A report from the Bandera 100K trail run last Saturday:
My running was surprisingly similar to last year, and yet my race was surprisingly different. Both aspects went fine, and I was pleased with the results. I don't believe I have nearly as much to write about this time, but that probably won't keep me from rambling for a while.
This year for the first time, Bandera was part of the Montrail Cup trail series. Top two places for each gender won a qualifying spot in Western States - as soon as I realized this, I revamped my goals and focused (as I should anyway) on just running for myself. Because I'm happy with how my trail running has progressed over recent years, but I have no illusions that I'm anywhere near as fast as the top trail runners in the country. Like, for example, Annette Bednosky who has won several big 100-mile races. She ran Bandera last Saturday - and placed 4th...
The big news this year was the temperature. Central Texas has experienced a wet fall, with rain almost every week (and almost no Dirt Derby's, sadly). I've been worried for a while that Bandera would be rainy or at least wet on the ground, and believe me, that would be a sloppy, sticky, ugly mess. I made a deal with the weather gods: In exchange for dry trails, they could throw whatever temperatures at us that they liked. So yes, the 8 degree start was likely my fault.
It warmed up nicely during the day, with beautiful sunny skies. I didn't need my tights and poly pro top the whole time, but I kept them on in lieu of stopping twice to change - because I knew I would need them again once the sun went down (and I sure did). Huge props to all the volunteers who had to stand around in the cold - thank you all for the help!
I used to start in the back of the pack to keep from going out too fast, but that only caused me huge frustration on the downhills in the first section. I'm not sure how I got to love technical downhills (although that love disappears once my legs get tight later in the race). As long as I'm not in a stage race in the Alps or trying to descend an extra-steep and slippery slope in Colorado, bombing down hills is one of my joys of trail running.
This time I happened to be standing near the front of the people milling around the starting area when Joe said "Go!", so I took off and enjoyed briefly leading the race before the guys started passing me. During the first bit of doubletrack trail I got to see all of the many fast women who also passed me. I'm used to starting slower than most runners in my range, but this time I didn't think I'd see many of them again. And I was right!
Up the first hills, guys continued to run by me while I speed-walked, no problem. And I didn't have to wait much on the downhills, which was very pleasant. The only spot that was slightly frustrating was the little ups/downs right before Ice Cream Hill - I passed a woman on the downhill, she caught up to me by the top of the next little climb, I got ahead on the downhill, repeat 2 more times. Each time I sensed she might want to pass at the top of the hill, but I wouldn't have anything of it as long as there was a narrow downhill around the next corner. Finally we reached the base of the big hill and I was plenty happy to see her go around me and take off up it.
I worked pretty hard through that section and beat last year's split by a couple minutes. Phew.
I like the next section from Nachos to Chapas, especially on the first loop. It always seems that this is where the crowds thin out. My friend Megan passed me as I was drinking Spiz after the aid station - nice to see you! After some narrow trail through a creekbed, the route opens into a doubletrack with a nice gentle climb and plenty of room for people to pass each other. I tend to relax here, and the next hour is enjoyable.
At Chapas aid station I shed my GoLite jacket, drank an Ensure (after expressing relief to find it unfrozen and drinkable), and continued onto the flatter section that eventually reaches the field. Once there I saw Megan up ahead, moving well. I expected a right turn toward the creek, but the route marker said to go straight (I guess there would have been some small benefit to attending the trail briefing!). Arg, urg, hmph, I don't want to go straight - that must be longer! We ran almost back to the road before finally turning right. Heck comma What The? Then there was the creek crossing - an easy bit of stepping through inch-deep water. That explained it... last year's crossing spot must be a lot deeper. OK fine, I'll deal better with the detour next time around.
The Crossroads aid station configuration was changed around, and I was a bit persnickety when I couldn't figure out how to get checked in and get to my drop bag while going in a straight line. John helped me get my Ensure - thanks John! During the Three Sisters inner loop, I decided I'd run happier if I was nicer to everyone. Coming back to Crossroads I was in a much better mood, I got to see John again, and my splits were still almost exactly on pace with last year. Cool!
At various points I was reminded how muddy it has been here in recent months by the deep rutted horse hoof tracks. It made for some bumpy running in places, but seeing as it was frozen solid instead of sticking to my shoes I tried not to complain too much. It never lasted long, in any case.
I started passing back-of-the-pack 25K'ers who were all very nice in letting me (and a couple super-fast 50K guys) run by. It's a long uphill push until you finally get to the "backcountry" and I was happy to finally get to the biggest hill of that section. One gnarly downhill and then I was at Last Chance and the runners on the other courses took a left while I was finally on my own on the 100K course.
And I mean "on my own" - there was hardly anyone else to be seen for many miles. I saw a couple guys more than once, and I had a feeling Megan was close behind (I believe I had passed her at Crossroads). But mostly it was me and my now-getting-tired legs. I tried to remember if my legs had been tired by this point last year. I think they had. I had also backed off on my "push pace" to finally give my breathing a break.
When I got back to the Lodge with all similar splits to last year, and even a couple minutes up on my 50K time from 2009, I was pleased. John and Kip were there to greet me - hi guys! It was a beautiful day, there was one woman a couple minutes ahead of me ("pigtail lady"), and now I could finally just relax and focus on the rest of the course. Because, to be honest, I had been pushing just a little to see if I could beat either my teammates who were running the 50K... now that I had accomplished that, the only thing left was to finish the race and get my jacket for running 500 km at Bandera.
I knew from the beginning that a PR wasn't so likely this year unless I was just running somewhat faster from the beginning. Running the exact same splits was great - last year wasn't a fluke! But last year I had pushed the final section SO MUCH (in order to get and keep the lead) that I couldn't see any reason to kill myself just for a slight chance at a PR. Much better to run happy and finish with a solid time. Basically the time I probably would have run last year if I hadn't been gunning for the win. It's all good.
Coming out of the Lodge, I looked for Megan but didn't see her... until I heard her voice above me on the first climb. She and another runner had missed the turn toward the Lodge. Not good! I tried to explain how to get back and failed miserably in my directions, hopefully they didn't have too much trouble. Megan finished fine that evening - congrats on your longest race to date!
I followed pigtail lady, but didn't pass her, all the way to Nachos. She ran all the uphills, it seemed, while I continued practicing my speedwalking and alternating run/walks. At Nachos she was conversing with her crew and it didn't sound like she wanted to continue. I wasn't sure if I would see her again, and I didn't. In fact, she was the last female runner I would see on the course. Much less pressure to finish fast this year - which my legs appreciated.
I kept running strong but relaxed, and I felt better in the second half. As usual, my legs got tired in places - and different parts of my legs would get tight or sore depending on the terrain. My calves, my knees, my thighs right above my knees, my outer thighs, they all took turns talking to me. Luckily the terrain changes a lot from section to section, so each part of my legs would get a break for a while.
Different parts of the course were easier the second time around, typically the more gentle terrain. The technical parts got harder and less fun, but picking up my feet was good for stretching out my muscles. I was happy to get to Chapas and be finished with all drop bags except one. At Crossroads I was half done the second loop. I still didn't need my light for the inner loop - success! I met a nice guy named Patton who chatted with me each time we passed each other. The Three Sisters were still fun, but the Evil Stepsister that followed was still not.
John met me at Crossroads again, and he helped me put on a GoLite jacket to guard against the dropping night and temperature. I was excited to be only two sections from the end, excited to still be running fine, and most excited to have no time pressure or anyone to chase this year. My race report would be better if I did, but my legs don't really care about race reports.
I put my iPod music on and ignored all of my muscles for the final two hours, which was enjoyable. It got dark just before I got to Last Chance, but I held off getting my light out until I had finished my Ensure that John brought to me (thanks John!) and was ready to "suit up" for the final stretch. John thought that there might be one woman about 10 minutes behind me, so that was enough to keep me moving without relaxing TOO much.
My last two sections were each only 5-6 minutes slower than the first time around, which I was very happy with even though that's where I lost most of my time vs. my PR. It was funny to run so similar to 2009 and my predictions - that usually never happens. At the top of the last descent, when I realized I could still break 12 hours, I pushed the last bit and ran across the line in 11:57 and change. FOUR women broke the course record (which was 11:18) by 30-45 minutes, and a 5th got within a couple minutes of it. I was 6th overall female :)
Fun race, as usual! I highly recommend it. And maybe it will be warmer (but hopefully only a little!) next year.