A Belated Valentine for A Motivational Award

As someone who’s signed up for a race based on the medal/charm/cool jacket/belt buckle, I have to laugh at this “instant gratification” cartoon. Basically, it’s poking fun at runners who are fixated on the swag.


For some, participating in events can be all about the stuff:  wearing the race T-shirt, adding another medal to the collection, getting that M-dot tattoo. But I wanted to share about some very special swag from a slightly different slant–as motivation for its creator.

Finding Capt’n Karl Trail Races

When I first came ’round to trail running back in 2005, I made a point to register for as many events as possible. Trail races were relatively cheap (at least, back then), especially when  examined on a cost-per-mile basis. Throw in a cold beverage, and few things beat sitting around the finish, shooting the shit, and enjoying some tasty post-event  food with buddies after a good, hard run.

I’d have to go back through my logs to pinpoint when exactly my first of the Capt’n Karl’s Trail Series races occured but, at that point, they were daytime runs. What does stand out clearly in my memory, however, is the award: a unique, hand-drawn, framed work of art depicting a lighthouse. The award made me curious: just who was this Capt’n Karl, why a nautical theme for a land race, and how could I ever win one?

Not being particularly swift of foot, I typically observe awards as they are being presented to others, especially at a trail run. When I first started running, I devoted considerable energy to chasing age group awards; I did snag a couple, primarily because consistently I put myself out there, competing at road races of all distances. I learned that, if you love to compete and do so often enough, sometime, somewhere, the odds will fall in your favor.

Fast forward to 2012. Looking for a good magazine story, I decided to revisit the Capt’n Karl’s series, now a night run, from a writer’s point of view. In interviewing the race director, Brad Quinn, I learned about the origins of the race (here’s that article: “Trail Runners Take on the Dark Side with Capt’n Karl’s Race Series”) but what touched me most was the story behind the awards. Each year, Eloise Lembke has created them as a tribute to her husband Karl, the race’s namesake (Quinn is Lembke’s son-in-law, married to Karl and Eloise’s daughter Nyla). Capt’n Karl died six weeks after the very first race, succumbing to cancer at the age of 70; the nautical theme relates back to his love of sailing. What started out as a fun way to honor an outdoorsy kind of guy turned into a moving annual tribute.

Labors of Love Provide Inspiration

Last summer, I was struggling with my running. Work had demanded I give up any semblance of serious training, but a friend asked if I’d help her prepare for her first 50K. We devised a schedule that piggy-backed off the Capt’n Karl’s series; we’d start with the 10K and work our way up, increasing mileage with each race.

Well, you know what they say about best-laid plans. My friend had to miss runs and races, and we abandoned the 50K goal. But at the first run, I discovered the fun to be had in short distance. I signed up for the rest of the 10K races in the series, challenging myself to finish before dark. At the third, I was shocked to win a Masters award. The completely unanticipated honor totally thrilled me. I cried and smiled most of the drive home, excitedly sharing the experience with my sleepy husband upon my return. At the fourth and final race, I was shocked to receive another award. I proudly hung both on my office wall so I could look at them every day.

Just yesterday, I received an email from Quinn about this year’s upcoming series, and it got me to thinking about those awards.

Thanking an Artist for an Award

It’s not often that we runners have an opportunity to consider, much less thank, those who create the cool stuff that comes with races. Mrs. Lembke, I wonder if you realize just how many people your awards have impacted over the years.

Simply seeing them inspired motivation and curiosity, leading me back as a writer and again as a racer. Learning the story of their loving origin helped shape my positive impression of your family’s event (as well as of the trail-running community in general). Actually receiving them renewed my faith in showing up and doing the best I could on any given day, providing new confidence and some much-needed positive reinforcement.

Looking at those awards on a stressful day brought respite, transporting me back to the peace and beauty found out on single-track trails in the dusk and dark of star-lit Texas nights.

I can only imagine what labor of love goes into every award’s conception and execution. You — and your husband — have touched many lives, especially mine, and we appreciate the gift.

Drawing of two jack rabbits Masters' age group award at Capt'n Karl's Trail Series
Age group and overall awards at the Capt’n Karl’s Nighttime Trail Series are original works of art.
Race shirt, medal, and orignal artwork award for Capt'n Karl's Trail Series
All of the swag from the Capt’n Karl’s Nighttime Trail Series is sweet. I always keep everything.
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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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