Race Recap: Capt'n Karl's Trail Series
This summer series of night time trail races takes place in four beautifully rugged Hill Country parks. Distances range from 10 to 60 kilometers.
Huddled around the pavilion at the beautiful Reveille Peak Ranch, a group of us are watching a massive storm—typical this time of year in this part of Texas—roll in on top of us.
Just 30 minutes prior, we had been standing around stretching, chatting with friends, filling water bottles, prepping nutrition, and just generally relaxing ahead of the night’s test. We are all here for the fourth leg of the 2014 Capt’n Karl’s Trail Series, the night trail running series held around Central Texas that features 10K, 30K and 60K distance variations at each location.
Now though, the skies are prepared to do whatever they can to quite literally rain on our parade. We are all looking around—at the sky, at each other—wondering what happens next.
When the clouds decide to open up, the rain starts coming into the pavilion sideways, making it so that no matter where you stand under the massive roof, you are assured a good drenching. The wind is blowing at probably 20-25 mph and the temperature seems to have dropped into the high 60s—virtually freezing when you are standing around in clothes condusive for a mid-summer Texas race. Suddenly we are all looking around, a little less sure of what we have signed up for and, in fact, a little less sure if the show will even go on.
Soaking wet in cargo pants and trail shoes, Brad Quinn, the race’s owner and director, runs in out of the rain. He makes some greetings, shakes some hands, and yells—as though it should be obvious—“Five minute warning for the 60K!”
Just like that, we all know we aren’t getting off that easy. The show will go on.
An hour later, I’m running along rocky trails, soaked completely to the bone, slipping and sliding left and right. From the combination of rain and approaching darkness, I’m barely able to see around me.
I am having the time of my life.
It is suddenly clear to me why trail running is such a tight-knit sub-culture of running. At each of the aid stations, volunteers offer encouragement and advice and do their best to make sure every single runner has whatever they might need. As the hour grows later and later, the rain keeps coming and their sympathy becomes more tangible. They continue to clap and yell; encouraging and reassuring us that they’ll be out there no matter how late it gets.
The runners around me spread out more and more so that, just after darkness, I am not really seeing other people anymore—outside of the aid stations.
Earlier in the night, we had bunched up, made introductions, and joked about the pleasant weather conditions. Now we have all settled into our own unique paces and I am now running by myself along pitch-black trails. The only light around me is cast from my headlamp. It is peaceful yet exhilarating. These are the times, the moments, I point to when people ask me why I run. I’m all alone—just me, my thoughts, and the occasional PB&J sandwich, salt tablet, and water refill.
The rain is everywhere now. I don’t know which is worse: the slippery, rocky tops of the hills; the water running in small rivers we must traverse; or the muddy dirt paths winding in between those hills that are quickly coating my shoes. Each foot seems to weigh 5 pounds.
Still, I’m smiling.
The race at Reveille Peak Ranch is made up of a 12.4-mile loop. It’s to be completed three times, so that once every couple of hours we run back through the start line. It’s a party. There’s live music and throngs of people waiting around to offer whatever you may need (or not need). On my first pass through the start line, I find some Band-aids for my blisters and score some body glide to help fight my now-soaking and body-clinging shorts. I laugh with my best friend at the idiocy of this all. Then I head back out.
The light and sounds of the pavilion fade into the distance and I am alone in the darkness again.
Unfortunately, it was not to be my night. For a number of reasons, I started having problems at around 30K and ended up having to pull out of the race at the end of my second lap—40 kilometers in and 20 kilometers short of my goal.
For the next couple hours after I had stopped, I watched as runners came in from the rain—which continued to increase in intensity over the course of the night. They would scarf down some food, refill water bottles, change shirts (or try to find a solution for their wet feet), and then would head out into the night again.
For most people, reading this race account will only lead to some kind of morbid curiosity about what leads people to want to do such a thing. For those readers, I advise you to give it a try. You may get it, you may not.
For those reading this who are smiling and thinking about how awesome the series sounds, I advise you to sign up now.
While the races take place in the middle of summer, in the middle of the night, over tough and technical terrain, in any kind of weather—be it staggering heat or monsoon-like rain—they are some of my favorite races. I’ve done a 30K and two-thirds of a 60K now, and I can honestly say I will be back as soon as possible.
The first race in the 2015 Capt'n Karl's Trail Series takes place on June 27 at Pedernales Falls State Park. Register at traverserunning.com.