Monday, March 10, 2014

2014 Ultramaraton Caballo BLanco

Urique, location of Ultramaraton Caballo Blanco

I had a great and memorable time at this years race, my second time to visit. Like last year, I met some truly special people along the way and wanted to share my race experience which was much better than last year. The 2013 blog entry and  race report can be found  here: 2013 Ultramaraton Caballo Blanco, so I wont go over things I posted at that time.  Before I go into detail, I want to encourage everyone to seek out this unique experience which will inspire you and change you. Before I get to more details, and before you stop reading,  I want to share an excellent video made by Ceci I. from based in San Antonio.

requires facebook for now

Getting there
As I did last year, John Hatch from Gavilan Tours agreed to take me and a group down to Urique for the race.  I used Facebook to make connections with several  Aspiring Mas Locos (for definition, refer to last year's blog). At the last minute, we had 2 additional passengers which made 7 total plus the driver.  Margaret  S was the first to arrive from Salt Lake City on Wed and that night Carlos "Bala", Carlos O, and Arturo E arrived.  On Thursday, Kelly K. and Tomasino arrived and we departed with John Thursday AM.  On the way out we met up with Ray M. who was a friend of Caballo Blanco (Micah True) and was sending down some racing tire threads for making huaraches.  He said they were racing tires without the steel belt which are preferred by the Tarahumaras.

Ray with his tire threads
The "party van" then arrived in Creel for the night.  We all stayed at the Hotel Real de Chapultepec in 3 rooms.  Two rooms had 3 beds and the other 2 beds where Kelly and Margaret slept.  Their room was where Micah used to spend nights  in Creel.

Friday AM we left early for Divisadero and the 7 stage Zip lines which are set up there. Like last year, I chose to not ride them and opted for the cable car to where the Zip lines finished.  It was there that I met Levy who was the project manager for a new Zip line, the longest in the world which will be open soon. Levy was going to do the race as well on Sunday.

We then drove to Urique and arrived a little after 3 pm, first stop to Mama Tita's Restaurant.  We then were guided to the house which we would spend the next 3 nights.  The conditions were spartan but I had brought 2 air mattresses. The "party van" riders were joined by Ceci I, Rogelio I, Karen J, and Will who arrived later by train from Chihuahua and down to Urique by van.  After we sorted the sleeping arrangements for the 10 of us (John slept in the van, wisely), we went to have dinner at the Raramuri encampment outside of town. The bean, beef, and potatoes were tasty and we got to meet many participants in the race.  

Dinner Friday night with Raramuri

Later, we went to Mama Tita's restaurant and had a few beers and played Loteria.  Here were several Mas Locos eating and Margaret S, who was doing social media live coverage of the race was with one of the elites of Ultra-running, Nickademus (Nick) Hollon.  I knew he was coming to the event, and I was happy to have had the chance to meet him.  Last year, he won the Barkley Marathons in his 3rd attempt, participated in Tor des Geants in Northern Italy (which is in my to-do list), and was coming from fresh wins at the Fuego y Agua Ultra/ Survival run.  He was gracious and we talked about the trip down here, in no other sport can you "hang out" with elite athletes like this.   When we were leaving, a street party had developed outside with a trio providing the music.

Nickademus Hollon and me at Mama Tta's Restaurant

Saturday (day before Ultra)
We woke up early to join the Children's race at 0700.  This is the second year and 500 kids ran in 2 waves (10 and under and 11-14 yrs) separated for a few minutes.  We were assigned the second wave and had a blast running with the kids.  The course now was a big loop instead of out and back which made it less chaotic than last year.   As in the previous year, all the children received a t-shirt, school supplies, and a finisher's medal.

Packet pick up started at 1000 AM on Saturday (until 3 pm), and I received a bib number (41), a  t-shirt, a poster of the race, timing chip (first time for this event), and a bandanna type gear for dust.

In the afternoon, there is a full schedule of events for the runners which I covered in last year's blog,  Instead, this year I opted to go to the beach.  A group of us hiked up river and to a section of the river where there was a little turn and resulting small area of relatively standing water.  The water was cool (I estimate 65-68F) but provided great relief from the heat of the day.

 Swimming in Urique river

After a late lunch, we went to get some supplies from the local grocery store which was near the house and made a quick stop at the "Internet Cafe" which was a street outside the local school which had WIFI. Someone had obtained the password (URIQUE13) and allowed free use which was slow specially when more people found out about it.

L to R Me, Carlos "Bala", Arturo E., and Carlos O.

L to R Tomasino, Carlos "Bala", Carlos O, Arturo, Karen, me, Will, and Kelly K.

I felt good going into this years race because I had trained appropriately on trails, with hills, and somewhat in the heat.  Most importantly, unlike last year, I had not completed my first 100 miler a month before.  I couldn't sleep the night before as per my usual, so I was ready by 0500 for the 0600 start of the race. We walked down to the city center and had the FIRST bracelet which was given and lined up with about 700 other runners. 500 were Raramuri men and women and about 200 from Mexico and the rest of the world.  I had a drop bag with lots of Gu's, cliff bars, and a head lamp just in case.  I placed it next to Mama Tita's Restaurant. I had a hand held 20 oz. bottle of water and a waist pack with additional 20 oz. plus S-caps in a zip lock bag..

The Start (Urique to Guadalupe and back to Bridge 8 miles)
I hung out at the back of the pack, knowing how fast the start of this race is. To read more about the FRONT of the back, check out Nick Hollon's blog for his description of the start and his impressions of the event itself.  I left town at a comfortable pace with great atmosphere along the first mile of the way.  Once I warmed up, I was determined to improve my time from last year and threw caution to the wind.  I fast hiked the uphills and went as fast as I could on the downhill sections.  I have been doing hill repeats for the last 2 months, and I think they have paid off for me.  There have been a lot of flooding rains and the trail next to the river seemed more sandy this year compared to last.  I took a gel every 30-45 min plus S-caps every 30 min with water early, for I knew it would heat up soon.  This is the section that many of the Raramuri used to find shortcuts, but this year, they had someone watching and preventing shortcuts.

I arrived at the church for the turn around and got to see several people behind me compared to last year, so I knew I was improving my position.  
Church in Guadalupe (turnaround point)
Puente/Bridge to El Naranjo and Back to Urique   (12 miles)
At the bridge, there were several spectators who are able to hike from Urique (2 miles) and see the race.  At approximately 3 miles into this section (11 miles in), we got off the road and went on the longest, steepest portion of the race via a gnarly  single tract trail. I slowed down considerably as I climbed this section, plus the heat of the day was starting about this time.  After climbing about 1,800 feet in about 3 miles, we reached the top of El Naranjo.  There some entrepreneurial Tarahumara ladies selling tacos and cold coca cola. Here, I caught up to Carlos O. and Arturo E. who were eating some of the local food. I passed on it for fear of not being able to digest the heavy food.  After El Naranjo, it was mostly downhill back to Urique to finish the 20 mile loop.
Climbing up to El Naranjo (foto by Ceci of
Urique to Los Alizos 10 miles
As I left Urique, the worst heat of the day was upon us.  I continued with the Gu, salt tablets, and occasional Cliff bar. The road has medium climbs and descents as we pass the small town of Guapalayna.  Further along was La Laja  which had a large suspension bridge which we crossed over.  After that we were back on single tract. Initially, the trail is flat to a slight incline there was more sand next to the river because of the flooding I assume. We then start going up to 20% grade on several switchback trails going up to Los Alizos. I struggled with the climb and was passed by a few people.  When I arrived at Los Alizos, I was greeted by Prospero who owns the grapefruit farm. It is a beautiful place and they have a makeshift shrine there for Micah True (Caballo Blanco). I spent about 15 min there trying to cool off and eat. 

Shrine for Micah True at Los Alizos

Los Alizos to Urique  10 miles
I felt good after the rest, but the heat of the day made progress difficult.  My watch temperature was up to 94 F at this point, around 2 pm.  I saw several friends on the way up to Los Alizos.  First Kelly K. came through, her second time running in this race, but the first time with Luna sandals.  Later, Karen J. came bye, her first time to run in this event.  She also ran in Luna sandals, but to be more authentic and to honor the Raramuri women, she ran with a long skirt.

Mas Loco Lunatic Karen J. at the 20 mile point
Urique to Guadalupe and back  for last 10 miles
I arrived back to Urique having completed 40 miles at approximately 4 pm. I felt good and decided not to take my headlamp and finish in the day.  Got some coke and took just my handheld with me as it was getting cooler and the sun was being blocked by the canyon.  I was not running the downhills as fast as earlier in the day, but I made good progress and arrive into Urique shortly after sunset. 

Belt buckle for finishers (Belt bought day before hand made by Tarahumara)
I arrived to Urique for the last 1 km and was enthusiastically cheered by the locals along the way. I completed the race in 12:41 was handed a belt buckle and a race amulet by fellow mas locos Patrick Sweeney and Tyler Tomassello who had finished the race earlier. Maria and Josue were at the awards ceremony at the time. The amulets are from Bill Molmen, an artist from Hawaii, who hand crafts the amulet. According to Web site " they are inspired by the spirit of: Hau 'oli Nui Loa- meaning "Happy, very big. Way too Happy!"
Race amulet (I wear every day now)
I was very  happy with my finish, as I was able to cut 2 hours from last year.  I finished 231 out of 333 official finishers.  The PDF can be seen here: Caballo Blanco results.  There were many more that started the race but only ran for 20 miles in order to get corn vouchers. 

In closing, I want to share the story of Maria, who is 49 years old,  arrived Sunday Morning for the race and asked to get a bib number (the Raramuri race for free).  She had hiked from a far away village all night with an infant on her back.  She left the child in the care of someone, ran the race in 9:17:47 with flip flow sandals, earning her 2nd place for the women.  She stayed for the awards ceremony, received 25,000 pesos ($200 US), and took off again to hike back to her village with her baby. 

The local people, the natural beauty, and the participants in the event makes for a truly magical place to visit. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that they are living with great hardships and there is true poverty in that region.  




  1. Great post. Thanks for sharing all the special moments. Congrats on cutting two hours off your time. Way to go Juan!

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