While visiting Milho Verde in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil on a climbing trip, I found out the Trail Run Espinhaço Xtreme ultramarathon was happening while I was there. I signed up.
The 2023 Trail Run Espinhaço Xtreme (which is written elsewhere as Extremo – there’s a lack of consistency in race materials) offered distances of 7 km, 14 km, 21 km, and 50 km; that’s 4.35 mi, 8.7 mi, 13 mi (half marathon), and 31 mi. I signed up for the 50K.
Luckily, I had brought along my running vest, bottles, Garmin, and some gels for the climbing trip – just in case. I had no idea what to expect from the race as I signed up just three days before it was to happen, but it did summit Pico do Itambé (the highest point in the region) and I had been looking for an excuse to tag the summit while in Milho Verde.
Here’s a look at what it was like to run the Trail Run Espinhaço Xtreme (Etapa do Pico do Itambé).
- Location: Milho Verde, Minas Gerais, Brazil
- Date: July 8, 2023
- Participants: 30
- Registration Cost: R$453.60 (~$95 US)
- Course Type: Loop
- Course Start: Capela do Rosário (Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary)
- Course Finish: Capela do Rosário (same as the start)
- Race Website
Pros and Cons
+ Beautiful scenery around Milho Verde, Minas Gerais and the Parque Estadual Pico do Itambé (Pico do Itambé State Park)
+ Photographers placed throughout the course with reasonably-priced photos for purchase afterward
+ Relaxed starting and finishing area without the madness of crowds found at some larger events
+ Complimentary massages at the finish line
– Communication pre-race was not well handled and the website offered little useful information
– Aid stations left much to be desired and were barely more than water coolers in the countryside
– Race marked with blue ribbons tied to plants that were put up a week before and taken down three days after the race – leaving time for many to be ripped off by weather and animals
– Many sections of the course that were entirely sand or flattened reeds spotted with hidden holes
– No chip time (maybe some people think this is a positive?)
– Shared use with vehicles on all the dirt roads the course used (lots of dust from passing cars)
When you sign up for Trail Run Espinhaço Xtreme you’re given a runner’s kit (that you must pick up in person the day before the race) with the following:
- Race T-shirt
- Bib number
- Medal (for finishers)
- Pair of socks
- Two small candies
The website also lists things like “signed trails” and ” live music” as part of the kit, but this is clearly to make it look like there’s more being offered. Basically, with your runners kit you get your race number, a shirt, and finishers get a medal. The socks are pretty worthless.
Also, it was stated that runners were required to pick up their kit the day before. However, they handed out kits the morning of the race without any complaints from the race director or volunteers.
The Starting Line
The race was set to begin at 6:30 in the morning. I arrived around 6 at the starting line because the race kit picked up the day before didn’t have any safety pins to attach my number.
The race director was there and he got me the necessary pins.
Slowly, other runners began to file in and the race ended up beginning at 6:40 after everyone was individually checked into a corral and we were given a brief speech (in Portuguese) by the race director.
The sun came up just before the race began and there was no need for a headlamp at the starting line (despite a headlamp being listed among the “required pieces of gear” – nobody checked).
On the required pieces of gear list, besides a headlamp, there was also a whistle, one liter of water capacity, and an emergency blanket. Nobody checked any of the runners for any of these items.
The course was essentially a large loop with an out-and-back section up to the summit of Pico do Itambé and a brief overlap on the way back as runners passed through the village(?) of Capivari.
Not having to repeat any of the course was nice, but this was not without drawbacks.
At the start of the race, much of the course was in fairly deep sand (like beach-level deep) and it was incredibly frustrating to run in. Things improved as the trail went up and over Pico do Raio and then down to the village of Capivari for the first time.
Leaving Capivari, the route followed dirt roads to Parque Estadual Pico do Itambé (Pico do Itambé State Park). These roads were fine except for the fact they were open to vehicle traffic. Every time a car passed, I got blasted with dust and then had to run through the dust for the next five minutes while the car’s wake settled.
Things improved once the route entered the state park. The trail up to Pico do Itambé was clear and defined – just steep. It was at this point the power hiking began. Getting up to the peak the trail is steep. Twice you need to squeeze yourself through boulder jams (spaces large enough for only one person to fit through at a time) to reach and descend from the summit.
From the peak, the trail descends the way it came before passing the aid station at the base of the climb and then turning off to follow an overgrown trail. This part of the trail was essentially flattened reeds – didn’t look like much of a trail – and underneath the reeds were dozens of hidden shin-deep holes. It was a bit treacherous.
Eventually, the trail improved and we were again spit out onto a dirt road heading into Capivari for a second time. The route passes the second aid station for a second time (this time they had spaghetti available for some reason) before taking the dirt road out of Capivari instead of the trail the route came in on the first time.
This road was the most heavily trafficked of the course and I was being constantly blasted with dust from cars. At least it wasn’t overgrown or filled with hidden holes.
The last stretch of the course turns off the (still dirt) road and follows a techy trail to Cachoeira do Canelal (Canelal Waterfall) before climbing up to Milho Verde for the finish. My only complaint with this section was that although the race was advertised as 50K, the course was actually 56K (according to the race literature), but the course was actually 59K. These final three kilometers were pretty brutal mentally.
Then, the race finished where it started at the Capela do Rosário in the middle of Milho Verde.
The aid stations along the Trail Run Espinhaço Xtreme left much to be desired.
Nowhere on the website was it listed where the aid stations would be. Nor was I informed when I signed up for the race. Instead, I had to message the race director directly on WhatsApp and ask. It was at this point I was sent the “Athlete Manual” and, upon my request, the course GPX.
Here were the locations and the bounty of each aid station.
- 10 km – Unstaffed water station (just a table with a few slow-filling water coolers on top of it)
- 14 km – Water station (staffed water station in Capivari with water, bananas, and peanut butter snacks)
- 26.5 km – Water station (staffed water station before climb up to Pico do Itambé with water, coconut water, Coke, and bananas)
- 30 km – Water station (this is the same aid station as the previous one – the course does an out-and-back up to the peak)
- 43 km – Water station (this is the same aid station as the one at kilometer 14, but this time around they also had spaghetti – who is eating spaghetti?)
- 48 km – Water station (just a table with a few slow-filling water coolers on top of it and an uninterested race volunteer nearby)
It would have been great to have some more efficient ways of getting water at the aid stations beyond having to wait for bottles to fill from water coolers
The Finish Line
The finish line was at the same place as the starting line which made for easy logistics.
Because there weren’t thousands (or even hundreds) of people running this ultramarathon, and because all the other distances had finished well before the first 50K finisher, the only problem at the finish line was the fact there was no more Gatorade. The event didn’t provide any, but all the surrounding businesses were sold out of theirs.
After finishing and being given your medal, there are plenty of small bars nearby to sit and relax at. There’s also plenty of dog-poop-covered ground to lie down on.
Apparently, there were also free massages for runners, but I was in no position to be touched by anyone.
I used the following gear during the Trail Run Espinhaço Xtreme 50K in Milho Verde.
- Vest: Salomon Sense Pro 5
- Vest bottles: Salomon Soft Flask 500ml
- Handheld bottle: Nathan QuickSqueeze Lite 18oz Handheld
- Shirt: Ridge Merino Journey Merino Wool
- Shorts: Brooks Sherpa 2 in 1 Short
- Socks: Injinji Ultra Run Mini Crew
- Shoes: Brooks Cascadia
- Gels: GU Energy Gel
- Stuff sack: High Tail Designs Ultralight Drawstring Stuff Sack (to keep phone dry)
- Headphones: Google Pixel Buds Pro
- Sunglasses: goodr BAMFGs Polarized
- Hat: Montbell Mesh Logo Cap #2
On the whole, I enjoyed the Trail Run Espinhaço Xtreme 50K.
It was a smaller event and that was certainly reflected in the communication pre-race, the aid stations, and the overall event production value. Do I wish there were electrolytes and some better food options available at the aid stations? Absolutely. I would have been in trouble had I not brought a bunch of gels to Milho Verde for no reason.
If I find myself in Milho Verde again (chances of this are high) during the race, I will likely participate again.