I haven't been to Bandera before - but have read a lot of race reports from the Bandera 100K and the Cactus Rose 100M - both run in the same area. Everything that I've read has mentioned rocks and nasty, gnarly terrain. A great physical and mental challenge to start the new year off was exactly what I needed - not to mention I needed some good mileage to burn off holiday and birthday eats :)
I arrived just in time for the pre-race briefing late Friday afternoon. The drive down was awesome - and about 10 miles before arriving at the start/finish I started getting into the hills - which are pretty tall for Texas! The scenery really is picturesque - and it's hard to imagine anything tough or gnarly about the terrain when you see it from a distance. There were a good number of people at the race briefing - and I met up with some DFW folks that had made the trip down. There were 950 registered runners for all three distances - so I knew it would be chaos the next morning getting to the start so I decided I'd give myself plenty of time.
I was on the road Saturday morning at 530am even though the race didn't start until 730am. Before I left I checked weather.com - it was 64. Yikes! Warm for a January MORNING. The forecast was a high of 66 and then a cold front was supposed to move through later in the evening and cool things off into the 40's. I decided to carry my hydration pack without the bladder and use it instead of drop bags - and then carry one handheld since it was only 5 -6 miles between aid stations. I grabbed my gear and headed out.
When I walked outside it was a heavy, heavy mist and warm. The road was wet like it had been raining and as I made the nearly hour drive from the hotel I had to use my wipers. I made it to the start line in plenty of time - and could tell from my squishy footsteps that the trail was going to be sloppy. This was going to be "one of those days" where you just deal with it. At straight up 730am we were off.
The first part of the course was very rocky. Normally not a big deal - but the rocks were covered in mud and extremely slick. I was slipping and sliding all over the place - and rather than take a chance at falling in the first few miles I took it easy and was as careful as possible with my footing. The footing wasn't the only thing that was a little sketchy. There were cactus every now and then that were covering the trails that you had to run through. They had serrated edges - and every time I'd run through one I could feel it scratch - followed by itch. Really? So - muggy weather, slick muddy rocks, and cactus/itchy legs? Really?
After the first aid station - the course seems to flatten out and there were less rocks - but that only meant there was more mud. Thick, sticky mud. I could feel it sucking the shoes off of my feet every time I would step - and I'd have to really pull up on my shoes to take a step. Then - there was so much mud on my shoes that it was like wearing ankle weights. Every now and then a huge clump would fall off - but within a few steps there was more tacked right back on.
The first loop was just a battle. I was hot - sweating like a pig - muddy - cranky - but still moving relatively well and still processing food/liquid ok. I did the first 50K in just under 7 hours. Back at the start/finish I re-stocked my pack - threw a long sleeved shirt and gloves in even though I was burning up - and headed out to start the 2nd half of the race. The first few hours were still hot - muggy and humid - zero breeze - still cranky! When is it going to cool off? I could really tell the trail had dried out and firmed up some - it wasn't nearly as sloppy as it had been in the morning - but the cactus were still there eating at my legs.
At the Crossroads aid station around mile 48 I stopped to get my headlamp since the sun was down - and asked where the heck all of this "cold weather" was that everyone had been talking about all day. Right that very moment - a huge gust of cool aid blew through. Ahhhhhhh! It felt remarkable. Even though people were already in jackets and bundled up - I decided I needed to cool off and enjoy the cooler, dry air so I kept running in my short sleeved shirt.
The rest of the race was a lot more enjoyable with cooler weather and better footing. No more cranky runner. Everyone else on the course seemed to be moving better as well. As the miles continued to tick away, the temperature continued to drop and the wind continued to pick up. Fortunately I crossed the top of the last hill and dropped down to the finish line in just over 15 hours - and found a warm tent full of great volunteers that were literally waiting on me hand and foot. "Here sit down - let me unlace your shoes - what do you need to warm up?" Thank you volunteers! After about 10 minutes of relaxing - I knew it was time to get up - gather my folding chair and supplies that I had used all day - and hobble across the dark field in the cold wind to the car.
As I pulled away - with the heater on - I was impressed with the tough souls that would still be out battling the elements all night long. These are the folks that impress me the most - because they have grit and determination and they're mental warriors. This wasn't the best day with the weather conditions - but that's never a reason to stop - or worse to not start. When you battle through tough conditions in a race - it always gives perspective to other races. I can always look back and say "well I remember at Bandera 100K in 2013 when the mud was so thick..." and know that I can battle through anything.