Born to Run
In a biking paradise, is there room on the trails for runners?
Local marathoners and other Silver City runners say yes!
by Harry Williamson
Being a runner for much of my adult life, and a Silver City resident for three years, I've sometimes wondered why this is such an active biking community, but not as much a running one.
After all, mountain trails, single track or double track or old logging roads suitable for biking are also ideal for running, hiking, walking or any other form of bipedalism.
And, as is widely known, this place abounds in killer trails.
There are runners, of course, some quite proficient and even renowned, including one referred to as "running royalty." Each May more than 100 runners gather for the events of the Fort Bayard Wilderness Run, and shortly after Halloween there are the slightly smaller All Souls races. Then there is SCAT (Silver City Adventure Trails), organized by Jim McIntosh, a science and literature teacher at Aldo Leopold High School, which has an informal, no-entrance-fee trail run on most months during the year.
For example, last month McIntosh led the Third Annual San Patricio Trail Run on St. Patrick's Day. Fifteen runners went eight miles on a minimally marked, out-and-back route in the Little Walnut Trail System. No race T-shirts, no course marshals, no fees. Afterward, participants feasted on free corned beef and cabbage that had cooked all night on McIntosh's home stove.
"I set a goal of getting us together once a month. We like to run with people, and I think you have to build a running community little by little," McIntosh says. "Like most everything in Silver City, it's going to be homemade and you've got to want it. People sometimes kind of patch it together here."
But none of these runs come close to local biking activities, especially the Tour of the Gila, advertised as New Mexico's premier road race, which every year draws some of international cycling's biggest names. This year's 26th Annual SRAM Tour of the Gila will be held May 2-6. There are also other biking competitions during the year, such as the Signal Peak Challenge.
McIntosh says he is also a biker, like numerous other local runners. "There's a core of biking pros, semi-pros and ex-pros that ride around here, so the level is pretty high for a little 10,000-person town."
Annie Crawford, owner of the Twin Sisters Cycling & Fitness shop at 303 N. Bullard St. in downtown Silver City, says professional cyclists often come here to train, with some buying homes in the area. "Silver City has become known over the years for its cycling," she adds, giving the local biking trails 10 out of 10 points, and the road biking eight points when compared with other cycling destinations in the US.
"The town is also on two major intercontinental bike routes, one that goes from the west coast to the east, with the other running north and south. These increase our exposure among amateur cyclists," Crawford says.
These two US tours are the Southern Tier Bicycle Route, which goes for 3,058 miles from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla., and the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, 2,500 miles from Roosville, Mont., to Antelope Wells, NM. The Adventure Cycling Association operates both tours.
Cindy Neely, an RN whom McIntosh describes as a "tough, experienced runner, biker and triathlete" (see "Going the Distance," March 2007), says the local biking community is also nourished by Silver City Cycling on the web at Google Groups, where approximately 200 members post rides that other bikers might like to join, or discuss other biking issues. For example, recent postings included a discussion of trail abuse, along with information on a "Tuesday late morning ride for those who can play hooky or are 'retired.'"
Neely says that for her running is a more solitary endeavor, "time where I can think and clear my head," while biking, especially on the road, is often more social, enjoyed in small groups.
Andy Lande, a geologist with Freeport McMoRan Cooper & Gold and a hardcore runner and SCAT member, says this is not a running community because it's not widely promoted as one.
"That is okay with me," he adds. "Running is a more personal sport."
McIntosh says Silver City has a small but good group of runners of all levels. "We have a few of the high school cross-country runners join us every so often, and we have a couple of hotshots who show up. Most of us are older, many in our 50s," he says.
McIntosh has high praise for the trail running in this area. Asked to rank Grant County in terms of climate, altitude, terrain and the variety and number of trails easily reachable, he gives it a 10 in all categories.
"When I came here, I just started running on trails. I love trails so it was a perfect fit for me," he says. "I just can't get over the beauty of the place, and that's as much of an attraction as anything."
His favorite trails list is packed. Besides the San Vicente Creeks trails and those at Boston Hill, he is especially fond of the Gomez Peak Trails, part of the Little Walnut system, that ultimately connect with the Continental Divide Trail. He adds that the whole Fort Bayard system of trails "is wonderful," referring to it as CD (Continental Divide) South, relative to the town of Silver City.
"We go running in the Burros, and run up Jack's Peak, and run up Signal Peak in the Gila," he says. "It's all great."
When McIntosh arrived in Grant County in 2006 and didn't find much of a running scene, he realized he had choices — to do without running (impossible), just run noncompetitively (boring), to travel a long way to races (environmentally irresponsible), or to organize a few runs on his own.
He chose the latter.
"To me, a race is not more fun just because it's bigger. I have no intent to be in charge of a marathon with 10,000 people, or even 1,000 runners," McIntosh says. "What I love is a small, regional race that is low cost, one with very few frills."
For races where a fee is charged to enter, he usually goes about finding local sponsors, and then designs a T-shirt, putting the sponsor's images on the shirts. For prizes for the top runners he buys downtown gift certificates so people are supporting local stores. McIntosh also strives to keep fees very low, with any proceeds going to local schools and charities.
"Even a $10 fee is a big stretch for the kids from my high school to sign up for the race," he says. "You are not going to have a $100 or even a $65 entrance fee for a race around here. That's ridiculous."
McIntosh this year is president of the Grant County Striders, which conducts the annual Ft. Bayard Wilderness Run. The other board members are Tom Barry, vice president; Kyle Rice, secretary; and Bob Schiowitz, treasure.
"Bob and Sue (Schiowitz) have been very faithful about keeping the Ft. Bayard races going all these years. When Bob asked me to step in for this year, I couldn't refuse," McIntosh says.
The 41st Wilderness Run, consisting of an eight-mile run and 5K run/walk, will be held this May 26. The Fourth Annual All Souls Trail Race is scheduled for Nov. 3, on the San Vicente Creek trail and in the Boston Hill area.
"I don't think I'll get many takers to run it with me," McIntosh adds, "but I'm trying to set up a local marathon course, not to create a great big marathon, but just a fun, local, 90%-trail marathon. I'd love to see it finish on Bullard Street."
He says that in all these races his main goal is to get people out on the trails. "If people run on the trails they take some ownership. If that's their place to run (or walk) they'll keep it clean and do a little bit of trail repair."
Some of this area's other top runners include Tony Russ, 27, who in early March completed the 2012 Copper Canyon Run in the Land of the Tarahumara Indians, made famous in Christopher McDougall's book, Born to Run.
Another is Lande, the Freeport McMoRan geologist, who just last year ran six marathons along with a half-marathon, part of the approximately 2,700 miles he logged. He says the most difficult marathon he did was Run the Caldera, in the mountains just west of Los Alamos: "In one six-mile stretch, you gain 3,500 feet of elevation."
Earlier this year Lande finished second in the Sierra Vista Trail Marathon near Las Cruces, commenting that, "As far as pounding on the feet, the rocky trail was brutal."
On April 21, he plans to run the New Mexico-Texas Challenge Centennial Marathon from Lovington to Hobbs, which for him will complete all of the marathons currently offered in the state.