Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bandera 50k Trail Run: A "winter" blast!

I had been looking forward to this run for a long time, and had been one of the very first to register, but the closer this event came to becoming a reality, the more nervous I was getting. It is known as one of the top 50k races in the country, and definitely one of the hardest Texas runs around.

I have been training for months for this race, trying to build up to running the massive hills I knew would be represented at Bandera. I ran in the cold, I ran hill repeats, I ran hill cycles, and I averaged over 50 miles a week, and capped it off with a 60 mile week three weeks out from the race date. I trained in San Angelo on the trails at San Angelo State Park. I trained on rocky trails, dirt trails, muddy trails, and tried to emulate every condition I could think of. I have not worked this hard for an event for a very long time.

Then, just a week or so before the event, an Arctic blast of cold air came down out of Canada, ensuring that if the conditions weren't already going to be tough enough, let's get some single digit temps out there to test our fortitude. Sure enough, race day condition: it was 9 degrees at race time.

As I approached the starting line, the race director informed me that the race had already started, so I could "take off" anytime. I took off, glad to be doing anything but standing still in that cold morning, but the trail immediately began with a steep incline on a monstrous hill called Cairns Climb. It was one of the most difficult climbs I have ever been on, and that was the first mile or so...then the real hills hit. Boyles Bump, Ice Cream Hill, and one they called the "Big Nasty," and the title was accurate. We climbed hills for the first ten miles, and my feet were already scraped raw and blistered from the rocky terrain. Those downhills were the worst. I stopped at the 15 mile aid station, put some bandaids on what I thought was a blister on one of my toes, and the guy at the aid station said, "that's not a blister, the flesh is just gone." I put a bandaid on it and kept trucking. A little vaseline for the other toes, and I moved on.

The hills were more like mountains, and no sooner did we reach the top of one, than we were climbing another. I had to admit, I was running slow, but strong. I had been in the weight room a lot in my training, and lifting weights definitely helped me up those monster hills. I had stopped at one of the last aid stations, and the guys told me there was only 4.75 miles left, so I envisioned running the last few miles at a good clip and finishing somewhere around my time goal of 7 hours, but he failed to mention the rest of the hills that remained. They were some of the most torturous, and at one point, as I stood looking up at one of those hills, I really didn't know if I could go on, but somehow, I managed to keep putting one leg in front of the other. Eventually, I reached the last aid station, and they told me I only had a half mile left to the finish line. I gritted my teeth and hustled in, and crossed that finish line with my legs trashed, my calves throbbing, and every muscle in my body aching, but I did it, and as I crossed over, I saw my friend Laurie standing there, and we talked for awhile about how "humbling" this run was. I think in the grander scheme of things, we never really know what we are capable of until we do something that tries our character.

This race has it all: monstrous hills, cactus, biting plants, horse shit all over the trails, rocky terrain,torturous downhills that invited sliding down on your butt at times. Rocks and boulders, and climbing, climbing, climbing!

I do have to pay big compliments to the aid stations and the volunteers. In all the races I have run, there has never been better aid stations and volunteers than at Bandera. They are experienced trail and ultra runners, and just plain nice, caring, helpful people. They had everything that an ultra runner needs to complete such a journey. Without them, I'm not sure I would have made it.

I also met some of the nicest people on this run, and the cameraderie in these types of races is incredible. I made some new friends, and had a wonderfully, crazy, torturous time!

I'm looking forward to doing something really fun next, like the 50 mile race at Rocky Raccoon in Huntsville. It's flat, so what could go wrong there? Okay, so I have a short memory of the pain of these kinds of events......!!!!!!