Editor’s note: This article was originally published January 17, 2014
I’m heading to West Texas to tackle one of my favorite running events of the year - the Big Bend Ultra.
Come Sunday morning, I’ll be trotting 25 kilometers through the desert as the sun rises, doing my best to avoid face planting into a prickly pear cactus or executing a Superman slide on the gravel (yes, that happened last year.)
The race, which benefits Big Bend National Park, begins just off the paved road, midway between Panther Junction and Rio Grande Village. Runners climb gradually up a Jeep road for about 2 miles before the course mostly levels out, then swoops imperceptibly downhill for about 13 miles.
The race ends in a remote corner of the desert, miles from a paved road. You’re more likely to see a tarantula or a jackrabbit than a crowd of spectators as you romp beneath the finish line.
It’s a blissful race, one that spurs all sorts of happy thoughts as I scramble along. I love nature, and this hard-scrabble country represents a prickly sort of beauty entirely different than towering pine forests or wave-slapped beaches. It makes me feel tough and adventurous, but at the same time insignificant, like I’m walking on Mars.
I’m doing the 25K option, but there’s also a 10K and, for the scrappy ones in the bunch, a 50K.
This year I’ll be wearing a new pair of Montrail trail runners. I’m hoping to avoid the maraschino cherry-sized blisters that sprouted on my toes last year.
I’ll let you know how it goes.