2011 Bandera 50k Race Report

The 2011 Bandera 50k was my second time running the course which served a couple purposes for me: it was a training run for my first 50 mile race (the Rocky Raccoon) and I could also compare how my training had improved since last year. Last year it was only the 2nd 50k or marathon I’d done at that time, and I finished in 7:35 and that was enough for me to remember it was a tough course. This year my goal, which I thought was a reasonable one, was to finish under 7 hours. Now all I had to do was run and see what happened.

A coworker joined me, we met up with some other Houston HTRex runners at the start, and soon enough we were off on our adventure. The starting temperature was somewhere around 38 degrees, but it didn’t feel very cold. The four of us stuck mostly together for a good while and I felt pretty good—it was almost like a Saturday morning run. The first 3 hills, Cairn’s Climb, Boyle’s Bump, and Sky Island weren’t that bad. I just hiked up them and it was evident this would have been much more difficult on tired legs, so I was somewhat grateful they were at the beginning of the course. The views atop these first 3 hills were phenomenal too and gave you a panoramic view of much of the park. Soon we finished Ice Cream Hill, which was the 4th of the big hills, and now were into the “flat” portion. There were no shortage of rocks through this part of the course but I didn’t mind it too much since I was still fresh. Some of them were even fun to jump from rock to rock if they were big and flat enough. Other sections were much more technical and required much more careful footwork. To be a trail runner here, you have to have mastery of quick jabs of your foot to pick the best spots. One of the most gnarly sections, in my opinion, was along the powerline, a little downhill section with a ton of technical rocks. It was kind of fun but it surely took the energy out of you. After running this course, you have a new appreciation for running (or not running) on rocks. I have no idea how many I ran over past but am sure it numbers in the thousands of all sizes, shapes, and colors.

Breezed through the second aid station at Nachos and was still feeling pretty good. I could tell from my watch that my pace was a bit ahead of schedule so I decided to start walking a bit more frequently. Soon we rolled into the halfway point at Chapas and looked at my watch and it was 2:57. Whoa! I better slow down, I’m going way too fast. At Rocky Raccoon 50k, I ran the first half in 2:52, and now I’m basically running the same pace? This course was much tougher and I had a bad feeling I was going way too hard. But on the other hand, I felt pretty good–not like I was going at a punishing pace, so I just decided to take it easy for the next few miles before beginning the next hills. Ate some food, replenished my supplies, and I walked off to begin the second half of the course.

This part was flat, but I recalled last year around mile 17 I totally bombed, so I was trying to be conservative with my pace and was much more liberal in my decisions of which parts to walk. Somewhere around this point I started getting warmer, and in hindsight, I should have taken off my long sleeve shirt and cap at the Chapas aid station.  Nevertheless, I continued on, but around this time my mind started going through the exercises of “Why do you sign up to do these things?” I ignored the questions and continued hiking towards the crossroads aid station, enjoying the trail. I ran alongside a fence-line for a while which had on the other side a family taking their 3 kids out for a horse ride, for what I’m sure was a much less strenuous day than we crazy runners were experiencing. Soon after this my body started rebounding and I felt like jogging some. This section began a interval of me playing leapfrog with several runners: first I pass them for a few minutes until I begin walking, and vice versa which probably continued until after the Crossroads aid station. Coming off the fence-line, you run through a field and see the Crossroads aid station, which looks maybe a quarter of a mile away in front of you. I had my GPS watch, so I knew it was more like a mile, and sure enough, the view is but a tease as the trail leads you to the left before continuing back to the aid station. Knowing the race director Joe Prusaitis, I’m pretty sure he does this intentionally to fool the runners 😉

I came into Crossroads and my body temperature felt high. It was a nice day, but running on the trails gets you goin, and there wasn’t much cloud cover, and this section of the trail would be totally exposed to the sun. I removed my long sleeve shirt and cap, which felt great to cool off. I soon set off out of the Crossroads and felt pretty good. I was still ahead of my goal time, but I remembered this part last year, the Three Sisters and #6 trail were really tough: the reprieve from the hills wasn’t lasting much longer. The first mile or so out of the Crossroads wasn’t too bad but I was downing too much water. I had five miles to go back to the Crossroads aid station and was already projecting 2 miles in that I would be running out, and I needed more now. I guess I should have removed some clothing earlier which may have cooled me off, but I had been drinking plenty of water the whole time. Around this time I noticed my hands were red, like they were blushing or something. Thought maybe it was the sun but asked another runner later who said it would go away. OK. Well, back to the trail, which along here also offered some good views, even before you met the Three Sisters. Soon enough the hills started again, and at this point my legs started cramping some and the runners I had not too long ago been playing leapfrog with now passed me. The cramps hadn’t gotten too bad yet but I was worried it would blow up too fast, so I preemptively downed another salt tablet even though I was short on water, which at this point I was rationing with 2+ miles back to the station. This section also announced the return of the plethora of rocks—OK they really are everywhere on this course but it seemed like they went into somewhat of a hibernation before the Crossroads. I also hiked with a 100k runner here from Idaho—he also thought it was hot, but from a different perspective. The high in Idaho was around 20 or 30 so I’m sure the 50-60 degree weather felt like a heat wave to him. Nevertheless, it was somewhat reassuring to hear the other runners were starting to feel the effects of the sun.

I soon reached what I think was the Second Sister, which actually had a flatter portion. I felt strong enough to run some, but my muscles had a different opinion and wanted to cramp some. I continued on through the last sister and onto the #6 trail. On the course profile, it doesn’t look that bad, but I think it was equally as difficult as the three sisters, so I would propose renaming it something like the “stepsister” which would probably be more appropriate. Eventually I reached the last hill, which had a great downhill portion to run and I thankfully returned the Crossroads where I refueled myself: two cups of coke, a quesadilla slice, a couple slices of orange, probably a couple pringles, a couple cups of water, and then I grabbed another quesadilla slice for the road as I walked out. This part was probably the worst I felt all day since I thought I was probably a little dehydrated and cramping. I still was pretty sure I could break 7 hours, but since my GPS was slightly off, and the fact your ability to do math and reason is not great in the middle of an endurance event (this was around mile 26 of this rocky, hilly course), I sort of thought it was a waste of mental energy to think about and decided to just continue on.

The section out of the Crossroads was pretty nice and easy, and meandered a while along a single track for a while. I could run some, but was mixing in a lot of walking too. I came up behind three individuals out for a ride on their horses, but there was nowhere for me to pass. Good thing I wasn’t in much of a hurry, and wanted to walk anyway. I eventually passed them and soon enough one of the HTRex runners rejoined me which was great. I had kind of been going solo since the 25k mark so it was nice to have some company. He reassured me we could break 7 hours even if we crawled, and it was indeed much easier to do math with less than 3 miles left to the finish. He also was gracious enough to keep walking with me. Not sure if he wasn’t also feeling that great, but I think we were also preparing for the last hill monster, Lucky’s Peak. The name is deceiving, because there is not much Lucky about it at all, save for the fact that we 50k runners will essentially be done after it. A few minor hills before Lucky’s, which has to be the steepest one of the whole course. Somehow managed to get up it, so now it’s time to go straight back down, which seemed to resemble a ski slope. Only two portions gave me a whole lot of trouble. One I had to get on my rear end to climb down, and another one, I used a tree branch to guide myself down, but the darn thing burned my hand more a lot than I expected. I forgot all of the fauna talks back to you here! (I had already reached the point hours ago of ignoring all the complaints the sotol cactus had with me getting in their way, and simply accepted the arguments with my body) After going down Lucky’s Peak, I couldn’t imagine doing that on the 100k course, that was difficult enough with only going 30 miles. The 25k runners also got to enjoy it twice which I’m sure was fun.

Finally we got to the bottom which meant we were done with the hard stuff. The trail was now easy and rock free. My HTRex friend made a stop to imbibe at the Last Chance aid station, but I was just ready to get her done since the finish was a half mile away, and I think I managed to still have enough energy to run it under a 9 minute pace. Was really glad to finish, and I managed to finish around 6:34, smashing my finishing time from last year by an hour! If it wasn’t for bombing/stalling on the three sisters/#6 trail, I could have probably chopped off some more time too, but that is something to consider for next time. But I was definitely pleased considering I walked what I thought was a lot and still finished with a very respectable time (for me at least).

I sat down, drank some chocolate milk, ate some peanut butter sandwich slices, half a grilled cheese sandwich, ate some salt and vinegar chips (which I picked up from an obligatory stop at Buc-ees on the way over; as you can tell, ultra races are merely hiking events from one buffet table to the next), and drank a couple glasses of beer and enjoyed the luxury of sitting down after successfully completing another Bandera 50k. Next stop: Rocky Raccoon 50 miler.

Elevation Profile (from TejasTrails)


At the pre-race dinner I was in line and started a conversation with the guy behind me, who turns out to be ultrarunner phenom Dave James. I didn’t know who he was, and hopefully didn’t embarrass myself too much (Me: “So do you have a goal for this race?” Him: “To win.” Me: “Oh.”). I read up on his story after I got home and he seems to have a pretty incredible story. Anyway, he ate dinner with us and seemed like a really nice guy. I also saw Liza Howard at the start and Geoff Roes after I finished, who had to DNF after 50k due to what I am told was sickness.


One Response

  1. […] “At the pre-race dinner I was in line and started a conversation with the guy behind me, who turns out to be ultrarunner phenom Dave James. I didn’t know who he was, and hopefully didn’t embarrass myself too much (Me: “So do you have a goal for this race?” Him: “To win.” Me: “Oh.”).” by ultra.tortoise @ A Trail Runner’s Running Blog […]

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