Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chips and Salsa Half Marathon Race Report

When Southwest Airlines had a sale a few months back, I started looking for a race in or near Albuquerque so we could take a little trip down to enjoy two of our favorite things -- running and designer toys. The Chips & Salsa Half Marathon fit the bill perfectly. What's more, I actually managed to snag the $59 each way flights to ABQ -- and got a great advanced purchase on a very nice hotel near the Old Town -- so all the stars clearly aligned.

Except one -- Wil's poorly foot. See, I booked this trip a couple of weeks before the burn. And of course Wil hasn't been allowed to walk very much, let alone run. But the tickets were purchased, the hotel was booked, and the race had been registered for -- so we thought we might as well go for it.

To cut to the chase -- we're really glad we did. We had a great weekend and a fantastic time in Albuquerque. The city is beautiful, the sky feels enormous, the food is fantastic, and the people, well, they're cool too.

Packet pickup on the day before the race was a breeze -- very friendly volunteers, well organized. The rest of Saturday was spent doing touristy things -- so I will write about it on our travel blog. We attempted to get an early night, but didn't succeed.... and things weren't helped by having the hotel fire alarm go off at 5:10 am. 

But we got up, got dressed, and made our way to the Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute for the start of the race. We parked in the neighboring gym parking lot -- there was a line of cars waiting to get into the main lot -- and walked the 100 yards. No problem. We picked up our chips and then went to find the starting line.

Eventually we joined the people waiting near this very handsome inflatable arch. As with everything in this race, the quality felt like a cut above average -- especially for a smallish event. 

Right around 7am, someone (Stephen?) from IRunFit came hustling over, megaphone in hand. He started by telling us that we were all on the wrong side of the arch, which made everyone laugh. So we dutifully walked around to the other side. 

Then he started talking about the course -- turn left, turn right, follow the cones, etc. Wil and I both got very nervous that we would get lost. After all, we don't know Albuquerque, and we expected to be at the back of the pack the entire race. But we needn't have worried -- the course was really well signed and coned throughout. Excellent work, IRunFit!

Some more chatter, and then, with a blast on an airhorn, we were off! First we made some loops around the neighborhood, chatting for a while with a woman who was doing 5 minutes of warm-up walking before setting off to run-walk the race. She's running Portland in a few weeks and didn't want to overdo it in this race. She is a cross-country coach in northern New Mexico and told us that they had had so much rain they had had to cancel practice and meets -- flooding AND lightning strikes. So Saturday's thunderstorm wasn't so atypical, I guess!

A little while later we crossed a long bridge over the Rio Grande. Other than a glimpse while crossing the border at Tijuana when I was a teenager, I've never seen the Rio Grande. It looked thick and muddy and red in the morning sun. 

The bridge was a lot longer than the river was wide, but I wondered if it floods in the spring or fall, and in late September is pretty dried out. 

Once across the Rio Grande, we turned off into a neighborhood full of big houses, all with gates and fences, and barking dogs. We wondered if they belonged to drug barons, what with all the bars on the windows.

Then we turned and ran along a wide boulevard -- one lane had been blocked off from traffic, but there weren't many cars at that time of the morning. What we did see, however, rising in the distance, were hot air balloons.

Another well-marked turn meant that we knew we were on the course, but had no idea where. We did know that we were ahead of pace -- I LOVE pace bands -- and going strong. More twists and turns, all with ubiquitous cones leading us along. Simple, nice. Oh, also -- LOTS of water stops. It seemed like there was one almost every mile. We had worried that there wouldn't be enough water, or that we would be too late on the course to get water, but there were loads of stops, well stocked, and with friendly volunteers.

We crossed a freeway (which I have just discovered was the same freeway we followed across the Rio Grande...) and kept moving. Eventually we came to some wineries, one of which was hosting a fancy car show. We saw a guy driving a silver convertible Porsche around; he looped past us twice and waved. 

As we approached the first winery, we saw another walker ahead of us.... and started to reel her in. She seemed to be okay, so we exchanged friendly hellos, and moved past her. Another mile later we saw two people -- and we reeled them in too. I should point out that we didn't really see anyone else on the course -- other than a couple we occasionally glimpsed behind us, and a woman we saw at the very beginning. 

Our experiences on the Alaska Marathon Cruise really made us aware of others on the course. (Or maybe it was our experiences on the Carros de Foc, waiting for the hikers to come in off the mountain each night?!?!) But I feel very protective of people at the back of the pack, and want to make sure that they don't get forgotten, or lost. So I tried to keep track of the others as we went along.

Another nice thing -- at one point, a truck passed us on the course, and they were clearly from IRunFit. They didn't stop or check in with us (we were doing fine), but I was happy to see that someone was driving the far-flung course keeping tabs on the participants. 

Then, suddenly, we came to a freeway overpass manned by police -- and I realized where we were... almost to the bridge over the river! Fantastic! So we turned, collected some water at the final stop, and headed back to the SIPI and the finish. 

We crossed the Rio Grande again -- and in the bright sun it looked like the river in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Except no Augustus Gloop being sucked up the tube.

Then a few final turns... where Wil spotted two guys ahead of us we hadn't ever seen. We toyed with the idea of breaking into a run to pass them, but that made both of us feel a little dirty. Besides, when they caught a glimpse of us gaining on them (walking...), the started to painfully jog. 

As we rounded the last curve toward the finish line, the few people there started cheering and clapping -- nice. We smiled and gave parade waves and crossed the line in 3:11:40.

okay, okay, this picture is long after we finished -- but I wanted to show off the nice finishing arch!

First, we picked up our medals -- sure, they're catalog medals, but we liked the star shape and the custom year badging.  And then we got the best post-race food we've ever had...

chips and salsa (of course!)... and

breakfast burritos!!!!!

Since we were so far to the back of the pack, we wanted to make sure and watch the final finishers come in. Every time we spotted someone coming around the last bend, we all stood up and whooped. Finally, everyone was in except the last woman. One volunteer was holding a medal -- the last medal -- but they started breaking some of the things down. (The 5K clock, the 10K clock, some of the extra matting.) I got a little worried. We walked over to the portapotties (which are DIFFERENT to ours -- they look like something you'd see on Tattooine, all white and trapezoidal...) and saw her running down the last hundred yards or so.

We made our way back to the finishing area -- where, sadly, they had just taken down the arch -- and everyone started cheering. I especially liked that the high school kids made a corridor and cheered for her. And of course it made me weepy.

It's funny, I spent a little while at toward the end of the race mentally composing a "DLF" blog post. And I can't pretend that I'm glad I didn't come in DLF. But I've also realized that it would be okay -- WILL be okay -- if and when I get my first DLF.

All in all, a great event. Nice course, friendly staff and volunteers, and a good looking medal. And, two days later, I have a renewed respect for people who walk long distances. I think it's harder than running them!

course map
course elevation

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