Thursday, October 13, 2016

Ultra Trail Mexico: Take Three

Not much to do now but wait...

 Here we are again: UTMX take 3.

I received a text from my brother-in-law yesterday (he came down to Mexico last year to run the race) asking: You ready for UTMX? Part II answers that question; part I is a review of the race in its third edition.

I. UTMX overview from a middle to back of the pack perspective:

This is year three, and the race has grown up. There are 497 people starting the 100k distance. That growth is good for the long-term stability of the race, but it’s going to slow things down for the middle to back of packers in the first kilometers. However, that’s ok because every year this race goes out way too fast. It’s a 100k; it’s not a race to El Zembo, the first aid station. I’m anticipating some standing around breaks in the early part of the race before the pack splits up. I hope those easy early kilometers will pay dividends later on when climbing up to the Mirador from San Sebastian.
  Take a look at last year’s splits. Lots of folks have stellar runs to the 50k point and then tank in the latter half. Also, this year there is an added mystery bonus: The course is 2 kilometers longer and it looks like most of that distance is gained in the canyon. Comparing this year’s course profile with the previous year’s course profile, it looks like there will be more climbing in the canyon as well. Times should be slower this year.

 One takeway from the last two years is that the first 40+k of the race is mostly cool and covered. You won’t need to drink as much here. I carried two bottles, but only filled one up at the aid stations. However, when I got to the highway crossing at 49.3k, I should have filled up both bottles and drank at the aid station. The next section is hot and exposed all the way to Peña de Aire, where the course goes down into the canyon. You definitely don’t want to go down into the canyon behind on hydration: especially with the canyon section being longer this year.

 For me, the two most important aid stations are 49.3 (usually run by Pedro Fletes and the Solo Para Salvajes crew) and Peña de aire at 60k. I don’t like to waste time hanging out in aid stations, but it’s worth spending a few minutes in each of these to make sure you’ve eaten and drank what you need to.

 The canyon is by far the most technical section of the course and it comes at the point where runners are getting fatigued. My suggestion is to enjoy the beauty of the canyon, because the biggest “suck” of the race is coming: the 6k climb out of San Sebastian back up to the top of the canyon at Mirador aid station. This is an exposed road, hot and dusty. It also goes on forever. I’m not sure if Ferro just enjoys making us suffer or there really isn’t any single track climbing up out of the canyon in this area. This year I hope to get to Mirador more or less in one piece and keep moving. Last year I was wrecked at the top of this climb and had to sit down, wasting a few minutes in the aid station feeling sorry for myself and trying to recover. In 2014 I climbed well and arrived at the top to find Marcos Truyols, who I had been chasing after running with him for the first 45k. He pulled away and put lots of time on me before the finish. This serves as another reminder that a lot can happen in this last 23k or so of the race: don’t spend it all getting to Zembo or even to the 50k mark...

 The good news is that after mirador there is only one more significant climb. After some flat road running to Ahuacatitlan, the course goes straight down to the river. It’s so steep (and so late in the race) that it can be hard to go fast here. Gravity helps, but is somewhat limited by how thrashed one’s legs are. At the bottom is the major river crossing of the race and then straight up a winding goat trail. At the top the course flattens for a bit and then eventually heads down to the last aid station (Santa Maria’s right across from the Hacienda). Last year I was feeling great here and stopped for less than 30 seconds. However, in 2014 I was beat and had to sit down for a few minutes and drink a Red Bull. The dream is to have enough water in my bottle and just run straight through.

 After this there is a short climb up to the Prismas Balsaticas and we enter the park through a back entrance, run along the cliff, cross the swinging bridge and then head out of the park, around the presa and through the back streets of Huasca before arriving at the finish. There is a little hill in here about a kilometer or two from the finish. If someone is chasing you at this point, that hill is where you can lose them.

 Enjoy the finish: it’s one of the best.

Part II.

 Back to the questions Jeremy asked me: am I ready? Sure, I’m ready to finish, and I’m mentally prepared as well. My training has been consistent, but the miles haven’t been huge, and as always, getting climbing in is difficult: midweek I run in Parque Hundido and then on the weekends I get out to Bosque del Tlapan, Desierto or Ocotal. I did do a few tune up races. I’ll log them here because depending on how things go on Saturday I may do it differently next year.

August 20: 20k Arcos de Sitio in Tepozotlan.

 This is a newer race in the Salvajes line up and it’s awesome: very technical and hilly, lots of rocky single track, plenty of climbing and a cool finish across an ancient viaduct. I had a great time running, but my time was something like 15 minutes slower than when I ran in 2014.

August 28: Mexico City Marathon

 Each year I sign up for the marathon and then hem and haw about whether or not I really want to run it. For me to run a marathon well I need to do long runs on pavement, and I just don’t do it: on the weekends I head for the hills. I convinced myself about three days before the race that I was going to sell my bib and go run long in desierto. But then the guy I was going to sell my number to already had found one so I decided to run it. I ran slow, but steady splits until the final 10k where I fell off the pace a bit, but it was still faster than my time from 2015. However, it took me forever to recover. Marathons are brutal. I lost 4-5 days of training, and I wonder if the marathon was a mistake. Always fun to run the race however.

Sept. 11: Ultratransnavajas 60k

 Five weeks before UTMX, I thought this would be the perfect long effort. I was a bit worried about the extra 10k, as the previous year it was 50k. The smart thing to do would have been to run a hard 35k. Apparently I can’t seem to do the smart thing very often. As it turned out, I should have been more worried: this race was an absolute beat down. I ran 7:26 for 50k last year so I thought I’d run around 9 hours. Andoni loves to make brutal races with ridiculous climbs. Just over 11 hours later --totally humbled, and feeling stupid for telling a few people I thought I’d finish in 9 hours-- I stumbled across the finish line. My one positive take away from this race was that when things go bad --it felt like work right from the starting line-- I can gut out a finish. But man, I’m not going to lie: I hope UTMX goes better.

 I’ll find out on Saturday...

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