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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Starting the Year Off on a High Note: Bandera 100K Race Report

As posted to our NYC Trails and Ultras Yahoo group on Jan. 11th (with further details and reflections below for the ultra freaks!...)

I thought when I signed up back in December I would be in for the usual fare oftemps in the 60s to 70s in this area about an hour west of San Antonio. Butthey too have been having a record cold snap, so it was about 16 degrees at racestart on Saturday, warmed to the low 40s by mid-afternoon, and went back down to the 20s at night, as my race ended about 11:30PM. It was a beautiful, sunny,cloudless day, and a nice starry night. I never shed my gloves or head covering and had two layers in the daytime, three at night. But not much wind,thankfully. (You guys looked colder in the Wathchung photos, I must say!).

I didn't quite know what to expect, this being only my second official 100K and on a course that looked to be even tougher than the first (the old GEER coursei n VA, which had a lot more paved roads than it does now). So I thought to myself, maybe somewhere between 15 and 18 hours?, and made out my pace chart accordingly. I knew it was supposed to be mostly quite rocky with lots of steep but not overly long (by western standards) climbs that have you up and down in the 1,400-1,950' elevation range all day and into the night. That turned out to be pretty accurate, and as advertised it's all "tough but runable," and also includes some lengthy sections that are less technical and faster. Loved the course, particularly the variety. The feet took a little beating with the rocks, and discovered some suspected toe blisters afterwards, but fortunately they weren't debilitating at the time and I'm glad I resisted the urge to change shoes or socks.I

In the event, it turned out that I ran like five races in one on this two loop course, where the second 50K is identical to the first. Out maybe too fast till about mile 16. Slowed from there to about 26. Picked it up again till the halfway point, but then slowed a lot from 31 to 42. And then from there as the darkness fell I regained momentum and made a good push, and passed maybe 15 or so folks over the last 19 miles.

Some valuable takeaways for me here on how you can recover from long periods of slowing pace and right yourself again. I charged as hard as I could the last 10 miles or so, including from the last aid station five miles out with the aid of an impromptu pacer who offered his services as he waited for his wife to finish. He was very insistent as the other runner there turned him down, and I ended up being happy I'd taken him upon it, as he kept me focussed. After having done the first 50K in 7:03, I was scared by that point I'd drop to a 16 hour+ finish, and that was good incentive to move as quickly as possible over the last remaining climbs and descents! Finally ended up in 15:48:53, for 61st of 110 finishers, and 147 starters (most of the DNFs got credit for 50K finishes).

The Tejas Trails folks (www.tejastrails.com) put on a slew of first-rate trail races around Texas by all reports, including Cactus Rose 100m in that same park, Rocky Racoon,and a new hundred in Sept. in New Mexico starting this year galled Gila Gundred. Bandera also featured a 50K and 25K, and there were 600 signed up between the three distances, though I think there were some no-shows with the cold. The aid stations (every 5-6 miles) were well stocked and manned, there were three drop bag locations and eight times you could access your bags if you used them all,and the course was well marked at all the key turns. Nice belt buckle for yourefforts at the end, and an attractive fleece pullover for race entry.

The course is very crew and pacer-friendly, with all aid stations road-accessible. First-class race management all the way, and very friendly folks! The area is one of rugged semi-arid beauty I really enjoyed exploring. From thepark's website: "The Hill Country State Natural Area is a scenic mosaic ofrocky hills, flowing springs, oak groves, grasslands, and canyons. The terrain ranges from flat, broad creek bottoms to steep, rocky canyons up to 2000 feet inelevation." 'Nuff said, though those springs and creeks were pretty much bone dry! An added bonus was getting to stay at a dude ranch just a few miles outside thepark entrance called Silver Spur(the area is loaded with them). And got to see the Alamo and some other nice sights in San Antonio yesterday. A direct, cheapflight from Newark made the travel a cinch. So, if you're looking for a great destination ultra next winter that would usually promise much warmer weatherthan the Northeast and definitely a lot different terrain and scenery, check this one out! The Tejas Trails await, and will beat you up good but then leave you with a big Texas smile on your face!

Here's the aid station blow by blow, for the detail freaks and those maybe thinking of doing the race (or so I can remember when I go back!):

Start to Nachos (5.6m) 1:07:38 split (12:04 average pace): Beautiful sunny morning, with some great vistas from the hills. Captured a few with my Kodak disposable digital. Felt good on the early climbs. Hands were cold at the start, where it may well have been in the teens, but warmed up. Had a little conversation with a guy from Colorado, and exchanged a few words with Olga V., who's a true downhill demon. In retrospect, probably out too fast, and wondered as much a few times. Pretty cool getting the mile by mile feedback from the new Garmin on pace, as well as the accessible HR info. Loved the cowboy songs playing at the Nachos AS, by far the most extroverted of all the stations during the race. This is a tough and rocky but still mostly runable section.

Nachos to Chapas (11.4): 1:03:31 split (11:40 ave. pace): Less rocky and technical. A few road crossings. I continued to feel good, with HR mostly in upper 130s to mid-140s, but climbing to 150 or so on the ups. Had a volunteer or crew guy take my picture in front of some cacti (nopales) just before this aid station. Grabbed a little extra food from my DB here.

Chapas to Crossroads (16.9) 1:13:37 split (12:34 pace): Probably the fastest and flattest, if least exciting section, of the race. Kind of interesting to run through some fields, as the rest of the time you're mostly in the forest. I was conscious in this section I was slowing a bit, and that it probably wasn't a bad idea to be running 12s and 13s instead of 11s and 12s. I think this was section where I first started seeing the lead 50Kers (who were 5 miles behind us on the course layout) whiz by. Took me a while till I realized what was going on!

Crossroads back to Crossroads (28.85) 1:15:40 split (15:14 pace): Early and latter parts with good terrain and faster, but the middle part is mountainous and technical. One of the prettiest sections, with some of the steepest downhills. It felt like this was as warm as it got all day, and I unzipped the top of my jacket and long sleeve thermal top at times, but never really considered shedding a layer all day. The section was tougher, but I was also conscious of some energy loss, and was getting passed a good bit. Did brief DB checks on both in and out (refill bottle with Ensure, grab food, apply sunscreen). The exit is a little confusing, and I doubled back briefly to make sure I was leaving the right way.

Crossroads to Last Chance (26.1) 1:18:13 split (16:03 pace): Good bit of climbing on this section. Was talking early on with a nice guy from Austin area who'd DNF'd Bighorn the first time but then finished. Didn't catch his name. Took my first Vivarin and Advil here, per my 5 hour schedule, and got a boost from it, but not till the latter part of the section. Early part of this was probably low point of the race for me physically and pscyhologically. Falling off pace, HR slipping but can't get back up, getting passed. Even briefly let thought of taking a 50K finish cross my mind. But the caffeine/Advil surge quickly dispelled those thoughts.

Last Chance to Lodge/halfway point (31.0) 1:14:58 split (15:18 pace) left Lodge at 7:03:41 so in to halfway in about 7:00-7:01: A better section. Tougher than previous one with serious of climbs and false summits, but pace still improves, and run the downs well and pass some folks for a change. The 17s and 18s give way to 15s and 16s, as spirits improve again. Nice to see guys from Austin I'd meet as I was coming in (Leary and Barrett), and all in all I felt ok that I was hitting the 50K mark at 7:00, especially recalling that was faster than my Bear Mountain 50K time in '07. Quick refill of bottle and food and back onto the course for the second half.

Lodge to Nachos (36.6) 1:44:38 split (18:41 pace): This section started well. There's a short stretch as you head out where you see the folks coming in behind you to the Lodge. Nice to know you're ahead of SOMEbody! But I could feel the heavy dose of climbs in this section was a lot harder than the first time around. My overall pace confirms this wasn't too strong a section for me. Nachos AS had some spirited rock playing instead of cowboy tunes this time through--fun group!

Nachos to Chapas (42.0) 1:37:58 split (18:00 pace): This section is less technical and has less climbing, but my pace didn't pick up too much. More folks passed me. Bit of an energy lull. It was just getting dark at this AS (and colder), and I took time to eat something solid and substantial (can't quite recall what). Changed my base layer, and put my comfy Patagonia alpine jacket back on over it. Left the lighter headlamp I'd picked up earlier and picked up the heavier one (good move, illuminates better) as well as the flashlight.

Chapas to Crossroads (47.9) 1:29:53 (15:22): This was the section where things turned around for me, and I took control of my race again! I had the sense leaving that aid station that I had given a lot of ground. The food picked me up, and I took my second dose of caffeine and Advil a little ways back out. After a quick bathroom stop, I passed a pair of women. Somewhere around mile 49. I had a real energy surge on this quite runable section and in these early nighttime hours, and I don't believe a single person passed me from this point of the race on through the finish. I probably passed 15-20 over the last 13 miles or so. I really felt like I was moving as we entered the winding section through the grassy fields. It was cool to see the lights in the distance near the edge of the park, and then the vehicle lights of support vehicles in the distance on the road. Very clear, starry night! But it seemed to take forever as you wound your way to Crossroads AS. I put on a vest here, as it was getting colder as the night progressed. Had hot soup, as I recall. But got out of there pretty quickly. Man on a mission!

Crossroads loop (52.5) 1:27:33 (17:39 pace): My pace naturally slowed, as this loops contains the most difficult section of the race (with easier beginning and ending parts). But it was decent considering where I was in the race, and I found myself enjoying being alone in the night. Occasionally I spied lights ahead of me, and I gradually overtook them. At one point I saw some lights getting closer, but I picked it up on the climbs and descents, and as I appraoched Crossroads again there was no one in sight. I again ate something solid and substantial there (inclucing some soup I believe). But got out of there good and quick. No lingering inside that comfortable, warm tent, which I sensed a few people who came in behind me were doing.

Crossroads to Last Chance (57.1) 1:10:34 (16:36): Somewhere in this section I passed one or two. At one point there were two people (maybe a woman and her pacer?) approaching, but I picked it up and didn't see them again. Still feeling pretty good here (had my Red Bull mini-shot). It was a real boost to get to the last AS! Since I had plenty of food to get me to the finish, I refused anything but water, and got out of there real fast. A guy was asking me, and a runner who had come in there ahead of me, if we'd like a pacer to the finish. She said no, and I was tempted to do the same, but he seemed so eager, I said "Sure!" So he quickly shed his coat to join me.

Last Chance to finish (1:16:04 15:13 pace): Wish I could remember the name of the guy who kindly paced me to the finish, but it's a blur. He was originally from the San Antonio/Austin area, but had recently moved with his wife to Denver. Apparently she had been running in like second place, but had taken a wrong turn and gotten way off course, and after a few hours' rest had decided to go back out and finish. So he was waiting for her, and had decided to kill time (and maybe stay warm!) by pacing. Anyway, it was great to have the company, after so much time alone. He let me take the lead, and he seemed pretty impressed with the way I was moving. I told him I really, really wanted to break 16 hours, and that I was cutting it close.

I kept checking my Garmin periodically, making the calculations about what pace per mile I needed. I'd forgotten how tough this section can be, with a series of tough climbs and false summits and the rocky, technical parts, especially the descents, tougher to navigate than the first time through in the daylight. But I was pleasantly surprised my legs could handle the descents (and in retrospect see that my overall pace in this section was only 5 seconds slow than it had been 8 hours earlier!). We passed a couple folks. At some point, not long after we started descending, my pacer said we were nearing the finish. I looked at my watch and realized we would be in well under 16 hours! As we came to the clearing and saw the illuminated finish line, he congratulated me and said he was going to veer off to let me finish. Not realizing there was a sort of chute, I veered that way, before he told me to head back and under the chute tape, and finish on the proper line. It was with considerable elation that I finally crossed the tape in 15:48:56. Not quite the ideal race in those middle section, but really nailed those last 13 miles, and finished quite strong.

I take a lot of positives away from this race. Second 100K ever. First race of the year. Pretty tough course, so a good test. Dealt with some adversity, never panicked, and got my energy back, with plenty of gas left in the tank in the latter miles. If I'd been at that point of a 100 miler, I feel pretty confident I could have finished, and finished well. My aid station time management was solid (resisted temptation to ever change shoes or socks, got through quickly, kept it pretty simple). No stomach issues. I hydrated and ate well, and managed my energy well.

All in all, this was a really enjoyable destination race experience. I was pleasantly suprised by the rugged Southwestern beauty of Hill Country. Enjoyed the hospitality of the folks at the dude ranch, and getting to chat over Sunday breakfast with the owners and guests. Cool to see the Alamo. Could definitely imagine going back to this one someday, maybe checking out Austin, or some of the other little towns not far from Bandera that look interesting.

I've got an inkling 2010 is going to be a pretty good year! I'm fired up!

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