Ultra #15 – Cactus to Cloud 50k – 5/13/17

Ultra #15 / Overall #45 / State #12 (New Mexico)
Cactus to Cloud 50k
Alamogordo, NM (Oliver Lee State Park) -> Cloudcroft, NM

After not having been able to race for almost 2 months now since the big D had been cancelled last month…. I was so ready to get out of town and do this. After all, I met some amazing group of runners who were a lot faster than me while I was training (alone) in the Franklin mountains 2 weeks prior..

The day before the race

The drive up to Alamogordo, and then Cloudcroft, was absolutely amazing. Cloudcroft sits at an elevation of nearly 9,000 feet (almost 3,000 meters) above sea level, and is almost 5,000 feet higher up than Alamogordo. And the weather was totally different too (in a cooler and better way)…


Packet pick up began at the tennis courts across the street from Cloudcroft elementary school. Here we are (with a few of the team RWB folks) standing next to the route and the elevation profile – this course, as you can tell, shows no mercy. It’s a point to point route that takes you back into the village of Cloudcroft with the first 10 miles of nearly nothing but straight UP… But I can’t believe that Janette and Michael had already RAN UP that trail at Oliver Lee for 4 miles total out and back “just to explore” – they have their own team LOCOs ha. Meanwhile I’d be like, my legs need rest therefore I’m did zero miles the day before lol. Cesar from Up and Running in El Paso is the race director. So that was good that there was at least one familiar face lol.

Carb loading at the Western bar and cafe… it’s a nice place that provide nourishment for our bodies and soothing tunes for the ears (karaoke… all my ex’s except one lives in Tejas!! Yes we were in New Mexico when I sang this)…

Race morning

We had to get on the shuttle at Cloudcroft Elementary school by 4:30 AM!! For some reason, I could not sleep much at all, but my roommate Michael (lucky for him) got sleep with no problem.

The bus got us to Oliver Lee state park around 5:20 AM. And we were just hanging out at the start, taking biological breaks, doing business… until the start…

The race officially started at 6:08 AM.


The starting elevation of this race is approximately 4,400 feet (1,360 meters) above sea level.

Effective atmospheric oxygen % at this altitude is 17.7% (compared to 21% at sea level), 85% of sea level.

Indeed, the race started off with no mercy at all… There was a small decline (shall we say bliss?) followed by an immediate going ups consisting of trails with nothing but climbs…

Less than a mile into the race, I can tell that some people were already sensing and feeling the exhaustion and burn. They say you hit a wall around mile 20 during a race, but the wall came at mile zero LOL…

Switchback after switchback, the trail took us to a plateaued area approximately 1.2 miles into the race. Looking behind us, the sun was rising on the small desert town of Alamgordo, NM. At this point in the race, we were headed east northeast with a mild to moderate headwind, but the mountains in front of us kept the sun out of our faces. About 1.75 miles in, we entered through Lincoln National Forest, at least that was the forest boundaries since there weren’t much of trees at that location ha…

And the climb continued…

Approximately 3 miles (5 km) in, at last… there was a stretch of flat and even slightly downhill portion of the trail, as (I’m sure) we all struggled to keep up our breaths and pace. We have ascended approximately 1,600 feet (500 meters) It felt like the “eye of a hurricane”, as if we had a moment of relief. We were at the bottom of an abysmal desert canyon. The town of Alamogordo was slowing closing in behind us in between the mountains.

And then… the climbing suddenly hit us again after a creek crossing. The rock escarpments got larger, steeper, and appeared more treacherous. People were really struggling to keep up with their breath. Some parts seemed like nearly an 100% grade (that means for every feet/meter forward there’s one feet/meter up). Though the single track trail had a decent width… even with one trip, one misstep, and one could easily twist an ankle, or even worse, fall off down the mountain. Ain’t no time for sissies or acrophobia here lol.

This is the reason why many (if not all) race directors make you sign a waver stating that one of the risks is: DEATH. (not to scare anybody but…)

Often times we focus (and we have to!) on the trail ahead with great extent, but often times we forget to look around our surroundings, in front of us, around us, and behind us… As I looked back, I could see the desert and the town of Alamogordo as the sun was rising, to give the desert landscape and mountains the beautiful view as it is portrayed above…

Even I had trouble with using hiking sticks because the climb got so intense. Some of the rocks were equivalent to 2-3 stair steps. I passed a few people that appeared already burnt out from the climb. As we surfaced the peak of this ridge, the vegetation and terrain started to change. There were a few more taller trees present in a background of desert shrubs…

As we approached the first aid station (at 5.5 miles) with an elevation of approximately 7,400 feet (2,300 meters) above sea level, the trail became slightly less rocky, the trees became denser (which was great because the sun was rising up on us), and the air got crispier.

The elevation at the first aid station (5.5 miles) is approximately 7,400 feet (2,300 meters) above sea level.

Effective atmospheric oxygen % at this altitude is 15.7% (compared to 21% at sea level), 75% of sea level.

Compared to the starting altitude, there is a 12% decrease in the atmospheric oxygen at the mile 5.5 altitude.

The people aid the first aid station were telling us, “this was the hardest part of the course”…. or is it? People who say that are often hard to believe.. LOL


Looking at the elevation chart above, there’s a relatively “bliss” portion of the trail where it consisted of jeep roads (giving plenty of room for passing and flatter yet softer surfaces for actual running. We can see the White Sands National Monument in the far back and the mountain ranges that precede Las Cruces. Seems so close but yet so far away.

Cruising along the jeep roads at mid to high 7,000 feet isn’t so bad right…? Until we hit the end of our bliss into our next 2 mile climb before the next aid station.

We finally took an “exit” out of the jeep roads and back onto the single tracks, now through the forest paths. The elevation at this point (picture on the left below) is in the high 7,000 feet (2,400 meters) above sea level.

Fortunately, I tagged along with a group of few people, and we kept together at a good pace. One of the guys Jaime kept on talking and carried out a conversation while the rest of us were struggling for air.

During this climb, I felt my first wave of altitude sickness and fatigue. Perhaps I was going a little too fast or undertrained in keeping up with the group of hikers that kept me on pace. Even at 7,000 feet, it felt fine. But after 8,000 feet (2,500 meters), I felt like I was gasping more for air. And, during this 2 mile climb, my shoes came undone (the lady behind me told me). But since I wanted to keep pace, I didn’t bother to tie my shoes at the moment… lol.

The piney forest ascent was shaded and chilly. It probably didn’t help that I was hyperventilating chilly air which became a little thinner the higher up we went. Jaime still kept on talking, and I was about to be done and be like, “left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot”…

Eventually, we got out of the dense forest where there were finally sunlight and grass. I felt so exhausted, cold, and my heart was racing already. When I saw the grassy fields it reminded me of Psalm 23 (verses 1-3) with a sense of relief:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.

I mean, it’s green. And green mountains.  Living in El Paso there’s mountains but it’s all brown. Living in San Antonio and Dallas it’s like there’s green but it’s soggy and humid and the most you get is rolling hills. Lol

Even after these green pastures, there were still a small climb before we finally made it to the second aid station… Sunspot! My lungs were getting sore (it’s probably the diaphragm but whatever…) This is at mile 10. At mile 10, a few of us were reunited. This is where I pulled out the massage stick out of my drop bag, put on some more sunscreen, and ate from the aid station as much as I could tolerate.

The elevation at Sunspot (the second aid station, 10 miles in) is approximately 9,000 feet (2,800 meters) above sea level.

Effective atmospheric oxygen % at this altitude is 14.8% (compared to 21% at sea level), 70% of sea level.

Compared to the starting elevation, there is a 17% decrease in the atmospheric oxygen at the mile 10 elevation.


We thought the worst part was over… not for me.

And then there’s the part where we go through the forest. Overall the trails weren’t too bad yet, but there were still decent climbs and descents. Every now and then we would cross paths with a fallen tree. That meant… getting on our all fours and hop over!

In this 5 mile segment, we would end up through the highest elevation of the course – 9,500 feet (2,950 meters) above sea level, where the effective oxygen is 69% that of sea level and a 18% drop from the starting elevation.

Once we got to the mountaintop, we had the most majestic view ever of the surrounding mountain ranges with forests, and White Sands in our background… You can’t leave without taking a picture lol.


And just a few moments away to the next aid station (Atkinson Field).


Unfortunately, at the 15 mile aid station (Atkinson Field), I was feeling a little queezy. I had actually been feeling discomfort in my stomach/abdominal areas for a while when I was running with my group earlier, but by this point, it had gotten worse.

My friends decided to bail out (lol… j/k) and kept on going whereas I had to stay behind at that aid station. The traditional homeopathic remedy for nausea on trail runs (or any runs/ultra) is to take some ginger ale… and that’s exactly what I did. Not even 5 minutes later, I felt super nauseous, and had to run to the compost and puked everything out. The idea of Gatorade sounded disgusting and felt disgusting, and just about everything else on the aid station table…

This is something totally new to me, as in my 14 previous trail marathons/ultras I had never experienced this problem of not being able to take any food down. Historically I had always been the “big eater” anytime I came across an aid station…

I took off from the mile 15 aid station with 3 bottles filled with water, and packed a smuckers in my pocket (for had I felt better I would’ve eaten some). I had no choice but to reduce my speed to just a moderate hike and minimize running (yes, even for downhills). It was a troublesome feeling… Also, there were a lot more loose rocks than I had previously thought. Stepping on unstable ground only made my abdominal discomfort and nausea worse.

While I remembered this 3.5 mile segment to be mostly forest (I thought it was 5 miles at the time, which probably contributed to why I felt like crap). The sun was coming down and the weather was getting warm. How I wished I had that crisp morning breeze to cool down… I was mentally exhausted, fatigued, and wished I had gotten more sleep and perhaps regretted my decision to stay at Cloudcroft instead of Alamogordo for the sake of “convenience” on race morning…

So then I started to talk my brain out of quitting, because I so wanted to quit…

It’s only a 50k…

It’s ONLY a 50k…

It’s ONLY a 50k..

That’s ONLY a 50k… nothing more.

And then I started singing this one song that we do at church called “I feel good”…

I feel good, good good, I feel good oh yes my Lord,
because there’s something about the Spirit of Jesus that makes me feel good good good, good

I feel peace, peace, peace, I feel peace oh yes my Lord,
because there’s something about the Spirit of Jesus that makes me feel peace peace peace peace, peace

I feel joy, joy, joy, I feel joy oh yes my Lord,
because there’s something about the Spirit of Jesus that makes me feel joy joy joy, joy

Ugh I’m nauseated from vocalizing and speaking…

I looked down at my watch and only 0.25 miles have passed by…

It’s ONLY a 50k…

It’s ONLY a 50k…

This is such a drag…

Would I quit as a disciple?

No, keep on going… Never quit… it would be EMBARRASING to DNF just a 50k…

About 2.5 miles out, I saw a fellow runner sitting down on the ground and resting beneath the piney trees. For some reason, that sounded so good, and I craved for rest. Though there was a cutoff for the race, I felt like I needed a moment to lay down as well. I was feeling lightheaded, and counting my pulse, I knew my heart was beating as fast as it could to keep up. In hindsight, I was dehydrated, but I did not want to take salt tablets at all and I craved for water.

So I found a shaded area with some grass, set a timer for 7 minutes, closed my eyes while laying down. I felt out of it. I could hear several runners passing me, but I resisted the temptation of sitting up and saying “hi”. One guy asked me if I was alright so I sticked out my thumb… lol. After about 7 minutes on the ground, I decided to sit back up and eat. I could only eat about half of that smuckers PB&J and downed that with some water…

I got up and kept on walking. Still wasn’t able to run yet. Luckily, the next aid station was less than 1/2 a mile away.

At the 4th aid station (Alamo Peak Rd), I had really thought we were at mile 20. But no… it was only 18.5. I was a little bummed out about that. My appetite had still not recovered, and I was still feeling like crap in general.

One of the runners’s wife was there and had a chair next to the aid station. As he was leaving, he offered me some yogurt when I spoke up and told him I had stomach issues. He told me that “through experiment”, yogurt restores your gut and promotes blood flow to your stomach, and has protein as well. At first, I found it hard to believe that he’s offering yogurt out of all things on a hot and sunny trail day!! But again… I knew that I was not going to be able to finish this race had I not been able to keep anything down.

Taking advice is not always easy. True as a disciple, true as an ultrarunner who’s done a handful of races. But when you’re in a desperate spot in life (whether spiritually or physically here… at >9,000 feet lol), that’s when you’re most prone to actually taking in advice and recommendations. I had never had yogurt before during an ultra and have no idea on how it will respond to my body, but I knew that otherwise I had no other choice. So I took some yogurt and sat down on his chair. His wife offered me some ginger crisp cookies and told me that would settle down my stomach as well. I took a few and man they were good!

It is currently 1:15 PM, and I had until 2:30 PM to leave the aid station. So there’s plenty of time… So I thought it was a good idea to eat, hydrate (taking salt tablets even though I did not feel like it), and just sit there and wait it out.

After about 10 minutes, although I didn’t feel completely back to “baseline”, I thought I was good enough to get back up again and continue. I had filled two of the bottles with water an one with Gatorade. And this time, I took some salt tablets with me. The aid station folks at Alamo Peak said that the next aid station (FR 636) is 5 miles away…

Or is it….?


I consider this stretch (aid station 4 to 5) my “recovery” phase in my journey to Cloudcroft. At this point, I had felt better, but not enough to “push myself”. After all, I’m not going for time. I’ve PAID to do this… and I’m not cutting it close with the cutoff times…

5 miles seemed too much for my brain to handle (although it was a lot of downhill and flat areas), but 1.5 mile increments were doable. I was hiking at a 20min/mile pace and jogging around a 12-14 min mile pace. I figured, at every 1.5 miles, I would take 1/3 of water WITH a salt tablet regardless of how I feel, and continue forward… that’s right, left, right, left, right… you get the point lol… until the 3.0 mile, where I would take another 1/3 of the water WITH a salt tablet, and continue on… There were intermittent clouds which provided a nice break from the beatings of the sun…

And then there were a few inspirational/motivational signs such as:

Waddle Waddle Waddle…

Smile, you PAID for this 🙂

ULTRA marathon today, NETFLIX marathon tomorrow


Where is the aid station?? It had been 5.5 miles already going on to 6… finally, when my watch hit 6.3 miles into the current lap, I arrived at the aid station 5 (FR 636). They claimed that the aid station was only 5 miles away from the previous and the mileage was 24.5, but people have been getting as much as 26.5.

And it’s funny how they literally changed their mileage and wrote in “24.5 to 26.5 aid station”… hahaha

I felt better, but not completely at baseline yet. Since I knew there were gonna be some descents and climbs, I played it safe, sat in a chair for another close to 10 minutes, hydrated properly, and continued on.



From aid station 5 to aid station 6 (2nd Entrance of Rim trail) was approximately 5 miles. As you can see from the elevation map,  we would go through some descents first down from 9,000 to 8,400 feet, and then come back up in elevation back up to 8,800 feet. The worst is over. Thank God. The rest is a net slight downhill…

The initial 1-mile descent down to 8,400 feet from the aid station felt almost like a bliss. At this point, I had a “second wind”, and was able to coast down the hills… I was like, this is great! Also, at 8,400 there were slight vegetation changes. It was green, but a different green. Perhaps a more refreshing and invigorating green. I also felt a sense of warmth and slight humidity. I’m usually the first one to complain about humidity and heat, but not at this moment. For it was a good feeling…

The descents were finally over and it brought me down to a valley of green pastures again. I absolutely loved this part, but it was also kinda dark and covered compared to the high above… I can see the path that I came down, and the path that I am about to embark. What goes down must come back up. And I have arrived at the valley being approximately 2 miles into this segment.

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valle,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

I had no doubt that I was going to finish, but coming back up I decided to pace myself still. There’s no hurry to finish, so why not enjoy the forest that God has placed in front of me? After the ascension back onto the mountain ridges, I saw the piney forest ranges from afar for the last time…


Aid station 6 to the finish:

The aid station definitely came before 5 miles for me, in fact, I even questioned myself and asked “is this really the last aid station? I thought there were 2 more miles after the last aid station? It can’t be real”…

That’s more of the irrational thinking of a delirious ultrarunner… lol

The aid station folks said that there’s only 2.9 miles left until Cloudcroft. It was actually 3.7… SMH -___- lol. First there was some hills, but then the trail became wider and flatter. Then it paralleled NM 6563 and NM 130 For the end is near…

As I was coming into Cloudcroft, I tried to run the last 2 miles of it but was so tired and out of breath. I was thinking… this has got to be the worst 50k performance I’ve done so far…

And then some old lady walked and told me, “you must be very proud of yourself today… that is what amazing what you did out there!” It must have been pride that kept me from truly wanting to accept that statement, thinking that I was no good compared to the other people out there who finished way before me. But then it’s like, what the heck. I let that sink in for a bit and humbly accepted the old lady’s compliment…

The finish…

So, almost 10,000 feet of total elevation gain in 32 miles in a point-to point course. This has to be the one of the most beautiful 50k’s ever in my life, but it was also my slowest and hardest. All my friends who ran with me had already left, for they had finished way faster than I did. Only Janette was patient enough to wait for me at the finish… which was like 2 hours since she and Michael were done. Lol. There was no medal, but they gave us a finisher’s cup.

Concluding thoughts

This was actually quite a humbling experience. Apparently in my mind, this was “just a 50k”. But it ain’t no any 50k. It was cool how we got to go from point A to point B, and literally see the vegetation and terrain change. Although this was just a 50k, I felt like I had a fair share and a plethora of challenges that even get the best of us.

Thinking about where I came from and started, we literally climbed up almost a mile in the course of 10 miles. I had forgotten that we started out in the desert, where there were hardly any trees and mostly rocks, boulders, and treacherous climbs on the side of a cliff… Just as we get a moment of relief, we climb an additional 1,000 feet in the dark forest paths on a straight journey up. Then the struggles becomes real in fighting for air as there is a near 20% reduction in the available oxygen compared to where we started… Battling stomach issues for the first time ever due to high elevation changes and probably lack of sleep (also from elevation changes) – altitude sickness… But at the end of the day, people were supportive, I had learned the trick of yogurt in settling down your stomach, and I have realized with even more depth the importance of not relying on myself and seeking for the advice of others.

Spiritually speaking, this race greatly symbolizes victories and growth spiritually. I have even used the course’s elevation profile during a bible study on discipleship to illustrate that people may come to realize that they’re a disciple of Christ, when in actuality they’ve only reached that “first peak” (right around 6,500 feet). But little do they know that this is the start of the process, and if we desire growth, we must move forward in our understanding of the Word. Until we overcome another mountain, to realize that we have even more to go. And when we finally ascent to the top (around 9,000 feet), that’s just the beginning (this is like where someone first becomes a disciple). But the journey is far from over. The rest of the way is a battle and a struggle with victories and low points.

But if we remain in Him, He will remain in us (John 15:7-8). If we stay in, we will finish the race set out before us (Hebrews 12:1). No turning back, only 100% commitment to move forward.



One thought on “Ultra #15 – Cactus to Cloud 50k – 5/13/17

  1. Awesome report Jesse. When I read about your nausea I also feel nauseous, so to me that means you are an effective writer. I enjoy how you relate racing and spirituality.


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