Name of the race: Sandia Crest Half Marathon
Where: Albuquerque, NM
Date: Sept 15, 2018
Time: 7:00 am
Distance: 13.1 miles
Terrain: 1423 Ft Net elevation loss
Entry fee: $75
Swag: Free race photos, finishers medal, cooling towels scented with lavender, throwaway gloves, heat sheet, cap, cotton t shirt, lip balm, & a coupon for $5 off the Sandia Crest tram
Post-race Food: Revel donuts, chocolate milk, and water
Performance: Overall: 21/224; Gender: 11/155; Age (40-44): 3/17
Weather: 64 degrees, 45% humidity
Normally I laugh when Facebook, Google, Twitter, or Instagram suggest things that I may be interested in based on “my” past behavior. “My” is in quotes because of the way they gather data, they have no idea whether it’s my browsing history or Ben’s. I can tell what Ben’s been looking at based on what comes up as ads for me. No, Twitter, I really don’t want to watch that horror movie.
So when an ad for the inaugural Sandia Crest Half/Marathon came up on Facebook, for once, they were right. Why, yes, I actually would be interested in that. I love inaugural races, but I was a bit leery of jumping into this one without some research because of the higher costs of a non-local half compared to an inaugural local 5K. I was reassured when I discovered that the founder, Troy, was a long time runner himself, often ran in the Sandia Crest area for his training runs, and runs/owns a successful large company. I thought this was someone who knows running and runners and if he runs/owns a successful large company then he understands logistics and he’ll understand how much goes on into putting on an event.
I wanted to run Sandia Crest Half because I really love downhill races. I will travel just about anywhere for one. Also, the thought of having a quick little getaway also appealed to me. I used to travel by myself all the time and I don’t do it much anymore. Going away like this reminds me how much joy there is in traveling alone. I love traveling with Ben and my family, but I also love being alone at times (#introvertforever).
I arrived in Albuquerque super late on Thursday night. I got my rental car and drove straight to the AirBnB room I booked. When I travel alone, I generally get a private room at an AirBnB because it’s cheaper and when it’s just me, I don’t need much space. I got two nights-stay for $50. The house was very convenient to the race because it was less than a mile away from the bus shuttle/finish line area. I could have literally walked.
Friday morning, I woke up early because I was on East Coast time. Since I was only going to be in Albuquerque for 40 hours, I wanted to make the most of my brief time there. First, I went to Rebel Donuts for breakfast. Rebel Donuts became famous when they created the Blue Sky donut (vanilla cake with blue frosting and blue rock candy) for Aaron Paul’s (Jesse of Breaking Bad) birthday. I’m a big fan of Breaking Bad (also of Better Call, Saul – side note, my favorite shows recently The Americans, Sneaky Pete, etc are all about people breaking the law — something may be wrong with me), so I had to go. I ordered the Blue Sky donut, French Toast donut (cinnamon and sugar dusted yeast donut with maple glaze and a dollop of sweet buttercream in the center), a savory egg and sausage kolache (a Czech pastry, technically because it was savory, it was really a klobasnik), and a cup of piñon coffee. I ate the kolache and a part of the Blue Sky donut for breakfast. The kolache was great, as was the coffee. I wasn’t impressed by the Blue Sky donut. I saved the French Toast donut for my pre-race fuel on Saturday.
Then I drove to Walter White’s house. The elderly couple who own the house are not friendly to tourists. They built a giant fence around the house (which I understand because they were tired of tourists trampling on their lawn and bothering them at home), but in addition, from early in the morning to late at night, 7 days a week, 12 months of the year, they sit in front of the house to yell at anyone who stops on the sidewalk and takes a photo of their house. If I were them, I would have just built the fence and then go on with my life, but this is what they do. While I was there (and trying to avoid getting yelled at by surreptitiously taking a photo of their house), they had hired people to change the exterior of their house so it would look different from when it was on the show.
The best Breaking Bad-related spot is The Candy Lady, the candy shop that makes its own rock candy and supplied the “blue meth” for Breaking Bad. The candy shop is really awesome and has all sorts of wonderful treats. Best of all, they set up a whole prop area in the back so you can recreate your Breaking Bad desires.
I took a quick walk around Old Town Albuquerque and then took another short walk on a segment of the Paseo del Bosque Trail. The trail is fabulous and provides miles and miles of trail for running, walking, and cycling. I wish I could have seen more of it.
Bib pick-up was quick and in a running store. I didn’t want to exhaust myself since I was running the next day, so I spent the afternoon getting my nails done (priorities) and getting a relaxing foot massage.
The last touristy thing I did for Albuquerque is to go up the Sandia Crest Tramway right before sunset. It’s one of the longest tramways in the world (2.7 miles long) and it takes about 15 mins from the bottom to the top. I reached the top just as the sun was setting and it was glorious. You’re over 10,000 feet high, so it is windy (and cold) up at the top, so bring a jacket with you, no matter how warm it is on the ground.
Sandia Crest Half is a point-to-point net downhill (over 1400 feet) course. I caught a shuttle at the finish line, which took me to the start of the half. The race thoughtfully provided heat sheets in the swag bag that many runners used to keep warm in the early dark morning hours. What I found amazing was the ability of so many runners to simply curl up on the dirt and sleep while waiting for the start. I couldn’t do that. Not because I have something about being on the ground, but I just can’t sleep with so many people around me.
Right before the start, I did a quick warm up and then lined up near the start line. The start was an unceremonious blast from an air horn and we were off. Because this race was at altitude, my intention wasn’t to race this, but to run hard and use it as a workout for downhill training.
It’s amazing how every thousand feet in elevation matters. Earlier this summer, I ran the Slacker Half in CO, which started out over 10,000 feet. Even though the course was downhill, my heart quickly slammed against my chest with the tiniest bit of effort. Being a few thousand feet lower made it feasible to actually run at a decent pace.
Because I love going downhill, I found the course fun. You’re in the mountains and you run down to the city of Albuquerque. There were a few small inclines, but I wasn’t bothered by them. I was very glad that I was only doing the half because the last few miles were brutal. Not only is most of the decline over, but it’s getting warmer and there’s absolutely no shade.
I don’t really remember much about the race itself except for the last three miles. I was having a pretty good time up until then and then things got dark. Like Meredith Grey from Grey’s Anatomy dark and twisty dark. I’ve run who knows how many races (according to Athlinks over 130 races) and never before did I ever go into the DARK BAD PLACE. Oh, sure, there were races where I was in so much pain I thought I was going to die. But I also knew the pain was temporary and that if I stopped or slowed down, the pain would subside and stop. Basically, no matter how bad it got in a race, mentally I knew I was all right.
It was really different for Sandia Crest. During the last three miles, I don’t know how to describe it, but it got really bad for me. In retrospect, I realize that it was because of the thin air and since I was running fairly fast, my muscles (and my brain) were suffocating and I was feeling the effects. However, at the time, while I knew I was at altitude, I didn’t remember how high up I was. Albuquerque is about at the same elevation as Boulder (about 5,000 ft). For some reason, I forgot, and I thought I was lower, so I totally didn’t think of altitude to explain why I was feeling so incredibly horrible during the last few miles of the race.
As I said, I was in a BAD DARK PLACE. I actively regretted every decision I had ever made that led me to that moment of being in the race. I made plans for how I was going to quit running as soon as I crossed the finish line. I figured I would call Ben first to tell him and then tell Leah, my coach. Then I began making plans for how I was going to get rid of all my running gear. But mostly I spent the time regretting my entire life. It was really really bad. I’ve never been like this in a race before.
After I crossed the finish line and collected myself, I looked up the elevation for Albuquerque. Once I saw how high up I was, I immediately felt better and realized why I had felt the way I had during the last few miles. I was running with oxygen deprivation. I felt really good about my time of 1:43:49. After running a few downhill races at altitude, it’s clear to me that altitude takes a huge toll on my running and that the decline isn’t enough to compensate for the slowing because of the lower oxygen levels. I think I feel the effects of the thinner air more than the average runner because I have chronic asthma and poorly developed lungs. Even in the best of health, the air capacity I have is half that of a normal adult. I get less oxygen than most people at sea level, so I would be especially sensitive to the effects of low oxygen at high altitude.
Of course, I obviously didn’t quit running. Once I realized what was going on, I was able to reframe my experience and feel better about my performance. I was hoping to come in top 10 for women, but I came in at 11th. Sandia Crest doesn’t offer age group awards, so I got nothing for coming in 3rd in my age group. I knew about the lack of AG awards, so I wasn’t upset.
I drank a lot of chocolate milk and took a red velvet donut from Rebel Donuts (yes!). The red velvet donut with chocolate glaze was incredibly delicious (as was the French Toast donut I had earlier in the day). I don’t remember if there was other food available, but the chocolate milk and donuts were the important stuff post-race.
I headed back to the AirBnB to shower before I got some brunch (biscuits and gravy!) before heading to the airport. All in all, I had a great little visit in Albuquerque and I totally recommend Sandia Crest Half Marathon if you’re looking to do a half in New Mexico.