La Ruta 100K Ultra – From the eyes of your teammate
Waking up before the crack of dawn is nothing new to an ultra runner, but this morning seems a bit different. Yes it is the day we all are going to run 100km which for most would not be a routine day, but this morning seemed cool, quiet, and every runner seemed to be focused. We all met for breakfast but there was only the mildest of small talk. For me, the words of race director, Roman Urbina, resignated through my head as he described his course as an ultra hard ultra.
The starting line area is busy, with race organizers getting last minute problems sorted out, photographers snapping shots, GoPro cameras in the air, but all I can think is I’m ready for this. All the early mornings, all the two a day workouts, it’s time to put it to the test. The deal Jonathan and I had made the night before had only one condition, we don’t stop running voluntarily. We’re either going to timeout at one of the checkpoints, get pulled out for medical reasons, or finish.
When the starting gun went off, we knew not to chase the heels of the Tarahumara. These legendary athletes have been running ultra distances since they were young, and I only had a solid year under my belt. I felt in the beginning holding a steady pace and really appreciating the beautiful landscape of which I was running through. I immediately began to feel the humidity as every piece of clothing I was wearing begam soaked within the first hour. As the cutoff time to reach aid station one came uncomfortably close, I secumbed to my first momemt of self doubt. I told Jonathan to go on ahead to make the cut off as he was handling the tricky terrain slightly better than I was. Needless to say as we’ve always done in our races, we stuck together and he helped push me through.
I changed into my running shoes for the jungle portion of the race, as Roman had warned us the night before that it can get very muddy and rough. We could risk losing our Xero Shoes in the rough portion of the course. I was glad I changed as he didn’t speak one word of a lie about this jungle section. Footwear however, was the least of the challenges I ran into. Feeling that my breakfast had sat heavy in my stomach I lost my appetite and started to fall frantically behind in calorie and water intake. Like a freight train, I was hit with heavy legs, blurry vision and feeling light headed. Jonathan pushed for me to force food down and would tell me to drink water every time he turned around to check on me.
People always talk about hitting the wall while running marathons, and ultra runners joke that they hit about 5 of these walls over the course of their race. The wall I was trying to break through was about 50 km thick and lasted the better portion of that days daylight hours. I don’t know whether it was my internal drive that kept me going, not wanting to pull Jonathan from a race he was doing so well in, or if I was so out of it that all I could do was follow the figure running directly in front of me, but forward we pushed.
To say I remember crossing the 52km finish line would be a lie. I kept just enough water in my system to keep my legs moving, but to be honest I was consuming even less that what Jonathan was telling me to eat. I could barely hold a cup up to my mouth to take in gatorade, let alone change back into my Xero shoes, but I was happy to see Jonathan switched back to his. We believe in them and his feet would probably be in better shape by the end than mine.
When we departed this aid station we started the big climb, up into the clouds high overhead. Jonathan finally got me to smile with an out of the blue quote from my favourite Disney movie The Lion King. As Zazu had said “Step lively now! The sooner we get to the water hole, the sooner we can go home!” I don’t know where he pulled that out from but it proved to reflect our situation so well. The less we stop, the less we walk, the faster we run, the closer that finish line came.
The sun began to set as we broke into the clouds and trekked along the beautiful trails towards the mountain summit. I’m glad Jonathan was able to take some cool pictures because the only thing I remember from this section was that one package of sharkies that woke up my taste buds, and a Vulture sitting high in a tree, savouring the meal to come as he watched my near dead body trot along. I kept quiet as Jonathan grew worried that we had climbed up the wrong mountain. I just tried to keep up and reassure him we’d figure it out.
PURA VITA we heard being yelled by a voice we had came to love. It was Erika cheering us in to the final aid station, alongside co-race director Roman. They briefed on what we’d have to cover to make it to the finish line. Sitting 70 km into the course, it was bittersweet to think we were on the final stretch, but that stretch was 30km’s long.
I took that thought though and told my body that we weren’t shutting down here. I ran a step, then another and before I know it we were picking up the pace a bit, even while climbing that last few kilometers before the long and much desired descent.
As we started to go down, so did the sun and visibility of the rough sections of the course. Fortunately the amazing race directors, Erika and Roman, decided to spend the next three and a half hours following behind us with their high beam lights to illuminate the trails for us. With the cooling temperatures, the SUV chasing our heels, and the kilometers ticking down to the single digits, I was finally breaking through this wall that never seemed like it would end. I was back in the swing of things, clipping along trying finish strong when things slowed again with about 5 kilometers to go. The final 7 kilometers of this race are uphill, and at a substantial pitch to boot. The past 50 km’s of watching how much water I was drinking, or trying to get me to eat food here and there, Jonathan came to realize that he had let his own nutrition dwindle, and now he was feeling empty. Erika, once again being our guardian angel, popped out of the Land Rover with a couple baggies of chips someone had left at the last aid station. The two of us woofed these down so fast you’d think we were racing, I even licked out the bag to get the salt. Once fueled up, I echoed the quote that Jonathan used to keep me going only a few hours earlier, “Step lively now! The sooner we get to the water hole, the sooner we can go home!”
2 kilometers left we hear yelled from the truck behind us, we keep pushing with everything we have left, 600 meters to go! We hear Roman start to honk the horn to alert everyone at the finish line that we are close. A minute later we hear honks coming from nearby as if to say “We hear ya, bring em in!” As we cross the finish line, we are amazed with all of the people who waited to cheer us in, I look over to see Jonathan with a huge smile on his face as he walks over and gives me a big hug. We just finished La Ruta 100km!!!
The next day we relax, recovering and spend time sharing stories and pictures from the race. We come across a photograph posted on facebook that brings a smile to both of us. It was a photo taken from the Land Rover following us through the night, with it the caption “The human spirit has no boundaries!” I don’t think you could ever get him to admit it, but that simple picture struck a nerve in Jonathan that I know he will always remember this race and all that we went through.
“The human spirit has no boundaries!”
Learn how to tie your huaraches like the Tarahumara
Be sure to check out our Running Race Resume to see what other races we’ve taken on!