The Capt’n Karl’s Muleshoe Bend Nighttime Trail 60K was my first venture into ultra running last year when I raced it in July. I came into the run as a wide-eyed rookie with no runs longer than 26 miles and no real grasp of what I was up against. Sure I had raced semi-competitively in 5k, 10k and Half Marathon races and had run 90+ mile weeks, but had never pushed my physical and mental limits to that type of effort. The race was a tremendous learning experience as I ran strong for the first part of the race, but fell apart in the later stages, slipping from 1st to an 8th place finish. Since that race I have completed two 50 Mile races and one 50K, gaining experience and ultra running knowledge along the way.
My goal in coming back to take on another one of the Capt’n Karl’s 60K races, Colorado Bend, was to practice my hydration/nutrition strategy for my upcoming race, Palo Duro 50 Mile, on October 18th and to get redemption for last years race. For the past few months I’ve just been in the base phase of my training so a long trail training adventure would do me well before ramping up for race specific training!
I made the 4 ½ hour drive down to Colorado Bend State Park in Bend, TX—far from built up civilization and cell phone service. I arrived at the site of the race at 5:30PM, checked in, picked up my race packet, and then started setting up my nutrition needs for the race. My plan going into the run was to carry two 16 oz. handheld bottles with me along with Clif Shot Bloks and Gatorade powder (the items I’ve been utilizing in training so as not to introduce anything new to my body for the first time). I played the run in my mind and figured I would drink 1 bottle of water and 1 bottle of Gatorade per 8 miles and consume 2 packs of Clif Shot Bloks in the same time period, grabbing pretzels and other salted/real food items as needed from the aid stations along the course. I stashed 2 full replacement bottles in a freezer bag next to the start and headed to the line to wait for the start of the race.
The race started at 7PM in temperature that matched the number of starters, 102 degrees. The race began down a wide and nicely groomed trail for half a mile before taking a sharp right and climbing up into rock scattered singletrack. What started as a group of 10 or so at the start became Pompilio Romero, Paul Terranova and myself after just 1 mile and stayed that way until we came through mile 5. Along the way, the three of us skipped over the Lemon Ridge Aid Station at Mile 2.9 and continued onward. Once we hit mile 5 I let Pompilio and Paul go as they started picking up the pace, flying through the trail, and I continued to maintained a comfortable pace around 8:40/mile on the open sections. Knowing that I was using this as a training run allowed me to let them go without attempting to fight back like I normally would during any other race and to focus on just running a solid effort.
I ran the next 32.2 miles, well 33.7 but I’ll get to that later, of the race on my own, with the exception of one 30K runner who destroyed his field and passed me with a few miles to go in my first loop. Everything felt great and I was in good spirits, stopping at the second aid station about 8 miles into the course to refill on electrolytes before taking back off. Leaving this aid station I hit a stretch of 2 or so miles that were unrelenting on my feet. There were rocks about a foot in diameter covering the trail like land mines, making it impossible to get any solid footing. A few times I landed awkwardly and was rewarded with a sharp jab in the side of the foot. This section ended with a few giant rocks that you had to jump down before climbing back up their counterparts on the other side that finally pushed runners out into the next aid station, Gorman Falls at 10.5 miles, which I skipped over.
I was still eating a Clif Blok every 10 minutes or so and made it 12 miles before darkness truly descended and my headlamp made its first appearance. Up to this point I had only one minor fall, luckily onto a forgiving stretch of dirt trail, but knew that there were over 6 miles of trail that I had never seen before in my life before I completed the first loop and another 18.6 in the second loop that would test my technical and night running ability. Those final 6 miles of loop one were incredible; I’ve never had the type of runner’s high that I experienced during those 50-60 minutes. The next thing I knew I was back on the open half mile section to the start/finish and the end of loop one in 2:48:35, right where I wanted to be at a pace of 9:02/mile. I threw down my two empty bottles, picked up the ones I had left at the start, took a few minutes at the aid station taking down Pringles, pretzels and an S-Cap and started out for my second loop adventure.
I realized that I would have to readjust my nutrition strategy when I hit the 1st aid station (21.5 miles) and my body wouldn’t allow me to take down solid food. I refilled one bottle with ice water and one with Gatorade and continued onward. From thereon out I stopped at every aid station I came across and refilled both of my bottles with ice and gatorade which proved to work well for my body in keeping my energy up. Halfway between the first and second aid station I began to take tumbles quite regularly, averaging at least 1 fall each mile for the remainder of the run. Some were bad and others very minor. The worst one came when my left foot slipped while running over a medium sized rock, causing that leg to extend all of the way out and my right leg to extend back, slamming into another rock with full force directly on my knee. The other one that hampered my running slightly was a fall that left me with the feeling that I slightly pulled something in my back. To top it off, around mile 28 I took a hard fall. In my disoriented state, I got up and started running in the direction I had just been coming from. With darkness and rocks everywhere, the entire course looked the same for a good stretch and I didn’t realize I was going the wrong way until someone in the 30K was coming at me head on and told me.
Despite getting turned around, I finished off the run feeling confident and strong. The last 2 miles of rocky section were a tricky up and then downhill that made it hard to build up any speed. Once I came out of this section and was pushed out onto the final stretch I opened up my stride and crossed the finish line, happy to be done, even if I had just accidentally run 38.7 miles. This was a tremendously well run event with beautiful views, trails, well marked courses, and amazing volunteers. The takeaway, a 3rd place finish in 6:34:07, some great nutrition/hydration training, and the satisfaction of redeeming myself from my Capt’n Karl’s race in 2013. It just goes to show you that running ultras and finding what strategy, hydration, and nutrition work best for your body doesn’t just happen overnight. No pun intended.