Original Photo by Tyler Tomasello
The Born to Run Ultramarathon is a weekend that I hold dear to my heart. Without hesitation, I would easily call it my favorite weekend of the year. A breathtakingly beautiful ranch, filled with the best friends I’ve ever had the good fortune to have, and all the beer you could ever imagine consuming…what could be better? Throw in some bola racing, archery, live music, beer mile, shotguns, piñatas, scavenger hunts, hula-hooping, dancing, no-talent shows, tattoos (yes, real ones), the BEST burritos ever, and so, so much more…and you have a small, dim idea of what really happens at the Born to Run Ultramarathon.
Junior Varsity beer mile & Neil with the shotgun
There are several distance options should you choose to actually run at some point during the weekend, ranging from 0.0 all the way to the 4-Day event. Most people are smart. Most people realize that there’s a party going down, and choose the shorter 10- or 30-mile options. I was not one of those people. This having been my 4th year at BTR, I decided to switch things up a bit and run the 4-Day, because, well, why not? instantly, you might think I was crazy, or some intensely talented athlete. I am neither. I just figured out a way to get to the ranch as early as I could, run as much as I want, while simultaneously being present for all the shenanigans (well, most).
My plan was to knock out as many miles as I could on Wednesday & Thursday, run Friday morning, be back in time for my friends showing up on the ranch and (most importantly) the beer mile, and then… well, it gets fuzzy after that.
Bobby and I arrived Wednesday morning. While packing proved stressful (4 days of running, costumes for beer mile-ing, prom attire, plus every first-aid type of thing I could imagine I might need), I was very much at ease listening to the pre-race instructions given by both Sheriff Luis Escobar and 4-Day/200-mile RD Manley “Babyface” Klassen. We lined up, gave the all-too-familiar oath, and before we knew it we were off and running…/walking. A lot. There was a lot of walking. Did I mentioned we walked?
the front, middle, and back of the pack
Loop #1 – Pink
The first loop would prove to be my fastest loop, and undoubtedly the loop with the most company. We started out on Wednesday at noon, in more or less of a pack. We smelled good, we looked good, and we felt good. All would surely be good. Chris Clemens & Tyler Tomasello had spent the better half of the morning whacking the course, but the nettle was still brutally harsh on our legs. It would be like this for the next two days until the vegetation was trampled flat, allowing us to run over the fruits of our labor. Those racing the shorter distances the following Saturday morning would have no idea of the sting of the trailblaze. At one point, Sweeney mentioned how long the pink loop felt, never having ran it so slow (meanwhile, Scott and I were way ahead of our planned schedule). Welcome to our world, amigo.
“Well isn’t this fucking cute!”-Larry Gassan
Loop #2 – Yellow
Oy vey. The ups are a lot upper than I remembered from previous years…but the downs are the real killer…well, one down in particular. Couldn’t wait to repeat it multiple times. I had purchased & brought trekking poles specifically for this one, near-vertical descent. Still running with the same small group of crazies.
Loop #3 – Pink
After a long lunch break, after the heat let up, I set out with Bobby for a nice sunset 11-mile jaunt. A large herd of bulls, especially a very angry one smack dab on the dirt farm road we were running on, caused us to do a little off-roading through the foxtail and rattlesnake territory. No need to confront a bull, at least this early into the “race.”
Loop #4 – Yellow
Night loop. Set out around 11p, returned around 2am. There were twenty pound frogs everywhere. Also, cow pies look surprisingly similar to curled up rattlesnakes. I found out later that this was a common idea amongst my running colleagues. Apparently at the campfire, Sweeney found out I had pulled ahead of him in mileage, and began chase, despite his drunken state. He finished 30 minutes before me, wearing a heavy winter poncho, pajama pants and flip-flops (as opposed to his normal Luna Sandals). That dude is an animal.
Loop #5 – Pink
Knocked it out really quickly midday, spent the entire loop completely alone so I did something I’ve never done before: ran with music on dirt. Mostly the Doors – American Prayer. It was pleasant. Jim Morrison has a remarkable ability casting a trance upon his listeners with his poetic spoken word. However, I’ll stick to the sounds of nature while on single-track. Came back to camp to find many of my friends had shown up while I was out running, so I decided to take another long break. A bola race with the Tarahumara ensued. It looked next to impossible for everyone who joined in on the races to keep up with the sandal-clad Raramuri, but all had a great time, albeit a little winded.
On my way back out, Greg stopped me. What was I doing?! It was nearly ish, which meant one thing: Greg’s Groms Happy Hour! I have never had a such a delicious, deceiving margarita. Afterwards I set out again, in a very good mood.
Greg’s Groms happy hour. Photo by Tyler Tomasello
Loop #6 – Yellow
I left at 5:30p, and about a mile in I realized I had forgotten to bring my headlamp (dammit Greg!). This revelation, along with the sun, told me I had about 2.5 hours of light, and I was on the longer, vastly more difficult loop which I averaged 3 hours to finish. I had many opportunities where the course looped back towards the campground, and I could have easily made a mile detour to grab a light. Instead, I used my fear of possibly needing to utilize my very poor night vision as motivation to run my fastest yellow loop, completing it just as the sun set. I was planning on picking up Bobby to pace me for another night loop. When I sped into camp, I surprised him by being an hour early…an hour that he had planned to spend eating the massive burrito and finishing a freshly-opened beer. He inhaled the burrito, washed it down with a long swigof beer, grabbed his headlamp (smart guy!) and took off with me after a quick warm-up by the fire & wardrobe change.
Loop #7 – Pink
Another night loop – more frogs.
Loop #8 – Yellow
Friday morning. I decided to get a quick loop in before the festivities really began. My goal for the day was to not miss the beer mile. I had spent quite a few hours being on the ranch completely alone. It was peaceful, beautiful, and all around pleasant. I decided to listen to an audiobook, and completed a loop with Roland Deschain of Gilead, and was transported to a world not of my own. After a couple of hours, I switched back over to music. I began my final climbs back into camp when Jay-Z’s Dirt Off Your Shoulder played. I didn’t feel like a pimp, but it did put some swagger back into my step as the temps rose along with the course profile, and the shade remained nonexistent.
the fool on the hill
Almost serendipitously, on the very last climb, the Beatles’ Fool on the Hill filled my earbuds and I laughed out loud to myself as Paul reminded me that
“…the fool on the hill sees the sun going down and the eyes in his head see the world spinning around.”
I jogged back into camp, grabbed four beers, and lined up for the beer mile.
Photo by Joe Ramirez
I only ran 10 (+1) miles that day, but I was able to enjoy Greg’s Happy Hour, a slower-than average beer mile (I think I placed 6th female? Who cares, my only goal was to beat the Sheriff), danced with friends, and then passed out early enough to get a full-night’s rest in before the shotgun went off.
Loop #9 – Pink
Shotgun rounds. Then, mariachi music. I don’t speak fluent Spanish, but I know what a borracho is, and every song Race Director Luis played that morning referenced one.
For the full duration of my entire first loop on Saturday morning “BARRACHO
” flashed in my head like a neon sign, reminding me why Born to Run is actually a much more difficult race than it lets off to be. I let out a few burps, guzzled my water, and attempted to shake off the foggy daze. Up until that point, I had spent a large majority of the weekend alone on the two-loop course. Now, hundreds of people ran with me, laughing, talking, shouting out mileages…If I’m going to be completely honest, I felt a little overwhelmed, almost like I was surrounded by tourists visiting my country. I caught up to a 200-miler who had started on Thursday morning, and we both agreed that the vibe was now just a little…different. Not in a bad way, but it did shake things up a bit. The energy of the hoards of fresh legs perked my pace up, but I kind of missed my lonely climbs with my lonely oak trees, watched only by the lonely bulls. Soon enough, though, most of the Saturday runners left me far behind and I was once again alone with my thoughts.
Loop #10 – Yellow
I cruised back into camp, found Bobby, and asked if he would like to finally see a loop during daylight hours. He grabbed his handhelds and took off with me for my century loop. I didn’t realize it when I picked him up, but it ended up working our perfectly that he was with me when I finished 100 miles.
belching along . Photo by Crista Scott
We had a goal of being back at camp by noon, when the highly competitive 0.0 race began. Or didn’t begin. I’m not really sure. We made it just in time to line up, grab our Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Luis counted us down from five….and then we did…nothing. Everyone won. Or lost. Again, I don’t really know.
Photo by Pat Sweeney
Loop #11 – Pink
After DNF’ing the 0.0, Mara Klassen cooled me off with some ice and agreed that I could fit in another loop before the inaugural Dirtbag Prom (it’s exactly what it sounds like). I slinked off, hoping Sweeney wouldn’t notice me going out for another loop. Drats, he spotted me just as I was heading out. Lucky for me, he’s much more of a sucker when it comes to games and festivities. All of our friends were there, with beer, and I was the idiot who decided to go back out on the course all alone. Just me, and Roland of Gilead. I struggled with this loop. I spent the majority of it walking, feeling somewhat sorry for myself for this self-inflicted misery. So, instead of wallowing in my lonesomeness I decided to make the best of it and listen to my book. I did that during the time I wasn’t walking with Steve Harvey, listening to his tales of yesteryear as he completed his 9th loop. At Beverly’s aid station, I was reenergized by a delicious coconut smoothie and took off ahead of the Old Goat, wanting to be alone again. I had grown accustomed to it, and figured I might as well pay tribute to my solo adventure by ending it the way I had ran the majority of it. I decided to take in as much as I could, paying attention to the small details I had breezed by so many times. A massive sunflower stretched up towards the sky, it too without a companion. I smiled and nodded at it, then pushed forward. I grazed my fingers along the tall grass that lined the dirt farm road. I closed my eyes and inhaled the scent of the soapy sage. These were aspects of the race that I hadn’t ignored on previous loops, but had simply not appreciated with the intensity I did during this last loop. I knew it would be a another year before I would be out here again. I would miss it painfully.
Loop #12 – The After Party
While not technically a loop, I think I may have expended most of my energy after my “race” ended. When I took my last steps on the course, running into the compound for the final time, I had arrived just as the No-Talent Show was ending.
No Talent Show. Photo by Crista Scott
Luckily, the last two acts were the best ones (the Arizona crew really goes all out), and I was there for the final judging, which happened to be my favorite part of the entire weekend. Arnulfo Quimare, the King of the Copper Canyon, the Champion of champions, one of the most respected athletes in ultrarunning….who also speaks not a lick of English, played the part of the most influential judge. Arnulfo is famous for being unapologetically shy, modest, and incredibly quiet. Well, friends, Arnulfo got hammered and turned into a regular Dick Van Dyke. On two separate occasions (that I was present for at least) he motioned to the person with the mic to hand it over. Once in his possession, Arnulfo spewed out a repeated & rehearsed paragraph in Spanish to a cheering crowd, speaking so quickly one would be tempted to think he announced soccer games on Telemundo as a side gig to his running career.
“estoymuyfelizparaestaraqui” Photo by Tyler Tomasello
Soon after, it was time to get ready for the Dirtbag Prom. I slipped on my wildly sequined Tina Turner dress, spread some anti-chafing lube all over my inner arms (why stop now?), and tied on my Luna Sandals before hitting the dance floor with Bobby. We danced the night away under the stars with our friends and cups of wine, with blow-up dolls flying over our heads like beach balls. It was a beautiful thing.
Photo by Molly Nugent. no relation.
After a great morning of sleeping in, I checked whether or not Sweeney had snuck out for another lap. He had not. I was finally safe, having secured the lead with that last, seemingly endless pink loop. Several of us grabbed a cooler, hopped in the bed of Luis’ pickup, and swept the course, which was an adventure all on its own.
BTR course sweeping crew. Photo by Molly Nugent
“Life is good, and getting better.”