Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco – The adventure begins

It all started one evening in November 2011 in a Girls school, near St Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London. I had started running in VFFs, moved to Luna Sandals, read “Born to Run” (not the normal order of things I gather from other running folk) and was now sat with several hundred people in a school hall, listening to a tall, shy, tanned guy talking about two subjects that were clearly very close to his heart, Tarahumara and running. I had taken my then 16 year old son Sam along, not because he was a runner, but because he had read “the book” and wanted to meet Caballo.

54550_10151307540581967_1047143804_o

By the end of the evening the race had moved to the top of my “bucket list” and despite Caballo trying to persuade me to run in 2012 I insisted I needed to run an ultra first so would run it in 2013, after which he referred to me as the “2013 guy”.

So after a couple of ultra’s in 2012, February 22nd found me on a flight to El Paso with all my running kit in my hand luggage and the stuff I could afford to lose in the hold.

I had booked a place on the “Diego shuttle” so was spending 2 nights at Motel 6 before departing for Paraiso del Oso midday Sunday with the rest of the travellers. I was also due to be sharing a room in Motel 6 & Urique with a Scotsman I had never met (aside from Facebook) who judging by the way he typed in Facebook probably sounded like “Groundskeeper Willie” from The Simpsons.

I was right!

Fortunately Graham and I hit it off from the start, and as we loaded the vans and then squeezed in to the back seat of the van along with Graham I had no idea of the impact the trip would have on me, never mind the impact on Graham!

185

Our journey to Cautemoc was slow as we hit a sandstorm at one point

191

Cautemoc Hotel (our overnight stop on the way to the canyons)

218

I didn’t realise the altitude we were at (6,400 ft) and how cold it would be in the morning (yes that is ice not some kind of flower)

216

Divisidero Cable Car & Zipline

We stopped at the Divisadero Cable Car & Zip Line for a couple of hours although I wasn’t brave enough for the Zip line. Instead a group of us took the cable car down and walked a trail for a while.

223

251

Christelle and I returning back to the cable car after a walk along Tarahumara trails.

247

The intrepid UMCB Zip wire team!

229

What a view

243

Jan Bosschaert with a good head for heights (or maybe he didn’t realise there was nothing holding the rock up)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Doug’s Hotel

We finally reached Paraiso del Oso and were well looked after during our stay and were grateful for the work and coordination Diego had put into making this trip possible.

289

295

259

My first ever Margarita, alas swiftly following by 6 others after which I had to lie down!

257

The legendary Guadajuko

261

We visited a Cerocahui Tarahumara Boarding School providing a BBQ, games and I set up a Webcam I brought with me.

268

The girls sang a song to thank us.

Wednesday 24 mile hike to Urique

For the 24 mile hike down to Urique we had local guides who looked like they were going on a 10 minute stroll to get some milk, where as we seemed to be carrying enough supplies and water for a month!

297

A touching moment as we were about to cross the bridge on the 24 mile hike down into the Copper Canyons and Urique. Maria and Luis made us take Caballo’s ‘if I get hurt lost or die, it’s my own damn fault’ oath. Luis said that what we were about to undertake would change us, and I believe it has, particularly for 2 people on that hike (you know who you are) the Tarahumara phrase ‘Kuira-Ba’ is beautifully relevant.

302

At 55 I was expecting to be on the upper age group on the trip, and then I met Toshio who at 72 years old (and 250 Ultras to his name) gives us all something to aspire to (and he is always smiling)!

308

It was sometime after the hike that I started to see less of ‘Graham’ and more of ‘Graham + Kate’ and I was usurped from my ‘Scottish to American’ translation duties’. I fully understood why, as fair Kate had far better legs than me (a fact I was able to confirm frequently over the 32 miles of the race on the following Sunday) 😉

On Thursday morning we hiked up to Los Alisos (part of the race course) for a farewell ceremony for Micah.

351

362

What you can’t see below is the 2nd horse he is towing that insists on taking the inside path, so we ended up edging around its rear end on the drop side (I was getting ready to grab its tail if I slipped)!

352

Looking back on the trail it’s not only beauty that is skin deep 😉 (glad I didn’t meet the horses there)

361

Los Alisos

354

For the ceremony we all formed a circle and Maria passed Caballo’s ashes around the circle for everyone to hold and offer their own silent farewells. After which Caballo’s favourite Mas Loco shirt was burned on a fire and the ashes were sprinkled around his favourite tree and finally on the fire. Memories of Micah were spoken and it was a moving experience for all.

I managed to keep in together until as we were leaving I hugged Maria, who thanked me for making the trip and said she was glad I came, after which the emotional wheels came off and I had to hurriedly head for the trail whilst trying not to blink!

Temazca

Thursday afternoon we drove to the top of the canyon to Cabañas San Isidro for a Temazca (ritual sweat lodge) where 14 of us sat in the dark in a small hut whilst red hot rocks were shovelled into the pit in the floor along with water sprinkling and herbs of various types added to the heat. After around an hour we left the lodge and stood around the fire outside in silence for a while and the dark. It was quite eerie as no-one felt the need to speak.

377

378

The ride up to the top of the canyon I found very traumatic as the road is very rocky, narrow, sheer drops and the driver was on his mobile for a fair bit of the journey! On the way back down I was blindfolded and playing music loudly though my headphones (Sensory deprivation rules ok).

Tarahumara Dinner

Friday evening we were invited to dinner at the Tarahumara camp on the far side of the river. They had butchered several cows and were cooking them in 3 large pots whilst the butchered carcasses were covered up nearby on rocks.

420

It was a uniquely original evening with local people appearing from everywhere once the word got out about dinner!

Saturday – Kids race

This kids race on Saturday was a great success and I hope it becomes a regular event as it was great seeing their enthusiasm.

431

Giving out the medals, water and bags of school supplies was brilliant.

435

Sunday – The Race

As Kate & I were likely to be running at a similar pace (as in we would be a lot slower than the Scottish mountain goat known as Graham) we decided to run together.

Graham stopped for a hug on his first return from Guadalupe and still finished in 10 hrs 30 min! Makes you sick doesn’t it (though on second thoughts if I was offered a hug by Kate I’d probably stop too!)

457

We were going ok (slow, but ok for Brits not used to 97 Degrees F) until we reached the bridge to Los Alisos after 8 hr 45 min where we were told that there was no water at Los Alisos. Now so far we had each consumed around 12 litres of water (and probably poured a similar amount over our heads), eaten 24 S-Caps each and decided to just stop for 5 minutes before continuing. We filled up our Camelbaks, thought about the run up to Los Alisos (I had done it on the Thursday so knew what was involved) and that our water would just about last us to get there (if we drank it rather than used it for cooling) but we would be coming back dry and couldn’t guarantee the water at the aid station by the bridge (where we currently were) would still be open. In addition we would also have missed the Urique cut off by a number of hours as well.

I kept remembering (as did Kate) the bit of “Born to Run” where Barefoot Ted runs out of water and drinks bodily fluids, so we had a vote and decided a cold Tecate was infinitely more preferable to the warm alternative, so we heading back to Urique to finish 32 miles and still an Ultra!

Just outside Urique we were greeted by Graham walking towards us carrying 2 cokes, I almost hugged the Scotsman, but instead got Kate to give him an extra hug on my behalf.

It was an incredible day and one none of us will forget for a long time.

392

So the big question, will I return to Urique to finish the outstanding 18 miles I missed this year?

Yes I will, but I’ll probably leave it a few years and maybe time it for a special birthday. So maybe I’ll see some of you guys in 5 years time to celebrate my 60th birthday! Knowing my luck Toshio will be there and still thrash me as a racy 77 year old!

For me 2013 was the important event, and I fulfilled a promise I made to a friend who is no longer with us.

Advertisements

Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, The Wall Ultra Marathon, Thames Path 100, parkrun, Richmond – Teddington loop – 11th July 2012

Well I’ve done it, I’ve entered my “Bucket List” race in Mexico, the Copper Canyons Ultra Marathon!

The race is early March 2013 so I’ve plenty of time to train, though I’ll have to modify my training as the race is 50 miles, has 10,000 ft of ascent / descent and is likely to be pretty warm. Lots of running up and down Richmond Hill in the winter wearing 10 sweaters I suspect!

It is a 50 mile Trail Ultra marathon that was made famous in Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run”. The following film, though a couple of years old will give you an idea of the people and the area.

Some of the footwear may look familiar too!

http://youtu.be/YIyEvomUz14

Sadly the main character in the book and the founder and race director of the Copper Canyons Ultra Marathon, Caballo Blanco (Micah True) died earlier this year after going out for a run in New Mexico.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17600061

I think it may turn into a celebration of his life and the event he started. Maybe I should start tequila training as well?

The Wall Ultra Marathon

Below is a link to an excellent video taken by a runner who did the run in 2 days (camping overnight). Ah seeing all that water brings back memories, plus I get to see what I ran past in the dark!

http://youtu.be/_LTY4g9KkEw

Thames Path 100

My neighbour, fellow runner and Ring O’Fire Ultra http://www.ringofire.co.uk/ Race Director James has registered for his next challenge, The Thames Path 100 http://www.centurionrunning.com/thames-path-100-2013/. This is a 100 mile foot race along the Thames from Richmond to Oxford. He kindly invited me to join him but as it is only 3 weeks after Copper Canyons Ultra I had to decline. However I have offered to pace him for the last 30 miles (Streatley – Oxford), which will probably be during the night. Hopefully he will have slowed down by then so I can keep up!

parkrun

It was good to start my regular parkruns every Saturday having stopped for a month prior to “The Wall” to avoid picking up an injury in my customary 100 metre sprint finish each week.

We are still getting fields of mid 800+ and so far the “double funnels” are holding up.

Richmond to Teddington Lock 10 miles

It was good to get out on Wednesday as the weather has been very wet. I took a chance on my normal circuit, but hedged my bets and wore my VFF KSO Trek as if if got very muddy they would be better than my Luna’s.

Rain did hold off but the path got pretty muddy once I crossed over at Richmond and reached the overground section.

But it was worth it for the occasional break in the tree cover to look across the river and the sunshine, it was raining but you can’t see it on the photo.

A good and refreshing run.

Alas a few more months and I’ll be back to running it in the dark with a headtorch again!

The Wall Ultramarathon 69 miles – 23rd June 2012

On Saturday 23rd June 2012 I ran the furthest I have ever run, 69 miles and 4,700ft of altitude, and I did it in my Luna Leadville Pacer Sandals (https://www.lunasandals.com/), and with the weather on that day they turned out to be the best footwear choice I could have made.

The race was called “The Wall” (http://thewallrun.com/) and was a 69 mile Ultra marathon along Hadrians Wall, a 2,000 year old wall which was the most northerly permanent component of the Roman empire.

(The race finished in the middle of Newcastle but alas my garmin battery died after 20 hours)

I set off from Kings Cross station on the day before, nervous and wishing I had some “magic” to help me complete the distance, but alas this is as close as I got (Harry Potter fans will understand).

The start was from Carlisle Castle at 7am on Saturday (there was another start 1 hr later for those runners completing the race in 2 days, but the thought of running 32 miles, camping, and then getting up next day knowing I had another 37 miles to run didn’t appeal!).

I was staying at a hotel close to the castle so after a light dinner (no exotic or spicy food for me that evening…….) I headed up to bed after setting 4 alarms on my iPhone and booking a hotel call for 5:30am (they had laid on an early breakfast for 6am as there were quite a few runners staying).

RRRRRRRRRiiinnngggggg

Ugh, my various alarms went off and I pulled back the curtains to see …….. rain!

I showered (whilst thinking why am I doing this, I’m going to be getting wet for the next 20-24 hrs?) dressed and went down for some toast & tea.

The topic of conversation amongst the runners was….you guessed rain, and what to wear / carry.

On return to my room I surveyed my 3 bags, my running rucsac, my drop bag, roller bag.

I was running in my Luna Leadville Pacer sandals (traditional leather laces), shorts and a short & long sleeved technical top with my OMM waterproof on top. I was in trouble if it did stop raining as I had nowhere to put all this stuff as my bag was already full!

My running rucsac had food (Clif Shot Bloks & Clif bars), 2 litles of Nuun in my Camelbak, mandatory first aid and safety kit, spare warm top and waterproof trousers for when I get cold in the early hours. I had also packed my headtorch, just in case my drop bag (with spare clothes and more food) didn’t make it to the halfway pitstop at Vindolanda. I was also carrying a pair of Mountain King “Trail Blaze” running poles (http://www.mountainking.co.uk/) which were so light I intended to run with them folded in one hand, getting them out for any steep climbs (I did an ultra earlier in the year where I was picking up bits of wood to help me up steep climbs in a forest, so I was not doing that again) and when I slow to a walk for the latter stages of the run.

I grabbed my bags and headed down to the start at Carlisle Castle.

It was pretty miserable at the start with around 200 people (around 200 are running it in 1 day and 600 are running over 2 days) muttering about the rain and unpacking waterproofs.

Fortunately I had bought my Aquapac waterproof iPhone case so I should be able to take pictures, even if the quality is sometimes not that hot (see below).

As usual I got lots of strange looks due to my footwear, but I did see one person in VFFs.

The start was delayed for around 20 minutes but we eventually got under way (after some “stuff our lawyers make us say” type talks by the organisers) by around 7:20am.

The first few miles wind around streets and parks next to the river, which I got my first inkling as to what was in store. Water, lots of water. The river had flooded (and was about to break its banks again), the result of which was all the paths near the river were under 8-9 inches of water.

I had great delight in running through these flooded areas whilst all “shod” runners queued and tried to thread their way around the water trying not to get their clean trainers and socks wet.

It wasn’t long before the looks of puzzlement at my strange footwear turned into looks of envy as I ran through the water, shook my feet dry, and continued running on the paths (accompanied by cries of “stop rubbing it in!” ).

Here are a few videos taken during the run.

My nutrition and fluids seemed to work well (I was drinking about 0.7 litre per hour and eating 6 shot bloks per hour) from all indications (I’ll avoid further details you’ll be glad to hear).

In the latter stages when the paths were alongside the river we were wading knee deep through the flooding (when we told the staff at the next aid station they said that the first runners through earlier in the day had to wade through water waist deep!). I was almost using my poles as a depth gauge as knee deep water was ok but I didn’t want a swim.

I managed to last until 10pm before I had to get out my headtorch at which point I put on my warm top as I was slowing down and starting to get a bit cold.

I reached the 62 mile pit stop at around 3:00am by which time I was consuming anything with caffeine in (Gu’s, shot bloks I mean anything to stay awake). I had a wonderful slab of chocolate flapjack and nearly fell of the chair with sugar rush. In fact I really did fall off the chair(I think I fell asleep for a second before the sugar hit). A quick cup of tea and then I and another runner who was continuing (we left several “youngsters” behind who were dropping out) left together to cover the last 7 miles that seem to take forever. Boy was I glad I had poles now.

It even started raining again as the sun came up so I stopped to put on the waterproof trousers to fight off the cold for a few more miles. It was ironic that the warmest part of my were my feet, and they were bare!

I crossed the finish line in Newcastle at just after 6am, exhausted, hungry but grinning from ear to ear at what I had accomplished, and very impressed with the organisers of the event (http://www.ratrace.com/run/) who had to cope with some appalling conditions on their first Ultramarathon along “The Wall”.

Now this event was entered with one objective in mind, to prove that I can run over 50 miles, and why? Because I want to travel to the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico to run the Copper Canyons Ultra Marathon (CCUM) in March 2013 (made famous in Chris McDougall’s book “Born to Run”).

I met the main character in the book “Caballo Blanco” in London last year and he referred to me as the “2013 guy” (he tried to get me to run it in 2012 but I declined as I needed more training). Regrettably Caballo Blanco (Micah True) died whilst running trails several months ago, making it likely that the event in 2013 will turn into a celebration of his life, the native Tarahumara people and place that he loved.

Now to sell the idea to my Wife…………

Brighton Marathon (well, pacing for 8 miles of it anyway)- 15th April 2012

Now before anyone gets excited I didn’t run the whole Brighton marathon, but I paced a good friend for the last 8 miles, at least that was my intention anyway.

I generally run a couple of half marathons each year with my friend Phil, but as this was his first marathon I said I’d come down to Brighton and maybe help him out.

As we were staying at my ‘Parents in Law’ just outside Brighton we got to the start in plenty of time and I agreed to meet him around 18 miles and see if I could run along side on the pavement or something and provide encouragement, as miles 18 -26 took you a long way out West of Brighton and back and looked like it could get someone down at that stage in the race. I was wearing running gear, albeit with a few extra layersand my Camelbak , tracksters and a windproof top and of course my Luna’s.

The race started @ 9:00 and I made my way to the nearest Starbucks for tea, breakfast and to warm up as it was pretty cold just hanging about for the last 90 minutes. I reckoned I had got about 2.5 hours before Phil reached 18 miles, so I installed the neat iPhone App for the race that could tell you when your runner hit halfway, and could then estimate (on the previous 13 miles) where they were on the course.

An hour later , recharged (both me and my iPhone) I started walking a few miles West towards another Starbucks closer to the 18 mile point.

According to the App Phil had reached 13.1 miles in 1:56 so he was well on target. I watched till it said he was approaching 16 miles and headed out of my second Starbucks of the day where I had been making a small cup of tea last forever (I didn’t want to be looking for toilets and Phil).

Around 18 miles the road was very wide and I was able to stand in the middle section with runners entering and leaving this 4 mile loop off the main course, and started looking out for Phil who should be returning from the loop back to the seafront to reach the 18 mile point.

At last I spotted him (as well as a barefoot runner a few minutes in front) and as the runners were pretty spread out I jumped in alongside and began running with him!

He was doing very well, hydrated, snacking on Shot Bloks and looking pretty comfortable. We carried on till about mile 23 where I had to stop for a second to remove my windproof top (I was overheating and missing the pint of blood I gave away 2 days earlier), at that point Phil either decided to drop me, or else something “attractive” ran past him and he gave chase, either way I never caught up with him.

Looking at his splits I’m not surprised as he increased is mile pace by around 40 seconds per mile from that point to the finish.

Whilst I was looking for Phil, a runner alongside (who’s name I have since forgotten, but as his memory is younger that mine he may remember this blog address) started a conversation about my foot wear (Luna Sandals) and it was only when I looked at his I saw he was running in Vibram Bikilas. We chatted about each others minimalist footwear experiences, the sad loss of Caballo Blanco (it seemed we both met him in The Barbican talk in London last year), and the “clubmasloco” Google group that we were both members of.

We were both impressed at the 2 “real” barefoot runners we had seen in the race, of which at least one would be finishing around 4:15 I think.

At about 25 miles we stepped up the pace so he would get under 4 hrs, and I bailed out of the race at 26 miles having paced an old friend and a new one.

I met up with Phil at the agreed point beyond the finish (he was very pleased at his time of 3:44) and we made our way to the train station. We had a very welcome shower and Sunday dinner at my Parents in Law, after which I drove us back to Twickenham, and Phil then carried on home to Devon.

A good weekend and an excellent first marathon time for Phil.

Sad 16 miles in Richmond Park – 1st April 2012

Caballo Blanco, the central character in the book ‘Born to Run’ was found dead in New Mexico wilderness area yesterday after a 4 day search involving some of the best Ultra runners in the world.

Caballo (real name Micah True) went for a 12 mile run on Tuesday morning and didn’t return.

I met Caballo last year on his UK visit and we joked about me running his Copper Canyons Ultra Marathon (CCUM) in 2012, whereas I wanted to run it in 2013. We continued to stay in touch.

He was an incredibly selfless person whose sole focus was to improve the lot of the Tarahumara Indians who live in the canyons, and for whom the CCUM is held.

Thousands of people around the world went for a long run in beautiful locations today in memory of Caballo, it seemed a fitting way to remember him.

My run was in Richmond Park.

Run Free Caballo.

20120402-083004.jpg