Friday, January 19, 2024

Bandera 100K RR - In My Happy Place

Photo cred: Let's Wander Photography

Bandera had been on my radar for years, but with the race being in early January, the timing always seemed tough after the holidays. This year wasn't really any different, but the thought of knocking out a Western States qualifier early in the year AND the fact that it doesn't require a lottery made this tempting. So many qualifiers now fill up so early that you have to determine your race schedule wildly in advance. 

Looking at my early spring with the Antarctica 50k in March and Boston in April, I realized Bandera would also give me enough time to recover for these two important races. So with 5 weeks to go, I signed up.

Now, I didn't have any business signing up for a trail 100k. It wasn't that I was necessarily worried about finishing (though it’s never a guarantee!), it was that I knew it wasn't going to feel great given my lack of training. My last 2 races were a track 24 hour in November and a road marathon in December. I had endurance and maybe a smidge of road speed, but very few long trail runs. 

But I was ready to go to the well a bit and was highly motivated to knock out a qualifier early so it was game on.

I flew into San Antonio on Friday morning and had plenty of time for a shakeout run around the cute little cowboy town of Bandera, bib pickup, and to relax before the race. I finished a book, worked on my cross-stitch, and got all my gear laid out for race day, all before 5pm!

I fell asleep easily after a long and early day and didn't wake up much in the night. I wasn't really sure about the parking situation at the race since there was only one dusty road going into the park and a field of a few hundred runners. I erred on the side of early and aimed to be there by 6:30 even though it was a 7:30 start. I dropped my bag, got my timing chip, peed, and then hung out in my car until the last possible moment. It was really chilly out, but I knew it would warm up quickly with both the sunrise and the running. 

At the start, I spotted a few friends that I knew were racing and we all said our good lucks as we shivered in the corrals. 

I started in the middle of the pack, knowing it was not a day I was going to be racing for time, but rather one I was racing for finishing. Which seemed a little weird, but I also was then free to enjoy it in a different way. And to no one's surprise but maybe my own, I ended up feeling great all day!

Photo cred: Let's Wander Photography

The course features two 50k loops that wind around Hill Country State Natural Area. It is a fairly runnable course in that it has elevation gain spread over lots of short climbs. The loose, rocky terrain is what makes it tougher in some sections, but I found there were plenty of easy sections too that helped break up the day. 

It was cold to start and I wore a long sleeve and gloves for quite some time before shedding layers and popping on my sunglasses. Even when the sun started to poke out, it never got really hot. I didn’t have any of the aid stations memorized, but knew they were no more than 7 miles apart in the longest stretch with most being around 5 miles apart. This meant that I would be perfectly comfortable carrying two hydration flasks and maybe needing to chug a bit of liquid if it got warmer in that one longer section. I used gels and fruit snacks in the beginning, saving my croissants and more savory/salty snacks for later miles. I have a permanent “eat” reminder set on my watch to go off every 30 minutes and would try to at least nibble on something when I heard it buzz. 

The race was quite crowded in the beginning and there was lots of leap-frogging in the early miles. But it thinned out within an hour or so and there were always people around. The first couple of aid stations were a little crowded, but never chaotic and because I was unconcerned about my time, I didn’t feel rushed to get in and out. I made sure to thank the volunteers for being out there, petted all the dogs I could find, and even struck up a conversation with a crew member who was wearing a Cruel Jewel hat!

I chatted with numerous other runners throughout the day, exclaiming how lucky we were to have such good weather, yelling at the rocks, and wondering how far the next aid station was. A runner behind me that noticed my prayer flags on my pack asked about them. This conversation went down a rabbit hole of my racing resume which made me feel equal parts cringey and proud. 

Photo cred: Let's Wander Photography

The section in the middle part of the course was filled with evil sotol plants and I looked like I had been attacked by a honey badger when I noticed my legs had tiny cuts that were bleeding all over my thighs and shins. 

Sotol aftermath

Sotol aftermath

Luckily, they were all extremely superficial and didn’t really bother me at all. 

Photo cred: Let's Wander Photography

Once getting to what I dubbed the field section, a flat runnable loop, I started to feel the miles wear on me in the first 50k. But, I knew that once I was headed out for loop 2, I was committed to getting it done. I had plenty of time and was still in great spirits, I just could feel the lack of training catching up with me.

At the end of the first 50k, I sat down with my one and only drop bag and shoved a few squares of PBJ and a croissant in my mouth, taking gulps of Sprite to wash it all down. I knew I’d have to walk a bit to keep it all down when I left, but I figured the second half slog was imminent and I didn’t want to feel bonkish. I tossed my second half nutrition bag in my vest, grabbed a headlamp (after making sure it turned on!), and threw a clean long sleeve and gloves in for the night miles. 

Retracing my steps on the second loop felt like a familiar foe, but with everything magnified. The climbs felt steeper and longer, the rocks sharper and looser, and the length between aid stations seemed to be further apart. But, I was in a happy spot. My stomach was cooperating, my legs and feet felt good, and spending my Saturday doing the thing I love had me in good spirits. 

I kept expecting something to go really bad, but the only real troublesome thing for me all day was a headache that stayed with me most of the race. Weird. But if that was my white whale of the day, I’ll take it. I drank some Mountain Dew early on hoping that a smidge of caffeine was what I needed to make it go away, but it clung to me for nearly the entire race. 

I started craving real food as the day wore on and found that broth/ramen revived me. In between aid stations, I picked away at my snacks, trying to get something down in the later miles. I started to countdown to the last few aid stations, feeling a weird mix of sadness and relief that it was going to be over soon. 

As the sun began to set, I was on the hillier section of the course. The skies turned into cotton candy and the impending storm clouds made for a gorgeous sunset. I sat down on a bench at one of the intersections and just soaked it all in, feeling pretty lucky for that moment in time.

Once the sun was behind the hills, I clicked on my headlamp for the remaining miles. It got pretty cold quickly and I put my gloves and long sleeve shirt on. It was harder to stop for longer periods of time now at the aid stations because the lack of movement was making me cold quickly. I started to dream about getting to my car and blasting the heat. And anyone who knows me how warm I usually am can attest that it must have been cold! 

I got soup and a few pieces of sausage at the second to last aid station and was looking forward to the very runnable field section. However, it was very exposed and I wasn’t moving particularly fast so when I came into the final aid station, I was very happy they had soup and hot chocolate! I did a little dancing to stay warm (as one does) while I sipped my soup and crossed my fingers that it would feel less cold once I got away from the field. I left my jacket in the car in the morning, not thinking I’d need it and I highly regret that decision. 

Luckily, it did indeed get warmer once tucked back into the hillier section to the finish. I didn’t even mind the rocks or descending because it was finally warmer and I was about to be done. All the runners and pacers that were around me in that section were happy too as we made our way to the finish line. Once I spotted the Hoka markers, I knew it was time to run it in. 


Since I’d never run the exact 100k distance before, this was an auto PR! 

I am happy that I’m in a place to just go out and finish a 100k because I want to and feel really great while doing it. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but there was no (self given) pressure for time or place and some days, it’s pretty fantastic to measure your success by how much joy you can squeeze out of a day. 

1 comment: