After a lot of planning, training, fretting, and obsessive organizing of all the things I might need, it was finally race week. Although I had effectively been on every section of the course at least 3 times with my training runs, I was still intimidated by this race. Although I had gone almost as far before, the terrain at Brazos is nothing like Bandera and I had never run from morning through to full dark. There was also the 24 hour cutoff to worry about. It had been a long time since I was so nervous for so long before a race, but that kind of fear can be motivating too.
My parents volunteered to take their trailer out to the park, providing a basecamp for my awesome boyfriend/crew and a nice place for me to change during the race. When I explained they would probably not be able to camp at an actual site due to the race, my dad welcomed the challenge. They ultimately got to the park two days before the race to set up at equestrian and volunteer throughout the weekend – I was lucky to have this kind of support!
We opted to drive in on race morning instead of staying somewhere closer to the park. We figured we would sleep better at home if we slept at all. My drop box was prepared (an old cake tupperware from my mom), my spare clothes were set out in the back of my car, we had more batteries than any reasonable person would need in a lifetime, and I had over the counter medications for every anticipated ailment. The course map with projected times for each mile and aid station were taped to the top of the tupperware for easy crew reference. In other words, every thing I thought I could possibly control was under control.
When I ran it, the 100k was still combined with the 50k and 25k. All races started in different directions and at different times. The 100k was first to start at 7:30am and the 50k was not far behind. About 300 started the 100k and just over 220 were running the 50k. This meant over 500 people and crew were waiting for the start early on Saturday morning. We arrived at the park over an hour early in order to have time to stop and see my parents (flush toilet!) before the main road was shut down in preparation for the start. We headed to the start line for the briefing and were soon sent off.
This was the first time I’d run at Bandera with more than one other person. The crowd was unbelievable! I knew the first climb would come fairly quickly and that I needed to be at the back of the pack so I didn’t freak out, but I was also worried about time.
After I made it up to Sky Island and back down, I was able to calm down a little. Just a few miles later I was already at Equestrian, where I was amused to find mom calling out race numbers to the ham radio guys, dad handing out drinks, and my awesome boyfriend taking pictures of me and this dude Gordy that I would continue to play tag with for the next dozen miles.
The next section was the first one that we had run together – down the relative highway to the 3 sisters (past the nice flat rock at the top of one that Joe pointed out during course marking as a place he would rest on loop 2), through the backcountry campsite, along the trail I had helped re-route during that August volunteer weekend a year and a half earlier, back through the intersection and taking the right to ice cream hill, down the backside and along the creek bed to Nachos, now a roadside aid station. The 50k runners were flying through by this point. Meanwhile, I kept trading places with Gordy and wondered what could possibly be in the bag (was that a bread wrapper?!) that he carried.
The next section took us through the park headquarters area where my awesome boyfriend waited to say hi and cheer us on. Just past that were the damn powerlines, then down a hill and around a corner, across a road to Chapas aid station. Having only seen a few horses and riders here on my training runs, it was surprising to see the party underway at the barn. This was a high energy aid station but they didn’t allow us to linger this early in the day.
The next section was mostly flat but rocky. We stayed along the park boundary, crossed the park entrance road, continued on to the race track where you could hear YaYa and Equestrian but knew they were still miles away, then past the area where I had volunteered at YaYa the year before, and finally made it to YaYa. This represented the end of the flat section for me and meant I was 2/3 through the loop. Next up was that weird section on the various #5 trails that I never sorted out on my training runs and Lucky’s. As I made it to the top of Lucky, I was surprised to see a photographer. He was taking pictures of the eventual winners – who had just lapped me. I was at mile 25 and they were at mile 56, and looked really fresh. Unlike me.
I cheered myself up with the knowledge that I now knew to turn right at the bottom of Lucky towards Last Chance. My awesome boyfriend was waiting there with encouraging words, and reminded me that the next aid station represented the halfway point. We headed up and over Boyles’s Bump and Cairns climb (maybe not in that order, I could never remember). The whole time, I pictured the route in my head – just two quick detours from the main trail and then a left turn at the old ranch house to the lodge. I was on time, feeling good, and would be able to do a quick turnaround so I could head back out and hit equestrian and change clothes before sunset. The nice thing about that last section was knowing that everyone else out there was doing the 100k also. The 50k started at Last Chance, so they had already covered this section in the morning. The women I caught up to were deliberating about stopping for blister care before heading out again. I was grateful not to have had any problems yet. I came through the aid station a little ahead of schedule, saw my parents and awesome boyfriend, then quickly headed back out.
The view from the top of Sky Island was great and not nearly as crowded on the second loop.
After coming down from Sky Island the second time, I suddenly had a very strong need to pee. I was so preoccupied with finding a suitable bush that I mis-stepped and fell, sliding down a rocky section by the jeep road. It didn’t help that I could not bear to go downhill because my toes were slamming into my shoes so hard. When I was about a mile out from equestrian, my phone picked up signal and I became distraught at the encouraging messages from my boyfriend because I knew I was a total failure. I texted him that everything sucked and I was going to be faking happy really hard so mom would not try to persuade me to stop. I took about 20 minutes to completely change clothes and re-apply anti-chafe/blister/whatever stuff, eat, visit, and pee (flush toilet!). By the time I left the trailer, I was feeling better and ready to go again.
I made it down the highway, through the sisters, and through the party at the backcountry campsite. It was dark, but thanks to the intersections and backcountry campers I didn’t feel too lonely on the trail. I had changed shoes and gaiters at Equestrian but somehow still had this irritating little pebble stuck by my heel. I finally sat down on a rock at the base of ice cream hill to dump it out. Another runner came up then and asked if I was ok. I explained, never found the offending pebble, and laced back up. As we headed up the hill together, I could somehow still feel that pebble. (Who out there is laughing because I obviously didn’t know that was an imminent blister?)
It was nice to have company up and over ice cream hill, but he was faster and picked up the pace after we got back on the main highway. I stopped at Nachos, happy that I could now drink as much Coke as I wanted after having held out through the first loop. By the time I reached my awesome boyfriend in the parking lot at park headquarters (~ mile 45, 9:30pm), all I could think about was the port-a-potty.
****potential TMI section****
Instead of feeling relief after going, I immediately felt the need to pee again. This was not good. Fortunately, I had prepared for many complications and had pain meds specific for a UTI and took them immediately. With that problem solved, I could go back to being irritated by that little pebble that would not move at all, and freaking out about missing the cutoffs. I asked my awesome boyfriend to please recalculate estimated times based on 30 minute miles because it had taken me that long to get over ice cream hill. He assured me he would take care of it and sent me on to Chapas.
I headed up the powerline section, this time in the dark, and an interesting new problem presented itself. I could not run without a sudden, intense urge to pee. But walking wasn’t really comfortable either. I developed a weird kind of loping move and started (1) thinking about what a stupid hobby this is and (2) trying to figure out what was up with the pee thing because if the UTI painkiller didn’t help, it must be something else, Meanwhile, my brain started playing &Run by Sir Sly on endless repeat. Entertaining, right?
I finally made it to Chapas and the party was still going strong. I had decided that maybe I got a little aggressive on the anti-chafe and it was causing my burning bathroom problems. So I placed my order with my awesome boyfriend for anything hot and with salt at the aid station while I went, armed with wipes, to the bathroom to try and fix things. I then inhaled the instant potatoes made with ramen broth, thanked the volunteers and awesome boyfriend (who had reassured me I had PLENTY of time to finish), and headed back into the night.
In the next flat section nearest the park entrance, I met a guy who had run both Bandera and Rocky a dozen times. We talked for a while until our paces no longer matched. Somewhere in this section, I came across a heart drawn with some sort of liquid on the trail. I briefly wondered if it was from my boyfriend, then hoped the runner I’d just met didn’t think I was making heart shaped pees on the trail. This reminded me I hadn’t thought about peeing in a while – yay! In my defense, it was at least 50 miles in and nearing midnight. I made it through the racetrack, hearing YaYa in the distance, then ran along that section of trail that had glittered so beautifully a year ago. I was grateful for the cloud cover and the resulting cool but not cold night.
When I got to YaYa, the Rockhoppers were warm and welcoming. Of course, I only cared about the bathroom. I grabbed some more food and coke, and left, focused on how to get over Lucky when my legs weren’t really working. I had 10 miles to go, but the last 5 would not be entirely alone as my awesome boyfriend had planned to pace me along parts of the trail from Last Chance to the finish. I was feeling good mentally, if not physically. I had realized that at any point along the course, there was likely someone 5 minutes ahead of me and 5 minutes behind. This was good news in case I got mauled by a bear, but also something to remember in case I had to pee on the trail.
By the time I reached Lucky’s peak, I had decided that the best way to descend would be to just slide down on my butt. My legs were seriously unhappy with downhills, and this was a fairly steep descent that I reliably slipped on during those training runs. So I made it partway down, then slid to the bottom on my bottom. From here it was less than a mile to Last Chance and some company. And maybe a bathroom?
When I made it to the aid station, I was greeted by the fantastic volunteers and my awesome boyfriend. There were also a couple of 50k runners who were just about to finish. I stocked up on chips and m&ms and we left the aid station.
The plan was for my awesome boyfriend to accompany me on Madrone, the main trail, then stay on that trail while I detoured first to Cougar Canyon (Boyle’s?) and then to Vista Ridge (Cairns? or the reverse?). But first, I needed to pee. There was no port-a-potty at Last Chance (poorly named for that fact), so I explained that he was to give me his hand to facilitate a squat, and then LOOK AWAY, towards oncoming runners with his 5000 lumen headlamp. I am not even kidding about the lamp – that thing is huge and heavy. He complied and seemed excited, talking the whole time while I was squatting about breaking barriers or something. Whatever. We made it to the turnoff and I went right for a mile and a half over another hill while he stayed on the main trail with only 2/10 mile to the intersection. We had planned this to save his knees from the climb. That was the only time on the trail that I got a little spooked. I’m not sure if it was the wind or the hour, but I went a little faster than I’d been able to before to catch up to a couple of other runners. When I met my boyfriend at the intersection, he explained calmly but forcefully that he was ABSOLUTELY NOT going to wait in the middle of nowhere on a deserted trail with all kinds of crazy animal sounds while I did the next, longer section alone. He would be coming with me and we had plenty of time. I replied happily that it was fine with me and hey, can I have a hand, I need to pee again.
With plenty of time to spare, we power hiked the last 4 miles and crossed the finish line together in the middle of the night. I was ecstatic to have finished. I even missed my goal of being DFL.
We collected my buckle and headed back to the trailer to share the news with my parents. I was filthy and could not wait to take off my shoes. I discovered the worst blisters I’ve ever had, including one under my big toenail. Disgusting. I decided right then that there was no way I would run Rocky and was glad I hadn’t registered. Everyone in that trailer looked at me doubtfully but went along with the plan. My parents encouraged us to stay and take a nap, but we knew we had plenty of energy to make the hour plus drive home so we headed out just before sunrise.
We almost made it to the other side of Bandera before we decided we should probably not be driving. We pulled over for a quick nap, but I couldn’t sleep. I really needed to pee again, but there wasn’t a single bush in that parking lot. We eventually made it home safely, unpacked, and slept. I had to borrow his shoes for a few days because mine were too painful with the swelling and blisters. Otherwise, I recovered pretty well and started to rethink Rocky…