Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pedernales Falls 60k Trail Ultra

June 25-26, 2016

Ever done one of those open book exams, you are allowed to carry a book that you can look into while you answer those exam questions? I aced the Pedernales falls trail 60k Ultra “exam” last weekend lasting 7.5hours in Texas. My open book? – an veteran Ultra runner, Doug Long, he had answers to all Ultra questions.

Yet another short notice business trip > runningintheusa.com with date, location, ultra distance filters > Capt’n Karl’s Trail Series Just that, this one was 250mi, 5hr drive away and at 110 bucks, well over budget. I had resigned to not doing it. But Dallas has really boring paved trails, the prospect of getting away for the weekend and running my first night trail run nailed it for me – I signed up.

5+ hour runs have become my friends now – I added to the Nandi hill run, KP trek with a 5.5 hour run around Whiterock lake in Dallas & 2hr run around a Bob Woodruff park in Dallas the week before this run.

Come 5pm on Saturday, I had collected my bib, timing chip, bamboo tee shirt and took a quick nap in the back of my Jeep. I had plenty of camping equipment which a Dallas runner, Eddie had loaned out to me.

At the start line, I was trying to size up the fellow runners, about 100-125 of them, knowing immediately that a top 5 finish was out of question. The run started on dot at 7, the course was like a figure of 8, 30k each loop, to be done twice. Within a mile of the start, we had to wade through a duck pond, 2ft of water and slush. It wasn’t as bad as I had expected, within a few mins, the wet feeling ceased to bother me.


I was jogging along trying to find the right pace group to latch on to. I ran up to a couple of chatty guys, one too fast (amateurish fast) and another was slowing somewhat. Then a bare chested runner floated past at a fast clip, I let him go. Some distance later, while I was alone again, Doug emerged from the bushes, back on trail. There are somethings that can make you fast, but nothing like GI trouble, I figured.

While he was ahead, I started talking to his back, learnt that he was training for the Colorado 200 and had already done 24mi with 7000ft climb of hill training that morning. He signed up for this, so it could be his 100km training day! He did not have a target in mind and I able to keep pace easily as well. I had found my race partner… For the next 7 hours, he gave his longest interview yet.

The trail was beautiful, wooded, a mix of hard trail, sand, caliche, creek crossings and mild uphills. I tried to soak in as much for the 2 hours of daylight left. I learnt about Doug’s training, almost everything I do, multiplied 4 times. Long runs lasting 6-8 hrs, 3mi interval repeats, 3hour tempo runs!!

Question: How much is too much mileage?
Answer: No such thing

There was a water or aid station once every 3-4mi, I carried a 350ml bottle and some salt tablets on me. I did a quick pace check at the Polly Corol aid station, 11mi in approx. 1.5hours – seemed like the right pace.

The crimson rosy sky soon brought curtains down on the view of the trail. The crickets and toads were in full symphony. Then it got pitch dark, I let Doug lead and warn me of the loose gravel and rocks. I shifted my conversation from his back to his legs. In the circle of the torch light, those nibble legs set the rhythm.

Question: How does one handle races as long as 200miles
Answer: The first 100mi, just put that in, no time targets. The real race starts after the first 100mi. And do your best in the second half. Pretty much like Navin’s “split the run into 3 halves” advice.


We spoke about the mental aspects of running and he gave me an account of the mental degradation that sets in with sleeplessness & exhaustion at the end of such long races.

I spoke about running in India (yes, I said nice things about you guys), hashing in UK, he about his stints in Korea & Afghanistan. Towards the end of the first loop, my torch batteries died, I pinched the spare that Doug had carried. We finished the first loop, 30k in 3:20, took a 10min break and started out again, back to the duck pond.

Question: Do you watch your weight, do you diet?
Answer: Of course, you have to.

Sorry BHUKMPers, No cheese Masala Dosa. Doug is a vegetarian. But in the US, this means mostly a vegetable diet than a high-card India veg diet. My one-bucket salad dinner seemed to match his one pound spinach/day. Race day nutrition was mostly regular aid-station stuff (didn’t seem to eat much at the aid stations that day though). He was adding a mix of Tailwind + Perpetuem powder suspiciously into his water bottle. I was getting paisa wasool, eating Oreos, trail mix, watermelons and Burritos.

The moon was hiding behind the clouds, so no stars either. And for those brief moments when I stopped to take a leak, the torch switched off, the darkness was total. The legs trotting in the circle of light ahead was me was comforting. Occasionally, we passed a runner, exchanged courtesies and moved on. It was heartening to see strong girls fighting it out there, some ahead of us too.

Question: How do juggle family, day job and high mileage
Answer: Early to very early morning runs, start at 2am

Kids of 9 & 7 and an army career sounds way easier than my work-from-home-with-my-little-brats life. But really, there are no excuses. We both hoped to do this with our kids someday. I must have spoken for many miles about how much I miss my little ones.

Somewhere between the Wolf mountain and Polly’s Corral, I dropped my little pack of salt pills. Again, Doug came to my rescue. I had one last one at the water only station. We were at Polly’s Corral (30mi done) a little over 1am and at the last aid station by 2 or so.

And as if to validate the “if in doubt, run slower” mantra, we passed the 24 yr old who was leading us by over 5mi in the first loop. He was in serious trouble and limping every step.

In no real hurry to finish this thing, we kept to our steady pace right till the end. We stepped on the finish line together in 7:32.

In terms of fun and runversation, it will be difficult to beat this Ultra. Yes indeed, in the end, we only regret the chances that we do not take.

4 comments:

Uday said...

Congrats, Manoj. Good to see you ace ultras like a piece of cake.

Shreya Rao said...

Very nice..I was sceptical about this ultra.. one because it is 60 miles..two because is a night run and three because you had to drive for 5 hours to get to the start line. But now glad that you put my fears behind and went ahead as you would had an amazing experience which will linger for long😃

manoj said...

Thanks for leaving a comment here guys.
Yes. I am myself pretty pleased to be doing it against the odds.

Prakruthi said...

Great job! Your determination inspires me !