2013 Bandera 100k Race Report

Bandera 100k

So close, yet so far

Drip…. Drip… Drip.  The sound of the rain landing outside my cabin’s window woke me up long before I really wanted to rise.  I held out hope the night before we might luck out and there wouldn’t be any rain Friday night, but sadly, no such luck.  Just the first challenge to deal with for the day.  I, my friend Jamie, and his wife, eventually rose and began our pre-race rituals before heading to the park.  We arrived at dark where it was still a light mist of rain, and you could see the line of cars behind, Field of Dreams style.  We got our drop bags together and posted up in the covered area in the lodge.  I couldn’t help but think, This is going to be a long day, and it’s about to get real. Anyone who knows me, knows I don’t like running in the mud.  Rain, I don’t mind.  But mud, or more importantly, going up and down hills, or just running through it for hours on end, is not exactly my ideal condition to run in.  My balance is poor and this course is not exactly for one who lacks good balance, especially when it’s wet.  Bandera’s technical rocky terrain is already challenging enough, the question is, how much tougher is 62 miles of this going to be now that it is soaked?

We started at 730 am on Saturday with some light rain/fog for the first few hours.  I was going OK, and thankfully the first few downhills were dry.  The first flat was already a rough surprise where I quickly learned not to run on the rocks.  That first little flat part had options for you to run in between or on top of the rocks. Well when they were wet I would just slide all over the place and I knew it would end my day early.  Quickly I figured out this race would be more about survival than really trying to achieve a good time.  One wrong footing here, and it could be game over.

The first section wasn’t that bad, but already I could tell my heart rate was running a bit high.  This would continue for the first couple hours.  Probably it was the dense humidity due to the rain, lack of sleep, hadn’t gotten over a cold…?  Who knows, but my body was telling me to slow down but it can be hard in race mode, and I wasn’t even really moving that fast honestly.  But working hard none the less due to the rough conditions.  Made it to the first aid station and didn’t waste much time.  This was where Timothy Olson, who came in to run a nice 50k and drink some beer, blew past us.  He had already run twice as far, crazy.  The second stretch, I don’t remember being too remarkable one way or the other, still wet, humid, and I was working hard but not moving terribly fast.

The third section, somewhere about mile 10-15, is where the mud started.  I learned Bandera has 3 kinds of mud: the slippery mud, cake on your shoes mud, and the shoe sucking mud.  This stretch had a bit of number one and number two types.  This section is really the easiest in terms of the hills and terrain, but the mud changed all that.  There was one open field where it was pretty much impossible for me to run since 5 lbs of mud would cake on your shoes, and then you’d have to try to scrape it off, only to just repeat the process….

Thankfully the mud field ended and I got to crossroads where I had a cup of Gatorade and swear it was the best thing I ever tasted.  No more mud, for now.  Around this time Jamie and I started hiking together.  He hadn’t run at Bandera before, so I told him the next section, which contained the Three Sisters, was “memorable.”  Jamie was having some issues with an injury, and my heartrate had been running high all morning, so I decided to hang with him for a while.  Hiking these hills was just what I needed, as I soon started to recover a bit.  We even took a couple brief breaks on the sisters (and in hind sight… maybe we should have just camped out up there all day?) to enjoy the view, where the fog had now retreated revealing the nice views.  I started feeling a bit better and decided to huff it back in to the crossroads aid station.  It sucks to leave your friend behind, but sometimes you just have to run your own race.

Feeling Better Now

Leaving the crossroads, I started feeling a bit better and could get in a decent amount of actual jogging.  There was a nice flat section, which contained the third mud, the shoe sucking kind.  Luckily I kept my shoes attached to my feet before ascending Lucky’s peak.  It was ascending this beast where I saw the young man who had one prosthetic leg (in case you need any motivation).  His story is way more compelling so I would suggest reading it if you have not, but suffice it to say it was pretty cool passing by him and I wish I could have seen him finish.

I came down Lucky’s and eventually to the next aid station, with ~5 miles to go on the first 31 mile loop.  There were 3 or 4 chatty ladies in front of me, so I decided to hang with them for a bit for some company.  We climbed up Boyle’s Bump and they wanted a picture.  I obliged and told them my price was a 6 pack of beer but all they had were some electrolyte pills.  Anyway, I hung behind them for a bit, just to hear some other folks and have some sort of company.  Climbing up the next hill, the girl’s phone in front of me started going off.  No phone reception around the park… unless you are climbing on top one of these beasts.  Those girls lost me descending off of Cairns, which was really technical given that it was real slippery.  I started getting closer to the start/finish to end the first loop and was feeling pretty rough.  31 miles down and now 31 more to go.  I had spent 8 hours on the first loop, which was real slow, even for me.  I knew even in a best case scenario, it would probably take me at least 10 more hours to finish the 2nd half.

The 2nd loop

I needed some food and luckily Amy was done with her race and nearby to thankfully help me out.  I plopped down in a chair and started inhaling some food, garbage disposal style.  2 or 3 bowls of ramen, a honey stinger waffle, a couple cups of coke, banana, pretzels, and I don’t know what else.  Felt like I had been eating enough but apparently not.  While I was sitting down refueling, the winner of the race, Sage Cannaday, ran in and finished.  Dude had just run twice as far, twice as fast!  Damn.  Well, I guess I oughta get up outta here.  Eating and the long break helped, and now that I had only 1 loop left, it was a huge mental lift.  The enormity of the conditions and distance had been a burden the first loop, but with half of it done, I felt a lot better beginning the 2nd half and overall felt fine.  Just run aid station to aid station and finish it.

The first task at hand was getting in as much as I could before nightfall, where I knew I would slow down.  I was doing OK the first section, but definitely slower than the first (31 miles ago….).  Made it to the first aid station who had wonderful volunteers (they all were great) and refilled with at least 2 or 3 cups of ramen.  They said they would start charging on the next cup, and I had refueled enough, so I got out of there before probably just before dusk.  I am pretty sure I consumed more ramen in this race than I have in the rest of my life, combined.

Anyway, it was getting dark but my legs were still feeling pretty decent, all things considered.  I didn’t see too many runners around this point, but eventually caught up with another runner, Amy.  We hiked together for a while and came to the conclusion we’d probably like some company to descend all the nasty hills in the rain and dark, and decided to stick together.  So we hiked and hiked, and kept up a pretty good pace.  I wanted to run… but the combination of mud and the technical trails was just too hard.  It was real nice to have some company and chat away, one of the great things about the sport.

You know you’re an ultrarunner… if you don’t finish the race on the same day as the winner

I refrained from doing math (you try after you’ve been running for 12+ hours) but eventually figured we would finish on Sunday AM going at this pace—whoa!  No mind, we seemed to be in good spirits and good condition.  I even felt like running, just the conditions were holding me back.

In the section leading to crossroads, the mud field, we briefly got lost for almost a mile extra.  This was maybe the longest stretch, so by the time we rolled in to crossroads, I was hungry and really looking forward to it.  The temperature had cooled off from the mugginess from the morning, but right about now is where it started getting a tad bit windy.  We left crossroads after a decent break (some day I’ll learn to make quick aid station visits…) and headed back out to the 3 sisters.

Around this time is when the cold front rolled in.  We were climbing up these hills, and gusts probably 20-30 mph were coming through frequently, and the temperature was quickly dropping to the 30’s… felt like the windchill was getting into the 20’s. Temperature must have dropped 20+ degrees in less than an hour.  This area also coincided with where my heartrate started acting unusual. It would spike for a couple seconds, then go back to normal.  No other symptoms of anything, or any other correlation I could figure out. But it was a bit concerning after it kept repeating again and again, so I pretty much made up my mind I would drop when I got back to the Crossroads aid station.  Pretty much just like that…. My race was over.

The End

I told the medical guy, but he didn’t offer much of an explanation since there’s not much to diagnose.  I sat at the A/S to think things over a bit more, and now the wind was whipping up real good, sending the tarp surrounding our little oasis flying.  Amy was waiting there for me this time, and decided I should wait in the car since it was so cold out here and now I wasn’t moving any more my temp would drop too.   In the car, I went from an uncontrollable shiver back to a much better warm state (thankfully no picture of me in several layers of clothing/blanket and wearing mine and Amy’s cap… and very thankful she was there to help me out).  Could hear the wind all around the car… and now that I stopped, I knew there was really no way to go back out in the cold.  With only 9 more miles left it go, it was pretty disappointing to make it that far, to put in all that training, and struggling through the course all day, to end it like that.

9 more miles going up those remaining 3 hills in the dark…cold…wind, tired, to finish off a 62 mile race, it would have made for an epic story.  Hope I can return back next year and tell that story.

I guess I should have felt more pride about going the farthest I’ve ever gone, 54 miles, for the longest time, 16+ hours, 5000+ ft going up and down those hills, when most runners (and most sane people) probably would have quit after mile 1.  These 54 miles honestly felt twice as hard as the 50 miles at Cactus Rose (where I finished and felt like I had plenty left in the tank), so it certainly was a challenging day.  But I came there to finish 62 and get the buckle – guess I’ll just have to get stronger for next time.  And the likely issue was an simply an electrolyte imbalance/deficiency.  Now, in my professional life I can make the space shuttle fly and train astronauts… but eating in an endurance event is too just too complicated?? It makes no sense!  Hopefully one day I can figure it all out…. Not much reward if it’s easy, no?