Starting kids early in the outdoors

Posted on August 11th, 2014
Kids climbing around at the crag. My daughter Abby is on the far right.

Kids climbing around at the crag. My daughter Abby is on the far right.

If it weren’t for my father, I wouldn’t have the love and appreciation for the outdoors I have today. Growing up, we spent many weekends camping, hunting, and fishing: and once a year we would take a trip to the mountains – usually Colorado.

My love for the outdoors only grew once I graduated from college and had more free time and disposable income to fund my own explorations of the mountains. I spent a good 10+ years of my life relentlessly pursuing time in the mountains. My love of climbing especially grew and, now that I’m a father, it’s something I hope I will be able to share with my children.

I’m a firm believer in the “start them young” mindset. We brought Abby on her first camping trip when she was only four months old. We have been bringing her to the crag just as early. We are starting her so young that she will never remember her first camping trip or first rock climbing experience. The same will be true with my son Joshua as well.

Abby, attempting her first roped climb before the age of two.

Abby, attempting her first roped climb before the age of two.

This past weekend was Abby’s first attempt at roped climbing. Although she has geeked-out over simple things, like climbing an angled rock retaining wall, she was a little bit freaked out over being in a harness. She didn’t really want to climb once we put her on the wall, but she did enjoy swinging around about 8 feet off the ground.

As we continue our family climbing adventures I’m sure my daughter will eventually get her first send, and it will be way earlier than I got my first climb in. She has already been to the popular climbing destination Horseshoe Canyon Ranch more times than some seasoned climbers I know.

The outdoors are going to largely be a formative part of my children’s upbringing. My hope is they learn to enjoy, and respect nature, all while seeing the Creator through the beautiful things they see and experience. I also hope that the outdoors will inspire creativity in them, and that they will enjoy quality conversations and time outside, rather than wasting way in front of a television or video game.

The start of a new blogging journey

Posted on August 8th, 2014

In 2011 I started Bearded Brothers with my brother-in-law, Chris. Since then the company has grown tremendously and our bars have been to some pretty amazing places, including Stok La Pass,15,500 ft. in the Himalayas.

It has been a long time since I have blogged here, and a lot has happened since I was actively blogging. I got married, moved from Denton to Austin, had a couple  of children, took up up ultra running, all while starting and running a business. The past four years of my life have been quite the amazing journey.

I have been doing a bit of blogging over at my personal blog, which is mostly business focused, but I have had this aching desire to return to blogging here. This new chapter in my life has given me lots of new information to share, such as how to train for an Ultra Marathon while still giving your family the time they deserve, and how to camp with young kids and infants. My wife will chime in with the occasional blog post as well.

Moving from being a single male, outdoor enthusiast to a married business owner of two kids has caused a pretty big shift in the way I view outdoor activity. Gone are the days of climbing three days a week, establishing new routes, running 4-5 days per week, and eating whatever I want, whenever I want. But, I would venture to say things have changed for the better.

Rather than focus on becoming a hard climber or fast marathon runner I get to teach and inspire my kids about the things I love as well: and do so alongside my beautiful wife. I hope that our life will be an inspiration to many. I feel some people view children as the killer of all things fun and that used to be, but that is not the case. You just have to shift your focus on how you view life a bit.

I really hope I will be able to provide you some practical tips that help you get outdoors and do the things you love, AND teach your children about them in the process.


A day with an old trad-guy

Posted on November 19th, 2013
Summit of Solar Slab

Summit pano of Solar Slab, you can see the party below us in the red jacket.

My original post was five pages long; I thought about posting it, but decided it would likely be best to post the short version. However, If you want to read the full unedited story of my day, you can read it here.

The stage of life I am in right know doesn’t allow for as much climbing as I would like, so whenever I get the opportunity for a long day of multi-pitch climbing I jump on it…or rather climb on it!

This past weekend I had just such an opportunity when I was in Las Vegas for a trade show. I allowed myself an extra day so I could get some climbing in at Red Rocks. I was fortunate enough to be connected With Larry DeAngelo, a local climber who has many FA’s to his name at Red Rocks, and has been climbing out there since 1975.

Old School Trad Climber

Larry, my old school climbing partner for the day.

Larry was quite the character too. Prior to meeting to climb I received an email from him stating that he assumed I had been given all the appropriate warnings about climbing with him from Kevin, the friend who had connected us. I didn’t think much of it, but was pretty sure Larry was a solid climber with a taste for adventure.

When I met Larry at the trailhead he announced to me that we would be climbing on a 1980’s trad rack. I had no issues with this, as I had climbed with guys in the Texas Mountaineers that had gear this old. Another proclamation he made was that I was going to have a story to tell after our climb.

As we hiked off to the base of the climb the sun had still not come up but there was just enough light in the sky from the moon and stars that we didn’t need headlamps. Larry lead the way, and as we began hiking I noticed his pack was smaller than mine, which was strange considering he was carrying the gear. I knew at this point his ENTIRE rack was from 1980, not just a few pieces. The only food he brought was a plastic bag full of Peanut M&M’s and a 16oz bottle of water.

Once we got to the base of the climb we began gearing up and getting ready for the first of many pitches. Out of his pack Larry pulled out an orange Black Diamond harness that looked like it was 20 years old, and probably was. He stated that this was his concession over the swami belt, and proceeded with a rant about harnesses being for hanging and swami belts being for climbing.

The trad rack he pulled from his pack was about ¼ the size of what I would normally carry on a route. It consisted of 2 cams, a small set of wire nuts, a large hex, and a few dolt hexes, and a piece of gear I had never seen before that was basically a large metal T shape. I think there might have been a total of 10 pieces of gear in his entire rack, which covered a very narrow range, in terms of size. He even had a piton on the rack!

1980's Trad Rack

This is the rack we climbed on, including two rigid stem friends, and a small set of dolt hexes (not pictured).

I knew before we left the parking lot it was going to be an interesting day, and this just confirmed it even more. We alternated leads on the first four pitches of the climb, with Larry taking the first lead. The belay he built on the first pitch left a lot to be desired in terms of comfort. He had simply wrapped a sling around a tree and was belaying off his 20 year old harness. Thankfully the climb we had chosen for the day was never harder than 5.6. The “don’t fall” mentality the leader always has to carry with him was just as true for the person following with Larry.

The 12 pitches or so of climbing went pretty fast, especially since Larry lead most of them. They all went about the same too….Larry would climb the 150ft+ pitch and only place a couple pieces of gear (a few more at on one pitch where he got nervous) then reach a belay ledge and sling a tree, and belay me up by his harness. I was even given a “hip belay” on one of the earlier pitches I lead, and on the crux move.

1st pitch of Solar Slab

The first actual pitch of solar slab that involved simul-climbing for about 20 feet on 50m ropes.

I would have lead more pitches myself, but I didn’t have a high enough comfort level placing mostly passive gear, and having very few options of what to place on top of that. We were also only using 50m twin ropes on a climb that required 60m ropes for some pitches, but we ended up only having to simul-climb on the fifth pitch. Once we ran out of rope, I had to climb up about 20 feet before Larry reached the belay ledge and was able to put me on belay.

The entire climb was about 12 pitches, which we finished in about 6 hours, but the climb was far from over. Since Larry considered rappelling back down the rock “retreating” we hiked off the back side of the mountain, which took an additional 5 hours, making our entire day a full 12+ hour day.

We were also far from done with the climbing. The hike out involved lots of 4th and 5th class scrambling, even over some short sections that I thought should have been roped. The walk off the backside incidentally involved several rappels, just not as many as going off the front side of the mountain. Oh, and not to mention what seemed like 40mph gusts of wind that nearly blew us over.

After lots of scrambling, rappelling, down scrambling and boulder hoping we arrived back at the main trail head and hiked back to the car. The hike back to the car seemed to take forever. I could see cars headlights going by on the road. They seemed MILES away, when in fact they were probably only about a mile away, but that portion of the hike seemed to take forever.

The long day was just the adventure I needed. It was refreshing being outside in creation, enjoying the mountains. I can’t wait for the day my kids are old enough to bring them out for adventures like this. Only difference will be is that I will bring a 60m rope, a new harness, a FULL trad rack, and will create belay stations with 3 pieces of gear in them. But even to my kids I will probably be a modern day Larry.

Moon Rise in Red Rocks Canyon

Moon Rise in Redo Rocks Canyon during our hike out of The Painted Bowl.


Colorado Bend 30K – Race Report

Posted on August 8th, 2013

Colorado Bend 30K Course 2013

This is the second time I have run this race…third time I have run at Colorado Bend, yet I still managed to forget just how technical and rocky this course is, and I also managed to forget that it has quite a bit of elevation gain. This year’s race had even more elevation gain due to a portion of the course being changed.

I went into the race undertrained, yet feeling confident. I have now been trail running for over a year, and I felt stronger despite having trained less than last year. I still felt confident I could beat my time from last year, especially considering I took a couple falls along the course. Many of my training runs this summer have had a sub 12 minute mile, even my longer runs were good compared to last year, but I also wasn’t running as far. The furthest I had run prior to the race was 16 miles, and that was during Hell’s Hills a few months ago.

The 30K race started at 7:15 pm, which gave me about 1.5 hours of running in the daylight. I made it about 7 miles into the course before the lights went out and the headlamp came on. But, the first 3 miles to the first aid station were a little fast for me (yet slower than last years race). I ran with Ben Morgan and kept up with him until about .5 miles to the first aid station.

There was a lot of elevation gain to the first aid station, and it was pretty warm, and most of my training runs weren’t in the late evening when the sun was the hottest. After reaching the first aid station I decided to fill my hydration bladder with Scratch to help ensure I was getting enough electrolytes and sugar. I also took a few salt caps and at a bit of food on my way out. I didn’t spend much time walking before I was back to a run.

In the previous year I alternated a run/walk for most of the race. This year I decided to be a little conservative with my speed but to always run except when I hit the aid stations or ate food. This proved to be very effective because I never felt tired, famished or winded after the sun went down. It was definitely cooler during the night, which made for an easier run.

After the second aid station I decided to take the next section a little bit easier since I knew there was a long uphill section immediately after. The previous year I ran most of this hill, but I again decided to be a bit more conservative and ended up walking at least half the hill while eating, consuming more water and taking more salt tabs. My goal was to conserve some energy so I could run faster on the upcoming flats (which were a lot shorter this year due to the course change).

What I didn’t know was just how big the upcoming hill was to the last aid station. I overheard another runner saying she heard there was a big hill coming up to the aid station. Undeterred I plugged along until I got to the hill. I ran up a good portion of the hill before deciding to slow down a bit due to cramping. I also thought it would be good to conserve some energy so I could run the last downhill section fast.

But as I continued trekking up the hill it just never stopped, so I began incorporating a bit of running in, then I would hear a car drive by through the woods, or hear people talking, so thinking I was close to the next aid station I would walk again. I felt like the hill was never going to end. It was the highest and fastest elevation gain the entire course.

After a quick refill of my hand held water bottle I was off again, running down hill to the finish. My pace was much slower than I was hoping for, the terrain was very technical and difficult to run at night. It was making me really miss the long flat finish of the race from the year before.

Another unfortunate aspect of the last stretch of trail was my headlamp was starting to get extremely dim, which was really annoying because I thought it had a full charge and should have definitely lasted 3 hours with no problems. So I stopped to get my spare batteries from my hydration pack, then realized it was going to be next to impossible to change the batteries in the dark without it taking forever, so I decided to plug on with the dim light, but held it in my hand to better light the path.

The light continued to dim, so I stopped again and brought out the batteries from my pocket. I began to attempt to change them, but was super frustrated and just wanted to finish with a good time, so I threw them back in my pocket and turned on the LED flashlight app on my iPhone. I ran the remaining 1.5 miles while holding my iPhone in my hand. I just kept praying I wouldn’t trip and have the phone go flying out of my hand.

After a frustrating 2.5 miles I finally emerged on the main trail, which was flat to the finish line. I picked up my pace and began a nice run to the finish line, only to be hit with extremely painful cramps about 100 yards from the finishing mat.  I was determined to keep running, but the pain stopped me in my tracks, so I began to walk, but with about 50 yards to go I decided I couldn’t let myself walk across that line, so I broke back into a run and crossed the line… painful cramps and all.

Capt'n Karl's Colorado Bend 30K Medal

Capt'n Karl's Run - Colorado Bend 30K. This year's medal is way better than last year's.

I finished with a time of 4:38, a far cry from my 3:45-4 hour goal. Last years finish time was 4:25, but considering I was undertrained and the course was harder this year I will take that finishing time. I was also a bit happier with the time when I saw my goal time of 4 hours would have had me finishing 25th. I also finished higher in the pack percentage-wise this year.

Overall I had a great race. I felt like I had more in me after crossing the line, as opposed to last year, I felt like I had nothing left in the tank. I seriously think I could have handled the 60k this year, all be it a much slower second loop. I am looking forward to a couple of other upcoming races. One is the Dare to Ascent Trail Marathon, and the other is Wild Hare 50k. I’m most excited about getting another Ultra under my belt.

Abby and I at the starting line of the Colorado Bend 30K.

Hell’s Hills 25k Race Report

Posted on April 9th, 2013
Hell's Hills 25k Medal

Hell's Hills 25k Medal

Going into the race last weekend I felt very unprepared, yet highly optimistic. Throughout my training I had taken a two week break due to being sick, so needless to say I didn’t get a lot of running in, and I only got two “long runs” in during my training, and both were 4-6 weeks before the race.

Despite the lack of training and still going into the weekend with a cough, I was super excited and actually fairly confident I could still do well. After all I had run the rugged hills of Cactus Rose. So, I set myself a soft goal of a three-hour finish time.

I forced myself to stay towards the rear of mid-pack at the start, but pretty quickly found myself starting to pass people, then more people, and more. I was having a blast. The weather was cool the scenery was gorgeous. Running up and down the hills through ravines, jumping over logs, and dashing over streams was invigorating. I don’t think anybody could have asked for better weather than morning.

I had never just enjoyed a race that much. I hardly even paid attention to my pace and just ran. I did occasionally look down at my GPS to see how I was doing. I was running about a 12 minute pace, which I was happy with considering how little I had trained.

What I didn’t know until mile 10 though was my GPS was wacked out due to all the switchbacks. Upon passing the 10 mile marker I looked at my GPS  again to see it read 8.5 miles. So at that point I knew I was going much faster than 12 minutes per mile. I felt great though and actually sought to quicken the pace.

Throughout this race I had adopted an aid station to aid station mentality. I told myself to run hard to the next aid station, and I did. I would refill my water, take some salt tabs and then begin walking out munching on some food, but as soon as I finished my munchies I was back to running. This was my first trail race that I ran almost the entire race!

The only real problem I encountered was I started experiencing cramps in my calves sometime after mile 10. I managed to run through the pain though and not let myself slow down, at least until I hit mile 13. Around that time the tweaks and spasms were getting worse, at times I would slow down to a fast walk, then tell myself it was all mental and push on, getting back into a run.

I was also motivated by people I could hear behind my on the switchbacks. I was motivated to not get passed in the last two miles. I almost succeeded. I only let one person pass! At this point I also knew my sub three-hour finish time was well within reach (which to my disadvantage cause me to slow down). Had I not had cramping issues I might have even finished a few minutes faster.

Upon crossing the finish line I was elated to see the clock read 2:45 and some change! My official finish time was 2:45:27. My wife and some friends were waiting for me at the finish line to snap a photo as I crossed, but having finished 15 minutes faster than I anticipated they were not ready, so the photo opportunity was missed. Although Enduro Photo actually had an awesome photo of me coming into the finish; I might actually have to splurge and purchase it!

Me, post race. Feeling great!

Me, post race. Feeling great!

So far this has been my favorite trail race. Although I’m still a rookie to the trail-racing scene, having only done three races. I had planned on doing Hell’s Hill’s last year but was unable to due to an ankle injury I inflicted on myself during a climbing trip. I’m hoping to get to do a few more races this year. They will likely be shorter distances as I don’t have the time to train for any 50 milers, but I’m sure I will eventually run another one.

My wife also ran her first 10k this weekend and did very well for her first race. Who knows, this could end up being a thing we do frequently as a family. And, pretty soon baby Abby will be running the 1 mile with the other kiddos.

Kristy, Abby, and I

Kristy and I, with Abigail, post race.

Stop ruining the outdoor experience, practice Leave No Trace

Posted on February 16th, 2013

Leave No TraceThe concept of “leave no trace” seems to be lost on many people, especially on the trails here in Austin. Recently, a topic surfaced on the Tejas Trails Facebook Page about people ditching their tiny gel packet tabs along the trail during races, and it reminded me of the time I went for a run the day after the Austin Marathon and saw the street littered with these tiny little tabs, as well as full empty gel packets.

Why people think it’s okay to trash the roads and trails during a race is beyond me. You should treat your outdoor experience the same as any other, race day or not. The way I see it, if you carried that item on your person throughout your run, you have room to store the trash on your person as well. The old adage goes, pack it in, pack it out.

Perhaps I feel so strongly about this because I grew up spending time outdoors and hate seeing pristine wilderness littered with garbage. I even hate seeing the trail just miles from my house trashed out as well for that matter. I’m especially shocked at the people that bag their dog poop and then leave it on the side of the trail, as if some other person is going to take it out for them. Get a brain people and have some respect for the thousands of people coming out to enjoy the trail every week.

To some extent I can let ignorance and lack of being educated play a factor, but much of this stuff is common sense. How would you feel If I let my dog crap in your yard and then left it for you to take care of, or threw my energy bar wrapper in your lawn? If you carry food with you on the trail, you take the trash out with you. If your dog craps on the trail, bag it up and carry it out. If you feel that doing so is gross, it may be best to leave your dog at home.

But, I admit that the education factor could play a part. So, below you will see a few principles to help guide your enjoyment of the outdoors (trails and primitive camping in particular), and will help others be able to enjoy it as well:

Plan ahead and prepare

  • Know the rules and regulations of the area you are visiting
  • Travel in small groups when possible
  • Repackage food to minimize waste
  • Bring a map and use a compass to eliminate the use of flagging, marking, and creating rock cairns
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces

Camp in established areas

  • Camp at least 200 feet from streams and lakes
  • Travel in single file, using the middle of the trail, even when wet and muddy
  • Avoid camping in places that would require impacts to begin
  • If using pristine areas is required, disperse the creation of the site to avoid creating permanent campsites
  • Dispose of waste properly

Pack it in, pack it out!

  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6-8 inches deep, at a minimum of 200ft away from campsites and water sources.
  • Wash dishes with a small amount biodegradable soap at least 200ft from campsites and water sources

Leave what you find

  • Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Use lightweight camping stoves for cooking whenever possible
  • Where fires are permitted, use established campfire rings
  • Keep fires small, use only sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, and put out campfires completely, and scatter the cool ashes

Respect Wildlife

  • Observe from a distance, do not approach them
  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behavior, and exposes them to predators and other dangers
  • Protect wildlife from your food by storing rations and trash securely
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home

Be considerate to other visitos

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience
  • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors
  • Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises (I will personally add loud music to this list, which I especially see as a problem in car camping situations, even some semi-primitive areas)

The principles above can be found on the Leave no Trace website, along with several I left out or slightly modified. So, if you read this you can no longer use ignorance as an excuse for damaging the trails, and lessening the outdoor experience for others.

When getting outdoors, and enjoying creation, remember others are coming behind you to do the same thing, so please keep it how you found it.

Running for stress relief

Posted on December 15th, 2012

Running is a great way to relieve stress! For somebody like me that lives a hectic and stressful life running is often my go-to form of stress relief. This past week has been pretty overwhelming due to many business decisions I’m having to make and other things that are in process. Since I have been so busy and have a newborn at home I hadn’t been out for a run in nearly a week, until this morning and I already feel a million times better. Earlier in the week anxiety was starting to overtake me, but all I needed was a run!

Wasatch Mountains Trail Running

Trail running in the Wasatch Mountains.

One of the main reasons running can help to relive stress is the release of endorphins, also known as the “feel-good” hormone. Running, along with any other intense exercise releases this hormone. I’ve found from personal experience the harder I’m running the more I experience this. Even though I will experience loads of stress relief from a long run, I can get the same effect from an intense short run. Running not only helps relieve anxiety and stress, but improves the imune system, relaxes muscles, improves blood flow, and increases overall health.

I actually first started getting into running while training to climb the East face of Longs Peak, but continued my running regime after finishing the climb, and found I was in much better overall health, happier, and had less anxiety. I also used this as a time to meditate, pray, and escape the worries of the day. And, since getting into ultra running, it has proved to be an amazing way to escape my cares and worries, but at the same time solve problems and talk to the Creator as well as build relationships with other runners.

I’ve also heard countless stories of people that have turned their life around, just from running. There are said to be numerous recovering alcoholics in the Ultra Running community, and I know at least one individually personally that is a recovering alcoholic and found solace in running (and has completed numerous marathons). Plus, I can tell you from personal experience you just start feeling good about yourself as your overall health and well-being improves.

Trail running in Austin, where I live!

Trail running, I have found, is an even greater form of stress relief. I typically find I feel better after a long trail run as upposed to a run across town, or through a neighborhood. There is just something about connecting with nature, and being in creation that helps you feel more grounded. Plus, it’s more secluded, which leaves you more time to your thoughts.

So, if you are finding yourself stressed, lace up those running shoes and hit the road, I mean trail! It’s sure to help your worries fade away, and for those lingering anxiety causing problems, running just may be your way to solve them and experience numerous health benefits at the same time.


Cactus Rose 50 Mile Ultramarathon, Race Report

Posted on October 29th, 2012

Prior to registering for Cactus Rose (CR, and 50 mile and 100 mile endurance race) I knew little of Ultra Marathons other than what I read in Born to Run and what I heard from Josue Stevens and Gordon Montgomery, the first ultra runners I ever met. But, it didn’t take long for me to want to complete my first Ultra. My company Bearded Brothers had been supplying samples for Joe’s races, so it only made sense that I start training with him too.

I picked CR based on the calendar date, not the difficulty of the course. I soon found out that was not the best race I could have chosen for my first ultra marathon. The comments I heard about how difficult the course was sort of just rolled off my back, until I kept hearing them over and over, again. I kept hearing things like, “oh you picked a nasty one for your first ultra” and “wow, I can’t believe you’re doing that one for your first 50.” Again, I just rolled with it.

Cactus Rose Elevation Profile

Going into the race I felt prepared. I had done several runs over 25 miles and two over 30. The only worry in the back of my mind was how fatigued I felt at the end of those runs. Mentally I knew I would finish, I just didn’t know how well I was going to finish.

Once race morning finally came I arose from my tent at 4:15 a.m., threw on my cloths and darted off to the starting line, only to realized I left my timing chip and bib number in the tent. After a quick trip back to the tent I had just enough time to fill my Nathan bladder with coconut water, lemon juice, and water (my electrolyte beverage of choice), and line up at the starting line just in time for the start.

Fifty feet from the starting line my right shoe came untied, I quickly stopped and tied it, but to my frustration my LEFT shoe ended up coming untied at least 10 times during the next 25 miles. I quickly jumped back into the pack of 300 runners, though and found myself going out too fast! I continued to pass runners until we hit the first bottleneck going up Lucky Peak.

This trend continued until about mile 14, despite the bit of flat ground going into the Equestrian aid station I couldn’t keep up a run. I alternated running and walking until another fellow Tejas Trails runner caught up to me and we ran the final bit into the aid station (also the first aid station I stopped at). I was still making GREAT time, though. I had run 15 miles in 2:50. Not bad considering Lucky Peak was un-runable on the up-slope. It also meant I was well on my way of achieving my rough goal time of 12 hours. At that point I was also on pace to qualify for Western States, but knew I couldn’t keep up that pace for another 35 miles, but it was a fun thought to entertain.

I was still feeling pretty good at this point and began to wonder what the big deal was. This course wasn’t so bad. I was pacing faster than I did at Colorado Bend (during the night trail series) and only slightly slower than some short 12 mile runs I did at elevation in the mountains earlier in the Summer. But, shortly after I passed the Nachos aid station I heard a runner behind me say that it was about to get nasty in another mile, and man was he right. The next twenty miles of the course were what I deemed pure hell. Sure there were runnable parts of the trail, but there was LOTS of climbing over large loose rocks and eroded ledges. As a rock climber I have encountered some trails I only thought were nasty, but these Bandera trails are the beast of all beasts when it comes to gnarly trails.

Sky Island was perhaps my favorite climb despite how steep and tall it was (but HATED this peak going down on the second loop). Looking on this crazy steep peak from a distance put some fear in me, but I managed to plow through the sotol-covered peak over nasty rotten ledges and was only passed by one other runner. It just happened to be a female runner, and I am convinced after this race that women are great hill climbers.

After Sky Island I started losing a bit of steam. My pace to The Lodge (Start/Finish) was pretty broken. I began getting a bit discouraged at this point too, especially when other runners began to pass me. Joe’s advice at the start of the race was becoming a reality… Slow and steady will win over anybody that goes out too fast. I was paying the price for starting the race faster than I should have. I will say I enjoyed the pace of the first 15 miles, though.

Despite the past few miles being highly frustrating and crushing in many ways I managed to make it to The Lodge in just less than six hours. Since my ideal finish time was 12 hours I knew that goal wasn’t going to be attainable, so I remember another runner’s advice of, “race the sun.” At that point I needed a new goal, and that was it. Beat the sun, and get back here before sunset.

I was feeling very sluggish though, so I started going through a mental checklist of what could be wrong other than starting the race too fast. I was eating almost every hour, plus extra food at Equestrian and Lodge aid stations. I was drinking plenty of fluids and urinating frequently. Everything seemed fine, but for some reason my legs felt like lead and I could barely move.

For the next ten miles I was back in the big hills and cursing the steep downhill’s, especially Sky Island, I had an easier time going uphill than down. I think the only thing that kept me moving at even a remotely forward pace was that my wife and daughter were waiting for me at Equestrian to provide encouragement, and I could also ditch my long sleeve shirt and gloves that were causing me to be warmer than needed.

The running between Lodge and Equestrian were the must frustrating miles of the course. I began getting passed by people I saw heading to the Lodge aid station after I had already left it (some runners I was at least a mile or two ahead of). My legs were also feeling like lead, I could barely lift them. I kept telling myself it was all mental, and that I should just keep moving. I started trying to have the slow and steady mindset, but it only seemed to work 25-50 feet at a time before frustration set in again. I was losing the mental battle.

Upon arriving at Equestrian I was greeted by my wife and newborn daughter. It was refreshing to see them, and my wife offered encouragement to move on. At this point I was at 35 miles, 3 miles further than I had ever run before and I only had 15 miles left. I jus told myself it’s just a romp around Town Lake with a little bit of Greenbelt added on, only Town Lake is completely flat and isn’t littered with giant lose boulders.

Kristy, Abigail, and I at Equestrian aid station.

Me, coming into Equestrian aid station at mile 35.

I managed to press on though. I spent the first few minutes walking while I ate some food and drank more fluids. Pretty soon after finishing my food I was able to increase my running distance and decrease my time walking, but this didn’t last too long. I kept it up until I got to Ice Cream hill. On the first loop I felt like I floated over this peak, this time (on the shorter side of the peak) I felt like the hill would never end, it was relentless. I also kept thinking the next aid station was closer than it was, which added to my frustration. But, I just kept one foot in front of the other and before too long I was at the Nacho’s aid station and only had 10 miles left.

I asked the individuals monitoring the course at Nacho’s how far it was to Equestrian and was told 4.8 miles, so I thought it would be a good idea to just focus on walking this stretch really fast. I thought if I could do that I could still make it to Equestrian in 1.5 hours, tops. I was misinformed on the distance though, it was 5.16 miles, but I did not know that at the time and ended up making it in about on hour and forty-five minutes, which only added to my frustration. I was even tempted at one point to call it quits once I got to Equestrian, but thankfully the thought was short lived. I told myself I would walk the last five miles if I had to. It just goes to show how nasty this course is if you are tempted to call it quits after 45 miles.

When I arrived at Equestrian I had only planned on signing in and going out, but I was concerned about the sun setting so I decided to grab my headlamp that I had left there earlier that morning. It’s a really good thing I didn’t accidently carry it to The Lodge and leave it there. I also did something at Equestrian I normally never do, especially as part of my race nutrition. I grabbed two cups of coke and two cups of Gatorade that Olga had left out along with a hand full of pretzels and started my journey back to The Lodge… the final sub five mile stretch (which I thought was 5+ miles at the time).

I don’t know what it was…. maybe it as the prayers, or the walking I did from Nachos to Equestrian, or maybe it was the coke and Gatorade I guzzled down, but for the FIRST time this entire 50 mile course I felt like I had a second wind and ran almost the entire stretch back to The Lodge, with the exception of the down side of Lucky’s Peak and a short stretch after that. I played mental games with myself the whole way… just run five minutes then walk one. I would find myself running eight minutes and walking 40 seconds.

I was also motivated to see my wife again, eat a warm pizza she had brought me, and drink a cold beer. I also didn’t want her to worry too much, as I had told her I would be there by 7pm via text message earlier in the course before the battery died. It kept me moving, despite the enumerable frustrations I had throughout the course. I managed to finish the last stretch of the course in one hour and ten minutes. That was just 15 minutes slower than my morning run from Lodge to Equestrian. Not bad for having 45 miles under my feet.

My unofficial finish time was about 14:40. My mental goal going in was 12 hours, but considering only 50% of the people that enter this race finish, the fact that this is my first ultra, and that I have never run this course before I will take that time and be mighty proud!

Overall I really loved this race. I especially enjoyed the hell out of the first 15 miles, mostly because you are running with so many other people, it really gets you moving. I also like the self supported aspect of the race since I don’t do products like GU, I like to keep my nutrition all-natural, which has challenges of it’s own. I loved the planning that went into what was going to be in my drop bags, where I would place them and what aid stations I would skip, vs which ones I had to stop at.

Several times throughout the course I thought to myself I will never run another ultra again. But I often cursed the trails in my training as well. Whether or not I run CR again is yet to be determined, but you will definitely still find me on the trails. Who knows, by this time next year I just might want to come back to Bandera and capture my goal.

Learning to appreciate the little things

Posted on August 24th, 2012
Wasatch Mountains

View of the Wasatch Mountains range at the high point of my recent run in the Wasatch National Forest, in Utah.

As I grow older, continue working on the business, improve at being a husband, and constantly get closer to becoming a father, I am learning to enjoy even the smallest pursuit of my personal hobbies.

When I journeyed down the road of starting my own business I pictured myself getting outside nearly every weekend for awesome send fests at the crag, and spending time every day running and climbing, but that has been far from reality.

I also started the business around the same time I got married, so adjusting to married life also presented challenges. Gone are the days of only having to visit my parents once or twice a month. Spending time with my wife has also become a high priority, and soon investing in the life of my daughter will be at the top of the list too.

Juggling work, family life and hobbies continues to be a challenge. But I am learning to enjoy even the smallest outdoor adventure. The ones I would have normally taken for granted, such as rock climbing on The Greenbelt here in Austin. The Greenbelt is a place most Austin climbers visit on a regular basis, and it’s not high on the impressive scale compared to most climbing areas, but I don’t take for granted the fact that I get to climb outside on a weekly basis, and for FREE (no gym fees, here).

I also recently attended Outdoor Retailer in Utah, where I was hoping to spend a full day climbing beautiful multi-pitch trad routes. That didn’t happen, but I ended up settling for just a few hours of sport climbing on some easy, but fun routes. It wasn’t my picture perfect adventure, yet I enjoyed every second of it.

I was also able to get out for a couple of runs on some awesome trails in the Wasatch National Forest. The run I did just two days before I left was perhaps the best run I have ever been on. The temperature was perfect, the sky was blue, and the trail fairly secluded once I got above 8,000 feet. Just to be able to say “once I got above 8,000 feet,” amazes me. The run actually peaked at around 10,000 feet and provided some amazing views of the Wasatch Mountain range.

The run was a simple 12 miles, two miles more than I intended to run, and worth every step. The mini-adventure left my soul satisfied and longing for the next simple adventure. Though, I may never live the dirtbag dream of climbing days on end and running alpine trails on a regular basis, I will enjoy even the smallest journey.

Red Pine Lake Utah

View of Red Pine lake during my recent romp through the Wasatch Mountains.

RunKeeper data, from said run.

Priorities are also shifting, as I get older too. Family time is becoming more important to me than climbing time, and as we grow our family I’m sure we will have plenty of family adventures. The things that bring me passion and joy will gain even more meaning as I begin sharing them with those closest and most important to me.

Even though I miss the days of spending multiple weekends a month developing crags in Arkansas, and climbing multi pitch routes in Oklahoma and Colorado, I look forward to growing my family and experiencing new things. Not only will I get to share my love for the outdoors with my little ones, but I will get to instill values into them as well. A scary thought to some, but I pray my daughter and other future children come to know and experience the Creator of the Universe as I have.

Colorado Bend race report – A humbling experience

Posted on August 14th, 2012
Colorado Bend Trail Race

Colorado Bend 30k, trail race. Put on by Tejas Trails.

RunKeeper Race Data

This was my first trail race, ever.  I didn’t know what to expect exactly, all I knew was what I heard from other runners in the Tejas Trails group that I run with on a weekly basis. I was however familiar with the course, having run it two weeks before, but having run the course seemed to make very little difference once the sun set. It was helpful, mentally, though to know what to expect at pretty much any part of the course. This particular course was VERY rocky, though, and I took my fair share of falls and near falls throughout the run. My goal was to finish in 4 hours or less.

Rocky Colorado Bend Trail

One of MANY rocky sections at Colorado Bend state park. Now, just immagine running most of this at night by headlamp.

The first section of the course was the second easiest part of the course in my opinion, even though it was a fairly good climb. It was one of the least rocky sections of the course. The first .5 miles was flat and fast. I found myself going out too strong, as I noticed I was keeping pace with some fast runners. After the first .5 miles you begin go climb; I continued a pretty decent pace for a short while and then realized I needed to back off a bit as I was already starting to feel the effects of the near 100 degree heat.

By the time I reached mile two I was already starting to incorporate some walking into my rhythm, something I thought I wouldn’t do since the first aid station was only three miles out. It was also around this time I began to get passed by other runners that stayed back at the start. This was just another indicator I probably went out too strong.

After reaching the first aid station I refilled my bottle and hydration pack, and filled a bandana full of ice and was off fairly quickly (thanks to the Boy Scouts that manned this station). I also munched on half a Bearded Brothers bar on my way out of the aid station as I held the ice close to my core. Pretty soon after this I was feeling good again and kept a decent pace through mile five. I probably would have kept this up, but I took a digger shortly after seeing another girl fall (and yes, I stopped to help). I blame the guy in front of me though! I was attempting to pass, but he had headphones in and couldn’t hear me coming up behind him. As I backed off a bit I wasn’t paying attention and tripped on something – THAT, he did hear and turned around shocked to see I was there, but he did offer assistance. I declined and continued on after shaking off the dust, but my rhythm was broken.

Around mile six I had another distraction that caused me to twist or sprain my ankle on a rock. It wasn’t exactly a twist, more of a hard landing, and awkward placement of my body weight over my foot. It was right around the corner from a crew that was collecting cooling vests that were being demoed to runners. The twist/strain really set me back, and once again broke a good rhythm I was just getting back into from the previous fall.

One of the few "runnable" sections of the trail, which I didn't get the benefit of enjoying because I had just twisted my ankle.

After the ankle issue it took several miles to work out the strain (but still managed a decent pace somehow). I contemplated getting it checked out at the next aid station, but by the time I was there it wasn’t bugging me anymore (although, now it is slightly swollen). It took 2.5+ miles before it was feeling “better”. I did spend just a bit more time in the second aid station, and ate some bananas and chatted with the rangers handing out water as well as other runners. This resulted in one of my slowest splits, but surprisingly not as slow as some of the most heinous sections of the trail.

Miles nine and ten, though slower than the first couple miles were consistent, and didn’t include any walking. It was the best I felt on the entire course. Mile elven and twelve was a couple of the slowest miles on the course (but was expected), due to heinously rocky terrain that was un-runnable by night in my opinion. It was a section I walked during daylight hours just two weeks before. Nobody I was around at this point ran this section.

The nastiest section of trail, around mile 11. Didn't see anybody running this section.

The best part of miles 9-13 was the open sky. Here, you are pretty much at the high point of the course and could see a vast amount of stars. I didn’t do too much gazing though as to keep my feet on the trail and avoid another spill. The last portion of mile 13 is a quick downhill trot into the Gorman Falls area, that then spits you into a steep 3/4 – 1 mile climb up to the Cedar Chopper loop. I spent most of the hill switching between a run and a walk, as to save energy for the gradual uphill portion of the Cedar Chopper loop. Once I topped out the ginormous hill, I knew the next aid station wasn’t far so I kept up a pretty good pace, and just a few hundred yards away from the station I took the worst digger of the night that had my front and back side covered with dirt. My calves also cramped up during the fall, which really freaked me out; because in the past when my calves cramped up I was pretty much done for.

The fall shook my confidence a bit and ruined my rhythm, but I wasn’t hurt to badly and my calves didn’t stay cramped. Another runner who had been behind me for the entire race ended up passing my after the aid station and beat my time by 10 minutes. The third aid station was also super busy, making it difficult to get out quickly. But, having just taken a pretty big spill I wasn’t in a huge hurry to get back on the trail. I also knew the last two or three miles would be flat and if I saved enough energy I could hit those last few miles hard.

I took it easy leaving the third station, as my confidence was shaken and I felt as if I was starting to have stomach problems. The ice I was using to cool my core also felt more upsetting than helpful, so I moved the ice rag to my neck, but rather than feeling refreshing, the ice stung the back of my neck, so I ditched the ice and just wrapped the bandana itself around my neck. I had a love hate relationship with that bandana throughout the race, I even dropped it a couple times and had to stop to pick it up.

Mentally I had trouble the last two (flat) miles, despite striving hard to conserve energy to hit them hard (on top of that, “conserving energy” resulted in my slowest split of the night). I kept telling myself, you can run two miles hard without walking – just do it. But every 1/6 mile or so I caught myself walking. I also kept wondering when I was going to break out into the home stretch… the final .8 miles of gravel road to the finish line.

Rather than leaving my GPS alone, I kept looking at it to see how close I was. I really should have just buckled down and RAN the entire thing. I did however, manage to run the last .8 miles without stopping, but did slow down a bit towards the end. I also ended with what might be the worst race photo ever. As I crossed the line I looked down to turn off my GPS, so in my finish line photo I’m looking down, rather than high and proud!

I ended up crossing the line at 4:25, just .25 minutes short of my 4-hour goal. It was a somewhat soft goal though, but something I knew I could achieve. I have found trail running to be a humbling experience. When I used to run half marathons I always met my time goal, and I always got faster, and I was MUCH faster on roads. In my road racing days I would always finish in the top 25%. This time, I was pretty much dead center of the pack. I feel as though my progress in trail running is much slower than what I was able to achieve on roads.

My wife was very encouraging about my finish though. She kindly reminded me that very few people will even consider doing what I did that night. So, I should still hold my head high and be proud. Another thing I came to realize this morning on my run is that life is changing, and I may never be as fast as I used to be, or in as good of shape. But, I think I’m ok with that. I’m about to have my first child, and once she is born life will take on an even different dynamic.

As I get older the things that are important to me are changing. Spending time with my wife, and soon, my daughter are more important to me now than how fast I can finish a race or how hard I can climb. I will always have that competitive nature in me, but perhaps I should be content with being a middle of the pack runner (most people will never even get off the couch). I may never improve (although I likely will), but in the grand scheme of life, time spent investing in my family is far more important than finishing front of the pack.