I’m new to trail running–my trail shoes have like nine miles on them–so I started small: the Sunset 5K at Capt’n Karl’s in Pedernales Falls State Park, just outside Johnson City.
Five Rogues from Rush Hour, my Tuesday group, signed up for this one–three of us carpooled and the others arrived on their own. Our races (20K, 10K, and 5K) didn’t start until 8:30 but the race briefing was scheduled for 6pm, so we left Austin around 4:00–we had a 30-minute drive to pick up BRF #3, then an hour to the park. On the way we encountered sun, clouds, and a little rain. Once we arrived, we were directed to park in a field, then we headed to the briefing. As we stood there listening to the race director and park ranger, dark clouds rolled in, the wind picked up, and we could hear thunder in the distance.
The race director reviewed the courses and instructions for the different distances. He emphasized that if anyone encountered a runner in trouble to call for help, then stay with that person. They’d comp your next race if you had to stop to help someone in distress. I hoped that in an emergency they’d get better cell service out on the trails, because my phone said No Service most of the night. Then one of the park rangers spoke about park rules–no driving over 30mph, no alcohol in the park. He was pretty vigilant about both things.
After the briefing, we picked up our race packets and then got in line for the porta-potties, and then the rain started. Since we still had about two hours before our race, we took refuge in the car.
Just before the start of the 60K at 7pm, the rain stopped so we decided to go watch the start of that race. Quite a few intrepid souls were lining up in ALL THE HUMIDITY to run 60K, which FYI is like 36 miles.
After they took off, we unpacked our chairs and cooler from the car and set them up near the start/finish area. We laughed when a kid of about 10 ran circles around his mom, excited about the 5K, as they walked past us. She said, “Dude can you take it down about 37 notches?” Thirty-seven was an oddly specific number, and it sounded like something I would say.
We watched the 30Kers leave at 7:30. At 8 we got back in line for the potties–their condition had deteriorated quite a bit since our first visit, ugh–and then got all our race stuff ready for the 8:30 start. I grabbed my headlamp but decided to leave my flashlight and headphones behind. Of the five Rogues, two ran the 20K, two ran the 10K, and I was there for the 5K.
I really didn’t know what to expect–if I had been to Pedernales Falls State Park at some point in my life, it was way back in high school and I had no memory of it. But I also knew that I was only running 5K–it was sure to be far less challenging than the longer distances.
Tejas Trails’ website describes the course:
The Capt’n Karl’s Trail Series begins on the hilly, steep & rocky trails of Pedernales Falls State Park along the Pedernales River. Located 9 miles east of historic Johnson City & only 43 miles west of beautiful Austin, Texas. Racers will be enjoying minimal fence line running & lots of challenging, technical & gorgeous single track.
The two faster Rogues started near the front–they were likely to win their age groups–and the rest of us fell back. I really didn’t want to be one of those people holding everyone else up on a single-track path.
It was still light out as we started across the grassy track and onto the trail. And almost immediately came to a stop. Everyone had to funnel onto a narrow path, and for the better part of .25 we had to walk until the people in front of us got moving again. Well, at least I wasn’t in any danger of starting off too fast.
At the out-and-back section, each distance had a different turnaround so everyone was able to spread out a little more. The 5K went way past all the others, took a left turn, and followed the trail far longer than I expected before I encountered the turnaround sign. In the twilight, I didn’t quite need my headlamp but also didn’t want to misstep, so I turned it on anyway.
I had been worried about getting lost, but the trail was well-marked with reflective flags. Each turning point had a sign with arrows for each distance, and I had no trouble finding my way.
The second mile followed a grassy vehicle track along a fence line. With the uneven path, the slight uphill, and the complete lack of breeze I felt like I was working pretty hard, but the good news is that I was passing people. Mostly because they were walking, not because I was running particularly fast, but still. 😉
During the third mile, the terrain changed a couple of times–grassy track, sandy path, and uneven dirt road with deep ruts from someone driving through it after a rain. But it never got really rocky or challenging–I guess the longer distances encountered more technical trails. At some point (by now it was dark) I came up on a kid, probably nine-ish years old, walking by himself. He didn’t have a light, and he started running with me. He said he’d gotten ahead of his mom and sister and he wasn’t sure he was going the right way for the 5K. So he ran within my light beam the rest of the way.
With about a half-mile to go, we could see the lights near the finish, but we had some more winding around to do. Then we took one last right turn and sprinted across the grass to the finish. He ditched me there at the end, but after we gave back our timing chips and collected our medals I found him and gave him a high five.
Turns out I was first in my age group! Unfortunately they only gave awards to overall winners, but still I was happy to perform reasonably well for my first trail race. The 5K was pretty small, though, probably 35ish runners–depending on how they broke down AGs it’s entirely possible I was the only woman in my age group. And my Garmin said the course was 2.89 miles, so it’s not like I ran super far. It’s a bigger deal that the other Rogues were in the top five of their AGs. But I’ll take it anyway.
We rolled out sometime before 1am, stopping at a gas station in Johnson City for a restroom break (no one wanted to brave the race’s porta potties five hours after they’d already gone to shit, no pun intended) and snacks. The drive home took longer–winding roads through the Hill Country usually mean deer and other wildlife, so we took it slowly.
I got home at about 2:30am, but I was not about to get into bed without at least rinsing off in the shower. I hope my chafing-discovery shrieks didn’t wake the neighborhood.
Needless to say, I did not get up in time for the June Sportsbra Squad run this morning. But I’m hoping to do it July 21, if I’m brave enough. I may also sign up for the next Capt’n Karl’s race in the series, which is July 13. If nothing else, it gets me to visit some state parks!