Bandera 100K Race Report
By Thorbjorn Pedersen
Bandera 100K 2006 was an event I had looked forward to for a whole year. Running it last year had been such a great experience. It is a tough course, but what can you expect when Joe Prusaitis has designed it to train for his Hardrock participation. However, the time of year of this race and the temperatures at the morning start are both deceiving. The sun can really get to you during the day. It did so during 2005 and again this year, though I now knew to drink more and eat more salt. But that still did not stop me from getting dizzy spells after eight miles. Those stayed with me through mile twenty two. So basically I did not fully enjoy the part from the Chapas aid station till I left Cross Roads to run toward the Last Chance aid station. Right after Chapas I started to feel like a zombie, a repeat of dizzy spells I had felt several times at ultra runs the past year, just like at Sunmart and this time I also had my fingers swell to thick sausages as they had done at Warda and Sunmart. I took a ten minute cat nap at Cross Roads In and 45 minutes at Cross Roads Out. As I eventually got up to leave from Cross Roads Out, the aid station people (Clea form Austin and Holly from San Antonio) would not allow me to continue unless I had a pacer following me till next aid station (Last Chance) where they meant I should stop and walk the half mile to the Lodge (Start/Finish). But the long nap and having a nice pacer (Annalise) to talk to, made a positive difference and I had no bad issues on those 4.6 miles from Cross Roads to Last Chance.
Just before Last Chance we caught up with Deborah Sexton from NTTR. She was in bad shape from dealing with bad stomach cramps. At Last Chance I parted with my pacer and said I was going to walk Deborah in and then call a DNF at the Lodge. I thought that I could at least do that now that I was feeling better and I could also help Deborah those last five miles, which would give me a sense that I had accomplished something.
Usually, when I run these trail races I have my Danish flag hang from my Camelbak. I am proud of my heritage and gladly show my nationality. But today things were going downhill and at some point I noticed my flag had torn off from the top half of its little pole. It made it kind of look like a flag on half mast, which I took very symbolic for how my day had developed so far. But I was starting to feel better, and as I was sitting with Deborah at the Last Chance talking about how we would pull ourselves through the next five miles and into the Lodge, Mark Dick noticed the poor condition of my flag and fixed it up so it again could wave proudly at full mast. It was a gesture that I appreciated very much. It felt that Mark Dick had put together some of my missing peaces. Also as I sat there, I talked to Letha about my swelling hands and she gave me a caffeine tablet explaining that it could help me pee more and rid myself with some excess body fluid. I have learned never to turn down any advice or help from Letha. She knows what she is doing and has a long track record to prove it. And she was helping Deborah as well. At the end of the day we both can be grateful for the help and support from the NTTR troopers at the Last Chance aid station (more about them later).
Well, my perception changed over the next five miles on the way to the Lodge and I eventually decided to carry on for another loop. The long walk with Deborah was good for me. My body continued the recovery process that had started at Cross Roads and it felt good to talk to Deborah. She is such a trooper and an inspiration to share some long trail miles. She is a great trail runner, but most of all, she is a wonderful, wonderful person.
As Deborah and I pulled into the Lodge we both announced we were dropping, but the race officials (Linda and Joyce) were not ready to accept our “towels in the ring” and asked us to go sit down, have some food and think about it. We could come back later and tell them if we were satisfied with the 50K. Those two ladies knew what they were doing and I certainly appreciate the chance I was given to recover my thinking. My body was ready for more, but my brain had not noticed that fact yet. I should have known better, because I made the same misjudgment a few years back at AT100. Then too I had had a rough day, but worked my body through it, but all the negative thoughts were still lingering in my head and clouded my ability to make the right call. And now I was about to make the same mistake again, but this time Linda and Joyce paused me and allowed for a rethink.
As it turned out, it was a good decision. I had sat down with Deborah and Mark Henderson brought some of Sammy’s, the race chef, high octane ultra running recovery food. I should later learn that Sammy had some super octane fuel waiting for me at the two Cross Roads aid stations. (If anyone manages to steal a copy of Sammy’s super octane fuel recipes, let me know and I am ready with a prize). Mark heard that I was missing my flash lights as they were in my drop bags out on the course. I was over two hours behind my most conservative estimate. Mark brought out his spare flash light, which he would lend to me. But in the process of changing batteries a little hicky-doo broke inside the light. But typically for Mark, no is not an answer for him and a broken hicky-doo is not either. While I got my shoes changed, he had engineered a solution and off I was to catch up with Deborah and Dave Billman, who gracefully had volunteered to pace her till Deborah’s original pacer was ready as planned at Cross Roads. What a gentleman gesture from Dave, in true ultra runner spirit. He had already run the 25K race earlier that day. I caught up with them a quarter mile out and kept up with them for a while. It was good to have company, but I sensed that my legs were more comfortable moving a little faster and I knew Deborah was in good hands with Dave, so I pulled ahead. About half way to Nachos I had passed four runners. Passing runners at this time of the day helped lift my spirit and and made me trust that I could finish this race. But it was sad to pass the last of the four, Kevin Walker from Fort Bend Fit. He was walking with a limp and he was obviously fighting some pain. I should later learn he finished last and he indeed had strained his ankle. But great show of perseverance, Kevin !!!!
My metabolism had changed and the cooler air made a huge difference so I had a good run to Nachos, the 1st aid station. I felt that I was really racing now, at least by my standard. By the time I was about to head out again from Nachos, we suddenly saw a runner approaching the aid station at a fast clip. I thought “who the heck could that be?” The way I had been running the last section, none of the runners behind me, should have caught up with me at this point. Well as it turned out, it was not a race entrant, but still what a runner it turned out to be. As the aid station people started to help him with food and water, they asked for his start number. Oh no, he was not a runner he was a pacer for that runner, i.e. me. My heart started to pound in excitement as if this was Christmas, and as Deborah had said earlier today, the Lord was looking our for us, and he sure had sent a savior out for me. He had sent Mark Henderson to pull my sorry little behind to the finish line.
And now I had an even greater time on my 2nd loop. Mark was inspiring me by running ahead or behind, whatever I felt best at that moment. Mark is a gifted runner, there is no doubt about that, but if anyone wants a good, unselfish, 100% giving and trustworthy pacer I will vouch for Mark. He is just good !!! He was singing (yes, he sings well too) and the songs he remembers are great for lifting the spirit on dark trails. And when he dried up for songs he would fire off jokes left and right. He inspired me to push a lot harder than I would have done alone. Just like a good pacer should do. By the time we came to Cross Roads the first time, I had burned all my fuel. I went completely flat just as we walked across the parking lot. I suddenly got that numb, empty feeling inside. But after two cups of Sammy's (the race chef) excellent super high octane chicken soup I was ready for another stretch. While I refueled and changed into dry cloths, Mark was chatting with one of the aid station people, Holly. As she was enjoying one of Mark’s stories, she glanced over at me and I was given one the high moments of my day. Seeing her face while she realized who she was looking at, was amazing. Her facial expression went through a range of emotions. From surprise, fear (who would not show fear if they saw some raise from death) to amusement over seeing someone doing something this crazy and stupid. She had not expected to ever see me again after she had sent me off with a pacer many hours earlier. Now she sent me off with Mark and wished us welcome back after the loop out from the Cross Roads aid stations.
Sammy’s high octane fuel lasted till second stop at Cross Roads. The wind was picking up and I needed my tights to keep my bare legs warm. That meant shoes and gators off, a process I felt was too much. But the two aid station ladies (Clea and Holly) were assisting and I got through changing into tights and dry shirts without getting cold. And with more of Sammy's super high octane soup in my belly; I was ready to head for Last Chance. As we took off Holly was singing Kareoke for us and everybody else as far as the blasting speakers could carry.
I was conservative on the first part of this stretch, saving for the big climb and dip just before the Last Chance aid station. But still there was little left in me as we were pulling close to Last Chance. I was having the typical negative thinking and argued with myself that I had already done way more than I had bargained for when I was at the same spot earlier in the race with Deborah. I mentioned to Mark that I was ready to pull out and walk the half mile to the Lodge. Though not in the same words, he basically told me that he had not pulled my sorry behind this far just to DNF five miles before the finish line. So we prescribed each other a short power nap at Last Chance. However, regardless how exhausted I felt, I could not nap, but still sat down in front of a gas space heater and tried to nap while the "Fugitive" with Harrison Ford was blasting on a big screen in front of me. Instead of napping I managed to get several cups of Letha's noodle soup plus some Coke in me. It helped me feel rejuvenated and I got up to make sure my Camelbak was reloaded for the last five miles. Though I had not been able to nap, Mark had managed to fall asleep and I had to yell out for him to wake up. Maybe I should just have left him asleep. Well, good I did not. That power nap had done him good and he was ahead of me the next three miles, often just outside my sight so I had to fight keeping up with him. I was pushing and pushing to stay alive, but it was a good thing. Both of us wanted to get this thing over and the wind was picking up so resting was not an option since relentless forward motion was the best way to stay warm. As we were approaching the last big steep hill down a mile and a half before the lodge, we saw some light ahead. Mark saw it first and I could feel how he sped up when he saw it. Here Mark did a smart thing. He had noticed how I was counting the runners I had past on this loop and he let me lead to reel in yet another runner. It was down hill and I was pushing as hard as I could with my screaming quads. Half way down we caught up to the runner and his pacer. It was a tight trail and I had to ask to be allowed to pass. And zoom, we were gone past him. After the race had finished the same runner (Steve Burgess) told me that I had left too much in my bag for this late in the race. What he did not notice, was that he could sit comfortably in a chair, while I was pacing around not able to find comfort anywhere, because I was completely spent and my stomach was not able to handle anything offered to it.
But it felt great to finish a race, which for long times looked like it would not end with a buckle. But it was not just a personal accomplishment. Lots and lots of people along the way that day had an important role in the outcome. For example, my Danish flag had started to fall off and Mark Dick had fixed my flag at Last Chance and helped lift my spirit again. And Letha with her ever so great advice gave me a caffeine tablet to help alleviate my swelling. And Annalise, who became designated as my pacer from Cross Roads to Last Chance. Sammy's great food I ate at the Lodge before taking off on the second loop. And the race officials (Linda and Joyce) who would not accept my DNF before I had sat down and ate something. Plus Josephie and David had given good advice on electrolytes that had helped during the run as well. The string of help had grown longer and longer. This was not my race, this was "our" race, me and my helpers, like Team Gr8 Dane. The Bandera 100K was a great experience and I am grateful to Joe and Joyce who can pull together so many great people to volunteer and give so much to participants like me, so we can complete enduring moments against the odds.
If I was to hand out a Bandera 2006 volunteer award I would hand it to Mark Henderson. Many other may deserve it just as much as he. However, I know what Mark did step for step. I had met with Mark Saturday afternoon at my house and we drove to Bandera together in my minivan. Right upon arrival Mark went to work in the kitchen area with Sammy and Mark worked most the night. He thought he could catch a little sleep, but managed only two hours before breakfast duty. Then he helped out at one of the aid stations till noon, before returning to the Lodge for more kitchen duty, helping Sammy. When he saw me take off on my second loop, he must have felt sorry for me, because he talked to Sammy about running out to catch me, in order to pace me the rest of the way. And so he did, something I am very grateful for as he gave me one of my most memorable night runs I have had in my ultra running life. Upon finishing with me, Mark managed a couple of hours of sleep before getting up to help with breakfast for all the runners and volunteers. After that Mark continued help cleaning up after the race till I had to leave so I could get home to my family. I drove, till almost past San Antonio where we stopped so Mark could get some breakfast. He had not eaten any himself because he had worked so dutifully that morning that he had forgotten to eat breakfast himself. Then Mark offered to drive the next section toward Houston, which turned out to be almost all the way. So yes, I think Mark deserves recognition. He gave to me so much and very unselfishly, and to the rest of the race. And to tell a bit more about Mark’s character, as he was pacing me, walking, running or jogging ahead of me, he would every now and then bend down and pick up trash that runners ahead of us had dropped, a Gu wrapper, piece of paper or cup. Mark does like to see the nature kept clean and pristine for next time we are out there again. An example to follow.
During the second loop, I also thought of my youngest son and how I try to teach him not to give up at competitions. At times I thought it would be good to bring him home a buckle from a race that had gone downhill and had had a serious tire blow-out and still finished it with a buckle. And it did feel good to return home Sunday afternoon, being greeted by the family, who all helped clean out my car for stinking shoes, reeking socks and yucky, wet, smelling and sweaty cloths. The oldest son even went out to gas up the car so I did not have to worry about that Monday morning going to work. Yes, finishing this one felt great and I felt like a winner coming home.