Race Report – Born to Run Ultra Marathons
From Guest writer - Mike Cloward, The Range of Motion
The Born to Run event is hosted by Luis Escobar on the Chamberlain Ranch in Santa Barbara County, near Los Olivos California. The course is a made up of 2 ten mile-ish loops with the start/finish/base camp in the middle of the figure eight shape. There are two faucets (with hoses) for potable water and some portable toilets. The distances offered go from 10 miles up to 100 miles. In short, this is about as no bullshit as you can get and Luis goes to great lengths to let everybody know that. This event is about running and the collective spirit of those in attendance. Or more succinctly (taken from a pre race email):
THERE IS NO COURSE MAP – THERE WILL BE NO COURSE MAP – THERE ARE NO GPS COORDINATES THERE IS NO WRITTEN INFORMATION ABOUT THE COURSE – STOP ASKING ME ABOUT THE COUSE MAP – THERE AIN’T NO MAP – IF YOU ABSOLUTELY NEED A MAP – FIND ANOTHER EVENT
As a group we decided to camp under the guise of Camp TRoM – a campground of runners all under the direction of Coach Andy Sulak. He was excited to have so many athletes participating in the same event and was also looking forward to being able to race himself and be out on the course with everyone. We have runners doing all distances. I chose to run the 50k in the morning—all distances start together at 6am – while Andy is using the 100K race to help him prepare for a 100 miler next month. I’d also hoped to have the honor of getting back out on the course and pacing my good pal Bill Rundle from approximately 9:30pm to 3 a.m. in the morning.
The Range of Motion Camp – Photo by Mike Cloward
My wife Julianne spent the last few days throwing the necessaries in designated tubs—food, clothes, running gear—and we’re confident that we’ll end up packing something extra that one of our teammates will have forgotten and vice versa. We’re traveling light and keeping our emphasis on fuel to keep our bodies moving. Weather outlets were calling for mid 80 temps.
Here’s how my race interview would go:
Event Preparation: What were your training goals and areas of concentration during your preparation? What were your big worries or concerns going into the event?
My training goals up to this point have been to keep getting my core and uphill strength stronger as I aim towards the Dick Collins FireTrails 50 miler in October. I’ve been using each of my races over the last couple of months to gauge my progress and then having Coach Andy adjust my training accordingly. I tend to over think things so when you couple that with a lack of confidence at the longer distances—this was my third 50k—you end up with a laundry list of unnecessary worries. I over think the temperature, my initial pace, getting sucked into another runner’s race, etc.
At the start of race (mindset): Walk us through your prep for the start of your event. Any mantras? Any mental sequences you run through to get yourself in the proper frame of mind?
I really don’t have any mantras but I have a pre-race ritual of checking in with all my racing family at the start that usually ends with a few words and a fist bump with my 30 year pal Peter Beck. The simple task of checking in calms my shit down and that’s important for a metered start. There’s always two corridors of thought going through my head before the horn: “crush this thing” running alongside “run your race and run your pace”. Andy told me to use the first five miles as a warm up and by mile 3 I was in mid Aerobic and was feeling pretty good. You sorta know early on don’t you? By the start of mile six I was in mid Lactic threshold and held that level—with a couple of dips into SST on the hills—for the rest of the race.
Ready to Start - Photo by Peter Beck
Mid race reflection: How were you feeling mid race? For example, were you thankful for any particular portion of your training? Were you on pace? What was your strategy for the second half?
Mile 17. Effin’ mile seventeen. Just past the half-way point my mind looks like a lit up dashboard of self-doubt as I run a diagnostic check on my body. How are my knees, lower back, upper body strength, quads, my heart rate, energy stores—it seems a little over wrought putting it down into words but as we all know when you’re out there you have a lot of room in your head to walk around and do these things. I was feeling better than expected and I could tell that I was a smidge more fit than my last race a month prior at the Diablo 50k. And isn’t that the way it should go? Just a little bit stronger with just a little more patience as time goes on? The up hills and the slight increase in speed work prescribed by Coach Andy was paying off and I was stoked. At mile 25 I started having stomach issues which was a first for me. I’m not really sure where this came from other than my eating schedule was a little thrown off by the camping and the activities of the previous day in general. It wasn’t like we were talking pulling over for a trail yeti spotting—slang my wife and I apply to having to pit stop for a number #2 but it was close. And at this point there was one runner way out front and nobody in sight behind me so you’re just sorta out there with your brain and your body and your thoughts which probably makes minor things seem a little worse. At this point my main focus was just keeping my head together and getting to the 28 mile mark—my unofficial mile marker for “I think I’ve got this…”.
Start/Finish Camp – Photo by Mike Cloward
Finish: Give us a playback of your finish. What was your mindset? How was your body feeling? Were you comfortable in your surroundings? How did you feel 1 minute after crossing the finish line? How did you feel the next day?
As I hit mile 28 I started running the numbers. I had a goal time of 5:15 and running at the pace I was maintaining I knew it was going to be close. It’s hard to explain but I just kept telling my body to keep pushing at my current energy output and I started the process of not letting the door of doing any less crack open. I was obviously a bit body fatigued but my mind was strong and I just kept going. A huge mental help was that I started encountering other runners. Some going my direction and some going the other and I could tell that things could be a lot worse for me but more important I could be doing a little better. Hope that makes sense. I stopped looking at my watch. What’s the point at two miles out? Just give it all you got and hope for the best. The way the course is set up the 50k’ers had to go through the timing corral at 30 miles and then do a half mile out and back. When I hit the corral I was at 4:43! I couldn’t believe it so I just floored it to the turn around. I was a little blurry at this point and probably should have paid attention to the wind to my back because at the turn around the cruel joke began: a half mile into a stiff head wind trying to get in under 5 hours. I had a tenth in the tank with an eighth of a tank to go. I just pushed and blocked out the pain by playing mental games. I think back to all of shit I’ve put myself through that’s been way worse, the folks who I’m doing this for, and reminding myself I’ve worked too hard to crap out now. I crossed the finish: 4:59:16! The finish area is a mish-mash of finishers, campers, revelers, and race support teams. I just stood there alone in the midst this menagerie and just took it all in. Sure, I was stoked with my time but that didn’t mean much compared to just standing there with a bunch of folks who weren’t there for the medals, the shirts, and self-gratifying glory. It was about running in the moment, in the spirit and in the positive energy that was flowing throughout this event. I humbly walked back to our camp waving and saying hello back to strangers who were extending congratulatory greetings and started my recovery routine. I was tired but had zero knee pain and zero lower back pain—again a big thanks to Coach Andy who fixed my running form. Or as I call it, “the big fix”.
High Five - Photo by Peter Beck
Recovery: Give us a rundown of your 48 hour post-race recovery sequence: nutrition, physical rehab, and your general overall mood.
Obviously I was elated with my finish. I had beat my previous PR by 26 minutes so my mood was up but mentally I had to switch to what I was calling Part Two which was pacing my pal Bill Rundle through the night for his first 100 mile attempt. I starting my stretching, my routine to drain the lactic acid out of my legs, power hydrating and trying to get some food down. My stomach problems returned but I had eight or so hours before my pacing duties so I concerned but not dramatically worried.
Hindsight: It’s 20/20 so tell us what worked and tell us what didn’t:
What worked: my continued commitment to building my core strength. Let me suggest that besides the dropping of an additional five pounds, it’s made a huge difference—especially on the up hills and down hills where I’m in much more control of my body. Also, Coach Andy’s prescribed hill work paid off big time as well.
What didn’t work: My diet. I was out of my controlled pre-race environment and I didn’t pay sufficient attention to my pre-race intake and the pacing of that intake. Granted I was out there in a tent waking up to a 40 degree temperature but live and learn, as they say.
What were Coach Andy’s suggestions? Going in to this event my training regimen was really all about sticking to the plan of working hard and as I like to call it ‘stacking pennies towards a dollar” with that dollar being my goal race in October. It helps me mentally to keep in mind that the race that I’m running is in preparation for the next big thing knowing quite well that there will always be a “next big race”, as long as my body will let me pound out these trails. For the Range of Motion runners at Born to Run–what a day! Sixteen runners, 6 PRs and Andy took first place in the 100k division. As for my pacing throughout the night for the 100 mile attempt—Bill came in at 50 miles with some fairly serious problems with his left foot and after a long discussion with Coach Andy they felt that it would be best to DNF rather than cause an injury that might sideline him for 2+ months. I felt bad for Bill since he’d trained so hard for the event but I was also glad that he would have a quick recovery and be back out there soon.
Andy Sulak winning the 100K – Photo by Mike Cloward
Closing Comments: I’d like to extend a big thank you to race director and race founder Luis Escobar and his volunteers for putting on this amazing race. The entire event has a ramshackle feel to it which I think is its most endearing quality. The course is marked well but at the same time Luis’ attitude is if you can’t figure it out then you probably shouldn’t be out there. The facilities are what they are—you’re camping right? In fact the predominant attitude is “if you find something you don’t like then fine, you can always leave”. I sincerely hope that this event’s mindset along with requiring the participants to “rough it” by having to camp out will keep this event the size that it is. I know there is a predominant attitude to grow things to their logical capacity but the positive energy seems to be just about right at the size this event is at. I also hope that Mr. Escobar develops a series of races that re-enforce these principals and the spirit and the essence of Micah True that he captures so well with this Born to Run event in Los Olivos.
BtR RD Luis Escobar – Photo by Mike Cloward
About the author. Along with Coach Andy Sulak, Mike Cloward is co-founder of The Range of Motion coaching service and the recently launched UltraSportsLive.TV, an ultra event webcasting service. He is based in the Uptown neighborhood of Oakland California.