not have gotten lost as many times as I did...I'm not sure why that was such a problem for me this race but I suspect it was a combination of me looking around at the beautiful views everywhere and forgetting to watch for markings, and watching my feet the rest of the time to make sure I didn't trip.  This course is very technical which I didn't anticipate for some reason.  I knew it was mostly double track road so I had pictured in my head that it would be fairly smooth.  Once I finally realized I was not seeing pink ribbons and turned around, I'd gone almost a mile and a half down the wrong trail.  Yikes!  Not a great start for me.  About a half mile after I turned back I saw an evergreen tree about 30 feet away off the side of the trail waving at the same time I heard a huffing/snorting sound.  Scared the crap out me and I was sure it had to be a bear (kinda scared of seeing a bear by myself on the trail as my friends can well tell you from hearing about my fears for a week before the race).  I got my bear bell out of the little bag and started loudly saying "HEY BEAR" and didn't see or hear anything after that.  Whatever it was stayed behind the evergreen tree and I kept moving down the trail.  My worst fear and it was happening...I was lost on the wrong trail with no other people around and a bear near me!  Once I talked to people at the finish line though they were all pretty sure it was an elk and not a bear.  :)

Haley looking strong in her first 50K!

One of the very long, very steep sections

I turned around and headed back the way I'd come and then hit a fork in the road and wasn't sure which road I'd just come from.  I found my footprints on the right trail and took that and made it back to the pink ribbons.  And there were the markings, clear as can be telling me I should of veered right instead of left.  I was giving myself mental pep talks and thinking that this was just a 3 mile setback and that I needed to learn from it and remember to watch the trail ahead and look for markers.  This lasted all of about an hour when I did the same thing again and walked right past trail markings telling me to go left and I went right.  This time it added about 2 miles for me.  I was seeing such beautiful views all around me that I wasn't too upset, just figured it was going to be a loooooong day and to enjoy it and look at it as some bonus miles.  The views are amazing from the trail!  You can see forever it seems like and are looking at mountains, big blue sky and gorgeous forest once you get onto Lady Slipper Trail which is just past Monte Verde lake.  About the time I hit Osho Meadow (mile 6 maybe? hard to say since I'd already gotten lost a couple times) I started seeing the lead runners coming back and they looked so strong and fast that felt a little ashamed at how far back I was and told them that I'd gotten lost so they didn't think I was THAT slow.  ; )  Osho Meadow was beautiful and although I loved all of the course, it was probably my favorite.  There were pink markings across the meadow to guide you, but basically you just picked your way across the meadow to the other side where the trail picked back up.  

Osho Meadow. Follow the pink flags!  Loved this part.

Osho Meadow

On the other side of Osho, I saw Laurie Alexander and she told me she'd gotten lost for a bit and had put a log across the trail, just to make sure no one else would make the same mistake and would see the log and look towards the left and see the markings to turn onto another trail.  This is how scatterbrained I was..she told me that and it promptly left my head 20 seconds later.  I continued down the trail and came upon a log and there was a beautiful view so I stood on the log to take a picture, stepped over the log and kept going.  (smart, I know)  It took me about a half mile to figure out (once again) that I'd gone into la-la land and once again gone off course.  This time it deflated me and I lost some motivation.  I found the correct trail and remembered Laurie telling me to not go over the log and pretty much felt like an  idiot!  All time goals went out the window and I just decided to enjoy myself and see how I felt at the 12.5 mile turnaround.  Along the way I saw Haley and she was looking great but was relieved to see me since she'd been worried about me.  I also saw Nancy who was also relieved, she thought I'd already dropped or gotten eaten by a mountain lion or something.  She warned me that the trail was about to go straight down for three miles to the turnaround and she was not lyin' was a steep and constant downhill that was very technical with lots of rocks.  I almost wiped out 3 or 4 times trying to keep my footing on those rocks.  By the time I made it about half way down I had done the math in my head and knew that I wanted to drop there.  I had 6 extra (very tough) miles on my legs from my adventures onto the wrong trails and although it was gorgeous scenery I didn't think I wanted to keep going and take a chance on continuing to get lost.  I want to say again, this course was marked VERY WELL!!!  Me getting lost was my fault.  I don't usually get lost during races, in fact this was a first and I just don't know what my problem was.   For anyone thinking about running this in the future: there were 2 aid stations with food, Heed and water as well as 2 or 3 unmanned aid stations with water which seemed like plenty of support to me.  If you are running the 100 mile event and will be running at night they give you a GPS that tracks you so they can keep tabs on you through the night for safety reasons which I thought was great.  

Nancy coming in from her 50 miler

Nancy finishing
I texted one of the race organizers, Dave Wood and told him I was going to drop at the 12.5 mile turnaround which was ran by my friend Larry Flies.  Larry found out I was dropping and rode is bike back to me to keep my company to his aid station.  I ended up with 18.5 very beautiful miles and that was ok with me.  I wish my resolve was stronger and drove me me to finish but for this race it just wasn't.  Keith drove me back to the start and I got to see some friends coming in to the finish which was so much fun.  I took a shower and was finally able to sleep and got a 2 hour nap.  I wandered back down to the finish line to take pictures and watch the finishers coming in.  I got to see Nancy come in from her 50 miler looking strong as always.  She is such an inspiration and such a strong lady.  

We had dinner and tried to go to sleep but kept wondering how everyone at the finish line was doing so we went back down there for a while to see if they needed any help.  I ended up staying until about 2:00 am so I could see the sole 100 mile runner come in for his final loop and make him some soup.

I believe there were 13 starters in the 100 mile event and after 50 miles, all had DNF'd except one, Christopher White.  He lives nearby at Philmont and it was his first 100 miler.  He continued on into the night and next morning and finished in 29:20.  I heard one of the 100 milers that had dropped say that she had ran Leadville twice and this course was harder than Leadville.  We had one bear near the finish line right before he came in for his final loop and at the same time there was a bear down at Monte Verde lake aid station.  Neither did any damage and it added a little excitement and woke us up a bit.  :)  Christopher said that a mountain lion kitty started running with him in the middle of the night and he never did see momma lion but baby ran with him for 3 miles.  I have to say, this guy was pretty amazing.  Very humble and polite.  I have a feeling we might be hearing his name more and more in the ultra scene.  
Christopher "Toph" White at mile 97 and about to hit hilly pavement for the last 3 miles to the finish.

Toph coming in to Monte Verde (aid station 2).  3 miles to go.

100 Mile Finisher Chris White, 29:20:40

This was a great race, great location, great everything and it's already on the calendar for next year which I'm so glad to see.  It benefits Angel Fire schools and a lot of hard work went in to getting it up and running and organized.  The course is beautiful, rugged and tough.  I plan to be back next year and WILL finish!  :)


  1. Excellent report Julie, and what great pictures.

    1. Thanks Maurice! It was a great race and such a beautiful place that it is almost impossible to take a bad picture! :)

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  2. Julie enjoyed your race report and the pics too! Thanks for taking time to do this.

    1. Thanks Danny! I hope you come back next year to run it again.

  3. Nice report Julie - thanks for sharing your experiences and your photos

    1. Thanks Joel! I had fun running with you and just wish I would have stayed with you guys.

  4. Great race report, Julie!! LOVED hearing about it through your eyes. Next year will be different! I've never run a trail race in the mountains before, so I can imagine it would be hard to NOT look around at the scenery and get lost. Congrats on your tough 18.5 miles!! :)

    1. Thanks Tanya! I hope you come run it next year! We'll have so much fun!

  5. Wonderful report and photos! Glad to hear that they will be doing it next year.

    1. Thanks Brian! It's so beautiful there and such a great race. Hope you can make it next year!

  6. thank you so much for the pics and story....christopher is my son...
    i hope y'all get to run next year,,,,,please consider THUNDER ROAD in charlotte, nc in november.....Proud Mom

  7. Proud Mom,

    Thank you so much for commenting! Your son was just amazing and he inspired so many people. I still can't get over it! I've actually heard a lot about Thunder Road and here it's a great race. Please tell Christopher how proud of him everyone is and that we hope he will come back and run it again next year. I have a finish line picture of him too if you want to email me I'll send it to you.

    Thanks! Julie

  8. Wow, what a tough course, thanks for the description! Sorry your run didn't go as planned with getting lost, and I really would have hated the bear sighting! That guy is one stud, the finisher, being alone out there after all drops...But great pictures! I think I'll just go hang out as I did couple years back:)

  9. It's a beautiful place either to hang out or to run. I think you would of liked it Olga, even though it wasn't all singletrack! :) Some of those double-track roads up at the top were very rugged and technical with tons of rocks. And there was plenty of gorgeous single-track too that we ran on. I loved crossing that meadow though, it felt like you were on top of the world.

  10. WOW!!! This whole thing is awesome! But I must say you kind of lost me at "bear outside the lodge". =)

    Looks like a great time! I may have to put this on my list of runs to do! Glad it's on your list for next year!