Warm. Cozy. Happy. Curled up in my little nest as a kettle whistles in the background. Bliss. Then the alarm on my watch goes off and I realize the whistling is the wind and I am lying in my sleeping bag in the back of my Ford Explorer about to run my first 100k at Bandera. I groan because right at this moment that's the last thing I want to do.
I had heard a lot about this race - it was tough, technical, rocky and there were lots of hills. It is where Texans go to train for the mountain ultras. I'm not real good on technical trail (especially the downhills) so I knew I had my work cut out for me. I considered dressing in layers, but I knew that once we started running I would warm up really quickly so I just wore my shorts and lucky t-shirt. I had taped my feet the night before, added on my drymax socks, gaiters and Montrail Hardrocks and I was ready to go. Before I knew it we were standing at the start line and we were off.
The course consisted of two 50k loops, with 6 aid stations per loop (including the start/finish line). The aid stations were 5-6 miles apart, so I figured my two handheld bottles would see me through. We got an early wakeup call with the climbs on Big Nasty, Sky Island and Ice Cream hill. I soon realized that if my big weakness was the downhills, then my big strength was the uphills so I decided to attack them. While other folks could take me on the downhills, I could smoke them on the uphills. While I would walk the real steep ones, I resolved to run all the others until I tired myself out, or finished the race (whichever came first).
I ran with several friends old and new at various parts of this first loop, including Ryan Beard, George Hitzfeld, Lorenzo Sanchez and Bill Patience - Bill actually fitted me for my first pair of running shoes many years ago. Then, while climbing the "Three Sisters" I hooked up with Scott Wood from New Braunfels. We ended up running together for the next 10 hours - I would lead the way and set the pace, and Scott would keep me to it. We were very well matched and had a great time getting to know each other. We kept a consistent pace and soon started passing folks who had sped past me earlier. We stopped at the scenic overlook on the top of Boyle's Bump, and I jumped onto the bench to enjoy the panoramic view before continuing on to the Lodge.
We finished out the first loop in about 6:30 feeling strong and set out again. Halfway up Sky Island I came across Ryan B. standing just off the trail. I stopped to see if he was ok and he said his knee had locked up and he couldn't climb any more. He couldn't even make it back to the lodge, but they were sending somebody for him. I was real sorry to see him drop but there was nothing I could do so we kept going. When we got to Nachos I was sad to see Josue sitting down with a bag of ice on his ankle. He had won the race last year but has had so many injury problems this year. He is such a nice, humble guy and I spent a few minutes talking with him.
On the 5.6 miles between Nachos and Chapas aid station I hit a low and had to dig deep to keep running. I kept telling myself "you will not walk" and I'd drained both my bottles just as we hit Chapas. Luckily they had some good food there, and I munched on a burrito and drank some Mountain Dew as they refilled my bottles. The next 5.8 miles between Chapas and Crossroads were just boring and I was still in a bit of a funk. Scott took the lead in a few places and I was just hanging on in there. Once we got to Crossroads, I grabbed my drop bag and had a meal replacement shake and a gel before setting off for the "Three sisters".
Just outside the aid station I came upon a group of kids ripping down glow sticks and throwing them into the brush. I yelled at them and must have scared them pretty good because they started scrambling around replacing all the ones they'd knocked down. Just before we hit the "Sisters", I suddenly started to feel good. Really good. My low spell was gone and I hit the hills really hard. Darkness fell just as we cleared the Sisters and I turned on my headlamp and felt even better (maybe I have vampiric tendancies :-) ). There was a beautiful full moon, and before we knew it we were back at Crossroads.
Scott took some time to put on warm clothes and have some ramen noodles, but I had so much energy I was just about bouncing off the walls. I was eager to get out of there, but I didn't want to leave Scott after we'd run so far. I decided against putting on any extra clothes or gloves because I figured that would be more of a motivation to keep running. The overnight lows were expected to drop into the 20s, but I banked on finishing the race before they got that low. I couldn't believe we only had the one aid station to go, and I intended to hit the last 10 miles really hard.
We set off toward Last Chance at a good clip and the energy kept flowing. Scott hit a low around here, but I told him we were going to keep moving and promised we would walk when we started the climb to "Lucky Peak". He slotted in behind me and we kept going at a good pace while talking about movies. Well, I'd gotten into such a groove I actually ran a ways up "Lucky Peak" before I realized and made myself walk. Once over and down, it was a quick shot into "Last Chance".
We heard the music pumping out before we got there, and what a sight for sore eyes. Roger was cooking up a feast, and I enjoyed pancakes, beans, rice and potatoes cooked in bacon fat. Man, that was good. One of the other guys asked if I wanted any Tequila. "Well hell yes" I said. I think I made his night - he said I was the first runner to say yes and he ran to get it before I changed my mind. One of the girls pulled out a camera to record the "crazy tequila-drinking runner" and we posed with the bottle and the generous triple shot he poured before I slammed it. I got a standing ovation from the aid station crew as we left. I yelled out that they were the best aid station, which netted me another cheer and off we went.
Mile 57 and I still felt great. We had another two major climbs - Cairns and Boyles - and then it was downhill to the finish line. We hit Cairns and Scott was feeling a lot better, so we ran part of the uphill and played it carefully on the downhill. We did the same with Boyles and stopped at the scenic overlook again to celebrate the end of the uphills. We had about a mile and a half to go and I felt the best I had all day. Scott told me to go for it, so I hit the gas and discovered I had several extra gears. For the second time in my life I had hit running nirvana. The faster I went the better I felt, and I hit the lodge, sprinted across the field and crossed the finish line in 13:42:15. It's a really good feeling to finish a tough race like that with plenty left in the tank.
I got my buckle and a handshake from Joe, and a big hug from Joyce. I waited for Scott to finish and we agreed that running together had made it an excellent race for both of us. One of the oddities of trail running - you run for 10 hours with someone and you may never see them again. I hope we get to hook up again at a future race.
I went into the tent and the volunteers made me up some wonderful hot soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I sat around with some of the other runners and noticed that the wind was just as strong as it was in the morning. Eventually I heard my sleeping bag calling and headed off to the car. Once I got outside I realized just how cold it really was and was glad to crawl into the Explorer and zip myself into the bag.
I enjoyed the race - it was the most enjoyable ultra I've run. I had a great day, ran within myself and finished a lot quicker than I thought I would. Except for the "unrunnable" hills, I ran the entire way (I was super careful to protect my ankle on the downs). My legs felt great throughout and I never came anywhere close to cramping or bonking. The wind was a factor, but at least it kept it cool. I am not stiff or sore today, and apart from a blister on my heel that I missed while taping, my feet are fine too. I have a few minor cuts from the sotol cactii, but nothing to write home about.
Running with somebody for so long was fun, and definitely pushed me to finish faster than I probably otherwise would have. I do have a tendancy to get lazy, but having somebody on your heel keeps you moving. I had a few low points, but I was able to push myself to keep going and they invariably passed.
My nutrition plan consisted of a meal replacement shake twice a loop, a gel at (almost) every aid station, some salt caps as needed inbetween and whatever food they had at the aid stations. My aid station plan, as always, was to get in and out as quickly as possible (with the exception of the Tequila stop - I was having too much fun there).
So a good race, and my first belt buckle. Now I have to go find a belt for it. Part 2 of the Texas Trilogy is complete, and my next race is the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler next month to complete the series. Bring it on.