Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Journey To Belen (Bethlehem)

Last sunday a group of us decided for our Epic long run be a religious journey or pilgrimage.  We would start at Old Town Albuquerque and run along the river to Belen; which is about 35 miles south of Albuquerque.  We had planned this right about our other Epic long run, and the time finally came.  Now, this being the Christmas season and all, and Belen translated from spanish to english means Bethlehem, we thought it was a good idea.

Well, there were four of us this time. The usual trio which includes myself, Kris and Dana.  But this trip gathered another unfortunate soul- Juan Ortega, a UNM graduate and pretty damn good runner.  Although he has never ran more than 18 miles for a long run; this would prove to be quite the journey.  Once we got out of morning mass at old town, we left at a very slow pace.  There are many crazy runners out there that do this once a week, but those guys are ultramarathoners.  This was more of a combination of our traditional epic runs and a religious thing as well.  And it was an out of body experience, due to the fatigue and tiredness we felt.  Once we got to around 12 we ran into a small river crossing/ditch.  It was about 20 feet across and who knows how deep.  I suggested we turn around and run back to the nearest crossing, but Kris and Dana were jazzed about crossing the damn thing.  So once Kris striped down naked so he wouldn't get his clothes wet and crossed it, we all followed, but not naked.  Luckily it wasn't that deep, and just cold enough for it to be refreshing.  

Once that ordeal was over, we found ourselves on train tracks heading further south towards Belen.  At around 17 miles; which is about halfway, we took a wrong turn which lead us being devoured by a forest of 15 foot high branches.  We figured there would be a trail that paralleled the old trail, and after navigating through the dense forest we emerged to find the train tracks in front of us.  So after a few more miles on the tracks we find the trail and continue south on the soft terrain, which is comforting after running on train track beams and loose rock.

We are at around mile 24 or so and Kris watches our pace increase.  Unfortunately Dana has already dropped off pace and I start to notice myself laboring.  Kris and Juan look pretty good and maintain for a bit.  Mile after mile I start to fall apart. I've already taken in two clif bars and some clif blocks with sportea, but thats not enough.  The trail sits up against the dead trees of the New Mexican winter to my left and barren land to my right.  To the horizon in front of me I see is a red spec which is Juan and further in front of him is Kris as a black spec.  I turn to see if Dana is anywhere in sight, but I can't see him.  I feel like falling over to die, but the tightness in my hips can't even allow me to do that.  I have no idea where I am, or where I am going to be in the projected time of 2 hours till I finish.....if I finish.

We looked at maps and figured we could cover that amount of ground in under 5 hours.  As I look at my watch, I see its been just a little over 3 hours.  I have no idea how I can continue this torture for hopefully 2 more hours.  I finally past by some civilization, which consists of a few run down homes and some kids fishing.  One kid is wearing a Belen Elementary school sweater and asks me if I'm from Albuquerque.  I tell him yeah and ask him how far is it to Belen.  To my disappointment and confusion he says its "16 or 17 miles".  In the seclusion of my mind I have a mental break down and freak out!!!  I also start to think that he is completely wrong and maybe he's out of his mind!  I look at him as if i've been lost in the desert, then he says my buddy just pasted a few minutes ago.  Thats a good sign, so I thank him and take off, with a new sense of energy and direction.

After about a mile I see Juan talking to some guy by his truck on the trail and his kids fishing.  Of course they're fishing, what else is there to do but wait for the fish to bite and for random runners from Albuquerque to pass by?  The look on Juan's face tells me he is in pain and his body has already hit the wall.  I feel the same way, but the guy tells us that Belen is about 6 or 7 miles away on that trail.  Since there are 3 trails that seem to be heading off in the same direction, but he clarifies that we should take the one he tells us.  He also tells us that Kris pasted by about 10 minutes ago down the trail he specified, so we thank him and follow in pursuit.

Moments later Juan and I discuss how we are in dire need for water and finally find a house to approach and ask for some water.  We knock on the door and before the gentlemen can say hello, Juan tells him our story and asks for some water.  After a quick glance at our running attire he tells us that he'll grab us some bottle water.  As we thank him and ask him if we are on the right road/trail, he calmly tells us to keep following it south and we will run into the town.  That was music to our ears, and we head out.  Juan starts to fade and he tells me to continue on without him.  I disagree, and stay with him for a bit, but as he stops he continues to tell me to go on without him.  I finally comply and start to pick up the pace.  I look down on the ground, and since I am moving so slow I start to make out the foot prints and notice they are Kris' shoes in the dirt.  Its hard to keep the momentum but I start to think about random stuff.  I start to say things out loud over and over again.  At some points I start to curse out loud, but I notice that my pace is getting faster.  It might be the water finally getting in my system.  So I take that momentum and start to fight that feeling I had many miles ago.  Minutes start to past and the clock is ticking towards 5 hours.  It has been a long five hours, but I haven't seen any sign of a city or more realistically a town.

Its more than a feeling to finally see a road cut across the trail and cars coming and going.  My pace seems faster than a race, but I know I am merely cruising along.  I stop at the end of the trail and draw an arrow for Juan to turn right and head into town towards the train station.  I recollect myself and start running on the road.  It might have been a mile to the station, but I just kept sprinting and striding out on the hard asphalt.  I had no idea where Kris would be, I had no idea how far it was, I had no idea! I just figured if I pick up the pace maybe it would be over soon.  After nearly 5 minutes of this pace I see Kris in the distance walking around aimlessly by the only bridge in town.  I start to yell while laboring at this pace, and once I get his attention I run up to him and towards the station.  After a few strides past Kris I stop, and realize its all over.

Kris finished the 35 mile journey in 4:48, I finished in 5:08 and Juan was a couple minutes back where he finished at a burger joint.  Dana came in at 6:07, just two weeks after racing a marathon!  This was another journey that none of us will ever forget.  The distance felt longer than it actually was, and its always easier said than done.  Kris and I brought some money, so we got some food and change for a pay phone.  After 30 minutes Kris' father-in-law picked us up and we were shuttled to a huge Christmas party with all sorts of food!  It was a feast of recovering and eating, and it was great!  We started the run just as the sun colored the sky with an array of redish purple clouds, and when we left the party the sky was pillowed again with the same beautiful colors.  A perfect ending to another Epic adventure.    

3 comments:

Jeff Caron said...

This is awesome Jesse! Crazy, but awesome! Definitely one of the best running stories I've heard.

I'll be in touch soon to catch up with you more.

RunTX said...

Maybe someday, you can take all these personal stories and publish a book. Dude,that guy Dana is a mad, running man.
The way you tell the story makes me feel like I'm running the course with you.
Thanks, for sharing another great story.

mfranks said...

thats just crazy.

Well written.