The Born to Run Ultra Marathon, Life, and Energy Bits

A couple of months ago I was listening to Caity McCardell of http://www.runbarefootgirl.com as she interviewed author Christopher McDougall of Born to Run.  McDougall (who happened to be interviewed right before yours truly) reminded me of Michah True aka Caballo Blanco’s famous oath:  “If I get hurt, lost or die, it’s my own damn fault.”  This oath was taken by all the voyagers in Born to Run before they descended into the Copper Canyons with Caballo as their leader.  Last weekend, as I stood with a bunch of clowns in cowboy hats (including Caity!! What a lovely lady) at the starting line of the Born to Run Ultra Marathon, we obediently raised our right hands and recited the same oath in tribute to the legend Caballo Blanco in the presence of his loved ones, whose hearts are eternally heavy in his absence.  That being said, the overall mood was joyous; both a celebration of his life and all of ours, as we were preparing to take a long journey together.  How can you not be happy, when your race director (Luis Escobar aka the photographer featured in Born to Run) is wearing a mariachi costume while telling us to have fun and not to be a bunch of dicks.

So WAIT a minute, hold up.  Where the hell have I been??  I know all of my readers are wondering.  Both of you!  🙂  I’m in CALIFORNIA!  I CAN’T STAY INSIDE TO WRITE ON A BLOG!  It’s too beautiful here!  Seriously, this place is off the hook.  I have a great new job, I’m house hunting, I’m running all the time, meeting new friends, and it’s sunny! So in my absence, I’ve been exploring this place and doing some sole searching, misspelling intended.  I decided to take a mini break from blogging, because I needed to seek out some answers.  I found myself questioning the minimalist running movement a bit, mostly because of the confusion set in motion by big running shoe companies.  Every major brand now has a minimalist model or two, in addition to the cushioned, stability, and motion control models.  Result: Everyone is confused to the max.  Example: Brand X offers these models: 5 are considered minimalist, 2 are considered “barefoot ride.”  Example Question: Which minimalist shoe do I pick for the way I run?   Or, I have X injury from running in X brand, which other brand would you recommend?

Choosing how to answer these questions in a short amount of time has been my struggle these past few months, like at races or when someone passes me in the hallway.  I’ve finally discovered that the answer is probably not what the person asking wants to hear:  It’s not about the shoe, it’s about the way that you run.  It’s all about the way that you run.  And perhaps the attitude with which you run, but that’s more of an opinion 🙂  Change the way you run and educate yourself.  The best way to change and provide feedback to your body is to run barefoot.  Running barefoot will give you the answers to what you’re doing wrong, teach you to listen and respond to your body’s cues.  If you’re not willing to run barefoot or TAKE THE TIME to change the way you run, you should not wear minimalist shoes.  Switching to minimalist while you’re training for a marathon and you’re 4 weeks out but you want to try because you’re injured in your regular shoes is NOT a good idea.  If you ARE willing to take the time to change, you will find the reward and freedom that so many of us have already found.  The validation I was seeking came in the form of this video from Dr. Daniel Lieberman from Harvard, who has made such a vital impact in the field of barefoot running and movement research:

So anyway, what am I talking about?  Right! The Born to Run Ultra Marathon festival.  What is this thing all about?  I was there, and I haven’t the faintest idea, but I know I’m better than I was before it.  Mike and I arrived just before sunset to set up camp on Friday night.  Our wonderful friends eventually arrived and we danced around the bonfire, played with hula hoops and listened to the band.  Lights out was a little after 9:00, but we were so excited that we stayed up for a little while before dozing off.

BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG.  4:15 AM, 4 blasts of the shotgun followed by LOUD mariachi music.  Now that’s a good wakeup call.  Mike and I enjoyed a hearty breakfast of oatmeal with peanut butter mixed in from the jet boil (I love that thing!) and made some matcha green tea for a little extra boost of energy.  It was cold, probably in the 40’s, but exciting to be camping before a race.  About 20 minutes before the race, I began eating my Energy Bits and Recovery Bits.  30 Energy Bits and 30 Recovery Bits, just like they have recommended in their marathon race plan.

At 5:45 AM, we all stood around the bonfire and took our oath.  I’ve never felt anything like it, surrounded by runners venturing out for 10 miles, 31 miles, 62 miles, or 100 miles.  We seemed eternally connected in that moment, in that strange way that trail running brings people together.  BANG! 6:00 AM, we were off.

I ran the 50k, which consisted of two 10 mile loops, one of which we ran twice.  The actual course was beautiful:  A private ranch with rolling hills, non-technical dirt/gravel surfaces, and one beautiful ridge that’s totally worth the steeper climbs and descents.  The race advertises that the surface is “barefoot friendly” but I’m not in agreement with that.  I’m a huge wuss baby and do not enjoy running on small rocks for 31 miles.  I know, I have my diaper on as I’m writing this.  I wore my Vibram Five Finger Spyridons that have good tread on the bottom and was totally comfortable the whole time.  I was glad I was wearing them on the second loop, when I would have been sliding otherwise in the steeper sections.  After each loop, we had a chance to run back through the campground where my sweetie pie and friends were waiting and cheering me on as I came through.  They ran the 10 miler, so they were done WAY before I came back through after my first loop.  Those dudes are FAST.  Mike and his buddy, Joe tied for 3rd place and Grundle came in shortly after.  My new friends from Ventura County Trail Runners were running the 50k also, so I was happy to run with them at different points in the race.

My fuel situation was fantastic.  Like I mentioned, I ate 30 Energy Bits and 30 Recovery Bits 20 minutes prior to the start of the race.  Every hour into the race, I ate 40 more Energy Bits.  Why 40?  Because Energy Bits tells you 15-30, so I figured 40 had to be better, right?  I really don’t think I needed the 40, but I admit, I was a little paranoid.  I carried Mandarin Heed in my pack and drank water at all the aid stations.  I ate about half a tangerine and about half a gel at two different aid stations, but I’m not sure I needed that.  But I planned to stop at all the stations, so I felt like I should eat something they were offering!  My energy level was surprisingly high, and I never hit a wall.  Runner’s high was a gross understatement; I’m pretty sure I floated through this race.  Some might argue that I didn’t run the race to my full potential if I felt that good throughout the race, but I would argue that maybe I had the most fun out there 🙂  My time, while unimportant, turned out to be better than I expected at 5:16.

I really don’t know what to say except that this was the happiest race I have ever done.  Simply put, races like this perpetuate our need to be running, our need to be on the trails, and our need to be together.  Every race should be like this, as this is what running is all about.  Although, I’m really not sure if this race is about running at all.  Instead, maybe it’s about celebrating life.  I heard someone compare Born to Run to the Burning Man Festival, which sounds about right.  Afterall, I don’t think anyone knows what either one is about, but everyone comes away a little loonier and starry eyed, claiming that their life is forever changed.

On my last loop, I found myself full of emotion.  Unfortunately, this always seemed to happen on the hills, when I really needed even breathing to successfully get to the top.  I would have this overwhelming feeling of fullness and satisfaction, and I couldn’t seem to hold back the tears.  The Born to Run 50k seemed like the race that I had been waiting for: Almost like a coming of age, or a celebration of the arrival of the next phase of my life.  I always knew I was meant to run, but I never could until I lost the shoes and the orthotics.  Now here I am, two years later with two marathons, four half marathons, and one ultra marathon under my belt.  And here I am, four months after having surgery, running my first ultra marathon.  AND (as if that’s not enough 🙂 ) we just moved to one of the most beautiful, sunny places I’ve ever seen with endless hills and trails.  When I crossed the finish line, I had a great crew waiting for me.  I held back the tears until they dispersed, then boo hoo’d (yes I’m still wearing my diapers) when it was just Mike and I. Best day of my life.  A few minutes later, one of my buddies I’d met from the course preview, David, came across the finish, and both of us were overwhelmed with emotion again as we had just come a long way together.

The Born to Run Ultra Marathon.  Still don’t know what the hell it was all about.  Was it the hula hoops, the authentic Tarahumara ball races, the beer run, the music, the people, the running, the tattoos, the surfboard prizes, the handmade pendant medals, the cows or the race director?  Who knows?  All I know is that this one will be an annual event for us, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year.  Here’s a cute video to leave you with by one of the Born to Runners:

As always, I’m offering 30% off Energy Bits at http://www.energybits.com with the discount code BAREFOOT at checkout.  🙂

Have you ever experienced a race this fantastic? I’d love to hear about it!

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Dancing into the 3rd loop
Dancing into the 3rd loop
Finished!
Finished!
Friends
Friends
Ventura County Trail Runners
Ventura County Trail Runners