Part 2: La Ruta Run, 2013 Race Report
La Ruta Run 100k & 52k Race Report, October 16, 2013
Race day morning started with a 4am minibus ride to a prerace breakfast of fruit and some particularly greasy gallo pinto.
When we got to the start line it was like letting a herd of antelopes out of a cage. Everyone was so psyched to finally get into the mountains to run!
40 or so racers gathered at the start line. Most were from Costa Rica, with a handful of indigenous runners from the BriBri and Cabecare tribes and some well-acclimated ex-pats. The rest of us were traveling from cooler, drier climates and were easily recognized by glisten of sweat gathering on our faces before the sun had even risen. Before the race the Tarahumara burned kopal and performed a short prayer ceremony with signing and dancing.
And then we were off . . .
The first aid station was 14 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain away. I knew I’d be slow on the more technical trail sections so I wanted to keep at least a 10 min/mile pace on the roads to make sure I would make the first cut-off time. With the heat and humidity I was pushing my edge going that fast up hill but I held steady hiking as fast as I could. I normally don’t drink much the first couple of hours of a race, but in this case I finished my full liter of water early on. The
last three miles to El Sur aid station were down a steep, slick, rocky ATV trail. I slowed down considerably, admiring the skid marks that the faster runners had left behind. I was loving the traction and drainage of my brand new New Balance Minimus trail shoes and was sad that I was too slow to watch the Tarahumara run this section in their sandals. I made it to the first aid station at exactly three hours, grabbed a couple of water bottles and kept going.
Ahead was a mix of jeep trail and slick mud with several refreshing river crossings. The route follows the eastern edge of Carara National Park, which is the northern most section of remaining Pacific Coast Rain Forest, and is suitably wild and beautiful. There were toucans and aracari’s calling and emerald hermits chipping away as I ran down the steep trail trying not to grab hold of acacia trees, thorny vines or worse, vipers that look like vines. As I was picking up speed to pass three Talamanca runners, a family of rancid-onion smelling peccaries crossed the trail in front of us. The Talamanca boys were in no hurry, calling to me “Tranquillo!” as I ran by.
A short while later I came to another river crossing and without thinking much about it, I continued straight across and up the jeep trail on the other side. The mud was so deep and wet that it didn’t hold distinct footprints and only after 30 minutes of climbing did I begin to wonder why the Talamanca guys weren’t behind me. But they had been running slow and stopping to take breaks so I figured they were cooling off in the river below. There had been only a few orange flags marking the route thus far so I didn’t think it was odd that there were none on this section. About half way up the hill I came across a man in a jeep parked at a trail intersection. He asked me how many runners were behind me and I told him about ten. I figured he was a race volunteer and I was happy to confirm that I must be going the right way after all. I continued up the impossibly steep, slick muddy trail. It was hard not to use my hands climbing and soon I was totally covered in the sticky red tropical mud. The whole time I was thinking “holy shit, this is one hell of a course!”. Up and up I went. Another 30 minutes of climbing brought me to harder packed mud and I immediately noticed there were no sneaker or sandal tread marks here, just horse hooves. Uh oh. A little further down the trail brought me to a gorgeous overlook. I was officially at the top of whatever mountain I was on and there was definitely no aid station around. A farmer and his horse came up the trail from a field behind me. I asked him if he’d seen “anyone else with numbers on”. He looked at me the same way I would have looked at him if he’d shown up in my front yard in Maine. After a brief moment of bewilderment, his already impossibly wrinkly face crinkled up inhysterical laughter and I had to join him. It was clear I was way off route!
I turned around and as I plunge-stepped and glissaded down the steep muddy track. Once again I couldn’t help but love the security and traction of my shoes and I wondered how the Tarahumara navigated so much slick mud in their sandals and ran as fast as they did. (I know several of them took some nasty falls and a few had pretty sore knees at the end, but they all seemed fully recovered by the next morning.)
Down I went. Weeee. I passed the mysterious man in the truck, and when I finally got back to the river I arrived at the same time as the last runner, Christian, with his support crew. They were on another road across the river that I hadn’t seem the first time through. Happy to be back on track but totally starving and thirsty after my detour I gladly accepted a bottle of ice cold water from Christian’s crew. A little while later I made it to the Laguna check point. I flopped down under the tent and immediately consumed the only food they had left – a dozen small potatoes, and poured the remaining salt straight into my mouth. I had another 8 miles to finish the 52k course and there was no way I was going to make it by the cut-off time to continue for the second half of the 100k.
I was disappointed and starving. I left the Laguna aid station running but after a mile or so, I simply could not get my legs to move faster than a fast walk. I kept thinking that once the potato starch hit them they would pep-up, but they remained lead weights. Since I’d initially planned to make the 52k mark in ~7hrs I’d left the bulk of my Gu and Tailwind supply on the bus that was supposed to be waiting there. But now I was a couple hours and several hundred calories behind. Christian and his crew caught up to me and when I admitted I was ravenously hungry and had nothing left to eat they kindly shared a couple Gu packets with me . . . it was enough to keep me moving forward, albeit very slowly, for the last five miles. At about 2:45pm I was the last of the 53k racers to finish. I ate the three remaining bananas on the table and the volunteers started packing up the finish line as soon as I sat down.
I was incredibly grateful that I got to run as much of the course as I did, but I was sad that I got off-route and missed out on running and finishing with the group. In the end, nine of the 40 runners continued on to complete the 100k course, five of those were Tarahumara men. Silvino Cubesaré was the first man to finish with a time of 11hrs 15 mins and Katelyn Tocci , an American living in Costa Rica, was the first female in 13hrs 32mins.
I stuffed myself into the cab of the volunteer truck, along with several water coolers, the inflatable finish line and a lifetime’s supply of Red Bull. We were headed to El Rodeo to meet up with the rest of the runners who had already been bused to the 100k finish line. On the way there the volunteer crew decided to stop for food at a roadside café.
I just about passed out! I had no money on me and I knew a gourmet post-race meal was waiting for me at El Rodeo but who was I to deprive these hard working volunteers of their chicharrónes! Another hour passed as we wound our way (lost) through the narrow foggy mountain roads . . . finally arriving at El Rodeo as the first Tarahumara men were crossing the 100k finish line. I gratefully crawled out of the truck and unfolded myself at the bar where the host and chef at Hacienda El Rodeo promptly handed me a steaming bowl of bone broth and beef parts and two cold bottles of Imperial. Pura Vida!
Over all, La Ruta Run was a fun and challenging race. Any runner that takes on this course needs to be a confident and self-sufficient runner. Aid stations are 10-18 miles apart, and some parts of the trail are only accessible by foot and horseback. The indigenous runners didn’t carry much – just one water bottle each and some pinole (and of course Dave James ran as naked as was practical). But most of us carried larger than average running packs with fancy hydration systems, extra food, clothing and headlamps. I took my favorite super-light Ultimate Direction AK pack, a ziplock bag full of Tailwind drink mix and a dozen Gu packets. I forgot my hydration hose, hence the two ½ liter water bottles strapped to my chest. Next time I would double the amount of calories I carry with me . . . and with the exception of the water bottles I would keep my gear the same. I loved my white Columbia arm sleeves and I used a bandana around my neck – which I dunked in every stream crossing to keep cool. My new shoes worked well even with the pile of volcano pebbles I accumulated at each stream crossing. At size 12, I’m maxing out my potential in the women’s shoe world, and my hot, swollen feet quickly filled the extra space. I ended up down four toenails, but the rest of my body remained intact and pain-free. I consider that a huge success!
More About La Ruta Run 2013:
Running with Tarahumara Women (an article I wrote for the Natural Running Center)
El Heraldo de Chihuahua (pre-race PR)
El Heraldo de Chihuahua (post-race report)
UPDATE: here’s a lovely video slide show of the race. You won’t see much of me because between my invisible cape and my incredible speed, I was hard to capture on film!