Bandera 100K, Bandera, TX

Elevation Gain: 2621'; High Point: 1925'

January 9, 2010 - For the week before this event the Weather Channel ominously showed a biting Arctic Express tightening its cold grip on the south in a manner unforeseen by me and to a degree unseen in the south for most of a century. There was snow in Miami and Dallas, and Atlanta was shivering in the teens. I scheduled an early January race as motivation to train through the winter and to escape some of the cold and snow to warmer southern climes, but it was not turning out the way I had hoped for. A nagging thought occurred to me as race day approached to stay home... to just blow this one off... to just kick back and save my body for another day; but the even greater nagging reality that my time left to do these crazy things is ticking away would ultimately prevail. So with entry fee and flight already paid for I made a last minute decision to brave the elements and take on whatever the fates would throw at me.

At 0415 dark a.m. the day before the race I headed out to the airport on three fresh inches of unplowed slippery white stuff. The roads were treacherous with many vehicles disabled in the medial strip that served to cause me to repeatedly second guess myself, but I proceded nonetheless with faith that all would be well - and so it was.

The flight to San Antonio through Houston was nominal with the usual waiting and delays. By the time I picked up a rental vehicle and checked into my hotel it was again dark, but at least I wouldn't be sleeping in a car at the start as per my usual modus operandi. After a good night's sleep I drove west for an hour in the early icy morning to the mostly ranch town of Bandera to arrive at the starting line at the Hill Country State Natural Area south of town.

The temperature at the start was 8 degrees - just incredible to me - but I was prepared for this with the racing apparel I had brought along. Normally I wouldn't even go out to train in such temperatures at home. But I paid to do this, so I didn't come all this way to complain. The temps must have seemed all the chillier to those who were from Texas, but we braved the dawn anyway with a crisp start at 0730 with the usual optimism found at ultras. Not once throughout the day did I hear one comment about how cold it was - not once! The nearly 150 starters headed out immediately to find single track up rocky trails to the summit of our first climb of 300 feet up Sky Island. The pace seemed reserved enough that the air wasn't too cold on the lungs and I felt comfortable running without sweating early on. The trail wound around up and down through the deserty terrain, up over another rise called Ice Cream Hill before reaching the first aid station at 5.6 miles called Nachos where loud western rock music was playing and a party seemed to be going on. While a six-mile-per-hour pace seemed comfortable and appropriate, I found myself stumbling more than I like, so I focused on lifting my feet over the rocks better so as not to do a face plant.

Nonetheless, over the next 5.4 miles to the next aid station at Chapas I tasted dirt three times - hard, despite my best efforts to fight the call of gravity. My left elbow was extremely sore by this time, but I continued on at a 6 mph pace through the pain and discomfort. The rocks in the hill country of Bandera are probably the most challenging I have ever raced on - a lot tougher to negotiate than those at Massanutten. I must remember that when I get there again! Past Chapas I fell and landed very hard once again on my left elbow and slammed both knees into rocks on the trail. It was such a violent fall that my watch was ripped off my wrist along with a fair amount of the skin from my wrist, left hip bone and both knees - a bloody mess under all the layers. Getting up this time, it was hard to resume a confident pace over the rough hoof-pitted bridal trails we were mostly following. My focus became all the more intent on lifting my legs and running very deliberately. Being beat up so badly by twelve miles in a 62-mile race in freezing temperatures is not an ideal racing circumstance. Nonetheless, I reached the next aid station and my drop bag at Cross Roads at nearly 17 miles in under three hours, still at about a 6 mph pace.

I changed some clothing and resupplied my fuels to continue a 5 mile loop up over Three Sisters before returning to Cross Roads. From there the trail went up over Lucky Peak before the aid station at Last Chance. My pace was slowed by one more hard fall on Three Sisters and the encroachment of serious doubts about being able to complete this event. I hurt all over, much more than I generally have experienced in this sport. Two healthy climbs and two steep descents on Cairn's Climb and Boyle's Bump awaited before the completion of the first of two loops to reach the half way point. I was able to collect my resolve to continue and run through some of the misery before reaching the halfway point back at the Lodge in 6:15 - not a bad 50K time considering the terrain, rocks, and falling.

I quickly got past the Lodge aid station to start the second loop. Had it taken me more time to finish the first loop, I may have stopped. My concern was being able to run 17 more miles back to Cross Roads to reach my drop bag with headlamp before dark. To do that I would need to arrive back at Cross Roads by 6:30 p.m. at the latest. Since my time was good so far I felt I could accomplish this, but nonetheless had to run with a certain sense of urgency to make sure I didn't get caught out on the trail without a light.

My pace fell off from 6 mph to 4+ mph on the second loop, mostly to keep from falling again - which became an urgent obsession with me. I kept up a reasonable ultra shuffle and didn't fall or stumble any more, so some of the pain gradually subsided. I maintained my lucidity throughout the day and got busy just doing what I had to do. It was enjoyable running in the Texas hills, though, receiving a "howdy" a couple times from real cowboys riding on the same trails we ran on. The trails were marked by hoof prints from when the soil was wet and soft that proved as hazardous as the rocks. The course was mostly in the open with plenty of Texas sotol to brush harmlessly against the legs; occasionally there would be a stand of prickly pear cacti braving the frigid temps along side the trail, usually near old rusting ranch out-buildings. Sometimes the trail would pass through stands of thorny mesquite, but never did they reach out and stick you. They say everything here cuts, stings or bites; at least the rattlesnakes and scorpions this time of year were tucked away in their winter hideaways. The sunshine throughout the day helped one forget about the cool, dry temperatures. As it turned out I stuck to my pace and reached Cross Roads before six p.m, well ahead of the darkness, mostly enjoying the experience, using ten-and-a-half hours to run 48 miles - not a bad effort at all.

With 14 miles to go I headed into the waning light of dusk and was able to make good progress before having to turn on my head lamp. The darkness slowed me further as my eyes are not as good in the dark as in younger days, taking me 4 hours and 45 minutes to finish in 15:11:58 for 50th place of 111 finishers. I lost the trail three times in the darkness going up over Cairn's Climb and Boyle's Bump and took one more tumble before I found my way back. After the final fall I laid there on a fairly steep slope on my back, with my feet uphill, and just paused to look at the constellation of Orion overhead in the night sky and just appreciate breathing in the crisp night air and the reality that I would finish this ultimately in one piece. It was a good feeling - or maybe it just felt good to momentarily be off my feet - but overall I felt satisfied with the day's effort and glad that I accepted and overcame this challenge.

RD Joe Prusaitis greeted me with a shiny buckle at the finish and genuinely was happy for each finisher. I told him I really enjoyed the day, and I meant it. The temperature was 18 degrees at the finish, so I collected my drop bags, declined having a beer or two, and made tracks for a shower and some warmth back at the hotel. After a short night's sleep I would head home and recover to dream of the next challenge ahead, and the one after that, and on and on..... It is a good thing to do hard things once in awhile in life. While I'm still sore as I write this, I appreciate the comfort that I enjoy in my life so much more.

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