This isn’t your typical race recap. This wasn’t a typical race, a typical running event, and it certainly wasn’t a typical week. This was something altogether different. Some things that the Born to Run Extravaganza is:
It is peaceful, it is raucous, it is relaxing and it is a party of epic scale. It is a homecoming of sorts, even for those who have never been there. It’s like meeting new family members. It is the place to be if you have love in your heart and running in your legs. It is a great adventure. It is Julie’s excellent cooking. It is the kindness of Manley and Mara and their “boutique aid station”. It is open arms and open beers. It is rattlesnakes and mountain lions, hot air balloons and sage brush. It is dirty feet and a happy heart.
Like all great adventures you must start somewhere. In this case somewhere was the Pittsburgh International Airport and it was early…really damn
early. I only get up this early to run. It was 3:00 AM. I skipped my morning coffee in hopes of catching some zzz’s on the plane. After double checking I had anything and everything that would fit in my pack and suitcase I hopped in my firey steed, Liz Lemon, destination set to PIT Stop Airport Parking. Upon arrival the attendant’s first words were “nice hat.” Yeah, people love a giant cowboy hat. I would get more than a few glances, smiles, and laughs over that hat. It was required for coming to the ranch. Hell..it’s a ranch. Best be ready! And no way that hat was fitting in my pack or suitcase.
First stop was for a little beer and breakfast in Dallas, Texas. I hunkered down over a plate of French toast and bacon and pulled heavily on a local beer, a Karbach Brewing Kolsch called Love Street. Not bad for breakfast. I had a short layover of under 2 hours. Just enough time to relax between flights. Then it was LA bound!
After picking up my rental car I had a few stops to make on my way. I had already planned a route that would put me on a good bearing for getting out of the LA area with expedience. Ultimately, I learned, there is no such thing as a quick way out of LA. The first stop was at the pharmacy. I returned a few minutes later to a $73 parking citation for parking in a street cleaning zone. I couldn’t find a sign that said no parking anywhere. I resigned myself to the fate of not having time to waste fighting this and headed off to Target in West Hills to get food, beer, and a few camping odds and ends. Fortunately I was also able to grab a few Styrofoam coolers for around $3 each. Then it was onto the 101 northbound!
Traffic in LA is every bit as bad as you’ve heard. It was a slow roll until I was north of Ventura over 70 miles from LAX! Using Waze helped cut time down a little as it routed me around particularly bad sections of the 101 and Tom Petty’s Wildflowers album helped me happily pass the time. Stopping only for a bathroom, a few bags of ice, and to enjoy a scenic overlook I finally rolled up to the Chamberlin Ranch gate around 5:30 PM, only an hour or so later than I hoped to be there. Not too shabby. Ranch etiquette requires leaving open gates open and closing closed gates after passing through. The ranch is an active cattle ranch so after passing the main gate and shutting it behind me I rolled up the gravel road until I saw a camper and a canopy. Stopping for a moment I didn’t see anyone around. There was a road to the right and a road straight ahead. I continued straight up the hill and stopped halfway up to pull my race instructions out. The 4 day runners were already on the course and I wanted to make sure I was taking the correct path and not on the race course. The instructions said take the obvious path. I threw the Soul into reverse and backed down to the camper to take a look at which seemed more obvious. Luis Escobar came out of the camper and told me I was on the right path and asked for a ride into camp. Not 5 minutes after arrival I have RD, photographer extraordinaire, HURT 100 winner, and all around good dude El Coyote in my car. Yeah, this would be a week I’d not soon forget. Luis gave me a driving tour of the “town” and upon telling him I was going to be hammock camping said let’s put you over in the hippie camp. After a few introductions to some of the Maine Camp crew The Sherriff (Luis) was off to attend to race work.
I wasted no time in getting my hammock up. Fortunately, I had brought some webbing and climbing carabiners with me which made setup aroundthe thick gnarly trees easy. I was setup low in a drainage swale which would prove to be smart for some wind shielding and ease in climbing in and out for mid-race lounging and napping. Plus I was very close to the main stage so even when I was lounging like a champion I could enjoy what was happening around me. I opened up my first beer….and second a very short while later. Passing on an invite to join a group for dinner at the Figueroa Mountain Brewery taproom in Los Olivos I thought it best to get ready for race start the following day.
While finishing setup Max introduced himself. We chatted for a bit and then went over to the Maine Camp and hung out with folks. I was pretty tired and not the most talkative, but enjoyed meeting everyone and relaxing with my new friends. Todd and Amy would be getting married on Saturday here. John “Halfbomb” Rodrigue was here as well. John and Chris (aka) Tarzan had helped get Scott Jurek through Maine during his FKT (fastest known time) record on the Appalachian Trail back in 2015. El Coyote was also there off and on through out the journey and this would be the first time all of them were together since then as Scott and Jenny would be coming with their baby, Raven, on Friday. Also, I met Pete Chavez, a Dirtbag Runner ambassador, and all-around solid dude. Most who know me well know that I get a bit nervous in social situations with people I don’t know. When I’m around friends that anxiety isn’t there. People like Pete, Max, Luis, and Barefoot Ted made me feel at ease right from the start.
I climbed into my sleeping bag in the hammock and dozed off. I slept horribly. I was awake at a bathroom every hour or two and surprisingly I was freezing my bum off. I knew it would be low 40’s at night, but the evening winds off the coast were particularly chilling. Plus being in a hammock meant I had no ground insulation. No matter! Race nights are not usually nights for restful sleep.
I was starting the 100 miler early along with Claudia, a new friend. We would begin at 6:00 AM Thursday with the 200 milers. That would put my 42 hours to Friday night at midnight. Loads of time. Though I wanted to be done by noon so I’d have recovery time and could hit the beer mile and other fun events happening Friday night and Saturday. Luis gave us the pre-race briefing and we took the Caballo Blanco oath. Right hand raised repeat after me:
“If I get hurt”
If I get hurt
“It’s my own damn fault!”
It’s my own damn fault!
With the words “Alright boys and girls, ready to have some fun?” and a blast from a shotgun we were off into the cool, clean, morning air. Claudia and I ran the first mile or two together chatting, but would see each other plenty more times over the course of the next 5 days. A few miles into the yellow loop around mile 14 or so I came around a bend in the trail to see a hot air balloon launching! I stopped for a while taking in the view and hoping some other runners would come through to enjoy this with me, but I had it all to myself and drank it in. On my first loop I noticed merchandise being set up at the check in area (aka El Coyote’s camper). On my next pass through main camp I was sure to grab my trail wallet for a little mid-race shopping before my size sold out.The first 27 miles would go off very well averaging in the low 12:00 pace. Then things began to heat up. With highs in the mid-70s I wasn’t concerned about heat, but it was a hot! With little tree cover and even less cloud cover I found myself zapped. I had caught up to Martine, who was running the 4 day, and walked/ran the rest of that loop in. I internet know Martine from the running groups and we had been training for our first 100 milers around the same time back
in 2015-2016. She is a truly amazing woman and I was so happy to meet and share some miles with her. And she was keeping me occupied, dragging me through. When we got to Luis’ camper and the merch table we both pulled our wallets out and I laughed to myself being not the only person to have this idea. I grabbed a tie dye and a trucker hat.
It never fails to amaze me how I can feel great for miles and miles and then crash so hard. After reaching mile 30 back at the “town” I slumped into a chair at the 4 day/200 mile oasis run by Manley and Mara. They went above and beyond for the runners. Since the main camp aid station wouldn’t be setup until Friday night after the official 100 miler start I was fortunate enough to be able to use their station until then. I was good on hydration and electrolytes, or at least felt like I was. But the heat had my stomach wrecked and energy levels depleted. Mara made suggestions of food she could make that might rest on my stomach ok. When she said rice with miso broth I immediately answered “yes, that!” That was exactly what I needed to quell my stomach. I went back to my camp area feeling a little better and had some water, corn tortilla, hummus, and avocado and laid down in the hammock for 40 minutes. Then I was back on my feet to mostly walk the next 10 mile loop. I was still in rough shape, but I had time and lots of it. So at mile 40 I laid down in the hammock again with food and drink.
I had around 11 hours in. It was after 5PM so I lounged around for another hour or so. I knew it would start cooling off and night time would be my
best bet for laying miles down. I could avoid freezing in my sleeping bag and stay warm by moving. It was a win-win. I would put down another 40 miles that first never ending day. I would keep moving from a little after 6 until 11:30 on Friday ending with a total of 80 miles. Miles 50-70 were crazy. I had heard of people hallucinating during ultras and I had my own mild hallucinations a handful of times, but this night took the cake. Most likely the days without sleep had caught up in a potent way. Since Tuesday night I had slept less than 15 hours and it was now getting into the early hours of Friday. I kept stopping on the trail and digging my poles into the ground to lean against falling asleep for a second here and a second there. I was sleepwalking at points as my subconscious mind invaded my waking reality. My eyes would go fuzzy and instead of trail there would be shapes…sometimes easily explained like the chairs and couches I thought I had seen. I needed to sleep. I was getting a taste of what Jurker talked about in North when he was in the White Mountains of New Hampshire afraid he would walk off a cliff. I saw cliffs on the edge of the trail where there were none. Shapes in the trees took form and in my periphery I saw tents and cars..but I couldn’t be back to the main camp yet. I knew that. By now I knew this course well. The phantoms of dreaming dissolve in the light of day and as I would turn towards the tents and cars my headlamp would illuminate trees and brush. At some point I stopped at Wild Bill’s aid station and crashed for 30-45 minutes. I eventually passed through the main camp only stopping to fill my bottles and ask for coffee then continuing on. Sadly there was no coffee. It would be an interesting 10 miles. It was a comfortable night to hike and that is what I did. Make no mistake. I did not run one step that night. I only wanted to get out of the camp and keep moving closing in on the next goal of 70 miles. Now on the yellow loop again, the harder of the two I started out again feeling much better. Continuing on with a brief stop at the car for water refills. adding more Hammer Heed to my bottle, and taking Hammer anti-fatigue and endurance aminos caps I continued on towards the sunrise and 80 miles. I felt new life inside as the sky filled with color. I wouldn’t be finishing by noon by a long shot and I would miss some of the BTR festivities, but not all of them and I certainly would finish this race.
It was around 11:30 in the morning and I was at mile 80. I saw Luis and asked him to verify my cutoff time. He gave me a strange look and said Sunday at noon. “But I started early…. with the 200 milers…wouldn’t that give me until midnight tonight?” He said no, I just had more time to finish. All races end Sunday at noon regardless of start time! I was ecstatic! I could run 10 miles per day the next two days! So after 80 miles I had double serving of Hammer Recoverite and visited Julie Escobar Fernandez availing myself of her culinary wizardry. Beers and tamales my friends. What a beautiful thing it is! I hydrated (with water too, but Tecate is pretty close to water) and lounged in my hammock taking in the sights and sounds of Born to Run. Around 4 I joined in for the beer mile, though I only did 3/4 of a mile. Afterwards I laid back in the hammock and listened to the sounds of the No Talent Show and thought about finishing the last 20 miles on this night. I heard Jen Shelton riling people up to drink as I drifted off to sleep.
I woke up around 9 PM and started getting my gear ready. I threw on warmer clothes to get through a night of walking and was back on trail by 9:20.
I had one goal and that was to finish my 20 miles before 6:00 AM. This was when the 10, 30, and 60 miles races would start and there were some heavy hitters in the 30 mile race. Scott Jurek, Arnulfo Quimare, Manuel Luna, Andrew Snope, and others. I wanted to be back in time to see them off. Eating, drinking, and lounging all day agreed with my legs and I began running a bit as I headed out for my last tour of the pink loop. I wouldn’t run much, but it was something. And tonight I would only have a few mild and manageable hallucinations. It would not be the stumblefest of the previous evening. So little by little I slowly chipped at the miles and make no mistake it was slow. I averaged 4 hours per 10 miles for the last 20 miles coming in just as people were walking down for the race start. As I was closer to “town” I felt the excitement of completion fill my heart and legs and began running until I was churning it in around a 9:00 pace. I crossed the line with a huge smile on my face and the timing guys cheered. It was around 5:30 AM. I made my way to a chair near the stage and took my gear off sitting down content with the job done. It was a PR of sorts for me. Certainly not timewise, but it was my longest run in Lunas and I was happy to finish with no blisters, no chafing anywhere, and only a decent dose of sunburn on my shoulders from the 10-20 miles I ran shirtless early in the race.
I hadn’t been there long when Barefoot Ted came up to me. I don’t remember all of what was said, but I recall the feeling well. It was a feeling of happiness multiplied by the completion of my distance. He was giving me a sweet Luna pendant on a string and welcoming me to the Luna fam. I recall him saying [wild paraphrasing] “We don’t want you to do anything different, just keep being you and doing your thing. We are blessed and so happy you choose to run in our sandals.” Ted has a way of making people feel good about themselves, about life. And, as I would learn, his wife Irem possesses the same talent. I think it is a natural outcome of living your own expression of capital “L” Love. A good bit of the Luna crew was on hand for the weekend and it was great meeting them all. Scott, the CEO of Luna, was there camping and running along with more of the Seattle monkeys. Early in the race Scott and Will both stopped by with each loop I completed to see if I needed a hand with anything before going back out. These little kindnesses, which are so common in the trailrunning world, seemed all the more common with my new Born to Run family.
As the runners toed the line for the 6 AM race start they were asked to raise their right hands and repeat Caballo Blanco’s oath. A simple acceptance of responsibility for our own selves. I made my way over to the course to catch some pictures and video of the start. And soon they were off to the sound of a shotgun blast and soon I was off to grab a beer and breakfast. Pulling from a Tecate and walking around cheering runners while I ate menudo. Yeah, not a bad start to another never ending day. I had a tattoo appointment around noon so I spent the morning talking with people, meeting Scott Jurek, and even grabbed a few minutes of coveted hammock time before seeing Kim and Michelle at Raw Violets. While waiting Irem stopped by pushing Ted in, what for lack of a proper descriptor, I’ll call a rickshaw. Though this was one that is pushed instead of pulled.
Here I met Arvel who just had his tattoo finished up before me. It was a beautiful rendition of the BTR 4-day buckle. Afterwards he hit the trail with
hours of running left to do. I was called in and seated for what would be a 4 hour session. Michelle offered a tasty pint of local brew and cookies which I gladly accepted happily chatting, sipping, and crunching my way through the afternoon as Kim worked her magic. I was so happy to just be sitting comfortably that I don’t think I moved as muscle for the entire 4 hours except to stretch my legs when Kim changed inks. Once inked I had time to grab food from my cooler and catch some of the fun at the stage. I made it over just a hair before Todd & Amy’s wedding. There was always something going on at BTR!
I had planned to do so much more. To celebrate with the Bride and Groom and BTR Nation, to join in on the naked camp run, to have some more beers. Ultimately I fell asleep and slept the sleep of the dead until sunrise on Sunday morning.
Well rested I made my way to Julie’s and got coffee and a breakfast burrito. This was the last day on the ranch and I wanted to make the most of it. My legs were still good so I went out for a 5 miler on the back half of the yellow loop stopping to cheer for runners coming in on their last loop. I backtracked to a section of the pink loop for a curiosity detour. On Thursday I had hiked up a big hill off the course. There was a sign with blue ribbons hanging from it, blue always meaning you are off course at BTR. But along with the streamers was a sign with an arrow pointing uphill. Scrawled across
it were simple words that made turning around impossible for me. So up I went. Reaching a sign up slope I saw nothing there and suspected I had come to early. So I returned and back up I went to find chairs, a cooler with water and a bottle of booze. I passed on the drink and sat for a few moments taking the view in. There was a copy of Scott & Jenny’s book North along with a sharpie. I signed the book and made my way back to camp.
Back at camp I pulled my chair out to the course and cheered for runners coming in. Tim was finishing his 200 miler. We spent a good 7 miles or so together Friday night. I was so happy to see him wrapping up this epic run. Afterwards he had to endure the traditional BTR treatment of winners. He had come in 2nd for the 200 miler. What is the traditional treatment? Well you’ll have to come to Born to Run to find that out. Suffice it to say I was thoroughly impressed when Tim jumped off the stage after 200 miles.
Sadly it was time to pack up and say goodbye to everyone. Words can not express the experience of BTR. I considered not even writing this or simply leaving the words : Go. But, alas, I like writing these as it puts events in perspective and sets them more firmly in my memory.
I rolled into Ventura excited for a shower. There was a problem with my reservation . The Viking Motel was overbooked and had to upgrade me to a Jacuzzi room. Now that is a problem I could deal with. The rooms were nice and had full kitchens all for around $100 a night. I showered for the first time since Tuesday night and headed out to find the necessities. Aquaphor for my new tattoo, a laundromat, food , and beer. I picked up some mexican eats and went over to Topa Topa, which came highly recommended from some Ventura natives that were on the ranch, and had a flight. After laundry was switched to the dryer it was back to Topa Topa for a few more drinks. Clean and in a bed I slept very well that night.
Up early as usual I threw on some clothes and scouted a map hitting the ground running. It was a cool morning and I enjoyed making my way to Ventura Beach and up the coast to the pier and onwards. I took my time to stop and enjoy views to chat with a guy Eugene. He was sitting on a bench singing so I stopped to listen. Turns out he was homeless by choice. He was an accounts manager for a Fortune 500 company and decided it didn’t fit his ideals so he left it all. He said it was certainly tough at times, but worth the freedom. We talked for a long while. He was clearly highly educated and was living the life of love. Glad to have stopped I continued on sandals in hand. I ran the last 3 miles or so barefoot. The clean sidewalks and walkways were good for it. My return route took me through town. Back at the motel I showered again and packed everything up. The flight home was uneventful except for a delay. I didn’t land until after 2 AM so by the time I got home I needed to change into work clothes and head right out. That was one long day! Luckily I had been training all week on going without sleep and on strange schedules.
Born to Run is unique and amazing. There really is nothing like it on earth. If you haven’t yet read Born to Run get on it! And hopefully I’ll see some of you there in 2020 when I plan to return!
Born to Run. Go.
Nutrition: Hammer Perpetuem, Heed, Endurance Amino, Endurolytes Extreme, Anti-fatigue caps, Mito Caps, Recoverite, and a lot of tacos, avocados, hummus, corn tortilla, and other foods.