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Bandera 50KM Race Report

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Bandera 50KM Race Report:  01/11/2014

The 12th annual Bandera 50km Trail Race was held at the Hill Country State Natural Area which is about 10 miles outside of Bandera.  This was a B race for me with the intent of using it as more of a training run for preparation towards the Rocky 50 miler in February.  I already had completed one 50km trail run a month prior to this and ended up winning in 3:51.  I wanted to get some experience on this course since this is the race site for the USATF 100K Trail Championships.   Not sure what the future holds but if things go well for me this year I may come back next January for the 100K Trail Championship race.  Training leading up to race day was inconsistent as I had to recover from my last race, then get the distance up in a short period of time, and then deal with a couple illnesses which put me out for two weeks prior to the race as I ended up catching strep throat followed by a sinus infection.  I was disappointed getting sick but it was probably good for my body to rest for that time period and experience a little bit of a taper.  I did manage to get up to 100 miles in a week so I had a pretty good base leading up to the race.  That 100 mile week left me with some really tight glutes, quads, and some tightness in my IT bands.  I had two massages within two weeks of the race and was loose and much fresher by race week.

I arrived to the race site for packet pick up a little after 5 p.m. Friday evening.  I had a little time before it got dark to jog a couple sections of the course and review one of the more complicated parts of the race which is the Cross Roads aid station.   It’s a double aid station which you come into and go out of in such a way that there are four separate in and outs.  I found a local Italian restaurant in Bandera where I loaded on some carbs and had a long dinner.  Somehow the cook overlooked my ticket so it took over an hour to get my meal.  I stayed in Bourne which was about a 45 minute drive to the race site.  It wasn’t bad the morning of the race but there was a little traffic entering the park and it took another 15 minutes from the entrance of the park to where we had to park.  Next year I will probably take a meal to the race site and camp there the night before.   Looked like a lot of people camped at the park.

I woke up at 4:50 a.m. and made it to the race site around 6 a.m.  I mainly hung out in my car and kept calm and warm.  It was 40 degrees at the start and was expected to warm up 5 degrees each hour.  I had a decent warm up and did some stretching, before removing my tights and putting on my compression socks and race shoes.  The starting line was .75 miles from the parking area so I jogged to the starting line about 10 minutes before the 7:30 a.m. race start.  As soon as I arrived I looked down and quickly realized I forgot to put back on my race chip strap around my ankle when I changed.  I immediately took off running back to the car while the race director is urging everyone to get to the starting line with 7 minutes until the start.  I could not believe I was in this situation and felt like a complete idiot for doing this.  Everything was going so well before this.  I was in a panic at my car and could not find it anywhere.  After a couple minutes of unsuccessfully locating my chip I sprinted to the main tent where packet pickup was and managed to get a new bib and race chip.  Another few minutes were gone and I had a couple minutes to get to the starting line which was probably .5 miles from here.   As I was making my way to the start I had to accept the fact that I was going to miss it and that my race strategy of beginning easy and running my race was out the window.  By the time I got to the starting line the back of the pack was through and there was not a starting line mat so basically my time started with everyone else.  After already running 1.5 miles at a faster effort than race pace I had to get around 175+ people before the course went from a single car lane to a single person trail.  I was a little over a minute behind the last runners and had to make a decision to either pick up the pace and pass as many people as possible or get stuck behind and not have a shot at the front.

The first mile had 315 feet of elevation gain and I ran the majority of it off the trail which had quite a few rocks.  I plowed through that and got ahead of 90% of the field in 9 minutes.  My heart rate was above lactate threshold (LT) and peaked around 178 bpm.  It should have been mid 160’s.  Mile two was 7:48 and mile three was 8:14 with another 272 feet elevation gain.  I was now behind a group of five runners which were holding a good pace and I was hoping I could stay with them and get into a controlled pace to relax and allow my heart rate to come down.  The problem was that the first 6 miles of the course involved a lot climbing and I couldn’t get my heart rate to come down at all.  It stayed in the mid 170’s and at every mile I was occasionally seeing 182+ bpm.  The first aid station was at mile 5 and I didn’t hang around too long as I wanted to stay with the group.  I took a gel, grabbed some water and kept going.  I should have asked the volunteers if anyone was ahead of the group so I could have known what place I was, but the though came to me after I was too far away.  Around mile 6 or 7 our group split and two of the stronger climbers separated themselves from us.  They seemed to be gaining distance on the uphills but coming back to us on the down hills so I wasn’t too overly concerned.  Eventually they got far enough ahead that we lost sight of them for a while.   I don’t know what I was thinking but decided to make a move around mile 8 on a technical uphill section where the two other guys I was with hesitated on which path of the trail to take.   Unknowing at the time I moved into third overall and had managed to catch the two ahead of me.  I was hoping I could find a relaxed rhythm and start controlling my heart rate as I was still above LT.  That move was another big mistake as I pretty much burned my last match and was now really feeling the lactic acid in my legs set in.  One of the two guys made his way past me and there was nothing I could do to keep up (this guy ends up winning the race).  At the second aid station (mile 10) I refueled my race belt bottles (8 oz. each) with water, took a gel, and moved on.  I’m not sure where it was on the course but I fell a couple times and had a few close calls.  One of the falls busted up my palm pretty bad, but the close calls actually hurt worse as it took everything I had to keep from going down and was like a big shock to my body.  It’s hard to explain the feeling but it was a major pounding to my core.  The falls happened on flat sections of the course where I stopped paying attention.  During the next couple miles the disappointment of me misplacing my chip began to really set in and was probably one of the lowest points of the race for me.  I guess with one of the falls God finally knocked some sense into my head and I remembered that this was not an A race and was supposed to be a training run.   I slowed my pace from 8 minutes per mile to 9 minutes per mile and I finally felt like I was running my own race.  At the third aid station (mile 15) I took my time and got in as much Gatorade as I could and refueled my bottles with water.  If I wanted to finish this race I was going to have to slow down and run a steady pace.  Fortunately miles 15-20 were relatively flat and I was able to run sub 9 min pace while keeping my HR at mid-160.  Fifth place passed me during this section but I was content with my race strategy.   I was approaching the Cross Roads Aid Station (mile 20) and now feeling better about my situation and knowing that the race was 11 miles from being over.  I filled up one bottle with Gatorade another with water, ate a few orange slices and half a banana, as well as managed to get down a gel and few cups of water and Gatorade.  My main focus was to get as much nutrition as I could and stay hydrated.  Both bottles were completely empty by the time I made it to the aid stations.

Temperatures were probably in the upper 50’s and it felt warmer.  Miles 21 and 22 were actually comfortable and I was starting to do some math in my head of possible finishing times.  Little did I know I was about to run a section of the course called The Three Sisters.  I was in a world a hurt and could not even jog these climbs.  I had to walk all three of these hills and my legs were on fire.  It was so physically and mentally challenging that I could only think of putting one foot in front of the other and hoping the top was near.  Average pace was mid 11 min per mile but the uphill sections I was walking were around 15 min per mile.  It seemed like forever before I made it to the Cross Roads aid station (mile 25) again.  This point I had been out of water for a while because it took me a lot longer to cover 5 miles.  I did the same refueling as mile 20 and took more time to stretch some of the tightness in my quads and hip flexors from those hills.  I didn’t realize at the time but sixth place moved ahead of me at this aid station.   I don’t think there was anything I could have done as I was now running a 10 min pace.  My legs were cooked and I was focused on finishing and preparing myself for one more climb which was called Lucky or something.   I read that it was a pretty nasty climb and very steep.  It seemed like it was straight up and impossible to even run.  There were quite a few loose rocks mixed in with large rocks that you had to step up more than a foot or two.  It was so steep that I had to stop and stretch a couple times on the way up so I wouldn’t cramp up.  My legs were completely wasted at the top.  Going down the other side was just as steep and more dangerous due to the risk of falling if not careful each step.  Average pace for that mile was mid 13 minutes and 26 minutes per mile on the climb up.  I eventually made it to the final aid station (mile 30ish) and the volunteers said there was .5 mile to go.  I thought they were joking as my watch was around 30 miles, but I took off and ran as fast as I could go so I could get it over with.   Ran that last .5 mile at a 6:40 pace and finished strong!

Official Race Time: 4:46:32

Place: 7th Overall.  1st Age Group

Attire: Hoka Stinson Trail shoes, Ankle high compression socks, Compression calf sleeves. TXU compression shorts, Under Armor short sleeve shirt, Nike arm warmer sleeves (too warm), Hand Band, Race Belt with two 8oz. bottles, sunglasses (useless).

What to do different at the next race?

  • Make a check list of essentials before the race and make it the last thing I review before going to the starting line.  Most important would be is your race chip on.
  • Experiment with different hydration bottles or packs to find one that fits well and is comfortable.  My bottles probably came unclipped at least eight times during the race.  The belt was also bouncing quite a bit when the bottles were full and would ride up my above my waste which wasn’t very comfortable.
  • My feet swelled up from the abuse of the rocks and I ended up with some bruised toe nails which will most likely fall off now.  I may need to put some Vaseline on my toes to keep that from happening again.

Could I have done anything different to prepare for this race?

Yes, simply by incorporating hills into my runs.  Not very many places in The Woodlands to do this other than Flintridge so in addition to hills I will need to build up leg strength with box jumps, lunges, squats, etc.

What is your overall experience of the race?

The race site at the Hill Country State Natural Area is beautiful area and made for some very scenic running with beautiful landscapes.  To me the race course was very challenging as I underestimated the hills and used most of my body’s resources in the first 13 miles.  I prefer multiple loops over a single loop course, but the way my day was going it was probably best that it was one loop otherwise I may not have continued.  The technical portions which had a lot of loose rocks didn’t bother me as much and neither did the sotol cactus that I read a lot of about before the race.   It was a pleasure meeting the Race Director, Joe Prusaitis, and his team put on a stellar race.   I wish I had more time to hang around and talk to him and the other runners as I could learn so much more about running ultras.  The runners were very cooperative on the course and would move off the trail if they knew you were approaching.  One girl had head phones and couldn’t hear me say on your left a couple times but she was the only one.   The volunteers were spectacular in assisting you with your needs and getting you going.  I’m sure most of them had ultra-running experience as they seemed to understand what you were going through.  The person overseeing the race numbers and issuing chips did a great job in getting me a new number and chip under the circumstances I had caused.  I was embarrassed at the time and trying not to make a bigger fool out of myself, but he understood the urgency and got me on my way.

Effects of this race:  I was exhausted after the race and having to drive a little over five hours to get home.  I was starving and also dehydrated as I weighed about 146 when I got home and probably 150 before the start of the race.  I had a couple blisters on my feet and a couple bruised toe nails. The soreness lasted for three and was mainly in my quads.   I did some active recovery on Thursday but still felt tired so mainly focused on stretching.  Saturday was a 3 mile recovery run and legs weren’t sore but still felt somewhat heavy.  Sunday I did some cross training in the pool.  Not sure if I will be in peak shape for 50 miles but I shouldn’t have any problem running it if I run my own race and avoid the same mistakes.

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