Respirar: A Running Trip Through Central Mexico 2016

‘How do you know its broken?’
‘I don’t. Look at it though its all purple!’

It takes tremendous instinct to read and seize the right moment between leg cramps to reach down to my feet to take my slimy sock off my foot. My fingers are useless, I lost all dexterity from running 6hours at altitude in wind, rain and cold and besides I can’t use them much because I’m shivering so much that it looks like I’m engaged in a dance war to end all dance wars. Somewhere around kilometre 15 of the UltraTrail Chico Hidalgo 50k, I stubbed my toe on a rock and somehow it made me run faster because sometimes the answer to spicy food is the immediate ingestion of more spicy food (or in this case more pain) to momentarily drown out the intensity for a later braver self to deal with.

Well the race is over now. And I’m not braver. In fact the pain in my foot is about to keep me awake all night. But purple is my favourite colour and right now I’m inclined to say that I prefer the shade on my lips. Mauve by Hypothermia®.

Low point? Nope. This was probably the quintessential point of the trip!

Mexico

It is an invitation that has brought us here. A few months back in Squamish Canada, while overtraining for the Squamish 50/50, I was introduced to the idea of visiting Mexico by a few Mexican climbers amongst which was Cecilia whose love and enthusiasm for her country outshone my reservations. In the beginning of November, when a previous plan to run the 400km Canadian portion of the Appalachian Trail failed because of hunting and snow, Camille and I immediately turned to running in what we erroneously thought the warmest place on earth: Mexico!

Cecilia immediately jumped on board with the idea and invited us to visit her family’s property in the mountains: Rancho Santa-Elena. There we met an incredible community of athletes and a good part of Cecilia’s family. Her sister, Daniela Campuzano, an Olympic Athlete and World Champ in XC Mountain Biking; her father, Roberto, a world renown PingPong artist; and her mother, Cecilia, an authority in translation and the subtleties of languages.

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From left: Camille, Me and Cecilia

There we explored the paradise (to which I will return to train and write after the holidays), practised our Spanish, got accustomed to Mexico’s rich culture and food, got our first taste of running at altitude, remodelled our trip with the recommendations from our new friends, fell in love with Mexico through their eyes and were treated to our first experience of the famed Mexican sense of hospitality. We then chose to register for the UltraTrail Chico Hidalgo 50k as a way of meeting the local running community and getting acquainted with new parts of Mexico’s incredible mountain wilderness.

To train for this we travelled south to Oaxaca to spend 14 days at altitude in remote villages where we furthered our immersion. A typical day of training there included 5-6hrs of hiking in mountains followed by 1-3hrs of running (sometimes running well into the night with our headlamps). Our discomforts were many there, from breathing difficulties and fluctuating temperatures; to digestion problems and extreme exhaustion. Nevertheless, we pulled through enriched and with the confidence that, once we’d recovered, we would be unstoppable. Our taper for the race consisted of one week of eating and sleeping with some walking, but no running. Here’s a little race recap:

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Race report! It’s been 4 days since that rainy day out in the mountains, now I’m sunburned and on a beach. It’s time to talk UltraTrail Chico Hidalgo 50k.
The soundtrack of an Ultra is always an interesting one, with the slish-slosh of the hydration pack, the slip-slap of the shoes and the words of encouragement you exchange with the runners on the course. Through it all, from the very start I could hear the sounds of my competition breathing, breathing easy, as they clipped up the first few hills at an impressive pace. I lacked the grip in my shoes and the oxygen in my legs to keep up, so I walked, all the while revising my racing strategy. If I wanted to win this race, I needed to turn the tables around, scrap the ‘save your legs’ plan in it’s entirety and transform the race into a downhill showdown from the get-go. I only had a few km of descent to make the most of my advantage, to hide in front before the first major climb and make everyone believe I was a better runner than I really am. To my surprise, the strategy worked, and when the competition failed to catch up after the two first long climbs, I began to slow down and take care of myself (hydration/food). From then on, I went for a 30km run alone in the woods, crossing the occasional volunteer, breaking a toe on a stump, getting lost for a few km, backtracking, enjoying incredible nature trails; drawing confidence from the 10k cushion of pure downhill at the end of the race that I could shred if need be.
I crossed the finish line in a little over 6 hours and was surprised less than an hour later by Camille’s incredible performance (1st W / 4th Overall).
Although I acknowledge the significance of winning my first 50k race, no victory truly makes me prouder than, first, seeing and experiencing how hard Camille has worked for her inspiring victory, and, second, finally succeeding in our trip goal of exploring some of Mexico’s finest wilderness and sharing our passion for running with the Mexican running community!

It goes without saying that after all this, we needed to get to some beaches fast! So we invited Cecilia to come with us on a 8 days exploration of Jalisco during which we were lucky enough to meet and complete the Campuzano family with Ceci’s sister Andrea, who works out of Guadalajara, is a Yoga Legend and owns her own beautifully crafted Yoga Clothing Brand. Both Andrea and her cousin Erika (a passionate and tireless Veterinarian in Colima) gave us a home away from home and helped enrich our trip experience by offering us an inside look at what is truly one of the most diverse and culturally rich country on earth.

After but a few days of beach, of swimming, skim boarding and kayaking on the picturesque west coast, we made our way back to Mexico City to go on a Christmas Shopping Extravaganza and eventually made it home just in time for a magical snowy Christmas with our families.

I would like to extend an enormous Thank You to Cecilia, her family and her friends for steering us safely and expertly through the many wonders of Mexico. I hope you liked me, because you’re all about to see me very soon and often!

Here’s the moral of this grand story:

You know it’s an Adventure when you ask yourself often: What the hell are we doing here?

Here are a few instances of this throughout the trip:

Landing in Mexico City at night.

Discovering that Mexico is in fact the coldest country on earth, that we were about to spend all of our time at altitude and that all we brought with us are summer clothes and a cotton sheet for a sleeping bag.

Doing intervals within hours of arriving at the highest point of our lives. Only to fail after three intervals in thin air that cut through our lungs like cold daggers.

Walking 5hrs, then waiting in bed under thin covers dreading the moment where we’ll have to put on our wet running clothes again to go out running. For one month straight!

Walking uphill for 7hrs to wrap off 100km in three days after a month of hard training only to arrive after sundown freezing in shorts at 3200m. Then being too cold to walk to the restaurant, too hungry not to and then too dehydrated to swallow our quesadillas.

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Getting lost in the foggy Mexican wilderness.

This was an adventure I will not soon forget! Mexico has tons of amazing races in incredible places, for those in love with travelling and/or racing it’s a place full of adventures not to be missed.

Thanks for reading!


Follow along on Instagram: @etiennegabriel

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