Tuesday, January 20, 2009

2009 Bandera 100 km race report
Arriving in Bandera, Texas on a warm, Friday afternoon, Nell, Jballs, and I checked into our B&Bs and made our way out to the Hill Country State Nature Area, 5369.8 undeveloped and secluded acres of steep, rocky hills littered with cacti and Texas sotol plants. A donation from the Merrick Bar-O-Ranch, the SNA was provided for public use with the stipulation that it "be kept far removed and untouched by modern civilization, where everything is preserved intact, yet put to a useful purpose." For some crazy reason, Joe Prusaitis decided it would make a good spot for a 100 km ultramarathon. And in a state of self-delusion, I deceded to try to run it.

After a couple years of ultrarunning, pre-race briefings have turned into mini-reunions where I reacquaint myself with friends from prior long distance endeavors. As we walked up to The Lodge (Bandera's race HQ), I caught up with Miles and Bill (who I ran a good chunk of Sunmart with), Brice (another Sunmart runner), Mark (a fellow Texas Trilogy contestant), and a few other folks from other races. I picked up my race number, chip, and sweatshirt, and stopped by to thank Joe, who had been kind of enough to toss some El Scorcho fliers in the race packet.

A few minutes later, Joe and his cohorts told us a little about the course. Apparently, a horse had tripped and had to be put down while traversing the very same trails we would be running. Consequently, the route had been slightly varied to avoid its decaying carcass. Nice omen.

After the briefing, dinner arrived under the big tent courtesy of a local cafe. Miles' pacer had contracted viral pneumonia, so he had a couple extra dinner tickets, and Nell and I chowed down on some pasta, salad, bread sticks, and dessert. Full and happy, we threw my drop bags on the trailer and headed back to the hotel for some shut eye before the big event.

Check out my drop bag. That's how you know I'm a real ultrarunner....
Saturday morning came early (I never really sleep that well before an ultrarun--I usually wake up once in the middle of the night and have trouble going back to sleep). Before I knew it we were back at The Lodge checking in and getting ready to run. The race started at 7:30 a.m. to coincide with sunrise. It was chilly and windy as we huddled under the main tent waiting for instructions to line up.

Bandera actually consists of three races--25 km, 50 km, and 100 km--all taking place on the trails at the same time, but with each run starting off in a different direction. This year, most folks were running the 25 km (more than 240!), but a respectable bunch of crazies had signed up for the 50 km (126 runners), and more than expected had decided to gruel it out over 100 km (135 runners).

At about 7:25 a.m., I had to use the restroom and, not suprisingly, several other runners had the same urge. I stood watching longingly as the 100 km runners took off without me, still in line as the race began. I finally trekked out alone about 3-5 minutes after the official start. Alas.

If you look carefully, you can see my blue coat as I finally take my turn in the restroom. Way to plan ahead, dude. And there go all the 100 km runners without me....

Finally heading out... alone... to run 100 km... on a very challenging course... great idea, Valdez.
The first half mile or so of the 100 km is a deceivingly flat, relaxing cruise on a jeep road. Ah, so nice and lovely. And then everything goes straight to hell as we climb up Sky Island then directly down Sky Island the up Ice Cream Hill then directly down Ice Cream (Joe apparently believes switchbacks are overrated).

To truly appreciate the magnificience that is the Bandera 100 km, please take a moment to peruse the course profile:
After 5.6 miles, I reached the Nachos aid station, where I snagged a quick bite to eat and some Gatorade before hitting the trail again.

I noticed that the top of my right foot was a little gimpy. I had actually had it X-rayed a couple weeks before the run to make sure I didn't have a stress fracture. (I didn't.) So while I would've usually attacked the downhill portions of the course, hopping from rock to rock, the slight pain in foot had caused me to tip toe like a wuss. Such is life. I motored on, hoping that the pain was in only my head.

Just after leaving the aid station, my right toe--the same one that rebelled at Sunmart--started to give me trouble. Damn. Right foot and right toe. 5.44 miles to Chapas, where I could do some foot maintenance. But first I had to contend with the ups and downs of #8 Trail. Yee ha!

At this point, I was still running by myself most of the way and had yet to hook up with Miles or Bill. The previous evening, we had discussed running together, but my tardiness affected our early companionship. Would we ever meet up? (Cue foreshadowing musical interlude....)

At Chapas, I came across Brice, who had somehow twisted an ankle and was forced to drop early. That always sucks.

I also caught up to Fred, who I met at the 2007 Ultracentric. Since then, Fred and I have run together at various parts of last year's Bandera 50km and last year's Rocky Raccoon 50 mile. Fred is also a veteran of El Scorcho.

After putting a blister pad on the toe, I dutifully trudged out to run what had previously been my least favorite part of the course--the 5.85 mile stretch from Chapas to Crossroads. Although it is the flatest part of the course, it is also the longest and the most exposed (although pretty much all of the course is exposed).

Last year, the temperature had soared, and this stretch had me hot and bothered (and not in the good way).

This year, it was cool, and I felt great.

So great, in fact, that I almost flew right past Bill without realizing it. Coming down a slight hill, I saw his lanky frame lumbering along very slowly. Not good, I thought. As I approached, Bill told me he had taken a spill and jarred his knee pretty badly. Game over. Bummer, amigo. (No worries, though, as Bill later told me he intends to be back next year to conquer the beast).

At the Crossroads aid station, I did some foot maintenance, chatted a bit with Fred, and took off again, up the climb over Three Sisters, a trio of nasty hills in rapid succession.

Back at Crossroads, I felt pretty good. I ran most of the next 4.96 miles to the Last Chance Aid Station, where I snagged a Rice Krispie treat and hooked up with Trey, a buddy of Fred's. We chatted over the next 4.25 miles as we hiked two more good climbs (Cairn's Climb and Boyle's Bump) before arriving back at The Lodge to check-in before starting round two.

Finishing the first 50 km feeling strong and ready for more (yeah, right)
I snacked on a grilled ham and cheese sandwich and chatted a bit with Jballs as we planned the next 50 km. Jballs had graciously agreed to "pace" me for the second loop. In other words, he was going to run at my haggard pace and make sure I didn't fall off a cliff in a state of exercise-enduced intoxication. (That's a clinical term, friends.)
We said goodbye to our wives and with a barbaric yawp, we were off again for another 9 hours or so of physical punishment.

Yes, folks, I do this for FUN.
Let's not mince words. The first 11 miles of the second loop SUCKED. You got that, amigos? They SUCKED.

Upon leaving The Lodge, the enormity of running another 31 miles of such ass-pounding terrain began to overwhelm me. We trudged along, but I had definitely hit the first low point of the run. Jballs tried to keep the mood light, and every now then we came atop a hill and took in the beauty of the surrounding. But, again, for the most part--it SUCKED.

Thankfully, we arrived at Chapas just before the sun went down. Fred lent me a pair of gloves (I'll return them at Rocky Racoon, buddy). I grabbed my flashlight, and then suddenly, inexplicably, I felt really, really GOOD.

Okay, maybe not so inexplicably. Maybe it had something to do with the serious spa treatement I gave both my feet before heading out. The good stuff, compadres. We're talking a full-on baby wipe bath, fresh blister pads, and some new Body Glide to reduce friction. Oh, yes, it was grand.

Oh, and lest I forget the pharmacy of pills I popped before leaving the aid station. Mmmmm... pills.... yummy SportLegs, Succeed Caps, Tylenol, and--the clincher--Jet Alert.

Surrounded by darkness and jacked up on caffeine and pain killers, we cruised through the next 5.85 miles like new men. Brave new men. In a brave new world.

Before I knew it, we were running up to Crossroads, where our lovely wives met us with steaming hot Sonic hamburgers. What a perfect, blissful meal.

The climb over Three Sisters didn't seem nearly as steep in the darkness. We followed the trail of glow sticks up and down the course, pausing every so often to turn off our flashlights, breathe deeply, and enjoy the full moon and the quiet solitude. At some moments, it was absolutely perfect.

Back at Crossroads, I still felt good. Jballs looked like he was out for a relaxing, evening stroll. Of course, I called him a pansy multiple times and reminded him that he was 31 miles behind me and that I looked ten times better than he did on my first loop. Yeah, we've got that kind of friendship.

Before leaving Crossroads, we came across Miles for the first time in the race.

"Let's do this, amigo," I told him.

"And no wimping out like Sunmart," I encouraged him, referring to last month's run where I finished about 30 minutes ahead of Miles. "You and I are finishing this one together."

We alternatively ran/walked #6 Trail and Lucky's Peak, slowly losing steam until we staggered in the Last Chance Aid Station looking like, as Jballs put it, we had been "mugged and beaten."

For the first time ever on a long run, my stomach started acting up on me. It simply did not want any more food. But with 4.25 miles to go, and at the snail's pace we were moving, I needed calories.

"No problem," the amazingly-chipper aid station captain (whose name I should know but have inexcusably forgotten). "I got just the thing."

He proceeded to whip me up a couple of pancakes, which he folded in half with a couple pats of butter (the real stuff--no messing around at this point in the run) and some maple syrup. It was still hard to make myself eat, but it went down smoothly enough to get me out the door and on my way to the finish.

4.25 miles away. That's all. 4.25 miles and we're finished. Let me tell you, that was a DAMN HARD 4.25 miles

4.25 miles should not take an hour and a half. It shouldn't take an hour. Even over some tough climbs, we should've finished in 55 minutes or so. Hell, I can easily jog 4.25 miles in 33 minutes or less. But that was then, and this was now, and after 15+ hours on my feet, I was spent.

And so we walked. And walked. And walked. When will this thing be over? Why haven't we started the descent? We do we just keep climbing?


Or, as another runner best put it, "F'ing grilled cheese!!!!!"

After awhile, Jballs grew wary of our constant bitching, and he motored to the finish, obstensibly so he could take some video of Miles and me crossing the finish line. Whatever. Traitor.

And then, very soon after Jballs abandoned us to our fate, we were sliding downhill and then onto the jeep road that would take us to The Lodge and--most importantly--the finish.

Don't Miles and Ilook happy?
Enjoying some tasty post-race soup in what appears to be a M.A.S.H. unit.
16 hours, 47 minutes, 50 seconds. That's a long time to do anything. Hell, I don't think I've even slept that long before. But now I can say I've run it. And if that ain't something, well... well... well let's be honest, it really ain't much. It just felt really good to be done.

At the end of the day, I finished in 89th place (1 spot better than Miles even though we had the same finish time!) out of 135 runners who started the race. 21 runners DNF'd. I was thankful things never got so bad that dropping crossed my mind. I got my first ultrarunning belt buckle and have finished 3 of the 4 races in The Quad (and 2 of the 3 in the Texas Trilogy).

Next month, 100 miles or bust.

Vaya con Dios, amigos.


Harry said...

Great report, Ryan. A few observations: (1) "ass-pounding terrain" - nice turn of phrase - think I'll use that one; (2) "no wimping out like Sunmart" - that wasn't "wimping out," that was sticking with a buddy rather than, you know, abandoning him for your own selfish glory; (3) did you forget that the "chipper" aid station captain at Last Chance also told you to "get the f-uck out of my aid station" (in a good-natured way, of course) when you refused a shot of tequila? See you in a few weeks amigo! Miles

Ryan "GandaMan" Valdez said...

I forgot about the farewell I received at Last Chance. Good stuff, my friend. RR100 awaits!

Mark said...

Nice report man, and impressive run - those pancakes at Last Chance were awesome, weren't they? I will be sure to listen out for the "barbaric yawp" at Rocky.

ed said...

Yikes! A belated "awesome job."

See you at RR100.

Just12Finish said...

You've been busy I see. Congrats!


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