Saturday, January 7, 2012

Race Report: Bandera 100K

Okay, I don't normally do this, but since I don't have pictures from the race to post (save the buckle picture that's already on Facebook), and it's taking me forever to eat this Whataburger and fries, here's my quick turn-around Bandera 100K race report, straight from the iPhone.

I decided to run Bandera about a week before the race. Since my post-Hellgate training had been so strong (consistent 100-mile weeks, and yoga classes at Charm City Yoga that have been beyond helpful), and Bandera is the USATF Trail 100K National Championships, I figured this was a good opportunity to capitalize on my training, compete with the "big boys," and experience a new place.

My flight to the race was a bit harrowing, as I missed my connection from Detroit to San Antonio, due to general laziness on Delta's part, so I arrived in San Antonio about five hours later than planned. So most of my pre-race tourism consisted of $3.99 all-you-can-eat pancakes at a restaurant in the airport (which Delta paid for), and the requisite 10 minutes of entertainment that the light show in the tunnel between the terminals provided. Once I finally made it to San Antonio, it was off to pick up my red Chevy Aveo, hit up Bike World for Endurolytes (except all they had was Sports Legs, but whatever, placebo effect, at least), and the Dollar Tree for cheap knock-off sports drinks, A&D Ointment, candy of various types, and plastic bags. Then, the one-hour drive to Bandera, mostly in the dark, in heavy traffic, so it took more like an hour and a half. I met with some friends, including Jack Pilla, who had been on my team at Bull Run, and we spent excessive time waiting for overpriced, underwhelming spaghetti (in my case, spicy spaghetti that was hot all the way through, if you catch my drift). Also, I cut my finger on their bathroom lock, which was the most I would bleed during this entire expedition. We eventually finished yakking about running over our cheesecake dessert, and then we were off to car-camp near the start-finish of the race, which seems to be the order of the day at this race. (For the record, the backseat of the Aveo was very comfortable - for a short person like me, anyway, and since I brought my bright-red Hellgate blood blanket, I had matching bedding.)

The alarm went off at 6:16 (because I like to wake up at times that are palindromes), and I put on my clothes, put together my Dollar Tree drop bags, and tidied the car. I picked up my chip and number, used the woods one last time, and lined up at the start five minutes before go-time. Perfect.

For those who didn't do a lot of research about this race (I confess to doing only a little), last year, the front of the pack went out stupid-fast, half of them blew up, and even the winner, Dave Mackey, ran his second loop almost an hour slower than his first. So of course, smart, well-intentioned runners at the front decided not to do that this year - for about five minutes. Then the lead pack started breaking away from me, while I stuck to my plan, which was to run comfortably and consistently, come through the first lap in around 4:30, and then just see how the second lap goes (a plan that I recounted to my lone fellow Maryland competitor, Mike McMonagle, as he passed me). This approach is especially stupid since the first section of the race is rocky and nasty, with some steep climbs, so you have plenty of opportunity to burn yourself out early.

I just kept plugging along, and it wasn't until Crossroads, around 17 miles into the race, that I started passing anybody in my race. At least nobody was passing me. The highlight in the meantime was a volunteer at Aid Station 2, who commented on my Auburn football 2010 National Champions hat. He asked me who I was pulling for on Monday night, and I flatly told him that I had no idea who was playing; I just liked the hat. He responded that he was going to say "WAR EAGLE," because his wife went to Auburn, and I told him that he could still say it, because it's awesome. That hat = best $10 that I ever spent.

Anyway, towards the end of my first loop, my strategy started to really pay off, and I started passing people who had gone out too fast like it was going out of style (yeah, I just dredged that expression up). As I was flying down a steep, rocky downhill, passing a few of the faster women (who were really not enjoying being passed like that), a spectator commented on how awesome I looked, and I told her that it was because I didn't go out crazy-fast like the lead pack did.

I cruised through the start/finish in 4:37ish - pretty spot-on, especially considering that in spite of the frequent markings, the trail was not always obvious, so I slowed a few times to make sure that I wasn't running off-course. I felt pretty good about my chances of throwing down another lap that was just as fast or faster.

Unfortunately, I made my first (and arguably, only) tactical blunder of the race. Rather than refill my pack with water at the start/finish, I decided to wait until the next aid station. Halfway there, I ran out of water. I had to chew an Endurolyte. (They taste terrible.) In an effort not to blow up, I slowed a little, and ended up running this 6-ish mile segment about 6 minutes slower than I had the first time around. Not too bad.

Water refilled, I soldiered on, but the hydration boost hadn't taken full effect yet, so I was outrunning my water. I kept moving forward, but slower than I would have liked, for no apparent reason. Finally, on my way to Crossroads, a blessing in disguise - I was about to pass another runner on a hill, and I put my head down and pushed up the hill. As I came closer, I realized that (1.) the runner was none other than Jack Pilla, and (2) he was flat on his back on the ground - severe cramping had caused him to seize up and fall over. Coincidentally enough, we had been talking the night before the race about how we had both just ended long-term, marriage-bound relationships that had gone bad, and I felt as though, by sharing my experience and thoughts, I was figuratively picking him up. Now I was literally picking him up off the ground, which was difficult, because he was not moving and bodies get heavy when they're like that. I walked with him for a bit, and then, when he started running, I started running again, and before long, I was way ahead of him.

Still, in spite of the break, I was dragging myself into Crossroads, and my stomach was now starting to turn. As they had no Tums, this was going to be a water-and-Endurolyte slog until I could pull myself back together. It got bad enough that one person passed me as I did what felt like sauntering over the rocky, winding trail. Fortunately, due to patience, and a number of super-secret yoga tricks that I am paying far too much to learn to discuss here (except to say that in a lot of ways, yoga and ultrarunning are very similar disciplines), I pulled myself back together, and started running again. I even passed that guy back.

And now that I was through the last truly difficult section of the race, it was a cruise to the end, especially now that it was cooler, and as the temperature dropped, my stomach improved further. I had plenty of legs left, so I gave the last two sections whatever I had left. About an hour and a half later, I had covered them, and reached the finish line, probably feeling too good considering the distance. 10 hours, 17 minutes - 11th overall, according to the race director, who handed me my sweet solid-silver belt buckle. And, although I don't like to talk about being "chicked," since three women had finished ahead of me, that made me the 8th male - "shit, that's impressive against the big boys,"
according to the race director. I celebrated by driving back into Bandera and taking way too long to change clothes at the Dairy Queen, then eating there, then driving to San Antonio to take pictures of crazy stuff along the way, and eat at the Whataburger, and apparently post this.

So I'm pleased with my performance. Could I have gone faster? Probably. Had I been more aggressive with the water and Endurolytes in the heat of the afternoon, an even or negative split on the second loop was a possibility, especially if I had gone harder than I ended up going. But I still had an awesome time at the race. The varying terrain, from flat, clean, and fast, to rocky, winding, and technical was a joy to run - after finishing a race that throws all of this at you, you really feel a sense of accomplishment, especially when you run it well.

So to what do I owe this success? A steady diet of 10-15 miles per day, yoga several times a week, one Sports Legs tablet per hour, a Hammer Gel every half an hour, the Brooks Pure Grit trail shoes (finally, a shoe for the fat-and-flat-footed like me), a patient strategy, sensing a potential blow-up and containing it before it got out of hand, and pretty much starving myself all week, then eating like a little pig the day before the race (typically, I net around 1500 calories per day - the day before the race, I ate close to 5000, and ran only a mile, in cowboy boots, carrying my bags, in the Detroit airport, in vain to try to catch my flight, and then just to finish out the mile). But really, the most important thing was that, this weekend, my heart was in Bandera. After much consideration, I decided that I wanted this race, and I went after it. All that other stuff? Just consequences of wanting it. And as nice as buckles and t-shirts and names in top-10 lists are, the real prize here was sitting on the dirt near the finish line after the race, pleasantly exhausted from running all day, watching the sinking sun light up the sky. Times like that make you acutely aware of how good it is to be alive.

But enough waxing poetic, I've got a cold hamburger to finish . . . :)


  1. Great race report! And inspiring to this 25Ker who was in awe of the big boys/girls who were passing us! A beautiful day for running and congrats.

  2. David, it was great to see you at Bandera! Thanks for picking up the pieces when you saw me across the trail. Congrats on a great finish! See you on the trails this year,