60 km Trail Race Report
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