The day before the event Race Director Luis Escobar posted “Rancho San Juan Trail Run and Camp is 100% on, regardless of weather. Please remember that this is a rain or shine event. Plan accordingly. BRING FIREWOOD.” This prompted a rousing conversation about who told who to “burn all the firewood” last year (did Luis really say that, or did me, Tyler, and Sean just make an executive decision? We may never know…). More importantly, the part about the weather could be translated as “it’s gonna be muddy as heck”. Brittany and I left Santa Barbara after work on Friday. Before leaving town we both stopped by the gym to shower, we knew it’d be a muddy weekend, but it can’t hurt to start clean, right?
We pulled up to the ranch, Brittany opened the gate, I popped the tops on two beers, and we followed the dirt road to the campground. We set up camp (aka, home) and headed over to the fire with a few cold brews. The core group of the All We Do Is Run crowd was there and we unfolded our kiddie chairs and settled in.
Brittany and I slept in the car and woke up early Saturday morning to a soft drizzle on the Honda’s roof. The pitter-patter of rain was interrupted by a microphone screech followed by Luis Escobar’s amplified voice “Okay folks, its 6:30 AM, be out on the starting line for the 5K and 10K races in 30 minutes!” That was Brittany’s cue, she was going to run the 10K race, but instead she rolled over and said “It’s raining, I think I’ll do the 25K race tomorrow.” Fine by me, that meant I got to sleep in!
After several gunshots and cheers for racers it was 10:00 AM and the soft tapping of raindrops on the roof was again rudely interrupted by Luis on the PA system, “Alright folks, we’re doing a morning Beer Mile in 5 minutes. Chris Clemens, get your butt out of your car and grab 4 beers. I know you can hear me!” Busted. I was not looking forward to an AM beer mile, but after the second call from Luis on the microphone I climbed out of the car, grabbed some PBR’s, and was on the line.
“I can drink more than I think I can. I’m drunker than I think I am. I will not puke. Amen”
The oath was recited and the race was started. All around me beer milers pounded their first can and started running. I had barely finished my first swig! It was going to be a tough race. I had just woken up, I was hungover from the night before, and I was hungry for breakfast…but, dang it, I’m not a quitter! (To be completely transparent, I was planning to quit, but there was no cutoff time for the beer mile, so read on.)
I drank my first two beers in the time it took everyone else to finish the event. I decided that since I was the only one left it was time for breakfast. I ordered a burrito from Luis’ sister and sat at a table to gorge myself during my beer mile. After eating I was still able to put down two more beers and I finally hobbled out for my last quarter mile jog. At the turnaround a van approached and I knew just who it was…Nancy Kaplan rolled down her window as she drove by and cheered for me. I sprinted hard, but couldn’t catch her van before the finish. Embarrassingly, yet again, Nancy Kaplan beat me in a beer mile, and she wasn’t even in the race!
Beer mile Race Director Bobby Walpole gave me the much deserved “tiny shovel” for my pathetic 1 hour 45 minute time. But hey, at least I finished!
The rain continued off and on as more runners arrived. The races were done for the day, kinda. Unfortunately there would be another beer mile, and even more unfortunately for me, I’d be running in it. We all sat around a toasty campfire while Arnulfo Quimare (read about him in the book Born To Run) showed us how to do a traditional Tarahumara rain dance with Monarch butterfly pods filled with seeds wrapped around his ankles. Spoiler alert, the rain dance worked, we got a lot more rain. During a break in the showers we had a piñata for the kids and I headed back to the Element to take a nap.
Brittany and I were fast asleep, enjoying the lulling sounds of the breeze through the trees when Luis’ amplified voice again pierced the air, “We’re doing the afternoon beer mile! Chris Clemens, get four beers and get out of your car and to the starting line!”
I survived the second beer mile of the day, scarfed down another huge burrito, and pulled the chairs up to the fire. As the sun set we had a live band that brought everyone to their feet, dancing in the muddy dirt around the campfire. After dark we headed to the car to prepare for the race the next morning.
Rancho San Juan Race Report
Race Day. Before my alarm could even go off I heard the speakers crackle one more time, “We’re doing a pre-race beer mile, Chris Clemens, your brother Tyler is here, get out of your car and grab 4 beers!” No way. I ordered another breakfast burrito and watched as people who were not running the 50K lined up with 4 beers. I’d be okay missing this one.
Once the beer cans were cleaned up and the shovels awarded the 25K and 50K racers stepped up to the line. Brittany would be running the 25K, but Luis was quick to let everyone know that due to the rain the course had been slightly adapted. The 50K racers would be running 3 loops, the 25K racers would be running two, meaning that instead of running 15 miles, Brittany would now be running closer to 22 miles. We both took a quick swig off of Tyler’s PBR, Luis gave the shotgun to a very shaky Arnulfo, and with a bang we were off.
The first section of the course was muddy, and that’s an understatement. The dirt road is on the north end of several slopes, never receiving direct sunlight to dry the puddles. The mud was deep and tacky and it stuck to our shoes, effectively adding a few pounds to each swinging foot. The downhill was almost funny. It was steep and had nothing solid to run on. Instead, most of us were sliding down the hills as if we were on skis. Luckily, about 5 miles into the 10+ mile loop the trail dried and the mud started to fall off our shoes, dotting our legs with dirt spots and lightening our load.
Early in the race I was on my own, behind the lead pack, but in front of the herd. I ran hard the first loop, making it back to the camp to head out again with good energy and a positive attitude. Even the muddy section couldn’t get me down, I just put it in low gear and cranked through it until we hit the dry land and my shoes became lighter and faster for running. On the out and back I saw Brittany, she was feeling and looking good, and she said she was happy to be finishing.
I came through the main aid station one more time and noticed a few runners I had been chasing had finished the 25K (two loop) race. I realized I was actually doing better than I thought. I took off for the last loop with the goal of not being passed.
I pushed hard through the muddy section and as the ranch opened to wide valleys and rolling hills I turned the corner to see my favorite race obstacle, a herd of cattle. In typical All We Do Is Run fashion, I ran the next half mile chasing, pacing, and generally scaring the crap out of the herd of cattle in front of me. Hefty cows and clumsy calves mooed and ran ahead, stopping to look back at me before sprinting again. Eventually the trail split, the perturbed cattle went left, and I passed right.
I was alone on the course. I stopped at the last aid station and then headed for home. I had seen the leaders and Arnulfo more than a half hour earlier, so I knew there was no chance to improve my place, it was just holding on now. I also realized that I’d most likely break my 50K Person Record, if I could just keep my pace.
I struggled up the last few hills, but could finally see the tents and RV’s ahead. I rounded the corner and finished at the campfire in 5 hours and 23 minutes, my PR in the 50K by 5 minutes, good enough for 7th place. Luis pointed out that a 50K is 31 miles, and this race was actually closer to 34 miles, but I didn’t mind. I had pushed through a tough day, started a bit hungover, and finished with my most successful 50K-ish time thus far. I was feeling pretty darn good about myself until I was having beers with Chris Rios and I told him the good news. “Oh yeah? I think my 50K PR is 5:11!”, Rios replied. I had a new goal…but for today I was done running, I had cold beer, and I was happy.
Unfortunately, I realized at the end of the race that I was a bit lighter, and I’m not talking about kicking the mud off my shoes. I had lost my Canyon de Chelly turquoise necklace out on the course. The necklace had been hand made by race director Shaun Martin for all finishers and I’d been wearing the necklace since the race. Later that evening around the campfire Brittany grabbed my arm as Bobby held out my necklace! He had found it on the trail! He and Michelle had run the Canyon de Chelly race with me the previous year and when he saw it on the course he knew just who it belonged to.
Brittany had finished a great race as well, running her longest distance (22 miles) off virtually no training and finishing with strong legs and little pain! We sat around the campfire enjoying the evening while the majority of runners and campers departed. It was Sunday night and we could head back to Santa Barbara…or…we could hang out for another evening of camping and drive home early the next morning to get me back in the office. We did a quick beer run and got the campfire roaring. Luis took a “family photo” of the group who stuck around for another night of good times with good friends.
In the morning we helped take down camp, loaded wet gear into trucks, and Brittany and I left the ranch so I could get back to work. I walked into the office with a little mud on my legs, dried sweat on my brow, and some cow poop on my shoes, but I was happy. It was another weekend away from the norm, out in nature, living in the Element, and living free.
More ultramarathon posts here.