How do these bad ideas come about?
In an attempt to maximize the time I have left to easily do dumb stuff with Karen before she moves to Florida, I've been trying to come up with as many weekend activities as possible. When Tejas Trails posted about the Capt'n Karl's night trail races for 2018, I thought, "Yes! That would be super fun!" Of course, what I really meant was "I love the Pedernales Falls race!" But unfortunately that race was 2 days away, and we already had plans for that weekend.
So what came about INSTEAD was we decided it would be a great idea to do an undertrained 18.6 mile run (neither of us had run any trails since our last 30k trail run 2.5 months ago
, and our longest road run since then was 12 or 13 miles), we'd run at night when I have terrible vision, and Karen is possibly the only person with night vision WORSE than me, this would be Karen's first "real" night trail run (she paced for me at Rocky, but that was a much less technical trail, and a shorter distance), and it would be not on my beloved Pedernales Falls course, but instead the one Capt'n Karl's course I was on record as NOT liking, Muleshoe Bend
! Oh, and it started at 7:30pm, which is nearly my normal bedtime, and it was 98 degrees. Which actually is fairly cool for one of these races!
What could go wrong?
Our only goal was to get through the whole 30k without injuring ourselves, and we managed to achieve that!Matt always knows what to say.
It wasn't pretty, though. First it was certainly hot. We started out on a little out and back that we only did the first loop, and it was uphill on the way out, and it was sunny, and at first I was happy that it was fairly open so people could spread out, but that also meant that Karen started out running Karen Speed, and I had to reel her in real quick, so I wasn't dead by the time we even got into the woods.
After that out and back, we headed into the woods for basically the remainder of the run. Which was blissfully shaded and beautiful and also blocked the wind entirely. When it's 98 degrees and terribly humid, that makes for some still, gross air. For 18 miles.
It was "light" outside for maybe 3/4 of the first loop (it was two loops total). Night always falls faster in the woods, but every once in a while, we'd break out of the trees and find the sun again. We kept a pretty good pace while it was light. It was hard, and sometimes we'd get quiet on technical parts or hills, but we just ran and chatted.It's still light!
Oh, let me dedicate an entire paragraph to my husband Matt. Before the race I was talking about driving back home after the race, tired and in the dark, and he volunteered to come out with us and drive us home. Which I said really wasn't necessary, but he thought it would be fun to come hike around and hang out at the race site, so he chauffeured us out there, and carried our stuff to the start line. Then he proceeded to be at EVERY aid station. Two per loop, plus the start/finish line. Every time we'd go through, there he was, cheering and helping us with whatever we needed. (More on that later.) We'd be running through the woods in the middle of nowhere, and then Suddenly Matt! To sum up: he is the best.
Anyway, once it got darker, things got a lot harder and a lot slower. Also really pretty, though.
Turns out, Karen can't see well in the dark. And she extra can't see when her headlamp doesn't actually produce much light. It wasn't a huge issue on the first loop, because it was only at the end, and it didn't get super, super, super dark until the last few miles of the loop.
At the halfway point, we refilled our water, our nutrition (mostly), and switched out headlamps. We'd each brought two, one for each loop, so we'd be sure to have plenty of battery life.
The second loop was not quite as idyllic as the first. We'd learned exactly how technical the course was, and we were both super paranoid to run through it completely in the dark. And since our goal was only to remain uninjured, and we did not care at all about time, we were super cautious and walked anything that made us nervous. Which meant anything rocky, anything ledgey, anything where we couldn't see it well, anything where there was a dropoff that we might plummet over.. and that's a lot of the course, it turns out! Somehow the course got a lot more rocky the second loop. We were pretty sure there were NightRocks, that only appear when the sun goes down.
As a not helpful bonus, Karen's headlamp, even the new one, continued to be too dark for her to really see. She was staying as close to me as was safe, but still couldn't really see rocks and other obstacles well. That meant she had her first fall. And then several more. They were "good" falls. No broken skin, no blood, caught herself each time. But it was understandably incredibly frustrating, for both of us (me because I couldn't come up with a way to help it not happen, so I felt guilty, and her.. for obvious reasons).Blissfully cold water at the aid stations. I told Karen I just wanted one of those water barrels and a couch. That's all I wanted in the world.
The next time we saw Matt at an aid station, I asked if we could use his headlamp, which is a much more expensive, fancy, brighter (and heavier) headlamp, and he graciously handed it over to Karen. And it made a huge difference! Suddenly she could see what was in front of her, and she didn't fall at all after that! Of course, it also turned out that this head lamp randomly turned itself off. If Karen stepped hard, it would just shut off. At first I would turn back each time and turn it back on (because I knew how this headlamp worked already, and she hadn't ever seen it in the light), but eventually it was happening so often that she figured out how to turn it back on each time. So our joy over having bright light was diminished by having that bright light randomly go away.
So the NEXT time we saw Matt, we asked him if he knew why this was happening (he didn't, but later he found out there was some corrosion that was causing it), and he ended up giving Karen his OTHER headlamp, which was just as bright, but didn't suffer from random offages.
Which would have been great, except now MY headlamp was fading. Even though I'd just replaced the batteries, and it had only been on for 1.5 hours or so, it was getting darker and darker. In the last few miles, I really couldn't see in front of me. And I was leading! Awkward. So now that Karen could actually see and felt more confident running through some parts we'd walked earlier, now *I* couldn't see, and still had to walk the sketchy parts. We were a delightful comedy of errors.
And just because we didn't fall doesn't mean we weren't beating the crap out of ourselves out there. We tripped over so many rocks and flew forward, but caught ourselves. Anyone who's done that while running before knows that that can be nearly as painful as actually falling, because the muscles you use to stabilize and catch yourself get stretched and abused terribly. I think my left hamstring is half an inch longer than it should be now, after a particularly bad almost-fall. (Alas it didn't make me any taller.)
So to sum up: we had bruised toes, pulled muscles, muscle cramps, severe dehydration, not enough nutrition, blacklung from the trail dust, were completely drenched in sweat, and couldn't see where we were going maybe 70% of the time.Blurry finish line!
At the end I was like, "But.. it was sorta still fun, right? Right, Karen?!"
I'm pretty sure she still had fun. I'm not sure I'm allowed to suggest fun activities anymore, though.<3