When the world stopped spinning, I saw the water bottle that had been securely tucked into the back of my shorts laying on the trail in front of me. At 48 miles into the race, I had caught a toe, cartwheeled and was laying face down on the rocky trail. As the adrenaline surge wore off, I was happy to realize all my limbs were intact. The tiny new scrape on my knee faded into the general dull heavy leg ache that all runners know. No real damage, so let’s go!
As has become my abnormally normal schedule, I worked a week of 14-hour overnight shifts the week prior to the race. As I transitioned back to non-vampire hours before the race, I tried to focus on catching up on sleep and maintaining good nutrition/hydration.
Jenny and I landed in San Antonio on Thursday and made the short drive to the “Cowboy Capital of the World, Bandera, Texas! Of course, we had to stop for some Fatty Beef Brisket on the way.
Before the race, I face toughed competition in the Beef Brisket eating contest; needless to say the competition was over before it began, I came in third.
We explored downtown Bandera and ran into Joe Uhan at the hipster coffee shop downtown (of course!) and found out he had to drop from the race related to plantar fasciitis (see Joe’s recent article on iRunFar here). He gave me some race pointers.
The Tejas Trail Crew is on top of their game and the course was fully marked the day prior to the race. Joe Prusaitis was even out on the course to point me in the right direction as I did a little course recognizance.
Jenny ran one of the flatter sections of the course, losing a shoe in the mud, getting poked by a cactus, and almost run over by a deer. Hearing this, I smiled knowing the race would live up to its motto of “everything cuts, stings, or bites.”
In March 2015, I was fortunate enough to gain an automatic qualifier for Western States via the Montrail Ultra Cup series at Gorge Waterfalls 100K (race report). I ran Western States as my first 100 miler (race report) in June 2015 and learned a bunch—but even during that race I was already plotting my next attack at the 100-mile distance.
When the Golden Ticket races were announced this year, Bandera 100K fit perfectly into my schedule. Its rugged but runnable reputation was intriguing, and being the USATF 100K Trail Championship I knew competition was a guaranteed.
I am a big proponent of race and terrain-specific training. For a rugged but runnable course, I focused on improving my efficiency on technical terrain. My training partner and running guru Mario Fraioli and I set up a few workouts to prepare me for the challenges of Bandera. For example, instead of doing 6 x 800m on the track, I did 3-minute intervals on rocky single track. These were hard workouts that require a little bit of recklessness as you push to run fast over rocks and roots. I also did multiple longer tempo and progression runs on smooth surface (road or treadmill) to prepare for the open runnable sections of the race.
I scheduled back to back “training races” on a weekend 4 weeks out from Bandera: the USATF Club Cross Country Championships 10K on a Saturday followed by a hilly and muddy 50K on Sunday, which Mario advised to treat like the last 50K of Bandera. This allowed for some speed work, followed by building strength on tired legs. I did all of these races in HOKA Challenger ATRs, same shoes I ran Western States in. The range! (Of interest, this was the event where Lance Armstrong won the 30k, see Scott Dunlap’s blog).
USATF Club Cross Country Championships 10k – The SFRC ultracrew
Woodside Ramble 50k race – Inside Trail Racing
The Bandera course runs a 50K loop twice for the full 100K distance. There are six 4-6 mile segments in this loop, all of which have their own character, some of them rugged, others more runnable; all of them ready to cut, sting and bite you.
In looking at previous Bandera performances, large positive splits between the first and second loop were the norm, even for the winners. The winners and other top runners would run the first 50K between 3:47-53 and then who ever positive split the least would win.
|Year||Winner||1st 50k||2nd 50k||Finish time||Pos split||Other|
|2015||LANEY||xxx||xxx||8:34||xxx||Ice & rain|
For example, CR holder and Marin speedster Jorge Maravilla split 3:47 for the first 50K to run a 8:02 (28:00 positive split). For the winners since 2012, this was the least slow down of anyone and a spectacular performance. This is nearly a minute per mile slow down for the exact same 50K loop. Too me, this meant the choppy terrain course took more energy out of people than expected, even at the highest level.
In knowing this, I planned to be a bit more conservative on the first loop as to have reserves for the second. Only issue was, I was not running a time trial. I was racing for a Western entry so I knew all bets were off once the race started. I needed to run within myself but also needed to keep contact with the lead pack. In doing this, I might be walking the fine line to failure, but this is the risk I would take to contend for 1st or 2nd place and the Western States Golden Ticket.
Don’t mess with Texas….or Sotol. This plant bites! This year it was plentiful and unavoidable on the course. Calf sleeves/compression shorts where recommended but I decided to just deal. Even my Sasquatch leg hair did little to protect me.
Got to the start with great weather predicted for the day. I was ready and excited to run in whatever conditions arrived. Standing at the start line , we all knew early no one could blame weather for whatever would happened today. I had lucky number 32, the same starting number I had to Western States.
Feeling a bit antsy, I made a small surge on a runnable downhill section around mile 14 to see who would come with me. Mario and Jim quickly closed the gap and the three of us arrived together at Cross Roads 1 aid station at mile 17.
At this point (mile 17), the race broke up with Jim and Mario pulling ahead through a rugged section with two small but punchy climbs (one being the Three Sisters climb). At this point, I was running alone, only intermediately catching glimpse of Mario and Jim, then just Mario as Jim laid on the gas and pulled away at around mile 22. Jim would go on to win and break the course record by 16 minutes.
I hit the 50K turn comfortable at 3:52 with Jim 3:47 and Mario 3:50. I knew I had to just keep pushing and not get too comfortable. A podium spot would be great given the competitive field but I came to Bandera to fight for a spot at Western. Ford Smith came in a few minutes behind me, and I knew the chase pack was hungry to swallow me up as I set for the second 50K loop (Ford would later drop with GI issues).
I continued to run alone, from mile 31-53, briefly catching glimpses of Mario ahead. He remained between 1-2 minutes ahead through this 22-mile section. We were playing cat and mouse as he would steal a glance back to see my position at the top of a climb before darting off down the winding single track. I was feeling physically strong but developed some nausea and thus stopped taking gels around mile 40, relying on Tailwind and a few shot blocks the rest of the way. My legs were getting heavy and burning but the cutting Sotol plants keep me honest. I fell once after mentally drifting, which immediately reestablished my focus on foot placement and lifting my feet.
As I approached the 53-mile aid station (Cross Roads 2), I decided this was my time to start pushing. I had been working up to then but patiently waiting for Mario to come back to me. I decided I was no longer going to wait for Mario to come to me. I had to go to Mario. I picked up the pace and began to push. I knew I was risking a blow up, cramps, or a nasty fall. But I also was ready to fight for it.
Around mile 54, right before a nasty little climb called Lucky Peak I spotted Mario’s purple Nike singlet. I pushed hard to catch up. I asked how he was doing and he said his head hurt. He was still moving well but I could see he was giving his all to keep going. I told him to hang in there and pushed hard to pass on a short down hill before we began Lucky Peak. I was no longer comfortable, my breathing was labored and a few cramps began to put a hitch in my stride.
I knew Mario was a fierce competitor and he would come with me if his body would cooperate. The slosh of my water bottle tucked in the back of my shorts convinced me Mario was right behind me so I continued to push. In actuality, the effects of a lingering cold shortly there after ended his day (Mario’s race report).
Coming through the last aid station ahead of Mario, Jenny yelled my name, handed me my bottle and said she would see me in 5 miles. I continued to push the last 5 miles not knowing who was coming. I also tried to savor the moment. I had felt this last year at Gorge 100K—the feeling of accomplishment combined with the fear of failure. I crossed the line in 8:06, gaining entry into Western States 2016 and a shot at revenge. I finished two minutes under what I had I guessed.
Congrats to Jim Walmsley on the silly fast new CR.
Great racing Mario! Way to tough it out so far when not feeling your best. Much respect.
Paul Terranova and Stephen Wassather also had solid races and kept me running scared all day.
Great meeting Roy Pirrung at the finish! Total legend.
Congrats to the other racers who toughed out this course! I was really impressed by all the runners out there. You guys and gals are tough!
The Tejas Trail Crew including Chris McMatters and Joe Prusaitis who put on a first class kick your butt trail race! Definitey recommend this or any of their other races. I will be back.
Jenny for being the best crew ever and running over 12 miles to crew for me. Could not have done it without your expert help. Thanks for all the training runs and encouragement along the way. You’re the best.
HOKAONEONE shoes for their continued support. The Challenger ATR was a perfect shoe for this race and has range. I have now race distances from the 10K-100 mile in the same shoe!
Stance socks: the style and performance can’t be beat. The crew socks protected my ankle from the cutting Sotol and still look pretty!
26.2-mile split: 3:18
50K splits: 3:52, 4:14
100k finish: 8:06 (22 min positive split)
Average (max) heart rate
144 (166) – took off monitor at mile 52
– Half pound Beef Brisket (just kidding…only a ¼ pound)
– Bogg’s Nut butter (4.5 oz package)
– 12 oz Redbull
– 1L Gatorade
– Amphipod bottle (20 oz)
– Tailwind Endurance Fuel (150-200 cal/20oz bottle)
– Roctane/Huma gel (1 every 30 minutes until mile 40)
– Salt sticks (only took 1)
– Coke, as needed
– Hoka One One Challenger ATRs
– Stance Fusion Run crew socks
– Suunto Ambit 3 watch and heart-rate monitor