“On the job training in courage” is a phrase that comes to mind when I reflect on the 2013 Deadman Peaks Trail Marathon. The race is in its 4th year and is held each fall in Cuba, New Mexico – a town situated in “middle-of-nowhere” Sandoval County desert, about an hour and half northwest of Albuquerque. My journey actually began over 24 hours earlier and 400 miles north by boarding a plane in Denver and flying into ABQ on Friday morning. I was greeted with very pleasant warm and sunny weather, which is typical of the New Mexican fall. Once getting settled in at my folks house and enjoying some authentic New Mexican cuisine, I tried to relax and get everything situated for the following morning.
Race day. My alarm was blaring in my ear at 3:20am grrrrr! I showered, ate, and hit the road for Cuba. My folks had never actually been to an event like this, so I just tried to explain the ins and outs of the logistics of how trail races work, despite them looking at me like I was an insane person for wanting to put myself through such “torture” as they put it. Once we arrived on site it was cold….like, holy shit cold. The car said it was 19 degrees, so much for wondering if I needed my thermal gear. I got myself checked in and the bus arrived at 6:30 to take the marathoners to the start point at the opposite end of the course. My folks wished me luck and we were off. After taking in the surrounding scenery on the bus ride, I thought to myself “Damn, you lose it out here and you’re gonna be in a world of hurt.”
By the time we reached our start line, the sun had come out to illuminate the desert landscape in fantastic fashion. Harsh but beautiful landscape as far as the eye could see. At 8 am, race director Kim King wished us well and sent us off for our 26.2 mile journey back to the finish. I had some concern about possibly biting off a little more than I could chew considering I had run a 50K in Boulder just 5 days earlier, thus my conservative and cautious pace in the beginning. The course really was magnificent – picturesque mesas that shot up skyward, and cliffside portions that were as inviting as they were dangerous. Once reaching the first aid station I was fully warm and feeling pretty good, subsequently causing my competitive spirit to come knocking. It was time to start the hunt, and begin to advance positions – my body willing of course. Considering the scenery around me, it was so easy to get lost in the rhythm of my own cadence and breathing. The fun really came for me after aid station 2 – by this point I had managed to advance on and pass a few people. I felt great and really started to glide over the some of the rocky sections. I was still mindful of my heart rate and breathing, but admittedly there were some parts of this course that were too damn fun to be cautiously shuffling through. I was taking in an energy gel about every ½ hour, and made sure to stay plenty hydrated.
Reaching aid station 3 was a relief, as I knew this was the final aid station on the course. Home stretch. They told me it was 9 ½ miles to the finish. I grabbed a few energy gels, filled my water, and went toe to toe with the hardest portion of the course – which is basically an insane scramble up a mesa that would even set the incredible hulks legs on fire. Feasibly there was no way I could run any of this, and settled into a steady speed hike, using my arms at times to propel myself forward and give my legs any possible slack. Once reaching the top and gathering my lungs who were currently on strike and hiding behind a tree at that point, I continued down the dirt trail and final descent. The last portion is a welcome “cruise” of a descent back to the finish line. Relief washed over me as I came around the final bend to see the cars and people waiting at the finish. My folks were there to greet me as I crossed the finish line at 5:43. I immediately plunged my legs into a bucket of ice water and began chowing down on food. Some of my first thoughts post-race were about how much of an unassuming course this appears to be on paper, but a completely different story when you actually get out there. It was definitely a confidence booster to have run in such a harsh, unforgiving environment.
Before leaving I thanked RD Kim King and told her I would be back next year, most likely for the full 53 mile ultra version. I can easily see this race growing into a super popular desert classic, and I’m glad that I got to cross it off my bucket list this year. What an amazing experience!