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‘Ultra’ running event returns to Santa Fe

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Michael Middlemass of Santa Fe jumps over a creek during last year’s Endurance Santa Fe Mountain Trail Races. (Courtesy of Endurance Santa Fe)

For some folks, running is not just an exercise. It’s not even a competition.

No, for some, running, especially on trails, climbing hills and mountainsides, is an experience that can lift one to a higher plane.

“Ultra running, endurance running, is not really about running,” said Santa Fe runner and coach Joe Lewis. “It’s more about surviving. It’s about challenging yourself. What is the human body capable of? How tough am I really and how can I try to accept the pain, or surrender to the suffering and feel the pain.

“I’ve started praying since I started running ultras. That’s new for me. I believe in God now.”

And there are few runs that get one closer to a higher being than the upcoming Endurance Santa Fe Mountain Trail Races on Aug. 31.

The races of various lengths start and end at Ski Santa Fe, and wind through mountain trails in the Santa Fe National Forest. The 50-mile ultramarathon course takes runners deep into the back country near the Rio Nambé and the Rio en Medio. A 50-kilometer run, a 50-mile relay, a 13-mile run and a one-mile uphill run climbing 850 feet are also on tap. The longest races cover about 25,000 feet of elevation change, said organizer Peter Olson.

“It’s a tough one,” Lewis said of the event. “The 50K and the 50-mile are ranked the hardest races in New Mexico because of the all the elevation gain.”

This will be the fifth running of Endurance Santa Fe and the 40-year-old Lewis is still looking to finish it.

“I haven’t finished the longer one yet,” said Lewis, a former cross-country and track athlete at Santa Fe Prep. “I haven’t been trained up right and I’ve been battling injuries. There’s a lot of climbing. But you go on a lot of trails that a lot of people don’t get to see. There’s part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Santa Fe National Forest that are pretty remote. That’s what’s cool about it. You get to discover all these new trails and you get to climb. You get to feel the sweet suffering for sure.”

Santa Fe businessman Silas Peterson, also a high school runner, first got into ultra running several years ago following a backpacking accident that sent him tumbling down a mountainside in the Grand Tetons.

“It was a long recovery process,” he said. “I could no longer do bench presses or free weights, things like that. I started running more. And while I was doing that, I read “Born to Run,” (the story of the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon, Mexico). So, I thought I’m going to run a 100-miler.”

That, of course, is easier thought than done.

“I didn’t really know what I was talking about,” Peterson said with a chuckle. “I’d be out on the out on Santa Fe River Trail running two or three or four miles on pain meds, and dreaming of running a 100-miler. But that’s where the journey recommenced.”

Lewis, who also was inspired by “Born to Run,” is coordinating bringing some of the Tarahumara Indian runners to Santa Fe for the race. There also will be a workshop on sandal making, emulating the style the Tarahumara use.

The race has been growing incrementally, with near 300 participants at its largest, Olson said. Runners from 16 states have already registered, in addition to the Tarahumara contingent.

“We do have a really good nationwide attendance,” he said. “One of the other things I’ve done is really tried to make the starting line look like New Mexico. The people that you see are all shades of color. We have a really strong Native American presence because we have special edition fees. We have a lot from the Navajo Nation this year. That is really cool.”

Olson began organizing the race after severely breaking his ankle, using the recuperation time to delve into the race.

“I knew I had a long recovery ahead, so I thought maybe I should start organizing an ultramarathon,” he said. “Ski Santa Fe has been a really good partnership ever since. This came from tragedy, but it’s been a fun thing. Lots of people have found they enjoy digging deep on this race.”