Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Negative Splits in a Rough Race - 2014 Bandera 50K Race Report

Last year, through mud and humidity, I wrote that I had found my fight in the middle of the Bandera 50K course. I truly hate the rocky terrain and I hated last year's conditions, but here I was coming back again in 2014 because it's a well-executed event and a good ultra training run locally (well, a 6 hour drive away, which is locally when you live in the big state of Texas). And of course, the road trip company and fun always improves the prospects of a race you aren't looking forward to.

My training the past month had been... weird. December was pretty decent. Two races got iced out but I ran a bazillion miles on the treadmill. I got in a lot of runs until the week of the New Years Double. Race production normally makes it hard to run but this year I had multiple major vendor screw-ups that ate up my time and attention leading up to race day. And then, between race set-up and execution, my plantar fasciitis came back with a vengeance after all the hauling, lifting, jumping in and out of a U-haul, checking on cones and mile markers at 5 am race morning, and walking around a concrete race site for 8 hours two days in a row. So a week of hard rehab and I was doing a lot better but a little nervous it would come back.

I went into Bandera 50K with a good midweek of 20 miles of runs, including a strong 10 hill repeat workout. I had 1300 ft of vertical gain that race week, so my legs were not fresh between the miles and the climbs. Good, makes for an excellent training run.

Road Trip!

My good friends Jeremy, Josh, and Aubrey piled into my car for the long drive down on Friday. Jeremy and Josh would be running the 100K, and Aubrey was recovering from injury so would help crew us, have fun on the trip, and learn a ton about what happens at an ultra so he could do one down the line when he was all healed up.

Lots of cookies were consumed on the drive. We taught Josh what the fox says. We ate pizza and pasta from a cute hole-in-the-wall in Boerne before heading to bed.

First Half of the Race - Start to Chapas

Up at 5 am, out the door 5:45, arrive to the race site 6:30. We all picked up packets, which, by the way, included a volunteer making a red Sharpie swipe mark on the back of each of our hands. I wasn't the only one. The whole car afterward had the same reaction the whole race that I did: catch a glimpse of it in the corner of your eye and freak out trying to figure out why you were bleeding for half a second. Grrrr.

It was about 52 degrees when we started. I wore my windbreaker with the very reflective trim and accents. LOL.

A couple miles in I heard a girl lamenting wearing her jacket as she tied it around her waist. I had just done the same. Yes, I wore a jacket two miles and would now wear it tied around my waist until I saw Aubrey at mile 21. BUT I was really comfortable getting to the start line for all that time pre-race waiting and I chose not to waste energy shivering beforehand and the first 30 minutes on the course. I've learned to ignore those who say to suck it up until you warm up; I don't need to pour my running energy into shaking like a leaf at a start line.

The first 10 miles composes a lot of the climbs in the race (Boyle's Bump, Ice Cream Hill, Sky Island) so I worked hard to keep my pace reined in. There is also no aid station with fuel the first 10 miles. So I had brought a Gu to keep my energy up and strategically used that about 6 miles in!

About 5 miles in, I ran with 2 ladies for a few miles. The only company I would have the whole race. Karen and Marit were from Michigan. I recognized Marit's name, and we chatted away about all the mutual friends we had! I'm also part of the Facebook group for a lot of the Michigan ultrarunners so we'd seen each other out there. And then in conversation my race directing came up, and it turns out she ran my New Years Double race last year! What a small world. She had also broken her age group winner champagne glass, and I told her I would send her another. I have it set aside to ship this week!

Another gal was running behind us during this and after Marit took off ahead, I chatted with her. Marla lives in Waco and we also knew some of the same people. She introduced me to her friend Susan when we came into the Nachos Aid Station - "Hey Susan, meet Libby. She puts on this really cool sounding race. Two marathons New Year's Eve and New Year's Day." LOL. Glad I had gotten her excited and maybe I'll see her there at the end of this year. Both of those women were training for Rocky Raccoon 100 mile in 3 weeks!

At the Nachos Aid Station, I refilled my 20 ounce handheld water bottle, had a few pretzels, and took 2 Oreos for the road. I didn't plan to use caffeinated Coca-Cola until the next aid station. It was 5.2 miles to the next aid station, Chapas.

From here I was basically alone the rest of the race, aside from people I would pass on the course. This section had the #8 trail which I abhorred last year. I wasn't looking forward to it. There wasn't that much climb or descent, just a long stretch of loose rocks everywhere you turned on a nice wide trail (like a nice wide Jeep road to make the taunting complete). My pace last year had been awful here.

The perspective of my rocky races over the last year was evident here, and my pace didn't suffer much. After that trail I really had a "Wow, that was it?" moment.
One of the easy sections, where the rocks were more embedded and not loose.
About a mile out still from Chapas, it was starting to get really warm. The course was very exposed. And I ran out of water with that one mile left. I took my buff from around my neck and pulled it up so it covered half my forehead, my hair, and my ears. Since my heat exhaustion at Tahoe Rim Trail 50 last year, I know I'm now more susceptible, and that I seem to be susceptible generally anyway. I was happy I was being proactive about dealing with it.

At Chapas, I refilled my water, squirted some on my forehead and the back of my neck, and then I chose to eat all my foods right there. If I walked with food, I would drink down my 20 ounces of water too fast, and I had 5.8 miles to the next station. I ate and then refilled my water to the brim again. Then I put some vaseline they had under one arm because I was starting to feel a little chafe sensitive with the heat.

Chapas to Crossroads Aid Station (Miles 15-21)

I knew if I could keep moving for another couple miles there would be some wonderful field segments. But we also had some long exposed climbs too. I ran into my friend Jeff sitting on a rock eating salt tabs - nice to see a friendly face.

I kept moving. You can see the climbing here. First a picture that shows the power lines angled to illustrate the height of the climb.

Now a zoom in to the section that shows people far away behind me.

Another rocky section to get through. The sunlight was just perfect to catch a shadow on each jagged rock.

And I tried to smile, but my face still kinda says, "What am I doing here again?" Note the smart plan to put my buff over my head. I'm also cursing that I didn't wear a hat or remember my sunglasses.

Then the fields came, and I could run, really run, again. This was where Sage Canaday had caught me last year when he was breaking the course record in the 100K. But no leaders came up on me through here. I was moving faster than last year! I went from 16-18 minute pace on the rockier sections to some great 12-13 minute miles through the fields.

I came out to the aid station at Crossroads (the first time I would cross through here), and Aubrey was there. And a quick high to friend David as well. Aubrey was a little concerned. He said, "I saw Jeremy at his mile 17, and he said I have to make you drink. I asked how he was but his response was: Make Libby drink." I said I had run out of water in the last 3/4 mile before coming in. I needed to sit and drink almost a whole 20 ounce water. Meanwhile I asked if there was ice for my buff, and we soaked it in icy water. I also put ice down my sports bra. I had two cups of coke, some M&Ms, and some pretzels. Then I got up from the chair, thanked Aubrey, and headed out. I asked him if he was heading back to the car if he could grab my sunglasses and hat. By the time I got them, I would have only 5 miles left, but I was eager for a respite from the sun and burning heat.

Crossroads to Crossroads (Miles 21 to 26)

This was the 3 Sisters section, 3 climbs and descents. And this section came with rocks and sotol cactus to scratch up your legs. I actually didn't think the Sotol was as bad as last year. I made it through with minimal scratches.

First a one mile flat roadlike segment where I worked hard to run 13 min pace, knowing I would feel like I was barely moving when I got to the Three Sisters. And once I did get there, I took the climbing slow, knowing that I shouldn't thrash my legs on this part. This is where the leaders in the 100K finally caught me. It's amazing how fast they are moving.

I kept looking ahead to the next hill where you could see the trail, hoping I would see someone to motivate me to go catch them. But no luck.

Back into the Crossroads Aid Station.

It was great to see Aubrey again.

A quick sit to drink and drink and drink ice water. I was feeling pretty good. A little food and a little coke. Wet my buff again and more ice down the bra. "Only" 5 more miles. I put on the sunglasses and my hat over the ice cold buff and set off.

Crossroads to the Finish (Miles 26-31)

A mix of runnable and tricky terrain. I counted down the miles and passed several people here. I dreaded Lucky Peak, and it didn't disappoint. I lapped my Garmin and between the 0.36 mile ascent and descent, I was doing 30 minute-mile pace. Awesome.

I paused for a 20 second breather 4 times on the climb. And then thrashed my quads with a super slow controlled descent down the other side. Jeremy later said he skiied down that side for a few seconds himself. Sounds mortifying.

Then it was about 3/4 of a mile to Last Chance aid station. I got a fast run pace going on the dirt road into the aid station, and while I know they have shot of liquor there on the menu in addition to normal aid station fare, I didn't want to lose that rhythm, so I did a quick "How far to the finish?" Half a mile?!? Hot dog!

In the last 2 minutes of the race I managed to pull out sub-11 minute pace (really moving for me) and finished strong.

I was happy to see Aubrey at the finish line with his camera, catching a picture of the finish. And happy to have pal Caleb be the volunteer who happened to put my medal around my neck. Great medal design this year, by the way. My daughters loved the snake on it!

While last year I had to find my fight during the race, this year I felt like I kept my fight the whole race. I was strategic, conservative when I needed to be, and pushed my pace in all the right places.

The Stats


  • I had finished in 8:34, which was a 1 hour and 16 minutes faster than last year's time of 9:50, a new course PR!
  • I moved from 84th percentile in my finish to 76th percentile - mid-pack, baby!
  • My 23rd marathon/ultra. My 13th ultramarathon. Lucky number 13.
  • But what makes me happiest is that I negative split the course with a 4:19 first half and a 4:14 second half!


Do I love Bandera more now? NO. Do I still think it makes a good ultra training run? Yes.

And congrats to:

  • Josh on a blazing 13:46 in the 100K
  • Jeremy on a 50 minute PR and his 4th Bandera 100K finish.
  • Ted for being 1 hr 50 minutes faster than his time in the previous year's 100K
Well done!

3 comments:

  1. congrats on that PR! I love Marit Janse, she's so interesting and has the best stories. We enjoyed running together at Isle du Bois last year...great runner! And, I've still not read her book. :P

    great to see you out there! also nice seeing Aubrey everywhere, ha ha ha.

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  2. Great race! You can be really proud (as are we!)! Also enjoyed reading your report! M&D

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  3. Love this! Also love the perspective that comes with doing tough races and going "this? this isn't so bad". Also, that shirt and medal ALMOST makes me want to train to suffer through this course someday. :)

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