Our son came to visit for the holidays and we headed south to the Texas Hill Country to watch him compete in one of the Tejas Trail’s ultra-race events, this one held at a new venue called “Camp Eagle” in far southwest Texas near the Mexico border. While not to the level of some of the mountain states such as Colorado or Utah, Texas does have a burgeoning trail running scene and one we enjoy being a part of, even if my wife and I are just spectators.
Running and hiking at altitudes above 5,000 feet brings in another dimension to the challenge which we cannot replicate in our “Hill Country” as the tallest peaks are about 2,500 feet. But our trails and scenery are still great, at least in my opinion, and offer us many chances to explore the outdoors.
The new “Camp Eagle” course was held at a private youth church retreat which encompasses over 10,000 acres of beautiful and rugged land covered with rocks, boulders, live oaks, juniper, cactus and wild life. The ranch is very remote and gives you an idea of how tough the early settlers must have had it. Heck, for that matter, how us modern day folks would have it if we tried to live out here full time. While our winters are generally pretty mild the summers can be tough especially for someone training to run “ultra races”. For that reason, our son relocated to Salt Lake City, UT this past year, to be a part of the running culture up there and to be able to train at elevation and a better summer climate. He seems to have enjoyed it but is beginning to understand the trade out which is the tough winters found in the mountains.
He has been consistent in his training and has a unique relationship with a coach based in Boulder, CO who he communicates with on a daily basis for plans and motivation. But he has also found that working full time to makes ends meet cuts into your training hours, energy, and ability to “get the miles in”. It is a far cry from his time running in high school or for The University of Portland. But, you do the best you can with the cards dealt to you.
Erik competed in the 100K distance (62 miles) last year but has backed off this distance for the time being with hopes of being prepared for these extreme events in the next two to three years. While he completed that race the last half was more than he had bargained for and was a wakeup call as to the rigors of these extreme endurance events. At that point he had never run anywhere close to that distance and to finish was an accomplishment in itself.
This year, due to heavy rains, the venue was changed at the last moment from the state park it was held in last year to the new “Camp Eagle” property which is located about an hour due west of Fredericksburg. We give thanks to the organizers for their ability to quickly find a new venue to host such an event. While these are not like a large city marathon they typically will have 500 runners, many who camp and bring friends and family so hosting one takes a good deal of planning and dozens of volunteers and employees. This location is very remote and is not too far from the Mexico border with little population within 30 miles so just getting there takes some planning and time. As we drove out there I was glad we had brought tents and camping equipment since we would be right at the starting line the night before. Attempting to drive in the morning of the race, in complete darkness, 9 miles down a rocky and narrow entrance road in heavy traffic looked pretty stressful and I’m glad we took care of that the day before the race.
We were fortunate to have a beautiful clear sky that night with stars in view that were incredible. What a nighttime sky! The only downside was the temperature around 20 degrees which we were not prepared for which made tent camping a little tough. But we made it through and met some new young friends that allowed us to join them by their roaring camp fire the next morning. Boy, did that feel good.
Erik started off fast as the race started and I was a little worried even though the distance of 50K was something he was prepared for. He has always gotten off to fast starts instead of “pacing” himself and trying to finish fast but I wondered as I saw him leave the field early that he would hit a wall as he got into the climbing and accents this course had in store for him.
While we don’t have mountain altitude issue this trail is very difficult as there is not an even step anywhere. There are rocks and boulders everywhere and the trail goes up and down hills with very few even or simple steps. Just walking it, as my wife and I did, was a challenge.
The video above was taken by a friend who was spectating and was taken as Erik rolled into the last aid station before the finish. As the friend exclaims Erik “killed it” and ran a really strong race as he rolled to the overall victory. He need a confidence booster even if this was not a huge race like Leadville or one of the major mountain races and I think he felt good about his potential going forward and motivated to keep working towards qualifying for these top events.
What a great sport. Even if you are not out to win the race, just competing at your own pace and finishing or hitting your goal is very rewarding. And it keeps you excited about your next great adventure. If you like the hiking, running, or just being outdoors take the time to find and watch one of these events and perhaps you will be hooked like I am.