Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Texas Trail Championship
Race series are my crack.
The Texas Trail Championship is a series of races with two categories: Trail (marathon distance and down) and Ultra (anything longer than a marathon). I’m planning to compete in the Ultra division.
There are 29 races in the spring season, which extends from January to June. Some offer Trail distance, some Ultra, and many of them have both. To compete in the series, you only have to run at least two races (in the same division), but no matter how many races you run, only your top four scores count. The longer the race is, the more points it’s worth, and your points are equal to (Winning Time/Your Time)*(Race Points). In other words, if you win, you get full points, and if you take twice as long as the winner, you get half as many points.
I found out about the Texas Trail Championship from some guys here in Wimberley who run together sometimes. The series also has a team competition, in which a team can be any size, but only the top 10 scoring members of each team have their score counted in the team score. Nearly every year, a huge team from San Antonio takes the prize, but one guy in Wimberley is convinced we could at least give them a run for their money.
“It all depends if we can get our ringer to join. You in, Rob?”
That was a nice ego stroke. I agreed, as long as we could carpool.
Having looked at past results, there’s a reasonable chance I could win the whole series. It would be smart to enter five races, in case one goes badly. However, in order to get as many points as possible, you need to enter the longest races possible, and if you try to run ultramarathons only a week or two apart, you’re not going to recover enough in between them to do well. Furthermore, I’m simply not running an ultra in May or June, and preferably not even late April, so that leaves only three months in which to run at least four races.
For now, I’ve got my eye on four races in particular: The Bandera 100k, the Rocky Raccoon 100-miler, the Dos Senderos 100k, and The Game, a “last runner standing” race.
I’ve run the Bandera 100k before (my only 100k), and it’s a tough race. It’s mostly the same course as the Cactus Rose 100-miler (my only 100-miler). The trail is plenty hilly, but arguably the biggest challenge is the amount of loose rocks on the trail. In addition to that, sotol cactus grows across the trail in many places, and you have to run through it like a saloon door. By the end of the race, your shins are torn up.
The Rocky Raccoon, despite its name, is a mostly flat, smooth trail, and the course is known for being easy and fast, at least as much as you can say that about a 100-miler. Winning times tend to be around 15 hours, which probably isn’t in my ability, but I could at least get close enough to score a lot of points.
As a side note, I’m still kicking around the idea of setting a fastest known time on the Lone Star Trail, a 96-mile hiking trail in the Sam Houston National Forest. Rocky Raccoon is in the same area and the course uses some of the LSHT, so the race would serve as a good preview before the FKT attempt. If I try for it, I plan to do it during spring break, when I’d have the opportunity to choose whichever day has the best weather. Most importantly, I’d be doing it unsupported, meaning I’d have to run 96 miles while carrying everything I need in a pack, including about 6,000 calories.
Dos Senderos is a new race, so there’s not much to read about it, but it’s in Pedernales State Park, which is only about an hour from my house. I’ve gone hiking there before, so I have at least some idea what the trails and terrain are like. Hilly, but no extended climbs and not too rocky.
And finally, The Game. I’ve never done a last runner standing race, so I’m excited about it. It’s only a 7 km course, and you have one hour to finish each lap. If you finish early, you have the rest of the hour to eat, drink, stretch, change clothes, or whatever else you’d like to do before the next lap begins. Another hour, another lap. This continues until everyone has either called it quits or missed the cutoff.
7 km/hour is slow (comparable to a brisk walk), and it’s not even a challenging course, but anything becomes difficult after doing it long enough. As you get tired, you wind up in a death spiral where each lap takes longer, giving you less time to recover before starting the next one, which makes it more difficult, slowing you down further, giving you even less time to recover before the next lap, until you eventually get timed out.
It sounds like a mental endurance test as much as anything else; running the same short loop over and over again is likely to wear on you, and each lap will be worse than the one before. In the later stages of the race, you’ll only be competing against other excellent runners, and I imagine you try to get an idea how they’re feeling and if they’ll drop out before you do. I can’t wait.
On average, these races should all be about four weeks apart, which means after each race, I’ll probably have one recovery week, only one “normal” week, and then two weeks of tapering. It’s either that or try to train through the races, which would be brutal, and would probably result in poor performance at all of them. That means I’ve got to finish getting in shape before Christmas.
As a cherry on top, the race series will serve well as preparation for next summer’s adventure: the northern half of the PCT. After spending the entire spring running at least 150 km/week, I’ll be pretty good at getting around on foot. Slowing down to a walk ought to be easy.