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 16, 2015

Bandera 100K

“This sux. May drop after 1st loop”, says my text to Cara. This is how I’ve felt all morning during the Bandera 100K. The weather is cold and dreary and I can’t seem to get warm or pull out of a funk. It rained this morning making the trail conditions treacherous. I slept in my ice encrusted tent last night and, although I was plenty warm, couldn’t sleep because I was too worried about how miserable today was going to be. Ironically I started out overdressed and, working very hard to climb several steep hills, sweated through my layers making me feel damp and miserable. 

Bandera is in Central Texas and is known as the Cowboy Capital of the World because of the many dude ranches surrounding Hill Country State Natural Area. We are fortunate to have friends who live just outside the park and they were gracious enough to let us stay with them. I opted to sleep in my tent near the race starting line though, because the roads were expected to be icy in the morning. 

I feel confident that I can finish the first 50K loop, but starting the second will be difficult especially if it is raining by then. Physically, I know I can finish this entire race because I did it in 2009 and ran the 50K last year, but mentally, I have doubts. The gloomy weather is wearing on my psyche and if running the race isn’t fun, what’s the point? Eventually I strip off my rain shell and take time to stow it on my hydration vest.

I chat with another runner on the trail who is also struggling, so we whine about how poorly we feel and try to discern what’s going on. Are we eating enough? Not used to running in the cold? (He’s from Houston.) Didn’t drink coffee this morning? Nothing to do but keep putting one foot in front of the other.

The course is rocky, hilly and the trail is sometimes lined with prickly vegetation. This is nothing new to me; I run on this type of terrain all the time. One thing I’m not used to though is mud; I live in the desert and this is a serious mud fest today. It is said that arctic indigenous people have 50 words or more for types of snow and sea ice and the same could be said for types of mud out here. Excuse the digression, but I would like to give you a primer on mud. 

The first type is thin like chocolate pudding and, unless it’s very deep, isn’t too troublesome. It typically squishes out of the way and your foot hits terra firma  before you go ass-over-tea-kettle. The second kind is even lighter and is mostly liquid or simply a mud puddle. Not much to worry about because they aren’t very deep.

The third and most bothersome sort reminds me of ball bearing grease, is very heavy and balls up on the bottoms of your shoes. So much for that 7 oz pair of minimalist shoes you just bought; they are now heavier than your grandfather’s combat boots. This stuff could easily be used on a “sticky bomb”. Remember that from Saving Private Ryan

Anyway, as you run, large chunks of mud fly off your shoes, nailing the runner in front of you or hit you in the buttocks.

The fourth kind falls somewhere between “sticky bomb” and chocolate pudding and is something like mashed potatoes with lots of butter and zero lumps. It’s deep and very slippery so I negotiate it gingerly because unexpectedly doing the splits at my age could be recipe for disaster. I quickly learn that the best way to run in the mud is to use a forefoot strike because if your heel sinks in, your shoe may get sucked off.

As I run in misery, I think of reasons to quit the race and at times even hope something will happen to give me an acceptable excuse to drop. Broken ankle, vomiting, impaled by a Spanish bayonet plant, blizzard whiteout, earthquake or other natural disaster. There is no excuse though so I just keep running. 

I reach the halfway point of loop one and begin to feel better. Gee, it only took 15 miles but I’m starting to come alive. Even though I’m still damp, I’m warming up. I stop at an aid station to get some food. So far this morning, I’ve eaten chia seeds with juice, grilled cheese, ramen noodles, oranges and pretzels. I complete a hilly loop known as the Three Sisters and hit a flat part. I’m able to run for a while until I get to Lucky Peak. This is a completely steep climb where I have to stop several times to catch my breath. The descent is worse than the climb and on several occasions, I almost lose control and tumble down the crumbly slope.

After hitting the last aid station, I toil up several more steep hills, run through 50 flavors of mud and descend into the finish area having completed the first loop in around 8:45, very slow for me. Cara, Maddie and our friend Amy are there expecting me to be ready for a shower and some dinner, but there are no good reasons for me to quit. They offer to pack up my tent and come back for me in the middle of the night after I attempt loop number two. What a fantastic crew I have!

I change into dry clothes, eat some more ramen noodles and put on my headlamp; it will be dark in a few hours. I bid the girls goodbye and take off. Shortly after leaving I realize that I forgot to fill my water bottle and it will be well over an hour before I reach the next aid station.  Luckily it isn’t hot and I doubt dehydration will be an issue on this chilly evening.

Before dark, it begins to drizzle which changes to a very fine mist. The trails are getting wetter so paths that were runnable earlier are turning into a slick mess. I’m full of energy and my spirits are high since I know I have a chance to finish. As daylight wanes I switch on my light and can really see the minute droplets of water falling in front of me which makes it difficult to see where I’m going. Each time I hit a slippery patch of mud I slow down to keep from falling.

I complete the first 15 miles leapfrogging several other runners which is assuring when you are running at night, but I lose them after a short stop at an aid station. For the second time today, I leave for the Three Sisters loop. No one is around and I begin to think I’m off course. The last thing I need on a long day like today is bonus miles. Nothing seems familiar, I’ve been going for over 15 hours and I begin to doubt myself. Am I starting to lose my mind?

My mud caked pants
I keep running and walking at all costs and then a reflective course marker lights up in front of me easing my concern. Heavier drizzle is falling and I worry about getting cold as the temperature continues to drop. Slowly I make my way back to the aid station where I have some quesadillas and hot ramen noodles. 11 more miles to go. I travel through some very slick mud and try to run this section since it is flat, but reach a field where sticky bomb mud slows me to a crawl.

This soon gives way to a downward sloping trough full of deep mashed potato mud. I try my best to slide down the slant, but gain too much speed and promptly end up sitting in the slop. Large globs are stuck to my pants and hands and no matter how hard I shake, it won’t come off. After wiping it on a tree trunk I continue, but it is very slow going. I made good time on this section earlier today, but it is nearly impossible to run it tonight. 

My goal is to finish around 1:00am because that’s when my crew is supposed to pick me up to take me to a warm house with a hot shower. At this point I really wish I had quit while I was ahead and dropped after the first loop. I’m wiped out and not enjoying this experience especially as I reach Lucky Peak. Climbing this thing after running and walking over 50 miles is a Sisyphean task and I look forward to getting it behind me. 

I take my time as I ascend, but once at the top; it’s straight down. Negotiating the treacherous footing at night is challenging and it’s all I can do to keep from tumbling down to the bottom. The trail flattens out and I can fast walk and run a bit, but then I hit the muddiest section yet. This is like running behind a cattle drive after a gully washer; thousands of cow hooves churning the dirt and rain into a shoe sucking bog. 

After many slips, a couple of “JESUS CHRISTs” and one very loud “F bomb”, I land at the Last Chance aid station. Orange colored halloween lights adorn the tent and volunteers are playing some ethereal music creating a surreal atmosphere. I take time to visit with them and have some warm food before tackling the last five miles. I thought it would be a cake walk, but forgot that there are two significant hills, Cairn’s Climb and Boyle’s Bump (more than a bump) before reaching the finish line. 

I deal with more drizzle, fog on the upper elevations, steep climbs and of course mud, but eventually catch up to a couple who are running together; the lady appears to be limping. They are the only other people I’ve seen for hours except for at the aid stations. It’s after 2:00am and I finally reach the end, finishing in 18:43; over two hours slower than the last time I ran this race. I trade my timing chip for a snazzy rattlesnake finishers buckle and am relieved that one of the toughest races of my life is over.  This morning I didn't think I had it in me to finish the race, but somehow I managed it. It goes to show that all races are not going to be pretty; you have to take the bad with the good.

One of my favorite buckles yet
Little Maddie and Cara are sleeping, but our friends Michael and Amy are waiting to take me to the comfort of their warm and cozy Hill Country home. They are the best! And so are Cara and Maddie for humoring my running adventures. I feel like I’ve been ridden hard and put up wet. This is the Cowboy Capital of the World after all. 

See you on the trail.

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