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.

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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!

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

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

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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)

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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.

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

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The intrepid UMCB Zip wire team!

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What a view

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

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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.

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

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The legendary Guadajuko

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

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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!

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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.

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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)!

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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) ūüėČ

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

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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)!

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

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Los Alisos

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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 Caba√Īas 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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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Last Blog before the long awaited UMCB Mexico running adventure begins

Well after months and months of training in rain, snow (and sometimes even sunshine) I’m on the last 6 days before I leave to journey to Mexico for the Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco http://www.ultracb.com/ made famous in the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall (http://www.chrismcdougall.com/).

It is expected that there will be around 120 international runners travelling from all over the world to run alongside 100 Mexican and 300 Tarahumara runners.

I’ll try and update my blog wherever I can get WiFi access as I’m sure the scenery will be stunning.

Its been tough keeping the miles up over the past few months with the UK weather and trying not to pick up an injury.

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Alas I had a twinge on my right calf after doing 30 miles in the snow on two consecutive Sundays (with my¬†mountaineering¬†neighbour and http://www.ringofire.co.uk/ RD James Bingham) a few weeks ago (suspect it was partly due to wearing heavier “minimalist” shoes than my Luna’s causing a slight running form change). After which I halted running and moved to just working on my quads using my Wife’s steps (whilst furiously massaging my calf so it’s fixed in time for the run). With the amount of ascent & descent (10,000 ft) the inevitable walking should give my calf a bit of time to rest during the run.

Alas the only thing I cannot train for (aside from the ascent & descent) for is running in temperatures of 35-40 degrees C at midday!!

Here’s a quick summary of my itinerary:

I fly out from London on Friday to El Paso, Texas (2 hr flight change in Dallas) and then on Sunday start a 2 day van journey (with an overnight stop at Cuauhtemoc) with 25 other runners to a hotel at the top of the canyons (http://www.mexicohorse.com/).

Tuesday some¬†local hikes and a tour to Cerocahui and in the afternoon¬†we will visit the local Tarahumara school where I will be giving a 10 year old laptop I’ve brought from Twickenham¬†a good home!

Wednesday we commence a 24 mile trail hike down into the canyon whilst our luggage is transported down by van. Followed up by dinner with the runners in Urique at Madam Tita’s restaurant (of “Born to Run” fame)

Thursday¬†we walk part of the course and in the evening 20 of us are going to a¬†Temazcal Sweat Lodge at Caba√Īas San Isidro. Several hours of sweating later I’ll be glad for the swim in the waterfall.

Friday we walk another part of the course and pick up our race packets and in the evening attend a Pre-Race Runners Dinner with the Raramuri runners.

Saturday is a run for the Kids of the Canyons! Over 400 Children from all over the Canyons will participate in this run. All children finishers receive a Medal and a Shirt donated by Marathon Kids and a bag of School Supplies donated by the Runners and Supporters of the event.This is followed by a Pre-Race Festival in Urique Town Square.

Sunday at 6am the 50 mile Ultra marathon Caballo Blanco starts!!!! Presentations start at 5pm which I would really like to be back for, but 11 hours for 50 miles is 2 hours off my best time so we will see……..

Monday we all leave (walking very delicately I imagine) and start the 2 day drive back to El Paso where I catch a flight on Wednesday afternoon back to London having (hopefully) achieved the number 1 item on the top of my “Bucket List”!

Now what was number 2 on my “Bucket List”……….. ūüėČ

.Oh yes, and I need to recover quickly as I’m pacing James for the last 30 miles of the Thames Path 100 Ultra (http://www.centurionrunning.com/thames-path-100-2013/) on the 23rd March!

Lots of running, some chilly weather and preparations for Mexico begin

I really seemed to have settled in to a bit of a running routine of late as I try to maintain a decent mileage (by my standards that is) in the remaining months before Mexico, so a normal week is generally looking like this::

Tuesday – 10 or 14 mile run through Bushy Park, along the Thames to Teddington Lock and home via Teddington (10 mile route) or continue to Richmond Bridge and back along the Thames to Twickenham and then home (14 mile route). Although I did get carried away last Tuesday as it was such a gorgeous wintery day I just carried on and did a loop of Richmond Park as well taking the distance up to 21 miles!

Thursday Р10 or 14 mile run through Bushy Park, along the Thames to Teddington Lock and home via Teddington (10 mile route) or continue to Richmond Bridge and back along the Thames to Twickenham and then home (14 mile route)

Saturday – Bushy parkrun 5k

Sunday – 17 mile run from Chelsea along the Thames path to Chiswick Bridge and back whilst Sam is doing judo @ the Budokwai

So generally I’m running around 40-45 miles per week in my Luna Sandals (Leadville model) unless on days when the trails are really muddy which is when I have to resort to my Vibram KSO Treks.

I was fortunate to win a competition at Luna a few weeks back that resulted in me receiving a free pair of their Tabi Socks which have been great for keeping my feet warm when it got down to -5C (23F) recently.

Here are some photos from my runs in Bushy Park over the last few weeks during the cold spell which was great for both running and photos:

The Bushy Pom Pom tree (Mistletoe)

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Toasty feet (thanks Luna)

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A quick play with the Panorama feature on my iPhone

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A few photos from my Sunday morning Chelsea to Chiswick Bridge runs before the cold spell:

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I think I was definitely warmer than this guy!

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and one from the Saturday morning 5k parkrun in Bushy Park where the wildlife can get a bit close at times:

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Mexico & Ultramarathon Caballo Blanco

I’ve had a Hepatitis A & Typhoid jab and I’m due for a Tetanus jab in January which will be all my innoculations over with. I’m now starting to think about what stuff I need during the trip and items like water purification.

In my next blog I’ll probably go into a bit more detail on how I will be getting down there, and hopefully I’ll be able to blog as I travel down and upload anytime I reach free wifi but we’ll see. I can see that my Powermonkey & solar panels are going to get a lot of use keeping my iPhone charged up.

Thames Path 100 (Richmond to Oxford along the Thames Path)

3 weeks after Mexico I’ll be pacing my neighbour James for the last 30 miles of the Thames Path 100, so sometime in early February we’ll probably run the last 30 miles of the course into Oxford to familiarise ourselves (well me anyway) with the course, as it will probably be dark when I’ll be running it in the early hours of the morning (unless James is really really fast!).

Goodbye Man-flu, 10 mile training run, Misty parkrun, and 20 miles along the Thames

At last it seems that my cold has almost gone, so to celebrate I went for a 10 mile run on Friday morning, taking advantage of some sunshine. It was my usual circuit through Bushy Park over the Thames and along to Teddington Lock where I head home through Teddington High St and past all the coffee bars with people sat outside eating breakfast. Oooh the coffee smells good!

 

Bushy parkrun

On Saturday it was off to Bushy parkrun as usual, though I was just going for a run rather than a race (oops sorry, I mistakenly said “parkrun” and “race” in the same sentence so I’ll be expecting a knock at the door any time now from the parkrun police!) as having done 10 miles the day before and possibly a long run the next day with James.

It was the first of many misty mornings to come in Bushy as the temperature starts to drop.

Sunday run with James

So Sunday morning and James Bingham (my neighbour, mountaineer and RD of RingO’Fire¬†Ultra) and I met up at 7am to go for a longish run as part of our aim of increasing our mileage in preparation for my 50 mile Ultra and James’s 100 mile Ultra¬†¬†in March next year. As I’ll also be pacing James (in the dark) for the last 30 miles of his event it is good that we get used to running with each other.

We headed down to Bushy Park, along one of the West side perimeter paths and out Hampton Court Gate and over the Thames. We then turned right and continued along the South side of the Thames West towards Walton. It was a chilly morning, but the clear skies held promise of sunshine later. We were travelling pretty light a few energy bars and some water and a jacket in case the weather turned bad (plus I had a surprise in my Camelbak for later). I was wearing my Luna’s but had put on Toe Sox as my toes took 2 miles to warm up on parkrun yesterday

We were early enough to miss most of the rowing clubs getting their boats into the water, but we’d have that obstacle course of dodging around “eights” as they are lifted out of the water on our way back.

We got to our 10 mile and halfway stop at Weybridge Ferry (photo below) where a small flask of tea (the surprise) helped the Clif bars go down and after a quick break at our improvised “Aid station” we turned round and started to head back along the Thames Path.

 

We got home after a great 20 mile run in (mainly) sunshine with no ill effects on either of our legs (James ran 19 miles home from The City on Friday night as well) and I can see it being a regular run, when we are allowed to disappear for 3.5 hours early on a Sunday morning.

 

It was ironic that one of the conversations on the run was the breakfast we would have when we got back, particularly as James was locked out (family at gym) when he got home, so his breakfast consisted of a large mug of tea and 2 slices of toast and jam I took over to him as he sat on his doorstep in the sunshine.

It was still a great morning run and I look forward to next time!