Let’s start off with a little background. Cactus to Cloud 50K is a point to point ultra endurance race that starts at Oliver Lee State Park and finishes in the beautiful town of Cloudcroft, New Mexico. The race has almost 9,000 feet of vertical gain and climbs from a starting altitude of 4,400 feet all the way up to a max of 9,500 feet. Not only was the race at altitude and had a ton of elevation gain, but close to 5,000 feet of the climbing occurred in the first 10 miles.
Coming from about 500 feet in Dallas, this race was daunting. I expected to struggle with the altitude and drastic elevation gain. Prior to the race I was able to get two weeks with 80+ miles and 10,000+ feet gain during training. The only way to do that was by incorporating treadmill incline workouts. These worked great to simulate the climbing, but did nothing to prepare me for the technical terrain that Cactus to Cloud included.
Tracie and I traveled out to the race a few days early to acclimate to the altitude and check out the area. We went on a few shakeout runs that helped comfort me and reduce the doubts running through my head. Unfortunately, the week prior to the race I got the worst cold that i’ve had in the past few years; my nose was constantly running and I had an awful cough/throat pain. This lasted throughout the race and finally went away a few days into my recovery from the event.
Race day came quickly. I woke up at 4AM, made some quick oatmeal, changed into my race day gear and did a final check to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. We then walked over to the local cafe where the shuttle vans would be departing for Oliver Lee State Park at 4:45AM. We boarded and departed for the start. Upon arrival, I took off all of the items I wouldn’t need for the race and placed them in my Victory SportDesign bag and put it inside of the bin that was being transported to the finish line. Now all that remained was to see what story the day ahead held.
Naturally, I wanted to race to my full potential, but didn’t want to blow my legs up in the first ascent. When the race began I took to the front, closely followed by Matt Preslar. We ran and hiked together for the first 5 miles and got a chance to chat about our training, lives, and upcoming races. We ran alone until around mile 4.5 when last year’s winner Don Solberg started to catch up to us. As soon as we hit mile 5, Matt took off and I ran in front of Don up until mile 9.5. This mile had the most climbing with 900 feet and I decided to take my time, stepping off of the trail to allow Don to keep on moving along.
After the aid station at mile 10 there was a brief downhill followed by more climbing. I closed the gap a little on Don before we hit the next climb and could see him a few minutes ahead in the distance. At this point, the climbs were becoming a struggle to run and I was mostly walking them. There were times I would have to stop for 10 or so seconds and put both of my hands on my knees to catch my breathe as we approached 9,500 feet. I probably did this 20 times over the rest of the course. I started feeling a really low point at mile 12 and just kept pushing when I could. Every now and then I caught a glimpse of Don and that gave me a boost to know that he was just up ahead despite how I was feeling. Around mile 18 I eventually caught up to him and passed him on one of the few downhill sections and departed the Karr Canyon Aid Station just as he was entering.
I fueled up with Tailwind and oranges and put together a strong string of miles from 20 to 28. Once I passed through the aid station near mile 26, I asked the volunteers how far ahead the first place runner was and they said around 12 minutes. At this point I knew I had little hope of catching up to Matt, although immediately after this I ran my two fastest splits of the race on an amazing downhill section, and set my sights to just finishing ahead of whomever was in third place. It was also on this downhill section that I took my only fall of the entire race when both of my calves seized up and cramped and I fell down into the dirt. Luckily, I got up and walked off the cramps and continued to push on.
After the downhill section, there was a climb that my legs were not happy about. I walked the majority of this and even walk/ran the final two relatively flat/easy miles into the finish line. I crossed in a time of 5:52. This was definitely the hardest race I have ever ran. Races with a lot of climbing are not my specialty, but this race gave me an appreciation for tough mountain runs and I hope to do more in the future.
Thanks to all of the volunteers, race organizers, and the sponsors that
- Team Trail Racing Over Texas Singlet
- Altra Running Olympus 2.0 Trail Shoes
- Altra Running Trail Gaiters & Headwrap
- Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew Socks
- Nathan Firecatcher Race Vest
- Nathan ExoShot 12oz Bottle (2)
- Tailwind Naked & Caffeinated Endurance Fuel
- Victory SportDesign Bear II Bag
- Julbo Dust Sunglasses