Wednesday, October 25, 2017

UTMX 2017: What I Remember

                          Heading down into the Canyon                               Photo:

UTMX 2017 has come and gone. Since then, I’ve indulged in brownies every day at work. Bought a giant box of Fruit Loops at Costco today on a whim. Lingering gummy bears/worms that formed the core of my late race nutrition “strategy” have been scraped from the pockets of my Nathan hydration vest. I haven’t run a step since 23:15 on Saturday night and I have no plans to do so on the near horizon.
I do find myself looking for a summer adventure. This looks pretty nuts.

Fruit Loops

 The fact that I’m searching for a race proves (again) that memory is a poor servant. Memory simply refuses to properly remember pain. It’s inadequate. Sure, I can recall in the abstract that at kilometer 60 I was a little afraid to continue down into the canyon (Barranca de Metztitlan). The sun had baked and hobbled me and I simultaneously wanted to but couldn’t vomit. Needed to eat more but couldn’t. I can remember those ideas floating through my head, I can now recall those concepts roughly expressed as words on this blog, but I can’t come close to recapturing that vomity/mixed with heat exhaustion feeling wrapped up in that stubborn question that always makes its appearance in the latter half of any long race: “why, why, why am I doing this again”?

 Some fellow runners joined me this year. Wendy, Scott and Sue all decided to give UTMX a go. Scott and Sue flew in from the US. Wendy and Scott are seasoned 100 milers. Sue is a recent convert and probably the only other professional bassoonist who is also an ultrarunner. Wendy is the other one. That’s right: both of the world’s professional Bassoonists who are also ultrarunners were at UTMX this year. And then there was Scotty and I, and 496 other runners ready to test ourselves against a 100k loop in Hidalgo, Mexico. Last year 193 out of 500 finished.

 You think that last stat might have been a clue for the ole’ memory chip?

 Wendy asked me about that number, and I rationalized it as follows: “lots of inexperienced people out there last year, there was no pre-requisite like there was this year.”
I had raved to them about what I remembered about the race: the beauty of Vista Alegre and the Sierra Navajas, the rugged challenge of the extraterrestial terrain of the Canyon, the world-class race organization, the charming pueblo, the refreshing rivers, the amazing people, the tender barbacoa…

In all that reminiscing I somehow forgot about how relentlessly technical many of the trails are, and I certainly didn’t remember wet feet for 18 hours. I think I told them there were 3 river crossings. Turns out there’s like 30 between kilometer 4 and 45. And then there are three more waist deep river crossings. And then there is ankle deep trudge around the presa in the final kilometers.
 I also had somehow nurtured the idea --despite running the 100k in 2014, 2015 and 2016-- that is was a “fair” race, but not a ridiculously hard race. Two years in a row it’s taken me more than 18 hours to finish. And I haven’t had bad races here. Yeah, there were very low lows, but many highs as well and long periods of good energy. And it still took me 18+ hours. On two pretty solid race days. Maybe I should write that down here so I don’t forget.

             Another River Crossing                                           Photo:

Standing on the rim of the canyon filled with doubts and nausea,  I followed my own best piece of advice for finishing the UTMX 100k: get yourself down into the canyon, because then you’ve got no option but to get yourself back out. After that, you just need to get yourself back to town and the finish line. So simple. So inadequate.
 I began the long, technical descent which includes one of the most spectacular views of the race, second guessing my decision to fill my third bottle with coca-cola instead of more water. Just get down the river and the rest should take care itself. Prior to the race I had focused on the two steep climbs within the canyon, sort of neglecting the tricky descents that follow both climbs. I thought of the runner I saw descending Baden-Powell at this past August’s Angeles Crest 100: her knee looked like it had been split open by a hatchet wielding madman. Eventually she was airlifted out.
 As I tried to moderate my speed on the second descent, I saw plenty of spots that might create gaping wounds, but was unsure where the airlift might come from. The race did have several people --both race staff and locals from the pueblos in the canyon-- along this section of the course. Not falling in this section is key.

 There is a final river crossing in the canyon and then a pleasant jog on well-worn single track into the pueblo of San Sebastian. The sun was low in the sky. I remember feeling good, feeling at peace. My stomach had settled down. The coca cola bottle was the right choice and I hadn’t run out of water. I was feeling like maybe I could run up the endless road to the top of the canyon like I never do any year that I’ve done this race but always think that I will.

 Maybe I’ll share those memories with Wendy, Sue and Scotty next year when I try to talk them into the race again.


 My drop bag was in San Sebastian, kilometer 70. I had a fresh pair of socks and shoes. I didn’t put them on because it seemed like too much work for two hours of dry feet. I walked all the way up the road. I ran once or thrice for like 15 meters at a stretch. Just like I do every year even though I swear I’m running up that thing one of these years. Oh yes.

 I’m also going to have a really good section between kilometer 50 and 60 like I never have.
One of these years.
This year I covered those 10k in a blistering hour and 45 minutes, getting angry at myself for not running, (but not so angry I actually started running.)

Bridge Over thePrismas During the Day                 Andres Valencia Photography (official race photograph)
 I did finish well, as I’ve done every year. I love when the sun goes down and it’s night time. I love the river crossing at the bottom of Ahuacatitla. I love the crazy, lonely climb up from the river in the dark hobbit forest that just never seems to end and I have to sit down on a rock to look at the night sky which is really  just a pretext to sit down because I’m utterly knackered and just need to rest for a spell, time goals be damned. I love finally coming up to the top of the climb and the local guy hired as a course marshall is sleeping beside a fire he built but I’m glad he doesn’t ask me why I’m doing this as I don’t have an answer. I love running through the final aid station just across from the Ex-Hacienda de Santa Maria or maybe some years just stopping for a swig of coke except for this year where I only imagined I just stopped for a swig of coke because in reality I sat myself down and ate some soup, stuffed some more gummy bears and worms in my Nathan pack --just in case, as I couldn't get GU down-- and drank some coke sitting there (too long), thinking: one more little climb, enter the Prismas Balsaticas, cross the bridge, head left out to the cobblestone road, and then across the swampy presa, try not to lose time looking for markers and then finally out to the road, and this year --straight into town-- head down, pushing hard, no chance of sub-18 but trying not to get caught from behind so late in the race (and I don’t!) and then there’s the town and I hear Lalo yell my name with his unique take on it’s pronunciation (Gooey!) and then I see Natalia, and Tina is running with me and jumping all over me. And then the finish line, and Scotty and Wendy are there and they don’t seem to hate me even though their races ended earlier than planned and I’ve spent a good portion of the past 18+ hours wondering if I completely misled them and maybe they're pissed and then I remember the whole race clearly from the beginning to end. Not just the 2017 race which I just finished 10 minutes faster than the previous year, but also the 2016, 2015 and 2014 races.

And all the memories are perfect.
And of course I’m coming back next year.

Along the Presa (during the day)

Because I remember all the things I want to remember and all the suffering and nausea have faded into concepts which have no real feeling behind them and the next morning Natalia and I will eat barbacoa in the market and I’ll be reminded about how much I love this race, this place, these people.