The Myth of El Scorcho
I’m not sure how I heard about El Scorcho – but I quickly learned that this race is spoken about as if it is some ancient ritual. Every July for the past 9 years, a modest number of runners have toed the line to race a 50k, a 25k or a 50k relay. They make the pilgrimage to Trinity Park in Fort Worth, TX and pay homage to the pagan Gods of running. The ritual they perform is something of a self sacrifice – run a lot of miles in conditions so brutal that most runners wouldn’t even bother to start. If they lay themselves out on the line, and give it their all, they will be rewarded with the best running party you have ever seen.
It is one of the most unique events I have ever experienced in almost 50 races, and it is also one of the best. This race breaks the mold in any way possible. It manages to embody all that is good and great about running. It manages to turn what would otherwise be a grueling night into what basically equates to an all night party. It markets itself with a sense of sarcasm and wit which almost begs you to not take it seriously (see www.elscorchorun.com), but ultimately fully embodies the spirit of why we run (because we can!). It manages to let its cult following turn it into something that is larger than life. It has been a while since I have written, but I wanted to make sure I shouted to the world about the experience that is El Scorcho.
To start, unlike most races of this distance, El Scorcho does not start at what most would consider a reasonable hour. The 50k starts at 11PM, and the 25k and relay as the clock rolls over to midnight. Runners, typically known for their early bedtimes, stay up and begin their run deep in the dark of night. But you won’t find anyone weary eyed or yawning waiting for the race to start. No, people are partying – setting up tents, eating, drinking, socializing. They are getting ready for an all night party.
But don’t be fooled – they know the challenge that awaits them. A veteran marathoner or ultra runner may look at this course and think it is a cinch. It is flat – I mean pancake flat. It is run on generally well maintained trails (paved and limestone) that are wide and not twisty and curvy. To the untrained eye – this course should be easy. Ah, but the challenge is simply in its location – Fort Worth, Texas – in the dead of the Texas summer. During the afternoon of July 17, the temperature in Fort Worth crept up to the century mark. At 11 PM when the race began, it was still 90 degrees. But those who live in the Gulf Coast States know it is not the temperature that gets you…it is the humidity. The influence of the Gulf is felt 200+ miles inland, creating a soupy and swampy sort of hell that is called night time in Texas. Here sweat does not evaporate – it simply drips. Completing an ultra marathon under these conditions is borderline crazy.
The race has to do very little to market itself – because the cult that participates in it does it quite well. This race uses Social Media to drive the frenzy – without the RD doing much at all. It is unique – because it uses a Facebook group where anyone can post. In the weeks leading up to the race you get some amazing ones that just drive the myth (hot, hellish). If you are going to run it, join the group and be entertained.
And this is the basis of the myth of El Scorcho, hot and hellish – a battle. 113 started the 50k in 2015. 33 did not finish, giving El Scorcho an abyssal 71% completion rate. Like I said, running 31 miles in those conditions is not easy – even for a well trained marathoner or ultra runner.
So the obvious question is why would anyone take this on? The simple answer is because it is the best damn event I have ever taken part in. It is the runner’s equivalent to staying up all night partying and drinking. The course is run on a 5k loop – run it 10 times and you are done. Normally this type of mental challenge would make it easy for you to quit (you want me to run through the finish line 9 times before I stop??). However, with El Scorcho – you look forward to your pass through the start/finish area every time. There is literally an all night party going on. There are hundreds of people set-up watching the event – friends, family, running clubs. They are giving you food, they are cheering you on…heck they are even offering you booze if you want it. There is loud music, glow sticks and necklaces and tons of people just having fun.
This environment makes the race amazing. A lot of runners (especially road runners like myself) can be tight wads – wanting perfect conditions, always searching for the PR or the BQ. At El Scorcho – the atmosphere lets you throw that to the wind. You realize you are running to have fun. No one is there to compete – it makes for fast friends – it makes for people supporting each other and cheering each other on as they run this crazy event.
Volunteers are there to do amazing things as well. There was some random lady handing out Popsicles at 2AM. Wow! There were kids up way past their bed time handing out cool towels, drinks, food. They were laughing, and cheering well into the night. There was a dude giving out shots of something just past the start line. The “north” aid station is cheekily named Siberia – as a group of volunteers had a misting fan, and a kiddie blow-up pool full of ice. The people on the sidelines of El Scorcho are just as crazy as the runners – and most importantly turn brutal conditions into something amazing.
Dan’s Race Summary
As for the race – it is a challenge – but as I said the people get you through it. Training in the heat and humidity in Houston had me ready for this. Coming through the chute after laps 1 and 2 was awesome. Everyone was fresh and the party was rockin’. The 50k relay and 25k hadn’t started yet so those runners were cheering us on extra loud. I ran very strong through the first 5 laps – averaging somewhere around a 7:20 per mile pace – which is a bit quicker than I wanted. My pie in the sky goal was a sub 4 hour 50k (my real goal was just to finish)…this had me where I wanted to be. However, I knew it wouldn’t last.
After 5 laps things started to get a little more mentally challenging. After running for 1:52 I still had halfway to go. The 6th and 7th laps were the most mentally challenging. My pace was starting to slow. I was soaked in sweat. To make things worse a small dust storm was being created by all the runners kicking up the fine limestone trail. There were times it was so bad I was coughing. But you power through…these are just the challenges of El Scorcho.
Although my pace was starting to slow, I felt a lot better after lap 7 was over. Knowing I only had 3 more laps left was a relief. During lap 8 a small miracle happened and Popsicle Lady showed up. I grabbed a blue one and mowed it down with spirits renewed. Despite a slowing pace, I was looking good to hit my sub 4 hour goal. Popsicle Lady saved me.
I banked a lot of time in the beginning and made it to the start of lap 10 knowing I only had to average around 9 min/mile to get in below 4. The first 2 miles of the last lap was pretty lonely and tough, as the 25k finishers were starting to drop off. It was dark, it was almost 3 AM. The batteries on my headlamp died, making it even darker. The volunteers were getting tired (Popsicle Lady was gone). But as I started to draw closer to the end, I started to reflect on how awesome this experience was. It was 3 AM and I somehow still wasn’t tired, adrenaline (and Popsicles) had gotten me through. As I drew closer to the end, I started to pick up the pace – I got my 2nd (or 3rd, or 10th) wind that night and finished the race strong. I crossed the finish line in 3:58:24 – a 10 min 50k PR. I managed this in the hot, muggy, humid mess that was the Texas night…I was beaming. My finish line photo says it all – smiles – accomplished.
I ran a strong race and ended up finishing 2nd place. I didn’t do much celebrating to start, as I was just physically and mentally wiped out. I literally laid my head on a table for about 30 minutes while I nursed a Powerade and Muscle Milk. When the awards came around, I finally felt good enough to get up. Again – the picture amazes me because at this point I was just done – but I managed a nice smile for the camera!
After this, I said my goodbyes – scarfed down a breakfast taco (my favorite post race meal) and headed back to the hotel. At this point it was 4:30 AM. I took a shower and tried to get some sleep, but the events of the night had me all wound up. After trying to sleep for 2 hours with no success, at 6:30 AM I got out of bed to start my day. The rush of El Scorcho carried through all day Sunday – I was tired but happy. I had completed the most difficult race I had ever run.
After 31 career marathons/ultras, El Scorcho has quickly risen to the top of my must list. Everything about this event makes me want to come back and do it again, and again. I know this Recap is long, but I hope it does it justice. The people there were amazing. I want to give special thanks to the great volunteers and the Dallas Running Club (DRC) who “adopted” this lone Houstonian for the night. I have drank the Kool-Aid, I have joined the cult. I will be back next year for the ancient running ritual that is El Scorcho.
Career Marathon/Ultra Number 31
Career 50k Number 2
Time of 3:58:24(PR)