Texas Summertime Reflections

“Summertime and the livin’s easy”

OK well not so much if you are an ultrarunner in the Texas summer! But after surviving (and that’s what it was–plain survival) through this summer (which ended appropriately yesterday), I thought I would post some reflections on my running this summer, my first summer of ultra distance running in the Texas summer where I signed up for the 3 60k (~37 mi) trail races in the Capt’n Karl’s race series.

— The heat will expose you and I was exposed.  You will need more water, salt, and food than in other seasons, and more than in your training sessions if you are running trails.  I never needed that much salt during my training runs, but I learned that lesson quickly after DNFing at The Lake.

— Not only is surviving/completing the races hard, but training is just as hard too.  By 9 am, it is hotter than heck.  Soon I learned that starting to run at 6 am was not adequate and I needed to start at 5 am for my long training runs.   Kind of hard to have much of a social life if you have to get up at 4 am on Saturday mornings!

— You can go farther and achieve more than you think you can.  In the springtime, it’s easy to say you can run 3 60k trail races during the summer, but once summer begins to boil, believing that goal is achievable is  a bit of a different story.  Before I started, I thought finishing just ONE of these races in the summer would be a great feat, which it was.   I didn’t finish the first race, but in hindsight, if I only had a better nutrition plan then I could have my first belt buckle.   And maybe it wasn’t THAT bad that I managed to finish the last two (I suppose brain damage has set in).   Mental toughness is a good thing, and walking is OK and totally acceptable.

— Sometimes the only way to learn is through your mistakes.  I suppose this is applicable to other phases of life, but sometimes you just have to learn lessons the hard way.  Similarly, running as many races as you can is the only way to really gain experience.  Training runs, especially fwhen you live in Houston where little trails are available, just can’t cut it.

— I ultimately was proud of my performance.  Not ground breaking by any speed standard, but after DNFing at the first of 3 60k trail races, I was faced with the decision of downmoding (sorry… work terminology) to the 30k distance or continuing to try with the 60k for the other two.  Be reminded that the first attempt I was dehydrated and had to stop due to my poor nutritition plan, not even halfway through the race and my stomach had some of the worst pain I can imagine.  I could have easily just have taken the easy way out and pursued the 30k option, and I was prepared to do so.  But after asking the race director if that option was available, he told me to think about it, and I glad I did, since I managed to put in a great performance at the second race.  The third race wasn’t perfect, but I finished after struggling through rolling my ankle too many times and negotiating the tough terrain.

And lastly, it was great to meet some of the other runners on the trails.  I guess the trail running community is a smaller niche community, but there is just something about meeting others out on the trails, and sharing the bond that is forged by going through the pressure cooker of ultra running.

Capt’n Karl’s The Falls 60k Race Report

3 weeks had passed and time for the next in the Capt’n Karls Series: The Falls at Pedernales Falls State Park. I was not exactly sure how I would fare given my poor nutrition preparation and execution during the previous race which resulted in my bonking in the middle of the course and a DNF. Running a personal long distance was a nice goal, but you had to question the sanity of doing such a thing in a night time trail race, in the middle of the Texas summer. However, I did think that correcting my nutrition issues would give me a good shot. The modifications for this run were to increase my salt intake by double (the doctor lady at Ink’s Lake said it should have been 2-3 times as much…whoops), and also this time I was strictly going to stick to a 8 min run / 2 min walk schedule.  Now was time to test it out.

My trail running buddy (idiot), Adam, who got me involved in ultra trail running, was coming along too for the 30k. We got to the start/finish less than an hour before we started, checked in, and prepared ourselves and our drop bags for the race. Since Adam was doing the 30k, he would be done before me with the potential of pacing me for one out and back portion of the race. The temps at the start were probably in the 95-100 deg F range, but thankfully it cooled down about 3 deg/hour. I honestly didn’t think about the heat after the first hour and it didn’t really bug me during the race. There was a brisk wind at times, which seemed to pick up after midnight, and alot of the course had some dirt/dust which would also get kicked up (this becomes important later).

Off we went at 7pm. Course was 2 30k (18.6 mi) loops, with one big aid station you hit twice, and two other stations which were water only. The first mile or so was through an overgrown grassy field down to the Pedernales river. Not too bad, thankfully no rocks here since you couldn’t really see where your feet were landing. Once we got to the river, we ran along side it on a really nasty portion, my least favorite. Stepping on awkward rock outcroppings and through some brush which didn’t last too long before heading away from the river and onto the fenceline portion which borders the park boundary. A straight shot for a few miles, with some gently rolling hills and small rocks, but nothing bad. Soon I made it to the aid station at mile 8 with the out and back portion and was feeling great. A nice little hill down to open up the pace, and then a small loop. Some rocky terrain, but nothing too bad and at this point my body felt great and even though I still had to run over a marathon’s distance to the finish, I felt like it was going to be a good day/night/morning. By this point it was dark, so I turned off my headlamp to look up at the sky and stars. Could see the milky way pretty good, and plenty more stars than in the city. Soon I made it back to the hill I just came down, and had to walk all the way up since it would be a waste of energy for me to run it. Back to the aid station to refuel and finish the last 6 miles of the lap. Next section was rocky, but runnable at the time. We ran into one runner who was dehydrated, and there I saw myself, 3 weeks ago collapsed on the park rocks. He looked o.k., but probably done for the race, but I gave him some water and we left. Then ran into another guy who was cramping up, so I gave him some food and encouraging words. Soon after I ran into the race director looking for the ill runner, so I felt better he would soon have help. The rest of the loop was pretty easy although my stomach briefly fell downhill, but some food and salt quickly corrected it.

Rolled into the start/finish at 4 hrs 5 mins and saw Adam there, not quite expecting me. He was awesome taking care of me, refueling and bringing me a couple shots of coke. It’s always great to have someone crewing for you, just to save the energy/time performing simple tasks when you just want to rest a minute. I saw the other guy who was cramping up come in, nice to see him finish. I spent probably 10 minutes here eating and readying myself for the next 18 miles, but physically and mentally I felt great.

Off I went, and soon ran into another runner I knew from other races, Steven, and walked with him a bit. I wanted to walk the nasty part next to the river anyway, so it was nice to chat with someone for a good half hour or so since I had mostly been running alone, and now that the 30k runners were done, and the loop was so big, you didn’t really see many people out. Thats ok–one enjoyable aspect of trail running is to escape to yourself and nature, and enjoy the journey.

I soon decided to get moving and started running again. Around mile 22, my eyes started drying up again, and I think a breeze knocked my left contact out. Crap! I have only one good eye now, running around the rocky park at night, and I still have about 15 miles to go to the finish. Well, only way is to go forward. But mentally it was requiring much more energy to remain focused on the rocks and finding the best spot for my feet. And I did have to slow down at some spots since my depth perception was now off. The fenceline rolled on and I eventually jogged into the pipeline aid station to find Adam there, helping out and ready to run 5 miles with me.

We set off down the hill, and kept up a decent run/walk routine, although I was starting to walk more of the rough sections. My vision was going downhill as I was getting tired with only one good eye, which was starting to slow me down a bit. Legs were starting to tighten up, but overall I felt great, and it was great to talk to Adam about the race and everything else. We soon returned up the hill and back to the aid station where Steven caught up. At this point, it was 2:30 am and if we hustled through this 6 mile stretch, we could finish below 9 hours. So, off we went.

Started with a good pace, although this section was rather rocky single-track, which combined with my lack of vision, was causing me to slow down quite a bit and Steven soon took off ahead of me. I started rolling my ankles a lot more as well, which was slowing me down, and a blister on my left heel too was starting to talk to me much more loudly. Soon I realized I wasn’t quite going to make it under 9, but I didn’t care. I was feeling great and happy to have such a great rebound from the previous race. Amazing what can happen with the correct nutrition plan.

I “sprinted” the last hundred yards, as I could hear the others at the start/finish, into the finish line at about 9:05, just after 4 am Sunday morning. Exhausted and hungry after travelling 37 miles, I got to sit down, where I realized my feet were throbbing. I was so happy to be done after completing the longest race I’ve done, on a technical trail in the summer heat, but it was kind of hard to enjoy at the time since I was so tired. But I relaxed, ate, and soon we returned back to the hotel where a shower capped off another successful trail running adventure.

Capt’n Karl’s The Lake 60k Race Report

I didn’t have my blog before this race, so I figured I’d go ahead and my race report for it.

Cliff Notes version: DNF

Unabridged version:

I’ve decided to start keeping race reports from my races, if only for my own personal benefit. So, what follows is my (lengthy) account of the race (attempt) this past weekend.

I decided to sign up for the 3 60k night-time trail races in the Capt’n Karl’s series because I was advancing in my training, and I wanted a challenge (The shirt from the race appropriately says “Those who don’t take a chance, won’t get a chance.”). The first challenge was The Lake, at Ink’s Lake State Park in Burnet, Tx. The most scenic and beautiful trail in my year of trail running, and as I soon remembered, quite technical. I had done the 30k the year before, which at the time, was the longest distance, and the second trail race I had done.

I got to the race an hour or so before, checked in, and found myself with plenty of time to get ready and think about the upcoming 37 miles (6 10k loops). Finally the race began (I dread the time sitting/standing around in anticipation of the moments up to a race) and I was off. I tagged along with another trail runner I knew from previous races and we jogged together for probably 20 minutes or so. Soon I noticed my stomach wasn’t quite up to the task, and I slowed my pace. No problem, plenty of time to correct, and I’ve run plenty far before, but the feeling persists enough to be an annoyance, but I do think to myself this course is much more technical than I remember. Then ran with some other runners. One guy who ran Cactus Rose in Vibram 5 fingers, so we chatted about those for a while. Quite impressive. One thing I love about trail running is the ability to chat up another runners you’ve never met before (go ahead and try that on a 10k).

Anyway, soon I began my second lap, feeling slightly better, finding more company, and continuing on. The second half of the second lap, however, my legs were starting to cramp, bad. Body going downhill fast, decide to walk, but as I go into the aid station at the end, I am feeling pretty rough. Not used to feeling this bad after 12 mi, and not sure I can continue much further. But I decide I should tough it out, I can always just walk one lap back to the finish, and you never know when you body can rebound.

Manage to jog the first mile or so of the 3rd lap, which isn’t so technical. Soon the hills and rocks begin, and I am feeling pretty rough and can’t continue, so I find a nice rock to sit on. I’ll spare the details, but wasn’t feeling the best I’ve ever been, collapsed in the middle of the hill country on rocks/cactus. Tried to walk some, but my legs were cramping so bad I couldn’t even move, and my stomach was hurting big time. Never experienced that before. Luckily, all the runners who pass me by, ask me if I need help, and many of them lend me water as I wait to muster enough energy to wander to the aid station a half mile ahead. Thanks to all of them out there. Eventually I find the co-race director looking for me and head back to the start.

Not the finish I anticipated, but you live and learn. The doctor at the end said I should have been taking in 3x as much salt which explains my stomach pain and muscle cramping. I guess it figures, but I’ve never required that much in training and my legs have never cramped up like that, ever. I think the body functions different and the nutrition required is different for running in the evening than all other races where you start in the morning. So.. now I know the problem, it only took that aggravation to figure out! I didn’t feel bad at DNF’ing–only 53% would finish the 60k race, quite low. And I enjoyed chatting up the other runners/volunteers and marveling at the impressive job the other athletes who continued to brave the course and weather.

The next decision is whether to attempt the 30k or 60k at the next race in 3 weeks. The wise decision would be to do the 30k, but whats the challenge in doing something you know can do?

Creatures

On travel in California this week, so I thought I’d take advantage of the 60 degree weather and mountainous scenery and go for a jog. Went out to a park, and lo and behold the sign warns of Mountain Lions. Not something I will see in Houston!

No sightings of mountain lions, but I did spot some rat-like creatures and hear what I believe was a domestic goat.

Capt’n Karl’s The Shoe 60k Race Report

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

Saturday evening I participated in the last of the Capt’n Karl’s Trail series: The Shoe 60k at Muleshoe Bend Recreational Area. Got there early, set up my tent, relaxed for a couple hours, and chatted with a few other runners before completing my final preparations for the race. The course was 4 ~9 mile loops for the 60k, divided into 3 sections by two aid stations. Mostly single-track, with plenty of rocks, plenty of tree cover, lots of winding switchbacks, and while there were no big hills, lots of ups and downs. And there were more rocks.

Started off the first loop feeling ok. Was running with a guy training for the Cactus Rose 100, so that was interesting talking to him about his training for that (this was his last race for it). First section wasn’t too bad, some decent little ups and downs that reminded me of the Ho Chi Minh trails, but only scattered with rocks. There were a few areas dispersed that had no rocks and had soft trail, but these areas were only short vacations for your feet before returning back to the rocky sections. The second section after the aid station was my least favorite. There was one switchback that featured big rock outcroppings, it was tilted from the right to the left, 6 inch to a foot ledges, and not much room. Yuck! I knew that was going to be interesting the rest of the night. I really wonder how the elite runners deal with this stuff—I guess they are just a little tougher. The third section definitely was the easiest. It did have some short sections with lots of small rocks, but definitely was the easiest to run.

Loop one went by OK, but I was going slower, considering I heard this was supposed to be “easier” than the previous race at Pedernales Falls. I finished the first loop at 2:15, and doing the math (which I know you shouldn’t do for races since so many things can change…) that would put me at a best case, finishing at 9+ hours. The falls I did in a shade over 9 hours, so I knew at that point it was going to be a long night.
Went back out on the second loop, and my stomach still wasn’t quite right. I tried everything I could, taking food, salt, taking water, not taking water, nothing seemed to work. It wasn’t slowing me down too much, but was just uncomfortable to deal with. Near the end of the second lap, I caught up with another runner and I guess we were both in about the same condition and pace, so we chatted it up and headed back to the start/finish. My stomach continued to cause issues—I then heard it making noise but I had no idea if that meant it wanted food in, wanted food out, or what. If only the body had a translator for you to tell you exactly what it wanted, it would make these events much easier!

One cruel tease was the 30k runners were now finishing and the race volunteers were cooking burgers, so running into the start/finish after the second loop, one could smell the burgers from a little ways out. Have to wait a few more hours before I’d get to enjoy one of those.

We headed out on the beginning of the third loop, and soon we began to walk. Thus begins the death march that made up majority of the rest of the race. The rocks were really starting to take a toll. I don’t remember exactly why we started walking, but I didn’t mind too much. We jogged the easier areas and walked the tougher ones (which was now the majority of the route for us). Soon another runner joined us, and the three of us continued along on our slow march to the finish. My stomach started feeling better after that—it seems walking for 45 minutes managed to do the trick. The three of us stuck together and chatted up the rest of the race which made the night go by much faster. I probably could have jogged more of the last two laps, but it was great having a couple other people there to talk to rather than running out there by yourself. While we weren’t jogging much, we were at least “walking with a purpose.” I think the third loop is also where I managed to roll my right ankle what seemed like a dozen times, and I think I banged my head on a couple low branches. Dummy, look up! The trails always find a way to humble you. The thought also continued to cross my mind: This is your idea of a good time on a Saturday night?

Eventually we soon began our last lap which proceeded much like the previous one—slowly. The stars did look nice, and this was the first time I really noticed the cooler weather by being able to see my breath. Every step forward was just one closer to the finish. I just wanted to be done at this point and soon, we were. We sprinted to the finish to complete another trail run. Wasn’t a great time, but I didn’t really care, I just wanted to finish. And having the company of two other runners for the last 6+ hours of the race made it much more enjoyable.

During the race, I was comparing the course to Bandera, and though Bandera is a certainly tougher course, I think this race was tougher given the temperature here was ~50 degrees greater than at Bandera. I also don’t know how I was able to handle all the rocks at Bandera, but I remember Bandera being easier to run but maybe that was just the weather too.

Would have been nice to get the belt buckle, but two out of three ain’t bad, and I did learn a few good lessons about races and the nutrition I need for summer races. Thankfully, the summer is over.

Here we go

Well, this is my attempt at blogging to capture my running adventures.

Tomorrow is the last run in the series of Capt’n Karl’s, The Shoe.  I’m looking forward to this one since the weather is nicer and the last race I kind of surprised myself how well I did, after a DNF at the first race.  I suppose I’ll add my race reports from the first two races, but time to get some rest.