From a dream to reality...the Burning Man Ultramarathon actually happened, and with only a few hitches!
From what started of a dream of mine turned into a reality. At least 37 runners started the race, and 31 finished! The race results show how people worked together across the playa. I ended up running much of the races with Michelle and Jeff, and it was Jeff's first ultra! Others ended up making new friends, while some simply tore across the desert like it was any other ultra - not one in the middle of one of the wildest weeks of the year.
Burning Man is an annual arts and music festival of radical self-reliance in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. From a desert surface (aka "the playa") where nothing exists a city is built, art is installed, and absolute freedom of self-expression rules. Indulging in drugs and alcohol are not abnormal, though many of the runners said, "Why do drugs when you can get the ultimate high - runners' high?"
No money is exchanged, gifts are given freely, nudity and costumes are the norm, and you can be whoever you truly are. Hosting an ultramarathon was only natural; you'd have to be crazy to spend a week in the harsh uncomfortable desert, covered in body glitter, but to run an ultra in that climate? You'd have to be truly insane! So of course we needed an ultra!
The original email sent out via the Burning Man "Jack Rabbit Speaks" list started, "Are you batshit crazy?" I got a lot of emails from people who said, "I'm batshit crazy! Sign me up!" With about 100 acceptances on Facebook and 60+ via email (many of those duplicates), a good field of runners was assured.
Despite amazing parties the night before, most runners headed to bed to snag a few hours sleep (difficult at a place where "art cars" loaded with speakers and hyper participants keep the noise levels up). Runners met at The Man for a 5am start.
The weather was rather chilly at the start - probably in the upper 40s/very low 50s. However, as the last runner finished, temperatures were in the upper 80s/low 90s. There were no dust storms (a concern when planning the race, as dust storms can make visibility impossible and breathing difficult) and everyone was delighted with conditions. Footing was a little uneven at times, with flat alkaline sand as the terrain.
The first loop was quite dark as runners headed out from The Man to the Perimeter Trash Fence. Runners hit an aid station just after mile 1, and hit the aid station again once each 6+ mile loop. Runners ran straight along the fence, turning at a marked spot (that some runners missed, especially in the early morning dark - next year we'll put glow sticks here!), then hit the edge of Black Rock City. Runners ran past popular dance clubs, into the city, past the Medical Station, and then along Esplanade, Black Rock City's Main Street. People who had not gone to bed yet were shocked and amazed and impressed at what we were doing: "You're running?" "You're getting enough exercise for both of us!!" "You're doing that ultramarathon? You're insane! Insane!" "Stop running! Start drinking!" "You are awesome!" The cheers and offers from the crowd (for water, alcohol, and hugs) kept the runners smiling. After the Esplanade ended, runners headed straight back to the fence to make a loop of the course, and repeat.
The first runner, Ben Merchant, ran the race in a tutu with a giant smile. I also ran in a homemade tutu, and other runners ran in codpieces, capes, tiny briefs, and lots of body glitter. The attire was a mixture of ultrarunner and Burner.
There were some minor complications and confusions with the course; next year, we hope to have additional volunteers to point out directions and glow sticks to mark the course. Overall, it was an absolute blast. Many runners completed their first ultra, or got a PR on the course.
The race will definitely happen again next year - attendees simply need to come at 5am on the Wednesday during Burning Man (September 1st next year) to run 50k. Start training now, but most importantly, start preparing that fabulous running costume!