Tell me about Running Trails at Night:
This is not as hard as it sounds and given the heat of the typical Texas summer, many appreciate the fact these races are at night. Its easy enough now-a-days to buy a good headlamp. Right! Its just a flashlight. You're going be running in the dark, so you need a light. And because you're running, its best you find a lightweight light (which most are) with a bright light, that will last as long as you need it. Lights are measured by lumens, so look for one with at least 100 lumens. Some come with a huge battery attachment, but you don't need that kind of weight. Remember, keep it light. Just because it's a headlamp, doesn't mean you cant hold it in your hand, which is what I like to do. I prefer a headlamp, so I can put it on my head when I need a free hand, but usually I just keep it in my hand. Why? Because, I see the ground shadows better and trip less when its held lower, away from my eyes. Anyway, go buy a good light. Then test it at home. Yes, test it. Put brand new batteries in and leave it on all night. Thats the best way to see if they will last as long as you need them. If you're only running a few hours at night, make sure it lasts at least that long. Many lights have different settings for high and low intensity. The best and brightest setting usually kills the batteries quicker, so make sure you know what you have and what setting to use it on.
How to get enough WATER during the run:
You need a water bottle. The only absolute necessity is water. This is not complicated. You can use a simple convenience store 16oz water bottle or you can buy a nicer one that comes with a hand holder. You don't need the holder, but it really is helpful. Most of them effectively hold onto your hand, so you don't so much have to hold onto it: less hand muscle stress. Also, they usually have pockets. This is a great place to put a few essentials: a toilet kit, a few gels, maybe a phone or camera. It's your world! You'll see a lot of people with hydration packs. Do you need one. Maybe! It depends. I can't see using one unless I'm doing the 60k and then only late in the race. All the aid stations are 5mi or less from one to the next and I wont drink more than a bottle's worth, so why carry the extra weight. They are certainly handy, but remember, water is heavy. BUT, during your training runs on the greenbelt where it's a long way between water, then by all means, get a pack. Fill it up too. But, at the Capt Karls races, the aid stations (ie: water) are too close together to use a pack.
I just spoke about Toilet Kits above. There is a chance you might have to poop in the woods, and the chances of you being near a shitter when you feel the urge is very thin. So, you need to off into the woods to visit the bears, and you may need to wipe too. I usually pack a few wipes and even a plastic food service glove that I keep in the packet. The glove helps me to keep myself and my hands clear and clean and doubles as a great place to pack away the wipes. It's not a pretty conversation, but it covers what is needed to know.
Do you need TRAIL Shoes:
Trail shoes are not absolutely necessary, but they do help quite a bit on extremely rugged trails, and yes, all of these races are extremely rugged. Lots of rock and root to bump into. It's really nice to have a cushion between your feet and what you may be running into. You can wear minimalist shoes, Huaraches, five-fingers, or go barefoot, but I wouldn't dare. The terrain at many trail races are docile enough to go with regular road shoes, and you might even use them at these races, but I prefer the protection of a solid trail shoe. If you're only going to run one trail race, don't bother switching, but if you plan to run more, I suggest you do find a good trail shoe.
I like to think these are best used in mountainous areas, swift stream crossings, and snow, but there are times they are handy at the local races. If you are unsteady and need some assistance staying upright or just to move forward, these do help. I like to use them on hilly courses late in a race, so I might use them late in a 60k. Like anything else, they do require getting used to. If you never use them until the race and then use them for hours, you will certainly tweak muscles you may have ignored up until then. Typically I think of them as in the way and just one more thing to carry.
These are helpful to keep debris out of your shoes. Some people and some shoes are such that they rarely have this problem. If you do have this problem (debris in your shoes), then gaiters are helpful. Otherwise, don't bother.
Buffs & Bandanas:
These accessories are so unbelievably handy for so many different reasons. I rarely if ever run without one or both. The bandana is the Swiss army knife of trail running. Either one usually starts on my head to keep the sweat out of my eyes or to keep my ears warm, but has become toilet paper, a tourniquet, an ice holder, and almost as useful as duct tape.
If you are a trail runner already, the question is: how far do you plan to race compared to how far you are currently comfortable at? Is it time to build up your distance? If you are not a trail runner, well then, its time to get on the trails, simple as that. Go find a trail and run. Whatever your training is, take it to the trail: NOT Town Lake hike and bike trail. That is NOT a trail. It's a hard-pack road that excludes cars. There are trail runners and trail clubs all over the state. Find one and hook up. They can show you the best places to run. To be more specific, we need a much longer conversation.
Ok, so now tell me about the Capt Karl's night races:
Without knowing any better, you might think all four of the Capt Karls races are the same. They all start in the late evening and run into the dark. They all have the same distance formats (10k/30k/60k). They are all located in the rugged Texas Hill Country north or west of Austin. But, they are four distinctly different choices that require a certain understanding.
30k & 60k is the same course: 18.6mi loop run once (30k) or twice (60k). Water at 5 splits: 4.5mi, 4.3mi, 3.0mi, 4.6mi, 2.3mi.
10k is a single 6.2mi loop. Water at 4.0mi, 2.2mi.
30k & 60k is the same course: an 9.3mi loop run twice (30k) or four loops (60k). Water at 3 splits: 3.2mi, 3.5mi, 2.3mi.
10k is a single 6.2mi loop. Water at 3.2mi, 3.0mi.
30k & 60k is the same course: an 18.6mi loop run once (30k) or twice (60k). Water at 5 splits: 2.9mi, 5.0mi, 2.6mi, 5.2mi, 2.9mi.
10k is a single 6.2mi loop. Water at 3.3mi, 2.9mi.
60k course: an 12.4mi loop run three times. Water at 4 splits: 1.6mi, 4.7mi, 4.2mi, 1.9mi.
30k course: an 9.3mi loop run twice. Water at 4 splits: 1.6mi, 1.6mi, 4.2mi, 1.9mi.
This is the same course as the 60k, but for an abbreviated 2nd section.
10k is a single 6.2mi loop. Water at 1.6mi, 3.0mi, 1.6mi.
For all races:
(10k) Besides being the shortest distance, these races are usually the smallest, but still competitive.
(30k) The biggest race. You see the entire course, except at Reveille: you miss the dome (too bad).
(60k) This distance at these races is nasty tough. The 30k is a fun if not serious race which will tax your ability, but the 60k seems to be a lot more than just twice what the 30k feels like. The slower runners run all night. These races require a healthy dose of mental toughness. You'd need to be insane to run all four 60k, and yet some people do.
Running a trail race takes more time than the same distance on road, so you need to adjust your expectations. Those used to using a GPS will swear the course is long or short, but they are the ones not used to using a GPS on trails. Truth is, you are slower on trail and the GPS doesn't track so well on all the tight turns under a tree canopy. Running single track trail in the dark with plenty of trip hazards requires a bit of adjustment. It's an acquired skill to watch the trail, see the course markings, avoid the low hanging branches, and other runners all while staying upright. Those are some of the many reasons you will run slower. Many veteran trail runners mix in regular walk breaks as well. You'd be surprised how effective this is for the longer distances.
Trail Zen for trail run training (Joe Prusaitis & Ryan Sederholm)