New Mexico’s northern mountain ranges offer some of the best snowshoeing in the West during winter months, so it’s no surprise that trail races abound in the Sangres, Jemez and Sandias during summer. Here are five of the toughest – and most scenic – courses in the Land of Enchantment.
Jemez Mountain Trail Runs
Los Alamos // May 25 // 50 Mile, 50K, Half Marathon
The Jemez races – now in their eighth year – are considered among the toughest in the country. Technical trails, substantial elevation change, steep climbs, torturous descents, scree fields, stream crossings and more – all at altitude – make for a tough race. However, “there are some tough, long climbs, which can make it a bit easier because most runners will power-hike the climbs, resulting in less running and more hiking,” says Tom Stockton, who recently took over as race director. Both the 50 mile and 50K races incorporate Pajarito Mountain (elevation 10,458), and 50 milers will also run through the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Runners can enjoy well-stocked aid stations along the way but should carry their own water – JMTR is a cupless event.
JMTR start and end at the Posse Shack, a log cabin on the north side of town where runners rendezvous with their families, chat with fellow participants and pick up their awards (Jemez Pueblo-made pottery) after the race. “I think one of the best aspects is the food and socializing that occurs at the Posse Shack throughout the day as runners finish,” Stockton says.
Pearl Izumi athlete Nick Clark won the 50-mile in 2011 and set a course record of 8:07:46. “I love everything about this race,” he blogged, “the course, the people, the exemplary organization, and the immense challenge of humping up and down those mountains.”
Refuel: The deli at Los Alamos Cooperative Market is full of fresh, local, organic options that range from breakfast burritos to green chile enchiladas. And, don’t forget to check out the baked goods table, which includes tasty treats for vegan and gluten-free customers.
The co-op also sells Honey Stinger gels and various energy bars for runners who need some last-minute race fuel.
Run the Caldera
Valles Caldera // June 8-9 // Marathon, Half Marathon, 10K
“The race happens on one of only six super-volcanoes in the entire world,” says former race director Rob Dixon. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be running across lava flows; the Valles Caldera National Preserve is 89,000 acres that contains several grassy meadows surrounded by mountains. Criss-crossed by the San Antonio Creek, the East Fork of the Jemez River and more than 3,000 grazing elk, you’ll likely forget you’re in the high desert of New Mexico.
Run the Caldera is held primarily on old logging roads, which makes the terrain slightly less technical than some of the other races mentioned here. Marathoners, however, will still have to conquer more than 2,100 feet of elevation change, starting at about 8,000 feet.
The race’s Run, Share, Learn program incorporates animal trivia signage every mile. Because 2013 is the year of the coyote, marathoners will pass 26 coyote facts – and perhaps even see a coyote on the trail. “Apparently there was a bear sighting between miles 3 and 4, but I was too busy breathing hard and reading Cougar facts that were posted at every mile marker,” El Paso resident Mike McCorgary says of the 2012 race. “It kept you thinking that [a cougar] would be the creature to be worried about coming face to face with out there in the wilderness.”
McCorgary, who finished the race in 4:35:09, recalls the event being well-organized and recommends it “to anyone wanting to suffer, or – if nothing else – just run for the views and the right to say that you ran in a super-volcano!”
Refuel: If you’re headed west out of the Caldera, consider Highway 4 Coffee in Jemez Springs, which offers an assortment of breakfast foods (croissants, cinnamon rolls) and lunch items (Panini sandwiches, pizzas). If you’re going east, stop by Pajarito Brewpub and Grill in Los Alamos for a hardy meal and local beer.
Angel Fire Endurance Run
Angel Fire // June 22 // 100 Mile, 50 Mile, 50K
If you’re looking to do a 100-miler in New Mexico, the Angel Fire Endurance Run is your only option. Now in its second year, the race begins and ends at the Lodge at Angel Fire Resort and ranges between 8,600 and 10,000 feet on singletrack and jeep roads. Runners travel in 50K loops, which means they’ll be well taken care of. “The beautiful setting offers more conveniences than most because of the ease of accommodations at Angel Fire – close aid stations with hot food and easy access for family and crew,” says race director Chisholm Deupree. “The trails offer wonderful views and a challenging course.”
Julie Dolph, who started the 50K last year, agrees. “This was a great race, great location, great everything,” she says. “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! “
Refuel: The Lodge at Angel Fire Resort has several options, including the Coffee House (baked goods and sandwiches), Legends Grill (burgers) and Chiantis Pizzeria (brick oven pizzas).
Taos Up and Over
Taos // August 3 // 10K
The Taos Up and Over, now in its ninth year, is exactly what the name implies: a run across the top of the Taos ski hill and back (well, sort of, it’s actually a loop course). Don’t expect to set your 10K PR here; starting at 9,207 feet, the race climbs 2,612 feet in the first 3 miles – and then descends back down. Last year’s winning time was 1:01:24, although some folks took more than 3 hours to finish.
“A first timer should expect a very challenging race,” advises race director Alyson Hyder. “I would encourage anyone who likes a challenge to try this race for the wonderful sense of achievement as having done it.”
Los Alamos resident Jason Halladay placed third in 2012 with a time of 1:02:27. “The race is a fun but very difficult 10K,” he blogged. “The ascent burns my lungs big time while the steep descent really tests my quads and knees … still, it was worth it. It’s a fun summer morning race with a nice, relaxed mountain atmosphere with plenty of opportunity to chill out at the ski lodge after the race.”
More than 125 runners are anticipated in 2013, and finisher awards include lodging packages, ski passes, Taos clothing and trail running shoes. “The winner usually gets a prize package totaling over $600 in value,” Hyder says.
Refuel: Although runners receive a $5 voucher to Rhoda’s, Taos Pizza Outback is hard to beat for a good post-race meal (try the Taos pie – mushrooms, black olives, black beans, onion and green chile – and a cold brew).
La Luz Trail Run
Albuquerque // August 4 // 9 miles
If you’ve ever wanted to run 9 miles up a mountain, here’s your chance. Runners start in the Sandia foothills and run 1.8 miles up a paved road before hitting dirt singletrack that winds another 7.2 miles to the top of Sandia Crest (elevation 10,678). If more than 4,000 feet of climbing up a 12 percent grade doesn’t sound too scary, consider that the upper part of the trail is called the “Rockslide” due to an abundance of large and sharp boulders (be careful here – there’s no medical aid on the course to help in case of a fall).
“The race provides an interesting management puzzle and will drop a tough lesson if you burn too many matches early on,” blogged David Hanenburg at EnduranceBuzz.com. “Opportunities to recover? I guess at the finish.”
Because La Luz is held in a wilderness area of the Sandia Mountains – and has been for the past 47 years – the U.S. Forest Service caps the number of runners at 400. To make sure you’re one of the lucky (or unlucky?) ones, enter the lottery, held at Ultrasignup.com May 1-7.
Refuel: Stop by El Pinto Restaurant & Cantina in Albuquerque. “Good food with indoor and outdoor patio dining beautiful grounds and has been visited by many famous visitors,” explains race director Roger Sack, noting that the Mexican restaurant’s large interior photo gallery highlights some of its famous celebrity visitors, such as U.S. presidents, actors and musicians.