Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Born to Run Ultra Marathon Experience-Race Report

The Tarahumara are a beautiful people. "The Tarahumara live in and above the canyons of northern Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental, where they retreated five centuries ago from invading Spaniards." They call themselves the "Rarámuri", which is a more respectful term for these amazing people. The Rarámuri are human just like you and me, but I believe they represent so much more - living and running free.

"They are extraordinary endurance runners, having lived for generations amid a transportation network of narrow footpaths through the canyons; Rarámuri means "foot-runner" or "he who walks well," and they've been known to irritate American ultramarathoners by beating them while wearing huarache sandals..." ("A People Apart", National Geographic, November, 2008) 

Caballo Blanco had a deep passion for running and the Rarámuri. He would have loved the Born to Run Ultra Marathons this past weekend, if he were still alive. He would have been surrounded by people he loved and the people that love him. A team of Rarámuri racers had come to run! Jenn Shelton and Billy Barnett were running the 100 mile race. And El Coyote, Luis Escobar, was running the show as the Race Director. It was a reunion of the Born to Run cast! Without the spirit of Caballo Blanco, there is no "Born to Run" book or Ultra Marathon weekend. Caballo Blanco made all this happen, through his love and passion for running and the Rarámuri. There were over 550 people registered to run the Born to Run Ultra Marathons (10 mile, 50K, 100K, 100 mile). The festivities began on Friday, May 16th, and the Rarámuri were conducting a Rarajipari Bolla Race demonstration! "This will be the only acceptable time to photograph them." I was actually going to see the Rarámuri playing Rarajipari! How cool is that!

I bought a fantastic burrito lunch and took a front row seat to witness the Rarámuri play their legendary game. Volunteers were needed to join the Rarámuri in a 5-on-5 Bolla Race! How would you feel if you were given the opportunity to play basketball with Michael Jordan on a friendly 5-on-5 game? Utter shock. Joy. Honored. I quickly stood up, abandoning my lunch to join in on the race. Maria Walton and Billy Barnett were also on my team along with one of the Rarámuri. Each lap is about a quarter of a mile and we were going to complete 10 laps. Each team has a wooden ball and the Rarámuri runner holds a wooden stick (you can't use your hands). It's like racing with a soccer ball, except with a wooden ball the size of a softball. I threw all caution to the wind and played my heart out, like there was no tomorrow. It was a blast! We ended up losing, but no one cared. We were all champions. I was exhausted, but happy!

There was going to be a beer mile, led by Patrick Sweeney, an amazing ultra runner who has raced in the Copper Canyons for the past 4 years. On Thursday, Patrick set a world record for the beer half marathon! He drank 13 beers and ran 13.1 miles in 2 hours and 17 minutes, with temperatures in the mid-nineties! After the Rarajipari Bolla race, I was tired and had no intention of running the beer mile. Fortunately, Gregorio, who also participated in the bolla race convinced me to join in on the fun. I caved pretty quickly, in the spirit of stupid fun - since it was for a good cause (donations as entry fees into the beer mile). I just planned to take it easy and just have fun with it. 

There were over fifty people doing the beer mile. We were supposed to bring our own beer, but I was able to get 4 free Bud Lights to participate with. It was a lot of fun, but it got progressively hard to chug down the beer after each lap. We cheered each other on as we drank beer and ran. The winner, Nick Coury, finished in 7:26. He would go on to win the 50K the next day in 3:17. I finished my first beer mile in 10:39. It was such stupid fun! After a nice burrito dinner, I headed back to my campsite to set up my tent, prepare for my race, and get to bed at a decent time. The band, Metalachi, had begun to play, and the party had just begun for a lot of people, but I was content to call it a night.

All the ultra distances started at 6:00, and we all started on the same 10 mile loop (marked with pink ribbon), while the 10-mile runners start a bit later on a different 10 mile loop (marked with yellow ribbon). Before the start, we raise our right hands and recite Caballo Blanco's disclaimer: "If I get hurt, lost or die - it's my own damn fault."

This was a training run for me, so I just took it easy and enjoyed everything about the race. I chatted with a lot of runners and made new friends at seemingly every turn. Everyone I met this past weekend was just so damn cool! 

I finished the first 10 mile loop in 1:38:17. The second loop was a little harder, but very manageable. There was a really interesting downhill section that was a lot of fun to run down! I channeled my inner-Killian Jornet and ran down it with the joy and freedom of a little kid. I finished the 2nd 10-mile loop in 1:55:59. The first 20 miles flew by all too quickly and I felt fresh enough to hammer through the last ten, but I knew that I needed to stay conservative and keep it easy. I have a 50-mile training run on the Western States course the next week, so I could not afford to wreck myself with a fast finish.

I ran into Patrick Sweeney at mile 22, and was wondering what he was doing, going so slow! This guy won last year's 50K with a blazing time of 3:49! Apparently, the world record beer half marathon took its toll. He was having a "lazy" day - unmotivated to run fast. I hung out with Patrick for a while, slowing down just to hang out with the cool speedster who I will probably never run with again! We talked about Western States and the Rarámuri. He described the Rarajipari Race that he witnessed down in the Copper Canyons, which I found fascinating! On a 4 mile course, teams consisted of 25 players, and they would cover up to 100 kilometers, or until one team lapped the other. This eventually happened in the game Patrick witnessed after over 10 hours! I eventually took off to finish my race but I really enjoyed our conversation! 

With about 3 miles to go and a gentle downhill slope, I decided to finish strong and ran the last few miles at a comfortable 9 minute pace. I finished in 5:26:20, which is my second fastest 50K time with a relatively easy-effort, which I was happy with. With less than 7 weeks till Western States, I am in the best shape of my life. I feel so lucky and blessed lately. I'm living the dream, and loving it! 

Photo Credits to Jeff Genova, Rony Sanchez and Michele Evans for the wonderful pictures!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Born to Run

The book Born to Run changed me. It captured my imagination and opened up a new world to me. It gave me big dreams and bold goals. After reading this book, I felt a renewed sense of purpose and belonging. Maybe I was "born to run" after all! I didn't have to be fast. I just needed to believe in myself and "keep on, keeping on."

I met Caballo Blanco in October of 2009, in Palo Alto, California, at our local ultra running store, ZombieRunner. After reading Born to Run, I really wanted to run Caballo's race in the Copper Canyons. But there were too many risks associated with the trip into such a remote area of the world. The perceived dangers from the Mexican drug cartels alone was enough to keep me reserved. Being married with children forces me to reduce risks I would otherwise take in the name of adventure and excitement. So I asked Caballo Blanco a question: "Would you ever organize a race in the United States, and invite the Tarahumara?" I don't remember how he responded, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't in his plans.

In October, 2010, I met Ann Trason, another hero from Born to Run. It was her last year as the race director of the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Mile race. It was such an honor to shake her hand. I was so starstruck that I neglected to take a picture of her or with her. The memory of meeting her was enough. Ann Trason was an unsung hero in the book. She raced with the Tarahumara in Leadville and was a fierce competitor with the best of the best. Having 4 sisters, 2 daughters, and an amazing mother, you could say I have a huge love and respect for women. Ann Trason is more than a legend to me. She is a role model for any woman who seeks strength and power. I want to teach my daughters that anything is possible for them. And I would use Ann as the perfect example of a strong woman who kicked men's butts in the ultra world.

In June, 2012, I got to meet Scott Jurek in San Francisco for a fun run and book signing. I read Born to Run like a science fiction novel. I fell in love with all the characters. And meeting them, in real life was a dream come true. Running ultras made me feel like I belong to this isolated community of running people. We run far. Very far. And Scott Jurek - well, he's just cool.

This is the 4th year of the Born To Run Ultra Marathons in Los Olivos, California. This is about a 4 hour drive for me, and a very busy time of year for me (my wedding anniversary and daughter's birthday are in May). There are also a lot of very popular races being run in May that are much closer to me. This year, however, a team of Tarahumara were making the trip to the Born to Run Ultras! I talked to my wife about it and she thought it would be okay for me to sign up and run it. After all, chances to run with the Tarahumara may never happen again (in the U.S.) in my lifetime.

So yeah, I'll be running with the Tarahumara this Saturday. And yes, they will kick my butt. Luis Escobar will be there as the race director. Jenn Shelton and Barefoot Ted are signed up for the 100 miler. It should be an epic weekend!

Did I mention how lucky I am to be coached by Ann Trason? And that I'm running Western freaking States in 45 days? My cup overflows with blessings!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Canyons 50K Race Report

The Canyons 50K is a new race. It covers 16 miles of the Western States course and it is tough! The race contains 9714 feet of elevation gain over 32 miles. It starts in Foresthill (mile 62 of WS), runs to the base of Devil's Thumb (mile 46) and heads back the same way, back to Foresthill.

The views were fabulous!

It was my 11th wedding anniversary. Somehow, I was able to convince my wife to let me go off to run all day in the wilderness, hours from home. I'm really lucky to have such a loving and supportive wife! I would have run long the day before if I could find someone to run with. The Western States canyons are fairly remote and can be dangerous for anyone running alone, unsupported, and in the heat! And unless you know the trails, the chances of getting lost are pretty high.

The charred trees on the Devil's Thumb climb is sad - but it helps us appreciate the green forests a little more.

After contacting the race director, I was able to sign up, minutes before the start of the race when a handful of runners did not show up. I think I was the only race day entrant!

I was full of energy climbing Devil's Thumb! Hopefully I can do that again at Western States!

It was a great day to run, out on such beautiful trails. The volunteers were all fabulous, as usual. And the fellow runners I got to run with were all amazing. I took it really easy for the first 16 miles. For me, it was just a long training run and I took my time socializing with everyone out there. At the turnaround, after running down Devil's Thumb, we get to hike back up it!

Gretchen Brugman took this picture of me shortly after I climbed Devil's Thumb

It took about 4 hours and 7 minutes to cover the first 16 miles. My legs felt super fresh, so I decided to work a little harder in the second half. I passed a bunch of people and ran up some of the hills. I took my time to eat and drink at the aid stations, and just had a blast! I finished the second half in around 3 hours and 48 minutes and felt great. I would have added some bonus miles, but my left toe was bugging me a little, so I just called it a day and drove home (3 hours away).

This is "Devil's Thumb", a rock formation that looks like a black thumb! The view is obstructed - it was the best I could do without scrambling off the hillside.

There were a lot of special details I left out - particularly about the new friends I made that made this run so special. One new friend, and Western States finisher, will be pacing me at Western States! I was also chatting with someone who remembered me from the American River 50 way back in 2010. He remembers me because I blew by him near the finish line! Since we were getting close to the finish line of the Canyons 50K, there was no way I was going to try the same thing again!