2011 Capt’n Karl’s The Shoe 60k Race Report

“C’mon, at least admit you’re a masochist?”

 

A masochist no, but you have to be willing to deal with pain and obstacles if you are to undertake any ultra distance event (just like in life).  And what my friend, and others who question the purpose of doing these things, fails to appreciate is the journey past obstacles and the ability to push oneself past whatever one thinks their limits are. The last of the Capt’n Karl’s Series was at Muleshoe, and it provided a significant obstacle (beyond just the distance) in the fact the high Saturday was around 108 degrees (and back home in Houston it was reportedly the hottest day EVER).  I arrived at the park around 6:15 with just enough time to finish my preparations and say hi to a few friends before the race briefing.  Not too long after that one guy who is partially responsible for getting me into these things, Mark Henderson, rolled in.  He was talking about his race-day nutrition (a couple shrimp,  a couple beers, and a pop tart, I think) and was giving me a hard time about my picture being in Ultraruning mag earlier this year, but it was good to catch up briefly with him.  Soon it was time to embark on the 37.2 mile journey.

The course was four loops, divided into 3 parts by two aid stations in between and then one at the start/finish.  I reread my race report from last year, which was pretty accurate as far as the terrain— no real hills, a decent amount of rocks but not un-runnable except for a stretch in the middle which is tough.  It had a lot of switchbacks, so you could see headlights ahead of you, behind you, above or below you but really they could be much further away than you think.  But I didn’t really remember a lot of this course so it was fun to discover it again, it is a fun course to run.  And looking at the trail which was still lit by the setting sun, you could tell everything around looked dead due to the drought.  The first hour or so clicked by o.k. but it was definitely hot, and I was probably going a bit too fast, and as per the usual with these summer races for me, my stomach wasn’t very happy.  I made one emergency stop off trail but after that felt much better.  Made it to the 2nd aid station and had a couple pieces of watermelon which were wonderful and apparently everyone else agreed since they were gone on the 2nd loop.  I left there and made it back to the start/finish and was feeling pretty good.

For this race, I decided to bring a cooler with ice water and put a bandana in there to cool myself down between loops, especially since there were 4 loops.  I think it helped a good amount but maybe I should have brought a spare so I could take one with me.  Nevertheless it was definitely nice to cool down even if only for a brief moment on such a hot evening.  I don’t remember too much about the 2nd loop until I almost lost a contact around mile 12 or so but managed to grab it from my eye before it fell to the ground and put it back in my eye without any issues, thankfully.  Somewhere in the real rugged section I got briefly lost and turned around, and lo and behold Neal Lucas comes up to lap me, and I then of course found the correct way–thanks for lapping me there Neal! I think the heat was taking its toll on me though, and my stomach was having more complaints with me.  I had half a Subway sandwich an hour and a half before the race, and I think that was the culprit.  I swore off them several years ago since the last time I had one it made me sick (besides why go buy a sandwich when I can make one for a fraction of the price) but I gambled since I was going to try something different with my pre-race nutrition.  No more Subway!

 

“If you are going through hell, keep going”

When I made it to the half-way point I was feeling pretty crummy after a visit to the portapotty and made it to my drop bag to try to recover a bit.  I didn’t have much of an appetite but force fed myself a little but my stomach just felt off.  I felt pretty awful but didn’t want to quit, I’d made it this far and only had two make it two more laps to get the belt buckle.  Besides, all those Navy SEALs who were killed several weeks ago—they would never quit.  Lots of people don’t have the physical ability to run or even walk, what would they give up to jog a mile? So putting things in perspective gave me a little bit of motivation all though I was in a bad mood since I felt kind of helpless to my body.  Some friends and the start/finish were trying to help, but I didn’t feel like talking much and at the time my vocabulary only consisted of simple commands or curse words anyway.  I was a bit frustrated since I’d spent/wasted  almost a half hour at the aid station (a long time…. Too much even for me) and I wasn’t improving even with such a long break, but I know I can walk so I might as well keep walking for a while.

Off I walked for about two miles before I finally started feeling a bit better.  Well at this point my only goal was to finish (can throw all time goals out the window now) and was just trying to estimate with a worst-case scenario if I walked 20 min/mile, I would be cutting it close to finish under 12 hours, since I couldn’t even lightly jog due to my stomach discomfort.  Eventually I tried jogging again and the next mile I was decent before arriving at the first aid station where RD Joyce was there and I told her about how I was feeling.  She gave me some encouragement and I felt good to leave, so I did and soon started feeling better.  The rest of the lap I ran pretty strong and felt a lot more confident about finishing since now I was only a lap, several aid stations, away from finishing and my body felt much better.

“Lots of people out running now.… but after midnight only the hardcore runners will be left”

 

What once was a bustling party-like atmosphere at the start/finish was now much more subdued since those who did the shorter distances had gone home and were probably asleep in bed since it was now about 3 am.  I returned to my drop bag which once too had more company and was now alone on the dirt and washed myself off with cold water again which was very refreshing and got a nice view of the stars which were clear on a cloudless and moonless night.  Just had one more lap to finish, so I picked up some papaya from Liza Howard (at least I’m pretty sure that was her… I felt like telling her I like reading her blog but had other things on my mind) who was working the aid station and set off on my final lap.  And it actually started to feel cooler; at least it wasn’t so blistering hot anymore.

The fourth lap started went pretty well  and I was almost alone except for a few people I would occasionally pass since I was now moving a bit better.  Almost all the runners were done so now the trail was empty and I didn’t have to worry about people running me over.  It is a bit more relaxing for me to run alone,  although there are definitely times when it’s good to run with others too, to push you.  I am more introverted so I suppose trail running suits me well, lots of time out there where you are by yourself with no one else near you (or even no one knows exactly where you’re at) and I guess I like it that how you succeed is totally up to you.  Somewhere I smelled the stench of a skunk on this lap, which was the only wildlife I encountered.  Later on I saw two more skunks, including one that was no more than five feet from the trail, but I didn’t really want to get to know him any better so I sprinted past him.  I made it to the last aid station where I soon ran out of energy.  I was jogging well before, but stopping for a break at the aid station seemed to get me out of a rhythm and sap all my energy.  It was around this point I finally noticed some chaffing issues, including in some areas I didn’t know it was possible.   It was less than 3 miles back to the finish, which on an average day, I could easily finish under a half hour. However an average day does not consist of already having covered 34 miles of trails!  My body was just plain tired and it took me another 46 minutes to make it to the finish after 10:46, where the other hardcore runners who stuck around to celebrate, were cheering those of us who stuck it out to finish.  Joyce came by and gave me a big hug and congratulations since she knew I was having a rough go at it, and I picked up my finishers medal and my first belt buckle, guess I’m a real Texan now.

“Show me someone that’s completed an ultra, and I’ll show you someone that can pretty much accomplish anything they set their mind to…”

I went and sat down next to the other dozen or so runners that were left and recovered, chatted, and enjoyed the fact I was done, 180km of trail in the Texas summer.  And driving back the next day, I felt pretty good sense of accomplishment, not necessarily for the buckle, but it’s damn hard to finish these 3 60k’s in the summer, and lots of people dropped due to the heat along the way.  I suppose it is a good case study in perseverance since there are points in each of the three races where I seriously questioned whether I would finish each one.  I also probably need to take a better look at my nutrition, although I never have any of these issues in the normal races that start in the morning, where the heat index is not over 100 degrees.  And I know I’m not a fast runner, but dang, I am pretty close to DFL in the standings for the series (22nd out of 26). Good thing I don’t have an ego, haha.  Looking at my splits, I spent 9 minutes at the start/finish after the 1st and 3rd loop, and 25 after the 2nd, ugh.  I’ll be thankful for the spring/winter races when I don’t NEED to spend as long at the aid stations.

Guess I'll need to get a belt for it now!

2011 Capt’n Karl’s The Falls 60k Race Report

The ups and downs of ultra trail running: climbing up a hill, scampering down it; jumping over an obstacle, tripping down into the ground; running strong one minute, completely spent and wasted another.  Such is the dichotomy and The Falls 60k, the second in the Capt’n Karl’s night series, lived up to it.  The course is two 30k loops, a little hilly, not that technical, but the tough part is doing it in the peak of the Texas summer where the starting temperature was 104° or so at 7pm.  Reading the heat advisories from the National Weather Service kind of added to the heat’s intimidation, but I have done this race before so I knew I could finish it.

I met some friends for lunch in Austin, dropped by the hotel and rested, and soon enough it was time to start at 7 pm.  The first mile and a half is easy, down to the Pedernales River (which is more a collection of large rocks than actually river) then marches back up and along the fenceline bordering the park.  I kind of liked jumping from rock to rock at this part on the riverbed, which sort of reminded me of parts of Bandera.  At this point, I was taking it easy, limited by the heat and my stomach which was at best OK.  The fenceline portion has a couple decent hills, but they aren’t too bad, they at least make running along a straight line more interesting.  I made a visit to the port-a-potty somewhere around mile 6 but it was just a false alarm, and I was just trying to get my stomach to a comfortable state.  Soon enough the course curves away from the fence along a wonderful single track and onto more of an easy jeep road section, which had some nice views of the surrounding area, before the next aid station.  I made it to the pipeline aid station where the leader was there (he was 4 miles ahead coming back from the next section) and I started to feel little better.  Leaving this aid station has a big downhill (down Wolf Mountain….not much of a mountain but big enough) which was really fun to run, and the next section was a 4 mile loop back to the pipe which wasn’t too bad, and I tagged along with two other runners and managed to keep up with them as my body improved.   The guy ran Nueces 50mi in 9:17 so when I heard that, I should have probably just told them goodnight and backed off on my pace.   But I didn’t and soon it was time to go back up what we just came down, and even before we began the big incline, I started to go downhill a bit.  I tried to eat a Larabar I stuffed in my pocket, but the combination of the temperature and it riding directly next to my body melted it down… so I probably won’t do that again as it wasn’t quite as tasty to eat.  I made it back to the aid station and got some food and headed out again for the 6 mile trip back to the start/finish.  This stretch, miles 12-18,  was a definite low point for me–I guess I really needed some calories because I had little energy or desire to run, and mostly felt like curling up in the fetal position.  I’m pretty sure if I had the option to quit there, I probably would have.  I didn’t want to quit, and I know it’s not the strongest mindset, but that’s about all I could think about for a while.  Thankfully however, that option wasn’t available so I kept marching back to the halfway point.  Somewhere in this section, there was an easy doubletrack where I didn’t need my headlamp, so I turned it off and rested my eyes, and enjoyed the moon and stars filling up the sky.  The moon provided quite a bit of light, enough to light much of the trail, and the stars were beautiful in a cloudless sky.  There is no light pollution in this area of Texas and the night sky is simply gorgeous.

I made it back to the halfway point and started to feel a bit better.  Some other friends were there who did the other races (the shorter, not insane distances) were done and in a good mood, and thankfully brought me plenty of food and drinks as I sat down to try to figure out what the heck I was going to do.  I was there probably fifteen minutes or so, ate quite a lot, and decided I was going to keep on going; I didn’t want to quit, quitting is too easy and besides nothing really hurts so there’s no reason I can’t at least walk.  I think also if they weren’t there taking care of me, I probably would have dropped, but who knows.   I continued on down to the river, where it was pitch dark except for the moon, stars, and glowsticks to light the path.  There was also some insects making loud clicking sounds (Nerd Alert: they sounded just like a clicking from a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Riker is kidnapped in his sleep and transported to an operating table in a dark room by aliens who communicate with that sound…well… that’s what it sounded like, granted it’s probably been ten years since I’ve seen it).  It was kind of eerie but peaceful too knowing nothing or no one is really around you.  Running with people can be nice, but it is very relaxing to run trails solo at nighttime, and now that the 30k runners were gone the course was thinned out and comfortable.  Felt like I was driving on damn I-10 on the first loop with all the runners passing and such on the fencline.  I continued back up the trail to the fenceline and started to feel better.  I could see headlights in front of me and soon started passing one or two people before hitting the aid station along the fence, as now the moon was setting and was a beautiful orange color.  I passed one guy who seemed either incoherent or talking in a foreign language, I couldn’t tell.  The next stretch had a couple nice downhills here which I enjoyed since I like running the downhills hard and I was starting to feel great.  I continued on and passed another one or two and was feeling strong, especially considering I was 25+ miles in and honestly this 10 mile stretch might have been the strongest I’ve run in any of my trail races, at least it sure felt like that (I think I counted I passed 5 or 6 people on the 2nd loop which is quite unusual for me in the late stages of a race.).  Normally after 20-25 miles in a race, I am reduced to jogging what I can and mixing in some speed walking… but here I was actually RUNNING !  The temperature was probably down to 85 and the sun was gone, so that probably factored in to my better disposition.

Somewhere along this stretch I came across an armadillo, which I think was surprised when I flashed my light on him and he ran off as did I.  I saw probably half a dozen tiny scorpions or so, but I thankfully didn’t get to know them any better.   I came across one runner here who was doubled over and puked, so I gave him some food and walked with him for a few to make sure he was o.k. Made it to the aid to refuel where I was talking to the aid station volunteer about the carnage and such before one runner I passed came in and said “I want whatever Michael is having!” due to my passing him a couple miles back.  I was flattered and soon after I was properly refueled, headed down the “mountain” and was still feeling really strong but started to slow a bit when I caught up to another younger runner, who I ended up completing the race with.  He wore plaid SHORTS (not running shorts… shorts) and carried a Gatorade bottle in his pocket!  He spirit was great and was good company to talk to.  He knew the guy who won it and is 21 yrs old, ran it in 5:12… insane!  Imagine if the guy actually gets some real experience running trails.  And he also told me he (the one I was running with) was only running 20-30 miles a week…. so maybe I should cut back on my mileage, huh? We continued back up the hill, which was much tougher and slower than the first time through, to the last aid station (the pipe aid station which you hit twice).  The incoherent/foreign talker was sitting there when I arrived, and apparently it was english he was speaking before.  I guess that was just a rough stretch but it was nice he was better since the volunteers said he camped out there for a good while (and I’m pretty sure I saw him and the puker finish).

Leaving the last main aid station, we had an hour and twenty minutes to run the last ~6 miles of the course and get under 9 hours, which at this point was my goal.  I ran the course in 9:04 last year, so this was a nice target, and running a 10k in an hour twenty is easy right?  Well the first 3-4 miles were quite good, but my energy level was quickly crashing.  I think I needed to eat more because I was just running out of gas and could barely walk much faster than a crawl the last mile, but thankfully the guy I was running with pulled me along to the finish.  It served me right, it was my fault for not eating enough before we left but I guess I thought I could just tough it out.  My light was getting pretty dim so I had to spend a minute or two changing it out, which I didn’t really want to do since we were so close, but I was starting to trip more frequently (and also, the expensive energizer batteries were not worth double the price… they didn’t last twice as long so I will go for the cheaper option next time…).  As I changed out the batteries I noticed my hands were finally getting pretty sweaty.  The humidity is significantly lower in the hill country than in the swamp of Houston;  many others said the humidity was “high” but never once did I hear any sloshing in my shoes as is the normal case on a long (or even on a not-so-long) morning run in Houston.  We continued and once we saw the finish line a couple hundred yards away and could hear the cheers lure us in, we sprinted and my official time was 9:05:19, which is about 40 seconds slower than last year.  Amazing I can run for 9 hours…37 miles…and the time is almost exactly the same.  This time I sort of damn near ran a negative split too were it not for cratering at the end;  first lap was 4:20 and second was 4:45 however the second lap includes about 15 minutes of sitting between the two loops.  So all in all, not too bad.  The Suffer Index was high on the first lap but thankfully was much lower on the second to make a for a decent performance.

Once I finished I sat down, Joe gave me my medal and shook my hand, and I ate some pringles but I was just nauseous and tired.  After 10 minutes or so I started getting really light headed and more nauseous, so I alerted a runner who was kind enough to wait on me and brought a tarp where I laid down for probably a good 30 minutes, cooling off and trying not to pass out.  Dang, the things we do to ourselves.  And pay money for it too.  I’m sure I wasn’t exactly the most attractive spectacle there but I didn’t care and I was content to be done, just lying there cooling off and listening to their stories.  A banana and some Ensure from another wonderful runner helped with my hunger and as quickly as I felt bad, I was back to feeling normal again…well, as normal as you can feel after traveling 37 miles on foot.  On to the last one in the series in 3 weeks at Muleshoe!