A friend invited me to a trail race out in the California desert called “Run with the Burros.”
Wait, what? (2 second pause)
Sure, I’m in.
I’m a runner, itching for a race and I love four-legged animals. How hard can it be?
Race day arrives. Most of the other racers had taken the time to properly train with their donkeys, but I had opted for some YouTube research and an in-person crash course. Nope, not a millenial.
I met my handsome donkey partner named Dominick. He and several of his donkey pals were rented from Colorado and made the long trip to Cali for the event.
I spent some time with Dominick in the predawn race hours, getting him brushed out and saddled up. He and all the other donkeys were outfitted with the required Pack Burro Racing gear:
- Packsaddle with prospectors equipment including a pick, shovel and gold pan.
- Halter connected to a leadrope that the runner holds.
I received some last minute tips: The best way to get a donkey to GO is to give him some encouragement, a few verbal cues (that cowboy “hyah”) and try to drive his ass from behind.
Dominick and I lined up at the start line, paired up with his donkey sister named Bonita and her human partner. Donkeys are very social animals and love to be with their siblings or best friends. The four of us would rely on each other to successfully finish the race.
Bonita’s human and I discussed our game plan to run conservatively until we warmed up. At the gun, I found out that those plans were not up to us. Dominick and Bonita were in charge.
I quickly learned that donkeys can run much faster than humans (and Eliud Kipchoge). A fact I discovered as we hit a downhill section and Dominick decided they wanted to catch their other burro buddies at the front.
I tried all my cowboy calls and desperately tried to hold on but they were off! The fun loving duo seemed to be having the time of their lives (without us). Panic ensued but it seemed like they weren’t straying off course, they just wanted to race in the front. Don’t we all!?
We reconnected after a mile+ chase and finished the 10 mile race together, with donkey sister/sprinter/co-conspirator Bonita.
My newbieness was exposed but I also logged a new mile PR.
One of the rules in burro racing states that you and your donkey have to run the entire race together as a team. If a donkey and human become separated, they must return to the point where you disconnected and resume there, in order to not be disqualified.
At that point, you couldn’t pay me to drag ass back a mile- so we humbly took a DQ.
Fast forward to 2021, I decided to sign up for the next burro race in California. I needed another shot at this. I reached out to the Laughing Valley Ranch in Colorado, the amazing owners of Dominick that agreed to rent him to me again.
We set out for the 17.5 mile distance with Dominick’s other donkey buddy, named Winkie. The two spent most of the race playing rabbit, switching the lead and horsing around.
The day was hot but the donkey boys seemed unphased. The course climbed up tough but gorgeous mountains, traversing through varying terrain- including a deserted mining town and a few streams.
Dominick went through the water-crossings like a champ! Donkey’s are mistakenly labeled as “stubborn” but I’ve learned that they have a highly developed sense of self-preservation.
We had some long and thoughtful pauses but also moments of surprise intervals. Think uphill sprints!
In the end, we stayed together and finished as a team! The most embarrassing thing would have been for Dominick to run across the finish line, without me in sight. Imagine the finish line photos.
Another racing rule states that you can push, pull, drag or CARRY your donkey across the finish line but you cannot ride them. I’m hoping to see someone carry a mini-donkey one day.
The races are closely monitored, to make sure racers follow the rules and the donkeys aren’t mistreated. The humans are the only ones that seem a bit deflated at the end of these races.
Spending time with fellow burro runners, I learned that this is a sport indigenous to the state of Colorado. The roots go back to early mining days, which explains the gear donks carry. There are races in California, Arizona, and several in Colorado.
*This is the part where I encourage you to meet and train with a donkey.*
The most notable races are the Triple Crown series in Fairplay, Leadville and Buena Vista. You can expect to be surrounded by experienced athletes and burros that train year round. I’m betting there is less donkey chasing at the championship events! However, the community of racers is extremely welcoming and happy to share any and all knowledge.
Dominick and I definitely have another ass hauling race in our future together. Will we ever win a race in the Triple Crown? That decision will never be up to me, in the sport of burro racing.
ABOUT THE HUMAN RUNNER:
Daniella Chong is a trail lover and knows all of the secret running spots in Los Angeles. When not enjoying mountains for a very early breakfast, or chasing Dominick the donkey, you’ll find her with her training group Cloud 9 Endurance preparing to rip up the 2021 Boston Marathon! @dchongerz