I recently had the privilege of running the Burning Man Ultra Marathon. I guarantee that you will never meet its equal.
The experience of running an ultra marathon in and of itself is entirely different than an obstacle course race or even a standard marathon, but when you factor in the complete sensory overload that is Burning Man, running “normal” races again, might not be enough.
THE LOCATION, PROCESS, AND PREPARATION – OH MY!
Let me briefly walk you through the process of participating in the most unique race of a lifetime.
The Burning Man Ultra Marathon is located inside the Burning Man event in a remote desert in Gerlach, Nevada, in a town called Black Rock City. This is not your average race. There’s no charge to sign up (YES, FREE!), but you must first get a ticket to the event. This is no small feat. Pre-sale begins in January. There are approximately 4,000 tickets released at pre-sale for exactly double the cost of a normal ticket. That’s $800. 00 for pre-sale or $400.00 for the general sale. The benefit of pre-sale is less competition and a guaranteed no-stress ticket purchase. If you wait until February, you will have worldwide competition, and they typically sell 60,000 + tickets in an approximately one hour. To say getting tickets to this event is stressful is an understatement. That said, once you have your ticket, the fun really does begin. Remember: you must camp in a desert for seven days. Planning for this race means you must not only sign up and get a ticket, you must plan for your survival. Hydration, nutrition and sleeping accommodations (no hotels- you must find a camp, preferably with infrastructure, or plan to camp as a walk-in) are all up to you. One of the most important principles at Burning Man is self-reliance. This is also true for running the 50k. The only thing you can buy at Burning Man is ice and coffee. It is a gifting economy. I am not saying barter. I mean gift. The race is a gift. That is why it is free to sign up. You must bring everything you need for the race and the time you plan to be there, with you or do what I did and find a camp that will drive your things up with theirs. Also, people will gift you everything from food, drinks, art, jewelry or even a ride around the playa in an airplane. You should also know that the gift of participation, hugs, love, glittery rides on brilliant art cars and beautiful smiles are also part of the deal. Be open to that. You won’t regret it.
Now that you have an idea of what it takes to get there, I can tell you IT IS WORTH IT!
The race started at 5AM Wednesday, September 2, 2015. We met at the runner’s camp who organizes the races, called Pink Lightning (all camps have different themes and participate in the Burning Man culture in their own way). There was a map with prerecorded instructions on how many laps we were doing and what street to turn on, etc… The life cycle of a day in Black Rock City seems to have no beginning or end. It is an infinite loop of colors, loud thumping, and beautiful, ethereal music. It was dark when we started running, but there were still thousands of people and art cars moving throughout the city. The energy of the music and cold morning air pushed through us for that first lap. The second lap was the most magical, as that was when we first saw the sun rise over the mountains. The light poured over us for the first time, and the runners and citizens of BRC were able to recognize each other. We were given high-fives, hand slaps from people in art cars, cheers from those who saw our bibs and realized “the crazy ultra runners are out!” (someone said this to me). Not crazy because some of us were completely naked, dragging a rickshaw while running an ultra-marathon, but just crazy for running in the desert. Yes – a few people always run this race naked!
As a person who just completed fifty-two races in twelve months, I can tell you – I have experienced a lot of different types of support when on the course, but none so beautiful and rewarding as the support and love given to the ultra runners at this race. People camped out along the course to hand us food, electrolytes, water, hugs, cheers and some even ran along side of us taking selfies. These are people who either knew about the race in advance or maybe read about it in the guidebook and decided to support and participate in their own way. Some of these people even walked or biked several miles across the playa to do this!
DISTANCE AND DUST
The course was thirty-two miles, or four loops around the playa, with an “up and back” (a short distance to complete the course). Halfway through the race, I really started to feel it. I am not a distance runner, so this was a stretch for me. A few friends from my camp supported me by bringing PB &J, ibuprofen, and a change of hat. Still, the music and energy of the people cheering for us continued to be the propeller that kept us going. By the third lap, the dust storm was kicking up, and running in the remote part of the course was a bit intimidating. This was my first Burning Man, ultra marathon, AND first real dust storm. We did eventually get used to it because the storms seemed to come and go fairly quickly. We also had a bright orange trash fence to guide us along, as well as handmade Pink Lightning gates to mark the way. I had to take a few breaks along the way when the dust was a little thick, but on the whole, the dust was not as big of an issue as I first thought.
As I finished the last leg of the course, there was more wind than dust. It was about eighty degrees- not too hot – and most of the racers had already finished. I believe the fastest race time was around three hours. My time was just a few minutes under eight. They had a photographer capturing our big finish as we ran through the last of the Pink Lightning arches. We were kissed and hugged and SHOWERED with swag. Cherry Bomb, AKA “The Running Fairy” and the organizer of the race gave us amazing T-shirts, three different medals, an ivy crown, a 50k bracelet and a decorated champagne flute. She really made it special. ( Well done – Cherry Bomb!) Quesadillas, energy bars, and Camel Baks were flowing.
I can’t say enough positive things about this experience. It is a unique journey and adventure that is difficult to capture in a thousand words or less. It is truly is a rare opportunity and chance that I highly recommend taking.
If you’re ready to take the first step and explore the possibility of participating in this race, please visit www.burningman50k.com and tell Cherry Bomb The Mudcrusher sent you!
Mother of two fabulous kiddos who supported me all the way.