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 

  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 

  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

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