This race was really a placeholder of sorts for me, sandwiched as it was between two international races. It turned out to be a lot of fun in its own right, though both the weather and course provided several challenges. The Day of the Dead series consists of 4 marathons (along with companion half marathons) held on 4 consecutive days; the first two are set in El Paso, TX, and Willcox, AZ, respectively, while the last two take place in Las Cruces, NM. Race Director Clint Burleson is the mastermind behind the “Mainly Marathons” series and Maniacs and 50 State Club members love them because races in 4 or 5 neighboring states can be checked off in the same number of days. The Dust Bowl series encompasses Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, while the Appalachian series includes West Virginia, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia (and there are more – check out the MainlyMarathons.com website for a complete listing). If you don’t mind driving several hours between races, accomplishing these races is a good way to rapidly accumulate states and statistics.
Well, I’m not in need of states and I’d rather take a nap after completing a marathon instead of driving to another state for another race, but several friends were planning on showing up for this 4th race in New Mexico, so I thought it would make for an enjoyable weekend. That certainly proved to be the case.
We had only 2 days to prepare for this trip after our return from Ireland but I managed to unpack, wash clothes, pay bills, and repack without too much angst. On Saturday, we flew into El Paso, rented a car, and drove to Las Cruces, then checked into Springhill Suites, very close to packet pickup at the nearby La Quinta. At these low-key races, there is usually no expo, just a corps of dedicated volunteers who hand out bibs and tee shirts and supportive words. That was the case here. After getting my bib and shirt plus a small colorful race poster, Darcy and I stopped at the Pecan Grill where we had a relaxing early dinner. I had one of my favorite meals, a Portobello mushroom sandwich with sweet potato fries. Then it was back to the room to get things ready for the next morning. We had been warned to set our clocks back an hour because of Daylight Savings Time so enjoyed an extra hour of sleep.
The desert in Las Cruces is cold at night and in the early morning hours but then heats up during the day. I dressed in layers and was grateful for my mittens and handwarmers. Temps were in the mid-forties at the start and I was shivering, but after the sun came up, it was warm. I soon was able to shed my jacket and mitts though I still felt overdressed with a short sleeve and long-sleeve shirt.
The nature of this laid-back race is very casual. The race venue was a school football stadium with plenty of parking. Runners and walkers lined up at the impromptu start line beneath a banner and after a few words from the RD and others, we set off at 7:05 am. The course is a 6.5 mile double out-and-back on dirt, pebbles, and paved bike path through La Llarona Park. Although there were several turns along the route, they were marked with orange cones. There were also a few road crossings but traffic was very light and volunteers assisted racers when necessary. The extremely flat nature of the course gave my shins a workout, but it was not really a problem. A bigger issue was the tiny rocks that kept creeping into my shoes and made me wish I had worn my gaiters. There were few spectators (remember, this is a small race, with about 50 people doing the full and perhaps 130 doing the half) and no shade at all. No mile markers either, so it was hard to tell exactly where I was at any given time. Several aid stations were strategically placed along the route, with plenty of food and drink options. A few porta-potties sprinkled the course as well as one real bathroom at about the 3.5 mile point (and we passed it 4 times).
Since I’m not a fan of double-loop courses, I was only too glad to see the finish line at the end of my second go-round. I had a choice of medals, all decorated with Day of the Dead symbols. The one I selected was blue and yellow with a colorful lanyard. Food at the finish was pizza and snacks but I opted for some cold chocolate milk. I didn’t meet my time goal of under 6 hours, but I was grateful for the 6:08:45 finish. Stopping to empty my shoes of rocks and to take a bathroom break no doubt added those extra minutes but finishing times did not really matter in this race. In fact, there is no time limit in any of the Mainly Marathon races. For walkers and slower runners, this is a good deal. There are even special awards to those who come in last.
We left Las Cruces immediately after the race because our plan was to leave El Paso early the next morning. Along the way, we picked up fajitas at Taco Cabana and had our post-race meal while relaxing at the Marriott Courtyard at the airport where we spent the night. Our flight left at 6 am on Monday and we arrived home around 3 pm, tired but content. We had just a day to prepare for our next trip.