Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mexican Beauty/Mexican Reality: Race Report, Carrera de Resistencia en las Montañas 62k. “What a long strange trip it’s been.”

We would run the route out and back for a total of 62 kilometers

   What’s there to say about a well-executed race? Not much, really.
 Fortunately for you, neglected reader, my race was a long-and-winding disaster, so the report that follows might prove a bit more appealing than if all had gone well.

But first a digression:
 No one talks much about the Grateful Dead’s studio success, and with good reason. They made their magic on stage. However, there are at least a couple studio standouts: American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead. I bring this up only to recall the cover of American Beauty and also to justify my use of the somewhat tired “what a long strange trip it’s been” line which comes from one of their few radio hits (Truckin’) that was a track on American Beauty. If you recall the cover, depending on how you looked at it (or depending on what you were in the mood to see), it said both “American Beauty” and “American Reality.”
  I haven’t listened to the Grateful Dead in the past decade and a half but this popped into my mind at the end of the race for reasons that will be made clear at the end of this report.

Boring race background stuff:
  My big goal race is the Jemez 50 miler on May 25 in New Mexico. I woke up at midnight back in December to be the first person to sign up for the race. I’ve got plane tickets and personal days lined up. Why Jemez? One, because I’ve got a friend who lives there (who, sensibly, is running the ½ marathon) and two because I wanted my first 50 miler to be the hardest 50 miler in the U.S. (don’t ask, I don’t know why). And most folks figure that the toughest 50 miler distinction is a toss-up between Zane Grey, San Juan Solstice and Jemez.

   So everything has been geared towards Jemez. I ran a 50k (followed by a ½ marathon the next day) back on February 2 and 3rd, and then ran just over a marathon in the mountains a couple weeks later. But then I got wonderfully sidelined by one of the great experiences in my life: performing in the theatre production of A Woman in Mind. After 20+ years I was back on stage. Running took a bit of a back seat. I didn’t stop running, but the long runs didn’t get much beyond 30K (and there weren’t too many of those) and I fell short of 50 miles a week, hovering in the forties, at best.
  I did run a few shorter trail runs in the first couple weeks of March, and I improved dramatically in all three runs from my efforts the previous year, but success at 14k, 16k and 26k doesn’t readily translate to success at longer stuff.
  But the big part of my plan was to run the 62k Carrera de Resistencia en las Montañas (CAREMO.) It was perfectly timed: a month before Jemez. I’d spin the wheels on a long run and still have time to recover. I told myself it was a training run, but a race is still a race. Nobody likes to get passed. Even when training.
  I didn’t have grand goals. I dreamed of 8:30, a bit out of reach, but I was certain I’d finish sub-9. I had run the course in one direction: CAREMO is the first 31 kilometers of the oldest marathon in Mexico, the Maraton Rover, but instead of running down to Cuernavaca after arriving in Tres Marias as the Maraton Rover does, you turn around and run back to Mexico City.  UP/Down/Up/Down.  31k out, 31k back. There’s a few kilometers of flattish running in there, but not much. My 31k split to Tres Marias was 4:15 last year in August. I thought I could match that.

  And I almost did. I’m definitely in ok 20 mile shape. I went out very conservatively and then started picking things up, passing some folks around 15k. I made the climb up to the highest point of the race and then the long descent into Tres Marias. I arrived around 4:25. Good, I thought. I took it easy.  I knew the tester in this race would be the steep climb back up to the Cerro. 
  I climbed well. Didn’t get passed.
I was distracted, however. Earlier, about a kilometer after the turn around in Tres Marias, a group of runners looked distraught and as I passed them I caught the words “me asaltaron/They assaulted me.
  I’ve heard tales before. Folks having their mountain bikes taken at gun point, a few news reports of hikers getting robbed. It’s all been second-hand info. But it happens. Some have warned me about training alone out in Desierto de Los Leones, but I see so few people out there that it seemed a bit of unjustified paranoia so I never gave it much thought.
 These freshly assaulted runners were going to end their race in Tres Marias.

 I did the only sensible thing and kept running.

My two points of logic that led to above decision:
1. The thiefs (or, as I heard runners referring to them later, Ellos que no tienen madres/those without mothers) probably would not strike again, as the word was out, as were a few police trucks
2. The tried and true “it probably won’t happen to me”. (always 100% correct until it isn’t)

But let me clarify so you don’t accuse me of building cheap suspense, and because my grandmother, Nina Carlin, is a regular reader of this blog (the only regular reader, I should say): I wasn’t robbed. I made it home, showered, ate and wrote this report.

But the thought stuck with me, the negativity began to flood in. I thought back to the trash along the side of the road in the first part of the race. I recalled the gentleman strolling along whom I saw just casually throw a bottle in an empty yard (well, empty except all the other trash that was strewn there.).
  I reflected on Boston.
  I contemplated on the phrase “hijos de la chingada.”
  I mused about poverty and whether or not that was any excuse to leave garbage everywhere.
  I decided it wasn’t.
  I had dark fantasies about getting robbed, but turning the gun on the robbers and putting holes in their kneecaps as a well-earned lesson in not taking things from runners who are tired.
 I noticed every piece of trash on the course.
 I went to a dark place, and my race was falling apart. I had finished the last major climb, but couldn’t get things to turn over on the downhill. My stomach was tight. Folks started passing me.
  I was nauseous, dizzy.
Not wanting to eat a GU, but knowing I needed to eat a GU.
I reflected on what an easy target I would be for robbers. And how unlikely it would be that I would have the wherewithal to provide them that well-earned lesson in the kneecaps.

  In fact, three teenagers with small sticks could have held me up.

  These three fantasy teenagers with hypothetically small sticks would have been rewarded with 3 packets of GU, 50 pesos and a Garmin watch. I fantasized that I could negotiate with these hypothetical robbers to leave me with my Patagonia Houdini, as it’s so flimsy and cheap looking they could never imagine I spent nearly a 100 bucks on the thing. They could take my cell phone. I don’t know why I brought the damn thing anyway as I hadn’t taken a single picture. And what the hell would they do with a Nathan Pack?
  Especially after I blew out their kneecaps.
 And so it went.  (in my head, while I was running shuffling down the mountain back toward Mexico City)

Around kilometer 50 a crew of about 6 people passed me. Passing all of us was a happy couple running like gazelles downhill.  

 They were running the race I wanted to run. I’m glad I got to see it.

  “Well done, happy couple. Well-executed race. I forgive you the smug looks I imagined on your faces when you blew by me.
 Bet you wish you had a great race report to write. Maybe next time. I’ve got a training plan for you.”

 It would have felt nice to vomit, but I couldn’t. I more or less kept moving.

And then I came to a little impromptu aid station. It wasn’t there on the way out (As a side note, the first aid station was at kilometer 25. As much as I hate wearing the pack, it was the right call.)
Nothing sounded good. I didn’t want anything; I just wanted to feel better. So I drank some Red Cola (not even real Coke. I love the 300 peso entry fee, but Jeez!) and a bit of water.
  I was asked offhand if I’d been robbed. I had to think about it, as in my head at that moment I had been robbed and I was wanted by the police for the unjustified shooting of three teenagers armed with nothing but small sticks. I don’t know where the gun came from.

  Apparently a few folks had been robbed, not just one. I didn’t ask for details. I was left with only the slightly flimsier point number 2 in my logic as described above.

  Still, the sensible thing was to keep moving.

  And then I was out of the woods, back in the neighborhood that had crept up the mountain: haphazard, unfinished houses up high. Some no more than four brick walls with a tin roof. And trash was everywhere. And I was never running this race, or any race that used this route ever again. It was a disgrace. All this I spoke very loudly in my head. But it wasn’t just the race I was chastising. It was all of Mexico.

  If you’ve every lived in a foreign country for a while, you’ve probably done some version of this. When things go bad, we expats don’t blame the DMV, the IRS, the Cops, the Democrats or Republicans. We blame the whole country. And this I was doing, indicting all of Mexico. They had failed to maintain civil society  --as evidenced by some runners who got robbed and all the trash strewn about—and I was leaving, an act that would ripple far and wide across the nation and result in a lot of soul searching and perhaps a national reading of Rosseau’s The Social Contract, followed by rigorous discourse which would result in sweeping changes: the most notable being no trash where I run, and robbers will not be a threat to my possession of a Garmin GPS watch.

And then I lost the course.

There were no ribbons to be seen. A big truck was moving slowly down the hill. I knew they were the thieves and I thought of removing my watch, just to have it ready. Hoped they would be satisfied with the Garmin, my last packet of GU and 50 pesos, and not take my Patagonia Houdini.

They drove past.

 And then there was another runner. Never been so happy to have someone come up behind me in a race. He said we were on the right path. He was a seasoned vet, and I tried to follow. On the downhills I could stay with him, but I was such a sorry shuffler on the flats and couldn’t keep up. I struggled to keep him in view. He seemed to have his wits about him. We were in traffic now. And then the course flattened out for a long while. I saw him turn. And when I took that turn I was in the middle of a street packed with vendors, covered in tarps, with people walking everywhere. One of the markets that spring up across the city on the weekend. I had no idea where to go.
  I’m supposed to run through the market? I kept going until it was obviously Not the Right Way. I asked a Taxi Driver where the Pemex was, he pointed me back the way I had gone. Back through the market again.  I figured since I was lost I might as well use the phone and capture a bit of the market on video.
  My Garmin had died. A blessing. It would have been painful to know the time.
  I wandered. I thought about just getting a cab and going home. I didn’t want the shirt, the medal. I was done with this race. And anyway, I was leaving Mexico.
 And then I remembered this was my first “ultra” beyond 50k. Would I fail to finish my first ultra? I wandered and asked and finally found the street I was looking for. I walked.
  I saw the Pemex. I still walked. Some folks started cheering and I felt a bit ridiculous for walking, but after nearly an hour of wandering around lost, it seemed almost dishonest to jog it in.
  And then I got a big hug from one of the volunteers. She put a medal around my neck. And immediately I felt quite stupid about being such a grump.
  And then I was sitting on the ground, in front of a Pemex station, about three feet from where the cars where barreling past, where the longest avenue in the world, Insurgentes ends and turns into the Cuota (toll road) to Cuernavaca. A few racers where chatting. Without me asking, a cold beer was put in my hand. I didn’t know any of these people. A woman who turned out to be the second place female was next to me, and we chatted a bit. I prayed to all/any gods that she not ask me my race time.
She didn’t.
 Incidentally, in addition to being very fast, she’s strikingly beautiful.
  We talked about running and training, but strangely, not the race. What a relief. The assaults were mentioned in passing and then not brought up again.

  It was a beautiful moment there on the side of the highway.
It turned out that others got lost, too. We saw one runner arrive by bus from the other direction and then finish. We all had a good laugh at that. Numbers were exchanged. Vague plans to run were made.
  Sitting there on the gravel, exhausted, cramped and a few feet from the highway, cold beer in hand, surrounded by a few good people, I decided I wasn’t going to leave Mexico. I decided my terrible race had actually been a fantastic adventure. Which is all for the best, as truth be told, I’m not much of a runner. Never have been.
 But I can hold my own on an adventure.
  Somewhere in there I realized that Mexico is a great, beautiful and flawed place.
  Like most places; like most people.

And that’s when I had my American Beauty/American Reality epiphany, and realized one had to see all sides simultaneously to understand the whole. I also had the idea it would make a good title for this report, so I finished my beer, said my goodbyes, and went home to write it.

Like some sort of miracle, this photo was just posted to the Solo Para Salvajes site as I was uploading this report. Thank you, thank you, thank you Sir Mike Kazt, whom I don't know. I owe you a beer. The man who kindly put a beer in my hand at the end of the race is Eliseo Sosa, sitting to my right with the red cap.

 Postscript: As it turns out, it was a bit worse than I knew while racing. Six racers were assaulted and beaten and robbed by armed men. If you read Spanish, here's the link to the article


  1. Great post, Guy! How you felt about Mexico is how I feel about Illinois lately :-)

    1. Tom, thanks for reading. I hope to see you on the river again one of these years.