The second annual Sky Island trail race was held on Saturday in the beautiful Davis Mountains State Park. About 150 lucky trail runners made the long drive to west Texas for this sold out race. The hills were a bit more green this year and the temperature a little cooler.
Spectrum Trail Racing is about to start their third year of operations and they put on a great event, as usual. The courses for the 25K and 50K used 3 different loops that started and finished in the center of the State Park. With the 2 events starting at the same time, but on different loops, it was a bit complex, but easily handled by Spectrum, their ace volunteers, and the EDS timing pro Jorge Guevera. All of the loops were expertly marked, there was only one point where a few of us got confused and had to stop to make sure we had the right path. The smooth operation was all the more impressive since it was the early morning after a night of thunder, rain, and wind.
Most of the racers camped at the park the night before, with some staying in hotels or rentals in Fort Davis or Alpine. We all toed the line at 6:30, headlamps ready, maybe the tent campers a bit more bleary-eyed after a windy and rainy night.
The 25K field was stacked with fast runners. I ran the 50K and we passed, going opposite directions, the 25K leaders when they still had ~5 miles to go. Mike Kurvach had a small lead over Justin Wendling, with several other runners close behind. Kurvach really hammered the next section, the Indian Lodge Loop, which features a long and technical climb followed by a fast downhill, first on loose rock, then with the last 1/2 mile on the road to the finish. Kurvach was the winner, in 2:05, with Wendling about 5 minutes back. Taylor Collins was third in 2:11.
The women’s 25K was also fast, with the top 2 from last year again in the field. The order was reversed this year, with Cate Barrett winning in 2:34. Kate Leugers, making the trip from Provo UT, was second in 2:39. Dawn McElvain was third in 2:40.
The 50K women’s race was not as close. Chris Kimbrough, making her ultramarathon debut, ran away from the other women, finishing in 5:51, good enough for 4th place overall. Kate Motsko was second in 6:32 (she crossed the line just behind me, looking like she could have run another 50K). Jessica Head was third in 6:50.
Chris Kimbrough, a close friend, and I emailed about her race:
Armadillo Running: This was your first ultra, with big hills and lots of technical trails, and you did amazingly well. Did you like it?
Chris Kimbrough: I loved it. I was so nervous going into it. I wasn’t quite sure if I had trained well enough for it, both mileage wise and hills. I had done a lot of big weekends, long runs back to back, but not over 20. I did do an ultra relay race in Bend Oregon 6 weeks before at altitude and I ran in Montana for two weeks this summer but not a lot of hill work in Austin. Just HEAT!
The night before the race we had a huge thunderstorm come thru the campsite so no sleep for me. I was really tired at the start, but seemed to wake up as the sun came up. It was such a beautiful run. I hooked up with Paul Rademacher for the first 20+ miles and that was super helpful. We talked the whole time and I really enjoyed having his company. I was a little concerned about nutrition, but really had no issues of dehydration or lack of energy. I guess the Oreos and Tailwind did it for me. I might try a better diet on the next one. Overall though it was a great first experience and definitely one I will do again and again!
AR: Do you plan on doing more trail races over the next year or so? What road races?
Chris Kimbrough: I’d really like to become a serious ultra runner in the future. I think it’s a great place for me. I love trails and I love the environment. Super great people with so much excitement for adventure. I’m looking at the Spectrum races throughout the next year and planning on doing some of them. I’m also going to race Boston this year so that will be a big focus. But after that I may become a avid trail runner!
The men’s 50K was a 2-man race from the start, with Steven Moore and Brandon Ostrander leaving the rest of us behind immediately. Moore is a veteran of dozens of ultras, most recently finishing the challenging Hardrock 100 in Colorado. He and Ostrander ran together for almost the entire 50K, with Ostrander finally running away at the end to win in 4:50, a new course record. Moore was just a minute back, also beating his course record of 5:05 from last year. Gergo Perlaky was third in 5:30. (I was a distant 8th place in 6:31.)
Both Moore and Ostrander described their day as fun, challenging, and full of sportsmanship. Moore said, between sips of a camo-Lonestar, “we were playing chess out there.”
Ostrander and I emailed about his race:
Armadillo Running: First, tell us about your running background.
Brandon Ostrander: I walked before I started distance running and my mom gets all the credit. Late in my eighth-grade year, I was a Domino’s-eating video-game child with a weight problem and low self-esteem. That spring, my mom invited me to walk laps with her around my future high school’s track. I reluctantly joined her in those humid Houston evenings. By the end of summer, I was running eight laps and unrecognizable to several of my colleagues on the first day of freshman year. I would eventually join the Cypress Falls track and cross country teams to have above-average, but otherwise unremarkable results. In college, I decided to narrow my focus on intense social studies and by graduation, the side effects reverted me back to my pre-high school shape. By this time, I made a decision to move to Austin based on the need to live in a fitness-minded community. When I arrived in Austin in 2007, I was running for an hour on the treadmill. By the fall of 2009, I ran my first road marathon. Discovering the trails is another drawn out story, but like the rest of my running journey, it was meant to happen.
AR: What other ultras have you run?
Brandon Ostrander: Here are some of my most memorable:
Cactus Rose 100 2013
Nueces Trail Run 2013
Grand Canyon R2R2R 2014
The one I did a few days ago…
Not Ultra’s but notable:
I played a trail runner in an 80s throwback horror short film.
I took a 3-month sabbatical exploring Colorado’s trails and 14er’s during the summer of 2014.
AR: The Sky Island course is quite technical, with lots of climbing. How did you train for this challenge?
Brandon Ostrander: I did a lot of training on the road this summer. My girlfriend and I got a puppy in May and it presented a unique lesson in time management. I think I was able to go into this race confidently because I’m pretty habituated to Central Texas trails. I once ran the Goodwater loop twice during my Cactus Rose 100 training. While I would have preferred to run more trails this summer, it’s nice to have some “hard-wired” experience.
AR: You and Steven left the rest of the field early on and ran together for most of the race. Who was stronger on the climbs? Who was faster on the downhills? Who had the best stories?
Brandon Ostrander: Let’s just say there were times it felt like my eyeballs were going to the back of my skull while trying to keep up with Steven late in the climbs. I think my minimalist shoes gave me an edge in negotiating the technical descents, but I was really feeling the toll they were inflicting on my body by mile 23.
Steven always has the best stories because he’s the only Ultra runner I know who can tell a lengthy story while he’s racing! He asked me how this and that was and I could barely reply with a three-word sentence. He always had enough breath to give some encouraging words to our fellow Sky Islanders. Such a nice guy.
AR: You ended up beating Steven by almost a minute, a gap you created just in the last couple of miles. Tell us about that last section, the second time on the Skyline Loop.
Brandon Ostrander: At this point, I was power hiking behind Steven and feeling pretty trashed. However, I had one last wild hair left in the tank. With the few brain cells I had remaining, I analyzed the trail for a section I could navigate myself up front to without interrupting Steven’s stride. I let out my intent to Steven and then began running like hell it until it was over.
On a more personal level, Sky Island was more like an adventure shared with a friend and mentor rather than a race. Steven kept me accountable and I am most humbled and grateful for that day out in West Texas.
Congratulations to both Brandon and Steven, what a race!
Andy Bitner, who finished 8th in the men’s 25K, sent me his list of observations about Sky Island:
- Checking the weather forecast 3 days out and not looking at it again is unwise.
- When in doubt, put down guy lines for your tent.
- Midnight wind storms don’t slow down Spectrum.
- Trailers are worth the gas to tow them when there is a thunderstorm.
- Trail runners don’t actually need tents. (the Mike Kurvach rule)
- Midnight thunderstorms are a totally a fair trade for great racing weather the next morning.
- When you are way ahead of goal pace 2/3rds of the way through a race, there is probably some crazy hill just ahead.
- It’s totally okay to walk up said crazy hill.
- Chris Kimbrough actually does get nervous before races.
- When Steven Moore prepares a duck, he uses everything but the quack.
- Lone Star comes in camo cans during hunting season.
- Trail runners have better post-race stories than road runners.
- There are right and wrong ways to carry dead animals. (the Jason Brooks corollary)
- If you decide to quit the race, keep your chip handy for a while in case you change your mind. Or if it is changed for you. (the Paul Rademacher rule)
- If you’re not sure you brought enough beer, you definitely need to get more beer.
Thanks again to Spectrum and their volunteers, it was a great weekend. Full results are here.
The CASA Superhero 5K was held on Sunday on a course split between the Domain and the nearby IBM facility. CASA is such an excellent organization, they provide support for abused or neglected children through often difficult and complex legal proceedings. My wife, Katara LaBrie, is a CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate), and she has helped many children and families over the years. Nearly 300 people ran in the 5K, many in the costume of their favorite superhero.
The women’s winner was Cortnie Klingzell in 19:18, followed by Chelsea Hanson in 19:44 and Jacquieline Ramos in 19:45. The men’s winner was Brian Morton in a blazing 15:44. JT Sullivan was just 9 seconds back, with Matt McCurdy third in 16:26.
My friend Eduardo Loera, running his first 5K race in many years, emailed me his thoughts:
The CASA 5K had a festive mood surrounding it. People were dressed up as super heroes to support the cause. Families, dogs, solo runners all lined up to take off on the 5K track around the Domain Central Park. The race itself allowed runners out front with families, dogs and walkers taking off after runners. It was a well organized race with water stations along the 5K route.
Just one entry this week for Flatlanders Doin’ Werk: Pam Harght of the Austin Trail Running Company ran the IMTUF 100 in Idaho. This event has nearly 22,000 feet of climbing over 102 miles. Pam finished in 31:51.
Michael Wardian won another long race, this time a marathon inside Fenway Park. Wardian finished in 2:53.
Just a couple weeks after he finished second at UTMB, Kilian Jornet ran in and won another difficult mountain race. Competing in the Glen Coe Skyline run in Scotland, a 55K with nearly 16,000 feet of climbing, Jornet won and set a new course record. Coverage by iRunFar. I’d love to do this race someday. The Glen Coe area of Scotland is stunning, with dozens of mountains, miles of trails, interesting history, and distilleries.
Kilian Jornet’s main sponsor is Salomon, a great trail running shoe and apparel company. They have a series of cool videos with basic trail running, training, and racing techniques.
I liked this story from Runner’s World on non-traditional running groups. Does Austin have anything similar?
The Berlin Marathon is this Sunday and it should be exciting. Here’s how Mario Fraioli of The Morning Shakeout describes it:
So, it’s with giddy anticipation that I await this Sunday’s Berlin Marathon where three of the greatest marathoners in history—Eliud Kipchoge, Wilson Kipsang and Kenenisa Bekele—will duke it out with one another on the world’s fastest ratified course and give chase to Dennis Kimetto’s 2:02:57 world record. Will they get it? I don’t know, and I almost don’t care. I just want to see what happens after the pacers step off the course at around 30K or so.
A couple of my Austin friends and training buddies will be in the field, a bit back from Kipchoge, but still fast. Matt Mara and Farshid Parandian will ably represent Austin on this fast course.
Also on Sunday is the 35th Schlotzsky’s Bun Run. This 5K is up at the Domain. I don’t know if the course will be similar to that of the CASA Superhero run from last week.