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 free spirit who spends countless hours running in the Franklin Mountains and the surrounding desert in far West Texas. I call it going to church.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Bandera 100K

My down coat works really well as a pillow, but soon I’m shivering so much I have to use it as its intended purpose; to keep myself warm. Even though I’m using two sleeping bags, I can’t seem to stop shivering as the cold night wears on. I drift in and out of a fitful sleep dreaming of arriving late to the race starting line. To prevent this from actually happening, I had Cara and Maddie drop me off in the Hill Country State Natural Area in Bandera, TX the night before the Bandera 100K while they are staying in San Antonio. 

Typical Texas Hill Country terrain
Of course I’m awake before my alarm goes off, but can’t bring myself to emerge from my sleeping bags. The start line is only several hundred feet from my tent, so I decide to soak up the warmth until the last minute. I slept in my running clothes so all I would have to do is lace up my shoes and go. When the sun starts to rise I finally muster the strength to crawl out of my cozy abode. The cold is like a rude slap in the face as I relieve myself behind a cedar bush. 

In just a few short minutes my fingers are like popsicles and I can barely get my shoes on much less tie the laces. Then I try to pin my bib number 208 to my pants. My hands are completely numb and I keep sticking the safety pin into my finger not feeling a thing. After twenty minutes of floundering around trying to get ready, I walk over to the starting line with frozen toes and hands; completely overdressed for an ultramarathon trail race. 

I’m totally relieved when the race finally gets underway. Half the battle is getting to the starting line without getting injured, sick, freezing in your tent or breaking down while driving across Texas. Let the fun begin! 

About 275 100K runners set off through a grassy field that soon turns into a dirt road. The Bandera 100K is also the USATF 100K Trail Championships so there are a lot of strong runners out here today. In addition, the top male and female runners gain automatic entry into the Western States 100, their “golden ticket”. Of course my goal is to simply stay upright and make it to the finish line without dying. 

In no time we are slogging up the first big and nasty climb known as the “Big Nasty”. Since this section is a short out-and-back up to Sky Island, runners are coming down as we are going up so we must move off to the side of the trail to prevent being knocked off the mountain. The trails on the hilly sections ascend and descend crumbling limestone escarpments. I start to overheat as I climb so remove my gloves and hat and stash them in my pack. I reach the top of the island where the sun illuminates the mountain cedar (Juniperus ashei), the trees that dominate Hill Country landscape. The wind is blowing so there is still a chill in the air. The temperature is only supposed to reach the low 40s today.

A little tune is rolling around in my head as I run and I can’t seem to stop humming it. After a while it gets really annoying, so I just try to ignore it. “Da-de-da-da-da-de-da-da-dum-tum-dum” There it is again. After running some downhills and a short flat area I reach the first aid station (Equestrian) where I grab some oranges. Frozen oranges that is! I fill one water bottle with Tailwind and take some pretzels for the road. The next stretch is flat and smooth until I reach the “Three Sisters”. This part has some short, but very steep inclines with loose rocks everywhere. Shoes with good traction are a must here to keep you from slipping on the hills. I’m wearing my Altra Lone Peak trail shoes today and they are doing a pretty good job.

The Three Sisters
I survive the Sisters and then get some relief from climbing for a while. I’m averaging about four miles per hour, but know that will probably go to crap the second time around on this 32 mile course. For now, I enjoy the day and the surrounding scenery stopping to take a picture of a large oak tree that is completely dead. While driving across Texas last week I noticed many dead oaks that I assumed had succumbed to the extreme draught of 2011, but believe there is also an oak wilt effecting some of them. 

Dead Live oak
Almost the entire state was in an exceptional drought in 2011.
Having lived in San Antonio for five years, I came to appreciate the beauty of these majestic trees that can grow for centuries. They are known as Live oaks because they keep green leaves year round (evergreens). Texas keeps a champion tree registry and the largest live oak is in the San Bernard NWR

Declared the largest live oak in Texas in 2000, the champion tree has a circumference greater than 32 feet and stands at least 67 feet high. It has provided shelter to countless numbers of migratory birds that find a place to rest and feed within its amazing crown that extends more than 100 feet.                       —San Bernard NWR

A runner passes me probably thinking, why in the hell is this dude taking a picture of a dead tree when he should be running. He’s probably right so I pick up my pace trying to maintain my four miles per hour. After going through several more aid stations (Nachos and Chapas) I make it to the “Field” where it’s mostly flat. I really try to push myself through this part. I have a drop bag at the next aid station (Ya Ya) and contemplate shedding a layer and changing my shoes, but I hate to waste any time so I just get some food and drink and keep going. 

A live Live oak in The Field
The tune is still in my head! I’ve been listening to this earworm for over five hours now and I still can’t get it out of my head. It’s not that it’s a bad tune or anything—Gavotte by FJ Gossec, but how many times can you listen to a song without it becoming annoying? “Da-de-da-da-da-de-da-da-dum-tum-dum”

Here's the tune I had stuck in my head for 64 miles. (Listen at your own risk):

I pass a barn that I have to stop to get a picture of. The same barn that I’ve taken a picture of every year I’ve run this race which is five (two 50Ks and three 100Ks). It’s a picturesque little spot; a remnant of ranching days gone by. Soon after the barn, I cross a little stream below a dam, but the water is very shallow with some rocks to help you across so you don’t get your feet wet. 

I run flat for a while and through some very deep trenched sections. Water has caused the trail to erode into the earth about three to four feet. My energy is holding up and I’m mostly having a great time. Even though it’s chilly the sun is shining and it’s a pretty day overall. I get to a wooded section with overhanging trees which is like running through a fairyland enchanted forest. However, my fairytale comes to a rude halt when I reach Lucky Peak, a very steep up and down that looks like a needle on the course profile.

The Trench
I prepare myself mentally and then slowly climb, stopping in a few spots to let my heart rate settle down. Going up is difficult but not as bad as coming down. It’s so steep that my big toes are hitting the front of my shoes. I didn’t tie them with a good lace lock this morning because my fingers were too numb to function properly. Once part way down, I come to a steep drop off into a gully to my left. Another runner ahead of me goes past it to see if there is a better way down. Luckily there is a short switchback making the descent easier. I’m relieved to have this climb over with, but in the back of my mind, am dreading having to do it again later in the middle of the night.

The Enchanted Forest
After running some smoother trails and a dirt road for a while I reach the last aid station (Last Chance). Only five more miles to go! Well…to finish loop one that is. I continue on making several more difficult traverses over Cairn’s Climb and Boyle’s Bump. I always think this last part is going to be a breeze, but nonetheless it takes me longer than I think. The climbs are tough and there are plenty of rocks to keep you on your toes.

I finally make it into the staging area in 8:20. I get some hot mashed potatoes with chicken broth and head to my tent. Here I strip off my shirts and put some dry ones on while I eat and adjust my shoe laces. I also drop off my camera and pick up my headlamp since it will be dark in a few hours. After 20 minutes, I take off on loop number two. As I’m heading out I hear someone yell, “GO GORDY!” I look ahead and see the legend himself, Gordy Ainsleigh, age 69, coming in to finish his first loop. I reach for my camera that is always on my hydration belt only to remember that I left it at my campsite. Too bad, no picture of Gordy today.

Anyway, I continue on my second loop up the Big Nasty. On the way down I see a couple hiking up, the guy carrying old glory. I'm really inspired to see that flag and I tell him so as I pass. The evening is very pleasant because the wind has died to almost nothing and the sun casts a warm glow on the hills as it begins to set. I continue through the Equestrian aid station still humming the little tune that I have stuck in my head. “Da-de-da-da-da-de-da-da-dum-tum-dum”

By this point I’ve completely given up on trying to ditch the earworm and, since I am running all alone now, consider it my little companion. Like I said before, it’s not really a bad song; It’s just that the way I hear it is how my six year old plays it on her violin. Not that she’s a bad violinist or anything. She’s only six, but it’s a new song for her and she has the usual hesitations, missed notes and slowing down on the harder parts so that’s how I hear the tune in my head. Over and over and over!

When I reach the Three Sisters the sun has set and an orange and blue glow outlines the peaks on the horizon. Its very quiet and peaceful here with just the sound of crunching gravel under my feet. I turn on my headlamp as I plod along. In a little while I can hear voices and notice a train of headlamps behind me and one ahead. I eventually overtake the guy ahead and try my best to stay ahead of the train behind me. 

The temperature gets cooler as the night wears on, but I don’t feel cold as long as I keep moving. Occasionally I stop and turn off my light to enjoy the clear night sky. Stars are everywhere and the moon is bright and orange with just a bit of the top cut off. My pace has slowed quite a bit and I lose more time when I have to stop to change the batteries in my headlamp. A while later I stop again to put some glide on my back because my pack is causing some chafing. 

I manage to stay warm and make it into the Chapas aid station (mi 48). I take a few minutes to eat and drink some soda. When I leave the tent, severe cold slaps me in the face. It’s amazing how frigid it feels after you stop running. In no time your core temperature begins to drop.

It’s really bone-chilling out here, so I pull out my gloves and put on a jacket. Thick smokey fog rolls out of my mouth as I huff and puff along. By this point my average pace has dropped to about 3.4 mph. In hopes of keeping my energy level up, I’ve taken in plenty of calories which has included Tailwind, Hammer Gel, ramen noodles, mashed potatoes, pretzels, salami, pringles, oreos, dried apricots, oranges (frozen), bananas, quesadillas and grilled cheese. 

The Field
I’m happy to only have 16 more miles to go, but I’m pretty beat by this point. I run the flat section and through the field where I warm up again. The stars are absolutely amazing in the field because there are no trees to block the view and the moon is as bright as ever. I reach Ya Ya (mi 53) and stop to eat some more ramen with hot broth. I can’t wait to get this run over with so I take off. My headlamp shines on the frosted grass which sparkles like diamonds just like in the movie Frozen. I try to remember a song from the film, but all I hear is “Da-de-da-da-da-de-da-da-dum-tum-dum”
I pass the barn and cross the stream again making sure the rocks aren’t slick with ice. I take a sip of my water bottle and the little rubber bite-tip is crunchy with ice. After a few sucks it loosens up and I can drink. Eventually I arrive at Lucky Peak dreading the climb. I take my time since I’m so exhausted. I carefully descend trying not to slip. A rolled ankle now would be devastating; I’m so close to the finish.

I start running again and try to drink out of my water bottle, but it’s completely frozen; nothing will come out. I try the other one with the same result. I’ll just unscrew the top and take a drink. Neither bottle top will budge. I was afraid of this. One runner told me he was adding vodka to his Tailwind to prevent it from freezing, but I don’t have any. Oh well, I wasn’t really that thirsty anyway.

I just keep running and finally come into the Last Chance aid station (mi 58). I tell the volunteers about my plight so they pour boiling water over my bottle tops. It takes several ladles full, but eventually they thaw enough so we can get the tops off. I take another short break and eat more soup to stay warm. Five more miles seems very doable, but this stretch is full of steep climbs and rocks. I look at my watch; alarmed that almost 18 hours have passed since I started this morning. Where has the time gone? 

As I run along I keep seeing a very bright headlamp, wondering who in the world is wearing a spotlight out here. On closer inspection I notice that it is the beautiful moon shining through the trees as it gets lower in the sky. I move as fast as I can fast walking the hills and trying to run the flats, but my pace is excruciatingly slow. Soon I can hear people down at the finish line, but know from years past that I still have to run past this and climb some more before looping back around to the finish. The downhills are very painful on my feet and I’m continually tripping over rocks in the dark. I reach the final downhill section and pass several runners. It takes forever to descend. Just when I think I’m at the bottom, the trail turns again and I descend some more tripping over additional rocks. 

After what seems like forever, I reach the home stretch on the dirt road. When I hit the grassy field people start to cheer for me so I run hard into the finish line. It’s 3:30 in the morning and most people have already gone home to their toasty beds, but I’m as excited as ever to get my third Bandera 100K buckle after more than 19 hours of running. Thank you Tejas Trails. As usual, the course was well marked and the volunteers were awesome! After getting some hot food, I sit down in a large tent beside some propane heaters where I can still see my breath. 

My third Bandera buckle
I change into some warm dry clothes and crawl into my sleeping bags. Cara and Maddie will be here in about four hours to pick me up. It feels great to be lying down again in my sort of warm abode. I close my eyes. “Da-de-da-da-da-de-da-da-dum-tum-dum”

See you on the trail.

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