It’s very rare that you have a wonderful race and actually recognize it while it’s happening. I got to have that day on Saturday at the Bandera 100K.
My only goal was to finish. I did. It took me 21:12.11 — the first 12 hours or so were some of the best racing of my life; the next 4 were a learning experience; and the final 5–6 were second only to Pocatello in their sheer physical challenge.
In short, I had the day of my life.
Bandera 100k (Saturday, January 8, 2011)
I love Bandera; it’s my favorite place to run. It’s full of natural Texas beauty, rugged and sweeping, with all kinds of terrain. Sometimes, I’m out there and the sky is that perfect blue, there’s not a sound to be heard but wind, and I can imagine what it was like before people. Sunrise at Cairn’s Climb is a breath-taking thing. The stars at night are prettier than anywhere else. It can be mean and harsh on a hot day, when the sotol exact toll and the parched ground strangles you with dust. I love it all.
Because I poked around and waited, we wound up without a hotel room. James and I decided to RV it and it was no trouble to talk Claire and Russ Secker into joining us (Claire had agreed to pace me for the first half of my second 50K and Russ was going to help James support and crew. Plus, they both were running the 25K.)
We got to Bandera and nabbed a primo spot by the grove of shade trees closest to the gate to the Lodge. Hilarity ensued as we tried to figure out how to set up the awning and such like. After consulting with Robert Heynen, I opted to skip the course talk and we simply went in for dinner. That evening, we finished up any pre-race preparations, sat and drank some wine, and snuggled into get a good nights’ sleep.
Having the RV was a blessing in the morning; we got up relatively late, had coffee and breakfast (and inside bathroom privileges!) before walking over to the start. James helped me with my drop bags; I had three — Lodge, Chapas, and Crossroads. Having to carry all my own food added quite a lot of stuff to bring, plus I had at least one extra change of clothes in each bag, as the forecast had been calling for showers sometime during the day. I’d gotten water resistant marine bags and put everything inside sealed plastic bags. All of my emergency medical gear necessitated the Nathan vest, so I had it half-full with 35 oz. of water and my allergy emergency packs stuffed in the remaining bladder space. In my pockets, I had two Ziplocs of my liquid nutrition mix, two bags of Sport Beans, a packet of MetaSalt tablets with a couple of cough drops (no cough; I just like the sugar and menthol, really), and a handheld with my liquid nutrition.
At check in, I got to see all kinds of peeps who were there doing a variety of races. James snapped some pictures. I found Stephanie Huie, who’d talked me into this whole thing (“The 100K is only about 10 miles longer than the 50 miler at Rocky — why not Bandera instead?”). When the gun went off, we started together but I quickly let her go, reminding myself to run my own race and to start CONSERVATIVELY.
Bandera 100K, the First Half
It was a great start to the day (cold but not too cold winter temperatures, warming to a lovely morning). I tried to run conservatively, walking up hills just as I would on the second loop, and religiously maintain my nutrition schedule. At different times, I ran with different people and chatted (Bill Patience, Stacie B., and a guy named Bret from Austin, etc.). I saw lots of friendly faces at aid stations and got rock star treatment with my drop bags and food, especially at Crossroads the first time I came in. The surprise was that I had come in so fast (4:15 for the first 16.89 miles) that my crew had not arrived yet to cheer me on. It was so much fun; I was running with a great big grin on my face most of the time, because by this time, I had realized that “today was my day.” It’s very rare when you get to realize at the time that you are having a bang up, stellar day. Nothing on me hurt; I had no allergy issues whatsoever; the miles were rolling by in an easy stream; I was having a blast.
After cresting the Sisters, I was chewing on some Sport Beans when, OUCH!, I bit down on something hard. I spit the sticky mess into my hand, gave it a quick look, and thought, “Huh; I guess I got a bad bean.” I tossed the whole wad out into the sotol; a few steps later, my tongue found my back molar…which was now minus a crown. Holy crap! Fortunately, it only ached a little and, after a bit, I forgot all about it.
I came back into Crossroads at 6:58 and saw my crew. I told my husband to give the dentist a call and that I’d see them at the half way point. I was so looking forward to the next 10 miles, my favorite part of the course (what I’ve known for years as “The Lodge Loop”).
As I ran through the next miles, I spent a lot of time imagining what it would be like coming through again in the dark, with 50 miles of running under my belt. I’d never run further than 40, so everything was going to be new territory, uncharted. My big worry was the coming rain; the sun tried to come out in the afternoon, but clouds rolled in, keeping it on the darker, grayer side and providing the kind of cover I love and keeping the temperature down. I’m a cold weather runner but I had kept my long-sleeved shirt on most of the day and had gone to short-sleeves with arm warmers at Crossroads. The arm warmers came up and went down off and on all afternoon.
Before I knew it, I was rolling into the Lodge for the end of my first 50K. I felt like a million bucks, like a running machine. Here I was, finishing up a 50K of some of the hardest running in Texas, and it was as though I’d gone for a warm-up lap on the trail. Seriously — I felt like my day was just beginning.
And to top it all off, I’d run easily…and set a course PR for the 50K. Back in ’06 when I did Bandera as my first 50K trail run, I’d finished, exhausted and spent, unable to even fathom how folks could go out and do that AGAIN, in 8:42. Today, I’d breezed in, ready and eager for more, in 8:30.
My crew was there, ready and waiting, with my bag and meal. My plan was to stop at the halfway point and actually eat real food of my own (I had James make rolls of corn tortillas with turkey breast lunchmeat and avocado slices and boiled, salted potatoes. I had a little bottle of Coke to wash it all down). I changed my socks and applied another layer of BodyGlide to the bottoms of my feet while I ate. I took about 10 minutes to refresh and refuel; Claire and I trotted out at 8:40, about 4:15 p.m. Saturday afternoon.
Bandera 100K, the Second Half
The loop for the Bandera 100K starts with the section I find hardest (Ice Cream Hill) and ends with the segment I love most, the Lodge Loop, which consists of the climbs up Lucky, Cairn’s, and Boyles Bump with the corresponding downhills. I had Claire jump in front of me, letting her pull me along as she scampered up the beginning climbs. We talked about her race and what they’d done during the day. I found that my sense of time was getting a little shaky, and Claire synched her watch with mine to help me stay on my hourly fueling schedule.
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly and the light began to fade a little early due to the cloud cover. I’d brought my flashlight but my headlamp was at Chapas. It was twilight by the time we reached Nachos (mile 36.6); I slipped once, landing on my butt—there was a slight drizzle going on which made the trail a bit slippery, and I hoped that we’d get through the fields before any serious rain came down, as those trails can become notoriously slippery and hideous (I’ve done them wet, and it is hard, hard running).
By the time we reached Chapas, the second aid station on the loop, it was dark and drizzly. My plan was to completely change clothes here, so I took an extremely long break (22 minutes) to put on tights, a fresh long sleeved shirt and running bra, my Marmot rain jacket, new gloves, and skull cap and headlamp — I even changed my socks and shoes. They had hot salted potatoes, and I ate two cups and had a sip or two of Coke while Claire also recharged.
While I’d slowed when compared to my first loop (and had my first “valley” of the event), I was still making good time. We pressed on in an easy rhythm; Claire ran in front on the flats, calling out terrain, and we hoped that the thunderstorms predicted would pass us by.
I had another little valley before coming into Crossroads, which marked the ¾ point of my race. Even on a beautiful, sunny day, the flat section called “the fields” sucks the life out of me and I will typically lag and slow, so it was no surprise that a dark and rainy night in the 40–45 mile portion of a tough race would be a bit of a valley. There were several bathroom stops, all of which slowed me down (and I got frustrated watching several guys pass me as I answered nature’s call). Finally, there was Crossroads up ahead.
We came in to Crossroads at 14:47, around 10:15 p.m. James, Russ, and my second pacer, Jeanette Spears, were there and waiting with hot chicken stock. The original plan was that Jeanette would jump in to pace me as I came into Crossroads the first time but, as we’d finished the last portion of the field, I’d decided to keep Claire with me through the shorter inner loop back into Crossroads. Why? Claire and I had a great partnership working, and I knew that the rain plus the Sisters was going to be hard. My thinking was that a fresh friend at Crossroads Out would give me a mental boost that the end was near and, combined with my love of that section, I’d be able to pick it up and finish strong in those last miles, no matter what the conditions. My 11 minutes at the aid station bordered on dangerous and so we got moving, hoping that once back out on the trail, the storm would let up and move on by.
Nature, however, decided to really mess with me.
It began to rain in earnest as we left Crossroads, and the trail became slippery and muddy. Lightning raced across the sky and thunder pealed, and all of that is quite unnerving when you’re climbing to one of the higher points around. We passed three different guys, all of whom where in bad shape and barely moving. The rain came down harder and it was cold. There were no stars to be seen and the night was very dark.
The rain came down harder and I took the lead on the ridge, doing my best to run as hard as I could back to Crossroads (the thought had crossed both our minds that the lightning was enough to have the race called, and I wondered if my day was done. However, Pocatello had taught me that I don’t want to be out in any condition that scares a trail race director).
At 16:42 (sometime after midnight), I was back at Crossroads. The hard running had gotten my body temperature up but it dropped swiftly when I stopped for soup. Every part of me was soaking wet. I was cold and tired and I knew I had a lot of hard work in front of me. If I’d had valleys before, I was staring into an abyss now. Five minutes and I knew I had to go, go, go. A young guy name Christopher tagged on to me and Jeanette as we ran out of the aid station.
As we’d sat in the aid station, the rain turned into a deluge. The first few feet out of Crossroads were like ice skating, sliding back and forth in the mud. After we crossed the park road, the trail became a river of sucking mud.
It was impossible to hear much conversation and we three were trudging along through the brush in a sad, bedraggled line (Jeanette, me, Christopher). What should’ve been a flat, easy, run-able portion had become a nightmare. The more we walked, the less I could get my heart rate up, and the colder I got. At some point, we stopped and I pulled out the emergency plastic rain poncho stuffed in my backpack and I put it on over all my other wet gear. It acted as a wind break and kept some heat in, so I stopped shivering and began to warm up. Poor Christopher, however, was in tiny shorts, no rain gear (only a sopping wet zip-up jacket) and cap: no gloves, nothing to block the rain. He was not doing well, and I was concerned about getting him up and over Lucky and into the Last Chance aid station.
We slid into Last Chance (mile 57.10) at 18:42, two hours after I’d come into Crossroads…it had taken 40 more minutes to navigate that section than in my first loop. Last Chance was a dangerous place; it’s not good to get too warm and too comfortable in the late night hours of a trail race, and after 5 minutes, I was desperate to leave. Christopher needed help but I needed to go. At 9 minutes, I announced I was leaving and walked out; Jeanette followed a few minutes later, and Christopher caught up a few minutes after that, with a new rain coat a la Hefty, some borrowed gloves, Roger’s neck warmer, and a full stomach. We set off to tackle the last big climb of the night — Cairn’s Climb.
This is my favorite section of the course. It’s a trail made by trail runners, and I’ve been at the top of Cairn’s many a morning to see the sun come up. I love the downhill running on the back side. Once we were out of the mud stream trails, the climb up was not so bad. The rain was stopping but the wind had picked up. I gave up on drinking out of my bottle; it was too cold to put more cold stuff in my stomach. I’d had coffee with sugar, bacon (yum!) and Fritos at the aid station and this was just going to have to last for the rest of the night. All I could do was pull my arms in the poncho and hug it tight. I was shivering and my night vision was getting a bit wonky, whether from being tired or the rain or what I didn’t know. Where I normally bomb the downhills, I picked my way, worried that the mud on my shoes and the rain slick slopes would conspire to twist an ankle.
I’d tried to reassure Christopher that there was not much further to go, but it was obvious he didn’t believe me, especially as we made another climb up to the top before descending into Boyles. Now, I normally suffer from the “nag into the barn” syndrome on a good day; what with the bad weather, the closer I got to the finish, the more I wanted to pick it up.
There was a little bit of actual running going on as we came downhill, and Christopher was getting dropped. We called back to him periodically, and he’d always answer with a quiet, “I’m coming.” We came through the gate at Boyles, making the left turn that meant the Lodge was just around the corner. When we rounded the bend and saw the lights of the finish, Jeanette and I both screamed out to Christopher, “We’re here! We see the light!” and I took off running, yelling, to let them know I was coming. It was back raining again and I wondered if anyone was still at the finish. There were James, Claire, and Russ, and Joyce Prusaitis was on hand to greet us and give me my buckle. What a moment! Total time: 21:12.11 — those last 5 miles had taken 2:21 to complete, the last 10 miles in the rain a whopping 4:21.
But I didn’t care. What mattered was I FINISHED. I did it. I ran 62 miles in some of the toughest running terrain in Texas.
Bandera 100K, the Wrap-Up
I’d told everyone that I thought my finish range was 18 hours on a really good day and 22 hours on a really bad day. The beauty of it was that I had both, a really good day for almost 75K and a really bad day for 25K and I still hit my spread. I have no doubt that, without the rain, I’d have dropped another 2 hours off my time (at least).
But there’s a certain pride in finishing in bad conditions, the kind of conditions where 25 percent of the runners drop out, bringing the total number of finsihers to something like 128. A race where only 32 women see the finish line and 28 of those women are younger than me. It was a perfect day, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Special, special thanks to my two wonderful pacers, Claire Secker and Jeanette Spears, and to my husband, James, and Russ Secker for all the behind-the-scenes support. And a huge thanks to everyone who filled my bottle, patted me on the back, gave me high fives, and encouraged me throughout the day — I am so lucky and so blessed.
And lastly, a big thanks to Dano, who ran every step of the way with me — hokahey!