November 28, 2013

Red Rock Mountain Marathon : The Real Deal

Would you like a personalized engraved finishers medal? Artificial obstacles and pretend Special Forces Officers? How about a colorful custom gender specific tee shirt? Age group awards 10 deep? Spectators, awards ceremony and plenty of personal recognition? What about the respect and admiration of your friends and family? Sound good?

You will not find any of that stuff at the Red Rock Trail Run.

Do Not Attend.
As promised, this is an advanced run on a very difficult, remote, rugged and potentially dangerous course. This run is intended for experienced, self-sufficient distance runners only. Drop bags are not necessary. Drop bags are a frivolous waste of time and resources. Real ultra runners carry. Trail marking and support will be far apart and MINIMAL. No map will be provided.You will be completely responsible for yourself. If you are unsure or apprehensive, do not attend.

"Be nice,
or go home"
When you receive this kind of pre-race e-mail, you know you're in for the real deal. You know you've got to have your shit together. You know you're running a Luis Escobar event. The man's motto is «Be nice or go home».

The raw, gritty, real truth is, when you sign up for a Luis Escobar event, you're getting ultra running at its finest. Good, old school trail fun with like-minded people who won't frown on your pre-race strategy of beer, whiskey, hula-hoop or salsa dancing by the fire. You know you will be among the best crowd of grumpy, bitching half-awake ultra zombies at an ungodly hour in the morning, shivering before a race official who reminds you of the event's rules.
Hungover, pre-race zombies.

«OK guys. If you made it here, you know this is a difficult course. Follow the trail markings. If you see a white chalk line, don't cross it. If you cross a chalk line; turn around or you're gonna get lost. If you cross a chalk line and keep going, you're a triathlete.»


Luis convinced me to sign up for Red Rock the very next day after the Nine Trails Ultra, a nightmarish course designed to break your will and confidence somewhere along the up-and-down trails of the Santa Barbara mountains. Even though the run itself had me abandon at the half-way point crying for my mommy, I'd really liked the funky crowd I ran with and actually looked forward to meeting them again.

So after a long season of ultras and runs all over the Southwest, I thought it would be awesome to have my last official trail event of 2013 with my friends the Californian Coyotes. I packed my van full of Indio beer and drove from Phoenix to the beautiful Rancho Oso, following La Mariposa and Dave Bloom through a hellish rain storm for hours on end.

Since we were a day in advance, we decided to camp out at the aptly named El Capitan Beach, not too far. We got there too late to turn around when I realized that they charge FORTY-FIVE DOLLARS for one night of camping (I mean, seriously?!), so we relunctantly dished out the dinero and went to sleep. We woke up to a fresh, but sunny day out and spent some lazy hours strolling on the beach, cooking breakfast, napping and reading magazines.

Welcome to Mas Loco Town
We took off in the early afternoon to meet our friends at Rancho Oso, a beautiful property on the slopes of the Santa Barbara mountains. We got there about the same time Sweeney did, so we comandeered a great lot for all our friends to camp out together; we named it Mas Loco Village.

A couple hours later, the place was filled with laughs, hugs and bottle-clanging sounds as Crista Scott, Michelle, Bobby, Adrian, John and the Clemens brothers Chris and Tyler were pitching their tents and cooking a big communal dinner.

Way too much booze later, we slowly left the big campfire and many more friends who had joined the fun and we headed back to get some sleep before the big day.

East Coast,
West Coast
And North Pole.
Californian nights in the mountains are usually pretty cold, but that one – and the following morning – were simply brutal. I found myself frozen to the bones, unable to warm up and I shivered all the way to the starting line, wondering how the hell Sweeney, who wore not much else then a pair of shorts and arm warmers, was not convulsing in hypothermia.

Dave Bloom, Tyler Clemens and I agreed that we would take it easy and start from the back of the pack. As soon as the go was given, however, Dave vanished ahead in his own version of slow, leaving Tyler, me and a fellow runner named Mary heading for the first big climbs together.

Tyler and Mary
It took some miles to warm up, but the arm warmers eventually came off somewhere along the first couple miles. The day was beautiful and the company great, everyone was in high spirits and looking forward to great trail running.

After about 5 miles out, there was a little orange sign with an arrow pointing... up. It was one of the little extras Luis had planned for us. An ultra-steep, 0.3-mile, 700-foot climb to a high ridge where volunteers were waiting for us with our finishers AKA amulet medals. The deal was, either you climbed, got your medal and presented it at the finish line, or you DNF'ed and had to mail it back to Luis – with your excuse for not finishing :)

The climb was great, the view greater and the volunteers simply awesome. I got my medal, a hug, good laughs and a fun scramble down. We picked up two other runners in our little group heading back on the main course, who entertained us with recipes and stories of cooking awesome pies and homemade cookies until we begged them to stop, drooling all over the trail.

The first aid station came pretty quickly. It was an important stop, however, because it was the only support we would be getting for the next 12 miles or so. The volunteers had done a great job of bringing more than the «water and not much else» promise we had from the race director, and I was delighted to pick up some PB&J's and a couple bite-sized Snicker bars. Awesome. As I was expecting mossy-green creek water and BBQ'ed squirrel, no need to say I was ecstatic.

We took off pretty quickly, but to my great dismay I had to let my friends go because of an urgent, unavoidable side-trail business. I was pretty bummed, but thought I could maybe catch up with my amigos later.

I got back on the trail and felt really, really good. Since the start, I had decided to heed to my friend the Red-Tailed Hawk's advice and eat 200 calories per hour, which means 1 shot of 100 calories every 30 minutes. Way more than I'd ever eaten, but it promised to keep me up, running and energetic for the whole day. I was determined to follow through and see if the strategy would work. So far, so good.

When the first switchback descents started, I found myself speeding down the trail with a grin wider than my face, dancing and dodging and jumping like a little kid. I came across many interesting features of a real, outback trail run; downed trees, muddy creek crossings and washed-out segments which made sure I stayed alert and focused.

I started crossing 50-mile runners, who were running the course from the other side first. Everyone looked really good, but this was early in their long day; still, it was awesome to side-step from the trail to let them pass, high-fiving and cheering. I realized I was on a runner's high while running, which both surprised and pleased me. I surfed that awesome feeling for long minutes, taking great joy in being outside, playing in such a beautiful environment.

The 12-mile segment, as expected, felt long and sometimes lonely, but rewarded me with beautiful landscapes and great running moments. My energy was steady and my feet felt great. It was difficult to eat every 30 minutes, but I managed to do it without getting disgusted by my food and I kept a positive attitude about it.

I emerged from the trail section onto a road, and cruised down at very decent speed to reach the second – and last – aid station. Since my early morning start, and knowing the trails from my previous experience, I had expected to run approximately 8 hours, double my road marathon usual time, if everything went well. Although I was wearing a watch, I wasn't bothered looking at it or trying to calculate; I just trotted along happily until the aid station, which was a little over 6 miles away from the finish.

When I reached it, other runners were there eating and chatting and I picked up a conversation. «Yeah, we're doing pretty well; if I can leave quickly, I might be looking at a sub-7 hour finish». «Really?!», I said, a bit startled. «well, do the math. It's about 6 miles away, and we're 10 minutes to 5 hours right now.»

My next idea came pretty quickly. «Well, then, let's get the fuck outta here!»

I picked a handful of chocolate-covered espresso beans (I shit you not; they had that, too!) and started a steep climb to the ridges. Quickly, I lost my fellow runner and was alone again, but that was fine. My legs weren't fresh anymore, but I had plenty of energy and was climbing steadily, then breaking into a nice little run on the downhills. I was really satisfied with my time.

The course climbed more than I would've liked, so it took me some time to go through the first half of the last stretch. When I finally emerged on the dirt road, I heard a quick-cadenced thumping behind me and was passed by a really fast dude, all smiles. «Yeeee-haaw! It's all downhill from here!» he shouted, over his shoulder. Man was I happy to hear that!

I let gravity do its work and picked up some speed. My legs didn't feel super solid but I had enough strenght to hold the pace. When I left the dirt road to enter the last trail stretch, I looked at my watch. It said 6:15. I really wanted to take a break, but the idea of a sub-6:30 was simply too sweet not to try. I kept going, fueled by my monstrous eating, and emerged at the finish line in 6 hours and 25 minutes! I was extremely happy with my run and even happier to reunite with my friends and a cold beer.

It was a great day to run among the coyotes, and a great day to be alive :)

The Red Rock Mountain Marathon and Ultra is another awesome race directed by Luis Escobar. For more details and sign-ups, go to But be nice. Or go home.

Courir Red Rock, c'est se brancher direct à la source de la course d'ultra. C'est laisser faire les artifices, les petites attentions et le chouchoutage, lacer ses souliers et s'élancer dans les trails, juste pour voir quelle genre de journée on peut en tirer. Juste pour voir quel genre de coureur on est.


  1. Hey Flint!
    This is Mary from the start of the run! (I'm pretty stoked I made the blog:)) Tyler and I finished pretty close together and I'm sorry I missed you at the finish line but some friends had some celebratory beers for me waiting at a local brewery followed by a little Hunger Games reward. I'm glad your race went well. It really was such an awesome & inspiring day. I'd love to connect and talk some more about the different programs we were discussing in those first few challenging miles (if you haven't blocked those painful memories out of your mind). You were talking about a running-student mentoring program in LA. I'd love to see if there is something similar in the Santa Barbara area or maybe start talking to people about brining it here, maybe expand it to other populations that could benefit. Hope to hear from between all your travels you are one cool dude!

    1. Mary! welcome to FlintLand :)

      Yes, let's get that conversation going. I have many friends interested with the program, too. Let's hook up on Facebook; juste search Francois Flint and you should find me easily, and we'll take it from there :)

      Talk soon!