Trail Running in Texas & beyond


Rocky Raccoon 100 Pace Chart Analysis


A few friends asked me their opinion of their goals at RR100 and a sample pace chart.  I’ve done some looking at RR100 splits in the past and I love a running the numbers so I was happy to oblige.  In looking at the numbers previously there were clearly some trends.  Sadly, time will prevent me from going in depth but what follows is a general overview and I hope is useful to some Raccoons.

About the numbers

I decided to look at 20 hour to 24 hour finishes. That worked out to 338 records.  I didn’t use all the years since due to formatting it would have meant additional data scrubbing but it covers about 5 different years and a wide range of conditions.

I choose those finishing times because there are many people shooting for sub-24 and faster than 20 hours, well, those runners have enough advantages and can figure it out on their own 🙂

Included is each loop split and the variance from loop to loop both in minutes & as a percentage. Loop to loop variances are color coded so that it is easier to see patterns or significant jumps within the data set.

Color code legend:

  • blue = negative split
  • green = less than 30 minutes slower than the prior split / less than 10% slower
  • yellow = 30 to 45 minute slower than prior split / between 10% and 15% slower
  • orange = 45 to 60 minute slower than prior split / between 15% and 25% slower
  • red = 1 hour slower than prior split / greater than 25%

Download PDF of Raw Data:  RR100Split-20h to 24h

Some assumptions

The basic assumption is that a race run closer to even splits is more efficient race and therefore closer to the potential of that runner.  Research and studies of elites tend to run even or negative split races and that many PR / PB races closer follow the same pattern for distances ranging from 5k to marathon. However, ultra race, especially at 100 miles is a bit different and even all time great races out there show slow down in the later stages.  Additional complications are than most ultras are either not loops are long loops so we don’t get the granulator details we see with marathon or track running.

However, even still, looking at some of the best performances still show less variance on a per split.  For example, look at Zach Bitter’s track efforts or Max King at the 100k world champions to name but a few. Ian Sharman’s classic RR100 run  in 2011 had splits of:

  • Loop 1 – 2h 29m
  • Loop 2 – 2h 25m
  • Loop 3 – 2h-29m
  • Loop 4 – 2h 35m
  • Loop 5 – 2h 46m

What do the numbers show?

Well, that is up to you, for now to dig into the details.  I’d like to spend more time with the data and add back in age and gender to see what additional patterns emerge.  But on first glance, the patterns are I see are:

  • Most runners go out too fast and then hit a wall.  We all know that but …
    1. Runners chasing 24 hours tend slow down greatly on loop 3 & 4 and then bounce back with a stronger loop 5 (likely motivated by getting in under 24 hours).
    2. Runners in 21-23 hour bracket tend to run 3 great loops, then hit a massive wall. While often their Loop 5 looks good in terms of variance, loop 4 is a sea of orange with many runners being 90 minutes to 2 hours slower than their first loop for 4 and 5.

I bolded what I consider ‘good’ runs. Basically, runs that are all green for each loop or with only a single yellow loop.

Pace Chart

Based on the numbers, here is sample pace chart.  I suggest starting with this and then look at the numbers for yourself to fine-tune your own.

The simple strategy is try to stay within 10-20 minutes of the prior loop.  Ideally, you’d run very even splits but based on the history shown here, it seems unlikely that will happen, so these represent realistic splits given most people’s tendencies.  If you are great at even splits, someone like Ian Sharman or Thomas Orf, then stick to those, you’ll be better for it. Most of these charts factor in the loop 4 slow down that repeats over and over in the numbers.

  Loop 1 Loop 2 Loop 3 Loop 4 Loop 5


3h 30m

3h 45m


4h 15m

4h 30m


3h 35m

3h 50m

4h 10m

4h 35m

4h 50m


3h 50m

4h 5m

4h 20m

4h 45m




4h 15m

4h 35m


5h 10m


4h 10m

4h 25m

4h 45m

5h 15m

5h 30m

Tips on RR100

There isn’t anything new here but as someone who has organized the aid stations at RR100 and paced runners out there here are few things I’ve seen over and over.

  1. Too much time spent at aid stations.  With some many aid stations, you lose a ton of time if you stop at each one. If you plan on running very light and using the aid station food, the grab and go, don’t stop.  Even the longest aid station break should be less than a couple minutes but for most you to grab and go as quick as possible. Even if you use the aid station as a running break, a walking break is better for you on several fronts as you save time and won’t tighten up.
  2. The danger of Start/Finish.  Start / Finish is where your crew is at, your friends, a chair, your car, all of it.  Unless you have a medical issue, time will slip away at the biggest and busiest aid stations. Personally, I also find all those people including my crew throw me out of the mental zone. If you do need to get something from your bag at Start / Finish, make your plans before you get there, get it as fast as possible and walk out. 
  3. Don’t change your shoes unless you have to.  This is a huge time sink and often not as necessary as people convince themselves it is.  Take care of your feet before the race.  However, if something is causing problems, deal with it early because it will be faster to fix early and keep you running than having to deal with it once reaches the critical stage.
  4. Know the weather.  Every year people get caught out because they don’t realize how fast it cools down once the sun goes down. 

Send a Vet to RWB Trail Running Camp

— Update —

Fun times were had by six loons who loves some hill repeats. Started with rain and lightning, ended with some sun peaking out from the clouds. After 106 repeats run and additional $$ donations by people who couldn’t join us on the hill, I sent RWB Trail Running camp $200.



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— Previous —



The RWB Trail Running camp is one of the most special weekends I’ve had a opportunity to experience. This Memorial Day weekend, I’d like to raise money that helps fund this amazing camp.

How you can help —

Hill Repeats for $$

Saturday, May 23rd, 6:30am.

I’ll be doing hill repeats at the Hill of Life in Austin, TX. Come join me and for every mile you run, I’ll donate a dollar from a the matching pool.

Route will include normal repeats and cliff loops. Come start early or join later. My plan is for 25-30 miles so I’ll be out there for a while, rain or shine. It will be humid so bring plenty of fluids. I’ll have some ice.


For every dollar you donate this Memorial Day weekend (Friday 5/22/15 to Monday 5/25/15), I’ll match your donation dollar for dollar (total matching pool is currently $250 — see below to help raise the matching pool).

To donate go here:

Send me a picture / screen capture of your receipt via my contact form and I’ll match your contribution.

Provide Matching Funds

Matching funds are a great way to increase the power of giving. If you or your company, want help increase the matching pool, please contact me.

Spread the word

The more the merrier.


Paleface 30k, Cactus Rose Relay


I haven’t been doing a good job writing down my work-outs but overall the training for October has been ok. No pain or issues with the running other than a new job messing with the schedule and rhythm a bit. On the running side, I want to get the volume up from about 35-40 per week to 55-60 per week. That will require some focus but overall I am feeling the legs are coming around a bit of struggle in September with getting back to mileage. The weight training is going well and I feel the technique improving and the impact that has on the quality of the workouts.

Paleface 30k

Went into this race rested with to having to skip a few workouts at Travis County Strength and runs due to work. Had a terrible run on Wednesday and was really questioning my training but showed up to the race with loose and rested legs.

A cold front provided a light rain and low-60s starting temperatures as we headed out on the 15k loop in the dark. The trail heads up a jeep road before dropping us into a series of mountain bike switchbacks that work their way up the gradual climb to the high point on the course. A few roots, some rocks but very runnable overall.

First loop was done in 1:22 and, after a water refill, I headed out for another tour of the course. The rain had picked up and now there was quite a lot of water on the trails making it slippery in sections. I picked a target to get to the first aid station with the idea in mind that if I got there by a certain time, I could make back to the finish for a good time. I arrived pretty close to the target and headed back. I played it safe through a rocky mile or so before really pushing the last two finish with a time of 2:44:28 (1:22:17 first loop, 1:22:09 second loop). 8th overall and 15 minutes faster than previous year.

Felt good about this race as it was one of the first races I ran every step (except refilling bottles and 2 bathroom breaks). I am still learning what it means to “run” these distances and where the threshold line lies.

Cactus Rose 100 Mile Relay

Justin put together a nice team for Cactus Rose. I was concerned about being the slowest on the team and holding them back. There was another team that signed up that was quite strong and I didn’t want to be the weak link.

I had volunteered to be the first leg since I didn’t mind heading out the day before and getting up at 3:30am for a 5am start. I preferred the clock-wise direction and figured it was likely to be cooler in the morning which suits me well. When the forecast showed 90 degree temps, I was extra glad to have that early morning leg.

Start to Equestrian was uneventful though I arrived a few minutes slower than my rough plan. I didn’t feel that bad but didn’t settle into a groove until about 3 miles in. As we hit the field, things began to click better and the 8 & 7 trails sailed by until we arrived at Nachos aid station. I filled up my bottle and as I walked out felt a sharp tightness in my left knee. I haven’t had any issues there for almost 2 years so that was an unpleasant surprise. Got going again and didn’t pay much attention to it as we made our way up and over Ice Cream Hill and back to Equestrian and then got to the Sisters and Sky Island. All was ok until I started up Boyles and the pain increased and reduced me to a power hike. The real trouble was going downhill as it was flexing the knee wasn’t going well and the act of lowering down myself down the rocks and hills put a lot of pressure on that area of the knee. Up and over Cairns felt like it a crawl as time slipped away from what felt like a great run up to that point. In hindsight, I guess I was moving ok but I sure didn’t feel like it at the time.

As we hit the flats, I was able to jog again and then run for the final mile and came in for the loop at 4:09:03. On one hand, I felt a bit down since, without the knee trouble, I feel like I would have been a good bit faster. On the other hand, anything under 4:10 is a solid time and I knew my teammates would rock it.

Justin ran an outstanding loop in the heat and showed up almost exactly 4 hours later (3:59:21). Very much to our surprise, the second place team’s runner didn’t arrive for another 50 minutes. He is a strong runner but had some stomach and heat issues.

Paul headed out and was back in 3:49. Peak day temperatures, a blazing first 15 miles, and running out of water in the hills made him suffer more than I thought was possible. At that point we were well under course record pace and with a strong final runner felt good about our chances. The thing about Cactus Rose is that it takes a lot to go right to have a good run out there. It eats up a lot of runners and splits them out. Jason flew for 20 miles before GI problems arose reducing him to a walk and side trips. I’ve spent more than my fair share time in the bushes and it is no fun. He rallied to finish in 4:35 for the win and just off the course record.

The best part of Cactus is hanging out at the start finish. It was a glorious day (if you weren’t running) to be outside and I enjoyed great company while cheering on amazing runners. I was very happy to see Brian Hopton-Jones get the win (and his 500 mile jacket) and Lise Plantier get the women’s win in the 100 mile. Nicole Studer destroyed the 50 mile course record a week after a course record at Palo Duro 50.

As far as the knee goes, I think I over-extended it during a session during week and the quad was pulling on the connectivity tissue causing the pain below the knee cap and to the side of the knee. Icing and some mobility work has already improved the situation greatly.

Relay Trophy:


Sept 22 28


Monday — Strictly Strength @ Travis County Strength. DONE

Tuesday — 2hr. Tejas Trails, Bull Creek / Forest Ridge. Completed 90 minutes. Good running.

Wednesday — Strictly Strength @ Travis County Strength (Squats). DONE. Good workout with the core being 50 goblet squats and then 5×5 back squats @65% max + 15 pounds. Plus weighted tire drags and other fun stuff.

Thursday — 1hr 30m. Tejas Trails, Hill of Life. Completed 80 minutes – would have gotten the full 90 but had to help a biker off the Hill of Life who wiped out pretty badly.

Friday — rest

Saturday — 4hrs.  Completed 21 miles, fun times.

Sunday — 2hr, easy. Done, light jog + power hiking.

Notes: solid week though definitely felt a bit sluggish on Tuesday after Rough Creek and a hard workout on Monday but felt better as the week went on.


Monday — Strictly Strength @ Travis County Strength

Tuesday —1hr 30m. Tejas Trails, St Eds / Forest Ridge

Wednesday — 1hr 30m. Bull Creek / Forest Ridge

Thursday — 1hr 30m. Tejas Trails, Craig Os.

Friday — rest

Saturday — 2 hours. Easy.

Sunday — Lake Georgetown loop (27 miles)

Notes: New job starts Wednesday means I’ll need to rework my gym / weights schedule. Also time to add back in the 5th day of running.  October’s goal is to get a consistent 50-60 miles per week and then start adding interval / speed / high intensity work in mid-November.

Sept 15-21 / Rough Creek Race


Monday — Strictly Strength @ Travis County Strength — DONE

Tuesday — 1hr 15m. Tejas Trails, Riverplace — DONE

Wednesday — Strictly Strength @ Travis County Strength — DONE

Thursday — 1hr 15m. Tejas Trails, St Eds — NOPE, work delayed turned into massive rains.

Friday — rest — GOT THIS

Saturday — Rough Creek Marathon — SEE BELOW

Sunday — 2hr, easy. — 1hr DONE.

Rough Creek Marathon Recap

Woke up at 3:30am to head up to Glen Rose for the Rough Creek Marathon. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, I wasn’t feeling too confident about this run. A poor long run the weekend before and knowing it was going to be a humid day didn’t contributed to just feeling blah as I lined up and the first 3 miles, which are easy and flat, were sluggish feeling. I was forewarned of the Rusty Crown that you get to run up 13 times per loop in short but steep jabs. Those were fun and didn’t really bother me much but on the otherwise easy flats, I just didn’t have much pep and I was overheating early with all the humidity. I noticed my form was all out of sorts and I wasn’t straight and extended through the hips. In retrospect, a heavy leg squat workout a few days prior wasn’t the best idea.

The second loop settled into quite a bit of power-hiking along with some jogging. As I got hot, I drank a lot of water and ended up a bit sloshy and nauseous. I never really acclimated to the heat this year and, even in the best of times, I am not a hot weather runner.  I have dropped better runs than this but I figured there was really no reason to drop and the team needed points in the series so on I went. I was surprised that no one really caught me those long last 6 miles and eventually the run came to an end. Despite the overall place (6th) and age division win, I can’t say it was a good performance but all runs are worthwhile and it was good to run some new trails. David puts on a great race and it was nice to see North Texas friends.



THIS WEEK – Sept 22 to 28

Monday — Strictly Strength @ Travis County Strength

Tuesday — 2hr. Tejas Trails, Bull Creek / Forest Ridge

Wednesday — Strictly Strength @ Travis County Strength (Squats)

Thursday — 1hr 30m. Tejas Trails, Hill of Life

Friday — rest

Saturday — 4hrs

Sunday — 2hr, easy.

Focus for this week: Solid Tues / Thurs runs for full-time. Steady running at easy to moderate effort.

Sept 8-14

Plan Actual Notes
Monday SS@TCS / Weights check.
Tuesday 1hr 30m 1hr 15m. Walnut Creek, log loop repeats.
Wednesday SS@TCS / Weights check. Back Squats!
Thursday 1hr 30m 1hr 90m, HoL to Moonshadow, Baloney repeat 2x and back. Legs were trashed from back squats the day before.
Friday 1hr 30m Nope. Work commit.
Saturday 4hr 2hr @ Mt Lakeway. Still feeling the Wednesday workout and some plantar pain.
Sunday 2hr 2hr easy.

Not to plan and definitely didn’t feel good on Saturday but somewhat to be expected at this point in the training cycle.

Monday — Strictly Strenght @ Travis County Strength

Tuesday — 1hr 15m. Tejas Trails, Riverplace

Wednesday — Strictly Strenght @ Travis County Strength

Thursday — 1hr 15m. Tejas Trails, St Eds

Friday — rest

Saturday — Rough Creek Marathon

Sunday — 2hr, easy.

Plan is to head up to Glen Rose on Saturday morning and run the Rough Creek trail marathon. Won’t be fast or pretty but should be a good long run.

Sept 1-7: Reveille Peak Ranch Recap

Last week – Sept 1-7

My first week of this training cycle didn’t go completely to plan but a successful finish to the week with a good 30k at Reveille Peak Ranch.

Sept 1-7 Plan Actual Notes
Monday SS@TCS 1+ hr SS@TCS WU, 3x 30 body squats, 20 push-ups, 10 jump pull-ups, 10-8-6-4-2 AHAP unbroken deadlift + clean, 10 sled sprints, + ?? I think there was more.
Tuesday 1hr run. 1hr 20m Pretty steady, easy run, rolling hills at St Eds and Forest Ridge.
Wednesday 1hr recovery run. Work conflict. Boo.
Thursday 1hr 30m run. 1h 30m Riverplace. Plantar gave me a bit of trouble.
Friday Rest    
Saturday Capt Karl’s Reveille Ranch 30k.   *see below
Sunday  1hr  I meant to go out but never made it….

Saturday night I headed out Reveille Ranch to run the 30k race. I have only be running a couple times weeks since Devil’s Backbone 8 weeks ago and with the longest being a couple of 10-12 miles but I wanted to start accruing points for the Texas Trail Championship series for the team standings so with limited opportunities left in the year, I figured I could manage through. Luckily there was a massive thunderstorm right before the race started that brought relief in cooler temperatures and provided an sprinkle throughout the evening.

After the excitement and runner congestion of the first couple miles, I quickly found myself alone for a couple miles until I came upon Mike Randall. Mike lives in Boulder but is from Austin so I tend to run across him once or twice a year during a race as we always seem to be roughly the same pace. We settled into a easy pace and chatted for a while. He is coming back from a ruptured achilles suffered about a year ago so just before the fence aid station, I left him with some friends of his and took off.

I was running with a watch so I didn’t know know my time or place but felt pretty good heading out on the second loop. After a half of mile where I ran with Nicole Studer before she took the 60k split, I pretty much was alone again to enjoy the rocks and lightening in the distance. I caught my first person of the second loop at the Creek Aid Station and through the switch backs thought I see someone else ahead (or perhaps someone was chasing me). This lead me to push the pace harder resulting in the double whammy of twisting both my ankles on the rain slick rocks and overheating a bit. Throttled back and re-grouped. I knew the 1.25 miles from the last aid station to the finish was a slight downhill and smooth so if I could get to there in one piece, I’d be able to run it in hard. It played out just like that and I caught another 2 people in that last section to finish 11th overall at 3:15. Surprised and pleased to have run pretty much even splits (1:36 & 1:39) for the 2 loops as I am never close to an even split runner. I felt pretty great after the run and wasn’t sore the next day. I suspect it would have been a different story if it was the usual 100 degree temperatures at the start, but it felt great to start off this training cycle with such an enjoyable run.

This week

Monday — Strictly Strenght @ Travis County Strength. Week 4 of the squat cycle, gonna suck so good.

Tuesday — 1hr 30m. Tejas Trails.

Wednesday — Strictly Strenght @ Travis County Strength.

Thursday — 1hr 30m. Tejas Trails.

Friday — 1hr 30m, easy / recovery. Rumors of a “cold” front for this day so must take advantage.

Saturday — 4+hr, long run.

Sunday — 2hr, easy.




Looking at the blog, I haven’t posted a race report since July 2013 (Tahoe 100). There is a saying that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. The better writers out there can weave live stories into their race reports but that isn’t really my style. Still regular documentation is valuable and, at a minimum, it is proven to help hold oneself accountable.

Recap of 2014 to date

I signed up for Devil’s Backbone 50 for my summer focus race. It seemed to have the effect of not getting me excited for the usual Texas races though I had a great times volunteering at Bandera & Rocky. A last minute decision to run Run like the Wind 6hr resulted in surprisingly fun day and a win. A work trip meant missing Possum Kingdom 52 miler but I tried to squeeze in the Exmoor Ultra while over in Europe. Lovely race but a bad day for a variety of reasons provided a DNF after 27 miles. Then nothing until a prep run at Pedernalas 60k and then Devil’s Backbone 50 in July.

DB50 was a stunningly awesome course. The race slogan is “Unmarked, Unsupported, Unequaled” and that is definitely true. Without doing a full recap: I had an ok but not great run. I had an amazing time and won’t ever forget the experience but I can’t say it was my best run. I did feel like I acquitted Texas well, though. When I signed up, the RD emailed and said, “Are you sure, people from Texas have a really hard time with this race”. In previous races, Texas runners either were either DNF or DFL. The RD made changes to the cutoffs due to some Texas runners struggling to the finish in previous years. This year, Pam and I both finished well safe from DFL as I finished 12th at 13 hours and Pam a couple hours laters.

If you ever are looking for an old-school style race, check out DB50.

Photo via


We climbed this face up to Hylalite Peak. The route was covered in snow this year.


The backbone heads off to the left. It was pretty rocky and over 12,000 ft of elevation gain.


The meadow near the turn-around spot.



Looking back at my training for 2014, running was going well up to April but then went sideways. I made two changes around April: a new job & added weight training. The weight training is undoubtedly a good thing, but I think I hit it too hard, too fast and late in the training cycle. It really messed with my legs and overall energy level (which probably means I wasn’t eating enough either). New jobs, especially with travel, are a disruptive. Ultimately, I lost focus and my training didn’t build on the good start to the year.   I also made some mistakes in that I didn’t get the miles where they needed to be and I didn’t have a good polarized training cycle going within my weekly runs (mostly, I didn’t run as hard as I should have on hard days).

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The graph don’t lie in this case.

Moving forward

The race for next summer is already decided on: Fatdog 120. Seems like my kind of race and with friends to pass the miles with, it will be fun to train for. I am also going to run more local races leading up to FD120. Used well, races can help focus the training and provide good checkpoint along the way towards bigger goal. It also a good excuse to see and run with friends. Rocky Raccoon fits well within the schedule and should provide a good focus for the next 5 months. I haven’t yet set goals for RR100. I need to research it more but the one thing I know is that I want to get much better about running consistently for longer rather than my usual run, fall apart, hike for a long time and then rally to the finish.

With that in mind, the macro plan is:

Running Cross Training Races
Aug 6hr / wk 3 / wk
Sept 11 hr / wk 2 / wk Rough Creek 26.2, CK RR30k*
Oct 14hr / wk 2 / wk Paleface 30k
Nov 16hr / wk 1-2 / wk Wildhare 25k, RWB Training Camp
Dec 17hr / wk 1-2 / wk Lost Pines 26
Jan 16hr / wk 1 / wk Taper
Feb RR100

The races are mostly to get some points for the Tejas team in the Texas Trail Championship series. It is year 2 and I’ve not really scored points yet for the team.

Over this next month, I am going to be building back up to a regular routine after taking August off and then drop into a Lydiard based training program in October.

Training for Sep 1 – 7

  • Monday — Strictly Strength @Travis County Strength
  • Tuesday — 1hr run w/Tejas Trails. Moderate.
  • Wednesday — 1hr recovery run.
  • Thursday — 1hr 30m run w/Tejas Trails. Easy.
  • Friday — Rest.
  • Saturday — Capt Karl’s Reveille Ranch 30k.
  • Sunday — 1hr

Not really ready to run a 30k race for time, but the distance is good and team points for the series.

Colorado Bend Open Run

Colorado Bend is one of the great hidden gems in the central Texas state park system.  Being a bit of trek from any major city, it is not heavily used by hikers, runners, and bikers and yet it boasts over 30 miles of trails.  There is a great variety from rocky single track to open field running to sweet little spring trails.   The past 2 summers there have been Capt Karls races but as those races start at 7pm, not many have seen the full set of trails in the daylight.   For those who have run the Capt Karls races, we will be running many of the same trails but also exploring trails not used by the race.

Date:  December 28th, 2013
Start Time:  8 am
Location:  Colorado Bend State Park.   map
Parking:  Check in at the park headquarters and we will be park at the furthest parking lot to the right.  It will be marked on the course map.
Course Map:  full size download link.
Distances:   Big loop – 23 miles.  Big loop w/spurs – 25 miles.  Multiple bail-out points and short cuts if a shorter run is desired.
Cost:  free to run.  Park entry fees apply.

Course Overview


General Details

This is a group run but at the end of the day this is not an official event.  You are responsible for yourself.  While we hope to run in groups of similar pace runners, this is not no-drop run.   I will set-up water stations.  I will do my best to ensure that they are out there for the length of the day.  There will not be food or any other supplies at the water drop unless you take care of that yourself.   I will let the park staff know we are out there but again, you are responsible for yourself.

Start to first water drop

Staring in the parking lot we will head down a smooth grass double-track to the end where it meets a sweet little natural spring pool and take the Spicewood Springs Trail up.  This is a different than the CK races.  It is a lovely area so take care moving through there to leave no impact.  The Spicewood Spring Trail is a nicely rugged trail that climbs up to the road.  We will cross the road and then cross again a mile later as we head to where will pass a water drop.  This section is roughly 5 miles.

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First water drop to Gorman-Windmill Connection (second water drop)

The rocks ease up in this section and the trail opens up in to some gentle running paths.  The CK race course bypasses much of the Lively Loop but we will hit up most those trails.   This section is about 7 miles but short cuts could reduce it down by half if desired.

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Gorman Falls / Gorman Springs to Cedar Chopper

The first couple miles of this next section are pretty straightforward as we climb up to the highest point in the park.  The rocks increase as we head down towards Gorman Falls.  A short spur takes down a steep descent that rewards with Gorman Falls.  Shortly after leaving the falls, we hit the springs.  Another spur leads along the bubbling year-round spring where we find a nice contrasts to the high grass plains we were just at mere miles ago.

Leaving the springs is a long, somewhat rocky, but manageable climb out up to our next water drop.  This section 6 miles long.

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Cedar Chopper back to first water stop

As we descend back down towards the river, the rocks increase again.   Some good running mixed with twists, rocks, and views before hitting a trail that follows the river.  After 1.5 miles of smooth trail, we hook back up over Lemons Ridge Pass where we find more rock to dance with.   Some may opt to bail out here and take River Trail back to the parking lot about a mile further down the road.

As we cross the road, we head back down a trail we rain many hours earlier.  After 1 mile, we take the left split to head down the Spicewood Canyon trail and back to where we started.

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Additional Details

Recommend a hydration pack.  You could carry bottles since it won’t be hot and the water stations are not that far apart, but with a hydration pack you can carry more food / nutrition, first aid pack, and other supplies.  The trail will take longer than you initial expect especially if you stop and take pictures or soak in the scenery.

I will have a sign-in / sign-out book.   This will be helpful in keeping track of people.   If you bail out early, please sign-out so we don’t send out a search party.  Cell phone coverage is pretty dicey out in the park.  It is nonexistent at the parking lot and spotty at the high point.

Some may camp out the night before.  I will not be reserving any spots and will decide myself whether to camp or drive out closer to the date of the event.

Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Race Report

The Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, 2012, a mental tumbler fell into place and I knew it was time to run a 100 miler.  Endurance running is mostly whether you can mentally wrap your head around the activity.  You don’t so much as decide to run a hundred as one day you just know you are are ready.  While there are several great races in Texas, it always seemed inevitable that my first 100 would be a mountain race.  It gets the mind engaged and you need that while piling up the training.  So I choose a course that has over 4 vertical miles of elevation gain:

elevation profile

(we do this profile twice.)


I entered 2013 in pretty solid shape.  Bandera came the second week of January and I simply had a terrible race.  Part of it was tweaking my back on a muddy day but I also feel like I gave into the conditions too easily.

I started back up in early Feb and early March saw one of my best races to date with a 5:06 at the Nueces 50k.  I also ran reasonably well at Hells Hills through 34 miles (5:45) before deciding that I was not interested in running one more lap and stopped shortly thereafter.

Around late March or early April I flipped my training over to a polarized approach.  The theory was impressed upon me many times (hard on the quality days, very easy on the other days) but it wasn’t until I adopted a heart-rate monitor that I was able to figure it out.  It was quickly apparent that I was running too hard on the easy days.  With the polarized approach in place, I found that ramping up the miles became much more doable, I wasn’t feeling worn down, and the quality workouts were improving.

The miles increased on plan through end of May leading up to the Dirty30 (50k) outside of Golden, Colorado.  I chose this race because it was in the mountains and was equal to or greater than Tahoe in terms of average altitude and average ascent / descent grade.  As a bonus, I could visit some good friends.  While not a fast day, I enjoyed the race, ran well enough, and felt it was exactly what I needed.  The following day I hit my first 14er.  That may have been a mistake as the net effect of that weekend, on top of a high volume 3 week period, was that I felt like a laggard the next 10 days or so.  A DNF after 30k at Caption Karl’s Pedernalas Falls continued my good race / bad race cadence that I had going dating back to Cactus Rose.  At least that set me up for my next race to be a good one.  I had some solid runs peppered in the last few weeks so I knew I was coming around after that short training bonk period.

The TL;DR version:


As you can see, lots of mid-30 to mid-40 weeks with a bump up to 50s and 60s here and there but not what you would what you would call consistent, high volume training.

Pre-Race / Travel

As expected, the TSA security people took quite an interest in my self-bagged Tailwind sports drink:

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Had an outstanding breakfast at plow in SF.  Very likely the best potatoes ever.

Drove to Carson City, weighed in, dinner with fellow Texas runners, and hit the hay.


5 am comes and we are off.  One bonus of traveling from Central timezone is that I was able to get to sleep early.


(picture via the TRT100 facebook page)

Determined not to go out too fast, I settle into the mid-pack as we climb up towards Hobart.  The morning was pleasant but warmer than normal.  It was a preview of the day to come.

The early views are fantastic.


(via the awesome photo set by Mountain Peak Fitness / Joe Azze)

As I exit the first aid station, I link up with Reece and we chat away.  He provides some great feedback on how I can improve the Rocky Raccoon start / finish aid station experience next year.  Reece is wise and keeps us on a relaxed downhill pace so we didn’t trash our quads early.  I am thankful to run these miles with someone who is both an experienced 100 mile runner and someone who had been on the course before.

I wasn’t wearing my watch so it was nice to find out that I was pretty much on schedule as we enter Tunnel Creek.  I think I wrote on my race plan 2h 30m for my wife, but my first, more detailed plan had 2h 20m.  Anyhow, we were there at 2:20 and after re-stocking supplies, I am off to the Red House Loop.

I lose track of Reece.  I get it in my head that he was out front as I head down a long, steep descent.  I probably hit the downhill too hard.  I feel it in the quads.  Where is Reece when I need him?  Overall, the first pass through the Red House loop is uneventful.  As I crest the finial climb I see many of the Tejas runners who were running the 50k and 50 miler.  They all look great.

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(With David Jacobson at Tunnel Creek Aid Station.  Mile 11 for him, mile 17.5 for me.)

Next up is the section that most don’t really talk about in the reports.  It doesn’t have a memorable name like Red House, isn’t as imposing as the “slightly stupid hill” aka Diamond Peak ski slope, nor is as beautiful as Snow Valley.  However, this 13 mile section played a pivotal role in my day as I didn’t run it well on either loop.

By the time I hit Diamond Peak, it is getting real warm.  Down right hot even.  I heard into the 90s up on the ridge, possibly warmer in spots.  Record temps for the race.  Single digit humidity and UV factor at 12+.   I fuel up, weigh in for the second time (no issues), and decide to take the hiking poles and hike the ski slope.   It is slow.  There are cramps.  Yup, this sucks.

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(me as I make my towards the Diamond Peak slope)

Stumble off the slope, pack away the poles and off to Tunnel Creek.  The map lies about how far it is between Bull Wheel and Tunnel Creek.  The heat is on.

While my weight has been steady at all the check-ins, I feel behind on hydration.  The goal here is to finish.  A silver buckle.  Sure, a 26 hour time would be great but a finish is the priority.  I decide that the only way to stay solid is to be patient and take my time at aid stations.  Beware the chair and all the bs.  Hobart is first time I see a clock since Diamond Peak.  It is 2:30 and I tell myself I will head out at 2:45.  I am gone by 2:44.

Snow Valley is the best part of this course.  I haven’t seen a picture that does it justice.  I hang out with the boy scouts for a bit and trade high-fives.  I would rather push the pace but I remind myself that I promised to give Scott something to work with when I pick him up at mile 50.  Down, down we go.  Stay relaxed, don’t trash the quads, have fun.

I arrive at mile 50 about 45 minutes behind whatever mythical schedule I projected in advance; before realities of running 50 miles in the heat, with elevation, and altitude have set in for this first timer from the flat lands of Texas.  Hot and dirty.  Spirits are in good order.  It is mayhem at the start / finish line.  I catch up with my friends who finished the 50k, change my socks, re-stock supplies and pick up Scott.  I want to change my shorts but with the all the action, I’d rather to be out of there and back on the trail.  It seems like we were there longer, but only 12 minutes pass by before we are headed down the road.

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(Scott and I, before we head out)

I am thrilled to have Scott with me.  For the last 9 hours I have pretty much run alone.  I like running alone but having someone to chat with definitely helps pass the time.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t much company at that moment.  He was itching to run but I wasn’t going anywhere fast.   I focus on a good steady hike.  Others pass us by to my dismay but I am in no position to go with them.  The leg cramps are still working their way out of my legs.

Hobart greets us with strawberry Ensure smoothie.  Unicorn tears.  I head out before carnage of the other runners in the tent gets to the head.

I could have swore that it was downhill to Tunnel Creek.  Guess not.  At least the sunset is magnificent.

At Tunnel Creek, Scott eats the aid station food so I don’t have to.  Friends are made while we take our time.  Scott is happy to talk to someone since I am not holding up my end of the conversation.

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(This isn’t us, but the dude in green kneeling down is awesome.  Wish I knew his name. via Joe Azze / Mountain Peak Fitness)

Everything is stretches out on the second time through.  The descent into the Red House loop is longer, the climbs steeper.  Slow motion.  I play leap frog with Barbara Olmer.   She kicks ass.

Tunnel Creek visit #5 contains chicken soup, Desitin for the chafing, and more kind words from the aid station volunteers.

I had it my head that Bull Wheel was the peak on this next section.  While it is the top after climbing up Diamond Peak, on the way out it is only about half way up to the high point.  I kept telling Scott the turn to head down to the lodge was just “up here”.  I doubt he was listening to me after the 3rd or 4th false alarm.   To my surprise, we catch a few people on the descent into Diamond Peak lodge.  Everyone is suffering.

Mile 80.  Wiped out.  I am seemingly losing pace with every step.  There are small blisters on the feet and chafing ‘down under’.  New socks, new shorts, Desitin, ginger beer, and vanilla coconut water coffee and I am off to tackle the hill I fell apart the first time through.  Despite how I feel, it doesn’t even cross my mind that I could drop here.  Perhaps, I am too tired to contemplate anything other than forward progress.

Phase 1 of the hill is the first mile and 600 ft climb (or so) is steady.  About the time we hit phase 2, something clicks.  The lake is silver as the nearly full moon floats above.  Power hike, turn around and exclaim “that is fucking outstanding!”, repeat.  We hit the top in under an hour, faster than the first trip through 50 miles prior.

Still not running well, even though it is ‘downhill’ to our final visit to Tunnel Creek but we jazzed about our trek up the Diamond Peak slope.   We actually exceed the split I had projected when doing my planning.  We say our goodbyes to Tunnel Creek and get a move on.


(a welcome sight in the middle of the night.  via Joe Azze / Mountain Peak Fitness)

Daybreak sustains the momentum we found on the climb up Diamond Peak as we head towards Hobart.  There are no smoothies to be found at this early hour so we press on to Snow Valley after shaking the sand out of our shoes.  There is truth in the energy the sunrise brings with it.


(sunrise via Joe Azze / Mountain Peak Fitness)

10 miles left and we find ourselves running as we make our way to Snow Valley.  There is a heathy climb up the last 1.5 miles but we maintain a solid pace.  I want to be in and out but decided to sit and empty the shoes again before making the long downhill descent.  I tell the boy scouts they are the coolest troop in the world, they give me a full cup of lemon sorbet.  We linger just a bit.

A pair of runners that we passed on the previous climb are in and out of the aid station ahead of us.  That lights a fire and we hustle out.  Until the climb up to Snow Valley, I wasn’t really thinking about passing people.  Place simply doesn’t matter, only whether if you did your best on the day that was given to you.  But as we head out on those final 7.5 miles, catching those ahead provides a distraction on which to focus.  In the first mile, we catch the 2 runners who slipped by while we were in the aid station.  As the downhill grade eases a bit, we find ourselves moving better and better. In actual pace, Scott says we were doing 9 minute miles but it feels faster than that.  We catch our breath every 4-5 minutes and then crank it up again.   2 more runners come and go before we bottom out on the far side of the lake.  There is a mile and a half left.  We jog / walk / jog for a bit when Scott mentions that it is 5 minutes to 9 am.  20 miles ago, there is no way I thought we’d be close to 28 hours.  15 miles ago, 28:30 seemed reasonable.   We were too far to make 28 hours but may as well give a try.


It pleases me to no end that the best picture taken of me ever while running is at mile 100.4 as I attempt to run away from Scott.  Picture by Joe Azze / Mountain Peak Fitness.


My final place was 40th out of 209 starters.   The finish rate is usually around 70% but this year only 118 of 209 finish, a 56% rate.  I pick up 30 spots on the second loop.  On the first loop, I ran the last 15 miles (miles 35 to 50) in 4:05.  On the second loop, miles 85 to 100 were covered it in around 4:20.  Glancing through the stats pages, I ran that last 15 miles about as fast as those who finished between about 8th and 20th.  That is nice to know for future races but there are zero regrets about this run and I wouldn’t change a thing.

I suspect finishing any 100 is an epic experience but being able to finish the way Scott and I did was magical.  A friend asked me if it was surreal.  There are very few experiences in life that truly qualify as surreal.  The elation as you run down a mountain after 26+ hours on your feet definitely qualifies.  It doesn’t seem that you should be able to do and yet it feels like the most natural thing in the world.

Success is never the act of the individual.  I would have never toed the line if it wasn’t for the support of my lovely wife.  I doubt she expected to find herself up in the mountains, crewing a 100 miler, when she encouraged me to go run with Della, our dog, 3 years ago.  Joe Prusaitis and the Tejas Trails crew provide invaluable amount of experience and unending encouragement.  Spend any amount of time with them and you can’t help but want to run further.  When I thought about a pacer, there was only one name on the list.  There was no question that I’d finish the day Scott agreed to pace me.  The race was a celebration of all the miles – the hill of life repeats – we banked together leading to the run.

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This is one of the great buckles in ultra running.  Handcrafted, nickel buckle with a 1 ounce pure silver coin inset.  Here is a video about the history of the buckle and how it is made.  Damn straight I am going to get a belt and wear this bad boy.

Misc / Gear

Tailwind was my primary fuel source all day.  It was prefect.  No upset stomach.  Good energy.  My favorite mix turned out to be about 2/3 orange and 1/3 unflavored.  I am going to ride this combo for races as long as I can.  On a hot day it was awesome not to have to force down gels or solid food.

Salomon SLabs 5 hydration pack.   After 28 hours, I didn’t have sore shoulders.  Salomon is pricey but still the best pack out there.

Hoka Mafate 3 shoes.  The Mafates remain my old faithful when it comes to races shoes.  This course doesn’t demand this much shoe but I went with a shoe I knew I could trust.  Same goes for the Injinji socks.

The rest was more or less interchangeable.  I would forego the compression shorts in the future and stick with less material on the legs.  I had raced a lot in them in the past but I think they are going to find their way out of the rotation.

The feet may look horrible to a non-ultra runner but they survived fairly well:

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I can’t leave you with that image so here are some more from Joe Azze / Mountain Peak Fitness:

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(last image via Michigan Bluff)

Nueces 50k Race Recap

Nueces was one of those races I’ve wanted to do since I started running trail races 2+ years ago.  The pictures were lovely and once joining Tejas Trails training group I heard story after story of the beauty of Camp Eagle and the Nueces course.  Last fall I penciled the Nueces 50 miler as a race to focus on for 2013.   A few changes in my training plan took the 50 miler off the table and Nueces was to serve as a kick off to the meat of the training build up to the Tahoe 100 miler.

A brisk morning greeted us Saturday.  Temps in the low / mid 30s.  Perfect in my book.  An hour after the hardy 50 milers, Joe sent us, a motley collection of 50k & 25k runners, on our way.  We whooped it up as we headed out the shoot, down the short stretch of jeep road, and onto the first stretch of single track.   The early conversation centered around whether we had enough beer to last the afternoon; it was an hour to the nearest town.   This early in the race there was the usual mix of people who went out too fast and with the single track things got bogged down a bit.  I was happy to let this play out and try to take it easy early.  Even still, as is the norm, the pace was faster than it should have been given the hours we’d be out there.

2 miles later and a few passes off the shoulder and a spill into the dirt, I found myself leading the general peloton with no one in immediate sight a head of me .  The leaders had shot off and the rest of us were left to our day.   As we wound our way up a set of switch backs, a runner about 50 meters ahead slipped into view, illuminated as she consumed by rising sun.  It was one of those magically trail moments that even the best pictures don’t fully capture.  Looking at the results, I am pretty sure it was Andrea Fisher.  I played leap-frog with her for much of the first loop until she took off for her finish in the 25k.

The proceeding 10 days did not comprise of an ideal race taper: a nasty superman fall down St Edwards hill, a gentle hit and run by a commercial van, and a heavy duty weights session left me bruised and sore.  I figured it I was in for a long day but after 60 minutes of running I found myself pain free and feeling as good as I have in months.  I was in excellent spirits so I just start to run at whatever felt comfortable for the time being.  This turned out to be a pretty good pace while enjoying my first tour of this wonderful course and chatting with 25k runners including several first timers who were having a great intro trail racing in Texas.

About the course.  I often do a full run down of the course.  I just don’t feel like doing a blow by blow this time.  Nueces is, by far, the best course in Texas that I’ve run.  I’ve heard the course described as “where rocks go to die” and it true on many levels.   It is rocks and more rocks, yet at the same time it is quite runnable.   Bandera, by comparison, is jagged.  Banderas has more sections without rocks but it also has ledges and washouts and angles that make a rhythm hard to find.  Nueces has more rocks and the total elevation is similar to Bandera but the overall effect is a course where a nice running groove can been found.  There are many awesome features on this course include a great section through a creek bed, a run along and then across the river, and many fantastic vistas.

The end of the first loop finds me at around 2:22 on the clock.  I take my time to swap my water bottle out with a new one full of Gu Roctane and a pocket full of gels.  Pleasantries are exchanged with Henry Hobbs, Olga, Joe, a few 25k finishers, and I  walk out for my second loop.  The 25k runners that carried me through the first loop are now finished and enjoying their well earned rewards.  I come across a few 50 milers here and there but our goals are different at this point.  They are settling in for the day with two more loops in their adventures.  I envy their experiences to be had while happy beer awaits me in my nearish future.  Brief words are shared before I move on.

I was in good spirits, energy level solid, and yet coming out of the first aid station on loop 2 my pace faltered.  Factors could include the exposed course + sun, the aforementioned 10 days of ‘adventure’, and challenge of maintaining a steady pace and focus absent of fellow runners.  The climb out of the first aid station took much longer than the first loop and was the first sign of real trouble ahead but I seemed to recover a bit on the double track trail that leads over the crest and then down towards the “Wall” aid station.  However, with about 5 miles left, it crashed about me.  All I wanted to do was throw up.  I really wish I could but sadly it just didn’t happen.  Near the top of the long climb to the windmill (this climb is known as the Gorilla climb and is last over a mile on loose rock), Justin Wendling caught me.  I was extremely surprised to see him as I figured he was well ahead of me all day.  Turns out he ran a smart race and started near the back in order to pace himself.  I need to take a page from that plan for Hells Hills.

I’d catch Justin on the downhills but then he’d be a be stronger on the hills.  As we approached the hill leading to the last aid station, I mentioned we had about 1.5 miles left plus or minus.  He kicked it into another gear and I could only watch him go.  I stopped at the aid station to swap the Gatoraid that was a contribution or cause of my stomach ailments for water and wash my face and hands.  All day I struggled with Hammer gels and was getting more gel on my hands than in my mouth.  I’ve come to really hate the packaging design of Hammer gels (the taste and quality of gels is only so-so to begin with).    With only 1.4 miles left, my simple goal was to survive and not let anyone else pass me.  It wasn’t pretty as I made my way towards the finish but no one caught me and soon enough I found myself weaving through the camp buildings that lead to the finish line.

The rest of the afternoon was spent soaking in the warm of the spring sun and friends.   It was really a perfect afternoon.  One of the special aspects of Nueces is that because it is far away from everything, many people stay the whole weekend out there either in the cabins or camping.  Zip lines, river swimming, and other points of interest make it more of an all family affair than your average race.  I headed back to Austin late Saturday afternoon, but I know better for next year.

Race stats

  • Distance:  50k
  • Time:  5:06:32
  • Place:  8th overall.

South Texas Trail Championship Series

For full details about the series go here:

This past spring Joe start talking about wanting to kick off system to reward runners who ran multiple Tejas Races.  There was already the Tejas 300 (Cactus 100m, Bandera 100k, Rocky 100m) and the Tejas 250 (all five 50 mile races) but how could we create a series that spanned the whole year and multiple distances?  We noodled over various ideas and tried to balance a few concepts.

  1. Normalize for course difficulty.
  2. Be interesting for all level and age of runners.
  3. Reward the longer distances.
  4. Incorporate the whole running season as, obviously, Joe has a vested interested in more people running his race.  🙂

After a few conversations, I got started on coming up with a proposed system.  There are 3 main scoring systems for any race series:  place based, time based, and point based.

Place based systems work great for something like track & field teams competitions.  There is a limited depth to the entry field so it is easy to score the top 8 and move on.  It doesn’t work as well with fields of 700+.  It is also complex if you have to start scoring each age and gender group.  Then there is the issue of many different races and distance to choose from.   You are going either going to have to limit the number of scoring races to encourage runners competing head-to-head or introduce other formulas.  Ultimately, it works best when everyone runs the same, limited number of races.

Time-based system only work if everyone is running the same races.  Otherwise, you have the issues of different distances, difficulty, etc.

Point based systems looked like the way to go, so then it was just a matter of designing a system that is balances certain goals.  Percentage of time was a pretty obvious direction.  Percentage works well for a number of reason, primarily it normalized the course difficulty and weather conditions.  The winning time on that given day sets the standard that everyone else then is judged on.  Heat, rain, mud get accounted for in the times.   It would then allow people to run different courses and somewhat comparable resutls.  It is also easy to score across all the different divisions.  You don’t have score each group separately since everyone is compared against the same benchmark, if the age group leader scores 80 points, he still is ahead of who ever is behind him.

There are a number of points based systems out there including Xterra, Skyrunning, Bellingham Trail Series, and Northeast Trail Series.  I was surprised to see how consistent the distribution was across races.  The 20th place person in the 2012 / 2011 races I modeled were generally consistent in terms of percentage.  There is a bit more fluctuation near the top and some races like Hells Hills 25k are super top weighted where the top 20 are very close in times but overall it distributes across races and distances fairly consistently.

The next question was distance factor.  The first model I looked at was to multiple by distance.  100m = 100 points.  50k = 31 points.  I liked how this rewarded those who ran long.   However, as I scored out a mock season, the issue that came up was in some age categories could be dominated by running a handful of races if they were run at the longest distances.   For the under-30 and 40-50 groups, the depth is fine but at 50-60 or up, did we want to reward someone who ran 4 races at the longest, or some who who ran 7 races at a different mix?  Joe and I talked this through and we came up with distance factor where distance matters but not over-weighted.

This is the first year, so we’ll see how this model works out when the data is in at the end of the year.  We may find that we want to reward the 100 mile / 100k distance a bit more in the future, for example.

Here is two scoring examples.  1 is the median place runner, running the max distances, and the other is the 10th place runner running a mix of race races, but only 1 50 miler and no 100 milers.

  Winning Time   Median Time % factor   total points
Bandera 100k 8h 28m 15h 12m 55.70% 90 50.1
Rocky 50m 6h 15m 11h 34m 54.03% 80 43.2
Nueces 50m 6h 30m 11h 33m 56.28% 80 45.0
Hells Hills 50m 7h 35m 11h 33m 65.66% 80 52.5
Pedernalas 60k 5h 5m 7h 55m 64.21% 70 44.9
Cactus Rose 100m 17h 34m 28h 51m 60.89% 100 60.9
Wild Hare 50m 7h 2m 11h 13m 62.70% 80 50.2
Series Total         346.9
  Winning Time   10th place time   % factor total points  
Bandera 50k 4h 4m 4h 38m 87.77% 60 52.7
Rocky 50m 6h 15m 8h 4m 77.48% 80 62.0
Hells Hills 50k 4h 5m 4h 54m 83.33% 60 50.0
Pedernalas 60k 5h 5m 6h 37m 76.83% 70 53.8
Mule Shoe 60k 5h 59m 7h 15m 82.53% 70 57.8
Reveille Ranch 60k 5h 45m 7h 32m 76.33% 70 53.4
Wild Hare 50k 4h 26m 4h 59m 88.96% 60 53.4
Series Total         383.0

It is interesting how these two theoretical runners are at the end of the series.  Obviously, the best approach is to be Steven Moore and go out and win 6-7 races at the 100 and 50 distance but absent that, the system rewards a variety of running mixes.

A few notes:  the median place at Rocky 100 is about 10 percentage points lower than at Cactus Rose 100.  The fast course plus elite runners really spreads out times.  It won’t get any easier with Mike Morton, Karl Meltzer and others coming to Rocky this year.  You would have running about a 20 hour Rocky to get the same points as running a 29 hour Cactus.  If you are picking your races, some races do have slightly different biases.  For example, running Bandera 100k, Rocky 100m, Nuece 50m, you are going to have to accept a lower percentage for a mid-pack runner due to elites showing up.   But here is the thing, you are not competing against them, they won’t be part of the year end scoring so you really are competing with different set of runners.  But it does set the curve which has its impact.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out by year’s end.  I still think you are better off running the longer distances but a mid-pack runner at Bandera won’t score that many less points in the 50k due to the smoking times at the top of the 100k when the likes of Timmy Olsen, Dave Mackey, and Erik Stanley are toeing the line.  A slightly above median runner will score more points in the Rocky 50 miler than the median or below runner in the Rocky 100m.  I am talking about places and not tracking one runner over the course of a season in the above example.  In my modeling, I picked runners and tracked them for a whole season and the “Peter Bray” runner scored very close to the “Dave Brown” runner.

Joe and I are committed to revisiting the system to ensure it provides a good balance and to address any rules that need to be adjusted as we learn more about the system plays out over the course of the year.  Running different scenarios is a poor substitute to real life data and interaction (unless you have more time and money then I do).

Scoring the sub-ultra category is a bit different.  You definitely are best off running the 25k / 30k distance.  You’d be hard press to win by sticking with the 10k only.

Cactus Rose 50

There are certain courses that fit your eye.  Cactus Rose is one those races with the plentiful single track over rough terrain.  I came out to do the fun run distance while many friends got serious and stepped into the 100 mile distance for the first time.

Race Summary

Leading into this race, I was rested and as healthy as I have been in some time.  A recent job change threw my running schedule into disarray.  The madness of the taper leads one to question everything leading up to race do so being well rested somehow was bad thing.

A cold front blew in the day before leaving us with near perfect temperatures in the mid-40s at 5 am when Joe sent us off on our day’s adventure.  I settled in behind Josue and Derek as we made our way to Lucky Peak.   Lucky is just a little taste of waits you on the back half of the loop but it is early and technical trails are fun in the dark so we hike up and over it without much thought.

Early in races, ultra runners are a chatty bunch.  We spend so much time training alone, races are like reunions where everyone catches up while passing those early miles in the dark.  We are in and out of Equestrian in no time and we are on our way to the field.

Picture by Brian Kuhn.  Me, hanging around before the start and staying warm.  Forgot my contacts so I was running with glasses for the first time for a long time.

Start to Equestrian:  4.5 miles / 44 mins / 9:46 pace.

While the cold front brought rain throughout the region, it seems the park itself was spared the majority of it.  With decent rain, the field becomes mired mud that doesn’t let go of your shoes and follows you around the course making the ledges treacherous.  With the mud, the field is uneventful and a section to get a new groove going.  We chatted along with Josue sharing some details of the insane sounding race he is putting in Nicaragua called the Survival Run ( which is sorta like a Spartan Race but crazier.  One obstacle includes having to run with a live chicken and that may be one of the easier ones.  The field leads to another section which is pretty easy to manage, especially going clockwise as the course slopes gently down hill and before long we hit the Nachos aid station where I quickly add some water to my pack.

Equestrian to Nachos:  5.2 miles / 48 mins / 9:14 pace.

The sotol increases as our little pack works through series of false fronts leading up to Ice Cream Hill.  A few people a head are having trouble picking their way through the trail.  The challenge here is that there are multiple ways up to the peak.  There is really no wrong way but unless you’ve out here before, it can be disconcerting as all you see above you is a warren of washouts and sotol.  The pack spaces out a little bit coming off Ice Cream Hill only to gather back up some as we approach Equestrian for the second time.

Nachos to Equestrian:  4.8 miles / 48 mins / 10:00 pace.

The only thing the race directors promise is water and ice, the rest is up to you.  This is fine by me as I rarely touch anything on the aid station tables and stick with whatever I’ve packed myself.  It removes uncertainty and I can race knowing what works based on training.  Before the race, I mapped out a rough guide to when I was going to be where and my wife was going to meet me at the Equestrian aid station with re-fueling supplies.  Turns out I was off by about 25 minutes and I got there just before she arrived.  Luckily I had plenty of food with me to make it the next ten miles.  This is where my habit of overpacking paid dividends.

More fantastic photos by Brian Kuhn.

The next 10 miles represents the nasty section of the loop.  Rocks, hills, sotol, repeat.  My plan was to proceed at a measured pace.  The best part of this section was sunrise while passing under Ice Cream Hill on my way to the Sisters.  Brian Hopton-Jones passed my after having having a few detours near the peak Ice Cream and we had a nice chat as we cruised into the Boyles aid station.

Equestrian to Boyles:  5.5 miles / 63 mins / 11:28 pace

Brian was quick through the aid station and I was left to climb Boyles alone.  Boyles isn’t a hard climb, it just lingers with a few false tops before a steeper descent.  I was feeling great at this point and energy levels were great.  When planning out my nutrition strategy, I realized that I could use the markers of interest and the peaks along the course as a great reminder of when to eat.  Many of the peaks are about 2 miles part so it works out nicely.

At the top of Cairns I started to get cramps in my calves.  It totally caught me by surprise.  Reflecting about it now, I think I had an electrolyte imbalance with too many in my system to go along with the sustained effort.  I was talking gels every 20 minutes but for some reason I popped an Saltsick cap about 45 minutes before. I need to do the math on the gels I was taking, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I need to find gels or fuel that have less electrolytes in them (I like real food when I train but sometimes it is too hard to eat on the go during a race).  The twitches in the calves were noticeable most if I pushed off on my toes but worrisome, they migrated to my quads as I descended Cairn’s and made for the turn around point.

Boyles to Lodge:  5.0 miles / 58 mins / 11:36 pace. 

End of Loop 1:  25 miles / 4h 21m / 10:26 pace

I spent a few minutes at the turnaround spot gathering myself, getting supplies and muttering a few words of complaint about the cramps.  However, I was thrilled with how the race was progressing.  My pre-race expectations was around a 10 hour finish and the race plan had my at 4:45 for the first loop.  I’ve been out to Bandera enough to know that it cares not for your plans and expectations but you have to have a plan to get you started.  Now, here I was at the half way point and I felt great except these little twitches of the leg, surely those will pass.

Loop 2 is the same as loop 1 but in reverse.  That makes the Cactus course not a loop race for the 50 mile distance but an out and back.  It also means that those 10 miles of hills you stumbled down from have to be revisited right away.   On the bonus side, you get to see all the runners coming in to finish their loop so there was tons of opportunities to say to friends, many of whom were doing 100 mile version the run.

Lodge to Boyles:  5 miles / 63 mins /  12:36 pace.

The climb out of Boyles up Big Nasty and to Sky Island did my legs no favors.  I like the hills and generally consider that an area where I can do well but not today.  Uphill require being on your toes and bit and down hills work the quads.  The 5.5 mile between Boyles and Equestrian stretched on and on and came to a head as I hit the FUJI climb up the Sisters.  On this short but very steep climb, both quads simply locked up.  I would take a step, wait for the muscles to relax, then take another.  Several runners had caught me on as we approached FUJI and they hiked to the top before I was 15 ft into the climb.

Somehow made it up and over the Sisters and as I headed up the 6 trail, some nice words of encouragement from Thomas Orf dragged me into Equestrian.

Boyles to Equestrian:  5.5 miles / 80 mins / 14:32 pace.

I think my wife was a bit worried as she sent me back out for another 10 miles before I’d see her again.  I tried to get in and out in a reasonable amount of time and not wallow.  Leaving Equestrian is a nice flat section.  The problem was that I should shuffle but I tried to run, the legs would immediately cramp up.  This was frustrating since I felt fine otherwise.

Walking out of Equestrian aid station and refilling the pack.  Picture by Brian Kuhn.

From previous runs out here, I have developed a “personal relationship” with the climb up Ice Cream Hill going in the counter clockwise direction.  The approach pitches up and down before you hit a set of ledges.  At this point in the race, they required the use of all my limbs to scramble up.  Perhaps it was the overriding my other senses, but Ice Cream didn’t mentally scar me as much as previous ventures out there.

In my mind, Nachos is just on the either side of the hill but in reality it is closer to 1.75 miles and while the trail smooths out and works its way downhill, I wasn’t making good pace.

Equestrian to Nachos:  4.8 miles / 62 mins / 12:55 pace

By this point, there wasn’t too many people to be seen on the trail.  I kept playing leap frog with the same two guys as we traded off walking and running.  Miguel who was running his first 50 miler and Henry from Ecuador.  Both very nice with Miguel providing the smiles.

This section is an area I’ve only seen in the light once before so it felt foreign to me.   As I slogged my way through this section I pondered how Joe moved hills over here since the morning.  I surely didn’t remember this section being downhill on the way out.   It seemed that worst of the cramping was over but in their place were trashed legs, I still felt fine on energy but still couldn’t push the pace without some seizing up.

Expectations have a funny way of warping your perspective and well-being.  Prior to the start, inform me that I was on pace for sub-10 hours with 10 miles to go, I would have been pleased.  But after the solid first loop, my goals reset and now I was clearly falling way off those.  I started to wonder just long I would be out here.  The mid-race goal was long gone, sub-10 seemed like a long shot, would 11 hours now be in play?  It was the lamest pity party ever. Trashed quads and calves while on a 50 mile fun run, doesn’t even rate with anything serious.

Nachos to Equestrian:  5.2 miles / 64 mins / 12:18 pace

I rolled in to the finial aid station ready to be done.  I offered my half-hearted complaints to Larry which, rightfully, fell on deaf ears.  I knew that this final section was deceiving.  It is a gentle upslope for about 2 miles before a series of rollers take you to Lucky Peak but once you to Lucky it is nasty, but short, climb and then downhill to the finish.  Not too long after leaving the aid station Hilario cruised up behind me.  I was quite surprised to see him since I figured he would have well ahead of me.  We chatted and I mentioned something about my fading goals and he said, “if you follow me in, we’ll break 10”.  That woke me up since I pretty had come to terms with not meeting that goal.  While I was running with a watch, I had it in a mode where it the screen was blank to prevent me from obsessively checking the time and pace while running.  I clicked it over to another mode and saw that I had about 45 minutes to break 10 hours.  My new goal was to get to Lucky by 9:40.  I knew if I could do I could probably make it under 10.

I couldn’t keep up with Hilario but he words of encouragement refocused me.  The rollers were still annoying and seemed to drag on as I played leapfrog with Shaheen Slatter who turned out to be the women’s leader.  She was battling a twisted ankle so the rocks and hills were giving her trouble while the flats were causing me more trouble since I couldn’t open up a stride.  I came off the peak and marshaled the legs for some of my best running since loop one.

Equestrian to Finish:  4.5 miles / 52 mins /  11:33 pace

Final Time:  9:53:42 / 11:52 pace / 12th overall. 

Full results

Finishing.  Picture by my lovely wife.


As the week has worn on, I’ve become more content with the race but still believing that better races are to come.

Research says that cramps are primarily the result of over extension of effort and those with cramps often have high electrolyte levels.  I’ll go with that for this race.  I sure didn’t feel like I was over extending myself during the first loop but the times seemed to indicate that I was moving at good and faster than previous race’s pace.  I definitely looked like I had too much salt / electrolytes in the system as my shirt was crusted with the excess expelled.

My training leading up to this race was fairly good but I am still reasonably new to running and my average weekly mileage isn’t all that high.  In the the couple months leading up to the race I averaged in the mid-40 mile per week range but over the summer it was closer to mid-30s  I really struggled all summer to get runs in longer than the upper teens.  My focus since the spring is to make sure that quality workouts are maximized and easy workouts means easy.  That approach seems to be paying off so the method leading up to Bandera will be to up the mileage a bit while keeping the quality high.

My only regret for the weekend is that I wasn’t able to stay until the next day to see David J, Peter, Chip, Ben, David Z, Nancy, among the many other 100 milers cross the finish line.   The best stories play out in the late hours.  They are all amazing and continue to be an inspiration to my running.

David Jacobson flashing his 100 mile buckle and DFL award (setting the record for the fastest DFL at Cactus Rose). Scott Smith who paced David home those final 50 miles.  Picture by Brian Kuhn.

Upcoming Schedule

  • Bandera 50k
  • Heading up the Nature Center aid station at Rocky Raccoon.
  • Nueces 50 mile.  I’ve been eyeing Nueces the past 2 years before I even ran my first race.  The location looks amazing and the course looks rugged.

After Nueces, I’ll probably run Hells Hills 25k for fun and look for a mountain race early summer.

Colorado Bend Course Preview

NOTE:  The course has changed since this preview was first posted.  The major change is in the final section.  As you may your way along the River Trail, before you hit the parking lot, you take a turn back up and over Lemon Ridge.  This adds another climb but keeps you out of the parking lot.  You will then meet back up with the trail that takes you back to the start / finish.  There is about 3 miles of easy trail that has been replaced with climb and descent through a more technical trails.


Before getting started with a preview of the Colorado Bend course, some context may be helpful.  My perspective is based on my personal preference, where I train, and who I train with.  I train with Joe Prusaitis and that definitely shapes your notions.  While we have some nasty trails in Austin, very little of it is what I’d classify as serious hills (despite how much I may curse them while doing repeats up them).

Getting to Colorado Bend

From Austin, it took about 2 hours from the north side of town with zero traffic.  The final miles are on a 2 lane road that gives way to a dirt road for the last 8 miles or so.  Plan on taking longer on race day.  There is ample parking but the real question is whether you get a space close to the start finish line.  If not, you may be in for a half mile or more walk.  Again plan ahead.

We were greeted by a swarm of mosquitos.  Normally, I wouldn’t really pay attention but I very much recommend bug spray for this trip.

Our little group headed out just after 7am.  Bhavesh, Caleb, Mark, Dave and Athena (watch out for her, she is going to crush it at her first Tejas Trails race).

Start to Lemon Ridge aid station (3.8 miles)

The first 1.3 is along the park road.  It dips a bit down as you pass the Park HQ.  It is easy and fast but like Muleshoe, that makes it is to head off on much too fast of a pace.  However, be aware that once you leave the hit a narrow single track climb where passing isn’t easy.  A congo line will form in the mid-pack so use the flat section to get positioning.   The trail in here is bigger rocks mixed in with soft trail made from cedar needles.  I’d compare it to much of Travis Country for Austin runners.  You are moving uphill but it isn’t super steep.  300 ft over a mile and half with the bulk of that coming in first 2/3 of a mile once you leave the parking lot.  Originally, Brad was going to use the more challenging side trail here but he has gone soft on you here.

Lemon Ridge to Windmill aid station (5 miles)

The first 1 miles of this section is interesting.  These trails are not heavily trafficked so without markers there are sections that disappear a bit on you.  It is rocky in here but what makes it tricky is that much of the rock is hidden amounts low ground vegetation.  It smooths out the last .25 as you approach the road crossing.

From the road crossing, the trail becomes very docile for the next 3.75 miles until you hit the Windmill aid station.  A very slight roll, first down and then up.  You can really fly through here.  It will still be daylight.  The track is not only smooth but you can really open up your stride since there is few twists.  None of those bike routes like Hells Hills or Wild Hare that have you doing 180s back on yourself.  There is some climbing in here as you reach the highest point in the park but it gradual enough that it shouldn’t present the slightest of problems so far.

Windmill to Cedar Chop aid station (5.8 miles)

Leaving Windmill the trail has a few more rocks to it for a small section before smoothing out again.  You cross the road and head towards the Gorman falls section of the course.   The trail is jeep road like and a bit more rocky but nothing too serious as you follow the fence line.  You will probably have your light on by now and you I suspect you will be feeling very good about yourself so far.   Up to this point the trail shouldn’t have presented too many problems and that last stretch should have been very fast.  Hopefully not too fast.  There are hidden stumps that have been cut close to the ground and the odd rock that hide in the ground cover to avoid but overall, you are now 11 miles in and on the downside portion of the loop.

As you turn away from the fence line the trail starts to get a bit more uneven as you head down and towards the Gorman Falls Trail intersection.  As you merge onto the Gorman Falls trail, you hit the hardest section of the course.  For the next 2/3 of a mile, it is straight nasty.  You’ll be getting tired, it will be dark, and it is a going downhill.  Downhill technical is always more challenging than uphill technical in terms of keeping your balance.   It rates as one of the more jagged sections of trail on any of the Tejas Trail races.  Brad did you no favors by reversing the course since this section is now going to be in the dark.

Sorry no pictures of the really nasty section, you’ll have to find out for yourself.

You eventually meet up with a maintenance road that dumps you out into the very sweet little area of Gorman Springs.  We got a bit lost in here and ended up in doing bonus miles down the Spring trail.   Down at the bottom you have to cross over the spring, Brad takes you over the bridge but we forded through the water.

Leaving the spring you head up first an easy jeep road that then meets Old Gorman Trail.  This trail reminds me a lot of Forest Ridge or St Eds (the left and longer side of the 2 climbs up).   For those not familiar with those trails, it is a steady climb with rocks.  The total climb is about 1.5 miles long as it leads to the Cedar Chop aid station.  Only a couple hundred feet of elevation gain but it drags out and the footing isn’t great, though much better than what you just came down.

The Windmill to Cedar Chop section is by far the hardest section of the course and at nearly 6 miles, you should plan ahead.  For the vast majority of runners, this should be a 2 handheld section.  If you wear a pack, don’t forgot to fill it at Windmill.  I am willing to bet this section averages 75-90 minutes for most runners on the first loop and for the 60k runners, 80-100 minutes on the second loop.  And for some, longer.  As for the speedsters, they can take care of themselves.

Cedar Chop to Chop to Finish (4.2 miles)

As you leave Cedar Chop you hit a trail that isn’t heavily trafficked and really thins for bit.  Hard to see the rocks but then the trail opens up.  There were people out there doing trail work on this section.  Cutting back the grass and raking some of the loose rock off the trail.  It will be easier for you to follow with the markers.  The gentle slopes gives way to a greater decline.  Again quite technical and given the place in the race and the dark, it will present some challenges.  The total downhill section is about 2 miles but includes little flat section along a ridge line above the river.  I accidentally turned off my GPS for this section so I don’t have the route in detail.  As you leave the ridge, there is one short steep section down and then you meet up with the River Trail.

The River Trail is just under 2 and a half miles of the most gentle trail you’ll find.  You follow the river, traverses a field, all the while the trail offers nary a rock.  This should make for an extremely fast finish and will reward those who have a kick and good top end speed.


This is easily my favorite trail of the Capt Karl’s series.  For one, it is a single 30k loop.  It offers a variety of trail and the trail was compelling to run especially during the day.  Much of the park doesn’t see a lot of traffic so the trails were not overly worn down.  I also loved that you didn’t have to loop back on yourself multiple times to find the mileage.  No switchbacks or s-curve type of trails, lots of point to point running.   Maybe because it is new and new trails are always more fun.

I am of mixed mind to the overall difficulty.  Where it was nasty, it was among the most challenging trail of any you’ll find in the Tejas Trail series.  But the bulk of that is limited to a 5 mile section of the course and it while rocky it wasn’t loose rock rocky so you could skate over parts of it, though that is harder to do as it gets dark and you are tired.  The elevation profile totals show about 20% more climbing than Muleshoe but the climbs are not steep.  On the other hand there is at least 8 miles of extremely fast trail.  The lack of twisty trail also makes it faster.

My suspicion is that the winning times could be very fast.  Sub-2:20 on the 30k by Brandon Ostrander (winner of the past 4 Capt Karl races) is certainly in play, all things being equal.  I could also see this being a slower course for many mid-packers in the 60k simply due to how the course is laid out.  You hit all the rough stuff in the dark and that second loop could be a long one.   It will be easy to find yourself alone for stretches.  Does fewer aid stations help or hurt?  Less time to be distracted but more trouble if you run out of supplies.  Rocks multiply and climbs grow in the dark.  Does it make sense that I think this could be both a harder course yet a faster course than Muleshoe?  Perhaps it is just me.   I hate mountain bike, twisty trails, if you haven’t noticed.  The more engaging the trail the better I run.  In many respects it reminds me of Pedernales.  But then I thought Reveille Ranch would prove to be a faster course than most people found it during Pandora’s Box of Rox.

Elevation estimate:

1200 ft per 30k loop.  Note, this is based on an altimeter within my Suunto Ambit.  I find that it provides a more conservative elevation estimate than my Garmin watches.  I suspect Garmin will report 1500ft+.  For reference, I had just about 1000 ft for Muleshoe.

Hells Hills 50 mile

Hells Hills was a race of firsts after a year of firsts.  One year ago, Hells Hills 25k was my first trail race and first race completed period since college years.  When I was planning out my calendar at the beginning of the year, I pencilled in the 25k again.  I thought it would be interesting to see how much I’ve improved since the prior year.  However, over the past few weeks the idea of stepping up to the 50 miler started to arise.  The primary reason is that I want to run the Angels Staircase 50 mile race in August and I need qualifying races to do so.  Having run the Gorge Waterfall 50k two week before, I decided to hold off committing to a distance until shortly before the race.  4am Saturday morning found me at the registration table signing up for my first 50 mile run.

I really only had 1 goal for the day:  stay healthy.  Coming off a faster 50k where I really pushed my quads, I knew I wasn’t fresh so the risk of injury was higher.  Plus I hadn’t been training for a 50 miler yet so while my overall base was good, I hadn’t ramped up my miles like you would normal do to in getting prepared for 10+ hours of time on your feet.  Lastly, I was planning to take off most of April to rest before ramping training up for the summer.  I wanted to rest up for the summer cycle of training, not to be recovering from injury.

Loop 1

I was determined to go out very slow.  I didn’t turn on my GPS and I hung well back in the pack taking the short hills that make up the first 2 miles very, very easy.  By mile 3, I settled in behind Paul Salazar who set us on a perfect pace.   Most this loop was in the dark and there is not much to report except that I fell for the first time during a race.  It was a pretty smooth area but I dropped something out of my back pocket and when the runner behind me went to hand it to me, I turned to look and immediately fell.  Our little clutch of 4 continue on until we lost one of our runners who was probably tired of listening to me chat up Paul.

Loop 2

Headed out after loading up on supplies.  We were about 2 hours and 52 minutes in at this point.  Paul powered away during those first few miles and by mile 20 I was pretty much running alone.  There was probably 500+ people on the course at that moment but I only saw a few here or there.  Somewhere around mile 25, Brandon Ostrander came gilding up.  We chatted for a moment before he headed to claim 4th overall in the 50k.

The temps were rising but the humidity was dropping.  Coupled with a mild breeze, it felt fairly pleasant though you can sense the hints of the heat to come.    I continued to play it very conservative on the pace and would take a walk break every 30 minutes or so while I consumed gels.  The course definitely isn’t my favorite style of courses but it was lovely enough and I was enjoying my time out there so far.

(picture by Henry Hobbs)

Loop 3

I found it hard to get into a rhythm the first few miles the first few miles after leaving the start / finish aid station.  I felt pretty good energy wise but just couldn’t get a groove going.  At the water only aid station, I refilled and took a gel.  It was around here that I probably crossed into truly unchartered territory, having never run further than about 60k.  This section of the course is twisty mountain bike trail.  Lots of dips, quick ups, 180 degree turns.  You don’t really have a good sense of which direction you are moving in or how far you have gone or to go.

I was feeling a bit low when Micah True came to mind.  I don’t have a personal connection to Micah that many do. I never read Born to Run so I only had a passing knowledge of him.  However, in the wake of his passing, it was moving to see the outpouring of stories about him and the one thing that stayed with me was the joy he imparted in running and in others.  Running ultras may seem “Mas Loco” in the context of today’s society but at this moment nothing felt more natural.  I hit on pretty good groove and ran a solid 4+ miles into the first manned aid station.  I wish I had my gps here because I think I ran some of my fastest miles in this section since the first loop.

Stopping at the aid station seemed to break the rhythm even though it was critical to load up on more water and food.  I had 10 miles left at this point.   Within a few miles of the aid station, I found my heart rate really climbing due to overheating.  It had certainly been hot for a while but this was the first time it was really driving heart rate and overheating issues.  I had to slow down and focus on cooling for the next few miles as I made my way to the last aid station where I was greeted by friends bearing gifts from gods:  an ice water sprayer and popsicles.

(picture by Henry Hobbs, those jokers at Tunnel of Pines)

The run to the finish was long and slow.  My struggles throughout the day most came from very tight back and core area.  I actually felt pretty good on the energy level side.  At this point I was just happy that I was going to be able to finish.  Last year, I ran the 25k and I suffered more in the last 10k of that race than I did at any point during the 50 miles.  Even though I was reduced to walking most of the last 5 miles I was pretty elated with the day.

Splits and gear

Loop 1:  2h 51m

  • 0-12 miles:  2h 1m (10m 5s pace)
  • 12-16.7 miles:  50m (10m 38s pace)

Loop 2:  3h 7m

  • 16.7 to 28.7 miles:  2h 5m (10m 30s pace)
  • 28.7 to 33.3 miles:  61m (13m 16s pace)

Loop 3:  3h 39m

  • 33.3 to 45.3 miles:  2h 32 m (12m 40s pace)
  • 45.3  to 50 miles:  67m (14m 15s pace)

Finish:  9:37:16.  20th out of 129 starters.

My average 16.67 loop time was as fast this year than the single 15.5 mile loop from last year.


  • Brooks shorts
  • Hoka Stinson Evos
  • Injinji socks
  • 1 handheld bottle.  Nathan holder with an Ultimate Direction bottle
  • gels, water, nuun plus bits of food, coke, and s-caps from the aid station.  One Bearded Brothers bar between loop 1 & 2.  It was tasty and good for me but I think I should have only ate half it as I felt a bit overly full in the stomach for the next 10+ miles.

Year in Review

During last year’s Hells Hills, even though I had a miserable time I knew I wanted to do more.  I also knew that I would benefit from running with a group.  After looking at the groups around town, it was pretty clear that Joe Prusaitis and Tejas Trails was the right group.  Reading Joe’s reports of past races were hugely inspiring.  It just seemed to fit the vibe I was looking for.

At that time I summed up my goals to Joe as:

“to get stronger and faster at races in the 25k to 30k range and to be able to bounce up to 50k races.  While finishing is a worthy feat in itself, I want to be reasonably proficient at those levels before considering anything further.”

I have to laugh at now that I just knocked out a 50 miler that 1 year ago I had no desire or inkling of what it meant to run one.  Running with the group has been so much more than just about doing the workouts with a goal in mind.  The friendship and support are amazing and priceless.  Races take on a whole different dimension and get considerably easier when there are friends to chat with and offer well timed words of encourage and help.  Plus it makes hanging out after a race all the more fun.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I often need external motivation to perform better.  This is true of running and for other activities I do like music.  Having a training scheduled backed by a group creates a level of accountability that I would not met if I trained by myself and being around other high performers brings out my desire do better.  Train with Tejas Trails runners for a few months and you cannot help but want to push yourself to new limits and longer distances.



Gorge Waterfall 50k

Late last year the group was discussing a destination race.  We settled on a James Varner (aka Rainshadow Running) race because he seemed to be in line with our vibe and it offered something different than what we have done here.  Unfortunately for me, Beacon Rock 50k ended up getting moved to a date that I couldn’t attend.  As consolation, I signed up for the Gorge Waterfall 50k instead.

We arrived in Hood River, Oregon, Saturday afternoon after a nice morning in Seattle with friends.  Despite living in the northwest for many years, neither my wife or I had never been to Hood River.  It turned out to be a great little town bustling with places to eat, drink and shop though we only took advantage of the first two.  Saturday was our 11th anniversary so after getting settled at the hotel room we headed out to Celilo for dinner and had a nice meal of scallops with sunchoke puree, mushroom bread pudding, and pasta with first of the season english peas and fresh chickpeas.  Very good all around.

We retired to the hotel and I packed up for the morning.  One nice thing about traveling west for a race is that your are primed for early bed time and mornings thanks to the 2 hour offset.  Even still, I had a bit of trouble falling a sleep, woke up a few times during the night, and was out of bed 20 minutes early.

Race morning

With all the changes leading up to the event, we now were 45 minutes from the check-in and start line.  When I booked the hotel, the schedule called for driving 10 minutes from Hood River to the finish line where we would check-in and then get on a shuttle to head to the start line.  We arrived a few minutes before 7 am and found about 30 other runners milling about and James nowhere to be found.  Turns outs he had a flat tire on the trailer.  For James, this race was comedy of errors (though none of his doing).  The flat tire set the start back about 35 minutes but after a quick briefing (summed up as “don’t fall off the cliffs, you’ll die”) we were off.

A few of the Texas runners that came up for the visit:  Rod, me, Elizabeth, Libby.

There were all sorts of course changes due to unfinished and unexpected construction along the course so we probably only ran a third of the original route.  Winters in the northwest can be rough on the park service and this year washed out bridges caused one set a problems.  One course revision had us climbing up even higher until a late season storm dropped a couple feet of snow up on Devil’s Rest.  However, by the morning of, we had an out-and-back made up 5 sections.

Section 1.  Elevation

After about a mile and half of easy grass path we hit what is the defining feature of this course:  the climb up around Multnomah & Wahkeena Falls.   Once we hit this trail it is climbing for about 2 miles.  The first mile is made up of paved path ways and encompasses 1,000 ft of elevation climbing.  The second mile is rock and mud over what normally is a pine needle bedded trail.  The lead pack of Max King, Ian Sharman, Yassine Diboun, among others attacked the climb and quickly left us behind.  You could see them above as the trail switched back and forth.  I tried to be conservative on the climb knowing that while you won’t really make your time on this climb, you certainly can break it.

above pictures via here

The top brought slushy snow and then we headed down the other side.  I was thrilled to find at last a bit of rock on the trail and I was able to pick my way down the first half the descent in good time.  The second half of the descent was more paved trails which were less fun as short, steep switch backs make it hard to get a rhythm going.   Near the bottom we popped off the main paved trail onto a side trail that lead us down to the first aid station.

I didn’t really have a great feel for how long this section of the course would take me so when I penciled out a a race split the night before, I figured that the first 7 miles would about 80 to 90 minutes.  This was simply to account for the climbing and the unknown factor of snowing / footing.  Until I reached the aid station, I had no idea what pace we were on since I decided the night before to run with a watch.

My lovely wife was crewing for me and was there with the trunk of the car open with anything I needed.  I grabbed a bit to drink and dropped off my gloves and compression arm sleeves as they were overkill for that turned out to be near perfect running weather (50 and overcast).   I asked for the time and was surprised to find that the first section took 72 minutes or roughly a 10/min average pace.

Section 2:  Half & Half

Ponytail Falls, yes we run behind that! It was as awesome as it looks.

Technically I suppose it should be 2/3, 1/3.  The first 4+ miles of this section was probably my favorite from a running standpoint.  Up to now, we pretty much had a non-technical run.  The footing was either paved path, smooth (though mud or slush), and the rocks we did hit were pretty worn down and embedded.  Cobblestone like.  Finally we got ourselves onto a proper trail with rocks, a short boulder field, and then a nice forest section with rocks and roots.

Finally, a real trail!

Trail gave way to the road and about half way down the road, we started seeing the lead pack returning on us.  Max King was cruising easily out front.

The road ends with aid station number 2 at mile 14.  I came through at 2:13 from the start for a section split of 61 minutes (8:43/min pace).

Section 3.  Hidden gem

From here we had a quick 2 mile out and back.  It consisted of a modest climb (400/ft elevation) and then a dip down to the very lovely Elowah Falls.  This was a 2 mile section and took about 20 minutes total.

This picture is from Libby.  If you want to go read a more detailed and picture rich report, check it out here.  As these things tend to do, she had a different opinion about the technical nature of the course 🙂

Section 4:  On the road again

Section 4 is the same as section 2 but really was defined by the return trip on the road.  For me, it became a bit of a death march.  I was passed by a few runners and was dropping well back of the pack I had been bouncing around most of the day.  The hips started to complain loudly and I had to take a break twice to try to loosen them up a bit.  Hated this section with a passion and was glad to hit the trails again even if that meant we had to start climbing again.

View from the road, via Libby

I started to feel better as we worked our way through the woods and my hips and legs started to loosen up again.  Others clearly felt that opposite of me as this is where I caught quite a few people.  We popped out again for the last aid station where we loaded what we needed for the final leg home.   This section took about 65 minutes (~9:20/min pace), 4 minutes slower than on the way out.

Section 5:  The finishing burn

We rolled up and down for a bit (200 footers) before joining back up the main paved climb up.  On the way out there were a few early hikers out but by this time the trail was packed with day hikers.  Multnomah is one of Oregon’s most popular destinations to visit.  It is easy to see why.  It was packed today but I imagine that is even more so later in the spring as the weather warms.  Going up, the crowds were not too much of a problem.  Many in the crowd were great and cheered us on, gave high-fives and word of encouragement.  I think some thought we were just running to the top or something as they would say stuff like “only half a mile more”.  If only.

Up and up we went, there was no running but I was moving pretty steady and at a consistent pace.  I even felt pretty strong for a while there.  Near the top we switched over to trail and had a short down before more climbing.   It was in the second mile of climbing that I started to slow quite a bit and my calves started to knot up.  Nearly got off course with a wrong turn (a family was standing right in front of the markers and another women and I just headed up) but luckily a runner right behind us called out and we were able to relay it up to the women ahead as well.   It was through this last half mile of the climb that I really saw the benefit training in the training up here provides as I was passed by runners who were still running as we neared the top.  I was definitely jealous of them and all the amazing trails and mountains they have to train on.

A few miles from the finish.  I am smiling?  Picture by Glen Tachiyama.

The last 3.5 miles were half steep descent, half flat finish.  As before, the paved path sucked but now the trail was now much more of a muddy mess from all the runners and melted slush.  It was dicey at times coming fast down a muddy decline to the end of the switchback cut.  The tightness in the hips returned, the calves were really starting to complain, and I could find no rhythm on the paved switch backs.  Other than that things were going great and soon we were at the bottom and through 1.5 mile flats section and into the finish to be greeted by James, cheers, food, and beer.  The last section took 88 minutes (12:30/min pace), 16 minutes slower that the first time through.

Final time was 5hr 4m 27s.   I am not really sure what to make of that time.  The course was short of 50k.  GPS measurements are of no use with all the switchbacks, steep climbing, and ravines even if I had worn a watch.  James said 49k per the trail maps.  I’d hazard it was closer to 29 miles than 31.  4.5 miles of road certainly cut down on the times as the times of the elites certainly showed, yet the climbing was serious with about 6,000 feet of elevation gain (and equal descent).  In the end, it is nearly impossible to compare time on one course to another given all the variables.  Sitting here 2 days later, I am pleased with the run, happy with the progress I’ve made in the first year of running trails (a year ago I had never run further than 12 miles at once or 30 miles in a week, not to mention the extra weight), but at the same time I am not content.  I feel I should have and could have done better.  I suspect most of us feel that way after a race or otherwise we won’t go back out there, train the way we do, and throw ourselves against the rocks, the hills, and whatever else comes our way again and again.

Wrap up

James smiles at the incoherent man who stumbled out of the woods to steal his beer.

James and I talked briefly about this race compared to Angels Staircase.  For me, Angels Staircase is a more compelling course.  Gorge Waterfall is lovely and if I was living in the northwest, it would be part of my annual race calendar.  All of James’ races would be.  The views of the waterfalls and the surround area are among the best you could ever hope for in the race.  But I love rugged, remote races and Angels Staircase excels at that.  Angels is a race to plan your calendar and travel around and I am look forward to coming back up this August and trying my hand at the long course.

James has a great thing going up in the Northwest and all the runners I came across were a delight.  They are the second best community of runners out there, Tejas is number 1 but I couldn’t object if they wanted to lay claim to the title.

Bandera 50k

(me, waiting to head to the start)

(course elevation profile)

Start to Boyles

  • Distance:  4.79 miles
  • Target run time:  50 to 55 mins
  • Target pace:  11 mins /  mile

Olga sends us on our way and less than a half mile we hit Cairns, a modestly steep climb that is just a taste of what the first 9 miles of the course has in store for us.  Cairns was built by Joe, Henry, and others in the earlier days of Bandera following deer trails.   At one time rock cairns guided you along but those are mostly gone and it is a fairly well established trail.

My general plan was to take the uphill easy, fast on the downhills, and sustainable long run pace on the flatter sections.  While that sounds like a pretty obvious tactic, many people who run Bandera for the first time find the downhills very tricky and don’t run them that fast.  If you are bombing down a hill, nothing is more dangerous than coming up on someone too fast (for you and them).  Cairns and Boyles have a bit of space on the downhills but later trails like Sky Island and Ice Cream don’t have as much room to maneuver so being mindful of the traffic around you is important as your approach the downhill sections.

Everything was going well enough as we headed down the hill towards the Boyles aid station.  I was wearing a vest with water with the plan of not stopping at Boyle to avoid the early traffic.  I looked down at my watch as I went past Boyles to see a time of 43 minutes and change.  That was too fast, nearly 2 minute per mile faster than I expect and should have been.  I made a mental note to back of the pace a bit for the next section.

Note about all course pictures, I was busy running so all pictures from earlier years taken by Joe Prusaitis.  Go here for the full gallery.  We had an especially lovely day during this year’s Bandera race and these pictures just barely begin to reflect out beautiful this course as we start our run in the early morning hours.

Boyles to Nachos

  • Distance:  5.27 miles
  • Target run time:  58 to 65 mins
  • Target run pace:  11 mins / mile

As we hit Big Nasty I felt someone approaching fast.  Very fast.  I turned to see Erik Stanley gliding up.  He was running the 25k.  The 25k start at the same time but hit Lucky Peak before meeting up behind us on Cairns.  That puts them roughly 2 miles behind us on the course.  I expected to see the chase pack behind Erik at some point but we reached the 25k cut-off trail without seeing another runner.  Erik was flying, as usual.

Up Big Nasty, through the saddle, and up to the top of Sky Island.  This is easily my favorite part of the course.  The view from the top is stunning with a full view of the park.  As we came off Sky Island, I was chatting with Lance Gay but as we approached Ice Cream Hill, I let him go.  I knew I was well ahead of where I should be and I didn’t want to blow up early like I did during the Dorset Ultra the month prior.  Ice Cream Hill is also a bit in my head as it was where I hit a wall during the Cactus Rose relay run.  On the CR version of the course, it is near the half-way point rather than at 8.5 miles, but still I wanted to mind the climb up.

Ice Cream Hill was still a tough climb but treated me better than at Cactus.  The sotol cactus make their first serious appearance but they didn’t seem all that bad today and I ran straight through them.  Maybe I am just getting used to them.  I did come through the finish to find my knees covered in blood so they did take a bite out of me.

Ice Cream Hill dumps you down into the Nachos Aid Station.  You can close your eyes and find your way to Nachos as they like their music and they like it loud.  It looked like they were having a great time as I approached.  I took off my pack to get some more water and was surprised to see how much I still had in there.  This should have been more of a warning sign than it was but I felt pretty good and I had been staying up on salt and food to this point.

This section took  me about 55 minutes or just under 10:30 pace.

Nachos to Chapas

  • Distance:  5.44 miles
  • Target run time:  57 to 63 mins
  • Target run pace:  10:30 mins / mile

Nachos begins the ‘runnable’ section of the Bandera course.  For the next 2 miles it is a a mix of creek beds, small ledges, and nearly rock free dirt trail that then gives way to 3 miles of choppy rock trail.  What dirt there is has been torn up by horses after the rains a few weeks back and now is hardening into divots.  Then it takes you up a small hill and kicks you out on a trail of rocks, rocks and more rocks.  It is flat and you can move pretty well but can reach up and grab you.  I saw a couple people take a tumble in this section.

Somewhere on the way down into Chapas I see the brightest shirt imaginable and I knew it was Jeremy Day, who was running the 100k.  I had started to see 100k folks about a few miles back but now we were coming across them in greater numbers.  The 100k runners had started on a path that put them about 5 miles ahead of us.

Chapas came in at 53 minutes, 9:50 pace.  At this point I was 15.5 miles through the race and it had taken me 2 hours and 30 minutes.  I was ahead of my target pace and, in theory, I had plenty of runnable terrain ahead.  I knew that the Three Sisters and Trail 6 awaited but I was feeling good outside of a some pain in the adductor (groin) muscle group area.  Foolishly, I started to entertain ideas of a 5 hour finish.

My wife was at Chapas with my drop bag.  I decided to switch it out my pack for a handheld, drank a coconut water, had a snack, made a request for sunglasses at the next aid station, and headed back out.

Chapas to Crossroads 1

  • Distance:  5.85 miles
  • Target run time:  61 to 65 mins
  • Target run pace:  10:30 mins / mile

Chapas to Crossroads is the easiest part of the course overall based on terrain and profile.  It starts with a dirt trail that was very chopped up from horse trailers and horses and then dumps out into the field.  I have been through the field a couple times during training runs and during Cactus Rose but only in the dark.  Now I know what others say when it they talk about how uninspiring that section it.  It also was very exposed and it was warming up.  It only got to the upper 60s but out there it was felt much hotter.

We trudged through the field.  Despite being an opportunity to stretch out the legs and run a  good pace, I just couldn’t find the rhythm.  About 2/3s the way through the field, I came up on David Jacobson and took the the opportunity to run with with him for a while and gather myself.

David dropped back as we came up on Crossroads.  It had taken me just under 63 minutes of running to get here.  10:45 minute pace.  This is definitely a part of the course that I could do better on in future races.

At Crossroad, I got some more water, picked up some more food, sunscreen, sunglasses and headed back out.

Crossroads 1 to Crossroads 2 (aka the inner-loop)

  • Distance:  4.96 miles
  • Target run time:  55-60 mins
  • Target run pace:  11:30 mins / mile

I thought I felt pretty good heading out of the aid station and moved down the trail, a smooth jeep road, at sub-9 minute pace for the next mile.  I came along Sam who was running the one loop of the 100k course as a training run, chatted with him and headed along.  All of a sudden I cratered.  I stopped to go to the bathroom but that was actually a cover for the fact that suddenly I didn’t have any more go in my legs.  Sam came up on me and dragged me through the Three Sisters.  On the downhill of the Sisters I started to feel better and I ran ok for a bit.  As we came up to Trail 6, we came up on Parvaneh Moayedi who was trucking along in the 100k.  She is a machine and is just relentless in her forward motion.

Somewhere around the Sisters I looked down to see that I had run 25 miles in 4 hours and 20 minutes.  I thought about Cactus Rose and how just a few months ago, it took me 4:50 to run a 25 mile loop.  While the course route is not exactly comparable, I was pleased to see how much better I was doing and lifted my spirits.

The inner-loop took right about an hour to run, a 12 min pace. It wasn’t pretty at all and I am very thankful that Sam was there provide encouragement.  Without him, I could have easily drifted off into a much worse state.  Running with the Tejas Trails training group has been better than I could ever imagine and one of the biggest reasons is how everyone looks out for each other.

Crossroads 2 to Finish

  • Distance:  4.75 miles
  • Target run time:  50-55 mins
  • Target run pace:  10:30 mins / mile

Came down into Crossroads and got my last re-fill of food and drink before heading out.  As I was heading out, I saw John Kuss heading back in because he forgot his salt caps.  We headed out more or less together, walking while I ate some food and had a bit to drink.  Parvaneh caught us again and for the next mile or so we passed and re-passed each other.  She was the locomotive powering forward while I was the local commuter train speeding up and slowing down.  At some point I got into a bit of groove and was able to run more or less consistently until we started to hit the pre-hills before Lucky.  I came upon another 50k runner (the first I’d seen in a while) and he mentioned he was cramping badly.  As if in sympathy, my right calf and left quad started twitching.  Joy.

At this point, I wasn’t really worried about places but I knew I was close to the 50k time I ran at Wild Hare in November. That course is a piece of cake compared to Bandera, flat and mostly smooth.  We approached Lucky Peak together and he moved up it much better than my crawl.  I was just trying to survive to the top since I knew it was downhill and flat from there on in to the finish.  As we crested, I summoned whatever reminding nerve I had to bomb the downhill.  I passed several people on the way down include the aforementioned 50k runner.  This last section is about a mile of very gradual down slope on mostly smooth trail so I tried to push through to the finish.

As I approach Last Chance, there was a short internal debate about stopping for a shot of tequila or a beer.  However, it looked busy and with only a half mile to go I was focused on making it to the line.  I nearly catch another 50k runner but he sees me and picks up his pace and I stop to walk for just a few seconds before trying again.  The last mile is around 8:40 pace, though it feels like the legs aren’t moving by this point.  The finish finally appears and I cross in 5:31:19.  Turns out that put me 32nd out of 214 overall.

Post race

I parked myself in a chair at the finish, re-hydrated, cheered the finishers coming through, and chatted with friends for the next couple hours until the need for food and and a shower was too overpowering.   Post race hanging out is really the best part of any race.

Summary / Lessons

I am very pleased with the race overall.  It was probably my most complete run to date.  Still there are plenty of lessons to be had and more than a few areas to work on.

One lesson is that handhelds are not for me on these longer runs.  I switched to a handheld half-way through and within a few miles regretted it.  Not only does it restrict how much food I can carry but my back started hurting and I felt that it impacted my running rhythm.

I probably didn’t take enough water early.  For the last 3 hours I was drinking about 40 oz per hour but it didn’t feel like enough there.  Once you are behind, it is very hard to catch up.  I probably got a bit loose with my food towards the second half of the race.  Both things to continue to work on.

My time at aid stations was well spent and efficient thanks in large part to my lovely wife.

Overall, my fitness is coming along, just need to continue to work on getting more efficient.  Core strength is certainly something in need of focus.  I also need to work on sustained pace and pushing it in the last third of a race.  Something to talk about with Joe and work on before future races.

On the plus side, my new shoes are working great for me.  While they may look dorky (they are alternatively referred to as moon shoes, clown shoes, or short-bus shoes), for the first time since August I can run regularly without pain in my right food.

(Hoka One One Mafate — yes, they are 2 inches thick on the bottom)

Quick year in review

2011 was my first year running with any amount of consistency in over 17 years.   I started hike / jogging summer of 2009.  Lots of 2 to 4 miles ‘runs’.  These were designed more to wear out my 2 year old Weimaraner than out of any notion of fitness.  2010 brought 3 to 5 mile runs with an occasional long of 8 miles.  The pounds dropped (I am now down just over 40 from my peak) and for the year I averaged less than 50 miles per month.  After an ill-fated attempt at the Austin Half, I confirmed roads were not for me.   I joined up with Joe and the Tejas Trails group and 8 months later I am running 40-50 miles per week almost all of it on trails, enjoying it much more, and running distances that I couldn’t contemplate just a year earlier with plans for many more.

For 2012, my tentative calendar is:

Gorge Waterfall 50k, March 24

Hells Hills 25k, April 7th – Anniversary of first trail race.

Guads – May

The Ranch 30k (maybe, I get free entry after the mess from last year), June 10th

Mule Shoe 30 or 60k, July 21st – training run

Angels Staircase 50 (k or mile), Sept 11th

Reveille Ranch 30k – training run

Cactus Rose (relay or ?)

Bandera 50k 2013

I look forward to what 2012 brings.

Last picture is from Ed Swarthout who took this the morning of Bandera:


Dorset Ultra

Two months ago, my wife suggested we head to Berlin to visit some friends.  I decided since I was going to be Europe may as well try to see if there was an interesting race to run while I was there.  The Dorset Ultra fit the bill and the schedule.


Plane (x2), train (x2), automobile.  Not an ideal pre-race rest plan spending 22 hours in transit from Austin, Texas, to Weymouth, England, with snatches of sleep along the way.  Rolled into where I was staying about 7pm and after checking in at race registration tried to head to bed.  Of course, I couldn’t sleep.  By morning, I had about 6 hours of fitful sleep over the course of the previous  2 nights.


The series races include Ultra / 50k, marathon, half marathon, and 10k.  The attendance was tilted towards the shorted distances; 70% of the entries where half or 10k.   At 8pm, the 80 who were entered in the Ultra plus about 40 early start marathon runners headed to the starting corral.  Timing was done differently than I’ve seen before.  Instead of all heading out at once, one by one people slot their timing chip into a box and then head out on the course.  Chip time determines the finishing order.  You also slot your chip into boxes at each check point.

I don’t typically describe courses as in my race report in detail but this course had some unique features.  The first of which are these stiles that pass over between fields.

(picture not from the race weekend but this is along the Dorset coast)

They definitely caused minor traffic jams early in the race while later on they grew slick with mud (and seemed to have grown a few feet taller).

The first 2.5 miles are easy as you work through a series of these gates and down towards the coast.  Then comes the first  climb and sets the tone for the rest of the race to come:  hard climbs up and wicked steep descents.  The trail is clay mud so sticking to the grass if possible is the best plan of attack.  There are often stairs but it was best to avoid them if possible.

Next next little section features Bat Cove and Durdle Door, a major local sightseeing attraction.

(all images here and below from here)

Shortly after checkpoint 3 was a nice climb followed by another brutal descent (-35%).  The footing was bad and I simply couldn’t find a way to relax and let go.  Thus begun the trashing of my quads.  Mile 8 to mile 9 was easy enough and my total time was around 90 minutes so on the surface I was doing well but it wasn’t sustainable.  I was working too hard and my quads already were feeling the effects of the downhill descents.  Even worse, my foot issues flared up.  I’d had hoped that the relativity soft and smooth course would be kind to my foot where I am battling something that seems a lot like Morton’s Neuroma (official diagnosis has been elusive), however, a caught a rock just right and on came the pain.

Starting at mile 9-10 came the most difficult stretch of the race, both physically and mentality.  5 big climbs over 8 miles, average grade around 12%.  The first climb was the worst at ~30% over a quarter mile but the others were certainly no picnic.  Plus now I had to deal with foot pain.

On the climb up to checkpoint 4, I started to cramp up a bit.  After troubles with hydration during a 50k 2 weeks ago, I was trying to be more vigilant with water but I think I got a bit sloppy during this section of climbs.  On the plus side, I was doing pretty well on nutrition and my stomach felt great.  I filled up at CP4, popped a few more s-caps, and started the trek back.   Up until this point we had been hugging the ridge line right next to the cliffs but now we were going to work a bit inland.  Passed through a gate and came upon a half dozen horses.  How nice it would be to borrow one of those for the rest of the race.  I was doing my best at this point not to start to entertain ideas of cutting the run short and finishing with the marathon runners but it was feeling like a losing battle.

Around mile 18, we came back through West Lulworth and where we merged with the half marathon runners.  Mixing in with the half marathon runners was a mixed blessing.  One one hand, it was nice to be around some people again and I had a few nice chats, but on the other hand, they were much fresher and moving much better than I was at this point on a whole.   There was a mix of locals, tourist, and spectators cheering on the runners as they came through town that provided a nice lift to the spirits.

Miles 18 to 21 was one long climb with a few false summit.  It was along one of these false summits, that I settled the question of whether I was going to finish the full Ultra or not.  Any time goal was long since out of the question.  The next 5 miles, I move as well as I have in a while.  Granted it was net down hill but, still, I was running more than I wasn’t and that couldn’t be said for the previous 10 miles.  At mile 25 was a turn-off for the Ultra from the Marathon course, I had made the cutoff with about 30 minutes to spare.  It was a pretty aggressive cutoff as they didn’t want anyone out there along the cliffs after dark and many runners didn’t make it.

The extra miles looped back onto part of the coarse we did earlier in the day.  After 1000 runners through, the muck was considerably worse.  Miles 27 and 28 was the very first climb of the day all over again, it just took 50% longer this time through.  At this point, I started hoping for a DFL.  If I was going to struggle so much at least I could get a DFL (dead fucking last).   Somewhere around mile 30 was the last aid station and I stopped and some biscuits (english biscuits, so closer to a light butter cookie) caught my eye.  They were the most brilliant thing ever at that point in time.

The last 5 miles took about an hour and I finished at 7 hours, 5 minutes, 51 seconds.  Unfortunately that wasn’t even close to a DFL as I was 27 out of the 39 who finished the Ultra (~50% starters finished).  Looking back at the splits, I gave up the majority of time and places in that middle section.  I could have been better prepared for the hills and the lack of sleep certainly played a role, but mostly I think it came down to bad technique on the downhills and loss of mental focus.  It probably didn’t help that I ran a 50k two weeks prior and I didn’t feel all that recovered from that race.  There certainly wasn’t that spring in my legs that you hope for pre-race.

Race stats:

  • Distance:  33.6 miles (~55k)
  • Ascent:  6013 ft
  • Finishing time:  7:05:51

Post Race

That evening there was lecture (and beer) event.  Stuart Mills shared stories about his 2 runs through UTMB and his approach to training.  Tobias Mews & Phil Davis provided many laughs with their story of running the Marathon de Sables desert stage race.  What was interesting was both Stuart and Tobias’ approach to training which emphasized fewer but high quality miles.  The message in both was simply have confidence in your plan and follow it.  Both discount long slow miles.  This is a large debate right now in endurance running and the high-intensity workout method falls in line with the crossfit theory of workouts.  I see the merit in it but I also wonder if the improved performance is also due to having a strong endurance & fitness base.  I suspect that both methods are beneficial and cycling back and forth may be the right approach depending on where you are in your training / racing cycle.  Something I think I am going to think about as I start my next training cycle after Bandara.

I wasn’t pretty out of it from the lack of sleep and the run so I wasn’t overly sociable but I did meet some very nice runners and chatted about the usual things trail runners tend to chat about.

If I was in England, I’d do every one of these races.  I’d make another side trip if future travel plans align.  The races are in beautiful locations and well run.

One nice surprise is that I won the guess the winner’s number contest.  That scored me a free set of 2XU compression tights.  I can only compare them CW-X compression gear.  They are a bit thinner which is nicer during warmer days.  They also have a better seam design and overall are comfortable and good design.  The only problem I have with them right now is that it seems that the ankle opening is too small and not elastic so it is very difficult to get it over my heel when pulling on.

The other new is that I recently picked up is a pair of Hoka Mafate trail shoes.  I really wish I had them at Dorset.  I have 5 runs in them of varying lengths, including 3 over technical trails, and for the first time in many months, I haven’t had foot pain while running.  They are certainly a bit different but I’ll put up with clown feet for pain-free running.  So far the only area where I have found the Hokas to be a bit challenging is going fast through weaving trails, especially if the trail is slick.  In general, I wouldn’t call them an agility shoe but for trail running, they have solved one my biggest nagging problems and make running long technical trails fun again rather than being a run filled with tiny land mines on every step.

Wild Hare 50k

My plan was use Wild Hare as a test run prior to Bandera.  However, thanks to a bit of fortuitous timing, I signed up for the Dorset Ultra so now Wild Hare was 2 weeks before Dorset so I thought to use it as a gear check and last long run.  The required gear list for Dorset includes wind jacket, first aid, foil blanket, mobile phone, hat, gloves, whistle, water for the 7 to 10 miles between aid stations, and whatever food you may need for the full 34 mile run.  So I loaded up the pack and headed out to Warda.

Lap 1 

Went out a bit too fast but nothing new there.  The lead group of 6 or so jetted off.  I had never run here before so spent the first loop becoming familiar with the course and plotting it against the course map I had looked over.   One of the great things about joining up with a running group is seeing your training friends on the course.  They are always good for a smile and a word of encouragement.

Came through at about 73 minutes for first 8.5 miles.

Lap 2

Since this was practice for 7 mile apart aid stations, my plan was to only use the main start / stop aid station to refill on water.  I also was carrying the food and other supplies I’d need.  Stopped briefly to grab some more water and then walked for about a minute while eating a Stinger Waffle before heading out again.  From here to the next aid station, ran about on my target pace (10 min miles).

Half way through each loop as steep decline through a set of switchbacks.  A couple other 50k runners and I approached the drop in only to run right up the backs of some 25k runners who pretty much stopped and then tiptoed down the path.  This was one of the narrowest sections of the course and there was pretty much no way around them.  After a couple requests, we got them to stand aside.  I loved those downhill sections since it is a nice time to stretch the legs out and fly so I was disappointed to not to be able to run them on that loop through.

It was during the back section (the fields) that some warning signs started to arise.  First my feet started with the hot spots.  I had been struggling with various foot pains for the past 2 months so that wasn’t unexpected but new was a hot spot on my left foot.  The bigger issue was that I was starting to labor with my running more than I expected.   I had the same thought that David did about training patterns being one of the possible causes.

Worked my way back to the start / stop aid station and came through at about 2:23 for 16 miles which was just about exactly on pace.

I spent about 8 minutes at the aid stations changing into a different pair of shoes and re-filling on water.  I wasn’t feeling good and I believe it was here I informed Joe that wasn’t all that fond of him.  Good natured, of course. Mostly.

Lap 3

There is always something new or unexpected when running for a long time on the trails.  The Wild Hare course isn’t really that technical, hilly, or difficult on the surface.  But for this race, we had a warmer weather and lots of humidity.

Lap 3 quickly became a struggle and by the time I reached the mid-point aid station I was cramping up.  I thought I was drinking enough so I loaded up some s-caps and had a banana + some gatorade and then headed back out.

The course plays a some mind games with you at this point.  Line of sight, you are never very far from the aid stations but on the course you may have 3 miles to go.  It is so easy to just walk off the course and be back at the start / finish line to be done with it all.  With about half the loop left, my main goal became not to get lapped by the leaders.  I expected them to come in around 4 hours.   I made it, but not my much.

On the plus side, the change of shoes seemed to help with some pains but the MT101s seem to collect little rocks and twigs.  It was here where I decided to let my wife order up some dirty girl gaiters.  I can only imagine what pattern she will inflict on me.

Lap 4

Simply a struggle at this point to stay running.  I looked forward to the uphill sections since it was an excuse to walk.  I was walking elsewhere but at least I didn’t feel bad about walking the uphill.  Stops here and there to empty the shoes (discovered later that what I was imagining as a twig in my left shoe was actually a very large blister).  Played leap frog with a few 50k runners but mostly lost places.

Crossed the line at 5:33.  By nature, I am disappointed with the result.  I always want to do better.  Lots of should of, could of, would of that run through your head.  But this was my first 50k and the basic goals were:  complete this distance so in my upcoming races I can focus on running and not question whether I can simply finish the distance, test out some gear, and learn new lessens (or re-enforce what you already know but sometimes fail to do).  All accomplished.

Post race

Beer, burgers and hanging out with other runners is pretty much why we run ourselves into the ground.   After a few hours of recovery disguised as hanging out and helping with medals, I got in the car and headed home.

“If it was easy, Oprah would do it.” — Joe Prusaitis, Race Director, coach, all run trail bad-ass.

I didn’t expect to struggle so much the last two laps.  For all the various reason I thought up, it was the most obvious:  dehydration.  Even after several beers, burgers, chips, coconut water, etc, I was down 5 pounds when I got on the scale upon returning home.  Ouch.  I know better and I really thought I was drinking enough.  It is pretty apparent what was happening in hindsight and this serves as brutal reminder about staying on top of hydration.

The mountain goats and the longhorns.

After coming off a reasonably good effort at Reveille Ranch I was trying to figure out what to do next.  Thinking that it would be nice to get up to the northwest in the summer, I floated the idea of a race to some of my friends up there and Angel’s Staircase came up as the best weekend for a trip up.  I then spent the next few months coming to terms with having to climb up 5,000 ft over the first half of a 25k.


Initially I was planning on flying Thursday evening but the giant ball of death has been unrelenting this summer and I was getting tetchy so I flew out Tuesday and spent a nice two days Seattle with friends before making the 4.5 hour drive east and north.  A 10k in Woodland Park and around Greenlake in 60 degree temps was refreshing.  Woodland Park used to be the main training ground and race course for a high school cross country team I coached about 8 years ago.  It was considered one of the hardest courses in the district but now feels pretty tame overall.

I rolled into the Foggy Dew campsite Thursday afternoon and grabbed a stunning spot right where 2 creeks come together.  Quickly met my camping neighbors which turned out to be a group down from Canada down for the race.  Amazing group of folks and a joy to be around all weekend.

I wanted a peek at the course so I headed up the road a bit and did a 10k out and back.  Oh my, what did I get myself into?  Headed back to the campsite, washed off in the ice cold creek and spent the next day and half before the race enjoying the outdoors, reading, hanging out with my new friends, while waiting for the rest of group to show up.

Race Day.

Up at 4:30 which wasn’t too bad since my internal clock was still on Austin time more or less.  Not a great night of sleep (nor the night before).  I am not a skilled veteran of camping and not well adjusted to sleeping on the hard ground or amongst the rushing waters.  Definitely have gone soft.  Gathered up my gear and my fellow runners and headed up for check-in.

James Varner (race director) gives us the pre-race briefing; difficult and minimal would be the summary.  Minimal course markings.  Minimal aid stations (the 50k and 50m is pretty much self supported with no drop bags).  Watch for horses and motorbikes.  Downgrade if you have any question at all.  He is billing this as the most difficult trail race in Washington.  And then we are on our way.

The course immediately heads onto a single track climb.  It pretty much looks like this:

Photo via Yitka Winn

The group settles in and after the first mile and half the rhythm of hike / run starts to set in.  Having run this first part a few days before, I have a good idea what to expect and know that it is best to be conservative through here since it gets only harder as we go along.  I am striving to run the Tejas Trails way:  steady on the climb, bomb the downhills.

We make our way to the first aid station at the 4.5 mile point.  I am carrying a pack and am well stocked with supplies so I cruise by to find a nice relatively flat section which leads us to first, holy $#@! climb up a set of switch backs that take us above the tree line.  Up to this point we had been bouncing along at about a 10-12% average grade with a few stretches up to 20%.  The switchbacks were 30% grade average.  It didn’t take that long to get through them, only about 15 minutes, but it moment of truth.  The only thing that was reassuring was that everyone was hitting the wall with me.  At this time I was in a pack of about 10 runners and I let a few go by.  These were locals who trained in these mountains with much stronger climbing legs.  Had a nice chat with a 50k runner from Kolowna until I let him continue on ahead.

The switchbacks also introduce us to the technical portion of the course.  Up to this point, the trail has been mostly soft dirt and few rocks or roots.  A patch of mud here and creek there but very easy going footing wise.  Above the tree line was a different story.  The switchbacks are loose rock over hard rock.  Sharp turns with serious fall off would warrant attention on the way back down.

Photo via Thomas Frizelle

The switchbacks dumped us into Merchants Basin.  After the proceeding climb, you have a moment of hope of a flat section but it is a cruel lie.  The basin is mile or so section of 15% average grade single track where you have the option either running in a ankle to hip deep narrow rut lined with rocks or running up next to the track where you find ankle breaking mini-moguls of dirt.  I did a bit of both.  I felt like I made fairly ok progress through here but looking back at my splits, it was slow going.  I had gone from averaging around 15 minute pace for the first 4.5 miles to 20 minute pace average the next 3.  Through this area I made up a bit of ground on the few people ahead of me.  I couldn’t see the lead pack but figured that they were nearing the peak soon.

The basin is where the scale of the whole race really hits you.  Up to that point you are among the trees.  It is lovely with the creek and waterfalls to one side but your view is pretty limited to those area immediately around you.  In the basin everything opens up.

Photo via Thomas Frizelle

The basin trail does a long switch back that leads into another section of evil.  A mile or so of 20% grade climbs over a rocky trail.   One section peaked out at 39% grade and there was good sections of 25% plus.   But were were nearing the top so time to get a move on.  It was in this section, about a mile from the top I saw Erik Stanley bouncing down the trail.  Gave him a “Longhorns represent” as he cruised by.  Erik had brought up a group from Rogue that had trained for this race.  It was great to have contingent of Austin folks in the race and all acquitted themselves very well.  A few minutes later second came through and from there to the top it was a balance between staying focused on the climb and dodging runners coming down the hill.  I saw one of my new Canadian friends in about 8th but not too far back from the top 5.

I had caught back up to the 50k runner from Kolowna and he asked me about how I was finding the elevation.  I hadn’t given it any thought to that point.  We were 8,000 feet up so not too bad but certainly a change for us flat landers.  It was easier than breathing on our 100 degree runs;  the air was cool and felt great to me.

There is a short flat section from the peak to the turnaround spot.  After an hour of hard climbing it was nice to stretch the legs out.   The view that opens up at the turn around spot is stunning.  You can see all the way to Mount Rainer.

Photo via Thomas Frizelle

I didn’t stop to admire the view.  Others were smarter in that they took a few moments to have a snack and enjoy the view, but I wanted to get down.  It was time to start running fast.  I felt surprising good at this point and knew that I could step on gas and attack the second half.  I caught 2 runners within the first half mile or so on the hard scrabble descent into Merchants Basin.  Per the Texas way, I said ‘great job’ or the like to everyone on the way down.  Not sure if that is as much of thing up here as I didn’t really see it amongst others.  Barreling through the basin was tricky as this is where I ran into the bulk of the pack.  Some were in the trench and some where up next to it and that made it tricky when you are coming down so fast at them.  Games of chicken ensued and I had to jump in and out of the trench more than a few times.   I glanced behind me and saw that I had put some pretty good distance on the runners behind me.

By the time I got to the aid station, I figured that I was pretty much locked into whatever position I was in barring some drastic happening.  I wasn’t going to be caught and I knew there was a pretty good gap to the group ahead.  I was at least 20-25 minutes back of Rob (the Canadian) at the turnaround.  I figured I was just outside the top 10 but at the aid station they told me I was in 6th which sounded completely wrong.  I figured I needed about 20 oz of water for the rest of the journey and was surprised to find I still that much left.  So a glass of water, some M&Ms (they just struck me as a brilliant idea at that moment) and I headed on my way.

The rest of the way you could really fly with the good footing and some sections of longer straight aways.  I cranked away at sub 7:30 pace until it would start to catch up with me or I’d get a bit out of control and then I’d slow or stop for a second, get my balance back and spin it up again.  Also stopped to cool my hands in a creek which was lovely.  It was through here when I actually felt the elevation more as the pressure built back up.  Not sure if was made worse by the sinus cold I had been battling the past week but it was similar to the change you feel as you drop in for landing on a plane.

Before long I was at the finish.  My thighs were really starting to complain that last mile but I knew I was close so I didn’t pay them much head.  I came across at 3:04:55.  11th place which was much closer to what I expected (out of 70 finishers).  Looking at the results later, I realize I made up a good amount of time on the way down and was about 10 minutes out 6th where Rob came in after passing a couple people himself on the descent.  It took me just over 2 hours to get to the top and just over an hour to get back down.

Race in review.

Overall, I am very happy with the run.  Joe Prusaitis, John Kuss, and the rest of the Tejas Trails group did a great job preparing me.  The competitive part of me wishes I would have pushed harder up on the way up.  I felt pretty great at the finish, though that could have just been the elations of a finishing a great run through an amazing course.  I had done very well on my nutrition and hydration.  I probably could have cut out 15 minutes on the climb but hard to know what the cost would have been.  Would I have been able to bomb the downhill like I did with completely trashed legs?

However, it wasn’t all roses.  My lower back started killing me about 2.5 miles in and it would be a recurring feature of the climb up.  I think the cause is a weak core which leads to poor form on climbs where I lean too far forward.  That is something to work on and would have made a huge difference on the ascent.

Now time to pick the next race.  I tentatively had the last Capt’n Karl’s race in the plan, mostly as a training run but I have other plans that weekend.  Perhaps a Cactus Rose Relay leg?  Maybe the Warda 50k?  The next run I know I want to do and be specifically prepped for is the Bandara 50k.

Me (in orange) giving chase at the top of Angels Staircase.  Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.  Another picture of me by Glenn: