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!

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2 Responses

  1. great race report! It always interests me to hear of the ups and downs that people go through in an ultra. 2 down, 1 to go!

  2. […] “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.” – by ultra tourtoise @ A Trail Runner’s Running blog […]

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