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Long-distance running, by its very nature, is a solitary sport and competitors are often competing with themselves as much, or more so, than those they’re running against.
Local ultrarunner Blake Wood tries to do both.
Wood was the top local male finisher in the 50-mile Jemez Mountain Trail Run last month. He placed seventh overall in the tough race, run around Pajarito Mountain on some challenging terrain.
Wood said it was his best race in some time and is hoping it will give him some momentum heading into the Hardrock Hundred.
“I was absolutely thrilled,” Wood said of his finish at the Jemez Mountain race. “I went in with two goals and was able to accomplish them both.”
His first goal was a personal one, finishing the course in under 10 hours.
Prior to the race, Wood said he looked at landmarks on the course and figured out what times he’d have to hit to either have a good shot or a possible shot at making the 10-hour mark, albeit by pushing himself quite a bit.
Psychologically, it was challenging, he said, because he was consistently smack dab in the middle of those target times, never too far from one or the other to feel completely comfortable.
Eventually, he made his time, again, with little to spare. He finished in 9 hours, 59 minutes, 50 seconds.
His second goal was to top some of the runners he’d coached in the past. Wood, who is a longtime assistant with the track and cross country teams at Los Alamos High School, said he’s got a friendly rivalry with several of the programs’ past runners, such as Simon Gilna, Loren Wohletz and Andy Gisler.
The runners had been exchanging lighthearted jabs on Facebook for several weeks prior to the Jemez Mountain race, but Wood got the best of all of his protégés, many of whom have had successful college careers.
Wood, who goes out for jogs of 25 miles at a time two or three times a week to train, said he’s looking for a big finish at Hardrock, run in Silverton, Colo. Hardrock is a 100-mile race that is one of the highest – average elevation is better than 11,000 feet – and most difficult races in the world.
There’s not any one way to train for these types of races, he said, but one of the biggest challenges is simply to stay upright for that long a time.
“It varies from person to person,” he said. “Training more miles is better, up to a point…I feel much better and I run much better when I run 75 miles a week than if I run 50 miles.”
Wood has for many years been a highly-regarded ultrarunner and holds several running distinctions, including being one of only a handful of people ever to complete the Barkley Races, a crazy 60-hour challenge near Knoxville, Tenn., the officials of which pride themselves on the fact that almost no one finishes it.
He said one of the big factors of his success is the environment he runs in.
“Los Alamos is the greatest place in the world to be a runner,” he said. “There isn’t a house in the county that’s not five minutes away from a trail.”