17 September 2011

Black Rock City 50k: A Race Report of the 2nd Annual Burning Man Ultramarathon

When I went to Burning Man for the first time, I kept thinking, "I should organize an ultramarathon." Everyone told me I was crazy. On my second Burn, my friend Rich told me if I organized it, he'd help me. So last year I organized the first 50k, and this year, I did it again.

Burning Man is all about crazy, so an ultra fits just perfectly.

We started at 5a.m., playa time, on 10:00 and Liminal, past Opulent Temple and Temple of Boom and all the clubs with all the people still raging, clad in el wire and fake fur and glitter and dust. We ran straight up 10:00, made a right on Esplanade (Black Rock City's "Main Street"), ran past the big camps, the people stumbling around, the people still partying from the night before, and past the sleepy-eyed few who rose early to catch the sunrises, which are almost always glorious in Black Rock City. We made a right on 2:00, running down past some of the big party camps, waving at Hookah Dome, hoping for champagne from Bubbles and Bass. And then past the heckling camp, where many of us heckled back, alongside 2:00 and the walk-in camping, and then a left at trash fence, another left, and then a left on 10:00. Four full loops, and the fifth loop, we did an out and back, all the way out to 2:00 between Birthday and Coming Out (yes, those are the names of streets there).

Everyone was excited at the start. People found our glowing bikes on the corner of 10 and L, just past a large Washington Monument-like sculpture. There were hugs, people giving out glow bracelets, sharing running snacks, stories, excitement. Some people got to the start just minutes before after being in the gate line to get into Black Rock City. 


The course was much simpler than last year, so most people pretty much understood it. The terrain is the playa sand - alkaline sand. It is flat, at high altitude. Dust storms can come, insane heat, who knows what else? Runners ran with bandanas around their neck for protection from dust storms. Everyone was instructed to carry water.



Everyone was in it to have fun. Most people ran with their full heart, some people ran until the painful point, some ran a few laps until they couldn't/didn't want to do any more, some people accepted beers/vodka shots/champagne (me on the latter!). I ran in a fringed sports bra and a tutu, both made by me. And a silly visor so I'd avoid last year's lip sunburn.

I felt great the first lap, but my shoe felt kinda tight. The second lap a blister was definitely growing on my big toe. I complained to the English guy I was running with, who specifically came to Burning Man to run the ultra. I was turning my foot inward to avoid pain. Finally, at the start of the third lap, I removed my shoes and ran in just my socks. Heavenly. I still felt the blister, but it was a million times less painful and I didn't have to alter my stride. I carried my shoes until I reached the second aid station a few miles later and proceeded to run the rest of the ultra in just my socks - which worked because I have been training a lot in my Vibrams this summer, and because the majority of the course was rather soft, and rocks are rare.


The male winner, Duncan Hancox, won in 3:50, and the first woman, Kathy D'Onfrio took 4th place overall with 4:51. Full results can be seen here, though a large number of DNFs and just-for-fun runners are not included due to it being Burning Man the results not being 100% perfectly recorded.




North Brooklyn Runners, a running club I am a part of, had five runners, including the 2nd place man, Johnny Max. I had hoped to run faster than last year, and the course may have been slightly longer - or it may have just been the playa or my blister. Upon completion of the race, I removed my sock to see a blister that was the size of my little toe attached to my big toe. I had to leave sooner than I hoped to get some medical attention for my footsie - and keep my feet as clean as possible the rest of the Burn.


What's so special about this ultra? Encouragement. I have never had such great appreciation from the audience. As I am a trail runner, most of my races lack any kind of audience, so this was a real treat for me. The crowds were lively, hilarious, and encouraging. The runners were as well. We had one runner finish completely naked (but he, unlike me, kept his sneakers on!). Homemade numbers and homemade medals contributed to the loving, homemade vibe. Runners brought one bottle of water plus a running snack to share, so everyone contributed towards everyone else's race.


Lessons were learned - next year, the start/finish will be arranged at Camp Twin Bikini to offer shade, space for relaxation, and post-race party. The aid stations will be spread out slightly more. And perhaps we'll even have a few bottles of celebratory champagne for runners!  


DC said...

Perhaps next year a 100 miler?

KatieWisdm said...

wow, i didn't realized you had ORGANIZED this yourself!

good job and great pics!

Justin said...

It was a fantastic race and experience. Thanks so much for putting the race on!