Thursday, October 13, 2016

Born to Run Extravaganza BTR 2016 - Report
Halfbomb - John Rodrigue
Los Olivos, CA
May 11 thru May 16

This may be one of my most difficult but amazing event reports I ever write. Yes, an “Event” report. I really can't label it a “Race” report as it really never began as a race but rather a gathering of many ultra running friends. Sure there was running, lots of running. A 4-day, 200, 100, 60, 30, 10 and the 0.0km running events not to mention all the running games, random runs and activities in between the organized events.  All to take place on the Chamberlin Ranch. A ranch with roaming cattle, Vineyards and beautiful rolling hills in Los Olivos, CA.

Here's my story….

This trip to CA would not have happened if it were not for my time spent on the Appalachian Trail last summer with the Trail Monsters assisting Scott Jurek, it was there I was also introduced to Luis Escobar who was photographing Scott's monumental accomplishment of FKT traversing the AT. Luis is the RD for the Born to Run Ultra Extravaganza but did not know this at the time.

It was only until January 12, 2016 that I found out about the Born to Run Ultras. It was the evening of January 12, I attended the movie showing of “Run Free” at Frontier in Brunswick. I had never viewed the film or heard of it until that night. While watching the film I was happy to see so much involvement in the film by Luis. He was a big part of the film. Also, Scott Jurek was in the film as well. Seeing both of them on the big screen gave me a sense of humblism and brought back fond memories of the recent AT adventure and the time we spent getting a fellow ultra runner, Scotty as Luis refers to him, to his ultimate goal.

The memories,we're so powerful I decided to send Luis and Scott a message telling them I saw the film and how moved I was by its content and their participation in such a great story. In my message to Luis I reminded him we still owed each other a PBR as our parting from the AT was abrupt and we could not celebrate as we had hoped. I offered to him, if his travels ever brought him anywhere in New England that I would travel to where he was to share that PBR.

To my surprise and amazement his response came in the form of an invitation on his part. He said I “needed” to attend his upcoming Born to Run event. At first, I thought he was kidding, seemed like a long way to travel! Fly across the country to run an event, who does that? Well, apparently, lots of passionate ultra runners do.

Luis, sent me his website and an offer for this first trip to his event. His offer was VERY generous, it was an offer that couldn't be refused but I still had great reservations. Because I trust my Trail Monster friends, I called several close friends and told them of the offer and asked what they thought. Not to any surprise, they both said do it. Their answer came without hesitation, if you can do it, do it, don't regret NOT going. They were right, it was a generous offer that only happens once and I've lived my life taking opportunity when it knocks.

I thanked Luis for his amazing and generous offer and returned Luis’ message with….”I will accept your offer”. Now the planning began. The initial fear of “Oh my God, what did I just commit to” filled my mind, but I've never backed out of a commitment and I surely wasn't going to this time.

The first thing to do was register. I needed to decide which event I would take on. Many aspects of this trip played a part in my decision as to which running event I would choose. First, I didn't want to take advantage of the offer, second, I didn't have the time to train to feel comfortable with the 4-day or the 200 miler especially since I've never attempted either distance, so I ruled them out. Third, the 60, 30,10 and 0.0km were out as well as it just didn't seem the distances would justify such a long trip from Maine. The only thing left is the 100 miler, it made sense. I'm familiar with the distance, I know what it takes and what's involved. I registered for the 100. Okay, done right? Nope, there were many unknowns.

I needed to arrange getting a flight to LAX in CA. Then hitch a ride, rent a, car or find a way to Santa Maria airport which was fairly close to the ranch. It ended up I kept an eye out on flight with Seth, another Mainah that spent some time helping out on the AT last summer with Jurek. Seth had been invited as well and we had planned to travel together to save expenses, although, he was sidelined with an injury and had to postpone his trip to CA as we got closer to the time to secure flights.

I had kept an eye on flights, I only booked when the costs had dropped to an amazing low costs, then began going up slowly. I booked the moment it began to change trends….I couldn't beat a $288 roundtrip flight with one layover, so I secured the flight. That task done, wow, what a deal. Fly out of Portland to LAX for under $300, unheard of.

The unknowns were based around terrain, course, weather, camping arrangements, food, water….typically I can transport these things when I travel to the other events I've done, but not this one, at least not realistically. I decided I wasn't going to worry about the little details. I just decided it would all be part of the adventure and I'd figure it out as it came. I did not ask any questions about any of it.

The only thing I did was try to hook-up a ride with other runners through the Facebook site. Joanie Anderson answered the call, she offered to pick me up in Santa Maria but I still needed to get there from LAX. It ended up Luis informed me of a shuttle from LAX that would transport me from LAX to Santa Maria. 4-5 hour trip in a shuttle, this could get interesting and it did.
It did not go without incident between the driver and a passenger. The passenger got belligerent enough with the driver that the shuttle driver the need to stop several times. The driver left the shuttle and I wasn't sure he would return! It ended up that i offered the passenger to share a drink of the Allen's Coffee Brandy I had brought with me.this was  in hopes it would help him chill out so we didn't have to stop again. The passenger refused but i think it was enough that he did stop his nasty badgering of the driver.

I arrived at Santa Maria later than expected! Joanie was wonderful in being flexible with her schedule to pick me up, I was very thankful, so I offered to buy her dinner as we needed to eat. All i had eaten the entire trip was airport food and airport food sucks and I was starving. We had dinner at a great place in Los Olivos when we got there, neat little town with local character.

We arrived at the ranch after 10pm, which is past arrive time cut-off but I was fortunate Luis had not gone to bed, he greeted me with open arms and we got my tent and camping gear together, set up camp and headed to the bonfire. It was there Luis made me feel most welcomed. He had introduced me in a great way to the others. There were only 20-30 people at the ranch at that point but after Luis’ introduction I felt very welcomed and my BTR family acceptance began. Thanks for that Luis, I will never forget it.

The night ended as the flames of fire trickled down and the beer was less plentiful. The 200 milers would set off in the morning at 6 am., lights out.

The Sheriff, Luis, was up at 5am. He starts the day by waking the camp with several shotgun blasts. POW, POW….time to awaken and wish the 200 milers luck and see them off. 6 am, course and course marking review, the oath, and then…..POW, there off. I was very humbled at the handful of 200 mile runners, 7, I believe. They were all ready and eager, but I just couldn't fathom knowing 200 miles were ahead.

The remainder of the day,Thursday, was getting to know others, helping out in any way I could, raising flags as that was my responsibility at BTR this year as I took over for Graham in his absence. We played games, talked, hung flags, diced onions for Julie, roamed around the ranch, organized my gear, helped Luis and Jeff transport things to Bills aid station. Visited a local brew pub, drank beer and just enjoyed the day. The day actually went by quickly due to the excitement and fun.

On the way back to the ranch we stopped for burritos and more beer and picked up food and water at the market for the remainder of the week.

Once we got back we noticed the Tarahumara had arrived and were setting up camp. They had set up tents adjacent to my tent so it was going to be great to listen and interact with them even though i don’t speak Spanish. I was fascinated by the bright clothing and clothing they wore and the sandals they ran on. These were not Luna sandals, they were the original sandals that they had made from old tires and leather strapping. It amazes me they are so agile in this type of footwear.

The remainder of the day was spent trying to stay out of the direct sunlight, hydrate and eat plenty of food in preparation for the next days 6:00 pm start of the 100 mile run. I pretty much roamed around the camp checking things out, spent time with Betty and Julie, Luis’ Mom and Sister, helped Jeff dice onions for the kitchen and introduce myself to everyone i crossed paths with. I walked for awhile with Luis’ dad and his dogs and discussed his interests and knowledge of the trails in the areas as he was passionate about his hiking and spending time outdoors. I got solid advice regarding the rattle snakes and spiders that i might encounter on the trail and what to do if i did. I thanked him for his knowledge as it eased my mind a bit.

During the day more and more runners and people arrived at the ranch and it was great to see every little open area fill with RV’s, tents, campers, homebuilt tow-behinds. The ranch was filling up and fun and games were in the air. It is a feeling i will never forget. Watching everyone roll down that gravel road and look to set up where they might have the year before or look for familiar faces to camp with and the welcoming hugs and greeting were very special. I realized how special this event really is and how connected everyone is to each other. It is one huge happy family of ultra runners gathering as though it is a family reunion. A real sense of being home.

 The night had come, a fire was lit in front of the trailer stage area and we all sat and enjoyed the spanish music and dancing, drinking and shenanigans. Some were running the 100 but there would be only 60 runners to take the line, most were already fast asleep. I figured i would be able to sleep longer in the morning and didn’t want to miss any of the fun. Again, i was surprised how cold it felt at night and made mental notes of this as i would be running through the night in the first part of the run. It seems as though being in the hot intense sun during the day and the drastic drop in temps at night make it feel so much colder. I was happy i packed warmer clothing. I guess i should have known how cold it got at night when Luis supplied me with not one sleeping bag, but three!!!

5:00 am Friday morning, the shot gun goes off and the loud Spanish music begins, time to rise even though there is no event starting this morning. It’s time to get the camp moving, go for a run, eat, help support other runners from the 4-day and 200. Also, this day, as i found out is the busiest day for many to arrive at the ranch. The 60, 30, 10 and 0.0km runners filter in on this day. I filtered through the ranch area offering help to unload and set up tents for a bit then found a nice quiet spot in a hammock with others to rest and relax, took a nice nap. As i woke from napping the Tarahumara wanted to get a game of Bolle (Ball Game) going. Two teams to run and kick the round wood ball some using sticks carved and shaped like a hook, a predetermined distance and have some fun with their native game. Even though i was to run in just a few hours, i decided to take part in what may be a once in a lifetime game with incredible Rumari runners. It was a 4 mile course set up. Teams were chosen and the start was signaled. I have to admit, kicking a wood ball and running at 7:30 pace is tough and takes incredible agility. It was very humbling how quickly the Tarahumara can place the ball on their feet, kick and basically sprint to it and do it again, not to mention that you can be struck by the flying sphere from behind. I heard lots of laughter from the Indians when they nearly clocked a runner with the ball. It was truly a game of fun and laughter.

As the 6:00 pm time grew near other activities began. The beer mile, cartwheel contest, hill climb race and raising of the flags ceremony. I was raising flags an hour before the 100 miler started, ooops, gotta get ready to run! Hahahaha.
I got to my tent, gathered my gear, got myself prepared to be on the trail for at least the next 23-24 hours and headed to the start/finish area.

The start/finish area was a barbed wire gate crossing adjacent to the trailer stage. Ther we met Luis and he gave his explanation of the course, the markings, that there is roaming cattle/bulls and to give way to them, watch for rattlesnakes and pay attention and any other specifics. This lead into the “Oath”......This oath originated from the Copper Canyon races and has become a tradition at the BTR event. It goes like this……

”Raise your right hand, repeat after me. If i get LOST, HURT or DIE, it’s my own damn fault, AMEN.”

A few seconds later the shotgun went off and we were on our way. The run was made up of two “10 Mile Loops”, but as Luis stated, “They were not measured, they may be long, they may be short, i don’t know, i don’t care. If you have issue with that do not complain to me or send me nasty email saying it’s short or long, if you do you know what you are going to get for a response, Fuck Off”. I thought this was perfect being a runner who doesn’t use GPS or care about pace. I always wear my $23 timex to keep total time, that’s it.

The two loops were marked in different colors, PINK & YELLOW. We would begin the adventure on the pink loop. We would also need to keep track of which loop we were on and what was next. I devised a plan after the first two loops. Since we started on Pink, it is number one, an odd number, therefor, pink would always be an odd number as in 30, 50, 70, 90 mile distances. Yellow would be even, 20, 40, 60, 80, 100. All i had to do is know what mile i was at when returning to the start/finish where they posted what mile/loop you had just complete. EASY PEASY RIGHT? Nope, as you progress through the run, you get tired and begin to just function on auto-pilot, this can be bad! At the end of mile 60, which was a yellow loop, i left the timing area and headed right back out on yellow roughly a mile and realized i had screwed up when i saw someone i had run by the previous loop heading towards me, had to turn around and get on the pink loop. That was the only time i got disoriented as i would begin to think about the loops several miles out of the timing area so i would screw it up again. The first pink loop was completed before darkness but the first yellow loop darkness would come. It wasn't bad as it went quickly and when we passed through the dirt road alley everyone was up still and having fun but the next several series of loops would be entirely different. As we got to the alley way, everyone had gone to bed, it was dark and silent. No one but the aid station volunteers, and timing folks were around and they were awesome, supportive and helpful. It was difficult dealing with the silence for several loops.

The night prior to the start of the 100, i had discussed with my new friend Todd whether he would be willing to run one 10 mile loop with me. He agreed and asked me to let him know when. After my screw up of going the wrong direction on the wrong loop and having to turn around, i figured it was time to ask if he would jump in and give me some company. It was mile 70-80, the yellow loop, which was a lot more long climbs and more technical with single track and a steep descent. I mentioned to Todd it may be slow and hot as the sun was high and hot. Todd asked if his girlfriend Amy could join us for the loop and i was excited to have them both by my side. We had long conversations about kids, running, traveling, how they met and how the event was going while i was on the trail. I mentioned to them my experiences with what i think were hallucinations during the night. At one point i panned the trail ahead and swore i saw a bear sitting beside the trail, it was moving back and forth, swaying. I stopped and started to yell loudly, throwing thing near it, waving my arms and wondering why its not moving. I kept creeping up on it until i finally got a closer look at this large, scary, standing its ground “BEAR”. It was a stump, just a damn stump. I began laughing at myself and talking aloud saying “Fuck John get your shit together”. I also told them of the PBR i had found on the side of the trail and was so happy about only to place it in my bottle holder and carry it for 8 miles to the start/ finish area and realize it was a ROCK, yes, a damn rock shaped like a can. I could have sworn it was a PBR! Also, Todd briefly mentioned a 100 mile finishers buckle in our bantering! I was surprised to hear of this. I had no idea a buckle was given for 100 mile finishers! This really motivated me, i want that buckle, it would be only my second buckle. The time flew by on this loop having them with me and i enjoyed their company greatly. It was fantastic getting to know them and how wonderful they are. I can’t thank them enough for helping me through that low point after running through the night.

Todd made a suggestion, he noticed how tired i was and suggested i take a short nap when we got back and before i head back out for mile 80-90. I had also discussed that i had been urinating blood in the loop we ran together and i needed to get a lot of water through my system and cut back on the electrolytes. I took his advice of a nap and laid in a hammock for a half hour and then hit the trail. I felt refreshed from being out of the sun for a short time, cooled down and feeling good and the water i had consumed seemed to clear up the blood in my urine. I immediately got back into a steady run and found myself joining small groups again. It is amazing what the daylight and meeting others on the trail can do to revive the body.

I got half way into the last Pink Loop and made a decision that i would give it all i had in this loop and hope for the best for the last Yellow loop. I crashed the descents as fast as my quads would allow. I pushed the climbs as hard as my body could go. The flats seemed effortless as i just focused on getting closer to the finish and seeing celebrations going on and people having fun. The one thing i remember seeing that got me laughing every time were the Barbie and Ken dolls that someone had set up beside the trail entering camp. There were sets of what seemed to be dozens of dolls and in different sexual positions. It was hilarious. Loved the distraction. Once i got in at 90 miles, i realized i may get back into the darkness, so i tried NOT to forget to grab my headlamp which others had done in the first several loops and then headed into the night, several i crossed paths with i would ask if they have their headlamps and a few did not! They had to turn back.

Ok, back to the party area, I saw Chris Clemens when got in to mile 90. I noticed an open beer sitting on the ground near the stage. I assumed it was his but he was having so much fun with the others i couldn’t get his attention so i grabbed the beer and walked with it and drank it in the next half mile. It tasted so good and it gave me incentive to get through the next ten miles so i could drink, dance and party with the others. Okay, damn last YELLOW loop, here i come. I remember telling Luis at mile 60 that if i get tired i would just lay down in the middle of the trail and sleep in hopes the next runner wakes me up. He said “Don’t do it, the rattlesnakes will get you”. I did not do it even though i wanted to a mile 92-93! The thoughts of curling up with a rattlesnake was not appealing.

Mile 90-100, the yellow loop, oh gawd, i can’t get that out of my head, “The Yellow Loop”. I need to get that out of my mind. I decided to have a conversation with myself. I reminded myself that no matter what you do, run, hike, walk it’s going to be painful either way so just run and get it done so you can celebrate. These were words i had heard from Jedi George during my Eastern States 100. Amazing words of wisdom as they did the trick.

I don't have much recollection of the last 10 miles other than it had gotten cold again. The sun was disappearing being the hills and I had put on all the clothes I had and wished I had more. It was just 3-4 miles into the last 10 mile loop that I began shivering uncontrollably. I knew this was bad and decided to try and pick up the pace to get warm. It seemed to help for just a short time until my teeth started to chatter and I couldn't relax them enough to stop. “Just focus, do your job, last loop” I kept reciting to myself, kept my head down and just moved as fast as I could. It was at this point I removed my watch and packed on my hydration pack so I would stop looking at time. I came across other runners running the 60, 200 miler but I just couldn't get any words out. I'm not sure my clattering teeth wouldn't allow words to form! There were many runners out on the trail Saturday afternoon but they seemed to become less as the day went on. Sunday at noon was the cut-off for all events.

I began to hear the Spanish music, laughter, party and loud cheers in the distance, I'm close keep it moving. Finally the gravel alley way, The Barbie and Ken dolls getting it on, I hear cheers, I see the stage, I see the red glow of the finish timer. I get to the cleared area near the stage and realize I may be hypothermic so I make a decision to peel off the course and go directly to my tent to get into my sleeping bags and get warm. I see Chris, he ask if I'm done and I motion to him, YES. He says you need to cross the line and I explained I will but getting warm is most important at the time. He, Todd, Amy and several others helped me into my tent, stripped my clothes off and helped me get warm again. I had set my alarm to wake and get to the line in a few hours or until I got warm and woke up. I have to give a special thanks to those that helped get me and keep me warm. Very special thanks.

Once I woke up I got dressed in my gear and bib and crossed the line where the crowd clapped and chanted “100 mile finisher”. Luis was waiting for me at the line and presented me my buckle and amulet. I gave him a hug and thanked him for such a great run and experience then made my way back to my tent after a quick dance and a beer at the stage where Todd and Chris noticed I was still shivering and blue in color. It was back to the tent, undressed and many blankets,and sleeping bags were thrown on me. There, I fell asleep for some time.

It was done, I was proud and happy. I completed my first BTR and felt great about my run. I placed the special amulet around my neck, adjusted it and fell asleep with a smile.

There are many other details but this report would just be too long and put you to sleep. There are just some things that need to be shared over a beer or run.

Here are the highlights….
-Seeing Luis and Chris again, a great reunion
-Meeting and hanging with Dirtbag Runners
-My tent home
-Hanging the Maine & TMR flags and all flags
-Helping out when needed
-Running with the Rumari Tarahumara
-The stories, bonfires, games, drinking and activities
-Fig microbrewery
-Joanie’s kindness
-The course, rolling hills, beautiful landscape
-Night toads, hundreds of black spiders and rattlesnakes and other weird insects on the trail
-Secret warmth
-Spanish music and dancing
-Christopher McDougal & Barefoot Ted
-Haircuts & Mohawks
-Tattoos temporary and permanent
-5:00am shotgun and Spanish music wake up calls
-The Oath
-Dry hard packed surface
-Volunteers and Aid Stations
-Vibrant Moon and Stars
-The heat of the sun
-Luis’ family and my time with them
-Seeing 4-day/200 mile runners on trail and finishing
-Feeling like I fit in and welcomed
-Saying goodbye and sadness it has to end

The BTR event is a celebration and gathering of Ultra running friends. Luis has created a great event where his family and friends gather to share the passion we all have “The Trail Run”.

One of the most
-The games, fun and laughter
-The Julie food
-Barbies and Kens getting it on
-Meeting Christopher McDougall and Barefoot Ted
-People i met along the way in airports and shuttles
-Feeling good physically throughout
-Climbing the hill out of the valley for cell reception
-Fox tails, holy crap they are nasty
-Gopher and snake holes everywhere, watch your ankles
-Amazing group of ultra runners and people

This was a list of Top 10 required items for the event that Luis sent to participants:
1.    Waiver, print it, read it, sign it, bring it,
2.    Camp dues, $10 dollars per person, in cash, exact change, payable upon arrival
3.    Cowboy hat
4.    Ice
5.    Food
6.    Toilet paper
7.    Two gallons of water per person
8.    Large trash bag
9.    Lawn chair
10.  Open mind and an open heart

It was an incredible adventure and so many to thank.
Danielle & Ryan, Pete & Mindy, TMR, Luis, Chris, Todd & Amy, all my friends for support, all the volunteers at BTR, Luis’ family at BTR, and other secret thank you’s….you know how you are.

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