Race recap: Ruidoso Half Marathon 2021

This was, by far, the MOST difficult race I had ever done.

Difficult races are so great for so many reasons:
1) You really learn how much misery you can tolerate.
2) It’s a productive way to demonstrate your stubbornness.
3) Finding distractions become a game.
4) It makes for a great story afterwards.

This race in Ruidoso started off innocently enough. I had been peeking at some races in the area that I was interested in and this popped up. I’m not quite adept at reading elevation charts yet but it was — as a scientist would say — very squiggly. Lots of ups and downs. I thought hills could build a little character, and it’d be nice to get outside for a bit in the mountains. After very little convincing, my hubby and I were both registered and we set off.

The race was about an hour away from our vacation home. It seemed easy enough to drive in the morning of the race, but we had to leave pretty early for the start. We swung by the local donut shop down the street for a pre-race snack and then headed into the mountains. One thing I take for granted is the availability of bathrooms. All of these gas stations along the way had single stalled bathrooms. Each one we stopped at had a line of 3 or 4 people, who also all looked similarly anxious that there was only one bathroom. We kept skipping to other gas stations until we found a free stall. When we made it to the race start though, it turned out the park actually had a huge public bathroom, and it was super clean and fresh! So, pro tip: use the park bathroom at this race start. It’s totally fine.

A couple of things about this race. First off, it was a tiny race. 21 fulls and 50 halves that I just manually counted from their website. Why anyone would run the full distance is beyond me. Whoever created this course is just plain mean. (I said that out loud a lot too. Kind of just wailing into the mountainous void.)

I have a strange irrational fear of getting lost during races. That’s why I always pick the big ones. Seeing as though this was so tiny, I decided that perhaps running towards the back would put me more at ease. That way there would always be someone in front of me. As the race was starting, the announcer said to all of us not to worry about getting lost. Someone would always be behind you.

I figured she was talking about me, but it turns out that the sweeper actually stays RIGHT BEHIND the last runner. That person was me.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with that term, it is essentially the support vehicle that “sweeps” you off the course. They pull you out of the race to go hang out in the support vehicle until they can get you to the finish. The pickup truck was literally behind me the entire time. After about a quarter mile, Erik decided to stay with me because he was worried that I wouldn’t make it. I said that I could always just pull off and go grab breakfast in town while he finished up. We decided to go however far I could make it and then call it a day.

The area reminds me a lot of Big Bear in California. Lots of cute cabins, random hills and roads that lead straight up into the sky. Beautifully lush trees that would definitely collect a sprinkling of snow flurries in the winter. The weather that morning was perfect. Cool enough. Sunny enough.

So we turn a corner onto the main road and pass a handful of coffee shops and eateries. After a few blocks, we then turn into the mountains. The uphill was gradual to start, but it was a very consistent uphill. Somewhere after mile 3 I stop bothering with walk/run intervals because there was no point to running through the uphills. I figure I’d just walk the uphills and run the downhills.

Joke was on me, because there were VERY little downhills until the end.

A few miles in, I made it to the Inn of the Mountain Gods, a lovely hotel/casino/resort in Ruidoso. This looked like a good place to stop for the day. I kind of wish I had because there was air conditioning, food, and lots of free comfortable seating. Maybe I wouldn’t have any luck on the race course, but could have some luck at the slot machines. I tell myself that I’ll loop around first and when I see the casino again, I can decide to pull out if I want to.

We were teased with a bit of shade and beautiful scenery. We went up a little bit but then had some flats and downhills. By the time I circled back around the casino, I was feeling good and figured that I could continue. It turned out that the casino would be the last and only respite available on the course. In what I thought would have been our descent back into town, we were directed to take a sharp turn into the residential area. This sharp turn led to a road that pretty much went straight uphill. Might has well have been a rope dangling from the sky because that’s how it felt. After a few minutes, I look around and this area seemed familiar. A month or two prior, I drove here for a hike around Grindstone Lake. I remember worrying whether or not my car could handle some of these steep inclines.

Well, now it’s just my legs vs the inclines. There were no flats or downhills for a very long time after this point. We passed the lake and kept going up the residential roads. There were beautiful homes with what I was sure had grand views of the lake and the town. We got a few baby downhills bumps but that’s all they were…bumps.

Until the last few miles. WOOF the last few miles were really rough. The downhills were so steep that I felt like if I stumbled over, I would just keep tumbling down the mountain. I typically enjoy going up more than coming down, but at this point my misery meter was in overdrive. I just wanted to be done. My hip sprain was really acting up so I’m rocking a pretty rough limp. I ask Erik to chat with the sweeper to see how much time we had left. Through some runner math we figured I would come in right at around the time limit.

With much misery we continue going down those steep hills, until it begins to level out a bit. Not quite flat, but a little more subdued ups/downs. We turned a corner and voila…the finishers arch was still up! The announcer was still there. They even had a few aid stations at the finish. Everyone was super supportive and I was happy to have finished the race but more glad that I didn’t have to climb another hill. There was just one tiny “bump” back to the car.

This rivaled the difficulty of the Great Wall half marathon that I finished in 2018. The Great Wall was a bit different though. I was in a different headspace at the time. When it got very steep, I had to scoot down on my butt. When it got steep in the other direction, I had to hang on the side of the wall to make sure that I didn’t fall down. Switchbacks were a’plenty. But here, the road was wide open and was pretty safe since I had a personal chauffeur on my heels the entire time.

Would I do this race again? I’m about 99% sure I’m a one-and-done-r. I have been trying to convince some of my other runner friends to try it out though. Maybe this time I can cheer them on from the breakfast bar! The medal was beautiful and the swag was really high quality. I would recommend it only if you actually love hills. Like, LOVE LOVE LOVE hills.

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