Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Born to Run 100k

On the afternoon of Friday, May 18, 2012, about 150 runners, along with their friends and supporters, began arriving at the Chamberlin Ranch, just outside of Los Olivos, California, for the Born to Run Ultramarathon.  Any attempt to describe this bizarre and wonderful weekend will inevitably fall short, and leave out elements that others saw as central, but I will do my best.

Perhaps the best place to start is with our host and race director, Luis Escobar, known for his role in the book Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall.   Here is Luis, as he appeared for a few hours on Saturday morning (he was in constant motion, changing clothes and styles throughout the weekend).  

Our Gracious Host and Race Director, Luis Escobar
Luis likes to portray himself as a rough-and-tumble party animal, a real-life honey badger who couldn't give a damn.  At that start of the race, he reminded us that he hadn't promised us anything but dirt, and made us take the Caballo Blanco oath: "If I get lost, hurt, or die, it's my own damn fault." Then he started the race with a shotgun.  But Luis is easy to see through.  He's a wonderful, caring man, with a great sense of humor, who loves to have fun and make people happy.  He would be horrified if anyone actually got hurt at one of his races.  I would feel safer running with Luis in the Copper Canyon than I would running the LA marathon.

That being said, Luis does put on a wild and unique party.   He invited Tatto Mike, his childhood friend, to give tattoos.  Sorry Mike, but even if I were looking for a tattoo, I think I'd opt for a more sterile environment than a tent on the Chamberlin Ranch.  On Friday afternoon, there was Tarahumara ball race tournament.  A Japanese man in a Mexican wrestler mask started each race by firing a shotgun.  Luis' friends from Hawaii brought all sorts of goodies which he passed out as prizes.  At night there was a bonfire, and hula hoops, and alcohol of all sorts.  There was a band playing part of the night, and Mexican Ranchera music blasting from the speakers most of the rest of the time.  There was Tomo, the Japanese ultra runner who won the 100 mile race in a course record 17 hours.  There was a 78 year old woman, Patricia Devita, who power-walked the 100k.  Luis himself manned the grill at breakfast on Sunday morning, making banana pancakes and chorizo burritos.

The sign that welcomed us to the Chamberlain Ranch:
Greetings, and Welcome to the Chamberlin Ranch.  Now Be Nice or Go Home!
The one person who was missing from the weekend was Micah True, aka Caballo Blanco, who died unexpectedly a few weeks before.  Caballo, a good friend of Luis, ran the race last year, and had signed up to run the 100k this year.  His girlfriend Maria was there, however, along with his Tarahumara dog, Guadajuko.  I didn't get to meet Caballo himself, but I felt like I met his spirit -- but then again, I already felt as if I knew him in spirit.

The Chamberlin Ranch is desolate place, 10,000 acres of dusty double track roads, foxtails and scattered oak trees, with the occasional cow, wild turkey and snake thrown in for good measure.  We camped along a dirt road in a small valley.  Luis arranged for port-a-potties, and there were two hoses on either end of the camp sight, but that was it in terms of amenities.

Base Camp, in the Middle of Nowhere

Our Tents
On Friday night we shared a communal dinner with several others from the SoCal Coyotes: Lauren, Cassidy, Rigo and Kim.  By Saturday night, our group had grown to include Marshall, Alison and Tiffany, as well.  Lauren and Cassidy are experienced campers, and know how to cook outdoors. Rigo made salsa from scratch, roasting peppers on the grill.  Jack and I, well, we at least managed to bring a good collection of beer, chicken sausages and an assortment of other store-bought items.

The races -- 10 miles, 50k, 100k and 100 mile -- all began at 6am on Saturday morning.  The winner of the 10 mile finished at about 7am on Saturday, and the 100 mile runners were still coming in when I left around 10am on Sunday morning.  The course consisted of two ten mile loops, one West of the start line and one to the East, with the camp site in the middle.

Course Map
Jack and I ran the 100k, which means that we ran each of the 10 mile loops three times, plus a two mile "out and back" section at the end.  That meant we want through base camp a total of six times, giving us an opportunity to refill our water bottles, grab food and salt, and even change shoes, which we both did during the race.  Marshall, who ran the 50k himself, met us at our camp site the last three times, providing ice, Red Bull and whatever else we needed.

Race Necessities
My goal for the day was to cover the 100k course safely, and to finish with Jack.  The race did not start well for me.  I threw up repeatedly just 400 meters into a 100k race, no doubt an ultramarathon record that will stand for some time to come.  I think I know what caused it, and no, it wasn't from drinking too much the night before.  Putting that aside, I felt much better after about ten minutes or so, and had no trouble eating or drinking the rest of the race.  Jack didn't have a great day, either. While he didn't get sick, he just didn't have enough in his legs, and we ended up walking more than either of us had planned.  But none of that mattered in the slightest.

We achieved our goal for the day, finishing in just under 14 hours.  Along the course, we saw wild turkeys, a dead cow being eaten by vultures (the cow died while giving birth; I'll leave it others to post that picture),  a gopher snake, a man running the 100 mile in a jester's hat and an aid station run by the aptly named Wild Bill.

Six loops of ten miles each is 60 miles, so as I mentioned, the 100k course ends with a two mile out-and-back section.  The turn around point is marked by an mannequin wearing a mariachi hat.  Kevin, Alison and Marshall joined us for the final two miles.

Alison and Kevin were kind enough to accompany us for the last two miles.  Marshall (not in this photo, probably because he took it), paced us for the last 12 miles, after running his own 50k race.  He then paced a 100 mile runner for 10 more miles in the middle of the night.
Those of you who know me well will realize that this kind of event is outside my comfort zone.  I'm usually much more uptight and competitive, especially when it comes to running.  But trying new things and growing is what life is all about.  So thank you, Luis, for creating this event, and thank you, Jack for suggesting that I try it.  And thank you, Lauren, Cassidy, Rigo, Alison, Marshall, Kevin, Tiffany and Kim for your company.

Mile 61

At the Finish Line
Inappropriate re-hydration after the race

Jack and Luis

Watch Data: Does that course look anything like the map?

Jack and I tied for 8th/9th place in 13 hours and 54 minutes, not that time or place really mattered