An ultra-marathon is coming to Santa Fe on Sept. 10. This first-ever race will include four runs — 50 miles, 50 kilometers, 13 miles and uphill miles.
Benny Montoya, 37, wanted to run an ultra-marathon for some time and will do 50 kilometers.
“It’s so beautiful to run on trails in the mountains and foothills, being able to look at the view is especially good when you spend a long time on the trail,” said Montoya, who is the IT manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The 50-kilometer course starts and finishes right in front of La Casa Lodge at Ski Santa Fe. From the ski basin, the course plunges down the steep and rocky Rio en Medio Trail almost 6 miles to the first-aid station.
Montoya isn’t too worried about this technical section of trail.
“I’m most concerned about the mental and physical challenge of all the elevation change,” Montoya said. “Running, basically from the village of Tesuque up to the radio towers on top of Tesuque Peak is going to be tough.”
The single-track paths through the trees and canyons cut across the grain of the foothills on the edge of the Santa Fe National Forest boundary. They link the Rio en Medio Trail to the bottom of the Winsor National Recreation Trail, which is a very popular trail that can take you all the way over the mountains to the Pecos side. This race course, though, follows the Big Tesuque Creek and the Winsor trail up about 5 miles of the 22-plus mile trail, to the Big Tesuque campground at State Road 475.
Montoya and the rest of the runners will follow more single track trails up to Aspen Vista Road. This dirt road winds its way to the top of Tesuque Peak. From this high point, at just over 12,000 feet above sea level, it is a pell-mell tumble on tired legs down the grassy ski slopes to the finish line.
Jessi Jensen has been running for 2½ years.
“My dad got a bunch of us into it and I love it,” Jensen said.
She is running the 13-mile loop but has her eyes on the 50-kilometer race for next year. The run down the Winsor trail from the start at the ski lodge will be fun for her, but “I am looking forward to the climb up Aspen Vista from Big Tesuque. It will be a good challenge.
“I’m also excited there are so many other activities for non-runners on race day,” Jensen said. “My parents aren’t running but they are going up to listen to music, enjoy the beer garden and ride the chairlift while they wait for us to finish.”
The Uphill Mile has captured Delaney Kuehnel’s interest. The 20-year-old El Paso, resident says she is more of a biker and will bring her bike to ride other trails after the race. She is coming to conquer the steep uphill mile course though. The route through the ski area climbs two of the steepest slopes on the lower mountain.
Slalom, which will leave runners wobbling at the top of this first pitch, shoots up from Totemoff’s, the popular winter bar and deck. Then comes a short reprieve as runners cross under the chairlift and its cargo of spectators to the bottom of the ski run called Muerte. This last steep climb will surely leave runners contemplating their tenuous grip on life and the grassy slope. The finish line is at the top of this leg- and lung-burner ski run.
Getting down is much easier. Racers can ride the lift back down to the start.
Fifty miles of trails isn’t too hard to find in the mountains above Santa Fe. But staying out of the designated wilderness makes it a bit more challenging. The Ultra Santa Fe course brushes along the boundary of the Pecos wilderness reaching the Rio Capulin on the Borego trail. This section of trail isn’t often used because of damage from recent forest fires and lots of deadfall blocking the way. Many of these downed trees have been or are being cleared, so runners and everybody can use the remote sections of these trails after the race.
“It is so great that these trails are being opened up again. This really adds some great terrain we can now use all the time,” said Silas Peterson, a 50-mile runner and small business owner.
From the remote wilderness feel of the Rio Capulin, trail runners make their way onto Santa Fe County trails at Little Tesuque and La Piedra, which connects to the Dale Ball trails at Sierra Del Norte Trail head. The aid station here marks about the halfway point. After a loop on the Dale Ball system, runners trace their steps back to La Piedra and Little Tesuque trails, then up to the Sidewinder or Saddleback Trail that roughly parallels Hyde Park Road on ridge tops to the junction of the Chamisa Trail.
“Being able to link up 50 miles of trails without going into the Pecos Wilderness is an amazing feat that is almost magical,” Peterson said, “right here in our hometown we have a race course that offers so much from rugged, wild, remote, single-track to well used and well-loved trails through the piñon and juniper. Welcome, world, to our trails.”
Peter Olson is a member of the Trails Alliance of Santa Fe and steward of the La Piedra Trail.