It's been a long 6 weeks. Thanksgiving and Christmas are always busy time of year - add a mother having major surgery, bad weather, a team meeting, totaling your mother's car on the way to Utah, a hurt dog that has a lame leg, etc and it really felt like 6 months. Running was really put on the back burner, and for everyone that knows me that isn't something that I sacrifice. My running is mine and I don't compromise or apologize for it. Unless it has something to do with my family, my paycheck, or my running buddy Callie.
It was this 6 weeks hiatus from running - and really the lack of participation of any type of organized race since August/Leadville - that got me excited about running Bandera. That is if the weather was going to be good. Instead of signing up way in advance - I decided to wait and see if it was going to be wet or not. I know, hanging head in shame, this isn't the spirit of a true trailrunner. Last year I ran Bandera in high humidity and thick, sticky mud - followed by a cold front with 40 mph winds and freezing temps. I've been there and battled the elements. I did it. I finished. But I didn't feel like a repeat and honestly after 6 tough weeks wasn't sure I was even up for the mental challenge of having to persevere. So - I watched the weather and when it looked like there was a reasonable chance it wouldn't get nasty outside I signed up.
A few days before I made my way down to the Hill Country as I have a few hotels I support near the race location (HI Express Kerrville is a great option if you ever run this race!). I drove out Friday evening for the race briefing and to get my packet. Smooth sailing. I got all my gear together that night - pinned the bib on my shorts - and crawled in bed later than I should have only to find I couldn't sleep. I saw every number on the clock that night but must have dozed off sometime because I jumped up when I got my wake-up call at 4:50.
At the briefing, RD Joe mentioned that we needed to be parked by 6am for a 730am start to avoid getting in traffic - so I took this advice and was out early. This was a good idea - not just because I didn't have to worry about missing the start - but it gave me time to get things together. Yah I know - I prepped the night before and still needed almost an hour to get it together at the start. You'd think I would have it more together at this point as many races I've run - especially since I had no drop bags. Anyways - I strapped on my Nathan 020 - grabbed my hat, glasses, warm warmers, gloves, ipod and nutrition and made my way to the start.
It wasn't as cold as I thought - so there were no warm up miles needed once we started at 730am. Of course there were people sprinting up at the front - some with a legitimate chance of winning - some trying to avoid the single file line of the first climb - and some inexperienced endurance runners that get caught up in the moment and crash and burn early.
My race strategy was to run reasonably fast including the ups - without going anaerobic. I don't really know where my heartrate needed to be to accomplish this - so I decided to go off of feel. I completely ignored people around me and just did my thing.
The first climb - steep and rocky - was relatively easy and even though it seemed a lot longer than 5.6 miles to the first aid station (Nachos) I got there feeling really good. A quick top off of water and I was on my way over the much easier terrain to Chapas where I had an Ensure that I had been carrying. Amazing how ditching something that weighs prob 6 - 8 oz makes a huge difference on the load you're carrying. Everything was going smoothly through the first loop - breezing over sections that last year were so muddy you could hardy walk - cruising to a first 50K loop in 5:38.
By this time it was starting to heat up. Heating up being relative - it was prob in the low to mid 70's. Usually a runner's dream. However, the weather has been so cold this winter that 70 felt like 90. I doused my hat with water - reapplied sunscreen - and headed off for the first climb. It was hot and dusty and the cactus around me seemed appropriate. There was not a repeat performance of bouncing up the trail as I had just 6 hours earlier. No - this time it was slower and hot thinking constantly "how many people are going to pass me before I get to the top?" I kept looking over my shoulder - no one - but I knew they were lurking somewhere close. I kept moving. I finally made it to Nachos and re-plenished my handheld and my Platypus collapsible water bottle which I've really enjoyed using the last few runs and kept moving. Even though it was hot I was still running most of the time except some of the steeper ups. I knew from exerience in other races that I would rebound when the weather cooled off and to just stick with it.
Somewhere in the lower 40's - I felt pain in my knee. Awww - what's this all about? I tried walking and it felt fine - but when I ran it would start hurting. I remember similar pain from my very first trail run about 5 years ago. I tried stretching my IT Band to see if that would help. I started running - no pain - and then 2 - 3 minutes later it would start hurting again. Yup - a tight IT band with 20 miles to go. Great.
I made it to Crossroads Aid Station having power walked and jogged the very easy terrain between the previous aid station. I decided to take a few minutes and stretch - the first I spent any decent amount of time at an aid station. For some reason coke and fritos sounded good - so I shoved a handful of chips in my mouth and downed 2 - 3 small cups of coke. I left the aid station and immediately felt sick. Stomach cramping, nausea - just felt rotten. Wha? Was this going to be my first official throw-up during a trail race moment? I have no idea why I decided I should go to the bathroom - but before the steep, rocky climb I decided to duck behind a tree - which fortunately made all the difference in the world. I stepped back on the trail feeling great - and started jogging - and then the knee issue again. Ugh.
Up and over the rocky hills and back down to Crossroads again for the 2nd time - it was finally dark enough to need a headlamp - and nice and cool. I took off again - running until my knee hurt - stopping and stretching - running - stretching. After a while I decided I would just practice my fast-walk. I did this at Leadville where I was walking faster than most people were running. I walked as quickly as I could and occassionally would run - but before I felt any pain I would start power walking again - then run a little bit. This seemed to be a good combo because I wasn't having to stop and stretch at all.
The last stretch from Boyles aid to the finish has 2 steep, rocky climbs and descents - along with a few miles of relatively flat gentle terrain - which is pretty much a summary of the whole course in 5 miles. I ran the last part of the downhill all the way to the finish - knee pain and all - to finish in 13:17 which was a nearly 2 hour improvement from the year before.
Bandera was a really good race for me. Since I hadn't run much over the last few months it gave me confidence that I am still a distance runner. I still have what it takes to run 60+ miles in a decent time. It also highlighted that I need to incorporate stretching into my workout schedule. As my running improves and I'm able to run much further into races - and as I work on my climbing - I have to get better at keeping the legs flexible. Better to learn that now rather than at Western States. I was also mentally engaged in the race. I was constantly aware of my heartrate/perceived effort throughout which is why I felt great and even though my IT band wasn't cooperating. I was also able to work through problems rather than beating myself up.
I finished with scratched legs from the Sokol but with no blisters. Today my legs are very sore - particularly the quads - but that's to be expected. Overall - a great way to start turning 40 - a great way to start 2014 and a lot of positives to build on in the upcoming months before Moab 100 in March and Western States in June!