What can I say about the Bandera 100k? Bottom line, this is a fantastic race. No, it’s not a big mountain race in one of the buzz word locations out west: read ‘Silverton, Miwok, Squaw Valley, Leadville’ etc… But this race stands on it’s own and is arguably my favorite race for a few distinct reasons.
1. People. If you have ever been to a Tejas Trails event, you know how well run they are. Great RD(s), volunteers, runners, etc…
2. Location. Bandera is awesome. And Hill Country State Natural Area is a truly special place. Note that this may be a biased view as I grew up in the Hill Country just southwest of Austin, so those hills still feel like home to me, and every time I leave them there is a tangible emptiness in me that remains.
3. Terrain. Again, not a high profile mountain race, but this terrain is no joke. Bring your A-game because, though there are no ‘climbs’ to speak of, there are certainly rugged trails, very technical in spots, and the climbs (+/- 300 ft a pop) can be steep, though quite short… five to ten minutes at most. But the trail is always fun. A mix of challenging and technical trail and super smooth, buffed out runnable stretches where you can really cruise.
4. Buckle. My favorite buckle to date! So awesome!
Since the Western States Lottery wasn’t kind to me I needed another qualifier. I took a month+ off after Bear 100 and eased back into training in November. Things went okay, but I had that pesky calf injury flare back up. So my biggest week between Bear and Bandera was 30 miles and my longest run was only 9. I wasn’t terribly sure how the day would go due to the low volume so set an A goal of 15 hours with my B goal of sub 17 (for my Western States qualifier), and a C goal of simply finishing.
I flew into Austin, leaving my girls behind, unfortunately. But I did get to see some family, so it wasn’t all bad. My mom picked me up, I went for a quick run, and I swung by Tiffany’s and got to hang with her family for a couple of hours. It was so good to see those girls! I went home, hung out with mom and Kevin, and hit the sack. We got up the next morning and hit the road to Bandera! I always love driving through the Hill Country. Yes, I live in a truly spectacular place, but I still find those hills in central Texas to be my favorite landscape. There is just something about their rugged peacefulness that just feels right. To put it simply, it’s home.
So we rolled into Bandera, checked into the Flying L Ranch, and went into HCSNA to check into the race. We hung out there for a bit, chatted with some friends (including Erik at Trail Roots, good to see him again!), and handing out VFuel swag and samples, etc then went into town and had a little BBQ to scratch the itch. I actually felt pretty good when the alarm went off at 4:00. We had a relaxing morning with a couple cups of coffee, got ready for the day, and were at the start line at about 6:30 milling about.
The gun went off and I started in the front 20-30 people and just settled into my own race. I felt pretty strong from the beginning but took it nice and easy. My heart rate was a bit high but I didn’t worry too much about it, figuring it would settle down in time. The first climb up to Sky Island was gorgeous. The sun warmed us, and the surrounding hills, with a welcomed red glow and quite a few folks were stopping to take photos or to just enjoy the scene, myself included. Keeping my pace in check I cruised easily into Nachos, the first aid, in a kiss over an hour feeling great, and happy to be running a race in the Texas Hill Country.
This is a beautiful course with a variety of terrain. Steep technical trails, smooth open rollers, and buffed out flats that you can really cruise. It’s nice to have that variety and kept me really looking forward to different sections of the course. And it would be wrong if I didn’t mention the sotol. Whoa. The trail is lined with these saw-dagger plants for miles! It’s not too bad, but they certainly command attention. I’m glad I wore knee high compression socks!
At mile 17ish, coming into the first pass at Crossroads aid, my heart rate was getting pretty high. I figured it was dehydration at this point, so I downed about 20 oz of water and hit the trail for the 5 mile loop of Three Sisters. This was my favorite part of the course. Incredible! Stunningly beautiful, rugged, remote, etc… all the things you look for and desire when playing in demanding landscapes.
Heart rate in check, I started really having fun! At this point I was still being conservative, but was able to move pretty well. I would take a bit of a walk break every so often. Definitely more than I needed to, but due to my low training volume, I was trying to delay the inevitable and postpone the epic meltdown I knew was coming. I even stopped on this stretch and fulfilled my promise to Elaina and Daphne and FaceTimed with them for about five minutes! It was awesome! I missed having them there so much, so it was a great moral boost to see their faces and hear their sweet voices.
I made good time back to Crossroads and set out on the last 8+ miles to the half way point. There were a couple of burlier climbs on that last stretch, but they were super short with great cruiser trail in between and on both descents. Again, I kept it reigned in hoping to last a bit longer before the wheels came off, but managed the first 50k in something like 6:20. I took a little time here, used the facilities, sat down for a few minutes, and took it easy back out on the start for my second helping.
Then it hit. On the top of Sky Island. I felt horrid. Just beat down, dizzy, and tired. I was really hoping this would be a short low. I simply slowed down, drank a lot, took another VFuel Gel, and settled into feeling like crap. About 30 minutes passed and as quickly as it came on, it left! I felt great! Though the low seemed to be over the pace was slowed a bit intentionally. I sure didn’t want to push too hard and fall back into it. Maybe another 30 minutes of excessively casual effort with another 15 of slightly above casual was how I handled things from there. I knew I had the A goal of a sub 15 in the bag if I just didn’t act completely stupid. I figured I’d be in at about the 14:30 mark so gave myself a 30 minute buffer from here to the finish.
Josh had advised before the race that I shouldn’t really push until mile 50 and then only if I felt like it. I rolled into Crossroads again and felt super strong. I was starting to reel people in and pass someone every half mile or so and I was hoping that was I sign that I was playing things right. That was mile 48 so figured it was close enough, so I started pushing a bit on the five mile loop. There was a flat stretch just out of the aid station and I took that easy as it was sunset and truly beautiful, so I stopped a lot to take pictures and stood with some guy for a few minutes as the sun disappeared behind a distant mountain. But when I was moving, I was trying to push a bit harder.
I made quick work of this loop and actually did it a couple of minutes faster than I did on lap one. I felt great! I was a bit worried about the technicality of some of the trails after dark as they are actually quite technical. Just as much as anything in Rocky Mountain National Park, save for a few exceptions. And talking to folks throughout the day had me worried as many people told me they walk the descents after dark because they are so dangerous. But I didn’t have any issue at all and didn’t feel they were any slower… but I am used to running on technical trails nearly every day (thanks Gem Lake Trail!). But yes, I passed 10+ people in the last 14 miles that were walking the descents.
I made it back to Crossroads, took some time to eat a bit of soup and send some videos to the girls, then took off into the dark en route to Last Chance, the final aid! This is when I ran the fastest of the race! I was super happy, the weather was perfect, I was in the Texas Hills, Mom & Kevin were there giving great support, there were awesome people at every step, and I was running strong! What more could I ask for except to have Jamie and the girls there as well! Here, I did kind of push. Never anything crazy hard, but I did open it up a little bit and it felt wonderful! My fastest 10 miles of the day were the last 10 and that is a great feeling!
I made it to Last Chance, gave Mom & Kevin a hug, talked to a couple of friends working the aid station, ate a few handfuls of bacon, and took off into the night. The last 5 miles were a blur. I had a lot of the same emotions that I had at Bear. I was sad for the race to be over but so grateful for such a wonderful day and experience. The miles ticked by and the climbs were inconsequential. I pushed hard on the last descent and took a left for the final half mile to the finish line. I couldn’t believe it, but I was going to finish in under 14 hours! 13:47 to be exact. I was, and still am, so pumped about that time!
I crossed the line, got my hands on one of the coolest buckles I’ve seen, gave hugs to Mom & Kevin, and got a burger at the conveniently located food truck! What an experience and what a stellar event!
As we walked back to the car we all stopped and took a minute to look at the stars. They were out in full force and were even brighter than up here in Estes, surprisingly. Or maybe it just seemed that way… either way, they were spectacular! A fitting end to a stellar day!
Thanks to Chris McWatters, RD of Tejas Trails events, for bringing VFuel on board as the gel sponsor for this year! It gave me a great excuse to get down there and finally run this race! And thanks to Mom & Kevin for crewing me all day.. flawlessly. And, of course, Jamie, Elaina, & Daphne, for everything!
This is a race to which I will definitely come back! Without a doubt!