Rancho San Juan 2/14-2/15 (Los Alamos, CA)
“Hey Luis, beer mile at 7:00am… Let’s do it!”
I’d been looking forward to “helping out” at Luis Escobar’s Rancho San Juan trail race for months, after deciding to take 4 weeks off of training, back in October. Rancho San Juan has been tagged as “Born to Run’s Younger Sibling.” A weekend filled with running, Bolla racing, Banda music, camping and good times, Rancho San Juan does not disappoint.
Rancho San Juan is a 5,000+ acre cattle ranch nestled into the rolling hills of beautiful Los Alamos, California. Miles of lush, green trails awaited the couple hundred runners signed up for this not-to-miss race.
Decked out in full non-running attire… pants, jacket and cowboy hat, Carly and I arrived at the soggy ranch around 8:00am. Similar to the inaugural event, the weather gods decided to have a laugh at our expense, and soaked the course for the only rainy day in two months on the Central Coast. After catching up with Mondo, a ridiculously fast runner from SLO, for no longer than five minutes after pulling in, Luis fired off his shotgun signifying the start of the 10k.
The runners were off, and I was nursing a cold pint. Having a few weeks off from training/racing wasn’t too bad.
A few weeks before the race, Luis updated the Rancho San Juan crowd that Arnulfo Quimare would be spending the weekend at the Ranch. For those of you familiar with Born to Run, Arnulfo was the Tarahumara runner that beat Scott Jurek… yes, the same 7 time Western State’s winner Scott Jurek, in Caballo Blanco’s inaugural Copper Canyon event. I didn’t have many goals for the weekend, other than staying more upright than Whiskey Jerry, but I definitely wanted to spend some time on the trails with Arnulfo.
Unfortunately for my full pint and warm clothes, Arnulfo was running the 10k with Luis. Thinking that this might be my only time to spend with this running legend, I stripped down, dropped my beer, and took off after the two. Since they were running the 10k, I thought my Luna’s would be more than adequate. Unfortunately, I didn’t know we’d be kicking around a wooden ball for the next two hours!
If you haven’t heard of Bolla racing, it’s a Tarahumara team sport that’s played by running ungodly distances, kicking and chasing a wooden ball, wearing the Raramari footwear of choice… Huaraches (running sandals). Bolla racing is not only insanely popular in the Tarahumara culture, it’s a huge betting event. Tribes throughout the Copper Canyons will wager large sums on their local runners, and Arnulfo Quimare was the Tiger Woods, or at least pre-Cracker Barrel hostess Tiger Woods, of the sport. I was so excited to spend a few miles with Arnulfo and hopefully pick up some Bolla racing tips.
Being half-Mexican, kicking and chasing a ball around should be in my blood. Unfortunately, Manchester United won’t be calling anytime soon. I spent the next two hours and probably 9-10 miles, slipping, tripping and “kicking” this damn ball no more than two feet at a time. The 10k that I thought would be spent enjoying a leisurely run and conversing in my best Spanglish, turned into a death march, where I used every curse word picked up in the last 33 years. Maybe it’s a good thing that Arnulfo doesn’t speak much English, or that I don’t speak much Spanish.
We arrived at camp just minutes before the end of the 5k. After retrieving my pre-race beer and putting on some warm clothes, we luckily made it back in time to watch Mondo zoom by for the win. What I’d give to have some of those wheels…
Beer Mile #1 10:30am
If you haven’t been to a Luis Escobar event before, the only mandatory items outside of your usual ultra-attire, are four, hopefully low alcohol beers. Unless you’re a Mormon, and I’m fairly certain I’ve seen a few on the starting line, you will run a beer mile at an allwedoisrun race. Quick rules for the beer mile virgins. Drink one beer, run a quarter mile. Drink beer two, run another quarter mile. Drink beer three, now you’re getting it. Drink beer four, stagger to the finish. Vomit, and you have to run an extra lap.
With beer mile legend Patrick Sweeney spending the next several months traversing the US on foot and no actual racing planned for the weekend, I thought a beer mile victory may be possible. We started off with the usual suspects… Luis, Michelle, Bobby, Greg, Chris and a few newbies that looked thirsty.
Frankie Escobar, a beer mile virgin and apparently no relation to the family, took off like a bat outta hell, chugging his first of four and sprinting towards the turnaround. Shoeless Bobby was close behind, and I slogged along hoping to keep all the frothy goodness down.
There are many similarities between a normal mile and beer mile, but a few of the differences that nearly everyone will encounter are supplied below:
- Being forced to a damn near crawl
- Feeling like an alien is clawing its way outside your tummy
- Uncontrollable “Gurping”… burping while holding back lunch
- Bubble guts to the ninth power
Unfortunately for beer mile virgin Frankie, he must have been plagued by one of the abovementioned symptoms, and slowed enough to be passed by lap three. After barely squeaking out the win, Frankie finished in a close second, with Bobby close on his heels. Michelle dominated the women’s race, and Luis gifted us with awesome Luchador masks. In an unconfirmed record for “Slowest Beer Mile while Eating a Burrito,” Chris Clemons, finished in a hair under 100 minutes.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent hanging around the campfire, catching up over some amazing grub cooked by Luis’ sister, cheering on the kid’s mile, and watching the little one’s put a hurting on a Luis-inspired piñata.
Beer Mile #2
According to Luis, beer mile #1 was only a warm up. Unfortunately, training for longer distance events over the past two years has turned me into the ultimate lightweight. This beer mile was definitely going to hurt! Quick recap… I was lucky enough to pull off the victory, but race details are a bit fuzzier this time around.
We spent the evening watching Arnulfo show us an amazing Tarahumara dance, and listening to an awesome Mexican band from Santa Maria. Before calling it an early night so I could wake up refreshed for a full day of volunteering, I briefly recall mentioning to Luis that a 7:00am beer mile would be a great warmup for the next morning’s race.
Beer Mile #3
Unless you’re in college, in Vegas for your buddy’s bachelor party or on your way to a “Ten Step Program,” there’s no good reason to drink four beers at 7:00am. Kicking myself for telling Luis this would be a good idea and trying to figure out how the hell he remembered our conversation from all the cerveza’s being imbibed the night before, several of us toed the line for our third beer mile of the weekend. We had some new challengers, as both Tyler Clemons and Tyler Tomasello made their way north from the Sean O’Brien 100k the day before.
Coming off a previous long day on the trails, Tyler Tomasello led out the race with an incredibly quick first lap. Barring such a long day working the trails on Saturday, this race would’ve likely ended differently with fresh legs. No one truly wins when doing a beer mile at 7:00am, but I was lucky enough to ring the bell first.
Likely knowing my keen sense of direction (only runner to get lost on the Rancho San Juan course in 2014) and my solid grasp on that morning’s sobriety, Luis gave me the difficult task of hanging out at the exact same turn that I screwed up while racing the previous year. I was fortunate to spend the day hanging out with my beer mile brother Frankie Escobar, and a team of the upmost pillars of society. We blasted everything from Celine Dion to Biggie Smalls, while snapping photos and cheering runners along, trying to keep them on trail.
We were so impressed with the effort of all the runners! From speedsters like Ben Holmes to the back-of-the-packers, it’s always so inspiring to watch those that choose to suffer for hours on end.
Hanging out around the halfway point of the 11 mile loop, we realized that Luis’ last minute trail change, due to the weather, would turn the 25k runners two loops into a a wee bit more than the 15.5 miles they were expecting (22 miles). Unfortunately there was no cell reception at our location and Luis would’ve likely told us to kick rocks anyways, so we led herd on their way. We headed back to camp after cheering on the runners throughout their second loop. Hopefully, their sense of direction was better than mine.
Carly and I packed up camp, grabbed a quick bite and headed home to clean up and relax with lady.
Things I learned:
- Don’t open your mouth, especially after a few beers, and bring up anything running related to Luis that you’re not willing to do… at 7:00 in the morning!
- If you’re going to kick around a wooden ball chasing after one of best endurance athletes on the planet, it’s probably best to start with shoes and not Luna’s.
- Luis’ sister makes the best veggie burritos on the planet!
- Luchador masks are not built for beer miles, but they do look awesome.
- Volunteering at a race is an absolute blast, and all runners need to do it.