Sunday, September 27, 2015

UTMX Course Preview: 10 days out from my favorite race of the year.

Taper Time

  Once again I've fallen of the blogging horse. And once again the excitement surrounding Ultra Trail Mexico draws me back to the keyboard. It's taper time, the last long runs are over, so I'm going to crack a beer and write up a course preview for the first-time runner.

Looking for expert advice from an expert runner?

Stop reading.

  However, if you are curious about the race from the point of view of an average runner with an elite level of enthusiasm for this race, you might find something you can use here.

   UTMX is absolutely my favorite trail running event of the year: A 100 kilometer tour of a stunning area of Hidalgo, beginning and ending in the center of the Pueblo Magico, Huasca de Ocampo. Highlights of the race include a climb up into the Sierra Navajas a descent in the Canyon de Metztitlan, a crazy river crossing at the bottom of Ahuacatitlan, and much, much more. UTMX is the trail run that throws a bit of everything at the runner. It's not the most technical race or the race with the most climbing or highest elevation, but it's a must-run course for anyone who loves mountains and trails: completely unique; completely awesome.
  Ultra Trail Mexico continues to cement itself as the Mexican Ultramarathon. And the ultra world abroad is taking note: the 2016 edition of UTMX will serve as a qualifier for the 2017 Western States 100. Additionally, it continues to be a 4 point qualifier for UTMB. But even for those who don't give a damn about Western States or UTMB, UTMX is its very own world class event.

Cerro de San Miguel Approach: last long run

Tireless Training Partner (Never complains, Never shows up late)

UTMX 100 Preview for the first-time runner
   What follows is my preview of the course for anyone running UTMX for the first time. I'm no expert runner; I am a certified plodder. Therefore, the preview will be most relevant for the middle to back-of-the-pack runner who will run the last part of the course in the dark. For reference, I finished the race in 17:34 last year. The front-runner finished in 10:43, and the final finisher came in just a few minutes over 19 hours, the official cut-off time for the race.

A few suggestions to start:

The race starts fast. Too fast. It's hard not to get caught up in the excitement, but keeping the effort easy early will pay dividends when you are climbing up from San Sebastian 70 kilometers into the race.

Start with a good head lamp. After some road running, the earlier trail is slippery and technical at times. It would be easy to fall here and have an early end to the race. Nothing is gained by passing people here. It's a 100 kilometers folks, there will be time to make your move.

See the moron (006) who thought he didn't need a headlamp? Don't do that it UTMX, which starts an hour earlier than this race...
Photo: Martin Forstmann (Fotografixmexico)....Martin will be at UTMX taking photos.

•There are several stream crossings and your feet will get wet early, and they will stay wet for most of the race. Don't waste your time trying to keep them dry.

•Section one of the race is what I call the "mountain marathon" section. Lots of single-track, and climbing for the first 21k.

•At the 40k aid station (first option for a drop bag) you are close to ending the "mountain marathon" portion of the race. Last year I put my drop bag here and changed my shoes, which was probably a mistake: there is a stream crossing shortly after the aid station. Also, this is a little early to need a drop bag. When you arrive at kilometer 69 drop bag option, you will wish you waited.

•The "mountain marathon" ends when the trail dumps out onto a paved road heading slightly downhill. For the next 10k or so the course is exposed, flat and runnable. It's easy to get lazy here, but stay focused as it's a great place to make good time and get a few kilometers under your feet quickly. This open-country, flat transition ends at the Peña del Aire. Fuel up here, and if you have friends or family who are following the race, this is the best place to have a crew meet you at an aid station, as it's easily accessible by car and a popular tourist spot. If you aren't running, try the zip line (tirolesa): it's awesome and freaky.  This area provides stunning views of the canyon which shouldn't be missed.

I could post a photo of the Canyon here, but why bother: photos don't do this place justice.

•The descent into the Canyon: no way to describe the run down into the canyon: you are just going to have to do it yourself. No matter how shitty you feel at Peña del Aire: take the time to recover and don't even considering abandoning your race here, as you'll miss the best part.

•At the bottom of the canyon the original course had several river crossings which were eliminated last year as the river was too high. With the rain we've had this year, I imagine this years's course will avoid the river crossings again.

•There is some climbing at the bottom of the canyon. This doesn't look like much on the map, but it will feel like a significant climb when you have 60+kilometers on your legs.

•After some incredible singletrack through the bottom of the canyon including a run through a "cactus forest," the trail turns into a stream: you follow the river to the San Sebastian Aid station at kilometer 69.5. This is the second drop bag option.

I would recommend using the San Sebastian drop bag option.* Last year I used the earlier option at kilometer 40, but when I got to San Sebastian the sun was low in the sky and my feet were cold and wet. The guy next to me was changing into dry socks and dry shoes and I really, really wanted to be that guy. I almost asked him if he had extra dry socks he would give me, but was too ashamed to do so. In your drop bag here you should have: long sleeve shirt, extra headlamp (or batteries), dry shoes, dry socks, tights and a rain jacket. You won't need the tights and you may not need the rain jacket or the long sleeve shirt, but these are required items after 5:00pm. *If you aren't certain you will arrive at kilometer 70 in under 12 hours, you will need to carry these items with you from the start or use the 40 kilometer drop bag option. 

After a quick shoe change, you now have the long march up the road out of the Canyon. If you started the race conservatively, you will pass some folks here. At the top is another aid station (Mirador, kilometer 75). Here the course flattens out a bit before arriving at the entrance of Ahuacatitlan. At this point the course heads straight down on the steepest grade you will see all day. Last year this is where it started getting dark for me, and at the bottom of this canyon there is the fiercest river crossing of the race. Fortunately, it is roped with volunteers on both sides to make sure you don't get swept down the river... or to at least notify your family if you do...

•After the river crossing, the course heads up a steep, serpentine climb that is not easy to follow at night. This is the last significant climb of the race. Once again, a good head lamp is essential here. In fact, I'd consider bringing a small, light handheld flashlight as well. For those of us in the back of the race, the final half-marathon of the race is crucial because of the added challenges of navigating at night.
 I would recommend:
      •an excellent headlamp and possibly even an additional flashlight
      •study the map of this section carefully.
      •if you have time on Friday scout out the area where you will cross the Presa. If you are just about to enter the Prismas Balsaticos take a right on a dirt road, and the Presa will be on your right. Look for course markings and check out where you will be running. I lost some time last year trying to navigate this at night.

   •The end of the course is a bit of a blur for me, but at some point after the presa crossing you will be back on the pavement: WARNING: you might think you are going to follow this road straight into the center of Huasca and the race finish, but the course cruelly turns to the right, sending runners down some side streets before emerging 100 meters or so in front of the finish line.


some final tips

•look carefully at the required equipment list. Especially if you think you might finish in the money: the first two runners last year were disqualified for not carrying required equipment. Predictably, there was some pissing and moaning about the decision, all of which could have been avoided if everyone checked out the race website, which is crystal-clear. Or attended the pre-race meeting, which was also explained the rule.

•It's a long race, but it's not a 3 week expedition. There are ample aid stations. Know where they are and what they will have (see website).  Carry what the race requires and carry what you will need, but put the extras in your drop bag. You will see some folks running with giant packs, stuffed full. What are they carrying? Why?

•Attend the pre-race meeting. Last year there were some minor course changes and these were announced at the meeting. Also, they handed out a turn-by-turn description of the race. THAT PIECE OF PAPER WAS INVALUABLE. Bring it.

•If possible, take work off Friday and go up on Thursday or early Friday morning. Anything to avoid leaving DF on a Friday night of a quincena.

•Pay close attention to course markings and study the maps. The course is well-marked, but it's also a complicated course and it's easy to miss a turn if you are deep into your fantasy about being Killian Jornet winning Hardrock.

•And don't hesitate to sign up for next year's race immediately. I'm betting that the 2016 race will sell out in a couple weeks. 

•Enjoy: It's the best race of the year!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Mountain Challenge: Oriana's First Mountain Race

Photo stolen from Martin Forstmann (yo te debo!)

Let's hope we run better than we pose for photos!                

If you only read one sentence of this report, read this one: Trail Run Hidalgo's Mountain Challenge (Race Director: Andoni Jardinez) is a fantastically organized race on beautifully technical single track around the magical town of El Chico; meter for meter, foot for foot, this was one of the most beautiful races I have run in Mexico anywhere. 

 Looking for a long run with lots of climbing and a fun weekend outside of the city for the family, Trail Run Hidalgo's Mountain Challenge (17k and 32k) was perfect. The race would start in the Pueblo Magico of Chico, and climb up into the mountains that surround the village.
  Oriana and Natalia would run the 17k. The 32k was shorter than what I wanted as a long run in preparation for the Bighorn 100, but with 2,800 meters of climbing, the time on my feet would suffice for a proper long run at --I hoped-- a decent pace. I really struggle to push the pace when I'm training alone. 

  But the night before the race the worry began to creep in: not about my race, but about Oriana's. I was worried about the course conditions. On saturday night we sat on the terraza overlooking the quaint downtown of Chico and it poured rain and hailed for at least two hours in Biblical intensities. The main street is at a steep incline and it was a raging river. Ori would be wearing road running shoes and I wondered if she would be slipping down the mountain.
  I was also a bit freaked out about the amount of climbing. There was something like 1,200 meters of climbing in the 17k race. Ori is fit and runs daily at school on the track, but she doesn't train for extended climbs. Additionally, she had never run with a pack, but I didn't want her to run with a handheld bottle because I thought she would need to use both hands in the technical and slippery terrain. It would also be her longest race.

  The night before the race in our hotel I had her pack and repack the Nathan pack until we were both convinced she knew it inside and out.

  I hoped for the rain to stop.

  I questioned my pre-race diet of roadside barbacoa.

  Natalia, Jutta and I went across the street to get some beers so we could sleep.

Almost time to go!

 The race started and we began walking up the steep incline out of town. The 17k and 32k started together, and even if we had wanted to run at this point, there were no good opportunities to pass people until the trail turned on a cement road heading up into the mountains. At this point I wished Ori and Natalia a good race and ran ahead to try to get in front of some of the crowd before we hit the single track. The course followed the road for a very short stretch and then turned straight up the mountain. This section needed to be navigated on all fours, but it quickly linked up with a more established trail that headed up into the mountains.

  I found myself wanting to take pictures of everything on this route, but it was so difficult to pass people on this opening climb (8.5 kilometers) that I took three photos and put the camera away for good. The rest of the climb was spent doing three things:

1. Marveling at how awesome the route was and silently extolling the trail-finding/race-organizing genius of Trail Run Hidalgo (gracias, Andoni!)
2. Worrying about how difficult the route was and wondering if Ori would make it to the top.
3. Trying to pass people when there was an opportunity...

A note to runners considering this race: I hate starting a race fast, but on this course that strategy makes sense: try to get to the singletrack before the crowds to avoid wasting a lot of energy trying to pass runners on the opening climb.

Also: while the organization of this race was flawless, one suggestion: start the 32k an hour earlier than the 17k race to avoid some of the crowding on the trail.

I also think it would be awesome to have a 64k option: run the loop twice, first clockwise, than counter-clockwise. 

blurry photo I took and yes, this trail is that awesome

heading up....

and up....

finally emerging from the forest, near the top (I think)

I didn't know this at the time but Ori was rocking it near the top of the mountain!

mountain selfie

Oriana, Natalia, Rock

Finally the trail flattened out a bit, we entered a meadow and here was the 8.5 kilometer aid station. The 17k runners would turn around here and head back down. For the 32k route, things flattened out a bit and the crowds were gone. Finally I was alone and able to run. We were still on singletrack but less technical than the first section of the race. I knew there was one big climb left up to the peña del cuervo. After running some varied terrain, the trail went down into a canyon and then finally started going up on the rocky goat trail that is the final sustained climb of the race. I had done this climb before in a race back in November, and I knew it was steep but not that long. Finally we reached the peña de cuervo and went left on a wide two-track road that continued to climb. Other than leaving the center of town and arriving in the center of town, this is it for terraceria in this race: everything else is singletrack. I started hiking but felt good and started to run, catching a few people as we arrived back at the aid station.
  The final 10k of the race is a long descent back into town on very runnable singletrack. This race definitely rewards those who have something left in their legs, as this section could be run very fast. In fact, it begs to be run fast as these are long, gently rolling and descending switchbacks. My legs were a bit heavy, and while I couldn't fly like I wanted to, I maintained a decent run for this section, gaining a few positions in the descent. 

  Finally we hit the town and I thought we would have to run the long way around to the centro; however, we were told to head straight down the main road. Wow, the race was over! I looked for Oriana and Natalia as I crossed the finish line. My plan was to immediately tell Oriana it was ok if she didn't finish, as I thought she might have had to turn back. 

  But she finished strong, completing her first true Mountain Race.

Strong Finish.    
[otro photo robado de Martin Forstmann....Martin: voy a pagar gas, caseta y post-race chelas en Real de Monte!]

  Trail Run Hidalgo definitely put themselves on the map with this race: fairly priced, world-class trails, professional organization, and located in the magical town of Mineral del Chico. We will be back!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Oriana's First Trail Race: Trail Del Rio Race Report

Mission Accomplished! Oriana finishes her first trail race.

  Billed as the "funnest course on the Solo Para Salvajes circuit," I've always been curious about the Trail del Rio race. At 13km, I thought it would also make a good first trail race for Oriana. However, despite the short distance, beware: the trail is very technical, slippery and at times dangerous: there were a few spots where one could plummet down into the river. Also, this is not a race for those who like dry shoes. There are 5-6 major river crossings, some of them were waist high. 

  We lucked out and it was a beautiful day. We started at a steady pace, not pushing too hard. On this course, that is a mistake. There are a few sections of open meadow running where one can pass others, but much of the trail is so narrow that passing is very difficult for much of the race. 

  As Oriana exclaimed at one point: "I just want to pass these people." We were stuck behind a train of folks for the last quarter of the race, but then things opened up and we made our move through the meadows.

  We finally emerged onto pavement that led down into a park. I was sure this was the end of the race, so we were sprinting with everything we had. But the course went through the park and led straight up the side of a hill. Ori struggled a bit mentally here, as she thought she was finished, and she had pushed so hard she had become something of a spit dribbler. But she regrouped and pushed up the climb, which was by far the longest climb of the day. Finally, we emerged on top of the hill and there was a short, flat section. Oriana turned it on again and finished strong!

  The photos below show some of the terrain of the Trail de Rio. 

Early in the race....                                                 All photos: me

No longer bothering with trying to keep the feet dry

Someone hiked out there to wave the flag

Waiting for her moment to pass...

Making her move!

A rare section where she could open up her pace...

Get Dirty!

At least a half-dozen River crossing like this...

River Selfie

technical trail...

powering up the final climb...

Finish line Selfie

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Great Mexican Ultramarathon: The UTMX 100k Adventure (So Much More Than a Medal!)


They came from all corners of Mexico: from the exhaust-choked urban sprawl of Mexico City, from Puebla, from Monterrey. From Oaxaca, Guadalajara, Zacatecas.  From deep in the Canyons of Chihuahua. The anticipation and nerves were palpable in the air as nearly 900 runners packed in front of the stage for the pre-race meeting.

Anticipation can kill an experience. Set your hopes too high, and the reality that can’t quite live up to our imaginations can be a real ball kicker.

Barranca de Metztitlan. Beware: no photo does this place justice.

Going into the UTMX 100k in Huasca de Ocampo, my hopes were sky high. The area is a spectacular place to run, and Marcos Ferro’s races are well organized. As I stood with 900 other runners listening to some final instructions and a few small changes to the route, I was nervous.  I had made my decision to stick with the 100k race that I had signed up for in May, but that small, sensible voice in the back of my head was quietly suggesting a change to the 42k. Normal pre-race jitters or was I making a dangerous mistake?

What I (and the mountain running community in Mexico) found out that this was more than a well-organized ultra in a beautiful place. UTMX was an adventure: there were trails that ran along precipitous cliffs; there was a final river crossing –in the dark for back-of-the-packers like me-- at the bottom of a small canyon, and there were rocks, endless rocks.

This was not your Abuelo’s “wide-dirt-road/smooth trail” 100k.

That fact was driven home about 2k into the race, with the first river crossing. Even in the early miles, there were technical downhill rock formations that were dangerously slick. I was running with Marcos Truyols and he slipped early, and while he wasn’t seriously hurt, it was obvious that it could have happened differently and been a race-ender before the sun came up. So caution was the order for the day.

There was no spoken agreement between Truyols and I, but there seemed to be an unspoken one: let’s take these early hours easy and see what the day will bring.  Marcos was nursing a knee injury and trying to avoid that ending his race. I was concerned about the distance. I was 100% in for the finish, but I was a bit wary of my previous two months of training.

After the first aid station I made a classic mistake and followed a group a runners down a road before noting we had not seen a trail marker. We went back up the road, and sure enough, we had missed a well-marked turn.  It was an important lesson for the day: don’t follow people, don’t blindly follow the “obvious” path: follow the trail markers.

   Scenes from the first 42k of the race.                                                                                     Photo: me

I was also carrying a copy of the course directions.

Marcos and I hiked and ran conservatively until the high point of the race. We snapped a quick photo and then began the run that was mostly downhill until the 42 kilometer mark.

Marcos Truyols and I at the top of the course. Mental note for next year: ask someone else to snap this photo. Where's Martin Forstmann when you need him!                                          Photo credit: super nice guy who takes shitty photos

  This section featured single track that begged to be ripped down,  and we picked up the pace, passing some groups on uphills to avoid being slowed down on the coming descents. I wanted to use the momentum of the downhills without getting carried away and destroying my legs too early in the race.

Top of a giant rock climb.                                                      Photo: me

At the 42k I had my drop bag. I had agonized about whether to put my drop bag at 42 or 71k, and in the end I opted for 42k to make sure I would have my rain jacket and “mayas” (running tights), which were required equipment after 5:00pm.  I also did something I’ve never done in a race before: changed my shoes. After running for nearly 7 hours with wet feet, dry feet just felt too damn good. I gambled and put on my road shoes, the trusty Ride 6 Sauconys that I used to run my 100miler in August.

Wild flowers and Maguey                                                        Photo: me

And then five minutes out of the 42k aid station was another river crossing. And then another, and a third. Through a series of ballet moves and lucky jumps, I was able to keep my shoes dry, but I knew that I was flirting with injury and wasting time and energy trying to keep my feet dry, but in a stroke of luck, the river crossings ended there…

We were out on a dirt road, and then a bit of pavement. It was hot. The first 44k of this race is a technical marathon with a fair bit of climbing. There were a few smoother, runnable sections, but much of it was very slow going. I tried to pick up the pace on the road. I knew the next 12 kilometers until we went down into the Peña del Aire were rolling and runnable. Time to move.

At the halfway point I encountered Pedro Fletes and many other Salvajes manning the Solo Para Salvajes 51k aid station. It put me in great spirits to see these guys. I also knew the canyon was coming, a portion of the course I had anticipated for months. Would it live up to my expectations?

Leaving the Salvajes aid station, Marcos Truyols pulled away and I wondered if I would see him again. I tried to push hard, but on this flat section more people passed me than on any other section of the course.

At the Peña del Aire (61k) was a huge aid station. This was one section of the course that was accessible by car, and Milly came out to cheer me on. I downed some soup and then headed down into the Barranca de Metzitlan. I had been waiting for this section all day, and it did not disappoint.

Peña del Aire aid  Photo: Milly
I’ve been fortunate to run on some incredible trails in beautiful places: the Pemigewasset loop in the White Mountians in New Hampshire on a clear day with views from all 9 peaks; The Highline trail in Arizona during a freak April snowstorm; up, over and down Mt. Baden-Powell on the Pacific Crest Trail in California. And now, the Barranca de Metztitlan in Hidalgo, Mexico.

Whatever fatigue I felt in my legs at this point basically faded away as I charged down to the Canyon bottom.  I had promised myself no more photos, now it was time to race, but the views kept forcing me to break that promise.  I was feeling fantastic and began to pass some of the runners who had passed me on the flats. But Truyols was nowhere to be seen. I kept pushing. I could smell blood, I felt he was close.

Finally, just as I thought I was going to finish this race with dry shoes (they had been dry since the change at 42k), the course followed the river at the bottom of the canyon. It didn’t cross the river; the trail was the river. One kilometer later and I was in the 71k aid station. It was 5:13pm. I second guessed my decision to leave my drop bag at 42k, looked enviously at the runner next to me changing into dry shoes, wrung out my socks like a sponge, and got the hell out of there to chase down Truyols. 

All the photos below were taken by me (except the good one: that was taken by Martin Forstmann) in the Barranca de Metztitlan

Marcos "negative split" Truyols                Photo: Martin Forstmann

As much as I love remote, people-less places, one thing I enjoy about Mexican races is that they sometimes go through tiny pueblos that I would otherwise never see. San Sebastian, a God-forsaken little town at the bottom of the canyon was one of these places. I greeted a few locals and then began the cruel trudge up the dirt road. 7 K of climbing up out of the canyon. I cursed the name of Marcos Ferro, the race director, on this climb, having an imaginary argument with him in my head about finding a single track trail that could take us to the top.

But there was nothing to do but march.

And march.

Finally, it leveled out and there was the Mirador aid station.

And holy shit, there was Truyols, about to leave.  I felt good, I was ready to run, I felt like the crux of the race was over, as I was certain we were done with major climbing.

I should have looked more carefully at the course map.

Truyols was out of there, and I quickly followed.

Damn, he was moving fast. I couldn’t believe it. Soon he was out of site. I was alone again, trying to keep him in site. I made a short detour off the road and followed some markers that went off to the right, but then a young villager on a horse told me that the route was on the dirt road. Shit, he was right: Ferro had explained this change at the meeting the night before.

And then at the 81k mark I arrived at Ahuacatitla, and I realized I had made a dreadful mistake: the climbing was not over. It was black now and I headed straight down: so steep it was unrunnable on my jellied legs.

Down, down. And then finally, when it no longer seemed possible that it could keep going down, a technical downhill so steep I had to hang on to trees to get to the bottom to avoid falling.

And here at the bottom was the Mother of all river crossings.  Raging. Dangerous. Loud.

It was pitch black, but there was a rope and volunteers on both sides of the rivers. I hung on to the rope with everything I had, and carefully made my way across.

Somewhere in the middle of that crossing I realized there was probably no place I would rather be in this world than at the bottom of that chasm, scared shitless, hanging on to a rope to avoid being swept down the river with 50 miles on my legs and miles to go before I sleep…

At least now I have an answer when someone asks me: 100K? Why?  I’ll tell them about that river.

Once I crossed, I thanked the volunteer, tried to find words that could express how much I loved the race and headed up in the black.

This was a serpentine climb that I would love to see in the daylight. At night, with my weak headlamp, it was like being in a lightless labyrinth, searching for little squares of white light (reflector tape) to find my way. For a time I stayed with another group, as they had better lights, but they were dying on the climb, and I knew I’d never catch Truyols if I hung back with them.  

So I forged ahead, one tiny square of light at a time.

It was awesome. In my head, I forgave Ferro for the seven kilometer climb on the fire road out of the canyon.  

And then I was out on the flats again. My time goal of 16 hours had been out the window for hours, but I didn’t care. I was alone, I had the directions in my back pocket, and between the map and the reflector tape I made my way to the 89k aid station. It was 9:10. My hoped-for finish time. I laughed about that. Drank half a Red Bull, got some good advice, cheer and directions from the volunteers, thanked them, and headed out.

I crossed the wooden hanging bridge over the  Prismas Balsaticos.

Followed the dark wet trail around the reservoir.

And then I was on the road, so close. Ran right by the cabañas we were staying at.

I ran hard, or at least it felt like I was running hard. I caught some walkers in the final kilometers. But no Truyols.

The final mental blow was when I was on the road to Huasca centro, which I knew was no more than 1k away. But then I had to turn right, through some back alleys, and then finally past the hotel were 900 of us were packed in with anticipation 25 hours earlier listening to Ferro describe the course (flawlessly, from memory), as we followed along with our maps.

The final stretch. I “sprinted” in, Milly and my friends were there. Ferro gave me un abrazo, put a medal crafted from the local obsidian rock on my neck. 17:33 minutes later, I had finished.

Truyols was nowhere in sight. I found out later he finished in 16:58. He didn’t run the fastest race that day, but he may have run the smartest. He ran the second half of the race faster than the first 51k. Who negative splits a 100k? Hats off to Marcos.

finished                 Photo: Milly


 We all think we want adventure, but adventures carry risk. Without risk it’s just a thrill:  like bungee jumping or Space Mountain. In Huasca there was risk of getting lost climbing up out of the canyon after crossing the river. There was the risk of breaking an ankle and being forced to hobble back up to the top of the canyon. There was the very real risk of rain and hypothermic conditions.

  Which is not to say the race organizers were reckless. To the contrary: they worked like hell to provide a controlled event that was as safe as one could possibly make this sort of event. The course was marked with reflective tape, chalk and ribbon.  There were course marshals at many points along the course. The course map was published months ago on the day sign-ups started. Every runner was given a map and a blow-by-blow/turn-by-turn description of the course. The night before the race, the race director went over the route and announced a couple last minute changes (some river crossings were eliminated because of high waters and one section of single track was diverted to a two-track, which the boy on the horse would later remind me about). And even with all of this, there was no guarantee. If there are guarantees, it’s not an adventure. I got lost a few times out there. I marched back to the last flag; I consulted my map; I tried to remember not to rely on the runners in front of me.

  Also, there was a required equipment list. Predictably, there was a bit of pissing and moaning about this. Mountain runners don’t like be told what we need to bring. I certainly didn’t want to carry running tights. Or a thermic blanket. Or a whistle.  But these were the rules, so I did it, and I still didn’t need to wear a pack. I stuffed everything into a zip lock baggie that fit inside my Jurek Essential waist pack and tied my rain jacket around my waist.  One could still travel light The list was not excessive. And the rules were clear (and they were published months ago) that the penalty for not having required equipment was disqualification.  So of course everyone complied and carried their shit. Especially the front runners, because who in the hell would want to chance losing a 10,000 pesos first prize to save a few grams and the minor hassle of carrying a whistle or a 10 gram thermic blanket?

  The Future of the Race?

Every ultrarunner in Mexico is now holding their breath. Will the race happen again? It could become a classic, THE Mexican Ultramarathon. Of course the Caballo Blanco race gets more international love, but this race –only a couple hours from the Mexico City Airport—makes this a much more travel-friendly location. But the amount of work that goes into the race make it tough for anyone to devote their year to putting the race together and not really make any money. Maybe a big sponsor (North Face? Patagonia?) could step in and lend some financial assistance to Marcos Ferro and the crew that brought us this race?

Marcos Ferro, RD

But until then….

  Thank you to all the volunteers out there who made this race possible. Even if it never happens again, it’s an experience I will never forget. And race or no race, I’ll be back up in those mountains, back down in the canyons.

World-class event; world-class trails.

The day after, back out at Peña del Aire.                     Photo: 7th place 42k finisher Torrey Hannas (her first run over 21k. Ever. Watch out.)