Bandera Race Report
It is 5 a.m. on Sunday in Bandera, Texas. I am waiting by the side of the trail in the freezing rain. The temperature is around 40 degrees. I have on a long-sleeve T-shirt, a light Polar fleece jacket, a windbreaker, and a chocolate brown designer trash bag over all of that. I am soaked to the skin and shivering with cold.
I am waiting for my two running companions, Pete and Doug, to figure out which way we need to go. They are scouring the trail left and right looking for glow sticks, which at this point are beginning to fade, or neon-colored surveyor ribbons tied to trees. We took a wrong turn somewhere and when we realized it and came back to where we were, we couldnít figure out which way we had come originally. Trees really all look the same in pitch black darkness.
A light wind is rustling my trash bag. I had tried to pull my arms inside my jacket but realized that I couldnít keep my balance in the mud and rocks that way so I had to give it up. I am wondering if I am going to die of exposure less than a mile from the finish of my first 100k.
Then I hear a voice, ďWhoís there?Ē and I see a flashlight bobbing from way up one of the trails. It is Joyce Prusaitis, the wife of the race director, Joe. I couldnít actually see the wings on her back, but tears welled up in my eyes as I realized she was looking for us. It was not my day to die after all. God had heard my prayers. When she finally reached us, she asked each of us our names, and said ďThank God all three of you are togetherĒ and gave each of us a big hug. As the final three finishers--all the slower people had already dropped out in their greater wisdom--everyone at the finish line was just waiting around for the slowpokes to come in.
We walked together the final distance and as we approached the finish line, I grabbed the hands of Pete and Doug and we crossed. We threw up our hands and the few sleepy volunteers remaining let out a cheer and started clapping.
I immediately turned around and headed toward the overhang where my drop bag was. I cared about only one thing: dry, warm clothes. Joe Prusaitis, the race director, comes up behind me and hands me my silver finisherís belt buckle. He shakes my hand and says, ďGreat job!Ē
My 22-hour sojourn started at 7:30 a.m. on a cloudy day at about 43 degrees. I had driven into town the night before with Dianna Hager. We arrived around 4:30 p.m.. Checked into the Bandera Lodge and set off to find the park headquarters of the Hill County State Natural Area where the pre-race pasta dinner was scheduled.
We saw many familiar faces from NTTR, other ultra runners as well as a group of Diannaís friends who joined us at our table toward the end of the dinner. Joe stood up after everyone had eaten and did his best to prepare us for what was to come. He really put us at ease with the comment, ďI made the course as hard as possible.Ē We also were warned about a certain type of plant with razor-sharp serrated edged leaves that would slice through our legs as we brushed by them.
My game plan was to try and keep up with another runner with whom I had run with before, Lennie Winkleman. He was a little faster than me, but I thought it would be good to be pushed a little and also, I was worried about finding the trail alone in the dark. If you gave a 3-year-old a crayon and let him scribble for about 1 minute, that is what the map we were given looked like.
The race started and I stayed pretty much on Lennieís tail until the first aid station, about five miles away. That took about 1 hour and 17 minutes. The first eight miles were pretty much uphill on a steep incline and decline covered with lots of big rocks and loose rumble. I could keep up with Lennie on the flat parts, but could not match his top speed plummeting down the declines. Iíd hit the bottom of a hill and run like a bat out of hell to catch up with him. Somewhere between the first and second aid station I knew it was time to come up with plan B and I let him go.
As I was skidding down the back of one steep decline, Bob Wallace, the owner of Run On, passes me in his Run On singlet and red shorts. He waves hi and is out of site in less than a minute.
One of the worst sections comes between the first and second aid stations. It is called Ice Cream (I Scream) hill. It is very steep and the footing is frightening. All I could think of as I made my way over it is, I hope I can get to this point before dark on the next loop. (I didnít) Another guy who passed me said, yeah, after we saw the course, we decided to do the 50K because we didnít want to be out on this in the dark. (Good thinking. This was a smart man.)
Between aid stations two and five, there were lots of nice flat stretches of jeep roads or trails and I started getting my confidence back. After the first 10 miles, I had been severely doubting my ability to finish. I finally caught up with Kim Sargent, Galveston, and enjoying traveling with her for quite some time. She was a veteran of 18 100-mile races and I thought if we can finish together, I can do this. Who needs Lennie?
The biggest issue over the flatter parts was the mud. Iím not talking about getting your shoes dirty. Iím talking about the stickiest clay mud you can imagine building up on the bottom of your shoes in about three- to four-inch thickness. And you could not get it off. And once you finally did get some of it off, the next 10 steps just build it right back up again. So eventually you just tried to run with it sticking to your shoes, making each step feel like you had a 10-pound weight around each ankle.
Kim and I came in together after the first loop (50K) and Kim, much to my disappointment tells me sheís going to drop. Well, there goes plan B. I called my husband on my cell phone and said, Hi, honey. Iím halfway done but itís going to be kind of late when I finish so Iím calling you now instead. It took me 8 hours and 33 minutes to do the first loop.
So I take another E-cap supplement, many thanks to Scott Eppleman for providing me with some of those. I would have never made it without them. And I head back out for the second leg. My left knee is killing me. It didnít mind walking or going uphill, but it did not like downhill at all. I had dropped out of the Sunmart 50 mile at 9 hours 37.5 miles and I was not dropping out of this one unless I couldnít walk. So I walked, really fast, which is a relative term on a trail that is mostly covered in rocks and boulders.
About an hour into the second loop, Pete Cahill catches up to me. Pete, a Houston resident, had been doing ultras for years. So we hung together chatting away as it started to get dark. He had lots of great ultra stories to tell and I really enjoyed listening to him. We hit the first aid station of the second loop (about 36 miles into the race) and itís time to turn on the flashlights. Another runner comes up named Kelly while Pete and I are downing another supplement. He joins us too.
We scramble up I Scream mountain again slipping and sliding in the mud. It has rained off and on since around 2ish and now it is pouring. I had put on my poncho earlier, but taken it off when it stopped raining and left it in my drop bag. I kept debating whether or not I should put it back on and decided not to bring it with me. (Bad choice.) One of the aid stations we crossed four times and thatís where I had put most of my stuff.
So we walked in the freezing rain and for quite some while I was fine. Pete and I talked so the time passed quickly as we made progress from aid station to aid station (there were six stations each loop). Glow sticks helped us find the trail, but we had to really pay attention, which was difficult because you also had to watch your feet in the limited light the head lamp and flashlight provided.
In about the last 10-15 miles, we added a new friend, Doug. He knew Kelly and so now there were four of us. Kelly, unfortunately really struggled to keep up with me, Pete, and Doug and we eventually left him at the next to the last aid station and he dropped out.
It was wonderful seeing Max Roycroft, Butch Allmon, Paul Stone, and his wife Abby. In my mind, they were at the fifth stop on the course, I donít know what number their actual station was. They are so nice and so supportive and them being there was such a huge help to me. On my second visit to their station, Max made us all brisket sandwiches and you couldnít help leaving their station feeling like you could have walked around the world. I am forever indebted.
The final aid station before the finish was Mark Dick, Letha, and Julie. They were great too. By this time, I was soaked and just freezing cold. Letha found a trash bag and I warmed up by the fire while she cut out arms and a head. I looked fabulous. She even took my picture. They really cheered us up and we geared up for this one final steep hill that we would have to cross before we got to the sticky, itchy mud patch and then the finish.
We got over the hill and the good news was, it had now rained so much, that instead of sticky mud, the trail was just a little stream of cold, brown water. Iíd say it was about ankle deep. So we happily splashed our way through the stream. I mean really, once youíre wet, itís not like youíre going to get any wetter.
And I told the ending first so you know the rest. I love to read the endings first.
I quickly changed into warm clothes and sat with Pete at the heater until Dianna came to pick me up. Dianna did the 50K with an outstanding time of 5:31:37. If any of you had seen even a portion of the course, I canít tell you how impressed you would be. She is amazing! She took second place overall and she really deserved it. I am in total awe! I almost asked her for her autograph when she dropped me off at my house.
She also is the absolute most wonderful person in the world to do a six hour car ride with and room with. She is so nice and so much fun. I am so glad we were able to go together. I finished around 5:30 a.m. She came and got me. I felt tired but fine until I got to the foot of the stairs of the hotel. Then I started to black out. I have had this happen two times before. Poor Dianna dragged all my stuff up the stairs. I just sat on the concrete with my head down until she got the hotel door open. Then she hauled me up the stairs and I collapsed on the bed waiting for the wave of nausea and fainting to pass. She even pulled off my disgusting mud and water soaked trail shoes and gators.
The next thing I knew the phone was ringing and the hotel was reminding us that check out time was at 11 a.m.
Anyway, Joe Prusaitis and Jon Hill put on just an absolutely awesome race. A little sadistic perhaps, but the course, although very twisting and turning, was well marked, the aid stations were incredible, the support was without equal, and every detail was taken care of. Many thanks to all the great people who prepared food, rode their horses on the course to make sure we were ok, all the people who marked the course, etc. From start to finish it was an outstanding job.
It was the hardest thing Iíve ever done. I donít know my exact time yet because the official clock was not right and I found out that my worthless watch only goes to 16 hours! But we were right about at 22 hours. The last three people to finish. If it hadnít rained so much, it would have been faster but the mud and the pools of water on the rocks in the pitch black really slowed things down. Getting lost didnít help either.
Many thanks also to Pete and Doug. I would still be out there if they hadnít been the navigators. Those of you who know me, know I get lost with good directions in broad daylight. Iíd never have found my way by myself.
By the way, Scott Eppleman won the 100k. I havenít found out his time yet but Iím sure he probably beat me by oh, about 12 hours! Way to go Scott!
Ok, I canít wait until the next one. Rocky Raccoon 50 miler in Huntsville, Feb. 1st. Itís going to be a piece of cake after this adventure. See you there!