Friday, March 9, 2012

Copper Canyon Ultra Race Report

The 3 days traveling to Urique for the CCU were more difficult than the 50 miles of rocky road and hot dusty trails of the Copper Canyon Ultra.

I got up at 4am Sunday to get ready for this epic race. The week prior was spent hiking and running the course with other Internationals and some of the Tarahumara that have made this a tradition.

I decided to rely on the local aid station food and drink for the race which consisted of bottled water, Pinole (finely ground corn), oranges and bananas. I carried 3 bottles with me, one with Pinole, one with Nuun electrolyte and one with water.

With around 500 runners to get organized with registration check and wrist bands, the race finally got underway at around 6:45am. As warned, the Raramuri and Tarahumara took off like we were in a 5k race. I lined up at the front in order to get some video of the start and within a few hundred meters hundreds had passed me.

The first 8k to Guadalupe Coronado was on the road and across the bridge over the Urique River at 3k. This part of the course had some very steep climbs and was pleasant in the cool morning air before the sun made its’ way into the canyon. I counted runners coming back past me from aid station #1 and at 8k I was in about 330th place, a new humbling experience for me. We were given a coloured wrist band and were required to get one at each aid station except the start/finish for a total of 5. The wrist bands were used to determine how many food vouchers we received after the race.

It was nice to have the out and back sections as it gave me the chance to see friends a few times. The 8k section seemed to be longer and it was nice to get back to the bridge. The course now swung right and started the steep climb 5k up the road to the Mezcalara trail head. The trail through Mescalara up to Mesa Naranjo is very well maintained and marked and has some flat and downhill to give the legs a rest. Aid #2 was at about 22k on the Mesa and I loaded up with Pinole and water and grabbed a few orange slices.

The road was flat for a ways and then we hit the long steep downhill loop back past the trail head and down to the Urique River again. The course now veered right and headed back into Urique to aid #3 at the start/finish. Here the race crew just recorded our race number. This was considered the first loop of the course at 22 miles and a point where many decided to call it a day. It was from here on that the heat took its toll and many runners began to take breaks in the shade at the side of the road. I had to tap into my mental strength at this point to force myself to continue running.

From the 22 mile mark it was a tough 6 miles downriver to the suspension bridge that would take us across the Urique again and up a canyon to the steep switchbacks that climbed 1500’ up to Los Alisos at 50k. Just after crossing the bridge, I was putting my camera away and slipped on the loose gravel and went down.

My camera went flying and luckily only suffered some road rash on my arm. This was a very tough part of the course but passing the leaders coming down was enough to keep my mind off the pain and continue my uphill tempo hike. I made it to Los Alisos and 50k in 5:49 and this gave me new energy for the run back down. The aid station at Los Alisos had boiled Pinole (like cream of wheat), as well as mixed Pinole and fruit. I passed Ellen, Chris and Ellis as they were on their way up and they seemed to be having a good race. I was very impressed with the aid stations and the number of water stops along the course. Without these extra water stops I may not have survived the heat to the finish.

After the suspension bridge it was the long 6 miles on the road in the extreme heat back to the start/finish line at 40 miles. The route took us through a small village where I had bought a coke on one of my training runs. I made sure I had 15 pesos with me (10 for the coke and a tip), and stopped to purchase a coke. I knew this would be a great mental boost and also give me a little physical kick as well. I passed a lot of walkers on this part of the course and managed to keep running the flats and downhill. I had made a promise to myself to hike all of the uphill and as usual it paid off for me. A lot of the runners that ran the uphill portions in the first half were now walking the flats.

Urique and the start/finish at 40 miles was a welcome sight and with only 10 miles to go I knew I was going to have a good finish. This part of the race was the toughest as it was a repeat of the first loop out to Guadalupe Coronado and back. The 8k seemed a lot further especially in the hottest part of the day. During the day I made note of the Tarahumara and Raramuri and their clothing, footwear and running style. The footwear varied from Huarache sandals to slip on sandals, flip flops, running shoes and work boots. Clothing ranged from the traditional long colourful pleated dresses on the women and colourful pleated blouses and loin cloths on the men to blue jeans and cotton shirts on others. Their running style was smooth and quiet and they seemed to run without effort. Many of the locals had to stop to repair straps on their sandals and one girl was carrying one sandal and running with one bare foot on the rocky road. None of the locals carried any food or hydration and relied on aid stations only. At this point in the race many of the Tarahumara were suffering from cramping and accepted a drink of electrolyte from my bottle.

Thankfully I was very disciplined with hydration and nutrition and did not experience any cramping. At the last aid station I was bonking a bit and spent a good five minutes eating oranges and bananas and drinking Pinole. This seemed to get me going again and headed out for the last 8k to the finish. I continued to pass a lot of walkers on my way in however it was difficult to know where I stood overall in the race. There was no way to know at this point who had dropped out but I estimated that I could be in about 60th overall. The final results will tell the true story but I was completely satisfied with my performance. I wanted to finish under 10 hours

and I knew it was going to be close. Once I hit the bridge with 3k to go, I managed to pick it up and make it to the finish in 9:57. By now the town was full of runners and locals and I had to fight my way through the crowd to the finish line.

The experience was not complete without waiting for Ellen, Chris and Ellis to finish. The camaraderie by everyone at the finish was incredible with close to 20 nationalities all celebrating ultra running in its purest form. By far one of the most incredible running experiences of my life.


  1. I'd like to see the video you shot!


  2. The video is posted in Drop Box which you can join for free. Send me your email and I will invite you to watch it.

  3. Congratulation!Great adventure! I´d like to see the video too. I run the Ultramartón de los Cañones in July and went through very similar moments.