What do you get when you mix a cattle ranch, ultrarunners, (Race Director) Luis Escobar and the spirit of the Raramuri? A one-of-a-kind weekend-long outdoor party. There was the Rarajipari (the Tarahumara ball race), shotgun blasts, a tattoo artist with a portable studio, salsa dancing, hula hooping, live music, internet radio playing Norteño music, camping, bar-b-que, a well-stocked bar, wild turkeys (the animal not what you would find at a bar), a mannequin dressed in a see-through teddy and a skeleton. Oh did I mention there was an ultramarathon that took place? The Born To Run Ultras.
From the moment we arrived at the nearly 10,000 acre cattle ranch in Los Olivos, we knew we were off the beaten path. How many races are so laid back that it isn’t about competition? Yes, there were some great performances from the top athletes. Like Tomo Ihara who flew in from Japan and won the 100-mile race in a new course record–and stopped to hula hoop at mile 90, which was a common theme of the 100-milers. Or Tiffany Guerra, a teammate of mine, who went into the day running with her friend, but was given the green light to run her own race–she came from behind and was the first woman in the 100K. She also looked so fresh the entire way, as she always does.
The only competitive nature of the entire weekend came Friday night during the Rarajipari. At check-in we were told to bring a $1 bill with our name written on it, and place it in a plastic bag–we weren’t told why, but be at the start/finish area with our running shoes at 5PM. Leading up to the weekend, there was talk of a 100 yard dash at 5PM on Friday, but this was gearing up to be something different. At 5 PM Luis was toting a shot gun and another Japanese runner, Tetsuro Ogata, was wearing a Luche Libre mask. I was standing next to a fellow SoCal Coyote, Lauren. When we all learned of what was to come, she says “they better not pick me.” And the very first name read is…”Lauren!” No worries though, Lauren is a natural athlete and it appeared that she was once a soccer player as she dominated her first round match. The ball race was setup with three competitors kicking–or dribbling like in futbol–a small wooden ball that is somewhere between the size of a baseball and softball. Each race was started by shotgun fire–Tetsuro shot a few and so did Luis. The race was about 75-100 meters long but with two u-turns. Also the loser of each round got a prize–typically Hawaiian chocolates, nuts or coffee, but also the occasional book or Saucony shirt. The entire campsite was watching and cheering on these race.
Unfortunately, no other SoCal Coyote was called, but one of the first round winners took off so a replacement race was needed. Steve and I volunteered for the make up race. I was wearing my Vibram Bikilas, since they did not gather the annoying foxtails that the typical shoes collect in those fields. At first it was hard to control the ball, and the harder I kicked the wooden ball the more it hurt my practically unshod feet. After the last turn, I had a solid lead over Steve, but I was a little tired and starting to lose control of the ball. Steve kicked the ball, from 25 feet away, and it crossed the line about a second after I crossed the line. There was a 10 minute break before the second round, but we were all hungry. We decided to start our dinner operations and then hope Lauren and I do not advance to the finals. Lauren decided to use a surrogate for her race; her daughter Cassidy. What do you know, Cassidy and I got called for the same race. We wanted to have fun and also didn’t want to win–so we could eat. But in taking it easy, I was able to control the ball better and coming into the final turn I was in the lead. Once again, I struggled with control over the final stretch, and the ball got caught in the grass a few times. I finished second and Cassidy third–though I did put up a good fight. In the end, 14-year old Cody won the entire event.
Good news! We could start cooking and eating. And were we in for a surprise. Another fellow SoCal Coyote, Rigo made some amazing salsa from scratch–Rigo also completed his first 50KM race this weekend. Our group was a little small, as 3 of our teammates were coming up later that night. But, the outdoor cooking/dinner just added to the entire experience of the weekend. But before we could eat, we were called back to the start line for a trail briefing–this is where things get interesting. This is my second Luis Escobar race–my first being Red Rock 40 in November of 2010–and I know how he likes to create an old-school trail race feel with minimal support and reliance on others. And he delivered the message to all of us so clearly. “There’s beer and there’s dirt.” “Look around, this isn’t wildflower, there are no good looking people here….” “Look around, this isn’t San Diego Marathon, there aren’t balloons and bands.” In the same respect as the welcome sign of “be nice or go home,” Luis said: “Be respectful to each other. Be respectful to the property. And be responsible for ourselves.” And my favorite line from Luis: “If you come to me saying I got lost, I got poison oak, I broke my leg—all of those statements begin with ‘I’, and you get to solve the problem.” Luis also reminded us, that although he had lost a close friend in Micah True, this was not a memorial. Maria–Micah’s girlfriend–and Guadajuko–Micah’s dog–joined Luis on the makeshift stage. Maria had tears in her eyes, hidden by her sunglasses; but she was in good spirit–I think she could feel the love for not only Micah but for her too. Maria and Luis both asked for people to give, even a little, to the Caballo Blanco Memorial Fund–as the money will go directly to help the Tarahumara.
After the trail briefing, the bonfire started and live music was being played. Beers and other drinks were flowing, even though there was a race the next morning. As the sun went down and the temperatures dropped, people gathered closely around the fire. The party that had begun around 5 PM with the Rarajipari lingered on until about 9:45 PM. This was the only time the music stopped all weekend, but there was a peaceful silence for 7 hours before meditative music started playing at 4:45; soon to be followed with more Norteño music. At 5:45 we were introduced to Mr. Chamberlin, the owner of the amazing cattle ranch that we were about to venture onto–he was toting the shotgun from the night before. Another friend of Micah was called to the stage to give Micah’s oath: “If I get hurt, lost or die, it is my own damn fault. Amen.” And with that the shotgun blasted.
From 2PM on Friday through 6 AM on Saturday, I had already experienced some the best aspects of my sport of trail running (or ultrarunning–depending on how you want to classify it). But then I got to experience nearly 14 hours on trail seeing my fellow people of the dirt throughout. Besides Tiffany and Tomo’s accomplishments, there were many other great sites and encounters. Patricia, a 78-year old woman using one trekking pole, hiked the entire 100K, even through the night. I first saw her near the end of my 6th lap. She passed me when I was sitting at Wild Bill’s aid station and I couldn’t catch her until she stopped temporarily with a mile left in the lap. She finished in 24 hours and 11 minutes–that is determination and dedication.
Then there is Ed, who raced the entire 100 Miler dressed as a Jester. Ed is racing 30 100’s this year, including running last week’s Zion 100 in 27:05. He finished BTR in 22:25 and then asked Luis what is the quickest way to the 101 freeway–he had to get to the starting line of the Pasadena Marathon.
Then there is Ethan, another BTR’er attempting 100 miles. Last year he DNF’ed–and had to write his excuse on the excuse banner. Ethan’s read: “#3 Mile 61 I’m just a grade A Pussy.” Ethan was anything but that this weekend. He completed his second 100, this one nearly 3 hours faster than his first. He even took a Hula Hoop break at mile 60–as many other 100-mile runners were doing. When I saw Ethan with 1-mile to go, he was flying–he had full range of leg movement as he was nearly prancing like a deer to the finish line.
Maria, running with the Guadajuko and the spirit (and bib number) of Micah completed the 50K. (Guadajuko only completed 20 miles). Then she danced the night away–this was a different kind of salsa than the one that Rigo made for us the night before.
There were the men in (sports) kilts and skirts–and nothing else, except maybe a pair of Luna sandals. They were way ahead of me in the races, so I didn’t see them while I was running, but I saw them after I had finished. They were party animals. One of them Hula Hooped for nearly 4 hours straight that night.
There was Mike, who wore a 27-pound pack for the 50 KM and used trekking poles. He is training for the 5-day long Gobi Desert March in the coming weeks.
There were Caity and Vanessa who completed the 10-mile race barefoot. Caity has the distinction of being DFL (let’s put it this way, the “D” stands for Dead and the “L” stands for last). Vanessa then shod her feet and completed two more laps to finish the 50K. I remember seeing them finishing up the first lap and they were essentially hopping from one cool spot on the trail to the next–it was really warm by then.
There were several dogs on course, include our Frieda. She ran with our teammate Kim for 30 of Kim’s 31 miles. There was another dog that joined Caity and Vanessa for their stroll on the ranch.
There was Cassidy who was running only her second race ever. She ran the 10-mile race and finished around the same time that Steve and I were finishing our first lap. After finishing, she took a quick break and ran part of the course backwards to run with her mom, Lauren, the final few miles of Lauren’s first 50K. Then Cassidy went for some more miles–25 miles in total, even though she previously has not run more than 14. She also so graciously used my camera to take some of the photos that you see in this post.
Then there was Kevin. All the SoCal Coyotes are lucky to have him and smile when they see him. He was not registered for the race. He was doing trail work in the Santa Monica Mountains on Saturday morning. After his trail work, he drove to Los Olivos in time to see me and Steve at mile 60 and walked with us through 61.5 and ran with us to the finish. He also brought up some camping supplies that we had run out of. Thanks Kevin! It was great seeing your face at 60 and your presence was much appreciated for the final 2 miles. Alison also joined us for the final 2 miles. She had a rough day in the 50k earlier but was all smiles–as she always is.
People were finishing the 50K, 100K and 100M throughout the night and into the next day. There was the father of little leaguer who finished mile 90 with more than enough time complete the race, but dropped out because his son had a game starting in 1 hour. Even Luis thought that was a legitimate excuse to drop out. I hope his signature on the banner reads: “Mile 90, I am a father.”
The finish line was a party–as it should be. Luis kept the Rarajipari going. He encouraged the salsa dancing and the hula hooping. The check-in desk for each lap had the full bar, which I took advantage of as soon as I finished my race. We had birthday cake for Tiffany at 1 AM, thanks to Alison–and the leftover cake was placed at the start/finish aid station. People like Tiffany and my friend Marshall helped pace people in the 100-Mile race even though they had completed races earlier in the day. Marshall ran a 50K personal best, then walked with me for my final 12 miles and then ran 10 more miles in the middle of the night with another runner. Tiffany picked up Ethan for miles 60-70 only a few hours after her 100K victory. All of this–the party, the fun, the love, the support–is the true spirit of running and why I love the sport. I love it for the people. We are different, but in the best possible way.
“Run Free.” — Micah True
“Dreams Come True.” — Micah True