by Deborah Sexton
Inks Lake State Park
July 8, 2006
Capt’n Karl’s Run is an all-night run held at Inks Lake State Park in Burnet, Texas. For anyone familiar with Sammy Voltaggio’s Rocky Trails 50 Miler, it’s the same trails. Runners had a choice of six hours or 12 hours. The course was a five-mile loop with the winner being the person who completed the most laps in the allotted time period. There were first, second, and third overall awards for male and female. It was organized by Brad Quinn, a member of the Austin trail running club.
The course itself was a great combination of rough terrain and flat. I’d roughly estimate about ½ of it was pretty rugged and rocky and the other half sandy runnable trail. Some hills but nothing too challenging. As we all learned in the second loop, the challenge was keeping on the trail in the dark!
The race start/finish was a relatively new camping area created in the park called the Youth Camp Area. It has a bathroom, which was like a permanent porta potty. It was in a little house with a door but no running water, no sink, and the toilet didn’t flush. There was a big fire ring and places to park and three trash cans but no electricity. The ground was covered in ants and those pricker plants that like to leave little pricker balls on your socks. Not a good place to wear open sandals unless you like to get stabbed regularly. Lots of other bugs too. Bring your bug spray.
There was a full-service aid station at the start with three or four kinds of drinks including Red Bull, ice, and tons of food. Subway subs, the usual crackers, chips, cookies, and candy, and chicken noodle soup at night. Each time you finished a lap you came in and reported your number to the volunteer. Your number was written on the back of your leg in black magic marker.
There was a second aid station about 1.5 to 2 miles. It just had ice and water. You also passed another park bathroom. I didn’t go in it so I don’t know if it had water. A third aid station a little past halfway had almost as much as the first one. All kinds of drinks and ice, and a nice selection of food. You couldn’t go hungry or thirsty at this race.
The race was really well marked for day running. Brad actually had little red surveyor flags every 10th of a mile! So as you ran the loop, you could count off your distance. For example, if you passed the 38 marker, you know you had gone about 3.8 miles. I loved this! I had never run a race so frequently marked and I loved knowing how much farther I had to go. It was psychologically very encouraging to keep seeing the markers. There also was long pink surveyor ribbon draping from trees. At night, these markers were supplemented by glow sticks.
The challenge of this course came when darkness fell. During the day, when you crossed these wide granite rock “fields” you could make out where the trail was. In many places, someone had lined up smaller rocks to indicate the path and you followed these rock outlines. But at night, you’d come out of the forest and in the dark, it just looked like a big pile of rocks. You couldn’t make out where the trail picked up from the forest. You had to look for the glow stick to give you some idea of what direction to head. In some places, you could not see a glow stick so you had to wander back and forth along the rocky area until you saw the glow stick in the distance. Then you headed in that direction and didn’t worry whether you were on the trail or not.
You’d think after about doing five or six loops of this in the dark, you’d start to figure it out, but I kept getting hung up in the same spots. When I had other people running with me, and more pairs of eyes, one of us would recognize the way to go. But the loop I ran by myself in total darkness, I spend a good amount of time standing there and walking around shining my flashlight to find my way. I never got “lost” but I had to do some scouting until I figured it out. So next year, I’d suggest more glow sticks in these rocky areas.
The race fee was $60 for both distances and the “profit” was donated to the American Cancer Society. Race director Brad Quinn has a father-in-law with lung cancer and was holding the event in his honor as well as other people with cancer. For your race fee, you got a free mini Mag flashlight. There was no shirt.
I think the race was a little short of volunteers. I met Mark Plank (sp?) or Platt? Not sure of his last name, when we first got there. I also met Brad’s lovely wife Nila and his awesome 9-month-old son. Brad started the race at 7 p.m. and after 3 a.m. he was working the halfway point aid station as well. So he didn’t get any sleep. I saw a lot of the same people working the whole race so hopefully next year, there will be some more people to help out. I don’t think the runners suffered, but I definitely think the volunteers did.
I think most of the runners camped onsite. There was plenty of room for tents. I don’t know how many people slept in their tents. I never slept in mine. Once you finished, you had to drive about 5-10 minutes to the park headquarters. The entry fee was $5 and there you could shower. It was your classic state park shower facilities. By the time you finished the race, all you wanted to do was shower and the thought of hauling over to shower and coming back to sleep in your steamy hot tent really didn’t appeal and we just drove home afterwards.
I didn’t think it was hot at all during the race and the temps were in the low 70s. We got a refreshing rain shower that lasted about 30-45 minutes and that cooled things off a bit. It also soaked all my stuff I had laid out including my bandanas. So I never had a dry bandana during this race, which I really missed. It also made all the rocks very slippery so I think that slowed down some people. (They did dry out later.) The only time I fell was sliding down a rocky descent. It was humid though and I was drenched in sweat the whole race.
Around 7ish as the race was winding down and the final runners were coming in, a cooking crew came and made breakfast burritos and Bloody Mary’s for everyone. They were very good. There also were some donuts and fruit. When the last runner cruised in, Brad announced the winners of the six hour and then the 12 hour. Nila had made these beautiful picture frames with the name of the race at the top and the race place at the bottom. They were very nice and I was happy not to get a medal on a ribbon. Everyone got a picture frame who entered. There also was a photographer at the start and the photos were laid out on a table for people to take for free.
This was a great race. Brad is a sweetheart and really busted his butt to make this a wonderful experience for everyone. It was a first-year event, so it was small, only about 30 runners, but we all got to know each other and I think everyone had a great time. This is the perfect event for anyone training for a 100 miler. You get to run all night and get to experience finding your way in the dark. The food was better than average in my opinion and they had plenty of ice, which is always key to me when running in hot weather. I forgot to say, Brad also had a bucket of batteries at the aid station! So no excuses for quitting because your flashlight died.
Well, since I had totally crashed and burned at Western States, I was in 100 miler shape with no hundred miler. Rats. So I decided I would go back to Lean Horse August 29th, where I had done the 50 miler last year, and do the 100 miler. This is the flattest race in the U.S. You can walk and make the cutoffs. However, this left me with needing either a 40 mile run or a 50 miler race before August.
I looked at the logistics of getting up to Vermont to pace (July 15th) and couldn’t overcome them. Then Michael Arrendondo posted on the NTTR (North Texas Trail Runners) list about this 12-hour night run right here in Texas. Woo Hoo. This is just what I needed, just when I needed it. Michael agreed to let me tag along in his car and I decided to go. His super nice girlfriend Katie came along for support and to drive us home on Sunday.
We got at the camp site at about 1 o’clock and pitched out tents. We were the first ones there. Karen Riddle showed up a little bit later with her tent and niece in tow. And much to my surprise I see Linda Boggs and her boyfriend Bob. I also saw Donnie Ray of Fort Worth, who comes to most of the Texas ultras, and Robert Heyden, a member of the Austin Trail club who had worked Far Side at Rocky Raccoon this year. I had met him when we both did Rocky Raccoon in 2005.
Michael, Katie, Karen, and her niece, Kaitlyn, all drove into Burnet to get a late lunch/early dinner at some sports bar. There was the usual array of fast food places also to eat. Michael made the mistake during the ride down of letting me know he was afraid of snakes. That was like setting a flame to a match. I think I made about 50 comments about snakes for the rest of the weekend. A few of them were kinda of funny. Sorry I don’t remember now.
We started gathering around 6:30 p.m. at the start. Many of us had set up our chairs and coolers so we would pass them at the start/finish. Brad gave us the usual pre-race instructions and admitted that his biggest concern about runners being alone in the dark was….. SNAKES. He had made a laminated map for each of us. He encouraged us to run in pairs and if we got bit by a snake, we should call one of the three phone numbers on the back. Of course, Mark, Brad’s right-hand man, has already told me that he’d run out there 300 times and only seen snakes six times.
So 7 p.m. came and we all took off. Obviously, none of us had been listening to Brad when he gave instructions about the course. I never listen because I’m not going to be in front anyway so I just follow the guy in front of me. We get about 10-12 minutes into the race and Robert Heyden says, hey, this marker says 44. I think we’re running the loop backwards. So we pass the word down the train of runners and we all turn around and run back to the start. In the meantime, Brad got the word that all of us had gone the wrong way, and he quickly made a sign that said TURN RIGHT. So we ran about a mile got back to the start and WENT RIGHT.
It was kind of funny because the fastest runners were too far gone to hear the wrong way shouts so we passed them about halfway completing their first loop the wrong way. Several people let them know they had just done a negative loop.
I had no expectations of keeping up with Michael but I had run with Robert Heyden before so I hung with him and a new guy I met named Steve, who also was from Austin. The first part is kind of rocky but after about 1.5 miles you hit this long dirt road. This was my favorite stretch because you could just run it. I’d guess it was a little over a mile. Then you cross a road and get back on some trail, then you hit some rocky parts again.
I was feeling great. I was well rested and ready to go. We did the first loop in about 1 hour 12 minutes. I refilled my bottle but no one else was ready yet so I left alone because I didn’t want to wait and the darkness was soon to come upon us. I eventually caught up to Nathan (ultra newcomer from Austin) and ran the rest of the 2nd loop with him. About half way into this loop, we took out our flashlights. I had Britt Starnes’ headlamp that was attached to a waistband. I had borrowed it for Western States. He needs to patent this and sell it. I loved it. No headlamp on my head to annoy me and give me a headache. I could position the light just in front of me so it was perfect. Then for my hand-held light, I would hold it just ahead of the head lamp so I had a little tunnel of light. It was the best night running light combo I had ever used.
By the third loop, Robert, who is a mailman and had walked his route all day, began to tire. I was feeling really good so I left him behind and ended up running with Steve for several hours. He wanted to run six loops for 30 miles. He was a great running companion and we had a fun time talking. When I came in from the 5th loop, I was very surprised to see Michael waiting for me. He had been running alone and when he realized that he was not going to make 50 miles (his goal and mine) he thought he’d go ahead and wait for me and we’d go out on the sixth loop together.
So then it was me, Steve, and Michael. At one point on the trail, I jumped and screamed when something had hit my leg. Michael asked, What was that? and I said, “Oh it was just a snake shadow!” We didn’t actually see any snakes all night but Michael did get lots of ant bites until he had the bright idea of spraying Off around his ankles. I’m still at a loss as to how you get ant bites while running but he did have little red dots all over his ankles.
When I came in from the fourth loop, there was Karen, Kaitlyn, and Katie all still up. I said what are you guys doing up? Katie you need to go to bed so you can drive tomorrow.” Karen said, “We were waiting for you!” I said “OK, I’m going now so you can go to bed.” Karen ended up doing three loops and taking third place in the six hour. Linda Boggs took second place in the six hour.
When we came in from the sixth loop, I looked around and said to Steve, “Where’s Michael? I thought he was behind us.” Michael came in a few minutes later and promptly started throwing up. I waited about 10 minutes but he agreed he would need more time to recover so I set off on the 7th loop by myself. Man, do I hate running by myself in the dark. I already knew that I was in second place because one of the volunteers told me that all the other women had dropped. This was a familiar place for me, last woman but still placing in a race. You’ve got to love these smaller races! I could tell everyone I came in second and pray to God they would not ask who came in third. The first-place woman was about 45 minutes ahead of me and by the next loop 30 minutes ahead of me but I didn’t have any hopes of catching her.
Finally after six loops of feeling really strong and not tired, I could tell the distance was starting to take its toll. I could still run but my climbing over the rocky parts was slower. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, I struggled to find the trail and spend countless minutes wandering around shining my flashlight around the area. I also heard several monsters in the woods and I heard one chasing me at one point. Boy I picked up the pace at that moment. Have you ever noticed how some of those “birds” sound like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park?
The other “event” that happened on the sixth loop was we heard this solid black kitten mewing. We found it by the side of the trail but we could not get it to come with us. It was too scared. I didn’t see it on the seventh loop but around 6:30 a.m. on the eighth loop, I heard it again and I got off the trail to try and get it. Every time I’d get close, it would scamper away and as much as I hated to leave a defenseless kitten in the woods, I finally gave up. It was about 6:45 a.m. and I wanted to finish my eighth loop (40 miles) as close to 7:00 a.m. as I could. I rolled into the finish right about 7:00 a.m. I was amazed at how great I felt. It was the first time I finished a race and would have been happy to keep going.
I had this secret plan when I entered Placer Stadium during Western States if I had any time at all left, (meaning I wasn’t sprinting to the finish), I was going to cross the finish line by doing a cartwheel. I had only told my husband (so he’d have the camera ready). I was hoping no one had ever done that and I would be the first. Well, that plan got waylaid so as I came up to the finish, I thought I should do the cartwheel here. So I called out my number and did a cartwheel. Then some lady with a camera said, Oh I want a picture of that. So I did two more cartwheels for her. I doubt there are many things weirder than a 48-year-old woman doing a cartwheel after running for 12 hours but hey, if I was normal, I wouldn’t be running ultras would I? My next goal is to work on my round-off back hand spring to do when I finish a 100 miler.
Kudos and thanks to Brad and his wife and all those volunteers. I had an absolute blast. I felt great the entire run, no issues, wasn’t trashed, never got lost, I did get a little freaked out by myself in the dark but I got past it, so I’d have to say it’s been my best run of the year. After bombing at Western States my confidence needed it and I was super glad I went.
I hope we can get a big entourage of NTTR people out there next year. This race has party written all over it. We can all camp together and hang out. This is a great race for walkers as you can do as many or few loops as you want and then hang out at the start/finish and party.