I had no business signing up for the Capt’n Karl’s 60 km trail race immediately after hopping off the Colorado Trail. I ran several times between my hike and the race (on the road), but they were all short runs that mostly felt awful. I felt slow & sluggish and my legs felt heavy from all the hiking. The heat and humidity was a total adjustment from the dry cool mountain air of Colorado and made me apprehensive about my lack of acclimation to Texas summer. The last time I had run on trail was back in April when I did the Rogue Trail Series 30 km: The Stampede. That was also the last time I did a “long run.” I ran 13.5 miles in early June, but needless to say I had not run over 10 miles in the eleven weeks leading up to the race. What was I thinking?
I justified my registration as an experiment. I knew I had the mental stamina to be on trail for 12+ hours day after day after day, so even if I was reduced to hiking I felt confident I could finish. And I wouldn’t be carrying a pack or dealing with the sun or major elevation gain, so these all seemed like reasons to test the waters and see what I could do. I didn’t have any grand hopes for the race other than just taking the time to enjoy being on trail and learning what it was like to run through the night and encounter challenges associated with the fatigue of running well past bedtime.
I can’t say that I “trained” for this race in any sort of conventional way. I built some serious strength and endurance from hiking the Colorado Trail this summer and my base from the Appalachian Trail was surely still hanging out in my quads. I had thrown down about 18 twelve hour days of serious Colorado Trail mountain hiking with a 25 pound pack on my back and had done small bouts of running with my pack when there was threat of a storm or there was a nice gradual descent. I knew my legs were strong and my body was fit. I had been pushing myself at high altitude which translates to conditioning in the heat at the cellular level.
I wanted to begin testing the waters into longer distances than I had ever run before and just see what would happen. I didn’t have expectations other than to just try my best and go until my body failed me. This relaxed approach allowed me to truly take off any pressure and just enjoy the time out there. I knew that I didn’t have any speed training so I didn’t ever look at or think about my pace. Mentally, I was prepared to be on a trail for a very long time because it felt like second nature. And physically, I trusted my fitness to cooperate and do the rest. Let the experiment begin.
About Capt’n Karl’s 60 km at Reveille Ranch
The Capt’n Karl’s race series is at night which makes this particular race series interesting and unique. The series runs through the Texas summer heat, so taking the blasting sun and perhaps a few degrees out of the equation is pretty essential to getting people to register for the event in these hot summer months. I liked the idea of running through the night to help me prepare and understand what it would be like if I decide to run a 100 mile race, which inevitably would involve running through the night. The race at Reveille Ranch is three 20 km loops (12.4 miles each), so I knew that if I got into trouble I could bail out at 12.4 or 24.8 miles if I needed to. This race was also deemed one of the more technical races in Texas as it is rocky and involves climbing up an exposed dome.
Race Day, Pre Race
The day of my race one of my closest friends, Lily, texted me about my race asking me questions like “where is it?” & “what time are you heading out?”. I started to piece together that she might be volunteering to come and support me and when I said that I didn’t have a cheering squad she immediately texted me back saying that she would be at my house at 4:30 pm! OMG! I had a crew! Having someone to help me every lap and something to look forward to was a huge motivator for me. I got super excited and started packing up the car with a blanket, chairs, a bin of all the important things I might need, a cooler full of treats and started to feel excited about the race in a whole new way now that I would have a partner in crime out there as a teammate.
When Lily arrived we quickly hopped in the car and we drove the 1 hr 15 mins to Reveille Ranch. I have been there multiple times before, but I still get all the big private ranches mixed up in my head and couldn’t really picture what the terrain would be like. Two friends were also out there running. Bryce was gearing up to run the 20 km and Muz also signed up for the 60 km. I said hello to the friends and picked up my bib and pinned it on during the pre race briefing (which started just as we arrived).
I have mixed feelings about these pre-race meetings before trail races. Sometimes there is pertinent information like “look for orange markings if you’re running X distance vs. the yellow markings for Y distance”, but more times than not they cover basic info and give too many warnings. All the warnings tend to make me more nervous than I should be and make me question myself causing my confidence to get a little wobbly. They don’t tend to be good for me psychologically before races, but I’m also the type of person that always wants all the information and has all the questions, so I end up listening anyway.
The race director kept referring to how technical this race is, saying that it is the most technical in the series. I started to get nervous about the technical aspects and asked the race director afterwards if I might need my poles. He told me there wouldn’t be any steep descents so I probably wouldn’t need them. I paused for a minute and realized that I have never used poles in Texas and I couldn’t imagine any terrain in this area that would require poles. I guess I was just nervous about how “technical” the race was going to be. In retrospect, with the Appalachian Trail as my new reference point, the word “technical” to me typically refers to terrain so steep that you are needing to use hands for scrambling, or sliding down on your butt, or a cliff where one misstep could lead to a fatal fall. It turns out that “technical” in Texas simply means that there is enough uneven terrain that your pace will be slowed down pretty dramatically from road running and that a certain amount of foot agility and trail experience is helpful.
After the race meeting Lily, Bryce, Muz and I set up our blanket of important things area just past the start/finish line. Not too long after they called the 60 km racers to the start line area and we were off. I had my headlamp on and ready although I wouldn’t be needing it for at least another 1.5 hours.
8 Hours 22 Mins
I tried to make it a point to pay attention to the course and the markings on the first lap and not get caught in a string of other runners. When you are following other runners it is much easier to zone out and not pay much attention to way-finding, which can be a relief when you’re tired because it takes a certain amount of mental energy to be the one in front looking for markings. But since we had daylight in the first lap I wanted to learn the course so that the next two laps when I was more likely to be alone and it would be dark I would have an easier time with route-finding.
Since the sun was out I knew that this first lap was my only chance to take any pictures. I’ve enjoyed taking pictures of my runs and hikes lately because it allows me to re-live the experience afterwards. It also forces me to pause and focus on the insane beauty around me. I used to never run with my phone/camera, but I really enjoyed capturing some of the race. I was just getting into the groove of the trail race, so I wasn’t totally in the mood to take pictures/videos just yet, but I knew that it would be too dark later on in the race and I would regret not having any pictures of the incredible landscape and sunset.
I stopped a few times to re-tie my shoes because it only took a few miles for me to realize that they were WAY too loose. I decided to wear my Hoka Torrents, a light trail running shoe that I use when I backpack. The only issue is that I wore very thin running socks during this race instead of my thicker Darn Tough hiking socks that I wear when hiking. This meant that the shoe was too big and my feet were sliding around and swimming in them. I tied them much tighter which helped a little, but ultimately I knew I was wearing the wrong shoes for this event. How long could I get away with wearing shoes this big? Would my feet adjust to the slipping and sliding and this hot spot pain might just disappear as time goes on? Or would I cause blisters that might prevent me from finishing the Colorado Trail next weekend with Red Stripe? These questions passed through multiple times in the first lap, but I didn’t let them rattle me. One step at a time. One lap at a time.
I did a lot of body scans to check in with myself. It helped me notice ALL the things that were going quite well for me. It can be easy to hone in on an ailment while out there alone with just my own thoughts and I have recently discovered the power of actively focusing on positive thoughts. I didn’t want to ignore the thoughts about my ailments, but I practiced mindfully noticing them and then moving on to a different thought and noticing a different part of my body that was doing well.
Side-bar about positive thinking: Earlier in the summer I put up post-it notes all around my house with positive mantras for myself and I immediately noticed a difference when I paused for a second to read them to myself. I was deliberately and purposefully interrupting my daily habits by thinking and saying to myself something that built me up. I inundated my brain to have a high quantity of positive thoughts just by reading something as simple as “you are strong” each time I passed by my refrigerator. This exercise was way more powerful than I thought it would be and I highly recommend it!
My body scans helped me realize so many things that were working in my favor. My energy levels were very good. My nutrition seemed to be going very well. My legs felt fine and not heavy or sluggish: quads, achilles, hamstrings, IT bands, hips all felt good. My lower back (I sometimes have issues here) was feeling good. My upper body felt fine. My mental and emotional space felt in tune with the present moment and was in a really good neutral zone. Not too high, not low, but just right.
I had one other ailment that I knew I would need to face and that was that my period had started earlier that day. Those that are close to me know that my period has a serious way of wreaking havoc on my entire day. It is typical for me to experience nausea, vomit, and diarrhea due to such extreme pain from my cramping uterus. More recently though I’ve been having more chill periods (I did some very intense physical therapy to work on my scar tissue and adhesions from an appendectomy I had when I was 16). Since my intensive PT, my periods have mostly been on the “normal” scale of pain and agony, but there is still some residual unpacked trauma and associated fear that gets retriggered every month on day 1 of my period. BUT OF COURSE I would deal with it on the day I had a race. My body also has a way of starting my period on days when I am already facing a challenge. I remember clearly that I had to face it on my first day of the White Mountains on Mt. Moosilauke on the Appalachian Trail and again on Mt. Katahdin at the northern terminus of the AT. Backpacking with a cramping uterus is way worse than running because there is no hip belt involved in a trail run.
I noticed this familiar pain and knew I would want to take an Aleve after the first lap to help mitigate the pain getting much worse during the next two laps. I also planned to tape my feet where the hot spots (at this point probably full blown blisters) were on the arches of my feet. I felt some sharp stinging on my toes occasionally when I had an off-kilter step, but I knew there was nothing I could do about them and they weren’t too bad. I made a little list for myself in the last few miles before rolling into the 12.4 mile aid station: FPPA (Foot, Pack, Pickle, Aleve). I needed a little bit of a game plan when I saw Lily at the aid stop so I wouldn’t forget something important. I used the last couple of miles to visualize everything I would do when I got to the aid stop so I wouldn’t waste my time. First, I would need to take off shoes/socks and assess the damage on the bottoms of my feet. I planned to use the Leukotape I brought with me to tape them. I had body glide but I could tell without looking at my feet that these blisters were beyond body glide and it was time to tape them to prevent further damage. I needed to resupply my pack by refilling my water reservoir with electrolytes and refill my pack and shorts pockets with food. I had been thinking how nice a pickle would be at this aid stop and wanted to have some. Aleve was for the period cramps.
The foot damage was done. I knew this before I got to the aid station and had an actual look. I knew I needed to arrive at the aid station with a clear decision about whether to DNF and quit after only 12.4 miles, or to tape and keep going. I weighed the decision and decided that the damage was done. I would have to deal with these blisters regardless of if I quit the race or not. Since pretty much everything else was going well, I never let skin abrasions be the reason to pull out of a race - especially if I could prevent them from getting worse by taping them. I knew my CT hike was in jeopardy, but it would’ve been in jeopardy even if I quit. I told Lily that I had monster blisters but that I planned to keep going. She fed me some pickles, refilled my reservoir with Tailwind, and I got food for the next lap, Aleve, and taped up my feet. I threw the tape and body glide in my pack in case I needed them again.
Lap two was dark. It got dark towards the end of lap 1 so I was already using my headlamp. At this point there were a lot of other racers on the trails going in both directions. There were so many distances (5k, 10k, 20k, 30k & 60k) and the courses overlapped and the start times were staggered with the 60k starting first and the 5k starting at 8:30 pm. It was so easy to see the trail markings with my headlamp (even easier than lap one in the daylight) because they were so reflective from the light from my headlamp. After a few miles I felt like the Leukotape was slipping around on my left foot and I would probably need to stop and re-tape my foot. Ugh. I decided to stop at the top of a climb with a nice view of the dark and starry Texas sky. Sure enough, I needed to retape it. It was a bit more challenging this time as I was sitting on the ground fumbling through my pack, but I got the job done.
I slowed down for the next hour or so as my foot blisters were really bothering me. I stayed on top of my nutrition and just focused on one foot in front of the other. The aid stop at mile 6ish of the 12 mi loop was full of runners this time. It took me 3 minutes just to get some ice and Tailwind in my reservoir and get out of there.
I started to pick things back up and the pain stabilized. I felt confident my feet were not getting worse and I made the decision that I would not be messing with them anymore or re-taping them. The tape was on well enough and If I peeled it off it could make things much worse. I rolled into mile 24.8 where I would see Lily for the last time before the finish. I felt good and I knew this stop would be quicker than the one before it. My legs were super shaky when I stopped, but I knew I just needed to pack up and get back on trail. This time I grabbed my spare headlamp in case the one I was wearing started to die. My stop was much shorter this time. Since I had slowed down from lap 1 to lap 2, I told Lily that lap 3 would probably be my slowest (just based on the trend of things). That ended up not being the case and my third lap was actually faster than my 2nd lap.
The 3rd lap was probably my favorite. It was late at night and the giant crescent moon rose at about 2:30 am. I was up on top of an exposed dome when the glowing orange light of the moon rise came over the horizon. I stopped dead in my tracks a few times just to relish in this magical beauty. Sometimes I didn’t even believe it could be real. The moon has always been a source of strength and positive energy for me so I intentionally felt this beautiful moon-rise as a sign of the universe giving me an extra push to finish this race strong.
I felt strong throughout the last lap. I felt my cadence quicken in certain areas and my energy levels were no longer neutral, but soaring. This is a little risky because with such extreme highs there is risk for an emotional/energetic crash. But luckily it was the last lap so I just soaked it all in. I had also consumed some caffeine in this lap in hopes that it would mask some of the pain as well as give me a boost to push through the wee early morning hours.
I didn’t see another headlamp for the entire last lap. I LOVED getting to have the whole trail and what felt like the whole world to myself. I felt so vulnerable, so free, and so at peace. I felt like I was doing exactly what I was meant to be doing. This feeling of trail ecstasy was not expected. I carried my headphones and phone and had music and podcasts queued up in case I felt like I needed a little external stimulus. The thought to pull out my headphones never cross my mind. The thought of wishing I had someone to run with also never crossed my mind. I didn’t feel lonely at all. I felt so alive.
When I ran through the last aid station, the volunteer told me that I would probably finish in second place. WHAT?! I had no concept of where the other racers were in comparison to me. I knew that plenty of people had passed me during all my foot-taping and shoelace tying pit stops, but I really didn’t pay any attention to the other runners (especially because there were so many other shorter races happening simultaneously). I was running that race for myself - as a pure experiment and check in to see what I could do and try to push my limits. It never crossed my mind to pay attention to how I was doing compared with other runners because I simply didn’t care and never thought it would matter.
My headlamp began to dim in the last hour and it became so dim that I noticed I was tripping and falling a bit more than usual. I didn’t want to stop and take off my pack to get my backup headlamp out though because stopping and starting was hard. I was in a groove and just wanted to keep moving. I was able to reach around to the outside pouch of my pack and pull out my headlamp with some contortionist moves and somehow didn’t fall! The new headlamp was SO bright and amazing and I’m grateful I had it for the last hour.
I crossed the finish line around 3:30 am and sure enough I got second place female! I was shocked and proud. I hadn’t had the best race of my life (super rookie error on my footwear choice), so naturally, I was surprised to see that my effort was relatively competitive that day. The woman who won frist place found me after the race and said she spent hours running so fast trying to catch me because she thought I was ahead of her! She kept asking people at the aid stations how far ahead the girl in the pink shirt was so she could chase me down. I told her I had to pull over and do some foot maintenance and that must’ve been when she passed me. The funny thing about this is that she spent two thirds of the race racing me, while I spend 0% of the race racing her or anyone. I think I maybe had a lot more fun though (and that’s also probably why I got second place and not first - haha).
I was pretty filthy because I had taken some spills and the dry dusty dirt was drawn to my sweaty and sticky skin like a magnet. I was basically covered in dirt. I even fell once while I had an open gel in my hand and ended up munching on some dirt with the rest of my gel after the fall. I had been looking forward to getting into the little pool by the pavilion for the last hour or so of the race. I immediately took off my shirt, socks and shoes and hopped into the water in my shorts and sports bra and debriefed with Muz and Lily for about an hour before Lily and I hit the road. I was a caffeinated chatterbox on cloud 9.
I got home at about 5:30 am but couldn’t even conceive of falling asleep. The caffeine I took had me wired. I took a bath with epsom salts to ease my period cramps and hoped it would help me feel sleepy. I was finally able to nod off around 8:00 am and woke up around noon.
I decided to assess the foot damage and peeled off the leukotape. YOW! The tape peeled off some of my skin which made the blister on my left foot a giant swath of raw skin. The skin on the right foot was still attached in some places even thought he blister had drained so it had a much better chance of healing quickly. My toes and toenails were in very rough shape. The toenails were extremely damaged and soooo tender.
The next day I decided to use second skin on my right/better foot (which apparently you are supposed to leave on until it naturally falls off because it is all adhesive). After soaking my feet and re-bandaging my left foot I decided to take off the second skin to let my skin breathe for the night. BAD DECISION! The skin that was still there all came off when I peeled off the adhesive. Now my right foot was at total square one. My toenails continued to worsen and seep and the redness and tenderness became almost unbearable. By Thursday that week I went to the Dr. and she said they were already infected and I needed to start antibiotics. Noooo! Antibiotics tear up my gut and are the worst. But they have also saved my life before (crazy cut on my knee from a trail running fall in Spain a few years ago… long story).
The toughest and most achy part of this post race crash was the heartache I felt for having to make the decision to postpone finishing my thru hike of the Colorado Trail with Red Stripe. I knew this was the only time she could realistically finish the trail, so it meant we wouldn’t be able to finish together. I felt down on myself for letting my feet get into such a rough place that I had to change my plans with Red Stripe and I felt like I was letting her down on having her hiking buddy out there.
The emotional crash from such an exhilarating experience was hard to manage while I was dealing with such intense physical ailments at the same time. I hit a pretty low low in the days after the race and just desperately wanted/needed to be taken care of. I felt alone and it was hard to sleep. I probably averaged about 4-5 hours of sleep for the week after the race. My metabolism kept signaling that I was hungry, but I was so sedentary that I felt heavy from eating and not moving.
Then the eczema set in - which ended up being one of the worst ailments of all. It started out on the skin on top of my feet in the exact shape of where the leukotape had been. I have had an eczema outbreak due to tape on my skin once before and it is the worst! It lasts 2-4 weeks and is so unpredictably itchy. I used steroid cream and moisturizer on my skin, but the only relief I seemed to get was from soaking my feet in a warm colloidal oatmeal bath and then using the oatmeal to make a paste to put on my skin for after the soak. The eczema spread to the bottom of my feet (just think about how deep that itch is when its on thick skin such as the bottoms of your feet!). The oatmeal baths and Benadryl helped with bedtime.
I spent some of this down time planning my next year and have decided I want to try exploring the depths of ultrarunning this year. This could mean some stage races and hopefully an epic and mountainous 100 miler. I signed up to run the Bandera 100 km (62 mi) in January, which means as soon as I can put on socks and shoes I will need to begin putting in the miles. I also rescheduled my CT thru hike finish for two weeks from now (hopefully I’ll be ok to hike by then!) and will finish the hike on my birthday weekend. I’m excited because I want to try and do 34 miles on my 34th birthday and there is no better place to attempt that than on the CT!
Realistically this is its own blog post. But I will just say that my body, mind and heart have learned what it means to suffer at a whole new level in this last year. Pushing myself to go longer in my racing helps me feel stronger and more resilient. I like to use ultra running to practice mindfulness during uncomfortable moments or hours. Pushing and running through the suffering, knowing that it is temporary, allows me to see pain’s counterpart: total ecstasy, peace and bliss. Sometimes it takes hours of being on a trail to open a new world for me and I feel like I am tap dancing on the stars. I just feel SO. ALIVE.
Running a race like this actually felt pretty easy for me. I don’t mean that to sound arrogant, but every step at Reveille Ranch felt a thousand times easier than any step on the Appalachian Trail. Any pain or suffering out there was minuscule compared with more grueling injuries I’ve suffered or the emotional weight that comes with the curve balls the universe has thrown at me in recent times. My threshold for pain on a physical, mental and emotional level has developed to a much deeper place and I have grown into a stronger person because of it.
Since the race start time was in the evening (7:00 pm), this meant that I had to really be cognisant of my nutrition for the entire day leading up to the race. Usually for a morning race starts I have a simple pasta dinner the night before and some oatmeal the morning of. This time was a little different because I needed to be eating and not feel hungry, but also keep my food simple, light and not too fibrous or spicy. I ate oatmeal, rice cakes, toast, and drank a Soylent throughout the day.
I brought my rice cakes along for the race to try out something other than gels and bars for my during the race nutrition and they hit the spot! One rice cake is probably about 200-250 calories, so I ate half of one at a time. I tried to consume about 100 calories every hour on the hour. I nailed it perfectly and it gave me something to look forward to. I ate 2 full rice cakes, 1 mint chocolate Redd bar, a caffeine gel and caffeine chews.
The caffeine was an interesting choice because while it masked the pain of the last lap as well as gave my energy and mood a HUGE boost, it made my recovery a little more of a challenge because it was very hard to sleep after the race and I ended up playing catch up on my sleep for like a week. I don’t normally consume caffeine and I save it for the end of races so it has a very potent effect on me due to my general lack of caffeine consumption. The rice cakes were super easy to eat and I will certainly use them again in future races. I also exclusively drank electrolytes. I had Skratch in my reservoir to begin the race and then continued to fill up with ice and about 0.5L - 1L of Tailwind (what they had on course) about every 6 miles. I liked the Tailwind because it wasn’t too sweet and it was easy to drink and also provided calories. I snacked on pickles and watermelon on the course at the aid stops as well. I decided to only stop at two of the 4 aid stops each lap. I stopped every 6ish miles. Once at the start/finish where Lily and all my gear and food were and the other at the halfway point of the lap, skipping the two aids stops in between.
My outlook is positive, and this whole race and its aftermath have been a great learning experience. I feel a lot more confident in my trail running than I ever have before. Trail running used to be daunting to me and now it feels more normal than hanging out in my living room. It was fun to test the waters in such a low stakes and fun environment and I feel so much more confident in my endurance. I no longer feel intimidated by massive distances. I know that if I train my feet, muscles, tendons and ligaments I can cover any distance. My mental, emotional, and nutritional training is already on point and these non-physical components are half the battle in ultra running. I feel like my compass is no longer wobbly and I know that I want to explore deeper and longer into the trail running ultra world. It feels like I found my home.