Bandera 100K Race Report
If you live in Texas and hope to run a Western mountain race, Bandera is the closest thing you can get to lots of super rough terrain and steep hills that simulate some of those tough mountain races further West. This is by far the toughest Texas race I run. It doesn’t compare to Hard Rock or the first half of Western States, but if you have no experience on steep climbs and lots of rocks, you will get your butt kicked here.
The other plus about Bandera is you can’t find a better run race. Joe Prusaitis is an unpaid professional in his management and direction and he attracts top volunteers who are hard core trail runners themselves so at every point of the race from packet pickup to the finish, you’ve got friendly, knowledgeable volunteers who will bend over backwards to help you in any way they can. And I want to also give full credit to Joyce Prusaitis who works equally as hard and out does herself stocking and supervising all the aid stations. What a great lady she is.
This isn’t a course that is fun to run in the rain as on dirt sections the mud is usually very sticky, building up on the bottom of your shoe until you’re running on several inches of it. This was my biggest concern this year as it rained Thursday, poured hard Friday night, and it was predicated to rain on Saturday and Sunday. In the end, the mud was not as bad as it could have been. A few slippery areas and some sticky spots but overall the course remained dry enough to be runnable in the usual places.
The pre-race meeting was around 5 p.m. and the usual suspects gathered under the huge dining area tent. Henry Hobbs did his usual step-by-step run-through of the course. If you could follow him, you were probably a computer. But he gives a great overview of how much fun you’re going to have and points out some of the spots you might get confused. However, this course is one of the best marked there is. If you get lost, you are dazed, confused, and looking at your shoes the whole way.
Slammin’ Sammy Voltaggio outdid himself as usual with meat and vegetarian spaghetti, fresh salad, garlic bread and lots of great desserts. Pies, cakes, cookies, you name it and we ate it. How he makes such great food in the middle of a field is beyond me but he is amazing.
Race time was at 7:30 a.m. It was just starting to get light. The 100K runners start at race headquarters. The 25K and 50K start about a quarter mile down the trail. Joe designs each race to start out in different directions to reduce backup at the start and it works really well.
The first stretch of trail was very muddy and sticky (for 25K and 50K) so it was slow going at the start. But we soon broke off of that dirt road onto rocky trail so you escaped the mud. The temperature was around 65 with a light breeze and that held until around 2:30 p.m. when a hard rain shower hit that felt like freezing rain to me. The cold front had started to come through and the temps started dropping.
For the 25K runners, there was lunch when they finished around noon. For the 50Kers there was dinner when they finished around 4:30 and the 100kers got an awesome breakfast at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning. The downside to the weather turning colder later in the day was most runners, soaked to the skin climbed in their cars and left to take a shower and dry off. So there was less of the post-race social mingling than normal. No one wanted to stand around in wet clothes and chat while the temps dropped.
100K runners receive a very nice belt buckle. The 50K finishers received a nice medallion on a ribbon, and I think that’s what the 25K get also. I don’t know for sure. The aid stations were all super well stocked and you never had to even fill your own bottle at any aid station. 100K got a really nice quarter zip fleece sweat shirt. 50K and 25K got a nice long sleeve performance wear running shirt. Big thanks to Sara Lee for donating all the shirts. Eat lots of Sara Lee.
My 50K Race
I’ve been training with Brad Garrison, a new member to NTTR and an old member of the Hill Country Trail Runners of Austin. We went out to the I-20 hill three times and repeatedly trained for up to five hours at Cedar Ridge preparing ourselves for Bandera. We are close in pace and the plan was to stick together for this one. Unfortunately, Brad’s grandmother passed away and he spent Saturday at her funeral so I was on my own. Boo Hoo!
I started out drinking Sustained Energy, which I had never tried before but Tom Crull had given me a canister to try. I did well on it but it tastes like water with a little bit of flour mixed in. Since the taste was so bad and the distance wasn’t that far, I alternated with Gatorade. I had a good day in that respect. No stomach problems at all. If you want to hear about that, read my race report on the 100K last year.
I ran consistently on all flat trails, and walked the climbs and the really rough spots. I felt good all day and loved the 65 degree temps. I had started out with a short sleeve shirt, but that came off in the first mile and tied around my waist. I would have dumped it off at my drop bag but it has my race number on it.
The 50K course had you run through Boyles aid station first at around 5 miles. This one only had water. Next up was Nachos. Stopped and ate a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches there and got my bottle filled. The next aid station was Chapas, headed up by Paul Stone. Since I ran the 100K last year, I got totally confused on aid station order. For me Chapas was the halfway point but in the 100K, Crossroads in the halfway point. I wanted a drop bag at halfway and I put it at Crossroads. So when I got to Chapas, I realized my goof. But Paula Billman was there offering to make me any kind of sandwich I wanted and it’s always great to see her. Paul Stone filled my bottle and I was off again.
When I got to Crossroads (20 miles), I wanted to get a dry bandana. I sat down for a minute to pull stuff out of my drop bag and rearrange my waist pack. I had been taking an S cap at every aid station, and here, I must have dropped my S cap zip lock bag. I never saw it again. So I left to do the loop with the three sisters (hills). You start out on a dirt road, do some trail, go over these three pretty rocky hills and come back on mostly rocky trail. I swear it was longer than last time. I was hoping to do it in about an hour, but it took me longer. My goal was to try to break 8 hours and looking at my watch as I came back into Crossroads, I knew I wasn’t going to make it.
You run back into Crossroads through these two rows of flags and everyone cheers you as you come in. The cheering makes you feel like you’re done, which of course you’re not but you still feel good anyway. Joe was standing there and I accused him of making that section longer. He denied it but I didn’t believe him. Anyone who has run Hard Rock six times is a little sadistic.
It started to pour just as I came in so I thought maybe I should put in my poncho. I asked another runner, “Should I put this on?” I don’t know why I asked him except that I couldn’t decide. He said,”no, you’re going to be hot in it. Can you take it with you?” I said, “I have been carrying it with me all day.” So left it off. As I left Crossroads with only about 5 miles to go, I noticed the temps were dropping and I pulled my short sleeve shirt back on. It was soaking wet and freezing cold but I felt it would cut the wind.
The last five miles are like the last of any race. You are happy and excited that you are almost done and you know you are going to finish. I have to say, I missed not having Brad with me. Mentally it was a harder race because I only had my own thoughts and my MP3 player to entertain me. Races when I can run with someone always seem easier and go faster. I was disappointed because I knew I wasn’t going to break eight hours. But then a Pete Yorn song came on, “How Can You Go On?,” and I thought Pete will get me home and so we left together.
On the way back, the temps continued to drop and it rained really hard again. It felt like sleet against my skin and I thought, I’m going to put that poncho on. I stopped and swung my waist pack around to dig it out. I pulled everything out and it’s not there! It must have dropped out at Crossroads with my pills. I was so mad. I had dragged it around all day and now I didn’t have it. Lesson learned: Pay more attention when you leave an aid station that you have everything you came in with. I began to get a little concerned about the weather so I picked up my pace.
The first half of the distance between Crossroads and Last Chance is pretty runnable. So I made good time. But then you hit a rocky section again and some very steep climbs and descents. The rain had made the rocks very slippery. I looked up at what I had to climb and I would have paid to skip that part. Coming down is even worse. I was grabbing hold of branches to keep from free falling down the hill. I was tired and this section took all I had to climb down. But I finally made it and headed down a dirt road toward Last Chance. I was looking for the signs, “2,845 feet (or whatever it was) to Last Chance.” “Last Chance for Beer” “Last Chance to Kiss Julie & Letha” You are so happy when you see those signs.
Last Chance, which is the NTTR (North Texas Trail Runners, whoo hoo) aid station with Mark Dick and Letha Cruthirds, was my last stop. Since it’s only a half mile from the finish I just waved as I ran by as I was freezing cold by that point. I saw Steve Hall, Julie, Kyle Threlkeld, Tia and Marty Metzer, Kelly Eppelman, and others and they all cheered and shouted my name as I slogged by. I was back on the deep mud path slipping and sliding my way to the finish.
My final time was 8:15, a minute faster than the last time I ran it so I had to be happy with my course PR. I was definitely happy to be done and praising my wisdom at not signing up for the 100K.
I went to the car and pulled off all the wet clothes and changed to wait for Linda Boggs, my roommate, who was doing her first 50K and running with Char Thompson. They came in about 30 minutes later and we left to go take hot showers.
Linda and I went out for a steak dinner to celebrate her achievement and I bundled back up and headed back out to Last Chance to work the aid station through the night. Letha was hoping to pace a friend so I would fill in for her.
I parked the car at the start and tied two Target bags over my shoes to see if I could cut down on the mud. They worked pretty well on the way out. I showed off my new “gaiters” to everyone when I got to the aid station. I was the envy of the aid station with such fashionable foot protection. J
It turns out Letha’s friend dropped so she wouldn’t be pacing but I settled myself in to watch the parade of misery as 100kers came through all night.
As far as aid stations go, Last Chance is state of the art. You really can’t begin to appreciate the genius of Mark Dick unless you go and work this. He had three generators. The pathway leading to the aid station is lined with bright, sparking “fairy” lights and there are NTTR and Last Chance Saloon banners everywhere lighted by spot lights. The kitchen was fully equipped with a sink with HOT running water, a microwave, stove, crock pot, and hot chocolate thermos that pumped out steaming hot chocolate. You could get hot rice and beans, grilled cheese, hot chicken soup, coffee, etc.
Mark also sets up a shower in the back with hot running water. This man has more “toys” than an REI store. There was an Easy Up tent with chairs all around, a rug, and great music playing from amplified speakers and a state of the art Ipod that never played the same song twice. That area had its own propane heater and there also was one in the kitchen area to keep you warm. In front of that was a blazing fire circled by chairs. They had even found some mulch back in the woods and this was scattered around the aid station to cut down on the mud. Simply amazing. It doesn’t get any better than this.
It was so much fun working the aid station during the night. I ended up checking in runners by number and helping to keep track of who dropped and who was still out there. The radio dude, Charles, was with and he’d radio in to get updates on who had dropped. Marty and Lauren Kennedy kept going to get more fire wood to keep the fire going. Tia, Letha, and Lauren made sure that everyone who came through left with a tummy of hot food or anything else they needed.
Of course, being a saloon, you also could get your favorite brand of fire water. There was plenty of Lone Star beer, whiskey, tequila, and who knows what else for those who wanted to celebrate only having five more miles to go.
Between waiting on runners, we all sat around and told funny jokes and stories, laughed, and kept warm around the fire. I learned that if you keep your Target gaiters too close to the fire, they melt. So I didn’t have my great shoe protection for the walk back, but Lauren Kennedy saved me by driving me back to the finish.
Overall, it was big big fun. After midnight, we started yawning more and more but no one wanted to leave until the last runner came through. That was around 3:30 a.m. The subject did come up about how happy everyone was that I wasn’t doing the 100K. Last year I came through that aid station around 5 a.m. So everyone expressed their appreciation to me for not running the 100K. I was glad to oblige.
And just so you all know, I did all this on a Saturday.
© North Texas Trail Runners