Vote Charlie!

Third ultramarathon fastest yet

Posted at age 28.
Created . Edited .

There was no question in my mind I would attempt it a third time, but still I was nervous in the weeks before. I’m happy to report I did not die before finishing the Burning Man 50K Ultramarathon! It took me 6 hours, 4 minutes, and I placed 74 out of 160 who completed the race. I even managed to throw together a video, below. Thank you to Cherie and the camp Pink Lightning for organizing the race again!

This entry is No. 5 in a series of 14 entries.

Tuesday, August 30: Slept 22:45 to 04:18.

At the sound of my phone alarm at 04:20, I began fumbling to do all that needed doing before I headed to Pink Lightning. I tried to assist my waking brain in advance by assembling my gear into my backpack the night before. The bag was still there. I spotted my cup still half full of matcha tea from the day before, and I drank that sweet but cold caffeine. With it I swallowed my assortment of morning designated supplements. I applied three bandages preemptively under the places where my sandal straps might wear against my skin the most, and I applied Body Glide to prevent chafing around my package. Those minutes of nervousness flew, and then I also started fearing I would be late, so I grabbed the bag and my gallon of water and headed out to 6:45 and C.

The air was clear, so I didn’t immediately notice I forgot my goggles. I guess I left them out of the backpack figuring I would put them on right away as usual. My mind can set itself up for failure by over anticipation. But I forged on, for I needed to stop at the porta potties. I thought I might pick up the goggles during a midrace diversion, but quickly dismissed that idea upon considering how much extra distance that would entail. Maybe the weather would remain nice, or I could just walk with my eyes closed if the dust picked up; I wouldn’t be much worse off.

Other than the water jug’s brief escape due to a strap failure, I made it to the start in time for a man to write with black permanent marker the numbers 136 across my chest and to stand somewhere for the group photo.

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The group photo by Chris Goodman for the 2016 Burning Man 50K Ultramarathon. It was somewhat hastily organized and not taken from high up this time, so there were a large number of people hidden in the back, myself included.

I couldn’t remember if anyone listened to music during the race last year, so I brought my cheap Bluetooth headphones in case I so desired to listen to a book. I knew the first lap would be pretty exciting, though, and I might want to talk a bit before I might not be able later, so I left them in my backpack at first. The race started at around 05:05 with everyone slowly squeezing through the gate reading the chips before heading off into the night together.

Midway through that first lap, while it was still dark, my old friend Matt (“Poppy”) somehow recognized me from behind and called my name. It took me a second to recognize him, as I didn’t know any friends were running the race with me. I had barely prodded Joey G. about running this year after he expressed interest but ultimately chose not to run the two prior years. And Ramon, whom I met during this race two years ago, had said he was not going to Burning Man again this year. So I figured I was going it alone, though with many other likeminded crazies of course.

Matt introduced me to his friend Kyle (“Slutspresso”) and told me how he joined Kyle in Boulder, Colorado, three months ago – too recently to excuse my not hanging out with Matt at all during the past three years. Matt said he “doesn’t run”, and Kyle trains though usually only on hills. For this race, they both trained, together.

I don’t remember if I ran ahead first or they did, but Matt said he would be going into the zone soon, and I said I would be stopping at the porta potties soon anyway for a poop. He also said he expected he might vomit later, I think due to lack of tracking, but I forgot his explanation. He did end up not feeling well later in the race, but he finished less than five minutes after me.

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I didn't know it till he recognized me from behind somehow, but someone I met at Burning Man four years ago was running the race with me. Matt now lived in Boulder, Colorado, with his friend Kyle. 2016 Burning Man 50K Ultramarathon, by Chris Goodman

I made a few attempts at small talk with people who stuck out, mostly ones wearing interesting costumes. I felt compelled to say hello to another naked runner whom I recognized from my first race two years ago. He ran nude that time, too, which is probably why I remember him. I think he lives in New York, where also lives Ramon, who was likely running alongside me during my last conversation with this naked man. He observed my number written with marker and remarked I needed nipple rings, to which I told him as I pulled ahead I actually do have them pierced. He later clarified he meant I needed rings, not bars, from which to clip the race number. I said I thought that might hurt, but he should know.

As I approached Pink Lightning to complete my first lap, I stopped to pee and then hung out for a bit snacking. Matt and Kyle were around nearly every time I reached the camp, so I talked to Matt on and off as well. Before starting my second lap, I grabbed my GoPro and headphones. Once I tried to use headphones and discovered they were dead, it was too late to justify running back and starting to charge them from my battery. Oh, well. The night was fading away and the desert looked beautiful in the twilight, so I started making some short videos, though I noticed the GoPro battery was already low of course.

I was doing and feeling fine, though!

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This year I decided to take the plunge and take advantage of the opportunity to do the race nude. It was a blast! 2016 Burning Man 50K Ultramarathon, photo by Chris Goodman.

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I ran with Matt for some of the second loop. It was great to catch up, as I hadn't seen him in years. 2016 Burning Man 50K Ultramarathon, by Zillah Fillepin

When I finished the second lap, around 07:40, the sun was up, though it wasn’t yet hot, and I had not yet drunk much water, though I did have a shot of rum. I had made another stop to poop, and would once more in the third lap, but overall I felt decent, nowhere near as uncomfortable as in previous years. I set my headphones to charge in my backpack and applied more SPF 100 sunscreen and more Body Glide before heading out again.

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After each loop, I got some food and drink from the Pink Lightning camp. This must have been after two loops, a little less than halfway through the race. 2016 Burning Man 50K Ultramarathon, by Chris Goodman

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After each loop, I got some food and drink from the Pink Lightning camp. This must have been after two loops, a little less than halfway through the race. 2016 Burning Man 50K Ultramarathon, by Chris Goodman

During the third lap, I felt slight knee pain, but thankfully clouds blocked the sun during the first half. I did start drinking more water, but I’m not sure if it was due to temperature increase or just due to running between 14 and 20 miles. I also stopped turning down the shots of alcohol offered by random camps, art cars and passersby along the way.

Something new this year was an art car serving as an aid station before the main deep playa station. They were delightful, and mentioned they had blown out a tire and therefore said, “We’re not going anywhere.” During my brief stops there, other runners asked for whiskey and one asked for performance enhancing drugs, which was probably a joke, but you never know out there. Clearly these people know how to have a good time!

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2016 Burning Man 50K Ultramarathon, by Zillah Fillepin

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Two thirds through my third lap of four. I felt decent still, but it was starting to get hot. 2016 Burning Man 50K Ultramarathon, by Zillah Fillepin

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2016 Burning Man 50K Ultramarathon, by Zillah Fillepin

By the fourth lap, the desert heated quickly as the clouds gave way to scorching sunrays. When I passed a heckling camp on the 2:00 side, I was again beckoned to turn around so the man with the megaphone could see my penis, but this time I ignored him. I was tired, and I knew he would just try to make fun of me anyway. As I kept running, he whined, and finally asked for a thumbs up if I would show my junk on the next lap. It was already my last lap. I gave the thumbs up.

I drank more water, and more shots. I can’t say I ever felt any of that alcohol, but it was over the course of several hours of sweating, so perhaps I just needed more. I passed through Pink Lightning a fourth time and quickly begun the final segment, an out and back of roughly three miles.

This part was pretty exciting, for it was not only near the end of the race, but I got to run past those runners somewhat ahead of me but yet to finish. I congratulated everyone I could as I passed them. Some were clearly excited, others clearly exhausted. I was somewhere in the middle.

A dust storm appeared about a third of the way through the segment, again bringing to my attention that I was without goggles. I was nervous I might miss the halfway turnaround, or maybe even miss the turn from Esplanade onto 10:00 and end up lost in deep playa. Hopefully I would notice before I got too far off track, but life is unpredictable. I walked a few times, both due to needing to close my eyes and due to exhaustion.

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I managed to mostly complete the race before any whiteouts this year, but during the last three mile out and back, it happened. And I didn't have my goggles, making it especially hard to keep going in the right direction. Thankfully I was near the edge of the city by that point and could try to follow tracks on the road, while trying not to get hit by bikes or vehicles.

The turnaround turned out to be no issue at all, and a lovely lady was on sight to try to catch any runners who missed it and provide some final cheering. Now that I was clearly on my final chunk, runners approaching gave their congratulations to me. I didn’t really speed up or do anything crazy at the end. I was just glad to finish in one piece, and eager to inspect my feet! I collected my nicely designed laser cut plastic medal, got some refreshments, and sat down to take off my Luna Sandals and my bandages.

To my further delight, I saw no blisters, not even small ones, and no tears or scrapes, either. I am pretty sure this is my first marathon length race without such a mark to show for it!

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After running 31 miles in my sandals, my feet felt pretty good, and looked even better! I didn't even get any blisters, which I think is a first for this distance. Granted, I did strategically put some bandages on ahead of time.

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After running 31 miles in my sandals, my feet felt pretty good, and looked even better! I didn't even get any blisters, which I think is a first for this distance. Granted, I did strategically put some bandages on ahead of time.

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After running 31 miles in my sandals, my feet felt pretty good, and looked even better! I didn't even get any blisters, which I think is a first for this distance. Granted, I did strategically put some bandages on ahead of time.

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After running 31 miles in my sandals, my feet felt pretty good, and looked even better! I didn't even get any blisters, which I think is a first for this distance. Granted, I did strategically put some bandages on ahead of time.

I stuck around after finishing and talked with Matt for a while. I also cheered some finishers, one of whom gave me a big hug because I was the closest person to her at the moment of great accomplishment. I ate lots of snacks and some delicious vegetarian taco creations provided by the camp. I thanked Cherie for organizing the race again, and she gave me a hug before I parted. I also said goodbye to a tall, handsome, Mediterranean looking guy who was helping apparently part of Pink Lightning. He said he hoped to run the race next year, and I told him he should. Then I biked home.

Final thoughts

Overall it was a great race, and all my apprehensions about how it would affect my burn melted away. The nature of the course map passing through Pink Lightning several times was especially convenient, as I could keep anything I might need in my backpack and not worry much about planning. There were more aid stations this year, and there were photographers. There were also stop signs and coffee, in addition to the aforementioned plentiful shots of rum and heckling. Finally, the casual hanging out atmosphere after the race was welcoming, though I still didn’t socialize as much as I’d like.

As for my performance, I finished in 6:03:42 and placed 74 out of 160 who completed the race. This is 46 minutes faster than last year, when I finished in 6:51:00 and placed 117 out of 158. And that was 22 minutes faster than the year before, my first year running this race, when I finished in 7:13:14 and placed 123 out of 150. So I’m pleased with the trajectory, and especially with my ability to keep walking after the race. As mentioned, I did wish I could figure out my diet well enough to prevent needing to stop at the toilets so often, but this race was far better than in years past in that respect.

I’m so glad I ran nude and will definitely do it again. The heckler camp dick jokes aside, countless others were clearly both baffled and delighted to see naked runners. Some knew I was running a race, while others seemed to think I was out for a casual morning run. Everyone was right, of course. Beyond others’ reactions, I felt more free than I could have guessed could be due to removing a few items of clothing. At first it felt exciting, and then it felt natural. Possibly thanks to the Body Glide, I had only a tiny amount of chafing at the end, and it was not painful and healed fully within two days.

Videos!

I didn’t originally intend to make a video about the race, but once I started going through my clips, this fell together:

Here’s a video by another of the runners, Ryan Van Duzer:

The story continues in Feeling astonished, validated, home.

Entries in this series

  1. Unpacking Burning Man 2016
  2. The journey ‘home’
  3. Social apprehension
  4. Race prep by day drinking
  5. Third ultramarathon fastest yet
  6. Feeling astonished, validated, home
  7. Recovering, welcoming
  8. Lost at day, seeking friends
  9. Lost at night, seeking joy
  10. Joy, right at home
  11. Man burns, desert chills
  12. The Temple
  13. Return to default world
  14. Bonus: The golden stool

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  • Jeff

    Thanks for an eye-opening article! I'm going to run Burning Man this year and I need all the help I can get.

    P.S. I used one of the photos on my blog. Email me at jeff at runbikethrow dot net if it's a problem.
    https://runbikethrow.net/20...

  • Thanks Jeff, it means a lot to me one person read something I wrote! :-) I’m not terribly outgoing at the race, but if you happen to see me, say hi! Sometimes I just need a nudge… good luck!

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