About my blog

Welcome to my trail running site. I enjoy being on the trail where I can take in nature and clear my mind. I prefer running in the mountains, but anywhere rural will do. I have completed four 100 mile trail races and many other ultramarathons. I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Friday, January 17, 2014

Bandera 50K Race Report

As my cell phone sits in a puddle of water on the floor of my dew soaked tent I dread the task of going through my pre-race ritual. It’s dark and cold outside and the last thing I want to do right now is emerge from my toasty cocoon. 



I need to get going soon though. Last night at packet pickup I observed 10 porta-potties and in one hour we will have 1000 runners here all wanting to lighten their loads before they hit the trail. Do the math in your head and you will quickly realize that you don’t want to be at the back of that line.



I close my eyes for a few more minutes of peace only to suffer a coughing fit. I’m still recuperating from a nasty holiday cold so my training for this race has been spotty at best. I was registered for the Bandera 100K in the Hill Country State Natural Area but had to downgrade to the 50K because I’m also recovering from a groin injury. I may not be the first runner to the finish line today, but I do manage to be the first customer at the Stop and Plop


Once I’m dressed and ready to run, I line up at the 50K starting line with my friend Kyle where we listen to an entertaining aid station briefing by ultrarunner Olga King. We will see her at mile five and rumor on the trail is this: If you fall, Olga will scrub your abrasions until you cry like a baby all the while telling you to “suck it up!" In other words, don’t wipe out until you pass her aid station. 


Before long we are off and running and right away we start up the first hill. They don’t call this Texas Hill Country for nothing. Even though the elevation isn’t high, only between 1500-2000 feet, the course is steep and technical with everything including rocks, roots, ruts and razor sharp sotol plants. Once up the first hill, the sun peaks over the distant horizon warming the air. 


I break into a brisk pace and try to make up some time on the way down, but then have to go up again. The views at the top are sensational and I enjoy seeing trees for a change. The landscape is dominated by what Texans call Mountain cedar, but is actually Ashe juniper. The male evergreens release one of the most potent allergens in the U.S. this time of year and many people, including me, suffer from cedar fever. The female trees produce small blue berries and the peeling bark is used as nesting material by the endangered Golden-cheeked warbler that only breeds in Central Texas where these trees grow.

Juniper berries
After taking a picture or two, I start down again feeling pretty spry. I pass a sign that reads “Killer Armadillos” so figure I’m nearing the aid station. I forgo the water stop when I arrive since It is still cool and early in the race. I simply wave to Olga and let out a sigh of relief that I haven’t taken a digger yet. 




Another climb awaits me so I power walk up while slurping some chia seed/juice mixture for energy. At the top, the trail is hidden by the serrated leaves of sotol plants. They make little bloody nicks on my thighs and knees as I run through them, but I’m too focused to really give a damn. 

The dreaded sotol

On the way back down, the terrain is made up of caliche and crumbling limestone which makes the hill slippery. The downhill path is littered with round rocks which is like running on Fred Flintstone billiard balls. I go as fast as I can while staying in control and then arrive at the base of Ice Cream Hill. This one is short but very steep, but I manage to make it to the top. Hmmmm... no ice cream. Oh well!


I run some downhill and flat sections for a short while and then make it into another aid station where a masked man fills my water bottle. “Who’s that man behind the mask?” I ask. “Nacho Libre!” he replies. Well that makes sense; this is the Nachos Aid Station manned by the San Antonio Rockhoppers. I pull a baggie out of my pocket and fill it with pretzels to eat on the go, scarf a few orange slices and get out of there. 


After a while on the trail I turn a corner and come up on several young ladies. One just fell and is getting up. I ask if she is OK and she assures me that she is. “They give bonus points for blood and scrapes,” I say jokingly, but she doesn’t seem amused. When we hit the next aid station, one of the volunteers and acquaintances of the lady asks her where she fell. “Which time?” she replies. “I thought you were just doing the 25K,” the man says. “Me too, but he signed me up for the 50K last night and I haven’t run more than 12 miles.” Well isn’t that a dirty trick to play on your friend/spouse? 


After filling my water bottle, I’m quickly on my way. I pass a few runners and feel strong and confident. I make it to the half way point in about three and a half hours and that’s when it hits me. That dreaded lethargic drowsy I must be hitting the wall feeling. Maybe I’m not eating enough. I really don’t like overly sweet stuff like gels and such, so I stick to real food which is difficult to get down while running. 


Nevertheless, I pull out a cream cheese sandwich that I packed earlier and nibble and drink while alternating between a run and walk. As I run I’m reminded of my groin injury which isn’t necessarily bothersome; just a slight niggling pain. It doesn’t take long before I start to feel better and am able to pick up my pace a bit. This is the flattest section by far so I run as fast as I can hoping to finish in around seven hours.


I could probably finish sooner if I’d stop taking so many pictures, but I come around a bend and see a small leafless tree full of brilliant red berries. I can’t resist snapping a photo of this colorful Possumhaw tree. Supposedly it gets its name because opossums eat the ripe berries. I pass a few ramshackle metal buildings, remnants of ranching days gone by, and enter a flat grassy meadow. 

Possumhaw
Finally I arrive at another aid station where a friend offers help. By this point I’m hot and craving ginger ale so I’m probably low on fluids. Josh helps me get hydrated, fills my bottle and says, “See you in an hour” since I’ll return to this aid station after running a five mile loop.



Of course there are more steep hills, limestone bluffs, deep ruts, slippery slopes and biting vegetation. Throw in some heat and a bit of nausea to build character and needless to say, It takes me longer than an hour to return to the aid station. My saving grace is that there are less than five more miles to go. I look at my watch –1:30. I will need to finish in one hour to make my goal. There’s one more steep climb...or maybe there isn’t...I can’t seem to remember...perhaps I don’t want to think about it. 


I take off running as fast as terrain will allow. Through a field, into the trees, up and down a few small hills convincing myself all the time that their isn’t another climb. Even if there is, how hard could it be? Well, eventually I arrive at the base of Lucky Peak and it’s a doozy. Purt near straight up! Not something I feel like doing after running 29 miles, so let’s get this over with. I struggle along with some other runners; stopping occasionally to catch my breath. Once at the top, it’s straight down. Near the bottom is a four foot high ledge that I have to negotiate using my hands so I don’t eat the dirt. 


The rest is downhill, but runs like an eternity. Eventually I see the finish line so run as fast as I can crossing in 7:04. Kyle’s wife, Marissa and Josh greet me and I lay down in a patch of shade to cool off and rehydrate. We wait for Kyle who is hoping for a sub 8 hour finish. When the clock reads 7:56 we see a kilted runner far in the distance. There’s no mistaking, it’s Kyle. Marissa runs to let him know that he better sprint to make his goal. She must have told him that there’s free Guinness at the finish line because I’ve never seen an irishman run that fast. He makes his goal with a minute and a half to spare.

Josh, the loyal crew
Run faster Kyle!
A few minutes later Jorge Maravilla wins the 100K race in 8:02, a course record which is mind blowing when you consider he ran twice as far and twice as fast as mortals like myself. Even so, Bandera is a great trail race for first time ultrmarathoners because you have 24 hours to complete the course. Great organization, superb support and plenty of Team Red, White and Blue members make this a premier event. No wonder it is also the USA Track and Field 100K Trail National Championships. (Read about the winners here.) Thanks Joe and Joyce of Tejas Trails, Texas Parks and all the dedicated volunteers who make this race special year after year. 

Jorge Maravilla

See you on the trail.

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