A few weeks ago, I ran the 10th annual Burning Man 50k. I ran it last year as well – you can read that race report here.
This is a mostly silly ultramarathon that takes place at Burning Man, a 80,000-person art/music/culture event in the desert of Nevada. The race itself starts early in the morning, and consists of 4.5 laps around the event area. We get to see some pretty cool sights along the way. The environment is pretty tough, with the heat and the dust, so it’s on the more extreme side of 50ks – however, it’s very flat, so that part makes up for it.
Last year when I ran this race, I was recovering from an injury and ran a pretty okay time (5:45). This year, I was hoping to go quite a bit faster – maybe even place, depending on who showed up – and had been training a lot for this event. While I ran the race year in a very respectable time (4:56 – a 50k PR for me!) that was definitely not good enough to place – I came in somewhere between 8th and 10th for women (results haven’t been posted, but preliminary are here). There were a LOT of fast runners this year (more than last year!) and I wasn’t still fully recovered from the SF Ultra a few weeks prior.
That said, this was still a super fun race, and I’m pretty proud of that PR! Here are the highlights.
Two other folks from my camp, Sydney and Alex, were running the race this year as well. Sydney and I had picked up our bibs at the start line the prior day. Because this is a free event, the organizers ask that each runner bring 1 gallon of water and a snack for the aid stations, so we’d dropped that off when we checked in.
While there are only two official aid stations on this four-lap course, there are a number of unofficial aid stations, including ones that hand out hot dogs, coconut water, rum, martinis, and a host of other food and drink options. My general rule of thumb in any race is I don’t partake of non-official aid stations, because you never know what you’re going to get. At Burning Man, that’s doubly true. While I have not yet heard of anyone being unwittingly given any substances during the race that they didn’t know they were receiving, it’s also a slightly higher risk at this event than others. For this race, I prepped my own “aid station” at the start / finish, which we would pass every 7.5 miles, with sandwiches and snacks.
On the day of the race, I wanted to get to the start line a little on the earlier side to stash my personal aid station stash, so I headed out from camp before Alex and Sydney; we didn’t get a chance to see each other before the race started.
We took this picture before the race started. I’m in the front a little to the left! It seems like there were a lot more of us this year – maybe because it was the 10th anniversary. There are a number of folks who I ran with who aren’t in this picture too – including Alex and Sydney, as well as one of our camp neighbors, Colten. Also, I really want to know who that guy is in the lower right corner!
After the photo, we took off! I look like I’m doing a Naruto run in this below picture. The guy in front of me – number 303 – does some sort of video about the race every year. I haven’t seen it yet, but when I find it, I will link it. You can definitely see the variety of costumes featured in this race in this picture – that’s one of the coolest parts of the race.
The first lap takes place mostly in the dark. This is one of the best times of the race, as you get to see a lot of the classic Burning Man features at night – lit-up art cars, lit-up art and statues, lasers crisscrossing the sky, early morning music, and people out super late still partying (in their super sweet costumes). There were a lot of confused and enthusiastic cheerleaders along the course during this part of the race, and I really enjoy getting to see the art in this way.
At some point during this lap, Alex caught up to me – you can see his snazzy leggings here. He is a super fast runner, and set a solid pace for the first 8 miles or so.
Lap 2 is when the sun comes up. A sunrise during a long run is a game changer – energy just changes, and I definitely find my body wakes up a little bit more. In the desert, it’s an especially unique experience, and seeing it while running is even more special.
Here are some photos from this part of the race, where we were running along the trash fence – the area of the event farthest from where most people are camping and sleeping.
In the below picture, you can see a whole group of us running this part of the race together. The woman in the pink hat is named Cherie – her Playa name is Cherry Bomb. She organizes the race every year, and it was pretty neat to get to talk with her for a bit during this part of the race!
My campmate Cyndi ran the race with us last year – she was injured this year, but she found me during this lap on her bike and took a bunch of photos. Here they are! She was an awesome pacer and cheerleader, and it was so energizing to see her out there and have some company during this part of the race.
At two points along the course, there are pink gates to run through – you can see one below here. These are the only official course markings, other than the start/finish and the aid station at the halfway mark.
It was my friend Austin’s first year at Burning Man, and despite this, he gamely agreed to pace me during the third lap. Here’s a selfie from that part of the race. It was awesome to have his support for this chunk – the third quarter is always the hardest part of the race for me, and I definitely wouldn’t have been going that quickly without him there.
Lap 4 and 4.5
The last lap started getting a bit hot – I was pushing to try to get out of the sun before it became too unbearable. I found Austin again at one of the unofficial aid stations – he had gone back to get a martini (well-deserved).
The last half a lap is an out and back along the first part of the course – fairly demoralizing since you’ve already seen that part of the course literally four times. That said, also exciting because you’re almost done!
Here’s a picture of me at the finish line – ready to be done!
After the race, I waited around the finish line for Alex and Sydney to finish. I found my neighbor Colten, who had finished about a half hour ahead of me, and spent some time with him and his campmates rolling out my legs and catching up.
Alex and Sydney came in a bit later, looking strong. Cyndi had stayed with them for almost the whole race – she probably ended up biking somewhere between 30 and 40 miles this day, which is insanity.
Here are some pictures from the finish line.
Overall, this was a fun race – as expected! Great scenery, great company, great venue, and a fast time – not bad for a morning in the desert. I will say I’m a little disappointed that I wasn’t even faster – but that’s what next year is for, right?
NB: If Cyndi, Austin, or a random stranger did not take the photo, then it was taken by the lovely volunteer race photographers – thank you to Christophe Tedjasukmana (IG: @menblowsmoke), Brad Stein (IG: @bsphoto), and Yu Tianxin (IG: @kerstin_yu) for documenting this experience!