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! 


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