Reading about the Born to Run Extravaganza from Facebook, blogs, and social media outlets, is a unique experience. It is generally regarded as the Woodstock of running and the stories are testaments to this wild weekend of running, games, adventure, music, and libations. It is a celebration of life, friendship, and the idea that everyone – regardless of size, shape, origin, or baseball team – was born to run.
For the uninitiated there are two loops; the pink, and the yellow.
The pink loop is a hair under 10 miles, with great deal of relatively flat, open farm land, easy rolling hills and one rather long sloping decent. It makes for the the faster half of the course. The yellow loop is a hair longer than 10, and features a nice length of ridge-top skyrunning, over single track with a great view. The yellow is more arduous and challenging; and while not Western States or Hardrock (at least what I have read), it will keep you breathing, especially for the novice (this guy – right here).
The 10 mile race runs one pink loop, the 30 mile runs pink/yellow/pink, and the 60/100/200 races just loop over them both for the mileage.
The two loops are a tangle of trail and ribbon markers, but if you pay attention, you won’t get lost. Although in form it is less than identifiable, in function the course makes a figure-8, with the timing booth/finish line in the middle. Next to the time tent is the center of the action; the stage and fire pit surrounded by the tents, porta-potties, parking area, beer, and running celebration.
If you wish to take the plunge, know that the mental challenge of the distance is far more cumbersome than the physical. This is not challenging in the way battling up a mountain side is, or trying to breath at 10K feet when you train at sea level….no…this is….different. With the sinuosity of the course, double backing and looping over and around on itself giving the runners multiple passes over the same stretch of trail every loop. over the stretch of 60 miles, one could pass by the same place 2 or 3 times per 20 mile loop, which can be a bit of a drag.
It is hard to feel like you’re moving when you’ve been running in circles…physically, mentally, and metaphorically.
However, the majority of the course is on farm roads; packed dirt and rock roads that make for wide passing area if you are looking to make good time, or just pass away the day locked in conversation with a new trail friend.
If you are looking at putting away methodical, introspective miles out on a mountain top – away from the world, this is not a race for such transcendence. Rather, if you enjoy looping over lovely California farmland, potentially making a PR off the easy terrain (compared to many other ultras), and spending time in the company of fantastic like-minded people, while listening to fantastic music roll across the hills; then this is your race. If you open your heart and mind, you will find the transcendence you seek.
Note: If you get stuck out at sunset, be on the yellow loop ridge.
You were born…now run!
My race started out well. I set out with two goals:
1. Refine pacing
2. Refine eating
My goal was to keep about a 12 minute pace for the first 40-50 miles and then turn it up the last 10-20, depending on how I felt. I wanted to finish strong and plenty of reserve in the tank. Following the AR50, I concluded I had a great deal to improve upon with regard to pacing and consumption. What worked for 30 miles, was not adequate when adding on another marathon. Additionally, after finishing Natural Born Heroes, I felt inspired to try and get back to burning fat for fuel. It is an ancient practice concept that many implement with great success and I felt it was time for me to re-approach the concept.
Since the race was not a qualifier and no other races within my calendar timeline depended on it, I allowed myself the flexibility to experiment with little worry. If my calorie consumption was off, or went too fast or too slow, I would not miss any cut off times and could rest as needed. During the race I worked on keeping my heart rate down and trying to focus on burning fat for fuel, rather than hoping from one aid station to another, eating cookies and junk hoping my sugar high wouldn’t crash. It was relatively successful with this, and my body seemed pleased with solid foods, and a more stable caloric intake.
The first loop was on the pink loop, so I made good time. The second loop, my first on the yellow, kept me moving in that I did not expect for the course to be as challenging as it was on the yellow. Again, it may not have the elevation profile of WS or Hardrock, but it is a change from the pink, and certainly not a lope about the local high school track.
Happy and in the zone, content that I had been keeping such a solid pace; a much slower than I usually run and train at, I over estimated my abilities to bomb down the larger sloping descents and over extended my left ankle. As I first drafted this entry, the damn thing looked like it belonged on the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
The first lap was the easier lap, and I was fresh, so of course it was faster than it should have been. Then the next two 10s were solid. Right on par. Then…about mile 30, my ankle decided I had been pushing too hard on the descents and decided it was time to tell me about it. I took a moment to regroup, and pulled into the camp for what I may now consider to be the greatest race food ever; a mother. loving. salad.
What a life changer. When you are burned out on PB&J, bananas, etc, etc….and you come in to a nice spinach salad, with fresh veggies, oil and red wine vinegar…you will feel like a fresh human being. Despite the growing discomfort in my left ankle, I felt a champ after some tasty roughage.
The last 30 were the toughest for me, personally. Miles 30-40 were on the yellow loop, but after the tasty salad and a good rest, I was once again able to grind away the miles.
Miles 40-50 were on the pink, which was a nice reprieve from the pain. Descents were the most uncomfortable. By that time the course had quieted down, with most runners having completed the 30 mile event already; settling into the afternoon activities of talent displays, grappling, BFT on his Solowheel, and festival fun back in camp.
I made it in to camp and grabbed a last snack, charged my water bottles, downed a few more salt stick capsules and set out for my final 10 miles on the yellow.
I set out with the intent of a slow grind, working as much of a jog as I could manage. I shuffled at what I thought was faster than a walk, until I was caught by a walker at the top of a hill. I laughed, realized the fruitlessness of my efforts and settled in to a slight hobble, walking for a while with the other runner who had caught me at the top of the hill. We walked for a few miles together, without seeing much of anyone else. With the sun setting, and dusk enveloping the gorgeous countryside, I found myself atop the ridge, 4 miles from the finish.
The coyotes howled, and I howled back. I saw a bobcat trotting along the trail. I was in a lot of pain, and any sort of my ankle flexing was very uncomfortable, but I kept going. “Death before DNF” after all.
After 4 cold, lonely miles in the dark, I found my way back into camp. The band was just coming to the end of the evening as I finished a delicious burrito that my wife brought to me. I stood by the fire for a few minutes and talked with new friends, bobbed my head to the music, and filled my belly with a delicious burrito.
As the night drew to a close, I pulled off my dusty Earth Runners, crawled into my tent, and promptly passed out.
My ankle stayed swollen for the next two days, but has since subsided, and recovered without long term pain. Despite the tendon strain, I felt great muscularly. I never bonked or hit a wall. Between the salads, nutritionally dense foods, and salt stick capsules, I felt incredibly solid. Certainly better than I have during and after any other race.
I am still a little bit fan-boying over the other runners; Arnulfo Quimare and Team Tarahuma also ran the 60, along with some impressively fast runners. Coming around the bend and seeing them hurdle towards me on a loopback was incredible. I wish I knew it was coming up, to get a few shots of them in action would have been wonderful.
Luis Escobar, Arnulfo, Barefoot Ted all showed up – bringing the book to life. During a particularly quiet stretch of trail, I even saw the spirit of another great runner…
It was an amazing event and a new record distance for me; 60 miles. I learned more about myself, my pacing and technique, and finished the race – I accomplished everything I set out to do, which is what most of us really aim for at these things. I took two solid weeks off, not putting down a single mile. Next is my first full 100k at the UROC, which I am very much looking forward to earning my first buckle at.
I’m hungry for more.
Of course a HUGE THANK YOU to the volunteers, aid-station staffers, and all the unsung heroes who really go….the extra mile….(yuk yuk yuk) to help put this (and every) event on. You are all amazing!