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Bandera Trail Runs
Hill Country SNA
Bandera, TX
January 13, 2007

A View from the Dark Side (ie: the RD)
by Joe Prusaitis, Bandera RD

We have been using Hill Country State Natural Area for many years now. I have the entire trail system memorized and know soon after... when a trail is closed or opened. Chris M and I have worked out all the details of the course on paper and have either biked or ran all of it by now. The website is up, the maps created, the buildings reserved, the awards ordered, the shirts in hand. We have done a lot of advance work already. I have had many discussions with Henry such that we have every turn laid out before we even arrive. we could walk you through the entire course from our recall. Many of the names we invented just to create a landmark. We are set.

Entries are rolling in, the online service for entries is clicking along, and I'm copying all the info from paper on downloadable files into our data sheets and onto the website for runner confirmation. It seems to roll along pretty smooth until I get one or more that are missing age, shirt size, gender, or the race they wish to run. Every important bit of data that is missing raises a red flag. Without a shirt size, my shirt equations hiccup: I have to buy all the shirts way in advance. Without age or gender, the data that gets processed into awards categories hiccups: if we sort for winners and then somebody pops in later and says " Hey, But I won" and then we have to hunt down everybody we already sent home with the wrong awards. Anyway, there are quite a few red flags, so we spend a good bit of time hunting down all the offending parties, but wait, their email and phone numbers are wrong too. Figures. And sometimes its even my fault: because I can't read the writing and copy it wrong. The entries are way up, so I have to order additional buckles, medals, and shirts. But then we finally cross the late registration date, and I stop worrying about shirts. But still, I'm concerned we will have enough medals.

Looks like weather will be very nasty, so I buy a few more large propane heaters. The tents are taken out, cleaned up, and repacked... mostly just to make sure I have all the pieces. I need 12 of them and I had loaned some out, so I go collecting. One has some busted connecters, so I have to get them fixed. We use a large amount of tarps as well, so I count them all and sort them out. Some need to be cleaned and one is tossed away. I need 12 propane lanterns and 10 propane stoves. All in order. The tubs full of kitchenware is sorted through and the medical buckets as well.

I collect and count all our flags and come up way short, so I order another 16 rolls of ribbon. Meredith and Paul agree to string them for me, so I purchase a couple hundred clothespins, and then they come to fix em up for me. We need 150 glowsticks, so I order those too. I had already ordered the bibs but with the expanded runners field, I need to order more. The order gets hosed up and after a few tries, I finally get them ordered. I talk with Damon Nolen about creating my finishers awards, about 66 total. The buckles and medals arrive the same day as do all the stuff from hammer Gel, the Heed, coolers, packets, flyers, and so on.

I'm constantly updating and correcting the web site each day when I get home from work. Then I roll thru my To Do list and start working on each. I buy a couple bushels of construction flags, a ladder, 6 rolls of duct tape, wooden stakes, light bulbs, staples for the staple gun, and so on. I create all the signs with arrows, wrong-ways, and aid station distances, drop bags, and what not. Again, Mer comes by to get them laminated for me.

All the shirts arrive, and Lauren starts stuffing the packets for me: flyers, bibs, shirts, and so. Takes her a few days to do it all, and the entry list keeps changing while she packs. Chris C joins in and between the two of them, they knock it out and haul off the shirts and packets. Its gives us a little room back in the house for more stuff that is constantly coming in. The pins and a few other flyers arrive after they are done so we cant stuff those. They'll just have to go on the table at packet pickup.

Henry comes in on Tuesday and has a lot of personal stuff to take care before we take off. I load up my truck with all the gear for course marking and all the aid station tents, my bike, a cooler for water, my bedding, and all the clothes I own for who knows what weather. Henry gets back and loads his car. I shut down the online service late and then collect the last of the data, sort it out, and create lists for Chris C to do packet pickup and Kyle to manage results and timing. bed comes late.

We get up at 4am so we can leave by 5am. Takes us 2+ hours to arrive plus the breakfast break in Boerne. We told everybody else noon, so we have some time to sort things out. We unload a good bit into the lodge and then drop each of the aid station tents at each location where they belong. Ann & Weldon have arrived by now and go ahead to start marking their section. Actually, we gave them 2 sections because they were starting early and wanted as much to do as we could give them. Then we sort out the flags and Henry leaves instructions for all the others on the dinner table. We head out to start by 9am tagging all the turns with arrows, wrong ways, and the post flags. We get finished with one section and then come back to find that Mickey has started marking his section. Robert & Diana show up and start theirs. Then Mark comes and goes right after his, but we don't see him at all. Chris M & Steve W show up and begin sitting up all the tents. Dave B hooks up with me such that Henry goes to tag the particularly tough section on the Sky Island while we go after the field section on mountain bikes. The whole day spins round rather quickly such that we are pretty much down in by 5pm. Everybody is done with the flagging but Henry and I have a bit more to tag at some major turns. We hose down and head into town for dinner. Eight of us have a riotous dinner at Bricks and then head back to the lodge. We lay out our plans for Thursday, have a few beers, and then crash hard.

Thursday, Henry needs to fly to Louisiana for the evening so takes the quick duty of sitting up Boyles flagging and arrows. Dave and I go to tag the lodge loop. Robert & Diana go back to mark the last undone section. The others finish up on the tents and then go off to stack rocks up on Cairns Climb. We all spin around the park all day fixing and tuning the last major and minor intersections of the course, including tagging the road in for the early morning drivers on race morning. Dan shows up mid-day and works on the finishing points of Crossroads. Larkin has arrived to help with his large truck. The course is done by 5pm, so we head in to Bricks again for dinner. Nothing to do now but wait for Joyce and the UHaul loaded with everything else.

While I'm in the park, Joyce had to pick up the UHaul, 100 chairs & 15 tables, all the food from Sam's, and everything else I left behind in the garage that would not fit in my truck. The other 8 tents, tarps, 12 aid station tables, lanterns, stoves, awards, trash cans, popup tents, timing clocks, medical supplies, bedding, propane heaters, jet heaters, propane tanks, aid station tubs of supplies, and so on and so on. She had Ryan, Lauren, and Billy help her and it took them all done to get it and pack it.

I get to bed early that night (about 11pm) as it will likely be my last sleep until Sunday night. We lay out the parking rows, then mark the finish area layout and the Crossroads entrance and exit. And then the UHaul arrives, with Joyce, Lauren, Ryan, and Sarah. That's when everything speeds up. The circus has arrived. Everybody that is there starts hauling and moving equipment: tents out front, food stuff in the kitchen, and all the aid station stuff on the front porch. Before its all out of the truck, Ryan starts erecting the 8 tent big top. Sammy V shows up with even more equipment and after unloading immediately begins to cook. Joyce takes the now empty UHaul into town to fetch 300 gallons of water. Sammy C shows up with his big RV motor home, hauling the large trailer that we use for our timing center, and drives out the 2 ATVs that he has inside. The Timing Trailer is placed exactly where we want it, the RV placed out of the way, and the ATVs put into action to haul the popups and final markings to the main split off points where the races diverge 25km, and 50km, from the 100km. The Big Top tent is up when Joyce comes back with the water and pizza for lunch. Packet Pickup is set up inside the tent and under the shed for Chris C to make ready for the the packets while Dave and I haul the water out to Nachos, Chapas, and Crossroads.

By noon, Henry is back, and Chris C already has Packet Pickup in action. Quite a few of the people helping setup the course and the tents are running, so she has to hand out quite a few just from our group. A string of lights has been rigged to light all the tents. Heavy picnic tables have been hauled over to act as anchors all around the Big Top. 2 very large tarps are pulled over to cover all of them but not enough to keep one seem from leaking the rain in that has already begun. Mark & Letha had snuck in last night and I never saw them until they drive back out from Last Chance to pick up their aid station gear. I visit for a bit with Paul David, the Park Super, and the Horse support crew. HCSNAP who plan to ride the trails all weekend helping with emergency support. By 5pm, the tent is full of runners and we present the pre-race trail brief and race details. Sammy sets up for dinner while we talk. Dinner starts dead on 6pm and by 7pm, most of the runners have gone off to get ready for the morning. But we still have quite a bit to do. We put 2 trucks (Mine & Larkin's) out front and load them up with the drop bags for Crossroads and Chapas. We leave them there for the last minute morning folks. Kyle arrives and helps finish the late pickup and start entering all the late entry data. Must be another 50 people across all 3 races. Some of them got the wrong bibs and some of them got somebody else's bibs, so Kyle is sorting all of that out. Lists need to be created for each aid station so they can track the runners times as they come thru. Paul S comes in for Chapas and Joyce loads him up with all that gear. Bill G shows up for his stuff at Nachos. There is a problem with Nachos location, so I drive out there and move the station and all their stuff down off the hill and closer to where they can get their trucks. I soak thru my 3rd set of clothes by the time I'm done. When I get back to the lodge, I get the rest of the new entrant sheets and go into the RV to sort it out. Its very late when I finally settle down to sleep.. and then it really starts to rain hard.

I get up at 4am and go to sit up the glow sticks leading the drivers into the lodge from the main road. David takes the Crossroads drop bag truck to Crossroads, where he will leave the bags for them to collect and then he will hike down to his station at the T#1/T#5 intersection and last major split off for the 25km runners. Larkin hauls off the Chapas drop bags. Dinty hikes up to Boyles to manage that station of water only and to act as a course guide. Joe K & his wife Jill head out to Last Chance and the 25km start for the final guide spots. Joe will sag behind the 25km while Chris M will start the 25km/50km and then sag behind the 50km to make certain they are all clear of last Chance. Once they are, all these signs will be changed. All the 50km and 25km come back thru this same point to finish and must have the signs to direct just that. People are still bringing drop bags well after the trucks have left, but besides that, we start the races just fine dead on 7:30am.

As soon as they are gone, Kyle brings the final late entrant sheets to add the final entrants to our data and the data sheets. Chris and I had synced our watches and started the 50km/25km at the exact same time as I started the 100km. They were all out there now and it was up to the course markers and the course guides and the aid stations for now. Lauren has a few timers ready for the 25km but not nearly as many as we need. Sarah and another had walked up to help Dinty at Boyles. I took an ATV up there also to see the first few thru, just to see how the flow went and leave after only a few runners from the 50km go thru. I then drive down to Crossroads to see that one next. I get the news that three 25km runner have already gone thru. It is impossible, so I quickly reason that these 3 wayward 25km runners could only have started with the 100km and have thus skipped the first 7 miles. Damn! Our first 3 DQs. I get back to the Lodge so that I can deal with this. The first guy is very quick and comes in thoroughly confused. There is no way to repair it. Even if he starts anew, the course signs have already been changed and he would not know where to go. He takes off anyway. I go after him on the ATV and by the time I get to Last Chance, he is coming back again, having given up. I meet the other wrong way as well. It is too bad. I feel for them. I never do find the 3rd one. I am not sure what became of him, but he may have turned and gone back to repair it himself.

The rain is the perfect amount to make the trails the perfect worst. And Still the lead man comes in under 2 hours. Wow! And then the timers are humming. Ryan goes up to get Sarah from Boyles to help. Kyle works with them to quickly update the master data base. Even though the timing crew is very short-handed with Lauren, Beam, and Sarah, I have yet to see any mistakes. No dyslexia, no missed runners, nothing, except one person who gets left out of the awards. We have no age for her and so she was left out. But she won, so everybody under her has mostly left already. They snag a few folks to pull tear tags and hand out medals. A minor glitch occurred here as the bags were labeled 25 for the count of awards in each bag, so some of the 50km medals were handed out to some of the 25km finishers. They fix most of these but not all of them. The lead 50km runners start coming in just before noon, when lunch is served and just before I present the 25km awards ceremony. The 100km runners are also now coming in for their first loop and heading out again. There would be no records broken today as the mud damper would not allow it. I do the 50km awards ceremony after dinner is served at 4:30pm. Most of the 25km and 50km runners immediately leave soon after this. Also we lose the sunlight an hour later. The glow stick crew gets started at 2pm, and all are working the trails, hanging 1000 glowsticks across the entire 31 miles of trail. My kids, Mike, Ryan, Lauren, and Sarah, growing tired of recording finish times, do part of this.

It is around 2pm, when the cold freeze rolls in, and not just a breeze. It drops 10 degrees in an instant and stays there. Soon after that it starts raining hard again. We still track a few 25km runners who have not come in and have gone missing. All the 50km runners come in by 10 hours but the few who we know where they are. We send the cowboys out to help us with this and they ride the trails in the rain and the dark looking. Kyle starts calling phone numbers from the entry form and eventually tracks each of the missing people down. They are each home in bed! We send the cowboys back to their shelters after wasting their time. But it is what we do, they say. So with the last phone call answered, the 25km is over finally. The 50km ends soon after with the final runner coming in. But he never had us worried, as we knew about him all along and he was doing just fine. I was up at Last Chance when the lead two 100km runners came thru and rush back to see them finish. But the last 2 climbs slow them enough that neither of them finished in the daylight. For the first time, Everybody would finish in the dark.

Joyce is constantly tracking all the aid stations, reloading what was low, and then hauling meals out around meal times. Some food for the volunteers and some for the runners. She and I go over the lists and determine that we need no more water, but she still needs to get other supplies from town. A few people have made runs into town for supplies and these continue. Still, she stays on top of this and avoids any crisis. We settle into the late hours with runners coming in in ones and twos from now on. It is slow work. Joe and Moogy go out to tear down the course from Boyles to Nachos but there is nobody else left to do more. Everybody is done in and all that is left are the timers who try to stay warm while they continue to record times.

I get a call from the radio crew that a runner was missing between Nachos and Chapas. I go to investigate and find no record at Chapas with 2 women worrying. I go over to Crossroads to find that he has already passed thru there. problem solved: they have simply missed him. Another report came in again and was pretty much the same thing. Some people are moving much slower while others are moving faster and getting ahead of their support crews. Bill and Butch came in and refuse their medals, said they had missed the inside loop. Ok, so lets go back and run it. I ask Ryan to drive them back over so they can finish the race, which they did, and not looking too happy. They came back in a few hours to collect their buckles.

We shut down Nachos at 8pm and then Chapas at 10pm. Dam Road hummer along for another couple of hours. Dan came in to tell me they were done. The last 3 runners were out. One had gone down the road to town and was found and brought back in while the other two just stopped. So the aid stations were all shutting down well ahead of the posted cutoffs, due to the fact that nobody was out there anymore riding the cutoffs. We tracked the last dozen runners between Crossroads and Last Chance and done. We knew who was running with who and in what order they were in. Diana came in and said she saw a runner heading back to Crossroads because he had missed the inside loop. So now where was he? That station was closed. I decided to just wait and see. And then Last Chance was cleared and only 5 people still out. Each one was very emotional of these final ones. I was cussed while they laughed and cried. Each of them was helped into the tent for some warmth and a chair. The people working the lodge treated each one with tender loving care, like the invalids that they were. And it continued to rain.

I started picking up a lot of the loose markings, stacking cones, pulling up flags, stacking chairs, sorting the left over this & that. We had a list of who was left and then the list went missing. Only had a few names but we were so addled now that we were screwed[[led without the list. Kyle was asleep with the key to the data, so we rebuilt the list and hoped we were right. The final runner came in at 5:30am and then I went to lay down for a few hours. The sun was coming up.

I woke to the rain and went out to get the final 100km ceremony ready. Awards, post-race speech, and what-all. The cleanup had already begun but was moving slow because we were so shorthanded. We didn't have enough to do the course teardown today. We'd have to come back next week. The awards ceremony was wrapped around breakfast, and I fumbled it badly, only half conscious. Still, it went off and the tear down began soon after. The tent was taken down in the rain and the mud an everything loaded into the UHaul. The aid stations came down in bits and pieces, also in the mud. Last Chance was handled by Sammy C, Joyce and Sarah got nachos, Mike P and Moogy took down Crossroads, Ryan & Chris M got Chapas. Then the house was cleaned up Joyce & Lauren. Lastly, we each showered and then climbed into our filthy dirty muddy trucks and drove to Bandera for lunch. My family at and then headed back to home as best we could. leaving Bandera by 3pm and home by 5pm.

Then we had to unload the truck. Took us a few hours to empty it all onto the back porch. Then bed. I had to go to work in the morning, but the ice storm rolled in a covered Austin with snow and ice such that I couldn't go to work. But we still had to take the truck and the rental chairs and tables back today. So we did. But now everything was frozen onto our back porch and I couldn't do much for a few days with it. So instead, I focused on cleaning the data and posted the results, paying refunds and bills for services and rentals. Took me all day, but I soon had up the results and was caught up on all the books as best I could.

The next day Austin was still froze in. We tried to clean up some of the mess, but it was too cold and nasty. I made it to work on Wednesday but Joyce and the kids started cleaning all the tents, pipes, tables and all quickly froze their hands. By Thursday, we had got most of it clean. On Saturday I go back to the park to clean up everything we left behind with Jim B and Shawn F. It rains the whole time we are there. On Sunday we have our first clear day to dry out the tarps.

Ya know, I am not trying to exaggerate the depth of the work involved, but merely give a blow by blow of how things went. I left out quite a bit of the things that occurred as well as quite a few of the people involved. there is no way to recall it all without spending quite a bit more time to recall and reflect. Some people went beyond the call, some people gave so much of themselves, some did what they could with their limiting circumstances, some were there all weekend, some are always there, others a few hours, some finished running and didn't want to leave, remaining for many hours, but they all gave what they could. I am still blown away by all the giving and caring for no other reason to just help their friends and in many cases perfect strangers. It was just a run. A simple foot race in a park, no more. But the conditions raised it to epic proportions. The runners didn't quit and neither did the volunteers who helped them. Everybody stayed on post to do what they signed up to do. I saw more than a few tears shed in the poring rain. Some raw emotions and heartfelt hugs that lasted longer than usual. I think that it helps us become more than who we would be without this struggle, creating a bond that binds all who shared this moment in time. For all the work and all the pain, it really was worth it.

But wait... now its time for Rocky Raccoon... and the forecast is for freezing cold and rain. Are you really dumb enough to do this yet again? ... for a Buckle!!!
/joe
 

 

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