Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bandera

The Bandera course may not have the elevation gain of a mountain race, but boy does it have a lot of rocky nastiness to more than compensate. As I sit here writing this report after a long day of travel, my feet continue to throb from the thousands of pokes, jabs and stabs they took in the hill country of Texas yesterday.

Bandera the town is about as cowboy as it gets: saloons, wild west store fronts and dudes with big hats and big boots. There was really no doubting I was in Texas when I pulled into town early on Friday afternoon.

The overnight weather forecast was for low-teen degrees, which is some kind of multi-year low for the San Antonio area.

While the low teens are cold in Colorado, something about the moisture in the Texas air made the cold that much colder than the dry cold of home. I wasn't looking forward to camping.

At the pre-race trail briefing, a friend of Brownie's - Mike - introduced himself to me, and told me to swing on by his friend's camper to stay warm before they all turned in for the night. Offer gladly accepted.

After chatting and lingering for as long as possible, without completely overstaying my welcome, I faced the inevitable and headed out into the cold to bunk down for the night. Sporting five layers, I slipped into the two sleeping bags I'd packed for the trip, and managed to fall asleep almost immediately. I woke up two hours later at midnight with cold eyeballs - yes, cold eyeballs. After about two seconds consideration I got straight out of the tent and headed for the car and idled the engine a bit to get some heat going and then managed to score five hours of solid sleep in my five layers, two sleeping bags and a fully inclined passenger seat. I woke up feeling pretty rested.

As the sun came up, the car thermometer was reading 10 degrees. Blimey, what to wear? I decided to put tights on over a pair of shorts and suited up with a hat, two Ts and a jacket. Despite knowing that the de-layering process was going to cost me time during the race , I just couldn't face numbness through the opening hour or two.

From the gun, a pack of six or seven of us headed out on the short jeep road to the trailhead and the first climb of the day where we were immediately greeted by the loose rock that would be the theme of the day, with some good step-ups and step-downs thrown in for good measure. I set the pace - trying to keep it honest, but comfortable - to the first aid station at mile 5.6 (47). The four of us in the lead pack at aid one all shot straight through without stopping, and soon after Chikare Omine from San Francisco eased past me and took up the pace, stepping it up a notch as the trail smoothed out in a section of the course that provided some respite from the rock hopping. Somewhere in here we lost the fourth runner in the pack, and it was just me, Chikare and Dan Vega from Colorado Springs.

We went through aid 2 (11 miles) in 1:27 as a pack, and it seemed like it would be the three of us sparring for the two Western States spots that we had all come down for. Somewhere on the way to aid three at 16.9 miles I had to stop and unload my early morning coffee, giving up 30-40 seconds on Dan and Chikare. I didn't bother trying to catch back up, realizing that there was a long, long way to go and the extra effort would be wasteful, so I just sat back and kept on the pace we had been running, getting visuals every now and then to confirm that I wasn't loosing any more ground. As I came into Cross Roads, aid 3 (16.8 miles, 2:13), Chikare was just heading out and Dan was in among the drop bags. I scoffed a couple of oranges while an aid volunteer filled my bottle and took care of putting my jacket in my drop bag. I was able to get out in front of Dan and maybe two minutes behind Chikare on the five-mile loop from, and back to, the Cross Roads aid station.

Dan caught up to me quickly and we settled into a rhythm together for a while. A mile or two down the track, we managed to miss one of the best-marked turns on the whole course and ran about a quarter mile before coming to a trail intersection. The course had been so well marked up to this point that the fact that there were no trail markings told us immediately that we'd gotten off course (one of these days I'll complete a trail race without getting off course). We turned around and headed back the way we had come, thankfully finding the turn sooner rather than later. Dan seemed pretty agitated by the mishap and upped the pace. I let him go, as we still had over 40 miles to race and I just didn't want to burn energy unnecessarily.

The mini-loop section from and back to Cross Roads had a fun couple of climbs and descents, and I was able to get visuals on Dan a few times, but nothing on Chikare. I had to keep reminding myself to stay patient and stay on pace rather than chase the WS places. Coming back into the Cross Roads aid station (21.8, 2:51), Dan and Chikare were both gone so I didn't linger, passing straight through.

In the next four miles, the course was pretty technical with just a ton of rock, steep grades and general nastiness. I figured I would probably make some time here, but continued to maintain a consistent effort, reminding myself to keep on top of the fluids and nutrition. I had a 10oz gel flask filled with First Endurance Liquid Shot taped to my water bottle, so I was able to keep on top of my calorie intake with a minimum of fuss and fumbling. I was also supplementing the Liquid Shot with oranges at the aid stations and as much coke as I could imbibe.

At Last Chance, the 26.1 mile aid (3:29), I downed a couple of colas and orange slices and learned that Dan and Chikare had come through together about four minutes up on me. I was pretty happy with this update as they weren't really gaining on me. I was even happier, when a couple of miles later, on one of the climbs between Last Chance and the turnaround, right at the top, I turned a corner and almost ran straight into Chikare. Woh! He looked a little dazed and confused. I asked him if he was alright. He said he was.

Hmm, okay, time to step it up a notch on the loose and steep descent, I figured. Chikare got in behind me for a ways, but was soon dropping off the pace. After a couple more climbs, the trail evened out a bit and I took the opportunity to sneak a glance over my shoulder. He was nowhere to be seen, so was at least 20 seconds back. I began to think he might be done for the day, because he really didn't look good when I bumped into him on top of the hill.

I made the final drop back on to the jeep track and headed to the turnaround, seeing Dan about a minute out, which meant he had two minutes on me plus the time it would take me to get out of my tights and fuel up, which ended up being a further four minutes or so (4:19 out). Coming back out for the second 50k loop, I saw Chikare in about the same spot I had seen Dan, so figured that 1, 2 & 3 would be evenly spaced at six- to seven-minute intervals as we headed into the second 50k.

Second 50k! My feet were already screaming at me and my legs weren't too happy either. I was far from enthused to be taking on another round of Texas rock torture, but truth be told I thought I could lolly-gag the second half and still take second, and that's pretty much what I did in the first 5.6 miles out to the next aid (57 minutes vs. 48 on the first loop). I was thinking that I would just grind out the second half and not worry about chasing the win as I came into the aid station.

I was all chatty with the aid volunteers, one of whom was from Yorkshire in the north of England, close to where I went to university. Just as I was about to head out, I asked how much time Dan had on me, and they told me 10 minutes. Then came the kicker, "oh, and that kid (Chikare) was two minutes behind the guy in first!" This caught me way off guard, because he certainly hadn't passed me. Had I somehow gotten off course without realizing it? No, pretty sure that didn't happen. Maybe Chikare had inadvertently missed part of the course? Whatever the case, I suddenly found a huge surge of adrenaline-fueled energy and set about chasing down the Western States spots, all the while crunching numbers in my head: "okay, 25.5 miles left, 10 minutes to make up, less than 25 seconds per mile, don't kill yourself but got to work a bit harder."

At the second aid station on the second loop, I was still by myself and anxious to see if the extra effort had earned me any time. I asked how far ahead the lead was: five minutes with second having only just left. Wow, right back in the mix.

About two miles into the next section, I caught a quick glimpse of a red shirt ahead. Dan. I was actually a little disappointed to see Dan's shirt as I really wanted us to go Colorado one-two, but it was what it was.

Dan hadn't seen me yet, and I was still only getting glimpses until a long straight gentle uphill opened up. Dan dropped to a walk and looked like he was dealing with cramps. He took a quick look back, saw me and immediately started running again, but I was still catching him. As I passed him, I told him to hang in there and not give in as there was still a long way to go and plenty of time to rally.

By the time I came into Cross Roads for the first time on the second loop (48 miles, 6:56), Dan was out of sight behind and I was told that Chikare's lead was down to three minutes. I was really beginning to smell blood now, and it looked like I would have the real estate to get the job done. I was getting pretty tired, but felt like I was working hard enough to close the gap. By the time I got back to Cross Roads (53, 7:46), his lead was down to 90 seconds, Sean Meissner informed me. Surely just a matter of time with nine to 10 miles still to go.

And so it was, on Lucky Hill, the gnarliest and steepest climb of the whole course that I finally got a sight of Chikare's blue singlet. He was working very slowly up the hill, which was all the motivation I needed. This is one of those hills that can be run, but is pointless to do so. I got my hands on my knees, hunched forward and broke out a super-hard power hike. By the top of the climb I was within five meters and Chikare still hadn't seen me, so I decided I needed to pass then and do it decisively on the steep, steep scree drop. By the bottom of the drop I had a solid lead and continued to push on the flats taking a few quick glances over my shoulder with nothing in sight behind.

By the time I hit Last Chance aid (57 miles), I was pretty confident the win was in the bag if I could just keep up a steady pace and continue to run every step of the climbs.

I came through the finish, throwing out a few high fives, in 9:16 for the win, a new course record and a date at The Big Dance in June. Mission well and truly accomplished. Chikare came through four or five minutes later, followed by Dan (who must have rallied) in 9:26. A long, tough, but satisfying day on the trails.

The folks down in the Austin/San Antonio area have a good thing going in their running community, which is just great to see. Super friendly and dedicated folk. The volunteerism at the event was off the charts, and Mr Joe Prusiatis has to be one of the best RDs in the business. A huge thanks to everyone for putting on a first-class event and being out there with enthusiasm in very trying conditions.

36 comments:

  1. Great job Nick! It is great to have you leading the charge for putting Fort Collins on the map as a strong ultrarunning community. Maybe a nice trudge through the snow on the Horsetooth trails will relieve some of the pain of those Texas rock stabs. You have inspired me to put my Bighorn 100 application in the mail tomorrow. See you on the trails.
    -Brother Pine

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  2. So did Chikare cut the course? How did he get in front of you?

    If he did, then Dan Vega should get the Western States spot, seems to me.

    Congratulations on winning, Bandera, Nick. See you in Squaw Valley

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  3. Congrats, Nick! Sounds like you played the race just right. Well done! Thanks for the great race report.

    JRP

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  4. BP - Considering the running community and access to trails we have here in FoCo, I thank my lucky stars on a daily basis that I was able to escape the (big) city when I did to move out here. Horestooth will have to wait though - off to NYC on Tuesday. You'll love Bighorn.

    Anon - My split on that section was pretty slow, so maybe I got off course somewhere and Chikare passed me then. I doubt highly that he would cut the course for advantage, especially not knowing the trails. If it did happen then it would have been inadvertently. I would agree with your conclusion.

    Thanks, Jim!

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  5. Great report. Must be the new haircut that did it! RC

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  6. Enjoyed meeting you, Nick.
    Congrats on an oustanding race and win.
    Best of luck at WS100 and the rest of your season.
    Regards,
    Mike

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  7. Nice job Nick! What a way to start the new year.
    Team Gangels

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  8. EXCELLENTE! Very stoked for you on this one. Great race report - from cold eyeballs (geez, do you have to sleep in a truck or under a bridge to be a good ultra runner?) all the way to the finish. And a CR to boot in light of everything! Nice. All roads lead to the WS!

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  9. Great Race! I don't think there's any dog that could have run with you Saturday.

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  10. Awesome, very psyched for you.

    Will you shuffle the race schedule up a bit, obviously WS should be the goal race. I may come out to watch that even.

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  11. Nick, brilliant work out there Saturday and congrats on the win, course record and the ticket to WS. And to think you got another race this weekend!

    Jaime

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  12. Great job! Now I get to brag all year to the HCTR folks about a Coloradan dominating their race!

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  13. NICE PATIENCE. Well run race.

    Reminds me of when I play my dad in golf. He punches his drive 150 yards down the middle and I crush mine 250. By the time I'm out of the trees, he's already holed out. Way to keep it between the lines.

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  14. Nick, enjoy your blog and sorry I didn't get to meet you at the race. You were done WAY before me. I live in San Ant. and run at Bandera a lot. I've often said there are harder and slower courses around but very few beat up your body the way Bandera does with its rocks, scree, short but steep climbs/descents, and sotol cactus scratching your legs. Plus its a mental challenge because it can be tough to get into a consistent running rhythm and you have to focus so much on the trail. Great job! You should be proud!

    Chris R.

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  15. Congrats Nick. Excellent race report.
    Glad I got to meet you after the awards ceremony on Sunday. (I grew up in Ft. Collins) Enjoy FoCo and keep on winning races. Hope you make it back to Texas. Good luck at Western States as well.

    Chuck D

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  16. Awesome job, thanks for representing The Fort!
    Very stoked on hearing you 'earn your turns' in the WS, even sweeter than if you had gotten in via lottery ('not that there's anything wrong with that.')

    My favourite part is how you slept outside the night before, usually a recipe (for me) of being stiff and achey the next day, yet you still rocked it!

    A great story overall!

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  17. Congratulations, Nick! Fingers crossed that this is a harbinger of a *massive* year for you!

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  18. Very nice! Congrats on a great start to 2010. See you in a few weeks.
    Alec

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  19. Nice run Nick and congrats on earning your spot at WS!

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  20. Wow - thanks everyone!

    GZ, Justin - yeah, all roads now lead to WS in June. Will definitely be rethinking the race schedule, but Pikes is still firmly on the calendar for August. GZ, you might want to try sleeping in the public restrooms by the start the night before ;-) Oh, and JM, if you're thinking about coming out to take in the action in June, how about getting into the thick of it and pacing me for a few miles?

    Chris R - I think the sotol was the only thing about the course that I over-estimated. I didn't find them to be too much of an issue, unlike those rocks. Would have been nice to take in a few more views, but it just wasn't possible. Felt like I was staring at rocks for nine hours straight.

    Chuck, nice meeting you too. Good luck with your season.

    Nick P. See comment above on pacing at WS100 ;-)

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  21. Well done, well done, congrats.

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  22. Congrats Nick! Hope you liked the cold Lone Star! I know it's yellow beer and I am a hop head but...you gotta have a Lone Star when you come to Texas. Nice meeting you and Dan; best of luck going forward. Till next time, Steven

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  23. I could probably be talked into helping you out at WS - as long as I don't have to sleep public restrooms, underpasses, or multiple sleeping bags...

    I would also crack the whip and make sure you don't waste all your time getting chatty with the aid station volunteers :)

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  24. Awesome clean-up! You have become king of the hills, as well as the mountains. Incredible.

    See what I mean about rocks? They had to have been invented in TX. Don't get me wrong - some of my best friends are rocks. Not saying anything is wrong with them. Just noticed there were lots of them.

    Like Zagbag said, Lone Star is required. Foul stuff, really, but I had to buy a 6-pack before heading back to CO.
    Something else I love about TX - I bought .40 S&W bullets at the grocery store. I told them you can't buy bullets in grocery stores in Denver. They couldn't believe it! "Then where do ya buy 'em?" "Ya actually have to go to a 'gun store'!" (Lots of shaking of heads.)

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  25. Nick,

    Great run at Bandera! Congrats! See you in NM in a few days.

    AJW

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  26. Hey Steven - great chatting with you and thanks for the Lone Star ... I think. Best of luck with the rest of the year.

    Jeff - yeah, you were spot on about those rocks. Wish I would have had your winter camping set up for the night before the race. Oh, and I'll take the Shiner Bock over the Lone Star any day.

    Andy - Looking forward to it. Pete S and I are looking to bring home the one-two to Fort Collins ;-)

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  27. Cool pictures on the Bandera website. You look almost unrecognisable in your new gear, and the sunnies are something else.

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  28. Awesome job Nick and nice write-up. Really proud of you bud!

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  29. Thanks Nick! After what you threw down on Saturday I think I'll be lucky to stay within an hour of you. And Pete S. has been doing such incredible mileage these last few weeks that 38.5 is likely going to be a warm-up for him.

    You are in for a real treat at Ghost Town. As you can tell from Susan's steady stream of emails, she loves her race and puts her heart and soul into the event. It is a truly down home, low-key event at a great time of year to get out of the snow. Also, the green chile enchiladas she has at the finish are worth the entry fee alone!

    AJW

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  30. totally flipping awesome. You put it out there in the universe, you did the work, and boom boom boom it came right back to you. Well done.

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  31. Great report Nick and congratulations on the win. Way to put'r down on the second loop. Impressive. Gotta love the rocks. Wow! :)

    Good luck at Ghost Town.

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  32. Most exciting-great race-simply astonishing-unbelieveable! Why aren't you guys getting paid millions-crazy athleticism!!!

    Jessica Holmes-Beaumont, TX

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  33. Hey Nick, I've been meaning to say hello & introduce myself for awhile now. Congrats on your amazing year of racing. I can't wait to follow you again next year. Looks like you're having fun prepping for New Orleans.

    So, I'm running Bandera this year as my first 100K. I'm trying to get a grasp on how long this thing will take me. I'm not a speedy guy, but I'm having a good training cycle and think I will be ready. I ran two 50's last summer, Silver Rush (9:16) and Steamboat (9:49)...and then the PPM (5:24). With that info and assuming I don't blow up, do you think a sub-12 is possible at Bandera? I'm a little concerned because that would put me in the top 5 or 10 in previous years.

    The rocky trails seem to be the kicker down there and I'm guessing that will play a big role in my speed...especially on the second loop.
    -Woody

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  34. Hey Woody - Bandera is a great race and a unique challenge compared to the stuff we run here in Colorado. Short, sharp climbs, lots of rocks and pointy, mean vegetation.

    Hard to say what kind of time you might run, but I wouldn't worry too much about times from prior years as for the most part they are on the slower side. Looks like your 50 times are probably about 2 to 2.5 hours slower than what I might expect to run on those courses, so 2.5 to 3 hours over 100k (?), which puts you right at the 12 hour mark. I'd say that would be a good over-under mark.

    The rocks are a pain, but there are also significant stretches of non-rocky stuff. Make sure your shoes fit well.

    Great trail running community down there, but it would seem a 'slower' general demographic, so don't be surprised to come away with a top 10. Enjoy the town of Bandera - it's pure Texas.

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  35. Thanks for the feedback Nick. I know it's tough to say how someone will do in a race based on limited information. Your perspective is appreciated and it gives the confidence I need to shoot for an under 12 finish. It also dispenses a dose of reality that just because there isn't big elevation, the challenges will come in other forms.

    Yeah, I've never seen pure Texas, as you call it. Just the big cities. I'm crashing the night before the race in a room adjacent to the Bandera saloon. Thought about the camping option, but your frigid experience last January scared me off that idea. Should be interesting! Thanks again.

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