Between the terrain, the landscape, the distance, and the travel, Bandera 100K was a pretty unique experience for me. I was incredibly fortunate to have John Sharp there to support me, and it was great to meet some new folks outside of the southeastern ultrarunning bubble that I’ve mostly lived in to this point. In the end, I was pretty happy with my result. I didn’t run the smartest race or stick to the plan as well as I should have, but I held on for top 10 and met my primary goals: getting a qualifier for Western States and for Spartathlon. One of these days, though, I’m going to figure out how to not go out too fast and how to not let myself get dehydrated. Maybe. At least mostly. Where’s the fun, though, if there aren’t a few hitches in the plan?
Deep in the Heart of Texas
Before hopping on a plane for Bandera, every ultra I had ever run had been somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains between Chattanooga and Maryland. I had actually never even hiked in Texas. So what made me head to the cowboy capital of the world? Well, to be perfectly honest, it was for no other reason than to get a Western States qualifier. With my 2018 plan to give triathlon one last year, and to really give it everything I’ve got, there wasn’t much time left on the calendar to get in a WS qualifier.
This was actually just 3 weeks after 2017 Lookout Mountain 50 Miler. Judging from the last time I did a 50M and then a 100K a few weeks later (2016 JFK 50 and then 2016 Hellgate 100K++) I was a bit worried as to whether I could make it through it in one piece. Fortunately I at least had Terrel Hale in my corner this year and he had been quick to bat away a few minor things that could have developed into something worse.
I had no intention of going for a golden ticket, though, or any delusions that I could even try for one here. Western States is a race that I’m excited to do one day when my time comes, but it’s honestly not one that I think I’ll ever set my sights on and build a year around. It’s just not a race that aligns very well with my strengths.
I wanted some form of extra motivation to keep me pushing hard, though, and that ended up coming in two forms. First, I found out that sub 10 hours would get me a Spartathlon qualifier. Second, I found out that Camille Herron was going to be at the race. Camille is one of the most genuinely nice people you’ll ever meet in addition to being an unbelievable runner, and I was pumped when I found out she was running. But also, I wanted to beat her (Camille, if you happen to read this, I’m pretty sure you would toast me on a track). So there I had two goals that I felt could push me: sub 10 and stay in front of Camille.
So I got on a plane for a race for only the 2nd time ever (so much easier when you don’t have a bike!) and after some flight delays I arrived at hotel de John Sharp in San Antonio around midnight Thursday night.
The field at Bandera was pretty stacked this year. Lining up next to those guys only re-assured me of my plan to not get pulled out with the front runners and to hang back at about an 8:30 pace.
So when we took off, I stayed back. The leaders were quickly out of sight. But then, people just kept flying ahead. By my count, I was somewhere around 25th. No matter what goals I think I have in a race, I have a competitive side that’s pretty hard to suppress in those situations. So I picked it up a bit, refusing to drop back any further. And to stay ahead of Camille. 😉
I was actually feeling pretty good, and I stayed steady for the rest of the lap and found myself in the great company of Brent Kocis for a while (we went back and forth for nearly the whole race, with him coming out ahead at the end). It was great to really soak in the course on that first loop. I loved the rocky terrain, and the landscape made me feel like I was in one of the westerns I watched with my dad when I was a kid. Despite the size of the race and the rather open landscape, I also got to enjoy plenty of good stretches of solitude between some awesome support from John and spectators.
I finished the first loop at just under an 8 minute pace. Oops. I thought I had been “smart” compared to a lot of the guys who shot out at the start, though. Near the end of the loop I finally started to catch a few people and I believe I moved up to about 15th.
I still felt good starting loop 2, but I knew better than to think I could finish at that pace. I tried to keep my pace in check, but with that on my mind I ended up getting blindsided by the slowly rising heat. I also hadn’t been drinking enough, and before I knew it I was in an all-too familiar situation: dehydrated and as a result also unable to get calories down.
At around mile 47, I was in one of “those” spots. I came into the aid station, and John did everything he could to keep me going and motivated. I stopped there for just a bit, got some liquids in, and then walked out of there to try to give my stomach a bit of time to reset. I was never able to fully recover, but I did gradually work my way back up to a run, continually repeating to myself that it doesn’t always get worse. I think I relied on liquid calories for the last 25 miles of the race, and I was incredibly fortunate to have John there at *every single aid station* (still not sure how he pulled that off) with exactly what I needed each time.
Near the end I figured out I was somehow still right on the cusp of top 10. I moved up to 9th, and in an ending reminiscent of my only other 100K (in Horton miles) at 2016 Hellgate, I got passed with a few miles to go and dropped back to 10th. I spent the rest of the race looking over my shoulder struggling to hang on to that position. I managed to do so, maintaining my record of never finishing outside the top 10 in an ultra (this was only the 2nd ultra I’ve done that I’d say had a deep, competitive field, but given the number of things that can just completely wreck your day at that distance, it’s a pretty neat stat that I’m enjoying while it lasts). Strava link
I was feeling pretty rough when I finished, but once I started rehydrating and refueling I actually recovered pretty quickly. I got to see Camille finish and grab her golden ticket (huge congrats to her on an awesome start to 2018 after an incredible finish to 2017!), and chatted with her for a while before heading out with John to get my favorite post-race health food.
Apparently that didn’t quite do it, though, and after driving up to see my old grad school friend Phil Bergeron, I found myself driving around Austin at 1 in the morning looking for a 24 hour burrito place.
Overall I’m pretty happy with the outcome. I got my Western States and Spartathlon qualifiers! I could’ve run a bit smarter, but things also could have gotten much worse, and in this case I think the things I learned from the experience were worth the painful last 15 miles. If everything always went perfectly, we wouldn’t get to keep learning and improving. I have a better idea now of my proper pacing at that distance and under those conditions. I’m hoping this is also the one that finally drives it home to me to stay on that pace and to stay properly hydrated. Every time I just ever so slowly fall behind on hydration and convince myself I’m fine until it’s too late. I absolutely cannot let that keep happening.
I’m also really glad that I made the trip and experienced ultrarunning in Texas. There’s an awesome community down there. I again owe an enormous thank you to John Sharp for a place to stay and for coming out to do an amazing job crewing. It was also (admittedly, somewhat surprisingly to me) a beautiful and unique landscape. I do wish there had been more hills, but that’s just my personal preference and it was by no means a flat course. I also really enjoyed the rocky terrain. It keeps me focused and is honestly just fun. I can’t say the same for the sotol plants, but I guess you could say they keep you alert too. I don’t expect I’ll be able to make it back down to TX very often, but if the opportunity comes I’ll definitely be looking forward to it.
Gear and Nutrition
My gear and nutrition were mostly the same as at 2017 Lookout Mountain 50 Miler. The main difference was that I switched out the Helios 2.0 for the La Sportiva Bushido. The Bushido offer more protection and better grip than the Helios, which was important for the terrain at Bandera. This was my first time ever racing in them, and they did great. I still felt light-footed with a good feel for the terrain, but also never had any issues with rocks jabbing my feet.
I once again had on my XOSKIN 4.0 shorts and 2.0 long-sleeved top as base layers, and wore the 5.0 compression socks again too. I had zero chafing or blistering, until it got too hot for the 2.0 top and after removing it I got a bit chafed on my arm pits. I had my usual Forerunner 935, Hammer shirt, and La Sportiva Aelous shorts. I also again went with my Ultimate Direction Mono Belt along with Body Bottles for liquids and gels
My nutrition for this race obviously didn’t go quite as planned once I got dehydrated, but I stayed surprisingly strong energy-wise on relatively low calories with caffe latte Perpeteum, tropical Hammer Gel, and only supplemented that with a bit of aid station drink near the very end and some Fully Charged before and halfway through the race. If I can figure out this whole water thing, I expect my nutrition plan will be on point.
Disclosure: I have relationships with many of the companies mentioned above. Please see here for a full list of my sponsors.