Monday, February 1, 2010

Bandera 100K - A Shot At Redemption

After completing my first 100 miler (Wasatch 100) in September, I had been riding a big high both physically and mentally as I prepared for Bandera.  All of my runs seemed easy, my legs almost always fresh.  I had extra motivation, as I had DNF’d at my only previous attempt in the 100K (2008).  I can’t remember feeling this good about a race at any point since I’ve been running ultras.  Everything just felt right.

            My alarm went off at 3:45, and we drove to meet Tony, Chris, and Domingo at the Exxon station to carpool out to the Hill Country State Natural Area.  Discussion the previous week had centered around the weather.  Forecasts were calling for near-record lows, and none of us were used to running in this type of weather.  I love running in the cold, but 8 degrees at the start of this year’s Bandera 100K was REALLY cold, even by my standards.  What should we wear???  I opted for shorts with leg warmers (kind of like tights), a warm hat, c few layers of shirts, and a sweatshirt.  We arrived at the park, picked up our race packets, and huddled in Chris’ truck to stay warm before the start.  About 5 minutes before 7:30, we headed to the start line.




Joe counted us down, and at 7:30 we hit the trail for the first (of 2) 50K loops.  I knew we had some flat running before we hit the first climb up to Sky Island, so I settled into a comfortable pace and tried to stay warm.  My goal was to run a 7 hour first loop and an 8 hour second loop, getting me to the finish line in my goal of 15 hours.  Soon we started up Big Nasty, over to Sky Island.  As is the case in most ultra races, things tend to be very slow-moving on the early climbs.  Not wanting to go out too hard, I was content to stay in line behind the others and not pass yet.  Up and around Sky Island and then down and over to the base of Ice Cream Hill.  Along the way I decided to drink some of my Hammer Perpetuem, but I soon found out that leaving the bottle out of the car for 15  minutes had frozen the top, so I had to unscrew the cap and drink it.  It was more of a slushee consistency, which was actually really good.  Nutritionally, my plan was to carry a handheld bottle full of Perpetuem and drink it between aid stations (between 4.25 – 5.5 miles) for the first loop, switching to gels and solids on the second loop.  Ice Cream Hill came and went with no problem, and soon we could hear the music from the Nachos aid station (mile 5.6). 


Nachos to Chapas (Mile 11)


            Since my wife (Cindy) had decided to make a day (and night) of it and drive out for the start, I planned to limit my time spent at aid stations by having her meet me with anything I would need.  I quickly ditched my sweatshirt and warm hat and changed out bottles of Perp, and off I went up trail 7.  These quick transitions would be huge for me all day, as I might have spent 2 minutes total at aid stations the entire first loop.  The next section starts with a little climb and has a few rollers, but there is also some very runnable terrain.  The climbs are very gradual, probably something I could run if I didn’t have 55 miles still left in the race.  I ran (walked) into Arne Espe just past the park entrance, and we chatted briefly about what a nice day for running it was turning out to be.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun was warming things up (to the high 30’s/low 40’s).  I glanced at my Garmin and was a little concerned because I was running faster than I had planned, but I felt good and just tried to stay comfortable.  Soon I was pulling into Chapas aid station at mile 11, where Cindy and her mom were waiting. 


Chapas to Crossroads (Mile 16.89)


            After a quick switch of bottles, I was off again, headed for the first (of 2) stops at Crossroads on the first loop.  This section is very runnable if conditions are dry, which they certainly were on this day.  When Chris and I had run Bunmart (31 mile “fun run”) a month earlier, this section had been a sloppy, muddy mess.  Today was just the opposite.  I again settled into a comfortable (but faster than expected) pace and began chatting with a runner from Austin named Denver.  He was going to attempt his first 100 miler in June out in San Diego, and we talked about our running experiences.  Before I knew it, we were crossing the road and approaching the aid station.  I had planned on listening to my iPod for this section, but I enjoyed having someone to talk to, and it really helped pass the time. 


Crossroads to Crossroads (Mile 21.85)


            I changed out of my long-sleeve top and put on a short-sleeve shirt at Crossroads (mile 16.9), changed out my empty bottle for a fresh Perpetuem, and I was off.  Denver was still inside the aid station tent up when I left, so I took out my iPod to keep me company.   The first mile or so is very runnable, and since I was still feeling good, I pushed the pace a little.  As I approached the 3 Sisters, I thought back to the 2008 Bandera 100K, where the heat did me in, especially climbing up and over the Sisters.   It was time for redemption.  I felt fine this time around (what a difference the weather and 2 years of training will make) and cruised through this section and back to Crossroads aid station (mile 21.85).


Crossroads to Last Chance (Mile 26.1)


            As I was changing out bottles of Perp, I heard a familiar voice say hello.  It was Paul Baltutis, a friend who is mostly responsible for getting me into running 7 years ago.  I later learned that he had gone into work and then decided to drive out to Bandera since it was such a nice day.  It just happened that he pulled up right as I was passing through.  He’d never run Bandera, so I had the pleasure of introducing him to the nastiest (in my opinion) climb in the park, Lucky Peak.  Before you reach Lucky, you are treated to a couple miles of nicely wooded, relatively smooth trail.  That soon ends as you hit the rocks and start the short, but gnarly ascent up Lucky.  Imagine the steepest hill you’ve seen, then throw a few tons of loose rocks onto it.  That’s basically what running (walking for me) up Lucky is like.  The real treat is going down the other side, which I find is harder than climbing to the top.  Before we hit Lucky, Denver and another runner caught up with us.  We chatted off and on for the next few miles.  Soon we arrived at Last Chance aid station (26.1), where I talked with Amanda McIntosh while another friend (Edgar) refilled my bottle with water. 

Last Chance to Lodge (Mile 31)


After less than a minute at Last Chance, Paul and I headed out for the final segment of my first loop.  About 1/2 mile out of the aid station, you come to the turn for Cairn’s Climb. I told Paul he could turn around and run 5 minutes back to the Lodge or continue on with me, but I warned him that once we started the climb we he would be “stuck” for another 4 miles of Bandera fun.  He decided to go for it, so off we went up Cairn’s.  After a steep climb, you are treated to some nice running along the ridge.  Since Paul had never had to navigate the Bandera rocks before, I was able to pull away and pick up the pace down to the bottom, where I ran to the next (and last) climb, Boyle’s Bump.  I knew I had just over 2 miles left on this loop, and I had pacers waiting at the Lodge, so I quickly hiked to the top of Boyle’s and enjoyed the rocky descent down the backside.  Once at the bottom, I made a quick turn and headed for the Lodge (mile 31).  My first loop was done, and I had completed it in 6:12, about 30-40 minutes faster than I had planned.  This was either really good or really bad.  Only time (and 31 more miles) would tell.



Lodge to Nachos (Mile 36.6)


At the Lodge, I re-filled my water bottle, grabbed a turkey and avocado wrap, and headed out with my first pacer Denny (he would pace me later too).  I tried to shove down half of my turkey wrap, but it wasn’t too easy.  Up to this point, my stomach had cooperated, but as is the case with most any race over 50K I do, there comes a time when my stomach revolts.  At least I was expecting this and wasn’t too concerned.  Climbing up Sky Island and Ice Cream Hill proved much tougher the second time around.  In addition to a sour stomach, my legs felt a little weak. I knew the problem was simple – I needed to eat, but as anyone who has run an ultra will tell you, this isn’t always an easy problem to solve.  You know you need to eat, but nothing sounds good.  Luckily I had Denny there to help, and he forced me to eat the second half of my turkey wrap (thanks Denny).  This seemed to help (once I choked it down), and we were able to run the last mile into Nachos aid station (mile 36.6), where I would pick up my next pacer, Joe.


Nachos to Chapas (Mile 42)


            I had planned on ditching the handheld bottle for my Ultimate Direction pack at this point, but things were working well, and I didn’t really want to add the extra weight of a pack onto my back, so I stuck with my single handheld.  My stomach was better but not great, so Joe had me eat half a pb&j sandwich, which almost became an offering to the trail gods.  I had to stop and bend over in the hopes of not throwing up.  Satisfied that I wasn’t going to puke (yet), I trudged along.  Joe also encouraged me to keep popping Hammer Endurolytes to ease my stomach acidity.   We were able to trot some sections and walk others.  With about a mile to go, I choked down part of a gel and didn’t want to immediately throw up – progress I guess.  All I could think about for the next few minutes was the cup of chicken noodle soup I planned on eating at Chapas.  Soup saved my race at Wasatch, and I have been hooked ever since.  We rolled into Chapas (mile 42), over an hour ahead of my projected pace.  So far I was managing to hold things together, but I still had 20 miles to go. 


Chapas to Crossroads (Mile 47.89)


            Denny took over the pacing duties from Joe, and off we went (with cup of soup in hand).  We walked for a few minutes while I let my soup settle, and I began to feel better.  As was the case at Wasatch, soup seemed to be the magic elixir for me.  Denny encouraged me to run a little, and I noticed that my legs actually felt good.  My stomach had settled down, so we were able to make up even more ground on this (relatively) flat section, and I also managed to eat a Hammer bar along the way.  We passed a couple runners, which was a huge morale boost, and were soon rolling into Crossroads aid station (mile 48), where I grabbed a cup of chicken noodle soup and some roasted potatoes.


Crossroads to Crossroads (Mile 52.85)


            Jeff was my next pacer, and we’d never met before.  On a side note, what a cool sport ultra running is!  Where else could you find someone willing to run 14+ miles (at night) on tough terrain with a guy you’ve never met.  Yet another reason to love this sport.  Joe was feeling good, so he decided to tag along for the first couple miles (at least that was the plan).  I was shocked at how great my legs felt.  Hadn’t I already run 48 miles?  How could I feel so good?  I was able to run all of the flat sections and even some of the more gradual climbs.  We hit the Sisters as the sun was almost below the horizon.  What a beautiful sight! So beautiful that Joe decided to keep going.  Climbing over the Sisters a final time, I tried to soak in the views and enjoy the moment.  At the bottom of the last Sister, I finally had to turn on my headlamp and handheld.  Based on my estimated splits, I had anticipated needing my lights much earlier in the race.  I was surprised to have made it this far without them.  A couple sneaky climbs and one fast descent, and we were back for one final stop at Crossroads (mile 52.85). 


Crossroads to Last Chance (57.10)


            After changing into a dry top and jacket (losing the sun made it much colder), I snagged a cup of soup and some potatoes to munch on as Jeff and I headed out.  We were able to run (more of a jog) most sections (Jeff was great about keeping me moving), and having Jeff to talk to was helpful.  We chatted for awhile and even passed a few runners.  One runner we passed looked like he was really struggling.  We asked if he was okay, and he replied that his hands were freezing (he was wearing gloves).  I had some hand warmers that I bought but never used, so I gave them to him and wished him luck.  We cruised through the wooded section and were soon climbing Lucky Peak for the last (thankfully) time.  Running at night can be a blessing or a curse.  You can’t see the top of the climbs, so on the one hand you can’t tell how bad it is (which helps), but you also have no idea if you are ever going to see the end of it.  Luckily, we did ultimately see the end of it and made our way (slowly) over the other side and into Last Chance aid station (mile 57).  I grabbed 2 cups of soup and headed out as quickly as possible.


Last Chance to Finish (Mile 62)


            We walked the first few minutes as I finished my soup and were soon at the turn to head up Cairn’s Climb.  For some reason this climb seemed much steeper and longer than it had earlier in the day, but we managed to get to the top.  It was around this time that my Garmin (actually, it was Vince’s Garmin since mine died the night before) finally ran out of battery.  I made it nearly 60 miles before it stopped, which was more than I had anticipated.  Since I was using my watch to monitor my hydration (every 15 minutes throughout the day), I now had to rely on Jeff to tell me when it was time to take a drink.  Up and over Cairn’s, across to Boyle’s, and up the final climb of the race.  Once we got to the top, I felt great and told Jeff I was going to try to pick up the pace.  His light had run out of batteries, so he was gingerly picking his was down the tricky slope.  Knowing I was almost done, I felt like I was flying down Boyle’s faster than I had ever done in any training run.   I crossed the finish line feeling like could have run another 20 miles.  My legs felt great.  Had I really just run 62 miles?  I looked up at the clock and was stunned – 13:31:18.  I had beaten my goal by nearly an hour and a half. 


Post Race Thoughts


Looking back on the race, I am still amazed at how great my body felt (with the exception of a 10 mile stretch when my stomach was fussy) the entire day.  Everything that could have gone right did.  The weather was perfect (for me).  Cindy got me in and out of aid stations faster than I could have imagined.  Joe, Jeff, and Denny (and Paul for an unofficial stretch) were amazing pacers, pushing me to run more than I thought I could.  I think a huge piece of the puzzle for me was my mental state of mind leading up to and during the race.  I was more excited about this race than any other I’ve run.  I knew my training had been great and was ready to take on the challenge.  I never imagined I would run faster than 14:30, but things seemed to come together perfectly.  I truly felt like I could have run another loop.  Even if my day had ended differently, being out on the trails is a perfect way to spend a Saturday.  I was pleased with the way my Brooks Cascadias held up on the Bandera rocks, and my Injinji toe socks kept my feet blister free.  I can’t wait for the next challenge.