Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A River Runs Through It (Travels with Martin): Sierra Gorda 50k "Race" report

Sierra Gorda 50k:    Photo by Martin Forstmann of Fotografix.com.mx
 No way I was pitching a tent in a parking lot.

  Forstmann –of Fotografix.com.mx fame-- and I had driven about 4 hours to the tiny, remote town of Higueras de Peñamiller for the Reto Sierra Gorda 50k. We stopped for carnitas in Peña Bernal, a well-known tourist trap where people go to look at a big rock, and then we drove about an hour into the semi-desert, mountainous region known as the Sierra Gorda.

Peña de Bernal: Keep driving and send your last texts
  Higueras is no pueblo magico. It’s a dusty outpost without so much as a single restaurant. But it’s surrounded by the pristine Sierra Gorda. But the race has to start somewhere and so a big dirt parking lot that doubled as the center of town would be that somewhere. The promised “camping area” was a corner of this dirt parking lot offering an evening of Dusty, Loud and Hard. There was also zero shade.

The sun would go down and eventually someone would turn off the music, but dusty and hard weren’t going away. I was prepared to drive up into the hills and find a place on the side of the road.

  After asking around a bit, we heard that “the Oasis” was a nice place to camp and not too far, so we drove up out of the town and on a dirt road inside a canyon. Someone had painted “Oasis” and an arrow on the side of the canyon so we headed down an even narrower road would soon turned into a river. Wondering how wise it was to be driving down a river as the sun set, I stopped the car and ran ahead to check out the road/river. A guy with a machete popped out of the woods, and I asked him about the Oasis and he told me to keep on driving down the river.
The "road" to the Oasis     
  And so we did.  And sure enough, the river flowed down to the left, and a sort of path led to the right and up to a red gate: inside was grass, tents, pools, and a little tienda that I later found out sold Victorias for 17 pesos.

  After setting up the tent, Martin made his magical camp pasta sauce which we enjoyed with the Victorias. I was so happy at the Oasis that I momentarily forgot that I would be running a 50k the next morning after the 5 weeks of rest, easy jogging and pastries that have been my focus since running UTMX on October 10.
Chef Martin

Martin’s Magical Camp Pasta Sauce
Preparation and Cooking Time: 2 minutes, 41 seconds

1 Jar of Pasta Sauce
1 can of black olives
1 can of tuna
1 yogurt size jar of cream

Recommended Beer Pairing: 17 peso Victorias. 

 The meal and the beer put me in a great mood, and I set out to prepare my stuff for the race while Martin took some night photos.

Under the moon at the Oasis                Photo: me
It was tough to say what the course would be like. Martin went on a reconnaissance mission and talked to some of the other campers. He returned and I asked him what he found out.

He laughed. “Nadie Sabe Nada.”

Well, we all love a good mystery, and I had just driven my family car at dusk down a sketchy canyon road into a river in an area that was at good hour from cell phone reception, and stumbled upon the Oasis, so maybe the race would work out as well.

  However, just in case the race didn’t work out, I opted for my pack (something I don’t even use for the 100 mile distance) to make sure I had what I needed in case aid stations didn’t materialize when they were supposed to or the course wasn’t properly marked.

 After a terrible night of tossing and turning and looking at my phone 19 times to see if it was 4 AM already so I could just get up and get this over with, I looked at my phone for the 20th time, and it was 3:37. I stayed horizontal for 23 more minutes listening to the sounds of the river and then we both got up, packed up, made a coffee and hit the road/river. My car made it back up the river/road without issue. Things were looking up.

 We arrived back at the dirt parking lot and were among the first to arrive. Suddenly I was freaking exhausted. Martin trudged back up the hill and back down to the Oasis. Apparently, the race would head right down the river. Neither of us recalled seeing any course markings.
  I tried to sleep fitfully in the car until it was time to line up. The sun was coming up and I cursed the organizers for requiring a headlamp for a race that starts at 6:30. And then I cursed myself for being such a rules follower, stuffed the useless headlamp in my pack and we were off…

  We headed down the same river/road that led to the Oasis, and then followed the river further down.

  A kilometer or so later we took a left out of the river and started heading up a canyon. Here there were more water sections, including one that came up to my neck if I stood on my very tippy toes. We followed this river for a while, and then, mercifully headed up out of the canyon onto a trail.

Tough to keep the shoes dry through here
  Sadly, the trail didn’t last long and then we were running in a dry, rocky river bed, heading up. This went on for maybe an hour? I tried to occupy my time by checking out what packs people were wearing and what they were carrying. One guy had a tube of Neosporin I could see through the mesh of his new Salomon pack. Why?

 In the distance I could see the clouds covering some mountain peaks. I really hoped we were heading up there, as it looked awesome.  Also, I’d about had it with rivers.

Heading up to the clouds      

Climbing up to this....cool.
  The course climbed out of the river bed (yay!) and started heading up a dirt road (boo) that looked to be heading straight up to the peak (yay!).  As we got higher the road turned to trail (yay!).  I was feeling good, back on familiar terrain. Near the top I stopped to read a bit about the Mission Bucarreli and I took a photo of this map.

Hey, a map!

 On the back side of the mountain, the trail turned to single track cut out of the side of the mountain (double yay!) and it reminded me very much of the Sam Merrill trail in the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California.

  We took this single track down for over an hour. Definitely the best part of the race for me. Something like 9 kilometers of downhill. I was passing people and feeling good. At one point I saw a group of people gathered a few switchbacks below. Perhaps someone had twisted an ankle?

  When I arrived I knew there were too many cooks in the kitchen but it didn’t feel right just to blow by. I stopped and asked if I could do anything to help.

  Holy shit. A woman had clearly fallen and her face and one had were badly cut up. Wait, I suddenly remembered the Neosporin guy, couldn’t be too far….
  Then I noticed the Salomon pack. Neosporin Guy was right next to me saving the day. She still looked a bit shocked, but the group assured us they had the situation under control and so a few of us that had just arrived kept running. 

Long descent on singletrack like this...

  As the trail began to flatten out it got really hot, and I started to struggle. Things slowed down. A few of the folks I’d passed on the downhill passed me here. We arrived at a grassy paradise that was out of place in this desert terrain. I drank a terrible tasting electrolyte drink made for babies with diarrhea here and kept moving.

  And once again: a river crossing. My feet had finally dried so I stupidly tried to step across some rocks to keep my feet dried. Note to future runners: don’t bother…the next hour or so was crossing the river, running along the river or running in the river. Amazing views here, and though I felt low and was moving very slowly, it was worth the effort to see this canyon.

  A while later I finally came upon Martin taking photos. I pretended to run for the camera. I’d been doing a lot of walking in this section. It’s hard to run in a river. It’s also hard to run when you are really tired, but it’s more satsifying to blame it on the river.

Photo by Martin Fortsmann Fotografix.com.mx
                                                         Pretending to run                                        Photo: Martin Forstmann, Fotografix.com.mx
And then we ran through some small settlements before we descended, for the last time into –you’ll never guess—a river.  After a short bit I realized this was the same damn river we started on. This thrilled me for a couple reasons:

1.     It was the last river I would run in.
The final stretch of river (again)

2.     The race was nearly finished.

And the dirt parking lot came into site.

Damn I’m glad we didn’t camp there.

Other Random Thoughts:

   Incredibly beautiful area to see and if you are looking for a race that breaks the mold, this might be the one. I don’t mean to be a grump, but for me the river running did get a bit old. The mountain pass was fantastic, however, and would make for a great run from the Oasis. My fears about the aid stations and/or course markings were completely unfounded paranoia: course was marked relentlessly, and the aid stations were Spartan, but sufficient. 

The Sierra Gorda: A spectacular place to run

  I don’t know if I’ll be back for the race (though I probably will be), but I’ll definitely return to camp at the Oasis and drink a few Victorias.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Ultra Trail Mexico 2015: A Family Affair

Signature Wildflower of UTMX                           Photo: Jeremy Hardy

Not Photoshopped. Magical Photo in a Magical Place by Martin Forstmann of Fotografix.com.mx. 

  For the past four days I've eaten ice cream and/or cheesecake every day. Today as I walked by the park (returning from Santa Clara --again) I saw people jogging. Looked like work to me, and I probably won't be doing that for at least another day. Guess I've got the post-UTMX blues. Since May, 2015 I looked forward to that race like a 10 year old boy looks forward to his birthday. 

And now it's gone.
Natalia and Jutta just after her first 50k finish!
Early Creek Crossing

  As I wrote in a post from a few weeks ago, UTMX is my favorite race of the year. In it's second year, the 100k is a classic loop through the unique and challenging terrain surrounding the Pueblo Magico, Huasca, UTMX has become the big trail running event of the year in an ever-increasingly crowded trail and mountain running calendar in Mexico where a new race in a cool place seems to pop up on Facebook almost weekly. Internationally the race has grown as well. These trends will continue. The race will sell out quickly in 2016.


  1. The course is tough, and mountain runners are drawn to the harder courses. There are several steep and technical climbs; there are long, rocky sections where it is difficult to establish a good running rhythm and even when there are a few deceptively "runnable" sections, they are so exposed and hot that it is a constant mental struggle to maintain a jog.

  2. The course is not contrived. There are no "out-and-back" sections to add meaningless miles. 

Meggin and Oriana Celebrating their 15k Finish!

Jeremy on top of the Canyon    Photo by: Martin Forstmann of Fotografix.com.mx 

  3. The course is varied: Smooth singletrack, rocky singletrack, climbs up endless dirt roads, climbs up a giant slick rock; ridge running up high along the Peñas Cuatas; descending down into the Canyon. The trail crosses several rivers and the final river crossing is roped, as is the descent down to that crossing. There is also: Off-trail cross country running, cobblestone village running and even a little pavement pounding. And I'm still forgetting sections. I thought I remembered all the cool parts of the course, but when I was running this year I kept coming across amazing and varied terrain that I had forgotten. What Santa Clara is for Ice Cream, this course is to mountain running: they've got all your favorite flavors, including many you didn't even know about.

Another view of the Canyon                       Photo: Jeremy Hardy

  4. Organization. The course is so amazing that even if UTMX was a poorly run race with 9 to 12 runners, confusing course markings, and staffed with bored volunteers slinging unripe bananas and Sam's Club Cola in all its aid stations, it would still be on my list of races to run.
  But, as everyone now knows, UTMX is a world-class event. Volunteers were encouraging, helpful and everywhere they needed to be. Packet pickup flawless and quick (but it helps to get there early), and just every single race detail was dealt with efficiently. 

Jeremy and Natalia at the finish. Jeremy got lost and was behind me 1 hour and 20 minutes into the race. He went on to finish in 13:34. I think he can run 12 hours here. Natalia's training was very light: she could run 7 for the 50k in 2016.

5. A fun place for everyone to visit. Huasca de Ocampo and the surrounding areas are worth visiting even if you never plan on running so much as a 5k in your lifetime. There are ex-haciendas, stunning natural beauty, cool geological rock formations,  a freaky zip-line over the canyon (tirolesa), homemade pastes, beer, barbacoa and more. Bring your family; bring your non-running friends. Everyone will be happy.

Flying over the Canyon (Oriana and Dalva) the day after the race

My 2015 UTMX Experience

  Hiking up out of the Canyon from San Sebastian  and my race felt like it was falling apart. Actually, it felt like my race had been falling apart since leaving the mountains and entering the Solo Para Salvajes aid station at kilometer 50. On paper the section between this aid station and the descent into the Canyon should be the easiest on the course. On paper. In reality, it's more like a mental toughness chess match. I made a critical mistake at that 50k aid station, only getting a bottle of water filled and the other half filled with Coca Cola. In the cooler mountain section, I wasn't finishing both bottles between aid stations, but I had forgotten how hot this section was. I struggled to maintain a jog, fighting a relentless urge to just hike. I was quickly very low and rationing water and freaked out about getting dehydrated. My goal was to get to the Canyon (Peña de Aire) without inflicting too much damage on myself and reboot: drink and eat. I got passed by a lot of people in that section.

  The excitement of arriving at the Canyon got me back in the game, and I enjoyed the relatively cool descent in the shadow of the Canyon wall. But then things turned sour again, and I could not get my energy levels back as I struggled through the rocky single track of this section and runners kept passing me. I finally made it to the San Sebastian aid station, pleasantly surprised that I didn't have to wade through a swampy section of the river to get there, as we did last year. I had my pack in my drop bag, didn't bother to change shoes as my feet had dried, and I headed up the long climb to the top of the Canyon. My dreams of running this section were smashed and I settled for a hard hike. There was no shade anywhere, and I started thinking about curling up on the side of the road or jumping in the back of one of the trucks that occasionally drove past me.

  I second guessed my start. I thought I had kept things in control, but I was further up in front of the race with runners that I don't usually see until I get to the finish line. Had a started too fast? Was I going to have to walk all the way into Huasca?
  I finally made it to the liquid-only aid station (Mirador) at the top of the climb and fell into a chair. I had been spending almost no time at aid stations all race, but my plan had crumpled and I needed a good sit-down. There was no Coca-Cola but a volunteer handed me a can of Red Bull and I sat and drank. After a few minutes the volunteer --the gentleman who I believe headed the incredibly difficult race in Oaxaca a few years ago...the race I DNF'd-- got me moving reminding me of what I knew to be true: sitting there would make things worse. I couldn't run, so I walked out of the aid station toward Ahuacatitlan and another descent down to the famed river crossing.

  Again, people passed me, but I couldn't help but notice that the sun was high in the sky, and last year I was running this section as the sun began to set, and I had crossed the river in pitch blackness. Maybe my race wasn't lost. I don't run with a watch and I had no idea what my splits were from last year, but the position of the sun told me that I was in a good place, even though I felt like dung.

 Martin was taking photos at Ahuacatitlan, and Hugo and Ivonne were there as well. This put me in good spirits as I headed down. Downhills had been good to me during the race. I was getting passed on "flats" by everyone, and was getting passed on the climbs by some. But my spirits and my energy levels lifted as I descended down to the river. I was looking forward to the final crossing, which really signals the last section of the race. 

Descending to the River. Hugo Chilling in the background.                          Photo: Martin Fortsmann

   Crossing the river in the daylight I knew my time was at least an hour ahead of last year. I climbed well up from the river, curious to see what this climb looked like in the day time. Last year it was pitch black and slowed me down considerably. Emerging from the last big climb of the race, I felt good and was ready to run hard to the finish. Darkness finally came as I entered the final aid station. I gulped down a cup of broth, some Red Bull and headed out. Once again I passed several runners who were lingering in the aid station. I'm not sure what people do in aid stations for so long, but I didn't want to hang around and find out. 

  One last climb up to the Prismas, across the swinging bridge, and then only two short sections remained: crossing the presa --the swampy edge of a reservoir, and then pavement pounding to the finish. With three or so kilometers to go, I was running with two other runners. We went back and forth, until one dropped back. Me and one other guy: he would sprint past, but then walk and I would catch up. I finally made a little move on a final climb I had forgotten about, running as hard as I could up, and then down into the cobblestone alleyways that lead to the center of Huasca. I didn't look back until I saw the crowds: no one was there. and that was the finish. Looking back at the clock, I thought it must have been a mistake: 15:41, almost two hours off my last year's time. 

Take Aways from the race:

I ate well. At Bighorn in June I didn't eat on schedule and I paid the price with wild fluctuations in energy. Alternating between Gels (Hammer) and Arewa bars worked well. Also, carrying my own food allowed me to get through aid stations in a minute or less

•I started well and finished well. My start was not too fast, and I still had gas in the tank at the end.

•Struggled in the middle sections. 

•My biggest victory was aid station time. There are probably 15 runners who finished behind me who are faster than me but spent too much time in aid stations.

•I think I can run 15:00 hours on this course, but I'll need to find those 41 minutes all between Kilometer 31 and 80. I looked at some other runners who ran 15 hours and our Kilometer 1-20 and 80-100 splits were the same. But the hot transition section (50-60) and the canyon section (60-67) chewed me up. I finally recovered at 80, but the damage had been done. 

Training: I did my long runs (Rover Marathon, Mexico City Marathon, Trail Run Hidalgo 50k and a few back to backs in Desierto), but my midweek running was lame: 11 minute miles in Parque Hudido for an hour or so twice a week. I'll need to do speed work and a longer tempo each week and some hill repeats to run 15:00 hours here. Something to think about for next year.

I'll be back.

Time to knock out the cheesecake and go for a run. 

Dalva Peers Into the Abyss

Sunday, September 27, 2015

UTMX Course Preview: 10 days out from my favorite race of the year.

Taper Time

  Once again I've fallen of the blogging horse. And once again the excitement surrounding Ultra Trail Mexico draws me back to the keyboard. It's taper time, the last long runs are over, so I'm going to crack a beer and write up a course preview for the first-time runner.

Looking for expert advice from an expert runner?

Stop reading.

  However, if you are curious about the race from the point of view of an average runner with an elite level of enthusiasm for this race, you might find something you can use here.

   UTMX is absolutely my favorite trail running event of the year: A 100 kilometer tour of a stunning area of Hidalgo, beginning and ending in the center of the Pueblo Magico, Huasca de Ocampo. Highlights of the race include a climb up into the Sierra Navajas a descent in the Canyon de Metztitlan, a crazy river crossing at the bottom of Ahuacatitlan, and much, much more. UTMX is the trail run that throws a bit of everything at the runner. It's not the most technical race or the race with the most climbing or highest elevation, but it's a must-run course for anyone who loves mountains and trails: completely unique; completely awesome.
  Ultra Trail Mexico continues to cement itself as the Mexican Ultramarathon. And the ultra world abroad is taking note: the 2016 edition of UTMX will serve as a qualifier for the 2017 Western States 100. Additionally, it continues to be a 4 point qualifier for UTMB. But even for those who don't give a damn about Western States or UTMB, UTMX is its very own world class event.

Cerro de San Miguel Approach: last long run

Tireless Training Partner (Never complains, Never shows up late)

UTMX 100 Preview for the first-time runner
   What follows is my preview of the course for anyone running UTMX for the first time. I'm no expert runner; I am a certified plodder. Therefore, the preview will be most relevant for the middle to back-of-the-pack runner who will run the last part of the course in the dark. For reference, I finished the race in 17:34 last year. The front-runner finished in 10:43, and the final finisher came in just a few minutes over 19 hours, the official cut-off time for the race.

A few suggestions to start:

The race starts fast. Too fast. It's hard not to get caught up in the excitement, but keeping the effort easy early will pay dividends when you are climbing up from San Sebastian 70 kilometers into the race.

Start with a good head lamp. After some road running, the earlier trail is slippery and technical at times. It would be easy to fall here and have an early end to the race. Nothing is gained by passing people here. It's a 100 kilometers folks, there will be time to make your move.

See the moron (006) who thought he didn't need a headlamp? Don't do that it UTMX, which starts an hour earlier than this race...
Photo: Martin Forstmann (Fotografixmexico)....Martin will be at UTMX taking photos.

•There are several stream crossings and your feet will get wet early, and they will stay wet for most of the race. Don't waste your time trying to keep them dry.

•Section one of the race is what I call the "mountain marathon" section. Lots of single-track, and climbing for the first 21k.

•At the 40k aid station (first option for a drop bag) you are close to ending the "mountain marathon" portion of the race. Last year I put my drop bag here and changed my shoes, which was probably a mistake: there is a stream crossing shortly after the aid station. Also, this is a little early to need a drop bag. When you arrive at kilometer 69 drop bag option, you will wish you waited.

•The "mountain marathon" ends when the trail dumps out onto a paved road heading slightly downhill. For the next 10k or so the course is exposed, flat and runnable. It's easy to get lazy here, but stay focused as it's a great place to make good time and get a few kilometers under your feet quickly. This open-country, flat transition ends at the Peña del Aire. Fuel up here, and if you have friends or family who are following the race, this is the best place to have a crew meet you at an aid station, as it's easily accessible by car and a popular tourist spot. If you aren't running, try the zip line (tirolesa): it's awesome and freaky.  This area provides stunning views of the canyon which shouldn't be missed.

I could post a photo of the Canyon here, but why bother: photos don't do this place justice.

•The descent into the Canyon: no way to describe the run down into the canyon: you are just going to have to do it yourself. No matter how shitty you feel at Peña del Aire: take the time to recover and don't even considering abandoning your race here, as you'll miss the best part.

•At the bottom of the canyon the original course had several river crossings which were eliminated last year as the river was too high. With the rain we've had this year, I imagine this years's course will avoid the river crossings again.

•There is some climbing at the bottom of the canyon. This doesn't look like much on the map, but it will feel like a significant climb when you have 60+kilometers on your legs.

•After some incredible singletrack through the bottom of the canyon including a run through a "cactus forest," the trail turns into a stream: you follow the river to the San Sebastian Aid station at kilometer 69.5. This is the second drop bag option.

I would recommend using the San Sebastian drop bag option.* Last year I used the earlier option at kilometer 40, but when I got to San Sebastian the sun was low in the sky and my feet were cold and wet. The guy next to me was changing into dry socks and dry shoes and I really, really wanted to be that guy. I almost asked him if he had extra dry socks he would give me, but was too ashamed to do so. In your drop bag here you should have: long sleeve shirt, extra headlamp (or batteries), dry shoes, dry socks, tights and a rain jacket. You won't need the tights and you may not need the rain jacket or the long sleeve shirt, but these are required items after 5:00pm. *If you aren't certain you will arrive at kilometer 70 in under 12 hours, you will need to carry these items with you from the start or use the 40 kilometer drop bag option. 

After a quick shoe change, you now have the long march up the road out of the Canyon. If you started the race conservatively, you will pass some folks here. At the top is another aid station (Mirador, kilometer 75). Here the course flattens out a bit before arriving at the entrance of Ahuacatitlan. At this point the course heads straight down on the steepest grade you will see all day. Last year this is where it started getting dark for me, and at the bottom of this canyon there is the fiercest river crossing of the race. Fortunately, it is roped with volunteers on both sides to make sure you don't get swept down the river... or to at least notify your family if you do...

•After the river crossing, the course heads up a steep, serpentine climb that is not easy to follow at night. This is the last significant climb of the race. Once again, a good head lamp is essential here. In fact, I'd consider bringing a small, light handheld flashlight as well. For those of us in the back of the race, the final half-marathon of the race is crucial because of the added challenges of navigating at night.
 I would recommend:
      •an excellent headlamp and possibly even an additional flashlight
      •study the map of this section carefully.
      •if you have time on Friday scout out the area where you will cross the Presa. If you are just about to enter the Prismas Balsaticos take a right on a dirt road, and the Presa will be on your right. Look for course markings and check out where you will be running. I lost some time last year trying to navigate this at night.

   •The end of the course is a bit of a blur for me, but at some point after the presa crossing you will be back on the pavement: WARNING: you might think you are going to follow this road straight into the center of Huasca and the race finish, but the course cruelly turns to the right, sending runners down some side streets before emerging 100 meters or so in front of the finish line.


some final tips

•look carefully at the required equipment list. Especially if you think you might finish in the money: the first two runners last year were disqualified for not carrying required equipment. Predictably, there was some pissing and moaning about the decision, all of which could have been avoided if everyone checked out the race website, which is crystal-clear. Or attended the pre-race meeting, which was also explained the rule.

•It's a long race, but it's not a 3 week expedition. There are ample aid stations. Know where they are and what they will have (see website).  Carry what the race requires and carry what you will need, but put the extras in your drop bag. You will see some folks running with giant packs, stuffed full. What are they carrying? Why?

•Attend the pre-race meeting. Last year there were some minor course changes and these were announced at the meeting. Also, they handed out a turn-by-turn description of the race. THAT PIECE OF PAPER WAS INVALUABLE. Bring it.

•If possible, take work off Friday and go up on Thursday or early Friday morning. Anything to avoid leaving DF on a Friday night of a quincena.

•Pay close attention to course markings and study the maps. The course is well-marked, but it's also a complicated course and it's easy to miss a turn if you are deep into your fantasy about being Killian Jornet winning Hardrock.

•And don't hesitate to sign up for next year's race immediately. I'm betting that the 2016 race will sell out in a couple weeks. 

•Enjoy: It's the best race of the year!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Mountain Challenge: Oriana's First Mountain Race

Photo stolen from Martin Forstmann (yo te debo!)

Let's hope we run better than we pose for photos!                

If you only read one sentence of this report, read this one: Trail Run Hidalgo's Mountain Challenge (Race Director: Andoni Jardinez) is a fantastically organized race on beautifully technical single track around the magical town of El Chico; meter for meter, foot for foot, this was one of the most beautiful races I have run in Mexico anywhere. 

 Looking for a long run with lots of climbing and a fun weekend outside of the city for the family, Trail Run Hidalgo's Mountain Challenge (17k and 32k) was perfect. The race would start in the Pueblo Magico of Chico, and climb up into the mountains that surround the village.
  Oriana and Natalia would run the 17k. The 32k was shorter than what I wanted as a long run in preparation for the Bighorn 100, but with 2,800 meters of climbing, the time on my feet would suffice for a proper long run at --I hoped-- a decent pace. I really struggle to push the pace when I'm training alone. 

  But the night before the race the worry began to creep in: not about my race, but about Oriana's. I was worried about the course conditions. On saturday night we sat on the terraza overlooking the quaint downtown of Chico and it poured rain and hailed for at least two hours in Biblical intensities. The main street is at a steep incline and it was a raging river. Ori would be wearing road running shoes and I wondered if she would be slipping down the mountain.
  I was also a bit freaked out about the amount of climbing. There was something like 1,200 meters of climbing in the 17k race. Ori is fit and runs daily at school on the track, but she doesn't train for extended climbs. Additionally, she had never run with a pack, but I didn't want her to run with a handheld bottle because I thought she would need to use both hands in the technical and slippery terrain. It would also be her longest race.

  The night before the race in our hotel I had her pack and repack the Nathan pack until we were both convinced she knew it inside and out.

  I hoped for the rain to stop.

  I questioned my pre-race diet of roadside barbacoa.

  Natalia, Jutta and I went across the street to get some beers so we could sleep.

Almost time to go!

 The race started and we began walking up the steep incline out of town. The 17k and 32k started together, and even if we had wanted to run at this point, there were no good opportunities to pass people until the trail turned on a cement road heading up into the mountains. At this point I wished Ori and Natalia a good race and ran ahead to try to get in front of some of the crowd before we hit the single track. The course followed the road for a very short stretch and then turned straight up the mountain. This section needed to be navigated on all fours, but it quickly linked up with a more established trail that headed up into the mountains.

  I found myself wanting to take pictures of everything on this route, but it was so difficult to pass people on this opening climb (8.5 kilometers) that I took three photos and put the camera away for good. The rest of the climb was spent doing three things:

1. Marveling at how awesome the route was and silently extolling the trail-finding/race-organizing genius of Trail Run Hidalgo (gracias, Andoni!)
2. Worrying about how difficult the route was and wondering if Ori would make it to the top.
3. Trying to pass people when there was an opportunity...

A note to runners considering this race: I hate starting a race fast, but on this course that strategy makes sense: try to get to the singletrack before the crowds to avoid wasting a lot of energy trying to pass runners on the opening climb.

Also: while the organization of this race was flawless, one suggestion: start the 32k an hour earlier than the 17k race to avoid some of the crowding on the trail.

I also think it would be awesome to have a 64k option: run the loop twice, first clockwise, than counter-clockwise. 

blurry photo I took and yes, this trail is that awesome

heading up....

and up....

finally emerging from the forest, near the top (I think)

I didn't know this at the time but Ori was rocking it near the top of the mountain!

mountain selfie

Oriana, Natalia, Rock

Finally the trail flattened out a bit, we entered a meadow and here was the 8.5 kilometer aid station. The 17k runners would turn around here and head back down. For the 32k route, things flattened out a bit and the crowds were gone. Finally I was alone and able to run. We were still on singletrack but less technical than the first section of the race. I knew there was one big climb left up to the peña del cuervo. After running some varied terrain, the trail went down into a canyon and then finally started going up on the rocky goat trail that is the final sustained climb of the race. I had done this climb before in a race back in November, and I knew it was steep but not that long. Finally we reached the peña de cuervo and went left on a wide two-track road that continued to climb. Other than leaving the center of town and arriving in the center of town, this is it for terraceria in this race: everything else is singletrack. I started hiking but felt good and started to run, catching a few people as we arrived back at the aid station.
  The final 10k of the race is a long descent back into town on very runnable singletrack. This race definitely rewards those who have something left in their legs, as this section could be run very fast. In fact, it begs to be run fast as these are long, gently rolling and descending switchbacks. My legs were a bit heavy, and while I couldn't fly like I wanted to, I maintained a decent run for this section, gaining a few positions in the descent. 

  Finally we hit the town and I thought we would have to run the long way around to the centro; however, we were told to head straight down the main road. Wow, the race was over! I looked for Oriana and Natalia as I crossed the finish line. My plan was to immediately tell Oriana it was ok if she didn't finish, as I thought she might have had to turn back. 

  But she finished strong, completing her first true Mountain Race.

Strong Finish.    
[otro photo robado de Martin Forstmann....Martin: voy a pagar gas, caseta y post-race chelas en Real de Monte!]

  Trail Run Hidalgo definitely put themselves on the map with this race: fairly priced, world-class trails, professional organization, and located in the magical town of Mineral del Chico. We will be back!