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Make tracks at Valles Caldera Runs

When some 350 runners take the starting line at the Valles Caldera Runs on Saturday, they will be participating in one of the most rewarding and scenic races around.

Alison Forrester of Albuquerque climbs one of the killer hills on the trail of the Valles Caldera Runs. (Courtesy of Alison Forrester)

Alison Forrester of Albuquerque climbs one of the killer hills on the trail of the Valles Caldera Runs. (Courtesy of Alison Forrester)

The Valles Caldera National Preserve, now designated a National Natural Landmark, will be home again to a marathon, half-marathon and 10K race. Put on by High Altitude Sports, the event is the 10th annual running of the race; and its first since the National Park Service took over the operation of the preserve

“When the Valles was an independent preserve, they actively promoted events up there,” said race organizer Kris Kern. “I volunteered with the Valles Caldera people to put on the first race. After five or six years, they just decided to let the club do it independently.”

Although it’s not a race for everyone (it starts at 8,300 feet of elevation and climbs as high 9,200 feet) entrants have totaled more than 600, he said.

Working with the Park Service offers certain challenges, but Kern is confident it will be a good partnership.

“This is the first time we’re doing a permit with them, so they’re a little cautious,” he said. “If things go well, we might be able to expand it next year. They’re just being cautious about getting the crowds out there and overuse.” Race registration is closed for this year.

The lure, of course, is the chance to run through a spectacular landscape.

“The course is beautiful,” Kern said. “It’s wooded on old logging trails and dirt roads. It’s completely off road, so the scenery is fantastic.”

And that type of competition has been gaining legions of fans of late, he said.

“Trail running right now is a booming sport,” Kern said. “So people are looking for exactly this type of event. We draw lots of people from Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Los Alamos.”

People also come in from Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and even as far as Alaska, Virginia and Michigan.

“We have some really good hills to climb that will be challenging,” Kern said. “It’s up in the trees, so very often you see lots of wildlife out there.”

Alison Forrester of Albuquerque, who has run the course in the past and intends to do so this year, said she’s not encountered any wildlife, but has certainly seen evidence of critters.

“The run is truly breathtaking to say the least,” she said. “Personally, I didn’t run into wildlife, but I did run into large holes across the meadow which seemed to be made by snakes or small animals.”

And by far the biggest challenge was negotiating some of the hill climbs.

“At the end of the run is a large, steep hill on which, by this point, people were on their hands climbing up it – including myself.”

Despite the undignified manner, Forrester said that was hardly a concern.

“I would say, ‘Run like no one is watching’ because it is so open, so beautiful and you have so much open space, you really just don’t care,” she said.

For Los Alamos resident Lisa Tuck, just getting a chance to commune with nature is worth it.

“For me, its special factor lies in its small size, quaint feeling and the fact that it’s really made up of a lot of our neighbors running,” she said. “And, of course, it’s undeniable that running in the Caldera is the draw. Gorgeous run.”

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