Monday, November 19, 2012

2012 Wild Hare 50 Mile Race Report

Since I started my first Ultra back in April at Hells Hills 50K, my goal for the year has been to complete the Wild Hare 50 Mile Ultra-Marathon in late November.  The 7 and half months between Hells Hills and Wild Hare would provide the time I felt I needed to tackle a distance that I never imagined myself completing just a year ago.  The danger of trail running is too much of it, too soon.  Either people will come into the Ultra and Trail running scene lured by the extreme challenge of tackling ever longer distances, become inspired by a book (it was “Born to Run” for me), or get dragged out onto the trails by their friends; they’ll soon discover a friendly and sociable atmosphere of passionate runners, the rugged and beauty of Nature as they run through it, and the euphoria of completing physically and mentally demanding Ultras...and then they’ll want more.   

I’m amazed at the torrid schedule of Ultras some people pursue, or new runners to Ultras propensity to tackle ever greater distances as quickly as they can...I’m not one of them or try not to be, in any case.  I tend to be cautious and methodical in my pursuits, as cautious as one can be throwing themselves at punishing Ultras anyway, my plan was to build a base of smaller Ultras in the 50K-60K range till I felt confident enough that I can handle a 50 mile distance injury free.  Besides being cautious by nature, I had a past lengthy knee injury, where I’ve mention in my previous blog entries, that I constantly worried would flare up again stopping my running cold.  With pursuing Ultras becoming such an obsession of mine all year, it seemed all my confidence in life was held hostage to a gimpy left knee.  So with all these worries in mind, instead of jumping to the 50 mile distance as soon as I could after completing my first 50K, I gave myself enough time to pursue the 50 mile goal gradually, but not too much time in order to keep me on my toes training wise.

It would take me 5 months of toiling mile after mile over the dreadful Summer months in Texas (Texas summers pretty much last from March to September these days), before I felt ready to even sign up for Wild Hare 50 Mile.  The biggest difference for me was adopting a 5 day running schedule back in July that emphasized back to back long runs over the weekends; I had impulsively signed up for the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile endurance run out of fear that the race would sell out (it sold out two weeks later), and quickly looked up a 100-Mile training schedule at the UltraLadies Running Club website.  The back to back long runs helped to combat fatigue in the later stages of an Ultra, and I first felt it’s effect at Reveille Ranch 60K.  Reveille Ranch, a Capt’n Karl’s Night-Time Trail running event, was a defining run for me; I emerged from 10 hours of making my way through 37.2 miles of rough and very technical terrain feeling almost like an actual Ultra-Runner for the first time.  Most importantly, during the last 5 miles or so of RR60K my legs weren’t completely dying of fatigue, I probably could have gone on for another half dozen miles after the race.  I finally felt ready for a 50 just don’t get cocky.

The Cactus Rose 100 & 50 Mile Race in October was fast approaching, many of my friends were attending, and I was eager to get a 50 Miler done and focus on Rocky Raccoon 100 exclusively.  After many weeks of wavering, Cactus Rose’s brutally tough reputation was enough to scare me off in the’s important for new trail runners to note that not all Ultra’s are made equal, pick and choose your battles wisely.  I had enough of technical races over the summer anyway, and wanted races with more forgiving terrain to give my feet a break from the pounding.  So I signed up for Whispering Pines 50K instead, a quite pleasant romp through the gorgeous Pine-needle forest of Tyler State Park was exactly what I needed; after doing quite well at WP50K, I may have gotten a bit too cocky and signed up for Rocky Raccoon 50K (or as it is unofficially known as “Lil’ Rocky”) held just two weeks before Wild Hare.  In between Whispering Pines and Rocky Raccoon, I was logging 50+ mile weeks with little rest, my 100 mile training schedule was ramping up quickly, and I couldn’t afford to take time off to taper.  Rocky Raccoon 50K was just going to be training run, take it easy and have fun I told myself...with that said, I set a PR at the 50K distance at Rocky Raccoon of 6:12 Hrs.  

I was personally thrilled at the strong performance at Rocky Raccoon 50K, I have never ran so effortlessly during the last 3 miles of an Ultra; I managed to run down a dozen other runners at the end, instead of being the one who gets passed up, which is a nice ego booster.  For that brief moment of glory, I would worry terribly over the next two weeks that I may have over-extended myself and jeopardize my chances at Wild Hare.  I tapered for the last two weeks before Wild Hare, but my legs never felt loose and remained pretty stiff.  There’s no backing out now though, Wild Hare 50 Mile has been my goal for nearly 9 months, I would just have to trust in myself that all the training and experience at running Ultras I’ve gained up until now would carry me through 50 if only I could get to the race in the first place.

I got up at 12:30 AM that Saturday morning on race day (I somehow managed 5 hours of sleep the night before) and started the normally 4 hour drive from Dallas to Warda, Tx where Wild Hare was being held.  For a guy that’s quite interested in reading up about technology, I’m quite the luddite, with no Smartphone (I refuse to buy into phone companies monopoly I tell myself) or a standalone GPS device, I resorted to printing out the directions to the race using Google Maps.  The driving directions turned out to be horribly wrong, sending me speeding every which direction to find Route US-77 and making frantic phone calls to my friend, who was also running that day, for directions on how to get there.  I planned to arrive over an hour early to the race, being able to meet new people and socialize with friends I only get to see in person at these races is something I highly look forward to; instead I arrived over half an hour late, immediately jumped out of my car and started racing as soon as I picked up my Bib number and racing chip.

I burst out of the gate pretty hard, all thoughts of conserving myself for later in the race went out the window after arriving over half an hour late.  For the first 6 and half miles I was clocking in 9-10 minute miles over rocky terrain in a twisty-turny section through the woods known as “the Intestines”; I was being reckless in my pace and quickly payed for it when I awkwardly stepped on a rock and sustained a painful foot bruise I would have to deal with for the rest of the 43 miles or so I had to go.  As always, I was wearing my pair of Vibram Five-Finger Spyridon trail shoes, while providing decent rock protection for being slipper thin “foot gloves”, you still have to be very cautious about rocky terrain; flying down a trail and stepping on a giant pointy rock is not advisable wearing Vibrams.  I didn’t think Wild Hare would be too technical, compared to some of my previous Ultras it’s not, but there are a fair amount of loose rocks through the Intestines part; not thinking it would be too technical I left my heavy Altra Lone Peaks at home, in hindsight, it’s better to be safe than sorry...aching foot or not, it’ll be Vibrams all the way for 50 miles.

The Wild Hare course is divided into two sections the Intestines part, 50 milers do this part twice only on the first of 6 laps, and the second half, which is mercifully a lot less technical, but is where the majority of the climbs will take place.  After the first two trips through the Intestines I settled down quickly to conserve my energy for the long run, as well as to rest my aching bruised foot.  The second half of the course is definitely a lot more diverse and enjoyable than the first, here you’ll run through open fields, past grazing Livestock (cattle, longhorns, and horses), through and up steep switchback trails carved from sheer cliffs, up one long and creeky bridge over a stream that for some reason reminded me of Indiana Jones, through the camping area where you’ll get cheers from people relaxing with beers in hand, and finally straight through a Barn on your way to the finishing area.  A very memorable section the first couple times through, but you’ll be dreading the steep climbs on your 4th, 5th, and 6th trips.

Things were not going well for me at the start of the race to say the least, first was not arriving to the race on time to warm-up properly, then starting out way too quickly and recklessly, after the 2nd loop I started to question myself repeatedly if my legs were strong enough for 50 miles because of racing Rocky Raccoon 50K only two weeks earlier, and I didn’t properly plan out my Gel intake throughout the race.  For gels I just relied on taking one every time I hit an aid station, which was not enough to last me between the 4 and half miles apart from the remote and main aid station at the finishing area (there are only these two aid stations).  After the fourth loop and 34 and half miles later, I started feeling depleted, my quads were getting absolutely trashed and stiff, and while my foot wasn’t aching as much from the earlier bruise they were getting numb all over.  Someone asked me how I was doing after the 4th loop and I may have gotten a bit hysterical rambling about all the problems I encountered that day.  This is where the thoughts of dropping from the race started creeping in louder and louder, and it would be so easy to quit at Wild Hare too.  The way the aid stations are set up between the two sections of the course, the remote aid station is just literally a few hundred feet away from the main aid station.  Each infuriating trip through the ridiculously twisty Intestines after the 4th loop will make you want to drop when you can see the finishing area right across from you.  The five times you cross the finish line before actually finishing the 50 mile race will wear down your resolve to keep going.  Wild Hare may not be the most punishing Ultra in terms of elevation gain and rough and technical terrain, but it is by far the most punishing race mentally that I’ve done so far.  

The two things I hadn’t encountered all day was cramping or knee pain; I was taking Endurolytes regularly and S-Caps when it got hotter in the day, so no matter how beat up I felt, as long as if I weren’t cramping or having serious knee pain (what I’m most paranoid about), I resolved to keep going forward.  No matter how miserable I felt at times, I would be even more miserable afterwards if I hadn’t achieved the goal I set out to accomplish 9 months earlier.  So, I started getting the hell out of the aid stations as quickly as possible (the aid station volunteers were also great at encouraging you to keep going as well), the chairs lying around were like siren songs inviting me to their warm embrace.  I started taking Gels between aid stations that provided a noticeable effect on my energy levels.  My feet were still killing me, the larger rocks became like minefields to step on after 40 miles, but after multiple trips through the same course, you can practically name all the rocks that have given you trouble before (Damn you George, you snuck up on me for the last time!) and avoid them; I’ve also learned to block out pain from all the previous technical Ultras I’ve done up till now.  While I was going nowhere near the 9-10 min/mile pace I started out, I was rocking a steady 14-15 min/mile pace for the last three loops.  

By the time I got to the last loop, I may have been running on fumes by that point, but that familiar determination to finish an Ultra took hold and powered me through.  Even though I started over half an hour late, a Sub-12 Hr finish was still within reach, I just needed to stick my pace on auto-pilot and keep going.  It was 4pm by the time I started the last loop, the temperature was beginning to drop from a high in the 70s so that certainly helped as well.  Also, some guys I had met on the trail were on my tail for most of the last loop, and I was determined to keep ahead of them.  Knowing you’re only a few miles to the finish frees you from all the doubts and second guessing that occurs in an Ultra, of whether you’ll have enough left in the tank at the end; it liberates you from the nagging pain that you’ve been carrying for the last dozen miles or so, because you feel like you can put up with anything for just a few miles longer.  Leave everything on the trail on the finishing push, if your body is not completely broken down the day after, you hadn’t tried hard enough.

I pushed ahead to a Sub-12 Hr finish with an official time of 11:49 Hrs, correcting for my late start, my actual running time is probably around 11:18 Hrs though; the thought crossed my mind that I could take it easy for 30 minutes and still “finish” under 12 hours, but after such a rough start and incredibly long day, I wanted the official recognition badly enough to fight for it with every last step.  I crossed the finish line triumphantly with a loud “whoooo”, then collapsed on the nearest chair I could find.  I’m very thankful for all the help I received at the end of my race from the Volunteers there; almost immediately after finishing my body became very numb and I was shivering uncontrollably, a lady there gave me her jacket, grabbed me a hot Vege-burger, and was very attendant...which is kinda embarrassing for me since I’m not too use to that, so a special thanks to her.  

Some would say you’re not a real Ultra-Runner until you have completed your first 50 miler, and I kinda have to agree with that notion, though I would not in any way disparage a proud first time 50K finisher of that title.  I felt more like a Marathon+ runner up until this point, there is just a world of difference in terms of dedication and suffering one has to go through, leaping from a 50K to a 50M distance race, it’s not even close.  I absolutely dread what it is going to take, physically, mentally, and emotionally the toll to pay to go even further to a 100K, 100M, and eventually onto Mountain Ultras, but after experiencing my first 50 miler...I want more.  

On a side observation, I saw so many Hoka One One’s on the trail that day, they are steadily taking over the Ultra-Running scene, it seemed like every other person I met had a pair of Hokas on.  The sense of envy of watching runners in Hoka’s flying past me and stomping on rocks without a care in the world, while I had to dance, side-step, and carefully make my way through the rockier sections, grew agonizingly worse with each trip through the Intestines.  My Kingdom for a pair of Hokas I wanted to cry out at one point...*shrug* Yes, I still love my Vibrams and can be stubborn as a mule insisting on running with them.  Here’s looking forward to conquering all 100 miles of Rocky Raccoon in my trusty pair of Vibrams!


Sunday, October 14, 2012

2012 Whispering Pines 50K Race Report

I spent the hot Summer months throwing my body, feet first, against technical and punishing Ultras, stumbling around in the darkness of the Capt’n Karl’s night-time Trail racing series, and beating my feet and stubbing my toes all along the way in Vibram Five-Finger Spyridon Trail shoes; I’m lucky I survived those tough courses with all my toes intact.  Trail running has not always been the bucolic jaunts through picturesque forest and nature that I imagined before getting into it.  Surely, there’s been moments of beautiful scenery in all of the Trail races I’ve taken part in, but most of the time I’m looking downward to keep myself from stepping on all the rocks and dodging root snakes to notice it; or in the case of the Capt’n Karl events, the races are held at night. Of course, I’m not running Ultras primarily for the scenery, the challenge of taking on tough courses is part of the appeal; keeping balance while flying downhill on rough terrain, trashing your quads on steep uphill climbs, and praying you have enough in the tank to make it to the end of an Ultra is a challenge I revel in.  Whispering Pines 50K held at Tyler State Park in Texas, was the change of pace I was looking for in an Ultra when compared to my previous ones, with easy on your feet trails to run on, beautiful environments to run through, and a challenging course to conquer.

Whispering Pines 50K was my fourth Ultra in 6 months, a training run to gauge how much progress I’ve made before I move onto the goal I’ve been really aiming for all year, Wild Hare 50 Mile in November.  Being a training run, I didn’t come into the race expecting to put on a strong performance, I hadn’t even tapered as much as I normally did for my previous Ultras.  Two weeks out, I ran 57 miles, the most that I have ever ran in a week, that left my legs completely trashed and while dialing it down to 30 miles the week before the race, I decided it would be a good idea that weekend for some punishing hill training at Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve; spending both Saturday and Sunday with 11 mile trips that had me climbing around +1,600ft each.  I wanted to see if I progressed to the point where I can get away with a light tapering period for a 50K distance race, 3 days till the race I worried if I would be able to finish it at all with how my legs were feeling.

WP50K would just be a training run, finishing without injury would be my goal I kept reminding myself right before the actual start...not that that ever does any good.  I blew past the first of three 10.33 mile loops in what is for me a blistering time of 1:54 hrs; I had been tagging along with a small band of 10-11 min/mile runners for most of the first loop with little regard to pacing myself for later in the race.  I was feeling a lot better than expected when I started, spending the last few days before the race walking for a couple miles each day helped to loosen up my legs a lot, and all the hill workouts I did the week before left my legs feeling strong climbing the uphills.  Then there are the trails themselves, nicely groomed pine-needle covered single track trails, while having quite a lot of roots to dance around, there was only a few rocks to worry about (nothing my Vibrams couldn’t comfortably handle), making the trails particularly fast and fun to fly through.  What started out as a simple training run, after seeing how well I did at the end of the first loop, ended up quickly being a race to see if I can best my first 50K finish time of 6:36 Hrs at Hells Hills 50K back in April.

I was starting to feel the effects of going out too quickly at the start of the race shortly into the 2nd loop, suddenly I started noticing all the hills I was blazing past in the first loop, over 900 ft elevation gain per loop, and fell over a minute behind on my pacing.  It was the pace I probably should have been running anyway, and it was a sign I needed to start taking things more conservatively.  I was struggling a bit to even keep up that slower pace, until I finally caught up with a friend who was having problems himself; misery loving company and all, we ended up running together the last half of the second loop.  Finishing the second loop with the time of 4:09 Hrs, I didn’t have much room for error if I wanted to beat my Hells Hills 50K finish time; bidding my friend goodbye at the starting area aid station, I started what would turn out to be a gauntlet of a third loop.

For around a dozen miles or so this lady has been on my tail, no matter how much I tried to lose her, she would always eventually catch up to me.  I was being chased by the Terminator (helps me sometimes to think I'm being chased by wild animals, Zombies, or killer Robots), even her stride sort of resembled how the T-1000 Liquid Terminator ran in Terminator 2; for the next 7 miles into the third loop, I was desperately trying to keep a comfortable lead ahead of her.  It was nearing Noon by this time, and the Sun was starting to burst through the morning cloud cover, driving up the temperature to the mid 80s; compounded with the already very humid weather, the third loop was a struggle just to keep going at times, every little hill was an excuse to walk.  Around the 6th mile into the third loop my water bottles ran dry (first time running out of fluids the whole race) a mile away till the next aid station, and my left calf muscle started to cramp up.  I had no choice but to slow down, and surely enough, the Terminator Lady passed me by around the 7th mile...after around 20 miles of chasing me.  I still had a small but comfortable margin to break my Hells Hills 50K record though, and that was enough to keep myself from taking it easy for the last 3 or so miles

Not only did I break my Hells Hills 50K record, I found the reserve the last few miles to haul my butt to finish in just under 6 and half hours (officially 6:29:17 Hr), a new 50K PR made all the more impressive considering Hells Hills 50K had half as much elevation gain!  I’m more confident than ever now after this race that I can handle my first 50 miler at Wild Hare in November.  I feel that I’ve been making significant progress ever since I started my 1st 50K Ultra in April, so it’s great to see my efforts in training so hard over the summer validated with a strong finish at Whispering Pines 50K. I’m also very thankful for this race for letting me discover the beauty that is Tyler State Park.  The trails running through lush and cavernous Pine forest areas were breathtakingly beautiful at times, I’m already trying to see when I can next make it out there again for a training run; Tyler State Park is a gem out in the middle of nowhere, I will definitely be back next year for this race!

Monday, September 3, 2012

2012 Capt'n Karl's Reveille Ranch 60K Race Report

Granite, granite, everywhere, but not a diamond tipped buzz-saw around to cut them into a kitchen countertop to be my one sentence summary of Reveille Ranch 60K.  I hesitated a good deal signing up for the 60K portion of the Capt’n Karl’s Night-time trail run series at Reveille Ranch, my experience of beating my feet against the rocks and huge granite domes earlier in May at the Pandora BoX of RoX Marathon, held in the same venue, was not exactly pleasant.  Running in Vibram Five Finger Spyridon trail shoes, my feet couldn’t withstand the punishment on the granite domes and loose rocks scattered throughout the course at Pandora, coupled with the baking heat of May, I called it a day after only finishing half of the Marathon I signed up for.  So I had to ask myself did I really want to subject myself to a three loop 60K version of the race held at night?  Yes, yes I do...did I also mention that I can be a bit of a Masochist at times?

After a great experience running Pedernales Falls 60K a couple months earlier, I was itching for another Ultra to test myself against, not to mention another Tejas Trail event, which holds fun and challenging Ultras year round.  There were two other Capt’n Karl Trail races held in between Pedernales Falls and Reveille Ranch (Mule Shoe Bend and Colorado Bend), but I’m nowhere near the point in my running (I have only done two ultras at this point) where my legs can withstand (punishingly technical) Ultra’s on a monthly basis.  While recovering from Pedernales Falls, I mulled on whether to take on Reveille Ranch 60K for months; yes, Pandora kicked my ass earlier in May, but it wasn’t under the best of circumstances.  Pandora was held only a month after my first Ultra at Hells Hills 50K, I signed up partly out of impatience of wanting to attend another Trail race and maybe even a bit of cockiness in my surety of being able to handle “only” a Marathon after just finishing up 50K.  Frankly, I wasn’t experienced enough to know my own body's limits, and I was nowhere near ready to handle the heat of running in 90+ degree weather under a brutal Sun...Pandora was a valuable learning experience in any case.

My feet were getting a lot tougher since Pandora, since then, I managed to survive a fairly technical Ultra in Pedernales Falls and some other technical Trail races and courses with my Vibrams pretty well...I was developing Hobbit feet from all my Trail running; also, I’ve been running all throughout Summer and have been becoming more acclimated to the heat.  With my legs fully recovered from Pedernales Falls and more thoroughly trained, it was time I tested myself even further at Reveille Ranch 60K; not without precaution though, I bought a pair of Altra Lone Peaks as a back-up shoe incase I couldn’t handle the entire course with my Vibrams.  I bought the Altra’s out of a last minute panic, and they didn’t arrive till a week before the race, so I was only able to put in 6 miles with the shoes...thankfully, I didn’t need them.  

Out of inexperience and little knowledge of the course at the Pandora Marathon, I started out way too fast, and crashed and burned on the hill climbs, granite domes, and withering heat of the course; for Reveille Ranch, I had a plan, mainly run as lightly as I possibly could over the granite sections, walk all the major uphill sections, and make up as much time as I could on the more runnable dirt sections of the trail. For those unfamiliar with Vibrams and minimalist shoes, they promote running with “barefoot mechanics”, running lightly and efficiently while landing on your forefoot and avoiding striking the ground with your heels; like the mantra of the late and great Ultra Marathoner, Caballo Blanco, “Run Easy. Run Light. Run Smooth.”.  Running in this manner, while I personally believe is the best way to run, is easier said than done, especially over Ultra distances.  Running in Vibrams and other minimalist shoes, can be very taxing to the inexperienced Runner on their feet, calves, and quads because with little to no cushion on these shoes, you have to maintain proper “barefoot mechanics” at all times, in order to protect your feet from damage, but at a cost of seriously working out your calves and quads in order to absorb all the extra shock.  It could take some people up to half a year or more to fully transition to minimalist shoes, thankfully I already had a couple years of road experience with my Vibrams, but trails and Ultras are a different beast altogether.  During my first two Ultras, I wasn’t conditioned enough to keep my barefoot form over Ultra distances and would often shuffle my feet out of fatigue late into races, resulting in kicked rocks, falls, and even more painful feet.  With more training and experience, I resolved to keep up my barefoot form all-throughout Reveille Ranch, especially on the tough granite sections.  The plan worked for the most part, enough to see me through three punishing loops over the granite domes, but the trail often had precarious footing on the granite and more technical sections, that was made even more challenging to navigate at night with headlamps.  

As for my other two parts of the plan, walking all the major uphill sections and take advantage of the smoother dirt sections, the course, with around 1,000ft elevation gain per loop, only had a few major uphill sections; so instead of a few long sustained climbs, you’re faced with lots of small up and down climbs.  Most of the small climbs occur on the smoother dirt sections as well, so I was faced with the dilemma of whether I should walk these short uphills or run them because they were the most runnable and least technical sections of the course.  On the first loop of the course I started out walking the short climbs, with the reason that I was conserving energy for the 2nd and 3rd loops, but with so many frequent up and down climbs it was hard to get into a rhythm by interrupting my run with walks all the time, so I ended up running most of the way on the first loop, finishing it in under 3 hours.  As much as people try to pace themselves conservatively during the start of a race, it’s hard not to go out quickly with the stampeding herd of people all around you; it’s the only time you really get to run with a mass of people during these trail races, before everyone gets separated and it can get surprisingly isolating...especially at night.  

During the first hour of the race when there was still daylight, this is perhaps my favorite race photo that I have.

Fresh legs, daylight for most of the first loop, and getting caught up in the atmosphere of excitement that accompanies the start of every race, had me finishing the first loop quicker than I expected, would I have to pay for it on the second and third loops?  Thankfully, not as much I feared, with only a difference of around 30-40 minutes when comparing the times between my 2nd and 3rd loops to my 1st.  As I said earlier, once everyone spreads out, it can get isolating in the later stages of an Ultra, where you’ll probably see one person every 30 minutes or so on the course.  It’s a challenge of keeping motivated enough to push the pace and not fall into contentment when you’re alone and feeling fatigued; what helped to continue pushing myself to get through the second loop was chatting with random runners I met on the trail and playing the game of Hunter and Prey out there in the woods.  Whenever I heard footsteps behind me and looked back to see someone’s headlamps making their way towards me, I would be the Prey and try to avoid being caught as long I possibly could; vice versa if I spotted someone ahead of me I would go in Hunter mode and try to run them down like a deer.  For a lot of the second loop, I was playing this Hunter/Prey game with a lady that made loud jingling sounds as she ran.  We would yo-yo back and forth a lot, every time I heard her jingles behind me, I would make like a frightened deer and try to hold out as long as possible.  When I heard her jingles ahead of me in the distance, I would become fixated in Hunter mode to chasing it down; I probably got through half of the second loop playing this game before I eventually lost her.

By the midway point in the second loop, I was really starting to feel the granite pounding away against my Vibrams, it was especially tough at night trying to run lightly and quickly against granite that was roughly textured with large folds and crooks running every which way.  I started to curse my Vibrams and wonder why I so stubbornly insist on running these highly technical and rough courses with them, there’s probably a reason why I was practically THE ONLY ONE who was running in them for the 60K!  I was really considering switching them out for the Altra Lone Peaks for the 3rd loop, until my foot twisted and slipped inside a crack in the granite that sent me tumbling to the ground on top of it.  With any other shoe, I probably would have suffered a severe ankle sprain or broken it at worst, instead my foot just conformed to the crack in the ground and I was up and running with no sign of a sprain whatsoever.  With the Vibram Spyridons, you’re only 6.5mm off the ground, with no thick sole, it’s almost impossible to roll your ankle, even against the most uneven and rough terrain.  I decided to complete the race in my Vibrams no matter what after that incident, as for the pounding, I more or less blocked out the pain from the granite and rocks and made even more of a commitment to keeping a good and light running form.

Sometime during the night...

While I felt there was still a lot of life left in my legs after nearly 25 miles of rough trails finishing the second loop, the real test begins on the third loop; during Pedernales Falls 60K a few months earlier, my legs felt like they were ready to fall off after 30 something miles...I couldn’t risk that happening on the unforgiving granite of Reveille Ranch.  I focused more on nutrition and keeping my electrolytes up, with gels, an S-Cap, and three Endurolytes roughly every 3 and half miles; this seemed to have really worked in keeping my fatigue levels down in the later stages of the race.  Shortly into the 3rd loop, I finally caught up with my friend Marcos and ended up running with him most of the way and eventually finished together.  Having someone to run and talk with definitely helped out a lot in blocking out pain and keeping things mentally together; I didn’t quite feel the moments of panic and paranoia in the darkness of night like I did in Pedernales Falls because of it.  The going was slower on this third trip over the granite domes, fatigue was catching up, pain was multiplying, and to top it all off my headlamp was growing dimmer making the terrain even trickier to traverse.  I was growing less and less confident of finishing the race in under 10 hours and started to throttle back the pace with the goal getting out of reach.  My Garmin stopped working and I had no sense of where I was distance wise, reaching the second to last aid station was also the longest trip between aid stations, made all the more frustrating when you’re already 30 miles into the race.

When we hit the second to last aid station, coming in I figured we still had 6 miles to go, and with only an hour and 20 minutes much for a sub 10hr finish.  Then the aid station volunteer informed me that we only had less than 5 miles to go...something inside me clicked, a second, or third...maybe even a fourth wind by this time was discovered and I took off trying to reach this goal.  Shortly after leaving the aid station, I dropped Marcos when we caught up with a friend of his and he stayed back to walk with him.  The next 2-3 miles were the least technical sections of the course, so that certainly helped, but I was running as fast as if I was only starting out the race.   I was starting to smell the barn and kept pushing the pace...until I hit the last stretch of rough granite that absolutely killed all the momentum I had built up earlier.  With my headlamps (wore one on my head and another on my waist) growing even dimmer so late into the race, I was pretty much forced to a crawl over this last extended stretch of winding granite.  I reached the last aid station, one and quarter miles to the finish, with only 10 minutes to under 10 hour finish was officially out of reach.  Dejected, I was going to walk and slow run it to the finish, when Marcos finally caught up with me around a mile to go, we decided to finish strong, and crossed the finish line together at 10:06 Hrs.

On the home stretch, you’ll come out of the woods to a beautiful lit up site of the Reveille Ranch Pavilion from across a small lake; after some 36 miles of running, this is most stunning and welcoming sight you’ll ever see.  As much as I cursed the granite domes all through my run, running across them under a moonlit night can be a surreal experience at times; at the very top of the granite dome, it seemed as if I were running on the surface of the Moon itself...  Reveille Ranch 60K was a very challenging experience, a race I probably wouldn’t want to tackle again for a good long while (oh yes, I am so sick of granite!), but it has been the most rewarding of the three Ultra’s I’ve completed so far.  With this race in the bag, I’m a lot more confident in tackling my next distance feat, bring on Cactus R.....wait, make that Wild Hare 50 Mile! 


Monday, June 25, 2012

2012 Capt'n Karl's Pedernales Falls 60K Race Report

I came into this race full of anxiety, a week before Capt'n Karl's Pedernales Falls 60K, my left knee was acting up again, the same knee that got injured after my 2010 Dallas White Rock Marathon finish that limited my running for 6 months to 5 miles or less.  My worries concerning my left knee was enough to make me not want to show up to the race that day, but I trained pretty hard for this run (maybe I overdid it by climbing 50 flights of stairs nearly everyday on my lunch hour...) and didn’t want to be a no show; so I gave having to run with my sparingly used Cho-Pat Dual Action Knee strap a chance and was out there on race day.  The Cho-Pat knee strap takes some getting use to, but isn’t very noticeable after you get a few miles in, and if things didn’t work out, I could always drop from the 60K to the 30K I told myself.

I arrived at the Pedernales Falls State Park at 5pm and stepped out to scorching near 100 degree weather, if my knee problems couldn’t keep me away from this race, just spending 30 minutes in this heat almost made me want to drop from the race right there and then!  I had spent some time with heat training leading up to this race (a few 20+ milers in  80+ degree heat), but admittedly not for weather this hot, Badwater was not exactly something I was training for, mind you.  Weather was forecasted to drop into the 70s at night though, and the temps had already started dropping by the 7pm start time; a couple more hours running in the heat was definitely something I can handle (at least I needed to tell myself that, I worry too much about less than ideal conditions). 

One of the main reasons why I love trail runs is to be close to nature and enjoy some spectacular views along the way; one and half miles into the race you’ll cross over a field of boulders running along the Pedernales River, offering the most scenic view of the race you’re going to get, because the next 4 or 5 miles is ran in a straight, gradually inclined, line next to a wired fence that seemingly never ends.  By the time you clear this section, the sun has already gone down and being a Night series run, you probably weren’t expecting much in the way of views anyway, right?  As it turns out, the view is much spectacular later on for us city dwellers, but I’ll get to that part of the race further into this report.

The 60K two-loop course is pretty runnable for the most part, perhaps around two-thirds of the trail is mainly dirt and light rocks that aren’t too hard on your feet; however the other third of the trail can be very technical (rocky) with slippery rocks, interspersed throughout the course,  that can be quite treacherous in the dead of night.  Wearing Vibram Five-Finger Spyridon trail shoes, my feet took a beating in the latter half of the course where it was most technical; I was practically stumbling around like a drunken sailor in the dark since I couldn’t see very well with a weak headlamp during my first loop (don’t expect a cheap $20 headlamp will cut it when it comes to a tough trail run, btw). 

The left knee that I came into the race so worried about was doing finer than I expected, I felt no discomfort with my knee strap on, 12 miles into the race, however, my right knee (the good one that I’ve had little problems with) started acting up painfully.  The pain was enough to make me really consider settling with a 30K finish instead of the full 60K.  I had already settled for a half finish earlier in May at Pandora’s BoX of RoX Marathon and didn’t want to drop to the half this time so easily.  My goal this year is to complete my first 50 miler in November at Wild Hare and maybe go on to complete Rocky Raccoon 100M next February.  After my first 50K finish at Hells Hills, however, my training has been rather lackluster and unmotivated; combined with dropping from a full to a half Marathon finish at Pandora, I was putting too much pressure on myself to complete Pedernales Falls 60K, if I couldn’t finish this race, my confidence in training for and completing a 50 miler would have taken a serious hit.  A month leading up to the race, I was logging some heavy 50-60 mile training weeks, combined with climbing 50-60 flights of stairs a day during my lunch hour at work...I was making the rookie mistake of over-training (still quite new to trail running and Ultras), which probably led to my knees being funked up a week before the race.  The pain that was developing on my right knee was too great to try and ignore and tough it out for the race though, so risking my left knee acting up again, I switched the knee strap to my right knee and hoped for the best that both of them will see me through the race. 

I finished the first loop of the course meeting my goal of keeping it under 4 hours at 3:46hrs, and my knees, while still feeling a bit wobbly and discomforting, was holding up together well enough when I switched the knee strap.  After 30 kilometers, there was still a good spring in my step, despite the beating my feet took stumbling around in the dark; I was also doing well keeping my energy up with Endurolytes, S-caps, and gels (taking one a piece every half hour).  I quickly grabbed my back-up handheld flashlight (which helped a lot with navigating the rockier portions of the trail) from my drop bag and some more gels and headed out to start my second loop in earnest. 

The difference between the first loop and second loop was like night and day...well, literally, considering there’s daylight for most of the first loop, but in terms of a race atmosphere, the 2nd loop is quite an isolating affair.  I came across less than a dozen other runners throughout the entire 2nd loop, running for the most part in isolation and utter darkness, save for the shiny dot ahead of me to illuminate the way.  For the first half of my second loop, I paced for a bit with people I met along the way for company, but eventually either they or I was too slow to keep up and I would continue on my way alone.  The course was marked pretty well for the most part, but there was some long stretches where you couldn’t spot a marker for what seemed like forever (in reality, probably 5-10 minutes depending on pace); when you’re 30 something miles into the race and exhausted, it’s easy to start feeling a bit panicked and lost in the all consuming darkness around you.  I imagine this feeling of panic and paranoia will be greatly magnified if I ever go for a 100 miler, it reminded me of the section I read in “Born to Run” where people started seeing hallucinations and going a bit crazy being that long into a run (something I definitely can’t wait to experience, btw).

There was beauty in the darkness though if you happened to take your eyes off of the bobbing glowing dot on the ground for a moment and look up above you to the sky; as I mentioned earlier, the other spectacular view will await you later on in the race.  Being a city dweller, I have only seen the Milky Way once in my entire life, one of the main reasons why I wanted to run Pedernales Falls was an excuse to go far out into the countryside away from the city lights and marvel at the stars once again.  Somewhere along the way when I was dead tired of running, I finally remembered to look up and enjoy the magnificent view of the Milky Way.  I stood with my headlamp off for I don’t know how long (which would probably have freaked someone out if they ran into me, eh), just being hypnotized by the beautiful galaxy of stars that inhabits the night sky; enough star gazing though, I had a race to complete and my goal was to finish under 9 hours.

Where I spent most of the first half of the 2nd loop running alone, I was very fortunate to meet some new friends along the way to pace and chat with for around 8 miles till we reached the very last aid station where I was too tired to keep up with them anymore.  By that time, my legs felt so dead and fatigued that if I stood still too long at the aid station it seemed like my legs was about to collapse from under me; pacing with the others helped me forget and fight through the fatigue, now with only 2 and half miles to go it was all up to me drawing up the last bit of my reserves and gritting my way to the finish.  Fortunately, I covered those 8 miles or so pacing with the others in good time and was able to run, shuffle, and walk my way to a finish time of 8:45hrs meeting my goal of going Sub-9.

Finishing so late into the race, most of the runners had already packed up and left, the main party was over by the time I crossed the finish line.  However, I preferred the much more subdued affair at the finish area than what I experienced when I completed the first 30K loop with its loud party atmosphere; it kind of felt like a bunch of old friends chatting around a campfire, enjoying some great hamburgers (Vege-burger for me), and cheering on the rest of the stragglers finishing their 60K races.  The day after the race, which was only my 2nd Ultra 50K and up, my entire body is sore and I can barely walk, but that’s the feeling of accomplishment and I can’t wait to go through that all over again soon.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

2012 Hells Hills 50K Race Report

I hardly slept at all before I got up at 12:30am to make the 4 hour trip from Dallas to Smithville, TX for the Hells Hills 50K Ultra-Marathon Trail Run.  I was a bit afraid of falling asleep behind the wheel during the drive there (I have never driven that far either), but I was wide awake as soon as I made it to Rocky Hill Ranch where the race was being held.  I made it just in time to see the 50 milers start the race, nearly 150 runners bobbing up and down the trail with headlamps makes for a pretty awesome visual, I can only hope to be that crazy come next year.  An hour later would be my start for the 50K portion; a mixture of dread and excitement in competing in my first 50K trail run was washing over me while waiting at the gate counting down to the start.

After completing the Cross Timbers Marathon Trail run a month and half before, I was not very thrilled with my results there.  Cross Timbers was only my second Marathon ever and first Marathon trail run, and coming back from a knee injury that had held my running back to limited miles for as late as July last year, I was severely under-trained for what is described as the “Toughest little Trail in Texas”.  Trail running is something I’ve always wanted to get into after reading “Born to Run” several years back though (R.I.P. Micah True), and when I found out about the race only a month before it was being held, I signed up immediately before fully realizing what I was getting into.  Cross Timbers was definitely an eye-opener for me, it took me over 6 hours to complete a 26.2 mile trail with several thousand feet of seriously steep hill climbs and the extremely muddy situation didn’t make things any easier.  I was amazed, given the less than ideal situation, that the top 4 Marathon finishers completed that same course in under 4 hours!!!  I vowed to do better on my next Marathon trail run, and with Hells Hills a month and half away, I would have my first test.

For Cross Timbers, I ran just over 30 miles a week and practically did no hill training whatsoever (in hindsight, that wasn’t a very good idea); for Hells Hills I bumped up my training to 50 miles per week and added several thousand feet worth of hill training to the mix.  It’s not so easy to automatically bump up your weekly mileage and hill elevation training so dramatically though, and even with all the additional supplements I was taking to cope with it, I was extremely exhausted by the time I started my two weeks of taper before Hells Hills.  Even though I was ratcheting down my mileage significantly during the last two weeks before the race, my legs felt lethargic until just a few days before Hells Hills was to start.

So, while waiting at the gate for the race at Hells Hills to start, taking into mind all my additional training, I was a lot more confident than I was waiting at the start for Cross Timbers; it was, however, my first 50K Trail run and running in temperatures approaching the mid 80s turning the woods into a sauna on the second loop, presented whole new anxieties to worry about.  All my worries and anxieties vanished once the race started though, and it was pretty exciting running in complete darkness for the first hour being surrounded by bobbing headlamps all around me.  I finished my first 25K loop in under 3 hours and at a solid 11 minute pace; two weeks of tapering and cool early morning weather had me breezing through the the first loop.  I was trying to pace myself, but just couldn’t help it, I was navigating the rocks and roots of the rough terrain like a jungle cat with my Vibram Five-Finger Spyridon trail shoes, and all the up and down hills presented little challenge as I finished the first loop...all that changed for the second half.

Given my strong first half performance, I was hoping to beat my Cross Timbers finishing time of 6:17 hrs...I didn’t come close.  The first loop was just a warm-up, the second loop is where the race really begins; the temperature started climbing turning the woods into a sauna and all the energy I felt at the start of the race increasingly melted away at every little hill climb thrown my way.  Suddenly, I was no longer the agile jungle cat making my way through the woods with deadly efficiency, more like a weary deer stumbling over rocks and roots once fatigue started settling in.  Those Vibram Spyridon’s that I love so much for the awesome control and connection to the ground it gives you on the trail, well, I wanted to trade that all away not to feel so much of the rocks anymore after 20 miles or so.  The last five miles past the Tunnel of Pines (loved this aid station the most and thanks for the car wash!) was especially tortuous given all the frequent hill climbs (The Wall and the Grind wasn’t as intimidating as they sounded though), I was walking (and stumbling) more often than not and any hopes of beating my Cross Timbers finish time vanished with all those energy sapping hills at the end; no amount of Roctanes, Endurolytes, or Salt caps (I took 8, 18, and 8 respectively) would have helped, my gas was just spent.  That's when I started repeating the Mantra "Relentless Forward Progress" in my head over and over, and also had that Lord of The Rings theme song "Requiem for a Dream" playing in my head non-stop; it certainly helped push aside the doubts and fatigue for the last few miles and kept me moving forward to a respectable finish.

I passed a handful of 50 milers on their second loop near the end, and just couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor, weary, and Mas Locos souls that they were.  I know I would have seriously questioned myself even attempting a third loop in that heat, but amazingly I saw some of those same folks I passed earlier at the finish line making their way back for what must have surely been a gauntlet of a third loop (something that I'll surely keep in mind if I ever found myself in their position).  All in all, I’m proud of my finish time of 6:36 hrs at Hells Hills, it was my first 50K and I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to train for it after Cross Timbers; I gave the race my all and in the end, that’s all that really matters.  Thanks to Joe, the wonderful Volunteers manning those remote aid stations, and all the runners I met along the trail; I vow to be back next year, and maybe this time it would be for the 50 miler...or not.

An old book review I did for Born to Run

My favorite book lately is definitely "Born to Run", by Christopher McDougall. It's basically an anthropological study on how crucial the ability to run long distances efficiently has been for the development of the modern Human. Believe me, the book is a lot more interesting than that; the book revolves around an Indigenous Tribe of Mexico, the Tarahumara, known for their superhuman abilities to run hundreds of miles for days on end. While studying how the Tarahumara can seemingly run hundreds of miles on flimsy homemade sandals without injury, the Author soon becomes concerned about their plight of extreme poverty and encroaching drug violence on their territory. With the help of an interesting cast of characters the author meets along the way (most notably Caballo Blanco and Scott Jurek), a 50-mile race is held deep in the Copper Canyons of Mexico, pitting the best Ultra-Marathoner's of the United States against the legendary Tarahumara runners, all to raise awareness to their hardships. In between all of this, the author weaves in the anthropology bits and makes a passionate case on why everyone should run because we’re all, as the title suggest, Born to Run!