Sunday, August 07, 2011

Hiking 'The Light' - Race Report

Dear Diary,

Today I participated in the La Luz (Spanish for, "The Light") Trail Run (for me: trail hike).  There is a Wikipedia entry for the La Luz trail here.  I have stolen various photos and posted them throughout.  Ignore the ones with snow.  There was no snow.  It's August.  Anyway.  This race was declared one of the twelve most grueling races in North America.

This is the 46th running of the LLTR.  That means that the first running was held when I was 5 months' old.  I figure that also makes it one of the older trail races in NA.  Participants are selected by lottery, because it is held in US Forest Service Land, and limited to 400 participants.

Once you hiked La Luz, you get the feeling that this is a race that was put together as a result of some trail runners hanging out and drinking beer, daring each other to do some crazy shit.  Did I mention that the start is around 6200 feet altitude, and the top is around 10,400 feet?  Yes, that's right.  There is nearly a mile of vertical gain.  It's a trail that many of the locals aspire to ascend, but it is noteworthy that about a mile up the trail, where there is a post, the trail suddenly becomes slightly less traveled.

I was not expecting to do well today.  Last year I hiked this trail with Eldest Son, and it took me five hours, I think.  By the time I got to the top, my nails were gray and I had to stop and breathe many, many times.  I was gasping for air.  Also, I hiked most of this last week, and by the time I got to the other side of the rockfall (more on this later) I had already used up 3 hours.

As I had no intention of running, my realistic goal was 3:30.  
My fantasy goal was 3 hours for the entire 9 mile race.  

Sweet Baboo, by the way, finished in 2:09.  Because he's a freak.  And a bit of a stud.  I can't for the life of me figure out how he can haul 200 lbs up the side of a mountain in that amount of time.

The first 1.8 or so miles is on road, and starts just about 3/4 of a mile off Tramway in Albuquerque.  The rest of the run, about 7.2 miles, is all La Luz, baby.  There are aid stations at the trailhead, and two or three more (I can't remember) on the way up.  They are manned by boy scouts.  I got water.  I don't know if they had anything else there.  I was carrying a pack, by the way, with about 60 ounces of water in it, and my watch chimed about every 6 minutes reminding me to drink.  I also drank at least a cup of water at every aid station - I still ran out of water about mile 8.

The race director forbade ipods, but I noticed several people wearing them.  I guess I did not know these rules were optional. I didn't bring mine, and I'm beginning to wonder if this might have been part of the reason I did as well as I did.

Now, you can get a pretty good pace in - mine was about 16 minute miles for the first 6 or so miles, occasionally trotting down some flats and downhills, although there weren't many of these, until you get to the rockfall.

Ah, the rockfall.
What can I say about the rockfall on the La Luz?  Sometime in the past, there was a major landslide of pink granite angular boulders down the side of the mountain.  The trail cuts back and forth over this rock slide, which is narrow at the bottom and wider at the top, four or five times.  What we in New Mexico lack in altitude, we make up for in annoyances.  I passed one woman who had already turned her ankle before getting to the main rockslide, and as she was stepping gingerly over a rocky part of the trail, she asked me if "this" was the rock slide.

I pointed across the canyon, where a line of people were traveling up the switchbacks across the rockfall.  "No, that's the rockfall," I informed her.


was what she said.

NOT what is on most of the rockfall.
The picture above makes it look like a handy little trail has been carved through the rockslide, but it lies. IT LIES!  In most places, the "trail" is actually walking up and over the pile of angular boulders.  So, you watch as your Garmin tracks your traveling pace, and your average pace creeps up...up...up.

To make matters more complicated, although most of the boulders are well situated in their spots, some are not.  You don't know when you'll step on one that will move.  NOT a great place to go if you've already turned your ankle.

You'll be stepping over this after
mile 6.  A lot.  
After about mile 7.5ish, much of the rockfall is done, and you're all happy.  You're in the shade.  There's only 1.5 miles to go, right?  Who can't go 1.5 miles?  This is where things get really bad - over the next 1.5 miles the trail will ascend about 400 feet. It's especially steep here.

After mile 8, you're gasping for air, but you know you're almost done and you feel pretty cheerful.

Until, that is, you see this:

at this point, if you're like me, you're already sucking serious wind, and you're like, STAIRS? REALLY? You you shake your head to clear it of the evil mirage before you, and it doesn't clear, you realize the truth: there is, indeed, a very steep flight of stairs in the middle of this rugged trail. Because, God hates you.

The man in front of me went up the stairs on hands and feet.

I followed, gripping the rail like grim death.

By now you're getting closer, or you assume you are, because many, many spry people are bounding back down the trail past you, calling out, you're almost there!  It's just around the corner!  And you resist the urge to trip them and then eventually, it is there.  You're done.  You get your finisher's shirt, which is only given to people who are wearing bib numbers and cross the finish line.

And then there's a burrito and some green chile stew.

And then you ride the tram back down, which is cool.

Oh, did I mention my time?  It was 2:56ish.  For the first time ever, I beat my fantasy time.

Take that, VA.



  1. That's AWESOME!! you not only beat your fantasy time, you kicked its ass!

  2. Booyah indeed! Congrats!

  3. Anonymous6:13 PM

    congrats-you are now ready for....let's say Pikes or G. Canyon...BOOYAH!



  5. Anonymous10:25 AM

    Nice time. That sounds like a crazy ass race.


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