Friday, September 5, 2014

Burning Man is an Ultramarathon

Burning Man is a week long event in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.  It's nearly 70,000 people and a massive collection of art, music and anything anyone is possibly interested in doing/seeing/being.  No matter what you are into, you can find it out there.  Seriously, anything can be found, google it.  So, naturally, there is an ultramarathon.   

The first crazy/amazing thing about the race is how well organized it was.  Put on by Cherie Bomb and the Pink Lightning camp, there is no registration fee, but with Burning Man's gift economy, there was STARTER medals, 2 finisher medals, an awesome race tee, fully stocked aid stations and the best post race meal I have had. 

It was a big race!  There were over 200 starters.  In a typical city of 70,000 people, odds are that less than a handful would be interested in running 50k.  There must be significant crossover between people nutty enough to make it to Burning Man and people nutty enough to run an ultra.  The competition was stiff too, even though we were all out there to party, a lot of people were putting pedal to the medal.  Burners are tough.

We started just after 5:00am in the dark lit by hundreds of roaming lit up art cars, dozens of music stages with lasers and pounding music, random fire blasts, and thousands of people and their bikes lit up like Christmas trees.  It was kind of like running through a rave if the venue was more than 5 square miles.

We ran first along Esplanade, which is a sort of Main Street, then we go out to the "Deep Playa", which is wide open desert punctuated with occasional burners, random art cars, and huge roaming sound stages like Robot Heart. I paused at a few sound stages to dance during the first of four total loops. 

Starting at 7:00 and G, to Esplanade, Left at 10:00 and around the edge and back through 2:00 and E and around again 4 total times.
Robot Heart at Dawn.

Running through the desert at dawn is truly stunning.  The rising sun shining through the alkali playa dust is dark orange and glistening. 
Coming back around on the first loop there were still tons of people out dancing and cavorting.  Once they realized there was a race going on we received some of the most enthusiastic encouragement I have ever seen.  I only took one or two shots each loop of the dozens being offered.  Sometimes the gift economy can be overwhelming. 

On laps 2 and 3 I realized that even though this is Burning Man it's still an ultramarathon and still a very long way.  I tried to keep up with the leaders on lap one but quickly realized I was outmatched.  For the rest of the race I went between 4th and 8th place, chatting with a few of my competitors, including a guy only wearing shoes and a camelback, and another guy who was running his first ever ultra just after finishing an Ironman triathlon.  Like I said, there are a lot of tough people on the playa. 

Lap 4 HURT.  My legs were screaming.  The surface of the playa in most places was concrete hard and bumpy from some rain and hail we had earlier in the week.  Where it wasn't hard as concrete it was a fine sand that got in between your toes and under toenails.  Still, I was motivated to finish as best I could, both to perform well, and also finish before it got too hot.  Hours after I made it in there were people still out there making a go in 90 degree heat and unforgiving Sun.  More hard core stuff.

About four hours and fifteen minutes after starting, I finished in 7th place.  Woo Hoo!  I loved the experience, and can't wait to go back.  Over the rest of the week there were many, many crazy sights, sounds and stories which I won't go into here. But, if you see me at the bar or out at the races I am happy to share my experience.  On to the next one.

Thank you to everyone for making all the amazing swag!

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