The Party Culture of Born to Run Ultras

The golden hills of East Creek Ranch
Exactly two weeks after the Swagon was unloaded from Badwater Salton Sea 2015, it was cram packed again with an inflatable sofa, a camp kitchen/tiki bar, disco chandelier lights and red cups for the keg.

It was time for my annual pilgrimage to the place where my ultra running tribe takes up residence for about four days. A little spot in the golden hills of Los Olivos where we arrive, detach from the grid, and connect to something bigger and more meaningful. 

Oh. And we run.

The Born To Run Ultra Marathons are way more than a race. It's been more accurately described as a running festival, but even that falls short of the true experience. Maybe that's just me, but I would venture to say that anyone who has made BTR their annual tradition has pulled back the layers to reveal something much more significant.

Born To Run 100k 2012
(Photography by Larry Gassan)
I first experienced the lure of the East Creek Ranch back in 2012 (you can read about my experience here) when I challenged myself with my first 100k. I entered the gate of the ranch a solo runner on a quest to find something transcending within the long distance. I was in search of some raw form of enlightenment, expecting to find it buried deep within miles of fatigue and pain, but I never hit that "big picture" moment while running. In fact, I never really pushed into pain or fatigue like I expected. Don't get me wrong, I learned a significant amount about myself and my own capabilities, but  I never arrived to that wide, open space where things just seemed in perspective.

My first year at the Born To Run Ultras
But something else unexpected happened.

Perspective happened but not within the confines of my own singular experience. I discovered human connection on a grander scale. It came from all sides of me - a connection that grows wider with every year.

But I guess spending four days on a ranch with more than 600 other ultra runners, some kind of revelation is bound to happen.

That first year, it began with Alex, the random dude I picked up at the Bart Station in Walnut Creek for carpool. We shared stories and life experiences on our trip down to Los Olivos. I got to see life from a younger and, oddly enough, wiser angle. 

My running buddy Anthony rocking the sport kilt
Then there was Anthony, an active duty marine with a wife and little girl at home who ran with me for fourty miles. We swapped training and diet ideals, and shared mind blowing experiences of the birth of our babies.

I will never forget Flint, Maria, and Caleb who I heard cheering for me as I came through the last of the pink and yellow loops. Their genuine energy and encouragement felt like I had family there just for me.

Then Crista, who I didn't really speak much to that first year, but told me after I crossed the finish line somewhere in the ballpark of 15 hours later that she was cheering for me because we shared the same name.

Flint, Alex, Caleb, and Patrick
And last but not least Patrick Sweeney. A dude I'd just met in New York City several months before my 100k while running the New York City Barefoot Run. He was the only familiar face I had any recognition of as I drove onto the ranch that weekend. He offered to share a camping spot with me and Alex. Then sitting in the dark, back at the campsite, in my post 100k disbelief he also generously offered to make me ramen noodles with avacado. A simple, but very kind act of sharing. My belly was hungry and I had little energy to feed myself more than just a beer at that point. His thoughtful and caring nature was very much appreciated.

Over the years I've piled on more human connections, memories, and experiences to even list here...The Clemens brothers and their State of Beer flag, Graham from Scotland whom I will share an annual traditional wee dram of whiskey, Brahm who arrived solo and offered to bring a keg for the chill zone last year...
This shirt cracked me up

Funny how there's a common thread of alcohol here. 

I won't deny we love to party at Born To Run.

But maybe it's the alcohol that allows each of us to break through those social barriers, let go a little, and connect in a human way. Ultra running is the catalyst, but as ultra runners, and as humans in general, I think we are all looking for the path that plugs us in to something larger than ourselves. Whether we are looking for those moments in the solitude of the trail or surrounded by the smiles of hundreds of others like ourselves.

Post Beer/Whiskey mile party
Clint, Adam, Matt, and me
Yeah. We party hard. We run hard too. Even for the beer miles. There seems to be a symbiotic relationship between the two states - depleting our bodies while at the same time recharging our souls amongst our brothers and sisters. There is an endless supply of enthusiasm at an event like Born To Run and serious competition is almost non-existent. We run with each other recognizing what we have in common, not against each other for what we don't. The running culture of BTR is rooted in letting go and having fun, not in winning or placing. In fact, there is no other place where that culture is more amplified than at Born To Run. I know of no other event that also hosts a race distance of 0.0k where people sit down amongst each other, share their stories, and drink beer.

If that doesn't exemplify the chill, fun loving, relaxed atmosphere of our running culture I don't know what does.

The party at Born To Run Ultras
The culture of trail and ultra runners
After crewing for Badwater Salton Sea the contrast in running cultures has become even more obvious to me. There are no two races that could be more different.

I can't tell if it's completely a NorCal versus SoCal thing, or a road versus trail thing. After all, Born To Run could arguably be considered a SoCal event and really, it's a unique event in and of itself.

But, I firmly believe you can detect running culture at the start line of a race. There's a big difference between a race that has a line-up of expensive running gear versus little to nothing and whiskey socks.

Beer Mile Start
(Photo courtesy Kelly Maggie Akyuz via Matt's Camera)
And although the culture at Born To Run is all party, I can honestly say that as a runner I take that party to every race and so do most of my friends. It's the only time a bunch of us can get outside together and celebrate living, breathing, and connecting. Sadly, it was the one thing I really missed while training for my longer distance races since my runs were never very long and mostly hard work.

Happy girl
Competitive culture completely misses the link to that human connection. That's not to say that as trail runners we are not competitive. For example, the SingleTrack Running Racing Team's stellar performance at Badwater Salton Sea may have even placed them in the top three finish if it hadn't been for our crew's alleged "party" behavior which got us into trouble and set our runners back for time.

But that "party" behavior is how we roll. For some it's winning, but for us, it's the adventure and stoke along the way that keeps running alive. We don't just celebrate running at the finish line. We celebrate at the start, the middle, and especially the finish. Every step is a celebration. And when shit gets hard, the party is still there, waiting for the comeback, because sometimes the joy of overcoming is stoke enough.
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  1. I love this! Born To Run has become our annual tradition and I can't wait to see what the future holds :)

  2. I as well totally dig that shirt, classic!!

  3. There was a party? Must have missed it while I was out running my 30 miles...

  4. Hey, the party looks incredible!! Thanks for posting this awesome blog and keep on sharing more posts. Well, Can you share some posts on party places in the Bronx? Recently, I have heard that these places are much famous for parties.


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