Nonetheless, signed up and on my way I was, so it was time to think about how I might be able to limit the pain and suffering, while still putting forth a decent effort. Not much was coming to mind, and the thought of 62 miles over rock-littered trail was really quite nauseating.
My mood perked up a bit when I met Dylan and Yassine at the airport, but it was frustrating to be hanging out barely able to talk. Ah, bugger. Maybe things would feel a little better in the morning. I'd only had 4 hours sleep on average the last three nights, so I was almost guaranteed a solid kip. After some pasta and a quick beer courtesy of our very gracious hosts (Mr Wilen and Mr Albert, you are owed) at the formidable hunting cabin at which we were staying, it was time to get the ole' head down for a serious ZED fest.
I could talk in the morning. That was good. But the thought of 62 miles at race pace still sounded terrible, almost like a death sentence hanging over my head. What in God's name was I doing here? I was about to get spanked by course and competition and I knew it.
Stiff upper lip.
Bandera was once again serving as the 100km national trail championship, but probably of more relevance to those in the USAT&F field were the 74 Montrail Ultra Cup points up for grabs, the cheese (a Dylan'ism for cold, hard cash), and the two Western States berths. Or, more euphemistically, the chance to run against competition.
Bandera is run on a repeated 50km route. It offers a limited amount of climbing, but nonetheless is probably harder than Miwok with its 10,000' plus of climbing.
This course is quite capable of bringing you to your knees. The chief culprits are the rocks that litter the opening and closing thirds of the course. On fresh legs and feet, it’s all fun and games. You go out charging up the 200-300 foot mini climbs high-stepping the limestone rock ledges, before descending the marble-, tennis ball- and softball-sized rocks on the backside descents. This is repeated a number of times before you open up the stride and build a head of steam running some of the less technical sections of the course. The middle miles take you over a mixture of open, fast grassland, more gnarl on the crossroad loop, buffed singletrack, a short sharp bop up and down Lucky’s Hill. And then it all ends where you started with punishing rocks and two more climbs, the final one involving a section of ridge running that can seem endless on tired legs.
The conditions for this, the tenth running of Bandera, were unseasonably hot with not a cloud to be seen all day. Between the rocks and the sun, there was some pretty significant carnage, among which I would most definitely include myself.
Dylan and I had discussed our desire to keep things somewhat conservative on the first loop in hopes of mounting a charge on the second go around. From the gun, Timmy Olson and Dave James were immediately off to the races with myself and a pack of guys sitting back in reasonably close pursuit. By the time we hit the first aid station six miles in, Dylan and I were running together in third and fourth with Dave and Timmy a minute or so ahead and a still sizable pack a similar distance behind.
Things would essentially remain this way for the first half of the first lap. However, a few sneaky glances behind on some of the open sections revealed a patiently waiting Dave Mackey, while the gap on Timmy and Dave James appeared to be closing ahead.
By the halfway mark of the first 50k at the Crossroads aid station, Justin Ricks had managed to tag onto Dylan and me and we ran that middle loop together at what seemed like a slightly up-tempo version of what we had previously been pushing out. Not long after leaving Crossroads for the second time, at mile 22, Dylan and I were once again running solo in third and fourth with Justin having fallen off the pace. Dave and Timmy seemed to have rebuilt their lead a bit.
I was hanging on by a thread and I knew it, but I wanted to keep Dylan moving well at least until we finished the first loop. I desperately wanted him to pick up a WS spot.
Working our way up Boyle’s Bump, the final climb of the loop, Mackey suddenly made an appearance and was quickly ahead of us looking strong and in command. Seeing him moving the way he was, I figured he was on his way to bridging the gap to Dave and Timmy and maybe contending for the win. Dylan and I meanwhile had seemed to be dropping the pace ever so slightly. Figuring that Dave and Timmy were gone, it was up to Dylan to pick up Dave James - who I was assuming had a 50-50 chance of finishing - if he wanted that Squaw start.
Dylan was much quicker than me through the turnaround and I knew he was gone for the day. I now had to find the grit to get on with things and stop entertaining the swelling urge to throw in the towel. And so off I jogged back out for another 31 miles of unadulterated torture. I think I saw five guys coming at me on the half mile it took to clear the start/finish out and back, and I assumed that each and every one of them would swallow me up before I was finished. Top ten was starting to look like a good result.
Joe Uhan was the first to emerge, six miles later, just as I was leaving the first aid station. I mumbled some form of unconvincing encouragement and jogged out. Somehow I managed to hold Joe off for five more miles - or I should say, Joe didn't pass me until the next aid station as I certainly wasn't trying to hold position. I wanted to quit there as well, but that would have been embarrassing with a Queen and a Lord in attendance.
I wasn't eating, I felt bloated on fluids and I wanted to puke. Oh, and like everyone else I was cramping like it was secretly in fashion. I literally ate handfuls of E-Caps, but got nothing in return, just more cramps. My system was absorbing nothing. I was on for a death march of epic proportions, and was firmly set on pulling out at Crossroads, the next aid station. But there were Mike and Albert who had so kindly put me up for the weekend, and there was a smiling Darcy telling me that I had nothing more than a lunchtime run to go (14 miles). Good grief Charlie Brown.
Off into the sotol infested jungle I went to receive further lacerations to the legs and increased levels of dehydration under the burning sun. I passed Dave James on the top of some hill and cursed him silently for having the courage to drop out when there really is no point in continued forward movement.
Back to Darcy and more encouragement. She had ice. Sweet baby Jesus, she had ice. Nine more miles. Was I still in fifth? How on earth was I still in fifth? Okay what was the next section again? Oh yeah, moderately rolling, not very technical singletrack, a sharp climb and then half a mile on doubletrack to the last aid station. Get me on that climb - all I want to do is walk and feel sorry for myself.
Olga, sweet Olga. There she was waiting at the last aid station. How did I get there? 55 minutes to the finish if I walked every step of upward facing trail and ran the rest, she told me. That's less than an hour. Should I puke this bloat out of my stomach and start afresh or should I stubbornly keep drinking coke and downing salt caps in the vain hope that my stomach might actually absorb something and stop the horrendous leg cramps. I chose the latter. It continued to be a highly ineffective strategy.
Two more climbs, an endless traverse and then just like that I was done. I sat down and proceeded to feel worse and then worse some more. I was dehydrated, with a touch of sunstroke and some major nausea. Easily the worst I have ever felt post race.
I finally did puke, put I didn't get the window down in time. Sorry multinational rental car agency.
So enough of my self pity. I'm fine.
Congrats to Joe Uhan on running a really gutsy race and claiming that Western States spot. Congrats to Timmy for destroying the field, and to Dave for hanging tough yet again. Dylan, you'll get yours in Sonoma.
I wish I could have been a little more sociable after the race. Or that I had puked sooner. I was like a new man after getting all that junk out of my system. I went on to consume three beers and half a pizza that night, which for as bad as I was feeling for the first two hours post-race is quite a miracle.
Thanks to Joe P for putting on a great event, encouraging fast and slow alike, and gathering together a formidable crew of volunteers. He's got nine more events (he likes to remind people of that). Go check one of them out. You'll be glad you did.
The depressing truth
1st lap: 3:57
2nd lap: 4:57