So the goal is to secure a spot at Western States in June by finishing top two at Bandera, which has been designated a qualifying race and Montrail Ultra Cup (MUC) event. Not surprisingly then, the field looks a little more competitive this year than it has in years past.
The race director, Joe Prusaitis, appears to be fully on top of things down in Hill Country Texas and offers a website jammed full of easily accessible and relevant information on the race, the area and all the happenings surrounding the weekend. In addition to the 100k race, there will be 50k and 25k races being held in the Hill Country State Natural Area on Saturday. 50k runners are eligible for MUC points but no WS spots.
Joe has been staying on top of the entrant list with regular updates, so I figured I'd offer a quick pre-race primer on the guys I think will be in the hunt in the 100km event.
While the field doesn't appear to be particularly deep, there are definitely some talented guys who are going to make a serious race of the top five or six spots, and I'm pretty sure that Matt Harrington's 2004 course record (9:25) will go down. If I were a bookie, there would be two guys I'd pick as favorites based on their form at big races across the years.
Probably the most proven guy is Zach Miller who has finished second at the JFK 50 twice, finishing in the low six-hour range. In addition, he ran sixth at Western States last year in an impressive 17:34 and second at the USATF 100k Trail Championship (and WS100 qualifier) in Oregon, coming in 29 minutes behind Erik Skaggs. There'll be no WS-qualification pressure on Zach, so I assume he's heading down to Texas to rack some points for the Ultra Cup.
Chikara Omine has been tearing up the Northern California trail running scene for a few years now, winning numerous events - typically against weaker fields - and finishing well in bigger events. He was third at the American River 50 mile last year (ahead of Tim Parr and a few seconds behind Dave Mackey), and ran an impressive eighth at the North Face Endurance Run a couple of months ago in San Francisco, finishing five minutes ahead of Mackey in 7:22, but 50 minutes off Steidl's blistering course record pace. He was among the favorites going into Western States last year, but I believe he ended up dropping.
I would probably insert myself as the next guy down the list, followed by Colorado Springs resident Dan Vega, who ran second at Leadville the year Matt Carpenter destroyed the course record.
Jamie Cleveland is a former Canadian National Ironman champ and has previously won Ironman Florida. He won the Bandera 50k last year, but seems somewhat unproven over longer distances - a definite wild card.
Glenn Mackie is back defending his title, but I think he'll have to improve on his winning time of 9:53 from last year if he's gonna get the job done this weekend.
I've definitely got my work cut out for a top two, but the nature of the course should slow things down a bit. The short, yet sharp ups and downs, combined with the technical nature of the track will make it more of a strength runner's course than a speedster's, which should play in my favor, and while I don't much enjoy running loose rocky trail, I tend to do well on it.
Sixty-two miles is a long way to run, and typically in these longer races there tend to be some blow-ups among the faster runners, so while I'm not going in as a favorite for the top two spots, it is well within the realms of possibility. I'm fit, confident and ready to race.