Should Have Made That Left Turn At Albuquerque…

Wheres the GD horse statue?!?

Until recently, about the only thing I knew about Albuquerque, New Mexico was this.  But my friend Serena recently moved there and told me I could visit any time.  After a brutal week of on-call, when I was jealous while many of my friends were heading north to run the Boston marathon, I desperately needed to get away.  And since I’ve been on this little quest to run a race in every state, I did a quick internet search and discovered an upcoming race in Albuquerque.  So I took Serena up on her offer – I registered for the 10K and booked a flight.  When several of my pals emailed/texted me to ask “Are you running Racefest?”, I responded with, “Nope, I’m running a 10K in New Mexico.”  I got more than one “WTF?” and a couple “You know there’s a 10K in Charlotte this weekend, right?”

Friday

I made it to the airport and boarded my first flight, to Houston.  I plopped down in my aisle seat.  Maybe I’d get lucky and no one would sit in the empty window seat next to me.  I settled in and started to relax when I noticed an obese man enter the plane.  “No, no, no, no…” I prayed.  Closer and closer waddled the Ralph Friedgen look-alike. “Please no, please no, please no…” He stopped at my row and pointed to the empty window seat adjacent to me and said  “I’m next to you”.  I dropped an emphatic f-bomb in my mind while trying to prevent the annoyance from surfacing to my face.  I spent the next 3 hours jammed against the aisle armrest as Ralph spread out,  fell asleep, and began snoring like a chainsaw.  His massive quad spilled over the armrest and came to rest on my leg and there was nothing I could do short of jumping out of one of the emergency exits.  I really, really wanted to pop a charlie horse down on Ralph’s rude quad but I refrained.  I was never so happy as I was when we finally landed in Houston.

I was ecstatic on the next flight, on my way to Albuquerque, when a diminutive, polite, elderly lady sat down next to me.  I wanted to hug her.

I made it into town where Serena picked me up at the airport and took me to Kelly’s, a little bar restaurant near the University of New Mexico.  Kelly’s in-house brew was exactly what I needed after hours of travel.  Later, Serena’s pals Barry and Trish and family cooked a big dinner and graciously let me partake.  Hot wings are typically not the best pre-race meal but they were delicious so I wasn’t complaining.  I met quite a few new friends my first night in town, including this hot little number who fell hard for me:

Flora gazes longingly into my eyes.

 Saturday

Serena drove me to the site of the race.  Like everyone else, we parked in the closest available place, a church parking lot, about a mile from the start.  Registering online, I thought this race was going to be a small affair, but there were hundreds of folks spilling out of their cars.  We got out and followed the masses down the dusty trail towards the start.

After the long walk, we finally arrived at the Alvaredo Elementary School.  Things were chaotic.  Along the trail, we had passed the starting lines for the half marathon and the 5k , but I didn’t see the 10K start anywhere.  Hundreds of people were milling about at the school and I had to ask some volunteers where I needed to go to pick up my chip.  I asked multiple people where the start for the 10K was and I either got “I don’t know”, “I’m not sure” or “I think it’s down there, by the horse statue”.  Since the day before, I’d seen quite a few horse statues in the area.  This is akin to someone in Charlotte asking you where the start is and you respond with, “Down there, near the church”.  But since the 5K and half marathon starts were both on the trail, I figured the 10K must be also, so I began my warm-up, literally on the dusty trail, in search of the starting line.  Moments later I found the horse statue, hidden behind a tree, and then the 10K starting line just past it.

As I warmed up, I was in awe at the beauty of this place.  I’ve run races in some beautiful locales – the Blue Ridge mountains in the summer, the Cuyahoga national park in the fall, etc. – but none could compare to this.  Directly ahead loomed the majestic Sandia mountains, and directly behind, hot air balloons were being launched.  Serena snapped this pic on race morning:


Just one of many seen on race morning

I snapped this one of the Sandia mountains later that day:

Breathtaking views like this await you throughout Albuquerque

But while I was being swept away by the spectacular beauty, something a little more sinister was taking place during my warm-up.  I was gasping for air even though I was only running about 9:00 minute per mile pace.  With good reason, I grew a little concerned.  I knew running at altitude might be difficult, but I hadn’t realized how difficult.  I hoped this feeling of struggling to breathe would dissipate before the race started.

Then, mere moments before the race, I suddenly felt the urge to use the restroom.  Without a port-a-john in site, I figured I’d just shoot behind some nearby tree.  Um, yeah, there aren’t a lot of nearby trees in New Mexico.  I spotted some brush about a quarter of a mile away and I made a beeline for it.  I finished and hoofed it back, gasping for air every step of the way.  God how I hoped breathing would become easier during the actual race.

The half marathon started and a few hundred people ran past as my fellow 10K’ers and I cheered them on.  Then we gathered near the start for our own race.  I only spotted 1 other runner wearing a singlet and split racing shorts – this ‘uniform’ is often a tell-tale sign of a ‘fast’ runner (not always – after all, that’s what I was wearing too).  But the girl wearing ‘the uniform’ was svelte and ran efficiently and gracefully (unlike me – I’m a bit big for a runner and I run about as efficiently as a wounded water buffalo).  She and I were also the only 2 runners doing strides before the start so naturally we chatted for a moment.  She said, “Look, I get lost easily so I’m going to follow you.”  To which I responded, “Ha – I was thinking I would follow you!  Trust me, you don’t want to follow me.  I’m directionally challenged.  I’ve gotten lost in more than one race.”

“But have you ever gone backwards up the finish chute?  Because I have.”

“No, you got me there.  You win.”  (What I didn’t tell her was that I almost did once but the race director cut me off and pointed me in the right direction.)

When I asked her what pace she planned to run, she answered “Only about 6:35”.  That sounded like a nice conservative pace for me (having just run 39:54, or 6:25 pace, two weeks ago at Cooper River) so I decided to start out running with her and see how things went.

The race director sounded the horn and we took off down the trail with 6:35 girl jumping into the lead with me just off her shoulder.  After about a half of mile I entertained thoughts of possibly winning this thing.  But then I felt like a goldfish that jumps out of it’s bowl and lands on the floor.  I struggled to catch my breath, even as we ran at a pedestrian 6:30ish pace – the same pace that had felt uber-easy during the first mile at Cooper River.  Svelte girl kept up her end of the bargain as we came through the first mile in 6:33, but my failing lungs forced me to back off.

Seconds later, a young guy blew past me.  Then another.  I tried to maintain a respectable pace but my effort level was not reflected in my pace when I glanced at my Garmin.  And then we were on the tail-end of the half marathoners.  It was difficult enough trying to maintain pace on a wide-open course – it was impossible as I weaved in and out of the slower halfers.

My pace plummeted.  I remember thinking we should be at the 2-mile mark when I looked at my watch and saw we had only run 1.65 miles.  I thought, “This is going to be the longest 10K of my life.  Thank god I didn’t sign up for the half!”  I already started scratching off goals.  1) Win – not going to happen.  2) Break 40 – not today my friend.  3) Run a respectable time – maybe to my Ralph Friedgen plane-seat neighbor.  4) Finish – I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do this one.  5) Just don’t pass out – even this one didn’t seem like a sure thing.

A couple more guys passed me.  I tried to lock on to one of them but I simply couldn’t.  Somewhere around the 4 mile mark, I seemed to catch my breath a little as we finally detoured away from the half marathon crowd.  I knew that the 4 or 5 people ahead of me were all young – I still had a shot at an age group award.  “Try to run some negative splits and hold off the other old farts”, I told myself.  Hang on Allen – don’t puke, don’t pass out.  You can do this, you run tempo runs faster than this.

Finally, mercifully, we turned left and I could see the finish line at the elementary school.  I somehow, miraculously, managed to finish 6th overall, first in my age group.  I have 2 age group awards in my 2 10K’s west of the Mississippi.  I have come to the conclusion that 40-44 year-old men west of the Mississippi are slow.

The post race was fun.  There was the nice, small-town festival feel.  Great Harvest had a booth there which made me feel right at home.  I sipped Gatorade, tossed a nerf ball with a random toddler who wandered up and wanted someone to play with, and waited around.  The organizers had some difficulty with the results (which appears to have carried over to Active.com as the results posted there are completely dorked up at the moment).  But eventually a table was set up with the 10K awards and I was able to claim my medal.  Here’s photographic evidence, not Photo-shopped or anything:

40-somethings out west are clearly very slow

And that was my race.  Check New Mexico off the list.

Later that day, we rode what is touted as “the world’s longest aerial tramway“.  This tram travels up the Sandia mountains to an elevation of nearly 11,000 feet.  Walking around up there ravaged my lungs even further.  I remembered reading Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer where Mt. Everest climbers, near the peak, often can only travel a few feet before stopping and resting.  I didn’t understand how fit people could only walk a few feet.  Now I get it.  I had to rest after just a few stairs and we were only at 11,000 feet – the Everest climbers were nearly 3 times that high.

I snapped this photo of the tram:

Phenomenal views made this tram ride well worth the $20 price of admission. Could have paid $12 for a one-way ticket but I really didnt feel like making the 11-mile hike down the mountain after running a 10K that morning.

Sunday

Before I left home, I knew I’d be running my long run in Albuquerque on Sunday.  But where?  I emailed the Albuquerque Road Runners and asked them.  Ed of the ARR recommended Paseo del Bosque, a lovely little bike path along the Rio Grande.  When I got there, I somehow took the wrong trailhead and am grateful that I did.

The Paseo del Bosque is a paved trail, busy with bike traffic, inline skaters, and the like.  The trail I stumbled upon is a more isolated, dirt path, a perfect forgiving surface that wouldn’t be so cruel on my legs, already beat up after I pounded them mercilessly in flats across 5+ miles of pavement the day before (the first mile was on dirt lest you’ve forgotten already).

I was surprised how empty the trail was (hell, maybe I was trespassing for all I know).  I encountered more goats and coyotes, 1 each, then I did runners, only 1 and he was an older, gnarly ultra-marathoner type.

Again, I struggled to catch my breath, even at 9:00 pace.  But somewhere around mile 5 or 6 I guess I started getting acclimated as I seemed to catch my breath and picked up the pace a little.  I cruised along, again enjoying the stunning beauty of the Sandia Mountains on the horizon (you can see them from nearly everywhere in Albuquerque).  About mile 8 or so, a coyote decided to join me on the trail.  About a quarter of a mile ahead of me, he darted out from the woods and onto the trail.  He sauntered along for a bit before slowing down to a walk.  When he looked back and spotted me, he ran ahead on the trail, then slowed back down.  As he walked, I gained on him until he glanced back, noticed I was closing on him, then took off again.  He did this 4 or 5 times until he finally got miffed with my presence and shot back into the woods.

I’m not going to lie to you, I was a little frightened by the coyote’s presence.  Maybe there were no runners on this trail because all the locals knew better.  Maybe runners on this trail got attacked by coyotes.  Maybe Wile E. up there was setting me up, Jurassic Park velociraptor style, with all his buddies waiting just behind the treeline for me to get close enough so they could pounce.  I sped up a little when I got to the point where he had re-entered the woods.  Then I realized, “Who am I kidding?  I can’t outrun these coyotes – they’re acclimated to the altitude”.

A few miles later I tripped on a rock and created a cloud of dust as I crashed to the soft earth.  I spent the rest of the run trying to get dust out of my teeth.  But I took a break from coughing up dust to snap this pic of a tumbleweed:

This tumbleweed finds its final resting ground, er resting water.

Monday

Still in New Mexico, I got up Monday morning and watched the Boston Marathon.  As much as I was enjoying New Mexico, I yearned to be in Boston.  The weather was perfect, the runners had a tailwind, and many of my friends were there to run – I was so jealous.  I got emotional watching some of the spectacular performances: Kenyans Geoffry Mutai and Moses Musop both ran the marathon faster than any other human in history as Mutai outsprinted Musop to winThe American woman Desiree Davila ran an incredible race, only losing in the final meters to, you guessed it, a Kenyan.  A lot of my friends ran great races of their own, most notably my greenway running partner Nathan Stanford, who ran a 2:41:14, and Bill Shires, my fellow 40-something Charlotte Running Club member, who ran a 2:42:39 and finished tenth in his age group.  Placing in your age group in some tiny little race in New Mexico – so what?  Placing in your age group in the Boston Marathon?! Now that’s saying something.

I had a great trip.  Next year, I  hope to have another one.  In Boston.

Only 363 days to go…

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One Response to “Should Have Made That Left Turn At Albuquerque…”

  1. caitlin Says:

    Sounds like you had a blast! We should do a CRC Training camp in Albuquerque. I’m glad you didn’t get attacked by that coyote

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