After starting with a lap around the Plaza, participants in the Plaza2Peak event then run or bike up Hyde Park Road to the ski basin, where they switch to a ski touring rig used to ascend the ski area to the top of Deception Peak. In total, they’ll cover 17 miles and climb 5,000 feet in elevation. Race-organizer Madeleine Carey is a self-professed lover of “doing hard things” (like ski touring and running up mountains) and is a hard-ass about taking competition head-on as the personal measuring stick that it can be. But this race isn’t really about who comes in first.

"We vaguely keep track of who does it the fastest, but mostly, it's about when you are standing on the top of Deception and looking down at the city, and going, 'Holy shit, me and my legs did that all by ourselves with no help,'" Carey says.

High-spirited races like Plaza2Peak have been popping up all over the country as people look for something more than the average 5K.

"I'm sure if you look at the history of all these things, they were all started by people who loved the geography they lived in and had a 'if some is good, more is better' attitude," Carey says.

Carey grew up in Albuquerque. Shortly after moving to Santa Fe, she started thinking about running up Hyde Park Road. For fun, she ran from her home near Fort Marcy to and from Hyde State Park: "It was burly and hard and awesome," she says.

Inventing new ways to run through and across the peaks, like linking ascents of Santa Fe Baldy with six other summits, became a way to explore and experience the backcountry.

These races entertain runners, but for a town like Santa Fe that's looking to bump up its appeal as an outdoor sports destination—and in a state like New Mexico, where every little economic boost helps—it could be lifeblood. She points to the case study of Leadville, Colorado, a former mining town wilting as little more than a bedroom community for people who work at resort towns an hour's drive away. Then the Leadville Race Series started, including the now-legendary 100-mile bike and running races. It now brings racers and tourism to the town most summer weekends.

Not surprisingly, Carey's visions are no less ambitious. She credits, or blames, the model from her day job at WildEarth Guardians, where the practice is to set big, audacious goals so those every-so-often wins are truly awesome. She envisions a future in which Plaza2Peak draws 5,000 participants—why not, if the Mount Taylor Quad, in which racers bike, run, cross-country ski and snowshoe to the Mount Taylor summit near Grants, sees 2,000? Or it could become a franchise, with an event at Taos. Growing will, of course, require permits, police to facilitate road closures and a fee structure a bit more formal than what's historically been seen. Last year, it came down to asking participants to hand $20 to whoever was running the barbecue grill. (It's $25 this year.)

For now, Carey expects about 25 people to show up this Saturday, April 15—including, of course, Carey herself.

She's got that competitive edge leftover from time on the high school cross-country team, which she captained to their first of four state championships—after starting, she says, as "the slowest, fattest kid on the cross-country team" in middle school. That drive has led her to finish second among women at the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon, and consistently in the top 10 for the Santa Fe Thunder half marathon.

In those competitions, she bemoans the notion that just completing a race is a victory. For an alternative view, she points to a race she entered alongside Emelie Forsberg, who has finished first in several high-altitude, long-distance races in Europe.

"No one gets to play basketball with LeBron James, and I'm getting to stand on the same starting line as the woman who's the best in the world at this sport, and I'm gonna know exactly how much slower I am than her," Carey says. "I love that feeling and I wish more people were comfortable with competing as a way to get to know yourself."

That's not out of reach for anyone, she insists. It just takes longer to build. She thinks of her fitness, she jokes, as a pet: It has to be fed and taken out daily. Then, it can really take you places.

Start: 9 am Saturday April 15. Santa Fe Plaza. $25.
Tailgate: 11 am, Ski Santa Fe parking lot.
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