Monday, January 9, 2012

Bandera 2012

Sitting on the plane from Denver to San Antonio, just two days after getting off a plane from London to Denver, I was wondering what on earth I had been thinking in signing up to run the Bandera 100km race out in Hill Country Texas. This would be my second jet-lagged, ultra-distance run in less than three weeks, and I had a crappy gravelly throat to boot.

Nonetheless, signed up and on my way I was, so it was time to think about how I might be able to limit the pain and suffering, while still putting forth a decent effort. Not much was coming to mind, and the thought of 62 miles over rock-littered trail was really quite nauseating.

My mood perked up a bit when I met Dylan and Yassine at the airport, but it was frustrating to be hanging out barely able to talk. Ah, bugger. Maybe things would feel a little better in the morning. I'd only had 4 hours sleep on average the last three nights, so I was almost guaranteed a solid kip. After some pasta and a quick beer courtesy of our very gracious hosts (Mr Wilen and Mr Albert, you are owed) at the formidable hunting cabin at which we were staying, it was time to get the ole' head down for a serious ZED fest.

I could talk in the morning. That was good. But the thought of 62 miles at race pace still sounded terrible, almost like a death sentence hanging over my head. What in God's name was I doing here? I was about to get spanked by course and competition and I knew it.

Stiff upper lip.

Bandera was once again serving as the 100km national trail championship, but probably of more relevance to those in the USAT&F field were the 74 Montrail Ultra Cup points up for grabs, the cheese (a Dylan'ism for cold, hard cash), and the two Western States berths. Or, more euphemistically, the chance to run against competition.

Bandera is run on a repeated 50km route. It offers a limited amount of climbing, but nonetheless is probably harder than Miwok with its 10,000' plus of climbing.

This course is quite capable of bringing you to your knees. The chief culprits are the rocks that litter the opening and closing thirds of the course. On fresh legs and feet, it’s all fun and games. You go out charging up the 200-300 foot mini climbs high-stepping the limestone rock ledges, before descending the marble-, tennis ball- and softball-sized rocks on the backside descents. This is repeated a number of times before you open up the stride and build a head of steam running some of the less technical sections of the course. The middle miles take you over a mixture of open, fast grassland, more gnarl on the crossroad loop, buffed singletrack, a short sharp bop up and down Lucky’s Hill. And then it all ends where you started with punishing rocks and two more climbs, the final one involving a section of ridge running that can seem endless on tired legs.

The conditions for this, the tenth running of Bandera, were unseasonably hot with not a cloud to be seen all day. Between the rocks and the sun, there was some pretty significant carnage, among which I would most definitely include myself.

Dylan and I had discussed our desire to keep things somewhat conservative on the first loop in hopes of mounting a charge on the second go around. From the gun, Timmy Olson and Dave James were immediately off to the races with myself and a pack of guys sitting back in reasonably close pursuit. By the time we hit the first aid station six miles in, Dylan and I were running together in third and fourth with Dave and Timmy a minute or so ahead and a still sizable pack a similar distance behind.

Things would essentially remain this way for the first half of the first lap. However, a few sneaky glances behind on some of the open sections revealed a patiently waiting Dave Mackey, while the gap on Timmy and Dave James appeared to be closing ahead.

By the halfway mark of the first 50k at the Crossroads aid station, Justin Ricks had managed to tag onto Dylan and me and we ran that middle loop together at what seemed like a slightly up-tempo version of what we had previously been pushing out. Not long after leaving Crossroads for the second time, at mile 22, Dylan and I were once again running solo in third and fourth with Justin having fallen off the pace. Dave and Timmy seemed to have rebuilt their lead a bit.

I was hanging on by a thread and I knew it, but I wanted to keep Dylan moving well at least until we finished the first loop. I desperately wanted him to pick up a WS spot.

Working our way up Boyle’s Bump, the final climb of the loop, Mackey suddenly made an appearance and was quickly ahead of us looking strong and in command. Seeing him moving the way he was, I figured he was on his way to bridging the gap to Dave and Timmy and maybe contending for the win. Dylan and I meanwhile had seemed to be dropping the pace ever so slightly. Figuring that Dave and Timmy were gone, it was up to Dylan to pick up Dave James - who I was assuming had a 50-50 chance of finishing - if he wanted that Squaw start.

Dylan was much quicker than me through the turnaround and I knew he was gone for the day. I now had to find the grit to get on with things and stop entertaining the swelling urge to throw in the towel. And so off I jogged back out for another 31 miles of unadulterated torture. I think I saw five guys coming at me on the half mile it took to clear the start/finish out and back, and I assumed that each and every one of them would swallow me up before I was finished. Top ten was starting to look like a good result.

Joe Uhan was the first to emerge, six miles later, just as I was leaving the first aid station. I mumbled some form of unconvincing encouragement and jogged out. Somehow I managed to hold Joe off for five more miles - or I should say, Joe didn't pass me until the next aid station as I certainly wasn't trying to hold position. I wanted to quit there as well, but that would have been embarrassing with a Queen and a Lord in attendance.

I wasn't eating, I felt bloated on fluids and I wanted to puke. Oh, and like everyone else I was cramping like it was secretly in fashion. I literally ate handfuls of E-Caps, but got nothing in return, just more cramps. My system was absorbing nothing. I was on for a death march of epic proportions, and was firmly set on pulling out at Crossroads, the next aid station. But there were Mike and Albert who had so kindly put me up for the weekend, and there was a smiling Darcy telling me that I had nothing more than a lunchtime run to go (14 miles). Good grief Charlie Brown.

Off into the sotol infested jungle I went to receive further lacerations to the legs and increased levels of dehydration under the burning sun. I passed Dave James on the top of some hill and cursed him silently for having the courage to drop out when there really is no point in continued forward movement.

Back to Darcy and more encouragement. She had ice. Sweet baby Jesus, she had ice. Nine more miles. Was I still in fifth? How on earth was I still in fifth? Okay what was the next section again? Oh yeah, moderately rolling, not very technical singletrack, a sharp climb and then half a mile on doubletrack to the last aid station. Get me on that climb - all I want to do is walk and feel sorry for myself.

Olga, sweet Olga. There she was waiting at the last aid station. How did I get there? 55 minutes to the finish if I walked every step of upward facing trail and ran the rest, she told me. That's less than an hour. Should I puke this bloat out of my stomach and start afresh or should I stubbornly keep drinking coke and downing salt caps in the vain hope that my stomach might actually absorb something and stop the horrendous leg cramps. I chose the latter. It continued to be a highly ineffective strategy.

Two more climbs, an endless traverse and then just like that I was done. I sat down and proceeded to feel worse and then worse some more. I was dehydrated, with a touch of sunstroke and some major nausea. Easily the worst I have ever felt post race.

I finally did puke, put I didn't get the window down in time. Sorry multinational rental car agency.

So enough of my self pity. I'm fine.

Congrats to Joe Uhan on running a really gutsy race and claiming that Western States spot. Congrats to Timmy for destroying the field, and to Dave for hanging tough yet again. Dylan, you'll get yours in Sonoma.

I wish I could have been a little more sociable after the race. Or that I had puked sooner. I was like a new man after getting all that junk out of my system. I went on to consume three beers and half a pizza that night, which for as bad as I was feeling for the first two hours post-race is quite a miracle.

Thanks to Joe P for putting on a great event, encouraging fast and slow alike, and gathering together a formidable crew of volunteers. He's got nine more events (he likes to remind people of that). Go check one of them out. You'll be glad you did.

The depressing truth

1st lap: 3:57
2nd lap: 4:57


  1. Great effort and great comedy. "Kip" and "zed fest" -- your late December/early January writing is always the best when more Briticisms slip in. Couple more weeks back in Colorado, it'll be all Yankee Cowboy again, like all the other blogs

    Way to gut it out!

  2. Solid performance Nick considering the conditions, but you got me wondering what is next for you. You definitely have shown that you can put together multiple tough races next to each (WS, HR) (PPA, Wasatch) (etc, etc) but you seem to be turning a bit of a corner on that with this (and other recent posts). Thoughts?

    Hope the foot thawed in the Tejas heat.

  3. Love it. Welcome back to the States...go run 100K. No rest for the weary. As tough as it sounds, not a bad result. Congrats on gutting it out and leaving it all out there, er, in the Avis.

  4. Wow Nick, you can describe pain and suffering like no one else. Very entertaining! Way to persevere and you still beat your previous Bandera time. Having run those trails countless times I want to say you are spot on in saying its fun and games when feeling good but once the legs and feet start hurting those trails are a gut check. Plus Joe has somehow found a way to add rocks with each additional loop one runs. I'm biased but I think it is a great venue for a championship. It really makes you earn it. Great job on the finish and Bandera PR.

  5. Next year, we'll get the hot tub going post race.
    Way to gut it out, Nick; and still a course PR with all that suffering.
    I drank a few for you at the wedding. ;-)

  6. You rock, Nick! Congrats on finishing a tough one

  7. Great job Nick, way to hang in there! Yet another reason to never buy a rental car.

  8. GZ - yeah, some definite burnout on the back to back big efforts. I'm looking to be more selective this year in order to run more quality, focused efforts. Western States will be one, Pikes may be another. But to be honest I haven't given it a great deal of thought beyond knowing that I need to race less.

    Wiley - thanks again for reaching out. It was a ton of fun hanging out with you, Albert and the huntin' boys.

  9. Fantastic recap! You are a great writer as well as a great runner.

  10. I feel your pain with jet-lag and all, I was having crashing by 2pm volunteering! An impressive recap of reaching in to the guts (no pun) to finish. It was great to see you, always, and looking forward switching roles in a few months!

  11. Easiest puke clean up on record :). You're a tough son of a gun Clarkie. Thanks for letting me tag along on the trip. Hopefully we can do it again soon.

  12. Way to gut it out Nick! However, no love in the UROY voting for you. Geesh! What does a guy have to do.

  13. Hmm, didn't realize the UROY stuff was coming out so soon. Seems about right, I guess, but I think I would have voted for Wolfe. The races he won went a little deeper competition-wise than Mackey's.

    I'd feel a little hard done by if I was in Sharman's shoes, I have to say.

    If Phar Davis is getting performance of the year for what is essentially an FKT attempt, then I'd also have Dakota and Beth Lewis up there for their GC runs. Seems like those weren't considered though.

  14. Nick, I would hazard a guess the FKT attempt being 47 days, and faster than any man has done it before is what took JPD over the top in votes.

  15. Also, I mean no ill will towards David Riddle, but other than JFK, what else did he do? I don't mean this in an insulting way - but when I look at UltraSignup (don't know if that includes everything) I see what look to be great performances, but largely at localized and smaller events...and only 1 event over a 50k.

  16. Brett - certainly agree that her through-hike was an amazing accomplishment, but I guess I'm just saying that if the AT is up for inclusion, then so should other established FKT routes. I don't see either Beth's or Dakota's R2R2R anywhere in the voting, so assume that they weren't eligible. I'd of thought they would have garnered a few votes had they been.

  17. Nick, great recap! You and your Pearl Teammates were amazing out there Saturday! So much for the conservative first half approach to Bandera huh? We should all go back and just hammer it again some time ;) I hope you recover fast and have a great 2012! Sorry I didn't run with you when you passed me, I was working through some "issues" up on that hill ;) Cheers!

  18. Solid race considering how you felt! Any chance you will make it to CoS this weekend?

    Definitely a bit surprising that Sharman's RR wasn't the top performance. Guess it comes down to the panel of voters and their opinions...

  19. Dave - looked like you had a nice view from on top of that hill. Wish I could have joined you. It would be fun to run the 50k at Bandera. Just go out and lace it and not have to worry about doing it again.

    Nick - thinking about it.

  20. Nick, the nice thing about the 50k course is you get most of the hills and rocks over with in the first 12 miles while you are still feeling good. After that the only hills and rocks you have to deal with is the sisters loop and Lucky peak near the finish. Once you are done you can laugh at the poor 100Kers going out to beat up their bodies for another loop.

  21. Chris - and with the accessibility of the course, you can go check out the 100k race once you are finished (and laugh at the poor buggers suffering). May just do that next year.

  22. nmp - well look at Mike Morton. He finished behind Ian Sharman in voting for the performance of the year. He went through 100 miles in nearly the same time as Ian.....and then ran another 64 miles in the remaining 11 hours of a 24 hour event. I can't imagine someone ever running 164 miles on a trail in 24 hours again. The American Record even on a flat asphalt circuit is only a smidgeon higher.

  23. Brett - That is certainly a good point. I would agree that his 163 miles should have been a bit higher in the voting. It all seems a bit arbitrary though. Look at Mike W. and Andy H. 100k worlds...they were 2nd and 3rd and only 2 minutes apart. Despite a fairly similar result Mike received 73 votes and Andy only 1!

    Nick - hope to see you out there this weekend.

  24. Nick, good job on scaring off the wannabes. If we all let on to how much fun we really have out there all those marathon runners would be converting to the trail and clogging up our weekend runs! Entertaining as always, see you on the hill.

  25. Personally, I thought NMP shoulda received more votes, but glad to see you getting at least some love for your outstanding year.

    And, yes, all very arbitrary. Probably not enough panelists into or familiar with the timed events for Morton to get the love he was maybe due.

    I thought Wolfe's TNF was worth more votes too. Certainly more impressive than Hal's JJ, Mackey's Bandera or his own WS, all of which finished higher.

  26. No offense to David Riddle and Josh Cox, but I would have put David 4th behind Ian/Wardian/Morton (in some order) and I wouldn't have put Josh Cox on the list. Yea I know its an AR, but barely an ultra and as part of a road marathon...just isn't the same 'scene'.

  27. You didn't mention your toes. Are they completely OK again? And did you do this race because of your sponsors? I ask this because I was surprised that you toed the line for this race. How you guys gut it out is incredible. You make me seem so weak-willed, but I do wonder in the long term whether it's going to be good for your health.

  28. Another fine performance. Runners 1 through 4 are lucky you weren't fresh! Seems to me, like most things in life, UROY, etc. is in large part just a popularity contest. Certainly the runners and performances nominated are top notch but still... The whole thing is a bit silly really.

  29. THS - Toes are still on the numb side, but better today than they were seven days ago, so moving in the right direction. I think it is going to take another month or so until they are fully normal and probably then still be extra sensitive to the cold. Thanks for asking.

    With regards to running the race, I ran it for a number of different reasons, but my sponsor was certainly not one of them. But, yeah, lessons learned. I will definitely be taking things easier in 2012.

    Neal - agreed.

  30. Hey Nick,
    Sounded like you a had a great time:)
    I noticed in the write up you didn't mention consuming 1st Endurance products during the race. I cramp a lot and was looking at using their products. Thanks for the interesting report.


  31. Marcelo - I didn't bring EFS product with me, but only because I can't get the 5oz gel flasks through security at the airport, and I didn't want to check a bag.

    The beauty of EFS Liquid Shot, with regards to cramping, is that it is packed with electrolytes, which can either supplement intake from capsules on a really hot day or stand alone in meeting electrolyte needs. I've never had cramping issues when using EFS. I was able to bring a serving of Ultragen with me, and highly recommend that as a recovery product.

    Anyway, best of luck with finding a solution.

    1. Sold! Will try it in my next race. Thanks for the response.

  32. Nick,
    Ever try Ultragen during a 100? I did it in my last 100 attempt, one EFS shot 5 oz flask mixed strong, each time I saw my crew and carried another with me in a pocket. No cramps, even energy flow and no stomach distress. Significantly less soreness after the run than normal- probably because the protein and BCAAs. From a handbottle- I drank EFS drink mixed weak, water and Coke, but more Ultragen is what I always wanted.

  33. Jeremy - I've never tried it during a race, but I know Meltzer has been a proponent in the past. It makes sense as an in-race fueling product as it contains a good mix of electrolytes and carbs. Then, as you say, you've got the kick start on recovery with the whey proteins and BCAAs.

    Thanks for the thought - definitely something I need to experiment with.