Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Banderawesome Race Report, Part 1

Typical trail section with sotol & rocks. 
I know I'm going to leave things out of this. I know I cannot even begin to capture everything that was epic, that was awesome, that was "Banderawesome" about this trip, this race, this event. But the longer I wait to write this, the further it gets from my immediate memory and the more likely that I will leave something really important out of it. So, rather than piddle and diddle and overthink this, I think it's time to do what I did on Saturday morning, and in the words of my dear friend and most ardent supporter Marci, just "Do the Damn Thing."

The Prologue: 
I can't remember exactly what triggered me to sign up for this race in the first place, but I'm sure it had something to do with Sarah dragging me out the trails in Oak Cliff back in August. Or Jeremy pushing the feasibility of it on FaceBook, making me believe that 31 miles on rocky hills and paths was something that I really could accomplish. Or something with watching Michelle trek for three days across the Rockies. All of it contributed, I'm sure. All I know is that I was restless, even in the weeks leading up to NYC. I felt like I wanted more. Yeah, yeah, I was doing another marathon. Big deal, I'd done nine. Yeah, yeah, it was in New York City. Big deal, I'd practically lived there for a year. I wanted something MORE. No, after my own mid-life crisis, suburbanite version of a summer of discontent, I NEEDED something more. And this seemed to fit the bill. Boy, howdy, did it ever.

So a bunch of us figured out who all was signed up, and we made arrangements for carpooling down from Dallas, and for lodging a few miles outside Bandera proper with Julie from East Texas (who was going to be doing the 25K, a distance that was longer than her longest run, BTW). We planned to meet Fawn down there, too, if not before the race, definitely at some point on race morning. As the day approached, I got more and more nervous, and as the emails and DMs flew back and forth about what to pack and what to eat and drop bags (WTH is a drop bag? Do I need a drop bag? What do I put in a drop bag?! Ay-eeee!)  and baby wipes, I got more and more nervous. Nervous maybe isn't the right word.  Terrified is more appropriate. What had I gotten myself into?  I knew Sarah wouldn't leave me behind, and I knew I could do the distance, but I had a lot of fears, some of them unfounded, but some of them very real.  Bandera is listed as "A Trail Run of Rugged and Brutal Beauty where everything cuts, stings or bites" and it is also described as very rocky and hilly. I don't historically do well with rocks and hills. But, hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? And Jeremy had some very sage words of advice when he said something to the effect of if you think it has you beat, then it does. So I had to get rid of the negative thinking and the fears or I was going to do myself in before I even started.

Race weekend arrived and we piled into Sarah's car for the drive down (thanks, Sarah, for letting us trash your car with mud and such) and settled in for the five-hour ride. We arrived at the hotel but didn't have time to go to the packet pickup that night, and instead settled into a local restaurant for a pasta dinner. I traditionally have mashed potatoes pre-race, but I rationalized in my head that since I'd never done an ultra before so I didn't really have an ultra pre-race meal established. After dinner, we retreated to the hotel to wrangle the extra cot into the room and do all the typical pre-race preparations, then most of us were out by 9:30ish, with alarms set for 4:30 and additional alarms for 4:45 and 5:10, signalling our latest time to leave the hotel and head to the race site. Surprisingly, I slept pretty good, despite the beginnings of an itch in my throat and a slightly stuffy nose. I warned my roommates I might snore and off to dreamland I went.

Race Morning: 
We were all up & ready to roll on time, and after a brief stop for caffeine for Julie & Jeremy, we headed out on the country roads toward Bandera and the park area. Julie had been there the day before so we weren't worried about getting lost. I was bummed that my phone didn't charge properly and I had only 15% battery left, so I wasn't going to be able to bring it out on the trail with me for live tweeting and updates. We got there in plenty of time to hit the porta-potty line, get our bibs and ankle chips, and check in. It was almost go-time! We decided that we would meet Julie at the finish when we got done, head back to the hotel to shower & change, then come back and wait for Jeremy until he got done with his race. About this time, the sun started rising and we could tell we were in for a gorgeous day.

Good Morning, Texas!! I love Texas sunrises!

This would be the last time Sarah & I would see Jeremy until he finished. Julie saw him at halfway point.

Julie, Sarah, Me, Fawn & Lisa. Love these amazing women! 
I didn't really have time to be nervous, as we just kind of stood around and then before I knew it, people started running. And we followed .

And we're off!!
Now, it's time to switch to my standard Good, Bad & Ugly race report format, so I can clearly wrap my head around all that this race involved and break things down in a way that makes the most sense. Here we go! 

The Good: 
My Running Partner.  Sarah is a bad-ass. There's no two ways around it. She is a three-time IM finisher, won her age group in the Grand Tetons 50-miler this summer and is basically about the coolest person I've ever met. And she kept me together on the trail out there. She kept me talking, laughing, nodding and singing (just a little) the whole way. So much so that I lost my voice after about eight hours! But she was encouraging and enthusiastic and I learned so much about trail running and trail races in our time out there that I am stoked for more. Much, much more. I also know that there is no way in the world I would have finished without her by my side. I have no idea how to ever repay that kind of debt to her, except to tell her that I love her and adore her and that I support that plan!! 

Sarah Thomsen, my ultra bad-ass hero. 
The trail. It was gorgeous. Yes, there were sharp pointy things. Yes, there were rocks. and oh, yes, there were hills. I was intimidated by this course before I even got there but really it wasn't insurmountable, even to a rookie trail runner like me. I was out of breath on some of the climbs, and I got tired for sure, but I never looked at any section of this trail and thought, "I can't do this."  I may have thought, "I am crazy for doing this," but that's different. Besides, for every pain the ass/calf/hamstring climb we had, there was usually some amazing payoff vista as a reward.  That was pretty cool.  And there were some runnable sections, too, much more than I had been expecting.

One of our amazing views from the top of a hill.
The Aid Stations. I had heard the aid stations and volunteers were awesome here, and that was true. We heard the first big aid station well before we saw it. In fact, the way the trails twisted and turned, we heard music coming from it (Bare Naked Ladies, for the record) well before we actually stumbled upon it. It gave us a lift at mile 10 when we finally got to the clearing and saw it. I had nibbled on some of my Clif bar by then but took full advantage of the peanut butter sandwiches, Oreos and Heed there. Each aid station we came into was a welcome sight, and it was a serious lift to come into Crossroads for the first time and see that we had covered 21 miles and change. For some reason, we had expected to be under 20 miles at that point, so to see we had covered more ground was really exciting. And the volunteers at Crossroads, at all of the stations, were great. Helpful, cheerful and enthusiastic. One woman actually offered to help me change my shoes at Crossroads - that was a new experience for me!

I got mashed potatoes from this woman! I heart her!
At every station we were offered tasty food, our choice of fluids and, most cheering to my soul, I was given MASHED POTATOES and PANCAKES!!! WOOT! When the woman at Crossroads handed me a little cup of mashed potatoes, my manna that I had missed the night before, my very spirit lifted and I knew I was ready to tackle the next segment. And then, when we staggered into Last Chance in the dark, half a mile from the finish, and the friendly smiling volunteer offered me a pancake? Well, I knew I was going to do this thing, and I knew that my buddy Kris was smiling on me from Dallas!

I am eating a pancake at mile 30.6. Sarah is drinking beer. Oh yeah!
My Nutrition. I had originally planned to do my usual marathon race fuel of Clif bars & Clif bloks for this. I packed them into my camelback pocket and everything. But when we got out there, it somehow seemed sacrilegious to be out in nature like we were and eat little blocks of gel. Plus I wasn't going so fast, even before my knee gave out on me, that I was going to have stomach issues with the more solid food offered. I did have a few bites of my Clif bar once we realized the first aid station was water only (something we knew and forgot after reading the race doc) before we got to the Nachos station. But for the rest of the day, I subsisted on food from the aid stations and really did well. I never was hungry, nor was I overfull, and the combination of drinking water from my camelback while we were out and two small cups of Heed at each aid station worked well for me.  As far as I can remember, this is what I ate while I was out there.

  • Between mile 5-10: Half a Clif Bar - boy that Clif bar smells tasty! 
  • Nachos Aid Station, Mile 10: 2 Oreos, 1/4 peanut butter/jelly sandwich, few pretzels, 1.5  cups of Heed
  • Chapas Aid Station, Mile 15: 2 Oreos, 1/4 waffle with peanut butter, a few M&Ms, 1.5 cups of Heed
  • Crossroads Aid Station, Mile 21: Mashed potatoes, 1 Oreo, 1 cup of Heed
  • Crossroads Aid Station, Mile 26.3: Roasted red potatoes (mashed potatoes were gone - sad face), 1 Oreo, 1 cup of Heed
  • Last Chance Aid Station, Mile 30.6: PANCAKE with syrup, 1/2 cup of Sprite (mistaken for Heed)
  • Post-race: gatorade smoothie with protein powder on drive to hotel, small Wendy's frosty on way back to race site

My Shoes/Clothes. Had to wear the Texas skirt. You knew that. Please. Was there even a question? Yet we had heard weather reports of very cold at the outset, and possible rain later in the afternoon. I knew I wanted something on my legs in case of the cuts and scrapes from the sotol and cactus, too. Just running through high grasses out at Knob Hills tears my legs up for weeks after, so I wanted to avoid that. So the choice was made to put a cheap pair of compression tights ($15, Academy) under the skirt; if they got snagged by cactus or torn in a fall it would be no big whoop.  Turns out neither was a concern. On top I went with my yellow top from NYC, as it was both warm enough for early morning but easy enough to roll sleeves up if it got warmer in the day.  I had stashed a short-sleeved top in my drop bag (yes, Sarah and Jeremy educated me as to what should go in my drop bag!!) in case it got too warm, but by the time we got to it, the clouds had rolled in and we were very comfortable in the long sleeves. Even when the sun went down on us I was still very comfortable and didn't get chilled at all.

For shoes, I used my North Face trail shoes (yes, I wear men's trail shoes - when I bought them, they didn't have the women's model in my Amazon foot size, plus, ORANGE!) but put my road Kilkennys in my drop bag in case for some reason the North Face ones didn't work or I just felt like I needed a change.  Ended up I did change into them for the mile 20-25 loop out of Crossroads, but quickly changed back before heading out for the final five miles. The only two blisters I got were from the Kilkennys rubbing on the back of my heel on the descents during that stretch, so if I had just stuck with the North Face, I would have been blister-free. Oh, well, live & learn.

Chose tights to avoid getting sliced by the razor sotol.
Some of the 100K leaders we saw pass us were cut up badly.
The Running Angel. So, we were out there longer than we expected to be. I had every intention of finishing in around 10 hours at the longest, which would have put us into the finish by 5:30, a good half-hour before dusk. But I also had no intention of having my right knee lock up on my between miles 15 and 25, requiring me to drag it behind me for that whole time. OK, not the whole time, just on downhills. So, it ended up that as it grew darker and darker, we were still a good mile & a half out from the end. And neither of us had a headlamp. We both own headlamps, but we hadn't brought them. Because even walking, we estimated we would be done by nightfall. But we didn't count on me having to carefully pick my way down every downhill after mile 15. EVERY downhill. There was no barreling down the descents for me. To do so would have been absolute disaster because my knee would have buckled and I would have been in so much pain that I could not continue. As it was, I was in pain, but it was tolerable as long as I side-saddled down the hill, or dragged my right leg behind the left.

So that's how we found ourselves in the dark without a light (NOTE: I know this was stupid. I should have been prepared. I should have put a headlamp in our drop bag. It will NOT happen again). Until... after Lucky Peak, two runners came up behind us, headlamps blazing. We had been getting passed by the faster 25K runners all morning and the faster 100K runners all afternoon, so we moved over to let them by. They told us they were just out messing around and we didn't need to move over. Then one of them stopped and asked me if we had a light. We said no.  He gave us his. Just took it off his head and handed it to me. Said to be sure to give it to Thomas or Olga at the finish. That he and his friend would share while they finished out their run. Didn't give us his name. Didn't ask ours. Just  gave us light and hope to make it to the end without falling or twisting an ankle or careening off the side of an embankment. He seriously was a running angel and I owe our finish to him.

I guess I could have taken flash pictures every ten feet...
The Bling. It's simple. It's classy. It says "50k" on it. And it's mine!

More to come....


Tara said...

Great race report so far! I love all the great goodies at the aid stations! And how awesome of the runner to loan you girls the headlamp. Runners rock! Looking forward to the rest of your report.

ERIN C. said...

I love race reports!!
The aid stations on trail runs are awesome - they have the BEST food, don't they?!?! Can't wait to read more :)