Written By Sam Heward
Sam is one of the Ultra X Co-Founders. If he's not actually out running, chances are he's busy writing about it (or plotting Ultra X strategy!)
It’s easy to get excited about organizing events when you travel to some of the places that we do. However, the Copper Canyons in Chihuahua has gone beyond the norm.
As is the case for any Ultra X event, before the recce there is substantial time spent on due diligence, speaking with local authorities, tour guides and to those who have traveled to the region in the past. We were aware of the Canyons’ ultra running history, being the home of the Raramuri, “The Running People”, whom were made famous in the book Born to Run, and the famous natural beauty of the region which draws tourists every year from all over the world.
However, what we were not aware of was just how out of this world this area was. When we ascended our first canyon and turned our backs to see the view, it was that same feeling we got when we first visited Wadi Rum (for Ultra X Jordan) five years ago. That feeling of “oh my gosh, we have to have a race here”.
There are so many different aspects and challenges to this race that make it unique, more so than our other races. As we departed our final recce we found ourselves counting down the days to Saturday 2nd November. It’s 155 by the way.
Some of the unique elements about Ultra X Mexico.
The Route: “Magic to Magic”
The course takes competitors between two of Mexico’s “Magic Towns” from Creel to Batopilas, so called as they offer visitors a “magical” experience due to their natural beauty, cultural richness, traditions, folklore, historical relevance, cuisine and great hospitality. The first checkpoint on stage one takes competitors through the main plaza of Creel where runners can expect streets lined with locals supporting them before they head off into the wilderness of canyon country. Five days and 250km later they will be arriving into the main plaza of Batopilas for one hell of a party – Chihuahua style!
The Copper Canyons have some of the world’s most beautiful trails, yet due to lack of resources, tourism and proper management the majority of these are totally unmapped and unmanaged. As part of our commitment to the region and in partnership with a team of Americans we will be creating a new and fully marked trail in the region – The Camino del Cobre. This will hopefully bring eco-tourism and money to the region. The runners who compete in Ultra X Mexico 2019 will be the first people to run the entire route and as such whoever crosses the finish line on day five first will hold the course FKT!
Parts of the trail have seen less than 100 non-Mexicans EVER, and the Ultra X founders represent two of them ?
Born To Run
The Copper Canyons were first made famous by Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, which documents the story of one of the last truly indigenous populations in the world, the Ramaruri, and the formation of a legendary race in the region, The Caballo Blanco Ultra Marathon. Due to widely dispersed settlements and hostile terrain, the Ramaruri have developed a tradition of long-distance running and can run up to 200 miles in one session for inter-village communication, transport or hunting.
They still run wearing their traditional dress (see image below), which includes sandals made of tyres and leather strapping (Huaraches). Not only will our competitors spend the first part of stage four doing a section of The Caballo Blanco course, we are thrilled to have 15 local Ramaruri competing in the race! Our runners will have the opportunity to run with them and live with them over the week, something totally unique to this race and never experienced before in the region.
Part of the allure of the event is of course being in the same location as the famous book, but this is only part of it: ever since the Copper Canyons were discovered by explorers in the late 19th century they have drawn tourists from the world over to see the immense natural beauty of the region.
If you haven’t read the book yet, do not fear! Everyone who signs down gets their own copy with their race number, signed by the team from Ultra X which will then be passed down to your corresponding number every year.
The challenge of the canyons
This is going to be toughest multi-stage race on the planet. Over 11,000 metres of elevation across wild, remote and mountainous terrain awaits those who are brave enough to attempt it. The race also takes place between 800 and 2,500 metres above sea level, not enough for altitude sickness, but enough to feel it in the lungs and legs, trust us!
On the Thursday, a legendary long stage will set competitors off at the crack of dawn. Runners/walkers will be led by the moon and their own head torches. This stage will include a section of the famous Caballo Blanco Ultra before the runners pass through the main streets of Urique at the halfway point.
They will then begin the climb from river to rim (Urique is the lowest point in the Copper Canyons) where they will camp in Pierre Redondre, which offers amazing views over the day’s route. For some this will take 18 hours, but as long as you make it in before midnight you will have completed the beast! Once you have made it this far it is simply a 40km ‘dash’ to the finish line which will be a test for those whose legs have anything left. This dash is a in fact a 1,500 metre drop consisting of numerous switch backs before ending in Batopilas Canyon where a hero’s welcome awaits.
If the 15 Tarahumara runners joining us is not enough, how about the fact that three of the world’s best are going to be joining us for this race and creating a team of champions.
We are delighted to announce that pro athletes Jason Schlarb, one of 2018’s ‘Ultra Runners of the Year’ (AltraRunning, UltimateDirection, Spring Energy, Flora and Epicbar), Meredith Edwards, podium finisher at UTMB TDS/UTMB Oman and many more (Altra, Camelbak, Spring Energy and Leki), and Gediminas Grinius (AltraRunning and Vibram) previous winner of the Ultra-Trail World Tour are going to be in Mexico. We’ve also got the amazing and charismatic Ian Morgan and Fran Gonzales joining us from Chile. We are so excited to welcome them out to Mexico.
The 250km trail is mostly inaccessible by vehicles. This means that checkpoints are not every 10km and instead have been dictated by accessibility so that we can bring water, shelter, massage beds and our crew to the runners as is necessary.
The majority of checkpoints are less than 10km apart and have been strategically positioned to showcase the very best views in the region.
One of the most difficult sections of the week, a 9km stretch along the rim of Urique Canyon leading to checkpoint four finishes in an abandoned hotel overlooking the Canyons. It is quite simply one of the most stunning spots that are recce team have ever seen – uninterrupted horizon spanning 180 degrees from the outstretched hotel balcony. Here, shade and shelter will be waiting along with our now legendary crew of osteopaths and medics.
Competitors can also expect to see several “Donkey Checkpoints” on the course. These will be checkpoints set up by local donkeys led by their indigenous guides, ensuring that there are no stretches were there is a risk of competitors not being able to top up their water supplies.
Finishing in the Magic Town of Batopilas is going to be memorable for many reasons. Not only will the runners have completed one of the toughest footraces on earth but it is time for the celebrations to kick off – which means the entire municipality of Batopilas will be descending on the main plaza where the runners will be crossing the blue Ultra X arches.
There will be a batch of local corn beer, Tesguino, brewed especially for the occasion (it cannot be stored for more than 24 hours so must be drunk immediately), Lechuguilla (a local cactus moonshine) up for grabs, as well as a huge BBQ in the main square where a whole bull will be offered to the finishers. There will of course be vegetarian and vegan options too. The coming together of international, national and Raramuri runners for this epic challenge is what makes Ultra X Mexico so special and this event will be a celebration of that.
Before the prize giving there will be a chance for the competitors to sit back and watch some others running as there will be a race around the streets of the town for the local children and we will be encouraging our crew to also get involved in this beautiful event!
Don’t forget about Pedro. Pedro, AKA the “am-mule-lance” will be bringing up the rear each day as well as collecting the markings off the course and representing the cut-off time. If Pedro catches you, you’re out. You shouldn’t have too much to worry about though because Pedro is 27 years old and can feel every year of those in his little legs.
That being said, in mating season, Pedro has been known to have some very lively days. His speed can triple over the technical course. Let’s just hope that he doesn’t have one of those days during the event, as all but the pros may be caught off guard by the stallion.
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