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30K Trail Race at Night at Inks Lake State Park – Good race in spite of myself

July 16, 2011

I’ve never intentionally run on trails at night.  Yeah, I’ve found myself pulling out a flashlight a few times at the end of an unexpectedly long run that ended up in the dark.  And I’ve started quite a few long runs and a handful of races in the very early morning, before sunrise.  But heading into a race with the full knowledge that the majority of it will be after the sun goes down wasn’t something I had experienced. Until Capt’n Karls 30K Endurance Race.

The event, which had both 30K and 60K races, was a 10K kind-of-a-loop course, which participants ran either 3 or 6 times.  I was quite sure that 3 times would be enough for me, for now, and the distance fit well into my long run progression on my current marathon plan.

The 60Kers set of at 7pm; the 30Kers at 7:15pm.  With all the literal ups and downs in trail races (this one had a lot of them, along with plenty of loose rock underfoot and low branches overhead), and their often longish distances and harsh conditions, runners spread out pretty fast.  That means long stretches of solitary running, which can sometimes be peaceful but can also reduce the “this is a race” feel.  Since this one included multiple loops, different starting times, and an out-and-back to an aid station at the midway point, we were able to cross paths with fellow runners more often than usual.  That was really nice, as I often otherwise find myself running completely alone without even seeing anyone for long stretches in other races.

My first lap, which took just under an hour (58 minutes, I think), had me on track for a sub-3 hour race.  I knew that was unlikely.  Even if my waning energy didn’t slow my pace, the imminent darkness would.  By the time I reached the midway point of the race, it was headlamp and flashlight time.  This was much anticipated but not entirely wonderful news.  The good part was that the near-100 degree race start temps would really start falling (ALL the way to the 80s by the end of the race!).

The less-good part was that now, after running reasonably hard up and down hills in the sun for over an hour-and-a-half, I now had to do it all over again in the dark.  But, that’s what I signed up for and I was happy with where I was at, even allowing myself to smile when nobody was looking.

With a gel every 20 minutes and a salt pill every 30 minutes, my stomach felt good, my legs felt strong, and my spirits were up.  No cramping, no dehydration, no bonk.  All that remained true all race long, with only a twinge of leg cramp for a moment close to the end.  But that’s not to say that the race went entirely smoothly.

After that first lap, coming through the start/finish area, I was so surprised how quickly I was moving and how great I felt that I didn’t stop at my drop bag (a cooler with stuff I’d need during the race).  I just ran right back on the course for lap two.  Only about 30 seconds later, I realized I didn’t grab my headlamp and flashlight, which I’d certainly need at some point on the upcoming lap.  So, I ran back, grabbed the almost-forgotten lights, and was quickly back on the trail.  But, that minute or so got me a bit out of the zone I was so happy to be in, and it lost me about a minute on the race.  Still, not big deal in a multi-hour race.

Just after the halfway point right it was fully dark I made a wrong turn, as did another runner or two, and ended up somehow heading back towards the aid station we had just come from, rather that onward on the loop.  This was a short back-track, ,aybe 2 minutes, and luckily the runners coming towards us were able to get us going the right way again.  Back heading the correct way again, I was glad that the couple of mistakes were minor.  There’s nothing like being really off course, knowing that you are losing time, wasting energy, and dealing with an unproductive adrenaline spike that comes with the realization that you will possibly remain lost for a long time.  Luckily that wasn’t the case.

At least for another 20 minutes.  Nearing the end of loop 2, I believe now at either the point marked “d” or “e” on the course map, I missed a turn.  Of course, I didn’t think I missed a turn or I’d have gone back.  And I didn’t realize it for a while.  I was running alone and no longer could locate the course markings.  The “confidence ribbons” (thin strips of pink plastic hung from trees with clothespins) just stopped.  I was still on a trail but it soon became clear it was not the trail.   I didn’t figure out where I was until the Park Entrance came into view and that was decidedly bad news.  While I knew where I needed to go to return to the race route, I immediately knew I lost some real time for this mistake.  My guess is that this one cost me 5 minutes or more.

Finally back on course, I was both relieved and frustrated with myself.  But, if I’m going to make a wrong turn, I’d rather it add distance than cut the course so I knew, at least, my eventual finish time wouldn’t need an asterisk or explanation.  Passing through the start/finish area, I was at least feeling strong and I think the second lap took me about 7 minutes longer than the first, most of the added time due to the extra half mile or more of screw ups.

I bolted (ok, just kept moving forward) into the 3rd lap.  At roughly the same spot where, about an hour before, I realized I needed to turn back for my lights, I realized I didn’t replenish my supply of gels.  Turning around yet again I made it back to my bags.  The comedy of errors put a smirky grin on my face – this wasn’t an “A” race and I’m glad I was, even in the moment, able to keep perspective.  That’s not ordinarily a strength of mine but I think endurance sports have helped me better deal with life’s little fuck ups, at least when my heart rate is above 130 beats per minute.

The last lap was largely uneventful.  I steadily moved up in the field throughout the race and though I slowed on the last lap, I still felt good and was passing people.  My legs weren’t steady enough and my mind not confident enough in the dark to attack the downhills like I normally really like to but I was able to keep running and finished in 3:23:25.

My time was initially good enough for 16th place out of 150 entrants.  But, when a number of 60Kers dropped at the halfway point in their race, the results were amended to add them to the 30K race.  [I’m not sure how I feel about this – part of me says if you don’t finish the race you signed up for, you should get a DNF but I do realize that those affected did run the same course I did and on the same day so it isn’t unreasonable to include them in the 30K list.]  That bumped me down to 19th out of 174.  Still a decent showing and it was nice to finish without feeling gutted.

Notably, Andres Capra, my crazy running partner and friend, finished in 3:06:06, good for 9th place.  And his friend, Ted Larison, who is quickly becoming my friend, too, finished in 3:59:34, good for 53rd place.  Andres may have run faster but Ted’s performance was arguably more impressive.  Ted started running regularly only a few months ago.  This was his first running race ever and he chose to start with a hard course in the heat and in the dark, at a distance longer than he had ever run in his life.  Good job to both of them and I look forward to a lot more trail time together soon.

I was going to pay for a digital pic or two from Enduro Photo, the company that captured the event.  They, like many of the race photographers, do a good job, often under harsh and unpredictable conditions.  But, I just can’t justify spending $30 PER PICTURE for a digital download.  $5-10 each, probably.  $20-25 for the package of the ones I’m in, possibly.  But something is out of whack with the pricing model.  If you’d like to view the conspicuously water-marked proofs, they can be seen here.



  1. I stopped buying photos from any official website long ago. Last it was WS100 in 2004? Good job on grooving so well!

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