Sunday, January 13, 2013

Finding Your Fight - Bandera 50K Race Report

I didn't want to go do this. Coach and friend Jeremy told me it would make a good training run 3 weeks out from Rocky Raccoon 50 Mile. A 31 mile training run on a hard course. Given I'd run 30 miles TOTAL in the last 4 weeks since my 33-miler on December 8, this was going to be interesting. (Race directing divides my time, and I tend to have to prioritize running low to make my races the best I can give!)

Bandera 50K. The race director describes it on the website as "A trail of rugged & brutal beauty where everything cuts, stings, or bites". Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. There are three things as a runner I hate: HUMIDITY. ROCKS. MUD. This isn't going to be pretty...
Race Logo from Tejas Trails Events

Jeremy and I headed down Friday afternoon on the 6 hour drive to Bandera, Texas. We stopped on the outer loop of San Antonio for Indian Food, which Jeremy was craving. I'm happy as long as I can have chicken or fish and something carby like bread or potatoes. So some Tandoori Chicken and Naan, and I was content.
Travel buddy Jeremy at our pre-race dinner
A decent night's rest, and we woke up to find it had rained overnight. It was in the lower 60s, and ALL HUMIDITY. Thick fog made my first drive ever to Hill Country State Natural Area nerve-wracking, as I avoided a possum and a group of 3 deer that thought hanging out on the road in fog was a great idea. We arrived at the race site early to pick up our packets and pin on bibs.
Joe does some great race shirts. A long sleeve dry-wicking shirt from Champion.
They we turned in our drop bags that would be transported to the Crossroads Aid Station at miles 21/26.
I will say I'm an expert drop bag packer! Cute and compact and
has about 80 items I hope to not need in there!

We met several friends at the start. The race director walked the 50K runners the quarter mile to our out-of-the-way start line. I watched Tim Olson mosey through the crowd to the front of the start. I'd had the pleasure of getting to watch him in person win Western States last year, complete with a high-five as he came into the finish. So I was pretty stoked to see him out there.

We start the race, and it's not long before I'm hanging out for the first few couple miles with my friend Gates. We'd done the same at Palo Duro a couple months before. Lots of chaos of newbie 50Kers learning the etiquette of proper passing on a single track trail. We had several big climbs (Cairn's Climb, Boyle's Bump) early on. I had studied the course... extensively. I knew I wanted to take it easy the first 10 miles through the worst of the climbs.
I knew where to save energy and when I would want to push.

It was misty and still very foggy so the views and your bearings were completely obscured. About 3 miles in though the 25Kers started trickling into our ranks. By mile 6, I was overwhelmed by 25K runners shouting "9 more miles" while the slower 50Kers with me would say, "Hey, buddy, keep it to yourself. It's not 9 miles for us." Many practiced poor etiquette, many were rowdy and overexcited in the super rocky conditions. And many were a joy to be running with. Take the bad with the good.

And it wasn't just rocks, and rocks on rocks, it was slick, muddy rocks on rocks. And where there wasn't rock, there was mud. Awful conditions. Many, like Jeremy, who had run this race every single year, said it was the worst conditions yet for what is considered a highly technical course on a good day.

I was so thankful when mile 7 came and the 25K runners turned off. I wanted to go my speed and go safely and cautiously. Lesley, my friend and running partner for Rocky Raccoon, kept saying "Good luck... and don't get hurt." There's no way I was going to let Bandera cost me my 50 mile in 3 weeks, or put a crimp in Lesley's plans.
Lesley pacing me at mile 40 of my first 50 miler. Rocky Raccoon will  be the 2nd 50 miler for both of us!
Since mile 5 was a water-only aid station, I took my only GU of the course right around then. I spent extra time in each aid station to eat. I was worried if I ate GUs or chews inbetween, I would drain my 20 oz handheld water bottle too quickly and not make it the average 5 miles between stations in that humidity.

By Nachos, the mile 10 aid station, I was so sick and tired of humidity, rocks, and mud. And some GI problems making me uncomfortable weren't helping my mood. At mile 13, after most big climbs were done, we were on the worst section of FLAT trail called the #8 trail that was just strewn with tons of slick rocks. I picked my way through and felt like the rocks would never end. I had dark thoughts of how to get out of finishing this race around then. When that level of depression hits, it means it's time to eat. For a couple miles, all I could think about was how tired I was with the recent month I had, how undertrained I felt with the lack of running the last month, and how I wasn't really deconditioned, I was just
OUT OF FIGHT
There was no fight left in me. I was just going through the motions. I had only felt like the house and family routine had gotten back to normal in the last 2 days, but I was just getting the run routine reestablished. I was exhausted and couldn't put up the fight this course required of me. How could I run Rocky Raccoon in 3 weeks? Who was I kidding? Who was I fooling? You can't take off a month of running and then go do a 50 miler!!

And mile 15.5 I came into the Chapas station and left refreshed with coke, pretzels, chips, and M&Ms consumed. This was a big field section with fewer rocks, but the fields were full of sticky mud that clung to the bottoms of your shoes like a thick extra outer sole. But the food had helped, and I slowly slogged faster than my walk. And in that next mile I found my fight.
And that became a mantra: "I found my fight... keep it." 
Over and over again, about a hundred times in a cadence. And I jogged the full 6 miles to the next aid station, Crossroads, at mile 21. My average pace the rest of the course was about a 19 min/mi, and I was mustering a 16-17 minute mile on tired legs. Slow for many, but for me, I found the piece screaming, "No, I'M in charge here."

During this time Karl Metzler passed me in the 100K, finishing his second loop. I stepped off the trail and said "Way To Go, Karl!" as he stampeded down the rocky hill. He was definitely in a focused race mode because all other top 10 guys would kindly say "Good job" and Karl didn't acknowledge me at all.

Crossroads Aid Station had Janet, Gates' wife, volunteering. Seeing her was refreshing. We chatted about my races coming up. I hung out and ate for a few minutes. She said they were almost totally out of pickle juice so recommended I get some now because they wouldn't have it when I returned there at mile 26. I'd never tried it before so "sure, why not?" I hate dill pickles and shuddered that whole 6 ozs down. A warm quesadilla piece here really hit the spot too. I'm not prone to cramping and electrolyte problems, so I couldn't say the pickle juice helped, but I can't say it didn't!

Back out on the course and within about a mile and a half, a mental SLAM. Rocks, and climbing with rocks, and huge sotol cactus that draped their grass-like blades down over the trail and were covered in serrated edges. They were everywhere and the rocks were brutal. And we were going through the Three Sisters, three big climbs with big downs to go with them. And all rocks. And I was all depressed again. My IT Band, which has never hurt on a run before, started to seize up and was making ups and downs hard. I knew it was caused by the muddy terrain we'd made our stability muscles like that one suffer through.

I mentally and physically had a tough time until I got back to Crossroads Aid Station at mile 26. I knew only one big climb remained - Lucky Peak, at mile 30ish. Everything hurt at this point but my IT Band and the blisters forming on my right foot were the worst. The sucking mud had loosened up my shoes which were so mud coated I dared not attempt to relace and tie them, so my foot rubbed around in there to form two quarter-sized blisters, one on the ball of my foot and one on the heel. Good times.

But again, like the fight I found from miles 15-21, I wanted to show myself I was prepared for 50 miles, and I needed to rally through the pain for that. 2 fast miles at a 16 minute pace, zooming past runners, proved to myself my mind is stronger than my body.

Then I hit Lucky Peak and KABOOM. We go UP that?!? "Fine. It'll be slow though," my IT Band screamed. I wished I had my camera or phone to capture the steep slope of basically rubble. I "summit" and then go to head down... and the whole thing is muddy slick. Oh, fun. Picked my way down and got to watch a top 10 100K runner do his best Kilian Journet-impression and bomb the downhill like he didn't care about cracking open his skull.

When I got to the Last Chance Aid Station a half mile from the finish, I knew I was running this thing in. And at a beyond respectable pace. This was my last show that I had FOUND MY FIGHT. And so I pulled out my 25K PR pace and used it on the muddy path. 14 min-mile pace. Saving the best for last, I found an 11 min-mile pace waiting for me in the last tenth of a mile into the finish line. And I had finished in (unofficial) 9:50, just under 10 hours! My hardest race ever, and I count my 50 miler in that comparison ranking.

I was so happy to be DONE. I'd had so many moments I hated being out there before I would remember the unique scenery, terrain, experiences, and new friends I was making along this weekend's journey. But I know this race was important. It showed me so many things. That when you feel like you've lost your voice, your power, your hope, your FIGHT... it's always still there!

Finisher Medal

Congrats to my travelmate Jeremy who finished with a couple friends in 15:55 (unofficial) in the 100K, and so many other friends who pushed through the tough conditions. Tamara, who finished her first 25K. Claudia, running her first 50K. Melissa, who won 1st in her age group in the 50K! Jennifer and Jorge for strong 100K finishes.

5 comments:

  1. Congrats on finding your fight. Sounds like a killer race.

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  2. You're awesome! M&D

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  3. I love your race recaps because you are such a fighter! You tough it out and that always inspires me! I really like the phrase, "I found my fight." I need to keep that in mind when I'm running, but also for life in general!*

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  4. Freaking awesome! Your journals of these events make me want to do them! I know i have to pace myself but hope to get there.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Oh, and the other take away for me from this? "...newbie 50Kers learning the etiquette of proper passing on a single track trail."

    Never even thought about having to learn this in all the other info i'm having to get up to speed on for my first 50K.

    Again, thanks!

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