In the days leading up to the race, I had pulled up my training log from the previous year to see what my mileage looked like. In my favor was that my mileage was up over last year's, but working against me was the fact that I only had one run of 30+ miles since mid May. Somehow, I felt that not having run the first two races in the series would serve me well in the since that I would be a little better rested. And in reality, I think it I was better off for it as I stood at the starting line. What I was unable to compensate for was the heat. I don't know the exact temperature at 7:00 pm, the start time, but the Weather Channel had a forecast of 103 just a couple hours earlier. I've read from other runners anywhere from "over 100" to "108". So I'm sticking with 103. Does it even matter once it gets over 100?
The race itself starts with an out-and-back of .84 on a dirt road which brings the runners back to the trail and into the hill country. After that it is four 9.09 mile loops of this.............
This course is crazy because it wanders all over the place back and forth with several little loops. This is the second year I've ran this and I will tell you that while I know fairly well where I am in the course and what's coming up next, I have no idea of where I am on the map. The course plays tricks with your mind when you come within very close range of runners that you know are behind you, yet you wonder why they are so close. Is it possible you took a wrong turn? Overall the course is marked pretty good, but there are a few sections with a lot of rock outcroppings in which there is no actual trail, but just the rock. At that point you go from "confidence marker" to "confidence marker", fluorescent ribbons tied to branches or tree limbs. Once it's dark, there are also glow sticks to help along the way and they do. I thought the marking this year was better than last's and never felt at any point that I was really lost, but still gave it some consideration a couple of times.
Okay, on with the the race. Three friends that had run the Jemez 50 with me had made the trip down from Dallas to experience their first Captain Karl's race. Nick, Shaheen and Edgar. Notably missing where our two other friends that ran Jemez Mountains Trail Run with us, Amy and Jayna, the remainder of Team Endurasoak, also know as "the purple team" at Jemez. We got to the race about an hour before it started and ended up with a parking spot right across a dirt road from the start/finish. We couldn't have been any better positioned in my opinion. We unloaded all of our stuff and spread it out so that it would serve as our own aid station. I filled eight handheld bottles, placed six of them in an ice chest, two for the first loop and set out my gels and Cliff bars that I would eat for each lap. I was all set. I had already turned on my Garmin and put fresh batteries in my Black Diamond headlamp. The only thing I was missing was my Lenny & Larry's Muscle Brownies that I failed to buy at home. Hence, the Cliff bars instead, but I would be alright.
After a brief runner's meeting, we were off. As always a ton of runners shot out of their pretty quick. My adrenaline was going and I wanted to chase after them, but told myself to be patient. Thirty-seven miles in 100+ temperature was going to make for a long night (I just didn't know how long at that point). The out-and-back was quick and before I knew it we were entering back into the start-finish area and then heading into the trails. We were immediately greeted by the race photographer before getting to the top of the hill and out of sight of the camp. Great idea, get some pictures of everyone while they are still smiling and not yet within the grip of death. Of course they get those as well so there's no escaping it.
|Early, very early into the race|
I followed behind the 3 guys for a few miles until one of them stopped to relieve himself and the other two with him stopped to wait on him. They too had been talking about the some of the front runners going out too fast and that they would come back to the pack. I was thinking the same thoughts. Sorry, I don't know you guys and I'm not stopping for you to take a leak. I probably won't even stop if I need to take one. Three down just like that........next.
Before long I came up on two more runners that I had caught glimpses through the trees. I passed one fairly quickly and then got on the tail of the next, camelbak guy, and followed him for a bit before passing him. Along the way, I passed two more runners, but got caught and passed by camelbak. What in the hell just happened I thought, I just got passed. Rather than try to start racing this guy, I decided to just hang with him. About one mile from the finish area he turned on his headlamp and I decided to do the same. It was getting dark and footing on the loose rocks of the trails was a bit tricky. When I turned mine on, it went off within seconds. Turned it back on and it did the same thing. I continued this a number of times until eventually the F word started freely flowing from that opening just below my nose. What in the hell, I put new batteries in it and it tuned on back at car. Of course, I turned it on and then turned it off there. Oh well, the only other AAA batteries I had were the ones I tossed in a gear bag that came out of the lamp. I followed the runner in to the start-finish aid station, crossed the timing matt and turned to run over to my "stuff". I dug through the bag, found the batteries and replaced them. Replaced my two handheld bottles and headed back out to the trails. Camelbak guy was gone. He left me in the dust while I screwed with my batteries, nice!
About 100 yards out I realized I forgot to grab a replacement gel for the one that I took 40 minutes into the race as planned. Gels every 40 minutes for the first 18 miles then switch to a Cliff Bar for each of the last two laps. I had one left on me and about 90 minutes of running ahead before I was back to my gels. It was already time to take the second one being about 1:30 into the race. I opted not to go back for more, but just suck it up, maybe grab something at the other fully stocked aid station on the course, about six miles away.
Oh hell. I had also forgot to down a couple of Succeed S Caps. I was making all the mistake of a newbie on the course. What in the world was I doing? Trying to sabotage my own race? I had to blame it on the fact that I had got in from traveling at 4:45 a.m. the night before, a 300 mile drive to Marble Falls for the race and the one hundred friggin' whatever temperature that it was. Stay calm, don't freak about it and just improvise.
On the way in from the first loop (there is a small section that runners going both directions travel) I passed Edgar going out on loop 2. He must have been 5 minutes ahead, maybe less if I had been more efficient in the station. Edgar was coming off a July victory of Ft. Worth's El Scorcho 50K. I had thought that if I could hang close to him it would give me some confidence in my fitness and endurance early in my TNF 50 training. He had gone out faster than I cared to run early and knowing how strong he ran El Scorcho I figured he would just open the gap as the night went on.
For the second loop I don't think I passed one single 60K runner, but I didn't get passed either. No good news, but no bad news. I realized pretty quickly in this loop that I needed to go ahead and walk anything uphill and I did. I downed 22 ozs of G2 by the time I got to the unmanned water station that was 3 miles from the start. That didn't take long. I decided to stop and fill the bottle with water and started using the strategy of one bottle for water on my head, one for G2 to drink. I actually dumped the cold water on my head and the back of my neck, shoulders, pretty much everywhere. Six more miles and lap two was in the books. On the short two-way section I again passed Edgar going back out. I also passed camelbak guy going out. Whoever was ahead of them I had no idea, they were long gone. Neal Lucas and Steven Moore, the 1st and 2nd place finishers respectively in the first two races of the Capt'n Karls' Series for sure and if there was anyone else, I wouldn't know. Too many people going in and out at this time and it was basically just a bunch of headlamps out there running around.
As I got into the 3rd lap I actually found myself feeling better. I was listening to some music fairly loud on my iPod that I had picked up after the first loop and I was trying to convince myself to keep it up, keep moving. As long as I was running I figured I wasn't giving up ground to anyone behind me and quite possibly could be gaining ground on those in front of me. For some reason, the halfway point of any run is always a mental hurdle for me. Whether it be an easy 6 mile recovery run, or a 25 miler, once I pass the halfway mark I know I've got less distance to travel than what I've already done and at that point I'm good. Saturday night was no different. Where I found myself struggling in the 2nd loop, probably the most difficult for me, once into the 3rd I knew finishing was going to happen, it was just a matter of how long would it take.
I can't even remember exactly where, maybe halfway through the 3rd loop, I come up on camelbak guy walking. I stopped and walk with him and asked if he is okay. He responded yes, just bad cramping in his calves. I feel your pain buddy, me too in the right calf, but I don't have any S caps. He didn't either, not on him, but back at the start. Actually, I was given some by a very nice female 30k'er at the water station because once again I failed to take any when I completed loop two. For whatever reason, I must have looked bad coming in, but she offered some up and I gladly took them. Not Succeed, but Hammer Endurolytes instead and they seemed to do the job. Well, other than cramping he was fine so I needed to get going. In doing so, I picked up the pace and sped out of there quicker that what I would have, but I wanted him to think I was kicking it pretty good. For all I know he didn't give a damn, but if he did, I had no problem trying to break his spirit by hauling ass out of there and trying to send the message "don't even bother coming after me". I may not have been on pace for my sub 6, but I wasn't dead and my competitive spirit was alive and well.
Before long in the same loop I came up on another walker......Edgar. "Edgar, you alright?" I was surprised to see him there. He responded "yeah, just tired." Okay, he was okay and I was feeling fine so I needed to keep going. I know he wouldn't be walking for long so I wanted to open the gap if I could and maybe catch the next guy. I decided to run fairly hard (which was a relative term at that time) and hold it. It wasn't supposed to be comfortable out there and I reminded myself of that. While I may have felt like I was flying and running pretty fast, in reality I was hitting paces of 9:00 at top speed, maybe closer to 10 minute miles most of the time. The end of the 3rd lap was coming. I could see the gate that we ran through and then a short downhill run would send me into the scream tunnel of fans....about 20 maybe....okay, maybe 10......at the finish line. However, before I could get there I lost focus and I found myself smacking the ground pretty hard for the first time of the night. On a good note, it was on pure dirt and not the rocks found throughout the majority of the course. The worst part was that I was now covered in dirt similar to when you take a chicken breast and roll it in flour. It was not a comfortable feeling. I picked myself up, gathered my water bottles and headed in to the finish.
A quick drop off of the dirt covered handhelds and I grabbed just one clean one out of the ice chest. I thought I would carry a small flashlight as well since the batteries on my headlamp were fading. My light had become very dim. The problem with the flashlight was that it had old batteries in it. I never planned on using it for the race so who knew how long it would last. I grabbed a couple pieces of banana and I was off on my 4th loop. On the way out I passed Edgar coming in about the same place that he had previously passed me going out. I also passed camelbak guy. Geez, they were closer than I expected, but still a little ways behind me, maybe the same 5 minutes I estimated earlier in the night?
I got moving as best I could, but there was some walking involved in the early section of the loop due to some uphill sections in loose dirt. That's okay, I decided to stick to the strategy, walk it and run everything else that I could. I was really feeling decent (all things considered) and told myself again, as long as I was running they weren't gaining ground on me. I went into my "running scared" mode, most often used in speedwork for marathon training, I was able to kick it in on the 4th loop. Almost as if I were an escaped convict running for freedom in the woods at night. Not that I would have earthly idea what that really feels like, but I can only imagine. I even had the barking dogs. Seriously, my feet were killing me.
Loop 4 was going pretty good other than the concern of being caught and a new fear of my batteries dying. My headlamp was getting very dim and the small flashlight started flickering. My thinking was that I would ask someone along the way if they had any spare batteries. Really, that was my plan? "Hey would you happen to have some batteries on ya?" How about just run faster and be done with it. Well, I tried and I even had myself convinced that I was running faster, but splits don't lie and as I finally looked at them today, wow, I had dropped off quite a bit as I progressed through each loop. More on that later.
I continued to run best I could, almost wiping out a few times in some of the knarly rock sections and I finally convinced myself to slow it down. The fatigue was taking it's toll as well as the weak lighting and I had found myself running like a drunk stumbling around in the dark, getting off balance and leaning one way and then the other until I recovered. While the 10-12 minute miles at this point were not exactly burning up the trail, I didn't care to smack a tree or a rock with my face. Walk when I had to through the difficult sections, run everything else.
Eventually I pulled into the second aid station on the course and now I had a mere 3 miles remaining, if that. Out of desperation I asked the two guys there manning the station if they had any batteries by chance, AA or AAA as I could replace the flashlight or headlamp. To my surprise and first stroke of good luck for the night, one said "yes", he had AAA's. Yes!!! I replaced the headlamp batteries and turned it on. I felt like I was standing outside of the Griswald's house all of a sudden. What a difference that made. The final miles went by rather quickly and I never had the threat of another runner passing me. Per the results, the next runner was over 11 minutes behind so I guess I actually gained ground on that last loop.
6:43:13 total time and 4th overall. My splits for the 9.09 mile loops were roughly 1:27, 1:37, 1:44 and 1:49. I was disappointed during the run that I wasn't going sub 6, but in the end I was just happy to be done and it didn't really bother me that I missed my goal. The heat was a huge factor and my nutrition errors didn't help me the least bit. I ended up taking in only 3 gels, less than 1/2 of a Cliff Bar and random pieces of banana. I really believe that being mentally fatigued before the race even started affected me more than I realized. I know that for my goal race in December I will need to be much more focused or else be ready to accept similar results. A few thing's are for certain, I won't be getting to bed at 5:00 a.m. the morning before, I won't have a 300 mile drive the day of the race and it won't be 100+ degrees in December in the Muir Woods.
Thanks for your time and take care!