A Tale of Two Races: Capt’n Karl’s Night Time Trail 10k / 30k / 60k at Reveille Peak Ranch

Reveille Peak Ranch: Capt’n Karl’s Night Trail Run
August 24, 2013

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair [. . .]” (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)

“The 2013 Capt’n Karl’s Night Time Trail Series wrapped up this past Saturday at Reveille Peak Ranch and what a finale it was!

 As runners arrived and checked in, there was a great breeze and it was definitely not as hot as it had been at the other Capt’n Karl’s races over the summer.  Unfortunately, with the humidity and the cessation of the wind later in the evening, the night turned out to be hotter than forecast but was still fantastic!

In spite of numerous reports of rattlesnake sightings and the endless granite, all runners returned to the Start/Finish safely.  The 10k, 30k, and 60k races were exciting as usual with course records being set in the 10k and 60k races.  The Series winners list included the expected roster of champions and also some unexpected but very happy winners.  Full race results are in the columns below.

With the playful, raucous din of The Shady Rest Band and the aroma of No Label beer filling the air, runners and spectators alike were treated to a fun lineup of finish line festivities. Between the laughter of those cooling off in the pool, roasting marshmallows for S’mores, and just hanging out swapping stories, the atmosphere at the Start/Finish Pavilion was the very essence of relaxed celebration and we look forward to enjoying another summer of night time trail races with you all in 2014!” (Capt’n Karl’s Reveille Peak Ranch Post Race Wrap-Up, email)

Anyone reading the post race wrap-up report above will understand that Capt’n Karl’s Night Time Trail Race at Reveille Peak Ranch was a fabulously enjoyable race event. Runners waiting for their races to begin were jovial at the start area. A few cottony white clouds dotted the clear, deep blue Texas sky. The scenery in this hill country setting formed the perfect backdrop for a trail race. A little later in the evening, after the various distance of races started, the Shady Rest Band set up under the pavilion at the start / finish line and played some fine blue-grass music. As runners finished their various distance races, they gathered under the pavilion to enjoy the festivities with the family members and friends who attended the event to support them. The lights, the music, and the laughter carried through the dark, quiet of the hill country so that one could hear the celebration before she reached the finish line; it was a welcoming vision for the weary runners as they finished their races, and the thought of joining in the festivities gave them the extra spurt of energy they needed to rush over the finish line.

IMG_1328At least that’s how I imagine the racers felt when they witnessed the party at the finish line. For those runners who arrived at race site prepared, with some training and knowledge of night trail running, the experience probably parallels the race’s description in the wrap-up email from the event’s organizer. For Phillip and me, on the other hand, the party under the pavilion at the finish cast a more somber note on our already dismal evening, for when we witnessed it we were only half-way through the 30k. We still had about 9.3 miles left before our finish, and we knew that second loop was going to be ugly. Sadly, through no one’s fault but our own, we had a much different experience at Reveille Peak Ranch that evening than those who actually finished the race while the band was still playing and the beer still flowing. My report of our race experience is, indeed, a tale of two races. Well, perhaps it’s a tale of multiple races: the race other, prepared runners experienced, the race Phillip and I experienced in our imaginations before the race, and then the race we actually experienced. Or perhaps I should title this report “How Not to Train for a Night Trail Run,” because not training for this race was the one thing regarding the race that we did really well.

I readily confess that Phillip and I have been lax about running this summer. We get in our miles, and we even get in hill work and speed work; however, we let our busy schedules and our aversion to the intense South Texas heat and humidity interfere with our longer runs, and running on unpaved trails. In a pinch for time this summer, we’re more likely to run what we refer to as “ye olde greenbelt,” a trail-head for which is exactly one mile from our front door, than to drive to the area parks to run unpaved trails. Yes, the green-way has unpaved trails galore, but when we’re in a hurry to get in a run (whether we’re running alone or with each other), sticking to the pavement seems more efficient. Perhaps our first mistake going into the Capt’n Karl’s Reveille Peak Ranch Night Trail 30k was that we simply didn’t run enough miles on unpaved trails. Eisenhower and Friedrich Park have technical trails that rival those at the rance. More time on those would have helped us pick our way more speedily along the trails on race night.

Our second mistake was that we ran, uuummm  . . . . let me think a second . . . . oh, yes. I remember now: exactly one practice night run. What’s more, IMG_1322we ran that run on the paved trail of the green-way, and we had really weak lights. We didn’t notice the low quality of the lights we wore on our hats that evening; they worked on the pavement, where the relative absence of shadows and the lack of random obstacles gave us a false sense that running at night just isn’t that difficult. The green-way is bereft of lighting, so we were actually running in the dark, but it was much different terrain than we would be running at Reveille Peak Ranch. This practice run gave us a mistaken impression of the nature of night trail running.

Our third mistake could have been avoided had we not made the second mistake. Had we run practice night runs on unpaved trails, we would have realized the need for strong lights to brighten a much larger area in and around us as we ran those unpaved trails. The shadows of the cause low visibility of all the rocks, roots, tiny tree stumps, drop-offs and such that form technical unpaved trails. We went into the night at Reveille Ranch with inexpensive lights that provided lighting much too dim to allow us to run with visual competence. We struggled to see, and that struggle made us much too cautious to cover those trails at a faster pace. At one point late in our second and final loop, a generous, sympathetic 60k runner passed us, observed our lighting deficiency as she passed, and offered us her extra light. We gratefully declined, however; at this point in our race, not even a brighter light would have changed our situation for the better. I think we felt the need to accept the consequences of our (lack of) training. Moreover, our verbal self-flagellation (mixed with a dose of self-pity) was actually making the time pass more quickly. (And I might add  that we could tell how much we really were sucking at this race by the way all the runners who passed us shouted out to us how strong we looked as they left us in clouds of dust . . . . I mean, what runner ever has any other runner or volunteer reassure him how strong he looks when he’s actually doing well in a race????)

IMG_1325Eventually, about 6.5 hours later (and despite our dismal time, we managed to come in before a handful of other 30k runners), we crossed the finish line. As one of the awesome volunteers took my chip off my ankle, another awesome volunteer placed a medal around my neck. I thanked him while mentioning that I really did not deserve the medal for finishing so near the end. He told me that the time I finished didn’t matter; what mattered is that I finished. I still appreciate him saying as much, and I still super appreciate all the finish line volunteers who remained as cheerful, encouraging, and helpful 6.5 hours after the race began as they were at the race start. What had changed between 7:15 pm and 1:35 am was the activity in the pavilion. Gone were the live band and the crowd of laughing, dancing, drinking runners and supporters that we witnessed when we hit the starting mat to record our splits at the end of the first loop. Some people remained, but it was more subdued crowd. We had missed the party! With our figurative tails between our legs, we headed quickly for the car, to our ice chest filled with chilled bottles of Mexican Coke and cans of La Croix, and headed for home. During the 1.5 hour ride home, our determination to run Capt’n Karl’s Reveille Peak Ranch 30k next year better prepared, with a much better time, replaced our determination to avoid night trail runs in the future. In general, the race was a wonderfully organized, supported, challenging venue, and worth experiencing again. Perhaps the most important facet of this race is that the race shirts are gender specific and cool, with the inspirational adage, “Those who won’t take a chance, don’t get a chance,” printed on the back!

The morning after Capt'n Karl's: breakfast and mimosa at Curra's. Yum. All better now.
The morning after Capt’n Karl’s: breakfast and mimosa at Curra’s. Yum. All better now.

Truthfully, we did some things correctly. We ate well enough leading up to the race that we had plenty of energy for that 6.5 hour trek through the dark woods, even though we didn’t eat anything during the race. We’ve worked out enough that our muscles still felt strong after 6.5 hours those trails (though our comparatively slow pace may deserve some credit for our store of energy when we finished). We dressed and body-glided correctly (no discomfort from chafing, etc). My Xero 4mm custom-made huaraches held up to the often-brutal beating they took from the rough terrain, and my feet felt comfortable the entire race. We will return next year a little wiser, certainly better prepared, and ready to finish while the party is still going on. Yes, it was a dreadful race . . . . but it was also a great race.

Up next: the Flagstaff Trail Marathon on September 21st. We’ve hit the trails a lot more since our Capt’n Karl’s debacle, and we’ve been diligent about  hill work and speed work. Still not so much on the really long runs. We’ll see how it goes!

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