Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Compulsion, Why I Run

I’ve been completely obsessed lately with the Indie-Rock band “Typhoon” ever since I heard an Interview of the lead singer on NPR, Kyle Morton, where he talked about writing songs dealing with a difficult childhood plagued by illness and coming to grips with the person he is and not what he thought he might become.  Kyle Morton’s story and songs were something that I could identify with and may partially explain the compulsion I have towards running Ultras.  Not to get too personal here, but I had an isolating, difficult, and stressful childhood myself for various reasons that still troubles me to this day, because of this I grew up very introverted and retreated from my life whenever I could into the world of Comic books, novels, games, and movies and television on Fantasy and Science Fiction; there I could escape and aspire to be someone greater.  Life is not a fantasy however, we don’t all get to play the Hero, sometimes you just feel like one of those nameless arrow fodder in those big battle scenes being played out in Lord of the Rings. 

“I found that getting sick, it obliterated any sense of these kind of monumental truths that I had as a kid, that I would grow up and that I would be strong and tall. And that's something, I mean, just on a personal level, I've been trying to come to terms with. Still, sort of this regret or this feeling of loss over a person I never became. And so that's, I mean, that's the only thing I find worthwhile to write about, because not only is it important to me, I think it's a feeling a lot of people can relate to, a sense of wanting to be something and not being able to achieve it.” 

Coming out of college, where I more or less went because I couldn’t figure what else I was supposed to do, I couldn’t find a job right away in my field (being a shy introvert during job interviews was difficult...) and suddenly, after 4-5 years of getting headaches nearly every day studying for one pointless exam after another, I found myself working the nightshift to pay off all the bills, loans, and other debt that had been rapidly accumulating.  To say I was disillusioned with my predicament would’ve been an understatement, and I feel absolutely terrible for all the recent College students that just so happened to graduate during the worst recession since the Great Depression during the past 4-5 years, and now can’t find any meaningful work to pay off their burdensome student loans, and having to put their lives on hold because of it.  I’ve been there, it’s a deep anxiety riddled hole to be stuck in, with more dirt, mud, and shit shoveled onto you every day in the form of ever deepening shame and of debt and interest payments that seem impossible to ever pay off. 

To get through this dark period of my life, I sought to escape reality whenever I could, and developed an addiction many would consider more dangerous than any drug...World of Warcraft.  Outside of this game, my life was a stagnant mess, inside of it, I could be a powerful Warrior going on epic adventures to explore ancient Dungeons and slaying fearsome Dragons; the dichotomy between the two realities couldn’t have been more different.  Like all illusions though, they’re bound to shatter, and after several messy years of working the Nightshift, going back to college off and on again to get an Accounting Degree because I didn’t know what else to do, and trying to stop playing World of Warcraft, I had finally landed a decent job where I could start paying off a mountain of debt and move out of the Folk’s home.

While being a decent job and all, it was still a terribly boring and unfulfilling office job where I dreaded coming in every morning, and wanted to stab myself with a fork at the end of each day from the tedium.  To deal with the stress and the Groundhog Day like aspect of my job, I started running again after several years of hiatus, and partly to get back in shape.  Like I wrote in the Bio section of this Blog, I ran a lot as a Teenager to deal with all the stresses of growing up, I ran to the point of constant dehydration, aching pain, and deliriousness from exhaustion, “Running Myself into a Coma” is not just a clever blog title I made up, it was what I actively sought while running; the closest to passing out I could get during my run, the closer I would come to reaching the state of absolute peace and Nirvana.  I sought this inner peace again while working at that job (switched jobs in the past few years to a better, but still boring office job) and started running again; seeking to become a better runner, I eventually came across the book “Born to Run”, became inspired like never before from it, and have been training for Marathons and Ultras ever since.

I discovered I was born to run Trails and Ultras, the sport combines so many aspects of myself that it almost seemed tailored made for me.  Ultras have the extreme distances that’s able to bring me to utter exhaustion, physical breakdown, and peace that I desperately seek, as a Nature loving Hippie it allows me to explore and feel connected to the beautiful outdoors like never before, it allows this still rather introverted creature to seek out social interaction while still being able to enjoy the feeling of isolation of running through the woods by myself, and most of all, running Ultras can seem like those epic tales of adventure I would get lost in while reading books or playing games, especially 100 milers.  I also discovered I have the OCD mindset in order to be successful at Ultras.

Training for Ultras is like grinding (mindlessly killing weak monsters) for experience points to level up your character in World of Warcraft, while running Ultras are those epic dungeon adventures that puts all your training and skills to the test.  Surviving these dungeons meant that your character is now strong enough to take on even greater challenges, and like Ultras, there’s always something more difficult to test yourself against; the journey to create a stronger character is never over, and it’s utterly addictive.  The process of training for Ultras is probably difficult for even the casual runner to find appealing, such as running 50, 60 or miles per week, running the same trails and roads, and up and down that same hill over and over and over again is comparable to a Hamster running endlessly on their wheel.  I, however, looked upon it as making my character, now myself, ever stronger to be able to take on the newest challenges standing in my way, being able to finish an Ultra was the reward for all that hard work done in training; I also find repetitive training to be rather meditative, as most Runners probably do.

Over the past couple of years, I became completely obsessed with Trails and Ultra’s, having done 17 so far and 5 other trail races of a Marathon distance and under.  Was I just trading one old addiction (gaming) for another in the form of running and competing in Ultras?  There had to be some deeper compulsion driving me towards ever further and more difficult Ultras, constantly risking injuries by running along the knife’s edge of over training and running on increasingly dangerous and technical trails.  When I discovered the band “Typhoon”, their songs just hit me like a ton of bricks, and everything made sense, I was running so much Ultras partly to make up for the many years I lost as a disillusioned youth.  

Lyrics from “Young Fathers”:

“When you're young you're hot
You have your whole life before you
Everyone will adore
You'll grow up, you'll be an astronaut
Or anything you want

What goes up, goes up in flames
And now your choices surround you
And decision confounds you
And you're pacing around the place
Shows you everything you're not”

Lyrics from “Common Sentiments”:

  “As a child I aspired to be a superhero
Now I live with the corpses for the lives I let go
Well I know you all know how these things start to show

I've been trying to make myself better
So I can fare the fare foul weather
I write a song like a prison letter
I write a song maybe to make me feel better
It won't break free my fetters
Singing, "When am I gonna feel better?
I said when am I gonna feel better?
I said when am I gonna feel better?
I have been patient for a long time now
I've been a patient for a long time now
I've been the patient for a long time now
I've been the patient for a long time now
And I will never be a younger man now"

Typhoon’s songs and the interview earlier of Kyle Morton was deeply moving to me, I’m still coming to grips with the person that I wasn’t able to become when I pictured myself as a child, and through running Ultras I’ve been trying to make myself a better, stronger, and more confident person; to be the brave adventurer I was never able to become.  There was a great article on after this year’s Western States was completed, it talked about the healing process people can go through over the course of an Ultra.  While I don’t necessarily believe everyone running Ultras is doing it to fight back against their demons, I genuinely enjoy just running them, everyone has their own reasons for why they do it. 

“As ultrarunners, we are indeed healing from something. But everyone is. With running, we join together and we heal. We join together with our goals and are then more likely to accomplish them. The healing deepens. We join together with our goals and accomplishments in natural spaces, and we further the healing process. It is in this shared practice that we find identity and self worth as humans capable of achieving the seemingly unachievable. At the 2013 Western States 100, I witnessed just that—a tightly bound community joined together in celebration, a brave pod of wilderness stewards committed to goals, to pushing their edge, and to healing in the healthiest of ways.”

After DNF’ing at Cactus Rose 100 this year, I realized I needed to be more mindful of my approach to running Ultras; I just plainly over did it, entering 11 Ultras this year and that’s with spending a good several months of being injured after completing Rocky Raccoon 100 in the beginning of the year.  With my sights and wanderlust increasingly pointing towards much more difficult races in the Mountains, I’m only going to enter in a few key races next year, and focus most of my energy on the endless grind of training up the base needed to meet those challenges.  While I’m not quite ready to commit, out of a healthy dose of fear of the Mountains, my biggest goal of next year is the Bryce Canyon 100 Mile Ultra held in June; with 19K ft of elevation gain/loss and running in Altitudes up to 9.5K ft, there’s still much I have to do to work up the nerve to commit to such a monster.   I long to experience the restorative powers of the Mountains though, and will be lining up my schedule to make finishing Bryce 100 a possibility; starting with Bandera 100K in January where I’m hoping to go sub 16 for the Western States qualifier, then my first real taste of the Mountains in Arkansas at the Run LOViT 100K in February, afterwards I hope to recover fast enough to run one of the most beautiful trails in North Texas at the Possum Kingdom 52 Mile in April, and finally Bryce 100 in June.

- Touring alongside the Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon

If I’m not completely wrecked from my first Mountain Hundred, I also hope to have another crack at Cactus Rose 100 next year, I have to finish what I started there.  One last video to close out this post and 2013, it’s of a great monologue, set against beautiful footage of trails, on how Ultra’s can leave us vulnerable to emotions we normally repress, this guy’s voice can seriously get inside your head.

“It's exhausting work exploring the depths of our darkest emotions. When they're freshest, thoughts smash around our skulls like possessed plant equipment. We feel like there's a broken record playing up there, our thoughts playing some sick game of psycho-somatic Hide and Seek with our clenched and twisted guts. Coming out of an Ultra, it's safe to say we're fatigued. The exhaustion lingering from the event washes away our self-defences and this conscious scraping-back of the Soul further erodes our reserves allowing unbidden thoughts and feelings to threaten the already threadbare fabric of our sanity.”

Sunday, November 3, 2013

2013 Cactus Rose 100 Mile Race Report

I dream of running through the mountains and taking part in the epic and storied 100 milers that hold such reverence amongst Ultra Runners; reading, hearing about, and looking through gorgeous photo’s of Mountainous trails of other runner’s experiences there is awe-inspiring and is enough to make any trail runner want to quit their jobs and move into the Mountains so they can spend every day running and hiking these trails.  As beautiful and majestic as these races are, they are satanically cruel in their difficulty, some with +20K ft of elevation gain/loss, running at high altitude, and most of them are held in the searing summer months; Mother Nature exacts a huge toll to be able to drink in her beauty, and the more gorgeous the views, the higher the price of entry in wrecked bodies, shattered egos, and plenty of tears.  When you’re still being challenged by the mole hills down here in Texas, it can seem impossible to even begin to fathom the magnitude of a Mountain Ultra.  Before I go kill myself on the Mountains I needed to test myself on the most ferocious ass-kicking of a race in Texas, the Cactus Rose 100 Mile Endurance run; Rocky Raccoon 100 that I ran earlier in the year may have had the miles, but not the punishing rocks and steep hill climbs of Cactus Rose.

After completing Rocky Raccoon 100, I immediately set my sights on Cactus Rose, but I had no idea on how to train for a race that is on orders of magnitude more difficult than the relatively flat Rocky.  It didn’t help that it took me 3 months to fully heal from the ITB problems incurred during and exacerbated by Rocky, by then it was late spring and getting exceedingly hot down here in Texas, making it difficult and demoralizing to train for high mileage volume weeks.  So just to get through the hot Spring and Summer months, I hatched a plan to run as much smaller Ultra’s as I could, while keeping my weekly mileage low in the 30s; this way I could maintain my fitness up to the Autumn months where I can start hammering out higher mileage weeks leading up to Cactus Rose.  A sound theory at the time, but finishing all four Capt’n Karl 60K races took every last ounce of strength I had, it probably didn’t help that I had already ran another 3 Ultra’s the couple months before them.

On paper, Cactus Rose may not seem like that difficult of a race, the elevation gain (which I have been thoroughly assured of the measurements, despite the wildly different Garmin readings in the 12-13K ft ranges) is only 7,300ft of gain for the entire 100 miles, around 2-3K ft of gain more from Rocky Raccoon, it seems very doable with only moderate hill training.  However, the climbs are not the only thing that makes Cactus Rose difficult, it’s the rock strewn debris field you’ll be tripping over for miles on end and praying to your respective gods that the large rock you’re stepping on doesn’t give way, causing you to slide down a steep and rocky 400ft hillside.  Your quads are constantly working overtime to compensate for the very imbalanced terrain, making it seem like the race is harder than it should be; amazingly enough the site Real Endurance list Cactus Rose as taking longer to complete than Western States, a course with over twice the elevation gain/loss!  So back to the Capt’n Karl 60K races, think of them as mini Cactus Roses, they can be just as technical (if not more) with similarly steep hill climbs (some more than others, especially Colorado Bend and Reveille Ranch), while being held in the sweltering summer nights of Texas.  The Capt’n Karl races were not your ordinary 60Ks, they’re tougher than some 50 milers like Hells Hills, Wild Hare, or Rocky Raccoon, and I did all four of them, with just 3 weeks in the end of Reveille Peak Ranch (the last in the CK series), my legs and knees were pounded into jelly by the relentless granite domes of the course.  I was a thoroughly spent shell of a Runner by the end and needed several weeks to recover, but I just had to push my luck and do one more race.

I should have skipped the Rough Creek 40 Mile Trail Run (my race report), but Endurance Buzz Adventures puts on fun races and I didn’t want to miss out on a local North Texas trail race; so after 3 weeks of barely running to recover from the punishing Capt’n Karl series, I ran Rough Creek anyway.  I felt the overwhelming fatigue from the CK races almost immediately from the start of Rough Creek, my legs were pretty much dead after the first half marathon loop, but I stubbornly kept going for another loop to complete the Marathon distance.  Rough Creek prolonged a lot issues I was already dealing with, like a several months old tweaked ankle pain that refuses to go away, forefoot pain (Morton’s Neuroma I think, for wearing my shoes too tightly around the forefoot area), and sore knees that haven’t recovered yet from the jack-hammering at Reveille.  I rested a week afterwards, but with Cactus Rose so frighteningly close, I forced myself to eck out a mid 40 mile week and then barely a 50 mile week (my first 50 mile week since May), before beginning the long taper period where I only ran 22 miles, not per week, but total for the entire 3 weeks of tapering.

That entire taper period felt like a dark cloud of impending doom hanging over me, I did not feel ready for Cactus Rose in the slightest, my training miles were pathetically low leading up to a tough 100 miler and my hill training was almost non existent the last 6 weeks as I tried to recover from nagging pain and injuries.  I didn’t know whether I was helping or hurting myself from running so few miles during the taper period, but I was determined to at least come into Cactus Rose healthy.  I tried psyching myself up for the race through a series of post on my Facebook page, reminding myself that I’ve gone the distance before, why I feel compelled to take on these extreme challenges, how I couldn’t wait to run amongst the beautiful and rugged landscapes of Hill Country State Natural Area Park in Bandera again, and curiously enough, adopting the Donkey as my spirit animal.  I may not be ready for Cactus Rose, but I am, if nothing else, stubborn as a Donkey...slow, steady, surefooted, and stubborn, all qualities of that noble animal, and a mantra I carried into Cactus Rose.

The week before Cactus Rose felt like the calm before the storm, I spent the prior two weeks being a nervous wreck and by then I got all the jitteriness out of my system, waiting till the last week to pack my drop bags also helped to keep myself busy; come what may, I was resigned to accept whatever fate the Trail Gods intends for me at Cactus Rose.  I arrived to the race site the Friday before the race to attend the trail briefing, chat with some friends, set up drop bags at the Lodge and Equestrian (didn’t bother using Nacho’s or Boyles, since you hit Equestrian twice per loop), and made camp for the night at the park; it was my first time camping out, so I was a bit worried about getting any sleep that night (I usually never sleep well before a race), but I had such an eerie and serene calm going into Cactus that I never slept better before a major Ultra.  For a 100 mile race, the start seemed like such a low key affair (it does have less than a third of the participants of Rocky Raccoon), as people stumbled out of their tents at 4am and everyone was barely lined up just before the 5am start time.

I started the race near the back of the pack, not wanting to tempt myself into going out too quickly, which would have been pretty hard to do anyway, considering the first 2 and half miles or so is a congo line of runners as you hit the first of the course’s handful of extremely technical and steep hills early on at Lucky’s Peak.  Afterwards, the herd spreads out quickly as the course flattens out dramatically with only a couple of modest hill climbs till you reach the Nacho’s Aid Station 10 and half miles in.  I was targeting a sub 30 hour finish, so was planning to stick to a strict 8min Run/ 4min Walk interval on the flats and walk the hills, but was a little bit surprised by how flat it was during this section and ran more than I would have liked, especially as I was chatting with people periodically through this section.  Starting at 5am, it was mainly dark throughout this whole flat section, racing within an hour of just waking up, it almost seemed like I was still asleep and was just in another one of my trail running dreams; the Sun coming up perfectly coincided with what I consider to be the official start of Cactus Rose, Ice Cream Hill.  

Course profile at the start, you reverse direction after each loop.

Lucky’s Peak at the start of the race was just a preview of what’s to come, Ice Cream Hill is the rude awakening, sending you up a steep and rocky 300 ft climb; going up is one thing on the hills of Cactus Rose, while going down a dangerously steep and rocky hill is a test of nerves and concentration, and praying you don’t fall hundreds of feet and breaking your it can be just as slow going down the hills as it is going up sometimes, which is murder on your quads because of the constant braking and balancing you have to do on the downhills.  After you make it past Ice Cream Hill, the trail flattens out for a couple miles lulling you back into a bit of complacency until you hit the Equestrian Aid Station again just before the last 10 mile roller coaster of hills where hearts are broken, quad’s trashed, and doubts start creeping in whether you’re going to finish or not.  The first 15 miles had quite a lot of smooth and flat single track trails and jeep roads, with the occasional giant wall of loose rocks to climb over, which come as quite a relief to break up the monotony of running so much.  The last ten miles almost seemed like a different course altogether, not only in the relentlessness of it’s steep hills and the painful rocks that mate and multiply like bunnies out there, but all the beautiful and sharp Sotol that inhabit these hills, with it’s blooming tentacle like stalks hovering over you, making it seem like you’re running through an Alien world out there at times.

Pic is a bit blurry, forgot to bring my digital camera, had to make due with my cellphone...I think this was taken at the Three Sisters hill climb.

Things pretty much slow to a crawl during the last ten miles, expect them to take just as long, if not longer, than your first 15 miles.  While cloudy for most of the race, it was unbearably humid that day with the temperatures quickly rising into the 80s, in addition to the 50oz Nathan Minimist Hydration Vest I was wearing I brought along my 20oz handheld bottle just to dump ice cold water over my head.  I never wear my hydration vest to races, because they can be a hassle to deal with, but the aid stations at Cactus Rose are anywhere from 4 to 6 miles apart, and considering the heat and humidity, I was glad I made the cautious decision to wear the vest and utilize the handheld.  Equestrian to Boyles Aid Station is the 6 mile section, with the treacherously steep and rocky near 400 ft climb up Sky Island in your way, the longest climb of Cactus Rose; none of the trails I train at in the Dallas area comes close to that monster, and with a quick descent to Boyles Aid Station, I’m sent climbing again over Boyles Bump and Cairn’s Climb, both with 200-300 ft of gain/loss. 

My quads were already on fire after descending Cairn’s Climb, and I pretty much walked it in on the last half mile of the first loop, all the while reeling at the thought that I’m just going to have to turn right around and do that section over again in reverse (after every loop in Cactus Rose, you turn around and do that section in reverse); I would be lying if I said wasn’t already thinking of dropping to the 50 mile by this point.  When I finally made it to Lodge Aid Station (Start/Finish area) this is where I would begin my sitting tour of Cactus Rose, a habit I started doing to get me through the Capt’n Karl races, past the mid 20s or so, I would try to do everything I need at an Aid Station, like refilling water bottles, eat some gels and trail food, and take my endurolytes and salt pills, all while sitting on my’s best to do this directly in front of the water jug.  With the Capt’n Karl races so close together, I was being hit with terrible fatigue in my legs around the mid 20s, so as a survival strategy to get through them, I’ve found that getting completely off my feet for several minutes at the aid stations helps to relieve a lot of fatigue, usually enough to get me to the next aid station where I do it all over again; the toughest part is getting back up. 

I spent a good 10-15 minutes taking my time at the Lodge, where I ate way too much of a deliciously large tortilla overstuffed with seasoned potatoes that a friend gave me; your stomach tends not to be able to process food very well during races, but I’m going to be walking the next few miles anyway while I digest.  Starting loop 2, going up Cairn’s Climb again was the toughest part, but doing the whole dreaded 10 mile section I was just dying on, is a bit easier in reverse, where the downhills are much longer than the uphills.  I took it easy the first few miles over the major climbs, and letting my stomach digest, when I finally made it over the top of Boyles Bump, I screamed down that hill pretty hard, one of the few runnable downhills at Cactus, and locked up my quads in the process when I got back to the Boyles Aid Station.  After sitting down for awhile to massage out the tightness in my quads, I passed a woman who already looked beat for the day; she said she had been sitting for a while when I asked if she was ok, then I remarked, “One of these times, I’m just going to sit down, and won’t be able to get back up”, words that were proven prophetic later on.

Up Ice Cream Hill
I ran the first 10 miles on the second loop pretty easy, trying to recover my legs a bit and preserve them for a harder effort on the flats to make up time.  When I finally made it through the past twenty mile gauntlet of hills and rocks, I was able to cut loose and run a bit on the flats after a brief rest at  Equestrian 1; it was just unfortunate that Ice Cream Hill stands in the way just before Nacho’s A/S.  Trudging up that hill again, I managed to catch up with a handful of friends out there, all walking slowly in the heat, and all looking extremely beat up and wary; the hills had defeated us all and now the Sun was adding insult to injury.  I was walking too much though, and tried to encourage this normally gung-ho bunch to push the pace till Nachos, but I eventually had to leave them behind; all but one of them ended up dropping from the race.  I felt like a runner again on the flats from Nacho’s to Equestrian 2, sure I may have felt like death on those monster hill climbs a few miles back, but if my legs can bounce back on the flats like they’re feeling now, maybe I could pull off this race afterall; and then came Lucky’s Peak.  I was eager to make it to Lucky’s Peak before Sundown in order to get in a few good shots, this is the section I remember most vividly from Bandera 50K that I ran early this year.  It was the last long climb for Bandera as it was for the second loop of Cactus Rose, making it a particularly tough slog after your legs have been used to running flats for the past few miles, especially since the way up Lucky’s Peak is a lot harder going in reverse, but your reward is nice perch up the peak overlooking the vast and rugged landscapes of Hill Country Natural State Area.

The view from Lucky's Peak, taken with cellphone camera again.

It was all downhill and flat after Lucky’s Peak, and I was going to run it in to try and beat the dark, but ran into a friend on the last half mile who walking his way to finishing up his 50 miler, so I opted to walk it in with him instead.  At the Lodge, the dichotomy on the joyful faces of 50 milers finishing up and the look of weariness and stone faced dread on the faces of those 100 Milers contemplating whether or not they wanted to continue, couldn’t be more stark.  I sat for a long time at the Lodge slowly eating a bowl of soup and crackers, while a parade of friends either having finished up their 50 milers or 100 milers throwing in their towels and settling for the 50 mile medal, came by and wished me luck.  At that point, I could’ve flipped a coin to decide whether or not I wanted to continue on, my legs felt badly fatigued, but amazingly enough, I was injury and pain free for the most part and couldn’t justify quitting to myself; it’s just the thought of 50 more miles on that course, in the condition that I was in, was too daunting to contemplate…I also didn’t want to look in the faces of my friends and announce that I’m calling it a night.  So after nearly half an hour at the Lodge, eating, chatting with friends, and taking care of other business, I set off for my third and final loop.

Just before the end of loop two, sun was already setting.

I felt surprisingly great starting the third loop, it was almost as if I was given a new set of legs, the long walk to finish the second loop and the half hour I spent resting at the Lodge had dramatically recovered my legs; I felt like a racehorse again.  Even though my legs were given a brand new lease on life, I didn’t want to push my luck, and was planning to stick to my Run/Walk intervals to preserve my legs for the steep hill climbs on the latter half, but ended up pushing myself way too hard on the flats and probably doomed myself in the process.  Up until this point, I had been mainly running by myself, with sporadic spurts spent with friends and strangers I met on the course, but I preferred to go it alone so I wouldn’t feel any pressure to go at a pace I wasn’t comfortable with; however, I briefly got lost early into the third loop.

Feeling great with my new set of legs, I zoomed right past a turn and ran maybe a quarter mile before I realized I was lost when I ran into two ladies stopped dead in their tracks looking around for a trail marker.  It was a bit of an eerie moment...the trail vanished and all of a sudden a cabin showed up on our headlamps.  With the race being held close to Halloween, a scenario where you’re lost in the woods at night and find a dark and abandoned cabin, kinda makes you a bit nervous.  The two ladies were 25 mile relay runners, so they had no idea where they were going, and I clearly did not remember seeing a cabin during the start of the race when we ran this loop in the same direction; we turned back together and eventually found the right turn towards Lucky’s Peak.  The two ladies were good company, with delightful Scottish accents (having watched a lot of British television, I admit, I’m a sucker for it), being the experienced trail runner that I am, of course I had to impart my wisdom and advice onto fairly new trail runners out on this course *cough*.  Before I knew it, it had been 3 miles (plus the half mile when I got lost) into the third loop, and I started to worry about going out too fast when my legs were tightening up again, so I bid the ladies good luck on their relay and tried to stick to my intervals. 

Some point past the first trip to Equestrian, I ran into a friend that I had been playing hop-scotch with throughout the race, but I always had trouble keeping up with her for long.  With my legs in better shape, we ran the next 8 miles or so together, with me leading most of the way.  As I said before I prefer running by myself for the most part, and I’m not really comfortable being in the lead or following someone else's pace for that matter; with a good conversation going though and my legs still feeling decent, I ignored my interval watch beeping at me, and ran most of the way with her till we made it to the second trip to Equestrian.  The moment I sat down, my legs immediately tightened up after having pushed it too hard on the flats for the past 15 miles, I stalled a bit at Equestrian by eating more soup and crackers, but the tightness wouldn’t go away.  My friend was waiting for me, so I decided maybe walking for a bit would bring some life back into them, I was moving so slowly though, that she eventually had to go on ahead; thus begun my two and half hour death march to Boyles Aid Station.

With my legs badly fatigued, and not being able to see the peak of the hills in the dark of night, these hills all of a sudden became mountains of loose rocks that were never-ending.  With it being dark, I was going slower sometimes on the downhills than on the climbs when the rocks were at its worst and I feared tripping down the steep hillsides due to low visibility; so my quads were being pounded even further due to the frequent braking and balancing on loose rocks. Sky Island was my undoing, the nearly 400 ft climb just wouldn’t end, every time I came to a brief flat section or make a turn, it would just keep on going up and up, and more and more my quads ached and my will to continue on with the race would shatter into a thousand more pieces.  The mile long trek up Sky Island alone must have taken me close to 45 minutes, I had to sit, rest, and massage my quads and knees 3 times just to make the ascent.  I stumbled into Boyles Aid Station, sat down and couldn't get back up the very same aid station I mentioned earlier to a lady that was what I feared was going to happen to me later on.

There I sat at Boyles for 15 minutes or so debating on whether to continue, if I could just finish up the third loop, and maybe rest for half an hour to get my legs back, I would still have 12 hours to death march it in for the fourth loop…  The feelings in my legs and feet just wouldn’t return though, and when I overheard a runner was going to drive back to the Lodge with their crew to seek some medical attention, I immediately asked to hitch a ride with them.  The runner who was being driven back needed medical attention because his Achilles were terribly painful to run on, and he feared it might rupture on the hill climbs if he didn’t get it taped up.  All through the short ride from Boyles to the Lodge, his crew (Parents, I’m assuming) were asking if he was going to continue, and he was adamant that he long as he could walk.  This, admittedly, made me feel like a bit of a coward for choosing to bail on my race, when I was in nowhere near as bad a shape as he was.  They drove to the medical site near the Lodge, where I got out and thanked them for the ride, and then made the longest, shortest, walk of the day to the racing area to announce my DNF to the officials and turn in my racing chip...a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders handing over that chip, I was officially done after the hardest 70 miles of my life.  

A week has passed since Cactus Rose, and I’m still going over in my mind whether dropping out was the right decision, especially when I saw that a handful of my friends gutted out 34 or 35+ hour finishes, perhaps I could’ve done the same.  After all, didn’t I manage to drag a bummed ITB 77 miles across Rocky Raccoon earlier in the year, even though it felt like my leg was about to fall off during the last 20 miles?  Or maybe it was because of that terribly painful experience, and not wanting to go through that all over again so soon, not to mention the months and months of recovery from such an ordeal, that I just couldn’t muster the heart to continue on any further this time around?  Cactus Rose is no Rocky Raccoon either, one is relatively flat with no rocks in sight, while the other was anything but, I feared stopping halfway up Sky Island and no longer being able to move again if I did that fourth loop.   Having to death march a significant portion of a tough 100 miler is demoralizing, and is probably a sign you weren’t as ready for the challenge as you thought you were.  

I came into Cactus Rose worn out from running so much Ultras this year, and under trained for the ridiculous hills I would face that was a feat just making it to 70 miles I suppose, but that’s no consolation in falling short of my goal to finish.  Cactus was, if nothing else, a butt-kicking learning experience that I needed in order to grow from, as I continue on this crazy path of being an Ultra Runner.  My dreams of someday running in a Mountain Ultra was predicated on how well I would do at Cactus, needless to say, they’re being put on hold while I reanalyze where I went wrong and how best I could improve.  I believe it mainly had to do with racing so much throughout year, while I had a blast this year doing one Ultra after another, I never had the time to do much dedicated and specialized training for Cactus, since I spent so much time recovering in between Ultras.  Going forward, I plan to race less often, and dedicate more time to build up the training base I need to tackle a race like Cactus Rose; you can’t half ass your way into Cactus, it will hand it back to you and leave you in tears if don’t pay the race the proper respect it deserves.  I’m already planning on my redemption for Cactus Rose next year, having drawn up a rough plan on how best to do so in my mind...and it starts with Bandera 100K in January 2014, the place is too gorgeous not to want to go back whenever you can...painful rocks notwithstanding.

Bandera...I'll be back.

Monday, September 16, 2013

2013 Rough Creek Trail Marathon Race Report

After surviving the gauntlet of running all four Capt’n Karl 60K Ultra trail races, that just ended 3 weeks prior to my race at Rough Creek 40 Mile at Glen Rose, Tx, I thought I could’ve handled the steep hills I would be facing that day, I thought I could’ve handled the extreme Texas summer heat after running through it all summer long, and finally I thought I could’ve have gotten away with not tapering much for this race...I thought wrong.  When coming up with my racing schedule leading up to Cactus Rose back in March I had originally left Rough Creek off the calendar, my reasons being, is that the Capt’n Karl races would have probably left me wasted if I managed to survive all four of them and 3 weeks was just not enough time to recover from them; also the course at Rough Creek, quite frankly, still scared the hell out of me and was the main reason why I didn’t run the race last year either.  The main imposing feature of Rough Creek, is the infamous “Rusty Crown”, a series of around a dozen sharply steep hills, measuring around 60-100 feet each (though climbing up the first one is a 200 footer) and packed close together to ensure your quads will be destroyed when you finally make it out of there.  The course was changed from last year, where it was mainly flat with the Rusty Crown in the middle, now the Rusty Crown section was split into two, where you’re now diverted into new section of the trail called, “The Bowl”, a series of three plateau’s with about a hundred feet climb each.  With the new section added, it makes for a pretty imposing course profile, and I may have scared some people away from posting it on my Facebook well attracted a few others who wanted to take on this beast.  

Rough Creek now scared me even more with the new course changes, but not nearly as much as running a 100 miles at Cactus Rose did, so I figured, what the hell, and signed up a month before the race.  By then I had already worked out a recovery routine that was working well for me in between the Capt’n Karl races (which I wrote about in my Colorado Bend 60K race report), so I figured I could handle another hilly 40 miler 3 weeks after Reveille Peak Ranch 60K, but with Cactus Rose now less than 2 months away, I didn’t quite stick to that plan.  Over at Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve in Dallas is a great little trail system where I have practically lived at over the summer in between races, and is also the host of a 36K/18K trail race that’s organized by Endurance Buzz Adventures, the same group that directs the Rough Creek Trail race.  Cedar Ridge is fairly short at around 5 and half miles for a full circumnavigation of the trail, but it more than makes up for it in the various steep and long hills you’ll encounter, packing in around 650 ft elevation gain per loop.  There is one particularly steep and technical hill there that reminded me of what I encountered at Bandera 50K, and I always considered doing hill repeats on it as a way to simulate the hills at Cactus Rose, but I’ve only been doing a limited number of these steep hill repeats over the summer because I needed to recover in between the Capt’n Karl races.  Well, now with less than two months to go before Cactus, my manic training mode took over, and the weekend before Rough Creek I put in 24 miles of training on hilly trails, with 10 miles of it on what I call the Bandera Hill repeats at Cedar Ridge.

Bandera Hill repeats at Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve

I packed in over +2K ft gain/loss in under 7 and half miles on that Bandera Hill, power-hiking most of the way up, and then bombing the punishing technical quads were trashed by the end of it.  I thought I would be okay before the race by taking it easy for the rest of the week, but I could hardly run 3 miles on the Thursday before the race without my legs feeling completely dead (delayed onset muscle soreness, perhaps), not a good sign before a hilly and hot 40 miler.  Things would only get worse the morning of the race, I always find it hard to fall asleep the night before a morning race and barely got more than 2 hours of sleep, before waking up at 2:45am in the morning to get ready to make the drive from Dallas to Glen Rose, TX.  I couldn’t shake the grogginess from the lack of sleep for most of the race, and almost fell asleep while running a few times during the first 3 miles of the race where it was mainly flat jeep roads.  I quickly woke up when I finally encountered the first section of the Rusty Crown, the base of which sat the first Aid Station, giving you plenty of time to ponder going up that steep 200 ft hill while you refill your water bottles.  

I use to get annoyed with switchbacks, especially overly long switchbacks snaking up a hill that barely seems to take you up a hundred feet, a race like Muleshoe Bend 60K or Whispering Pines 50K were especially guilty of this; after trying to go up the various steep, slanted (no stair steps for stable footing), and loose trails of dirt and rocks of the Rusty Crown, I’ll never complain about a switchback again.  The Rusty Crown was pretty much un-runnable for the most part, I can handle steep hills, but the one’s I normally train on are well groomed stair-step type hills with none of the loose dirt and rocks like the Rusty Crown; your feet and leg muscles have to work over-time hauling you up and down those hills, while you’re trying to keep yourself stabilized on the loose and slanted surface.  Going up the Crown is one thing, coming down can be quite an adventure, I mainly came down with short and choppy steps with my feet turned sideways for maximum braking surface, but there were several sections where you pretty much had to use your butt and one hand on the trail behind you to slide down.  The first section of the Crown is over pretty quick, giving you just a taste for what’s to come on the extended second half of the Crown five miles later.

Once you make it past the first Rusty Crown section, the trail becomes remarkably flat again, The Bowl section wasn’t too terrible to run up and down, and the plateaus are long and flat to run across.  A lot of long and beautiful sweeping views of the landscape can be taken in during this stretch, it was quite idyllic and fast to run through this section, before you get rudely awakened again on the back half of the Rusty Crown.  The first half of the Crown is less than a mile long, while the second half is just a bit over 2 miles of constant ups and downs over steep and loose terrain.  My quads were absolutely destroyed afterwards (I averaged just under a 20 min/mile through this section), the hills were relentless and seemed like it would go on forever, and in the middle of it stood “The Beast”, a ridiculous and nearly vertical +100ft hill of loose rocks and dirt.  It was quite comical looking upon the spectacle of people crawling on all fours up that hill, sliding down a foot for every 2-3 feet of progress, I couldn’t imagine doing this hill three times during the 40 miler when I finally reached the top, gasping for air.  

Photo of the Race Director on "The Beast"

The heat index was quickly rising into the 90s by this point just past 9am, with the trail almost completely exposed to the sun, it further compounded the difficulty of the Rusty Crown section even more.  My legs felt like lead weights now, and I dumped so much water on my head to keep cool, I ran out half a mile away from the next aid station, even though I had 40oz of carrying capacity with me (waist belt and handheld).  I thought I would’ve been more adapted to the heat by now, but running in 90+ degree temperatures at night during the Capt’n Karl races was much easier than running on the Sun drenched trails at Rough Creek, where the heat was magnified greatly.  When I finally made it out of the Rusty Crown, I was pretty much resigned into quitting, dead legs and the extreme heat was becoming too much to put up with for what is a glorified training run.  I had already given myself “permission” to DNF at the 40 miler well before the race started, I had nothing to prove to myself after having just ran all four Capt’n Karl races, the only decision now, is whether to quit after one loop for the half marathon, or death march my way through a second loop to make it a Marathon finish.

I finished the first loop with a decent time of around 3:05 hrs, still contemplating hard about dropping out, I sat down to slather sunscreen all over my legs and arms; my legs started to recover a bit from the brief rest and since I already applied the Sunscreen, I may as well go out for the second loop...I grabbed my Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap (the one with the neck flaps), which kinda made me feel like a badass Badwater runner, admittedly, and started off on what turned out to be one of the world’s slowest Marathon finishes ever.  My legs gave me a false sense of hope, a mile or so into the second loop, they were as dead as ever again...I could only manage a shuffle on the flat trails leading up to the Rusty Crown, how in the world was I supposed to go through that nightmarish section all over again?  I wanted to drop again at the first Aid station, but was ever so gently pushed out by the Volunteers, thanks...I suppose.

Taken by the professional race photographers sometime during the first loop.  I didn't quite always looked like this during the race, more like hunched over, and death marching through the heat... 

I would often hear tales of runners, much more stronger and experienced trail runners than I am, going up a mountain trail at high altitude where they can manage no more than a 48 min/mile pace; I couldn’t even picture going up that slow...until now, where I found myself painfully inching my way up the Rusty Crown once more.  Halfway through the first crown section, I sat on the side of the trail for several minutes just wanting to turn back to the aid station and beg for a ride back to the starting area, but I’m a stubborn fool and finally got up and continued forward and out of the crown.  I shuffled for about a mile and stopped for 5 minutes or so to rest, then shuffled again for another mile and stopped, and continued this all the way to the next aid station 4 miles from the first aid station.  There at the aid station I plopped down on the nearest seat I could find, and started downing ice cold coke as if they were whiskey shots.  I never drink soda, in fact, I could go on a multi-page rant about the dangers of these sugary concoctions and their damage to the overall health of society and the drain in resources we all collectively pay in astronomical healthcare cost to treat diabetes, obesity, and heart disease related to the over-consumption of sugar; this is trail race report though, and during a tough Ultra, Coca-cola is the God Damn elixir of life (apologies for the profanity), able to bring even the most weary Ultra runner back from near death.  

Recharged after several cups of cola, and filling all my water bottles with ice water, I headed off for the next four miles and one last go at the Rusty Crown.  The first two miles out of the second Aid Station is fairly flat, and I was finally managing a decent running pace, but I knew what lied ahead shortly and was girding myself for the challenge; it’s only two miles I kept reminding to myself, only two miles to get through the crown...just about the hardest two miles of life.  I slowly and methodically made my way up and down the Crown, saving my strength for the Beast that lies ahead.  When I finally made it to the Beast, it looked like a freaking mountain now, I stood at its base for a while, dejected and wanting to cry, I let out a loud sigh and made the slowest climb of my life; I was so tired at that point, my arms and legs were trembling a bit climbing up the Beast, afraid that I might slip and drop half way down the hill at any moment.  In what seemed like ages, I finally made it up the hill, and let out a triumphant “whoo”; the worst of the worst was over, but there was still about a mile of worse left to go, luckily I ran into a recent friend shortly after climbing the Beast, and while it was dreadfully hot and achingly slow, misery loves company and we eventually made it out of the crown together in one piece.

Stopping at the aid station at the base of the Rusty Crown for a while for more Coke and an ice bag around my neck, I was ready to put an end to this death march, my friend stayed behind to cool herself down a little more.  Feeling good again on the flats, I shortly contemplated heading back out for the third loop to finish the 40 miler, but a mile or so out from the finish my knees started barking loudly at me...I guess they’re not quite recovered from the pummeling they received over the granite domes at Reveille Peak Ranch 60K after all.  This had been quite an experience I was thinking to myself as I was trotting back to the finish; this race showed me of just how astronomically far I still had to go before I can even think of signing up for those Mountain 100 milers I dream of running someday.  If I couldn’t handle the extreme heat and the mole hills down here in Texas, just how the hell am I supposed to tackle Mountainous 100 milers with +20K ft gain/loss, running at high altitude, and in similar torturous summer heat?!  My experience at Rough Creek has certainly been an eye opener for me, it may have even set my expectations on signing up for my first Mountain Ultra back even further; even after all the Ultras I’ve been running, I’m rudely reminded that I'm still very much a work in progress.

I finished the Marathon distance at Rough Creek in about 7:48 hrs, a new slowest personal record for me...and I’m okay with it, I learned a lot about myself trudging through that second loop, making the experience all the more worthwhile.  My friend arrived shortly afterwards, and to my surprise, she headed out for her third loop and eventually finished the 40 mile race, in which over half the field had dropped from; I shouldn’t have been surprised though, Ultra runners are a stubborn and proud breed.  With 6 more weeks to go till Cactus Rose 100, I just hope that same stubborn and proud beast inside of me, that saw me through a 100 miles at Rocky Raccoon, is well rested and ready for another 100 mile round, I'm going to need all the help I can get.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

2013 Capt'n Karl's Reveille Ranch 60K Recap

148.8 miles in 63 days over some of the most treacherous terrain found in the Hill Country of Texas, running all through the night, and in the omnipresent heat of the summer...Buckle earned. The Capt'n Karl races are no walk in the park, seriously, these 60K's can be tougher than some 50 milers...doing all four is quite insane. Reveille Ranch was tougher than I remembered from last year, or it could have just been that my legs were no where near 100% after the first three CK races; my legs were pretty much shot after the first loop, but I soldiered on, I've come too far to quit. Those Granite domes, with uneven and tricky footing, were relentless for the 60K course, just one huge section after another, my legs were pummeled into jelly by the third loop. My knees started to buckle running across them, making it quite a terrifying trip on long downhills across the granite...falling was not an option on the granite domes though...I heard several loud cries as others went down in the distance on the unforgiving granite of Reveille Ranch.

Finished Reveille Ranch 60K in 9:46hrs, and loved every painful moment of it. I may not do all four CK races next year, but I will definitely try to be back for this challenging and fun race.

Monday, August 5, 2013

2013 Capt'n Karl's Colorado Bend 60K Race Report

It’s difficult to train over the extremely hot Texas summer, many runners adapt to the heat (and humidity!) by waking up at pre-dawn hours where the weather is the most cool, but there is no force on earth that’ll get me to wake up at 4-5am to go for a run on a regular basis.  I usually start my weekday runs around 7am, where the temps are already approaching the mid 80s, 1 and half miles into my training runs and my running clothes are completely soaked with sweat, 4 miles in and I’m already stopping for breaks and heat dizziness, any further and it’s a test of wills to continue on with my run; sometimes I knowingly sabotage my weekday training runs by starting them so late I wouldn’t have the time for much miles before I had to get ready for work.  Weekend long runs usually fare better (and start earlier), as I put more emphasis on their importance when it comes to training for Ultras, but it’s still a struggle to hit double digit miles, especially on hilly trails where it takes longer to get in your miles, and the more time you’re out there, the hotter it gets.  With Cactus Rose taking place in October, there’s no way around it, the bulk of your training will occur during the sweltering Summer and early Autumn months; just how exactly does a person from Texas supposed to train for a grueling 100 mile race in October?  Enter the Capt’n Karl Summer night time Trail and Ultra running series in Texas, a godsend for us runners down south looking to train over the summer and have the opportunity to participate in races, when normally at this time of the year long distance running events are sparse.

I doubt I would've be anywhere near the Ultra runner that I am today without the Capt’n Karl races, last year they gave me something to look forward to as I trained over the summer, and surviving the brutally tough and technical trails held in the Hill Country area of Texas, and in the summer heat, gave me the confidence that I could handle anything thrown my way; an Ultra runner was born by the end of that summer.  Last year the Capt’n Karl races were crucial in getting me ready for my first 50 miler at Wild Hare, they’ll be even more so this year as I train for Cactus Rose 100 Mile.  As I’ve said, training over the Texas summer is quite a miserable experience to endure, knowing that putting in high volume mileage weeks will be difficult for me to sustain over the summer months, I signed up for all four Capt’n Karl 60K races and planned to use them for my long runs.  Unless you already have a handful of Ultras under your belt, I wouldn’t recommend tackling all four, with the races just three weeks apart from one another, only experienced Ultra runners that have mastered the fine art of recovery should attempt to do so. 

Many people have asked me how is it possible to run so much Ultras with only a month or less time between them, the secret is...not a lot of running.  Okay, it’s not exactly that simple, my first few Ultras left me broken and beaten down for months before I could attempt my next one; it took me somewhere between my 3rd or 4th Ultra that my body started to get used to the trauma I was regularly subjecting it to, and I started to miraculously recover from shorter Ultras in the 50K-60K range in a matter of weeks (or week, if it’s an easier Ultra); it’s as if I had gained Wolverine’s mutant super healing powers.  That’s not to say that it’s ever easy to keep running an Ultra month after month, and when they’re particularly tough Ultras like the Captain Karl races with only 3 weeks apart, you have to be smart about it.  Counting Whispering Pines 50K in early June, I have already done four Ultras with just three weeks in between them; with Reveille Ranch 60K in the next three weeks, Rough Creek 40 Mile three weeks after that, and possibly Lost Loop 50K at Lake Texoma 2 weeks later, I’m hoping I don’t drop dead somewhere on the trail before Cactus Rose.  I’ve basically been in constant recovery and taper mode these past few months, the first week after a race, I put in an easy (flat and slow) 20-30 miles, the second week I try to throw in a lot of hill work while keeping mileage in the mid 30s, and then around a dozen miles during the week of the race.  Keeping mileage in the 30s for the weeks between races when they’re this close apart is a sweet spot for me, the mileage volume is low enough for my legs to continually recover, while still high enough to keep them strong for the next race; also, 30 something miles a week is usually all that I can handle in the Texas Summer heat before I start to hate myself and running.  I wish I had the time for building up to those large volume 50-60 Mile weeks before beginning a proper two week taper period that I did for Ultras last year, but I love the challenge in running so much Ultras in quick succession, and I’m constantly amazed that it’s something that I’m currently capable of doing after years and years of training to get up to this point. 

The body may recover quickly from the beating it takes in an Ultra, but the mind takes a beating of it’s own; and when it comes to painfully rough and rocky Ultra’s like the Capt’n Karl races, it can be difficult to will yourself to endure all that pain and omnipresent heat over 37+ miles, and keep doing it again and again every 3 weeks.  Pedernales Falls (the first race of the CK series) was a fast and mostly runnable course that I finished in under 8 and half hours, whereas Muleshoe Bend (the 2nd CK race) was anything but.  I found Muleshoe to be rather absurd in terms of sheer difficulty in navigating long trails of loose and sharp ankle twisting rocks, and there’s this one particular section midway that must have been 1 and half miles of large and craggy flat boulders that slows you down to a crawl; it’s quite mentally draining to have to focus so much on the trail and foot placement, more so when the race is held at night and you have to do four loops of it.  The first loop wasn’t so bad, as there was light most of way through, then it got dark and the trails became a whole new beast. I hated the 2nd and 3rd loops, complained miserably of the slow going and if I weren’t trying to complete all four CK races for a buckle, I would have easily dropped after the second loop (and many others did with only a 62% finish rate).  When loop 4 finally arrived, I relaxed, and started to enjoy myself out there; traversing the rocky trails was slow going, but I started noticing how beautiful they looked at night and methodically making my way through that large section of flat boulders was rather peaceful.  For all my professions of love for the natural world, I’m too busy running through it to notice the environment sometimes.

With the 2nd Capt’n Karl race over with, I just felt worn down, both physically and mentally, as if all the Ultras I’ve been doing recently has finally caught up to me; I had also tweaked my ankle a week before Muleshoe, I ran the race okay on it, but it still felt very tender to run on when I don’t have that race day adrenaline to mask the pain away.  I only ran 10 sad miles the week after the race and feeling extremely lethargic, I haven’t ran so few miles since the following weeks after Rocky Raccoon, and while I did hit 30 something miles the following week, the lethargy I felt in my legs hanged on till just a few days before the 3rd Capt’n Karl race, Colorado Bend 60K at the Colorado Bend Texas State Park.  I’m not here to set any PR’s I told myself before the race, just to survive and make sure I leave some left in the tank for a good run at Reveille Ranch in 3 weeks.  The first hour of the Capt’n Karl races are the hottest part of the race before the Sun starts to set, and it’s the part I struggle with the most, as my body starts to sweat profusely till I get acclimated to heat, until then I’m sluggishly slow, a bit dizzy, and already entertaining the thoughts of dropping from the race when I’m only 2 or so miles into it.  After the first hour, it seems like I’ve finally hit the “race on” switch and start running more comfortably and pick up my racing pace.  The first 3 miles of the Colorado Bend race course (which doubles as the last 3 miles of the course when you loop back to it), except for the flat half mile you run on a dirt road to get to the single track trails, is one of the hardest sections of the race; it’ll send you climbing over 250 ft over some fairly rocky (but still runnable if careful) trails, so whether or not I was just slow due to my usual acclimation period at the start of the race, or because of the early hills and rocks, that section helped to warm up my legs for the following 5 mile section till the next aid station.

There’s only a few sections of the Colorado Bend course that’s truly runnable, the 5 miles between the first and second aid station is one of them; a fairly flat section with only light rocks that are easily avoidable, I took off running and started to enjoy myself out there on the trails again since Muleshoe sucked the life out of me.  I think I was a bit too carefree at times, and managed to trip hard and made a pretty gnarly bloody knee that everyone I came across remarked wasn’t quite as bad as it looked bloody, I was thankful my knee didn’t incur a painful impact, it was more like it scraped across some rocks that tore up the surface skin resulting in a lot of blood, though I am looking forward to my race photos!  Having a great time running through this section, if the trails were going to be like this the rest of the race, I may just set a 60K PR I was thinking to myself...well, I thought too soon. 

The trails were starting to get progressively worse and worse technical, and there’s this one half mile section about 9 and half miles into the race that started to remind me of Muleshoe all over again with large and uneven rocks strewn all over the place that slowed me down to a crawl and sent me stumbling around like a drunken fool after closing time.  Sometime shortly after the third aid station near the Gorman Falls (which you can hear in the background...I’ll have to visit this park during the day sometime), and nearly 10 and half miles into the race I ran into a recent friend, Nyleva; we ran into each other briefly a few times during the early parts of the race, but now with the trails becoming ridiculously technical and facing a tough 250 ft climb in less than a mile, I don’t think either of us were in any mood to push ourselves, and ended up running together for the next 5 miles till the last aid station (which is the first AS that you come around to).  If you’re having trouble with your trail run, find someone willing to chat with to distract yourself, because I didn’t quite remember how badly rocky most of the trails were during this section on the second loop...  After the last aid station, you’re running the first 3 miles of the course backwards now, and going mainly downhill; I took this section hard and finished the first loop in around 4:35 hours.

The Gorman Falls, image from -

I didn’t quite finish the first loop in the time I was expecting (optimistically, around 4 hours), but my legs were still feeling good starting the second loop, and I was just in this race to survive it...remember?  Right after I left the start/finish area Aid Station (spent maybe 5-10 minutes taking care of a few things) to begin the second loop, I ran into another friend, Ace.  Normally, Ace is a lot faster than I am, I really don’t get to run with him much often at these races we usually attend together, but he looked to be in pretty bad shape this time due to ankle and heel problems.  It was good to have some company the first 3 miles while climbing up those long and rocky hills, I stuck with Ace for probably about half a mile longer after the first Aid Station, before I had to push on ahead; I wanted to make up some good time on these runnable 5 miles.  Once I made it to the 2nd Aid Station, I was damned surprised Ace had caught up so soon, especially after limping for much of the first 3 miles I ran with him; looks like he caught his second wind, while I was taking my time at that Aid Station, he took off quickly after arriving...and a race was on, I would try to desperately catch up to him throughout the night.

I had some friendly competition now for motivation to keep me pushing on, but I would be facing the toughest stretches of the race from then on.  Throw in extremely technical trails, good climbs of several hundred feet, fatigued legs after nearly 30 miles of running, while holding it all in the dead of night, and you’ll have one dreadful experience that you’ll end up repeatedly questioning your own sanity for even doing this; I chatted with Nyleva all through this section during the first loop, so much so, that I hardly noticed some of the more rough sections, especially the big 250+ ft climb after the 3rd station; it almost seemed like an entirely different section and I wondered briefly if I was lost (exhaustion and sleep deprivation may have started to creep in at that point too).  I would death march for a few miles more over rocks that felt like landmines, the pain from some awkward steps punched straight through my Altra Lone Peaks, and I stubbed my toes so hard at one point, that I was sure it would have broken several of my toes if I had worn my Vibrams that day! 

The saving grace of those rough sections of the loop between miles 8.5 through 15.5, was a nearly 1 and half miles of flat dirt trails that ran next to the river 13 miles into the course; after a full 50K of running and stumbling over rocky trails, I took off as soon as I hit this section as if I were running a 10K race.  I surprised myself that my legs could just have taken off like that after feeling like heavy weights for the past few miles trudging up and down a rocky hill; I guess I don’t give my legs the credit they deserve sometimes.  The feeling was short lived, unfortunately, as soon as you leave that river section, the last big climb of another 250+ ft is in your way till you reach the last aid station.  Another friend I hadn’t seen seen since the beginning of the race caught up to me here, I tried keeping up with her for awhile, but my heart just wasn’t into another long and rocky climb after that flat and fast river section.

I finally saw Ace again when I made it to the last Aid Station, but he quickly left after I arrived; following a long climb, I was in no mood to go chasing after him and hung out at the Aid station for a while to give my legs a breather until the guys working the AS finally kicked me out (great bunch of guys, btw!).  Right after I left the Aid Station, I looked down at my watch and saw I had around 38 minutes left to run the last three miles to finish the race in under 10 hours; with the last three miles going mainly downhill, my goal of at least a Sub 10hr finish was within precarious reach.  After about several seconds of internally debating myself whether or not I wanted to push myself hard for those last 38 minutes, I broke off again in a fast and purposeful pace.  Like I said, I don’t give my legs as much credit as they deserve, I quickly caught up to Ace about half a mile after leaving the last Aid Station, I tried to get him meet the sub 10 hr goal with me, but he was limping again and couldn’t hang on for very long. 

I love technical downhills, and it was fun pushing the pace in the last 3 miles, but they were just way too technical to risk going at breakneck pace during the night.  I reached the last half mile dirt road to the finish at exactly 10 hours flat, a bit dejected, I entertained the thoughts of walking it in for about half a second, before I realized I can at least meet or beat my old Reveille Ranch 60K finish time from last year at 10:06:19 hrs.  I sprinted it in to finish the race in about 10:05:38 hrs...a small personal victory, but in a long Ultra, it’s helpful to take whatever motivation you can get to keep pushing yourself on till the end.  Last year, I thought it would've been nuts to try and run all four Capt'n Karl races after just 2 of the races so thoroughly thrashed my legs.  Now this year I just got done with the first three Captain Karl races with my legs in good shape and everything else holding steady, and with one more CK race to go before I buckle...bring on Reveille Ranch 60K and their huge granite Thunderdomes!!!  

Photos below are taken a year later from my 2014 trip to Colorado Bend for the 30K race:

Do love these encouraging signs on the trail

Gorman Falls, kinda hard to see

River right below the Gorman Falls.

Rocky steps leading down to the Gorman Falls

Love the lighting on this one, can be slippery going down this to see the falls.

Spicewood Springs

Trail leading towards the Spicewood Springs

This and the rest of the photos are on a mile long section leading to the Gorman Falls.