Monday, January 10, 2011

Bandera Race Report

The Bandera 100k didn't turn out quite how I anticipated.  I had envisioned training hard, flying down there, kicking some butt, and coming home feeling quite proud of it all unfolding just as planned. Here I sit now feeling quite humbled by the whole thing. Oh, I heard all the warnings about the rocky course, but c’mon, how bad could it really be? I saw pictures of the course and there seemed to be just as many pictures of flat single track as there were of rocky spots. Can't I just power through the rocks and then recover on the flats?

The Texas Hill Country is beautiful. The town of Bandera is 50 miles NW of San Antonio, and there’s a reason they call it “the cowboy capital of the world.” You’re not going to find any big box stores, chain restaurants, or even common hotels. No, it’s like a page was ripped out of the old Wild West with a historic Main Street, open land sprawling as far as the eye could see, and dude ranches galore.

Instead of camping, I decided to get a room in town. Looking for something cheap, I settled on a place called the Bandera Bunkhouse on Main Street. It was a no frills small room with a bed, bathroom, broken TV, and a fridge. It was also located right next to the Bandera Saloon (which had a very large “Live Music” sign on the front). Sure enough, the music started pumping around 8:50pm and just kept on thumping. Thankfully I fell asleep at 10 and didn’t wake again until morning.

The weather was forecasted partly sunny in the morning, cloudy in the afternoon, and rain by late afternoon. Many of the runners chatted about finishing before the rain came. While that would be nice, I knew it was out of my control, so I felt prepared if the rain came.

When the race began, the lead pack was out of sight in a matter of minutes. The first 5 miles were very technical, climbing around Sky Island and Ice Cream Hill, but with fresh feet and loads of energy, the pack of 5 runners I was in plowed through it in no time. Then things ease up a bit for about 10-12 miles before having to pass over the “Three Sisters” and heading to Lucky Peak, Cairns Climb, and Boyles Bump. Those final 15 miles of the loop were technical yet again.

Okay, let’s talk about the rocks. I think it's just one of those things you need to experience in order to fully grasp what I’m talking about. But I’ll try anyway. The hills are short & steep. They feature climbs of a several hundred feet with no switchbacks. Now try to picture truckloads of golf ball, baseball, and softball sized rocks scattered over the trail. Some embedded, most not. Going up the hills was difficult, but coming down was nothing short of treacherous. Tripping and falling is not an option as it would probably end your race.  You can click here to see over 700 photos of the course, but you'll probably fall into the same trap I did thinking it isn't so bad.

Before moving on, I must mention the Sotul plant…or should I say cactus. This evil plant is everywhere and could not be avoided. It looks like the type of cactus we have here in Colorado (long green leaves with a sharp needle point), but the one difference is that the leaves are serrated. When running through the sotul you could just feel the leaves slice your legs…think paper cuts by the hundreds.

The Sotul

Just like a knife

Despite the rocks & sotul, I was enjoying my fresh feet & relaxed pace and life was good.  As I cruised over the rocks, I was pleased that it didn't seem to slow me down or have any negative effects.  But as the day wore on, the feet deteriorated as the freshness disappeared. This really hit me at mile 27. I had been running a great race, but I was halfway through that final 10 miles of technical climbing and my feet whispered politely to me that they were done. Not good when you’re facing another 35 miles.

I finished the first 50K in a respectable 4:54. I had a nice hotspot on my big toe, so I stopped to take off my shoe and address it. I’ve read about runners using duct tape to care for hotspots and blisters. I even brought some with me wrapped around my SCap bottle. What I failed to learn was exactly what to do with the duct tape! So I ripped off a square and stuck it to the bottom of my toe, put my sock back on and started running. Well, you could probably guess that the tape didn’t stay in place, and now I had a bunched up foreign object in there. It finally shifted into a spot that didn’t bother me, so I just kept trucking.

I was all alone on the second loop and my plan was to put on the iPod and just zone out a bit while I ran.  But to my dismay, it was announced at the trail briefing the night before that they have a new rule….no iPods! Needless to say, instead of zoning out to music, I got to focus on my feet and the new blisters that I could feel popping up.

Coming into the Cross Roads aid station - Mile 47.  Photo by David Bubier

I got to mile 42 and that’s when it really hit me. I had 20 more miles of this junk and 15 of it were the most unfriendly. I saw my Uncle David & Aunt Hildy at mile 47. They drove out to cowboy country to catch a little of the race and to see the finish. It was certainly the bright spot of the second loop. After leaving the Cross Roads aid station for a 5 mile loop, I was hit with what I can only describe as exploding toes. The blisters on my right foot were at the boiling point. I stopped, took my shoe off, removed the bunched up piece of old tape and stared at about 5 blisters with the skin on my little toe peeling off. What do I do now? This time I slapped a piece of duct tape all the way around my big toe and then just left the other small ones to fend for themselves. I’m not sure the tape helped, but after another two miles, the blister pain settled down and became manageable.

Leaving Cross Roads aid station - Mile 52.  Watch me take off like a rocket!  Video by David Bubier

Back at Cross Roads, I saw David & Hildy again before venturing on the final 10 mile survival shuffle. My famous last words to them were, “it’ll probably take me 2...2:15 maybe...or around there.” Haha! How about 2:45 for 10 miles! The sun was setting, temps were dropping, and breeze was picking up. I went for as long as I could before whipping out my jacket and light. I actually enjoyed being out there in the dark. I didn’t enjoy how I was feeling at the time, but it was peaceful. Nobody was even remotely close, so I could curse the rocks as much and as loud as I wanted! Everything about this stretch was slow. I was in survival mode and didn’t want to fall. I just tried to make it from glow stick to glow stick in hopes that I would finally pop out on the dirt road that lead to the finish line.

Finally it came, and I ran the half mile into the finish. 12:10:50.  Joe Prusaitis (race director and finisher of over twenty-five 100 milers) was on the other side ready to give a handshake and present me with my first BUCKLE!  David and Hildy were also there for hugs and to help celebrate. I only wish I didn’t have to make them wait so long!

Loving the buckle!  Photo by David Bubier

On a positive note, I beat the rain! It absolutely poured that night and I can only imagine the experience of the runners that were still out on the course.  AND...I'm now 1-1 against Geoff Roes in head to head competition!  Unfortunately, he dropped at the 50K mark after a very rough day.  Dave Mackey shredded the course and set a new record by over an hour finishing in 8:17.

With a few days separation from the race, I have to say that I'm now glad for this experience.  I was disappointed that things unraveled after what I thought was a good first loop. I learned a lot, and I supposed you need a race like this for the lessons to occur. I’ll try to process that in future posts, but for now, I do feel I’m a better runner because of Bandera. I can tell you that I don't plan to be back (for the 100K). Joe and his crew of volunteers put on a spectacular race, but as I hobble about on my tender feet, I know 62 miles on that course is not for me.  But then again, I have been heard saying "never again" far too many times for anyone to believe me anymore.

I must end in saying that I can’t thank David & Hildy enough for coming out to support me, and then taking me back to their lakehouse in Austin for the night. I slept in the most comfortable bed and ate like a king! Breakfast on Sunday featured three Texas-sized & shaped waffles and 8 strips of bacon. Lunch #1 was two bowls of pasta soup, and lunch #2 was a feast of beef brisket & sausage at Rudy’s BBQ. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with you both!


  1. I feel the same way about rocks in several parts of the Indian Peaks; I call 'em ankle breakers, and I curse them out loud too. They really killed my pace during a long run I did up there, almost didn't make it by sunset. Round river rocks all over the trail at 10,000 feet? WT...?

    Way to go for finishing that, it sounded tough!

  2. Amazing accomplishment, Woody! I am truly impressed!!! I know you said you don't feel like it was a great race, but hey, you finished and that's HUGE! Great work!

  3. Hey, discovering the issue (feet) not would be better than discovering it at LT. Now we fix it, and you can "enjoy" the remaining 38 miles at LT :) See ya soon buddy!

  4. Way to tough this one out. I realize it's not what you were hoping for but still a hell of a job on finishing out the race strong. And what, no pics of the waffles?

  5. I live in San Antonio and run regularly at Bandera so really enjoyed your entertaining report. You are right, photos don't do it justice. I talked to several out of state runners at the race and about everyone said it was rockier and hillier than they imagined. Congrats on persevering! There is also a 100 mile version on these same trails in late October if youare interested.

  6. MtnRnr - Sure wish I could have run a little on those rocks in the Indian Peaks to prepare for this race.

    Mallory - thanks! I hope I didn't sound too much like a downer about my race. I was really happy to finish in the time that I did and need to be content with that. Instead I tend to rush into thinking what I could/should have done better.

    Patrick - So true! That's why we do these things right? There's still so much to learn.

    Jaime - I didn't mention they were blueberry waffles with REAL maple syrup. I'm regretting turning down the offer for a 4th.

    Chris - Hey! Thanks for the comment. You've got a great spot to run down there. I can easily see how the locals have a significant advantage knowing that course and getting to train on it. Cactus Rose?? Not a chance!! Although I have this strange feeling another Tejas Trails event might be in my future. How did you do on Saturday?

  7. AMOWIRED. Its a new word I just made up for you. Amazed, wowed, and inspired.

    Congratulations Woody. Sounds like a beast of a run, and you conquered it.

    I hope you have a great recovery!

  8. Woody, I was wanting to run sub 14 but a long week at work sapped my energy and I just didn't have it from the get go. Ran a 14:49. Odd thing was I felt better after Cactus Rose (had a great race for me there) than I did after Bandera. Thanks for asking.

    Yep the course gives locals an advantage. I know it really helped Liza with her win. Joe and Tejas Trails put on great races!

  9. You didn't look too excited in that video. And, geez, if you need any salt all you had to do was suck on your hat.

    Congrats on gutting it out.

    Give me smooth singletrack any day.

  10. Wow, that video is telling. My feet can feel your pain from watching it. I can't imagine what was going through your mind other than ouch ouch ouch ouch......
    I know there are ways to "fix your feet" but I'm not sure what they are either. I would have done the same thing with the duct tape. I'm not sure I could have sucked up kept going for very long like you though. Congrats!

  11. James - I think I may have to use that new word when it comes time to comment on your latest adventures....especially the PPM!

    Chris - Congrats! I'm guessing you caught some of the rain. Hopefully it wasn't long before you were out of it. I was told Cactus Rose is the same course (minus the flat, rock-free parts)...good grief! Glad it was a good run for you.

    Jim - yeah, I'm not sure why I was gushing salt. It was much hotter than expected due to minimal cloud cover until late. I could feel it on my face, but didn't see my hat until after the race.

    Matt - Yes, that is where the iPod would have been nice to distract from the constant "ouch". Also, foot care is one of my top takeaways from this race. I need to figure that out since it can derail a otherwise good race day.

  12. Woody - nice job out there gutting it out through another 50K of painful feet. That sounds super tough. Curious what type of socks you wear? Ever since I started running in drymax ultimate protection socks I have never felt any hot spots or had any blistering, which I almost always had in some form on long runs prior to that. But I also haven't run on anything like what you described or for that long.

    Anyway, congrats on finishing on a tough day. Look forward to running with you in Moab soon.

  13. Thank Aaron. So, I wore a pair of Smartwool socks in anticipation of the rain. Well, I missed the rain and it was quite warm during the day, so the Smartwool socks were overkill. I'm sure that had something to do with my blisters. I am going to give drymax socks a try. I've heard nothing but good things about them.

    Today was the first day since Bandera that I started looking forward to Moab. I'm almost fully recovered and getting excited about running out there. Funny how after running 62 miles, going 34 doesn't seem all that bad!

  14. Woody! Sorry I am a little late here but a belated congrats on your finish - You should be very proud of gutting out a tough one and starting your year in a such big way! Looks to be fun upcoming season for you...see you at CPTR and SJS and hopefully sooner...

  15. Thanks Leila! It was great seeing your name pop up during the SJS registration....I'm really excited for that one! Very cool about CPTR too. This will be your third one right?