Monday, January 9, 2012

Bandera 50k, off the beaten path...

Two days ago I completed the Tejas Trails Bandera 50k.  WOW.  What. An. Experience.

I drove out on Friday night and got in just before 10pm.  I was planning to camp so I'd get the "full" ultramarathon trail race experience.  The Lodge still had a light on, so I found my way in and found some of the crew chilling out before a big day.  They were welcoming and friendly, and flat out awesome!  I got to meet the race director, Joe, and several of the guys he works with.  Great guys.

My "tent"
Pretty soon, I headed off to bed.  I'd decided to camp in the back of my suv, so I had less to worry about on race day.

I wound down by reading some from "Hunger Games" and fell asleep about midnight. I should mention that cell service was nonexistent for most of us.

The next morning was chilly, but the day wound up being perfect for the race.  I got up, got dressed, got my cherry pop tarts, and went to packet pickup, about 100 yards from where I was camped (very cool!).  Packet pickup went fast, and pretty soon, I was back at my car getting last minute things ready for the race.  70 oz of water in a nathan back pack,  3 hr flask of Infinit on my shoulder, with a 3 hr baggie and a 1 hr baggie ready to mix at the aid stations when/if I needed them.  Baby wipes, ID card, camera, race number, hat.  And I'm off to the starting line.
We stand around in a pack until the horn blows.  And here I have to give you a visual.  Have you ever seen the movie "Hidalgo?"  Watch for 1:30.

As soon as all 200 of us hit that first narrow/downhill/treacherous footing area, we slow down and it becomes a nice stroll through the Hill Country.  As soon as we get around that corner, I can start getting around other athletes, and I'm off again.  The first 9 miles are rough.  I don't mean a bad day on the pavement.  I mean up, down, twisting, climbing, hands, feet, knees, cactus, poop of all kinds, rocks, trees, brush, etc.

Sunrise from the course
So the course is rocky, filled with a kind of mini-agave cactus plant called sotol, and there's very little truly flat running area.  You might as well have already offered your shoes to the gods of trail dust and horse poop, because you're going to step in it at some point.  And if you don't, you're going to hurt yourself avoiding it.  Either way, it's a crappy situation.  The area has beautiful vistas, but keep your eyes on the trail while you're running-it would be easy to twist an ankle, run into a cactus or a tree, or off a cliff.  So, please.  When you decide to do this race, plan to add an extra few minutes to your time to see how beautiful the course is.

At one point I heard two guys griping and I chuckled...  "What," I asked, "Didn't you read the brochure?  They said everything cuts, stings or bites."  They laughed.  Of course, the athlete guide also boasted names of hills like "Sky Island," "Ice Cream Hill," or "Lucky Peak."  Nice names that don't give you any idea of what you're really in for.  Ice Cream Hill became the subject of many jokes.  Mostly intended to keep our minds off how bad we're hurting.

"There should be ice cream at the top!"

"I know why it's call Ice Cream Hill...  Cause you eat it going up, and you eat it going back down!!!"

"Oh, I thought it was because  'I scream!"

This kind of dialogue went on the whole race.  Turns out trail runners tend to be a funny bunch. 

I want to mention the sotol.  As I said before, it's kind of a miniature agave, only not as pleasant.  You can't get tequila from it (thanks to a reader that I wish I could credit, I found out this is wrong-see the comments!).  I got warned about it.  Specifically about a small patch of it, so I wore some running pants that would protect my legs.  Well, it's all over the place.  Not just one small field, but all over the place.  And it's taller than me in some places!  Really though, it isn't that bad.

The course is well set up and well supported.  About every 5-6 miles you see human beings with food and water.  They are angels bearing manna from heaven.  The volunteers were amazing.  They knew that there were a bunch of type A athletes who were specific about nutritional needs and made the aid stations about the athletes' needs.  All the aid stations were super mellow but way on the ball, and the volunteers made the effort to be sure that everyone had exactly what they needed, when they needed it.  Essentially, the volunteers and crew made the race.  All you had to think about was forward motion.

For me, the day was a mixed bag of emotions.  I rocketed between wanting to give up or deciding that I was too tough to not finish.  Every time I wanted to stop and walk, a small but pushy voice decided that I could walk for a few yards, but I needed to start running again after that.  As a primarily pavement runner and triathlete, I came closer to my first dnf than I've ever been before.  I found that my fifteen minutes between nutrition breaks went fast, making for a fast six plus hours. At Chapas I stopped and had help refilling my nutrition flask.  For something that could have been really complicated with the help of a volunteer, it was really simple and went smoothly.  I scrounged some baby wipes just in case, and I was off again.  Just before my second pass at Crossroads (26ish miles?), I came around a bend in a tree and there was a camera.  Really, guys?  Really?  I smiled the best I could.  Grimaced, maybe.  But something happened that really made me feel great.  After the first initial rush of people, people stopped passing me.  I started passing people, and from mile 10 until I finished, I kept passing people.  What did this mean for me?  Only one thing-I paced myself just right.  I finished with very little left in the tank, but I had some.  Meaning-this race went just right for me.

And, because Infinit Nutrition has been very generous in sponsoring me for the upcoming marathon, I want to give a shout out.  You know that runner's stomach you get when you've been going too hard for too long and your nutrition doesn't agree with you?  It never happened.  Partway through (20ish miles in), I realized I needed to hunt down a bathroom.  And the cedar trees just weren't going to cut it.  Finally, after 26 miles, I found a bathroom.  And found out that the problems I'd had in my nutrition before weren't happening again. My stomach was fine and my energy level was more than okay.  My limiters in this run came down to training, never once did it come down to nutrition.  So, thanks Laurie, and Infinit.  Once again, I've put you to the test and you didn't let me down.

So, truthfully, I don't know if I'll do a trail race again. Probably, but I'm a pavement runner.  So the jury's still out on that one.  But I do know that if I do a race, it will be with Tejas Trails.  And as far as trail races go, this was an amazing one and has just about everything you could ask for in the perfect trail race. Tejas Trails put together a great experience.  I enjoyed every minute and every mile of this race, as my friend Dave put it. (Thanks, Dave!)  If (more likely when) I decide to do another ultramarathon trail race, I'll pick this one, or Cactus Rose, also put on by Tejas Trails.

I learned a lot this race:
I learned that I can put six scoops of Infinit in nine ounces of water for a three hour bottle.  HOORRAAYY INFINIT!
I learned that trail running is harder than road running if you aren't trained for it.

And I learned that I'm tougher than I thought I was.

So I'm going to end with a saying that I stole and rewrote for my purposes today (yes, I know I'm being cheesy).  I didn't write it, I only read it somewhere.

At 20k I thought I was dead...
At 30k I knew I was dead...
At 40k I wished I was dead...
At 50k I realized I was too tough to kill.


  1. Great report. I am very interested in finding more out about the infinit.

  2. Nice report. Btw, sotol is made into a very fine tequila like spirit. Hacienda de Chihuahua is the brand you'd most likely find in stores.

  3. Thanks Anon!!! I wish I could credit you for the update-but I've updated the section about the sotol.

  4. Milano-check my blog posts "Evolution of Nutrition" and "Great News from our Sponsor" for more information. Infinit has abandoned the cookie cutter approach to endurance nutrition and gone with a highly individual approach to each athlete. It's worth checking out. But be patient with them-their approach means more time with each athlete.