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!

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