SANDIA CREST — Experience is usually a big factor when it comes to the annual La Luz Trail Run.
This year, well, not so much.
Two rookies, who had a total of one-and-a-half excursions between them, headed up the winding, switch-backing route to the 10,678-foot top of Sandia Crest, before making their mad dash to the peak Sunday.
Benjamin Stout of Sun City, Idaho, who is living and working at the Valles Caldera National Preserve, soared to the finish of the 9-mile race in one hour, 22 minutes, 55 seconds, well ahead of runner up Stephen Kersh of Flagstaff, Ariz., who was 4:12 back. And Katherine Telfeyan of Santa Fe, hustled through the 4,000-foot climb in 1:42:27 to capture the women’s honors, 6:18 ahead of runner up Rachel Janson of Albuquerque.
“It means a lot,” Stout, 25, said of the victory. “This is such a classic race that’s been going on for a long time. I’m really proud to be a part of it while I’m living down here in New Mexico.”
Stout is a former cross country and track athlete at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., who took up trail running when his college career was done.
“I kind of do it at an elite level on the side,” he said. “I was looking for a local trail race and this one seemed like a really cool, classic event so I was really excited to take part and it was a blast.”
Stout paced himself through the two-mile road portion of the run, getting a feel for his opponents.
“I felt it out when we were on the pavement then I decided it was time to go when we hit the trail,” he said.
“I started to gap them pretty early but I felt like they were on me the whole way. So I felt like I was running scared.”
Many runners face some trepidation when reaching the treacherous rockslide with its unending switchbacks, but not Stout.
“I like the rock slide area,” he said. “I gravitate to the more technical type trial running. I really enjoy that, dancing your way through the rocks. The trail was awesome. I think the trail is really cool. I came down a month or so ago just to check it out and it’s such a cool trail. It’s really amazing.”
Telfeyan, however, was not as pleased with the rock slide, particularly since that area was under snow when she first checked out the trail, so she had to turn back on that occasion.
“The scree,” she said. “And it just seemed like it was getting steeper and steeper and knowing there was still a mile after that, yeah.”
And throw in the imposing staircase near the top and it made for a tough finish, said Telfeyan, a 31-year-old geologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who was a college runner at D-III Washington and Lee in Lexington, Virginia.
“I’ve never felt my legs lock up before,” Telfeyan said. “I thought, all right, try and run up these stairs, but there was nothing there.”
If there was a favorite part, it was finally reaching the end, she said.
“Definitely the finish,” Telfeyan said. “I thought I had farther to go but then I heard someone say 100 meters and I was like, ‘Yes, I can do that.'”
She moved here three years ago and shortly after arriving in New Mexico, rode the tram.
“Somebody told me that people run up it and I thought that’s crazy because I’m originally from Louisiana and I never run up hills,” Telfeyan said. “But a few years later, I was like, ‘I think I can do it.'”
Because her attention was focused on the trail, Telfeyan said she’d like to take a more casual stroll up La Luz in the future.
“It was beautiful and it was nice to have water on the trail and everyone was really encouraging,” Telfeyan said. “Just when you were starting to die, there would be somebody there to cheer you on so it was great. I would like to come back and hike it so I can take pictures and enjoy the view a little better.”