That was the most brutal experience of my running life. Details coming this evening when I get to a computer. In a nutshell-I was hoping for a better time and place, but Bandera took many victims that day, and I spent the entire second half in survival mode fighting for every step. I was mostly happy and despondence did not win. I passed one gal in the final miles and was closing on another, 2 minutes back at the last aid station...when the "bonus mile" happened. Tis the nature of the beast stumbling around on a trail in the dark and mist and rain. I'm not disappointed--I got what I really came for, which was to test myself and suffer and stay the course andget my buckle. I got a 7th place USATF medal too, which makes this little podunk Kansas ultrarunner happy!
alright, time for a real race report. It took a while, my computer is broken and I needed to get to one.
I entered this race to gain experience in a Montrail cup race to maybe take a shot at a Western States entry in the future, plus I thought I would like a shiny USATF medal and the Bandera buckle is awesome, and I have lots of family in that part of Texas so all around it was a good situation. I didn't have any illusions of being in the top two--the field was stacked with elite ladies from around the country, but I did want top 10 and one of those medals! I also somehow thought I would run this a lot faster--but more on that to come.
Pre-race travel was pretty brutal, 11 hours by myself in the car on Thursday. Friday I went to the pre-race briefing and it was cold and drizzly--impending doom, Bandera was already getting muddied up and set to suck the soul out of many runner that day. I saw a few of the running ladies that leave me starstruck but I was too shy to talk to them. Friday evening I spent with Joe and Danielle(slowjoe from the blog) and they fed me pasta and pie and beer, and put me up for the night. Awesome folks! Joe and I discussed a little racing talk, as he would be my "safety runner"/pacer for the last 20 miles. I slept like a log and was up at 3:45 am and headed to the park. Once I got there I spent a lot of time resting in my car, reading "unbroken" on my phone, and feeling a bit dismayed at the rain showers. Finally, at 7:15, I got out and lined up with the rest of the cold runners. I stood back from the front a bit, and never ran with the lead ladies.
When the gun went off, I fell in pretty quickly with a group of fellas holding what felt like the right pace and we were off. The rain had made the rocks slippery, and the first miles to the first aid station Nachos were a bit treacherous on the downhills. Bandera is very technical--rocks rocks rocks. I felt okay, warmed up, and ditched my rain jacket at the first aid station. After this we got into some serious mud...the kind of mud that sticks to your shoes and make you run on birds nest bricks and your shoes are so heavy. There was no escaping this mud, or how tired it was making my legs prematurely. By the time we reached the second aid station at Chapas, I knew it was going to be a long day. Bandera went something like this: all the flat smooth runnable stuff had become mucked up mud, so any time I thought I was gonna bank there was out the window. The other parts of Bandera are technical rocky ups and downs. I stink at those rocky downs, and they were slippery from the rain, and I'm just not skilled on them at all. I went down slower than I would like so I wouldn't break my face. I truly wish I could train on trails, but it's just not realistic for my life situation.
It was, however, quite beautiful! When we get to the tops of the climbs you could look down into the valley and it was quite breathtaking and pretty! There isn't really switchbacks--you just hike right up the rocky side and through lots of Sotol cactus. My legs were numb from the cold so it didn't really hurt but after the race my legs were scratched and bleeding from ankle to thigh. I felt like I was sucking wind the whole time and panting.
By the time was back at the lodge and the first 50k loop was done, I saw a lot of defeated faces at the aid station. One gal looked at me and told me she didn't think she could do it anymore. I don't know if she went back out or not. I did see Joe! That was a boost, and he would be waiting for me in 11 miles at Chapas, so I was off on loop two fairly quickly before I changed my mind. Truthfully, I was already completely exhausted. My legs were fried from the mud and all the slipping and slogging and my feet hurt from the rocks. My training didn't prepare me for this kind of terrain. I pitched all goals other than to not be defeated and finish. I also had a pretty good handle that I was still in the top ten, so wanted to hang on for a USATF medal. I decided that although it was going to be slow, and painful, and difficult, I was going to get 'er done and enjoy it as much as I could.
I never thought I would make it to mile 42 and Chapas and Joe's company. It seemed like forever. Doggedly mudslog, climb and scramble, slip and bumble down, mudslog some more. Eat gin-gins, drink water, drink ramen broth, keep moving. I panted like a dog. I can tell the value in a pacer, because once I finally reached Chapas and Joe was there, my spirits lifted significantly. Although I was still ragged, exhausted, fatigued deeply, and my legs were shot, it didn't seem so bad! Joe faithfully slogged along behind me and off we went.
I ran, I hiked, I walked, I ate, I drank, I talked, Joe talked, forward and onward. Sometime along the way we passed a gal. At nightfall, it got cold, and dark, really dark. This is where I was really glad to have Joe. It was pitch black, and the lights reflected back off the mist and I couldn't see well at all. I slowed down a lot at nightfall because I literally felt as if I was stumbling around in the dark like a blind person. We finally reached the last aid station, and they told me the next gal was about two minutes away. I felt that I could catch her and off down the mudslog we went, and went...until I saw the portapoddies on the back end of the finish line and knew that wasn't right, so we turned around and slogged all the way back to the aid station so I could take the turn I missed. 15 minutes lost per Joe's garmin. It cost me two places. This was a little disheartening, but it happens. Shortly after this I ran out of gas. I felt all the energy drain out of my body and my legs felt like useless rubber. I hadn't eaten for a while and the energy costs of the mud and cold were more than I bargained for I think. I came to a complete standstill and plucked out my emergency cliff gel, double espresso. I downed that, started moving, still felt like a noodle, and stopped and ate another one. Within a few minutes my legs came back to me. We finally picked our way down the final rocky ascent and as soon as we hit the last half mile of jeep trail to the finish line I took off as fast as I could run. I bombed right up on three fellas and they all sped up too and we all crossed the finish line very close together.
This is the happiest I've ever been to cross a finish line. It is definitely the hardest I have ever worked to reach one. The gal I was creeping up on before I ran my bonus mile was Traci Falbo, one of my heroes, American record holder for a trail 100 and world record holder for 48 hours. She used to be 80 pounds overweight but that changed! She clearly wasn't having a great day either, but settled into the mantra of just get it finished. I felt exactly the same way. Would have been nice to catch up and run in with her! Dang the missed turn!
Chris was there at the finish line. He's kinda awesome. He flew down so he could drive me home Sunday. Pretty selfless guy! I can't think Joe enough for his presence and patience, for all those slow hours he spent out on the trail with me. Danielle and him are great hosts and I hope I can repay them someday! There were some Canadians I think in front of me so in the championship I was 7th woman, but was 10th in the actual Bandera race. I accept! I got my medal I wanted and my awesome snake buckle. I got mud and blood and sweat and tears. I cried while we were driving to the hotel when I was alone in my car, mostly because it was just so so hard, and I needed to cry for a minute about it. I'm slowly recovering and can't wait for the next one--probably Flatrock 101!