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.