As you can probably glean from my brief confession of panic in last week’s Thinking Out Loud Thursday post, I was pretty freaked out about running Bandera this year. I ran the Wild Hare 25k in November of 2012 – my first 25k – after having not ran more than 12 or so miles. I ran the Pensacola Half Marathon on Sunday with a friend, and drove back the next day and ran the Wild Hare 25k on Saturday, having no idea what to expect. It went well – the course is (for a Tejas Trails race) relatively tame, few rocks, mostly dirt trails in the woods with a nice 50 yard drop into the back routes and a climb back out. I was still relatively new to trail running, so I was challenged a bit by this (in retrospect, mostly because of the distance – I had only been very loosely “training”) but I had a lot of fun by the end. It fueled the fire of my trail running obsession and I ended up signing up for the Bandera 25k not too long after doing this race.
Bandera…”a trail of rugged & brutal beauty where everything cuts, stings, or bites.” Joe wasn’t kidding about that. Just to get to the long and short, I had a miserable time at Bandera last year. Everyone who asks about it, I tell them the same thing – it was the first time I had EVER been running a race and thought “What the hell am I doing?” I’ve never let doubt get to me like it got to me at that race. I forgot my Garmin beforehand and had no idea what mile I was at at any point in the race until I hit Crossroads Aid Station (mile 10.75). I was completely unprepared for the rocky, steep, and seemingly endless hills. I remember to this day being furious by the end when it was winding through the woods, completely flat and runnable, but I still could not bring myself to run because I was so worn out. I had a completely miserable time. So it was with some trepidation that I registered again this year, deciding about December that I had been training hard enough to at least give it another shot.
I’m completely glad and without regrets with this decision. While it was only a 25k, it was definitely a “mental block” race for me – I’ve even been to Bandera on my own time to train since the race last year, so theoretically I should have nothing to be afraid of – so I knew I just had to nut up and do it. I’d been training more and I knew it, whereas last year I don’t think I did a single long run between Wild Hare and Bandera. I KNEW logically that I was more prepared. I spoke with my coach about fueling and nutrition plans for the race. We camped out at Hill State Natural Area the day before the race so we wouldn’t have to deal with the insane bottlenecking traffic coming into the park for the race. I was prepared in a million ways I was not last year (I was actually late to the race last year due to the traffic!)
I chomped down two gels before the start, filling a spare baggie of Tailwind to put in the pocket of my handheld bottle (already filled with Tailwind). I had almost five hours worth of nutrition on me, and I was pretty worried about whether or not I would be diligent about drinking my nutrition when the temps at the starting line were in the high thirties. Fortunately this proved to be a non-issue – between the hard running and the hills, I did not have a problem with thirst, and had almost drained my first bottle by the time I got to the first aid station at Boyles (about 6 miles in). The trail coming into Boyles is a freaking blast to run, as it’s a nice steep downhill with lots of rocks – I completely love throwing myself with abandon down these steep declines because it always allows me to catch up to others that I might have lost on the uphills. As I got down to Boyles I quickly filled my bottle, very briefly spoke with my husband, and flew off down the trail again.
I don’t have a lot of awesome running powers to brag about, so when something awesome happens to me I might hang on to it a bit more than is probably necessary (every little bit of encouragement counts, guys!) As I was leaving the aid station and about to dump my Tailwind into my bottle, a fellow runner spoke to me who had been in front of me before the decline into Boyles and who I had quickly flew by as he gingerly picked past all the loose rocks. “Where do you train that you learned to run downhill like that?”
“In the land of absolutely no regard for my own personal safety. …oh and here, and Eisenhower in San Antonio, and Friedrich.” (Honestly it’s mostly the first one – I’ve always been the kind of person who throws their self down the declines with abandon, banishing all thoughts of The Dreaded Faceplant…)
So I ran for a while at a nice clip, feeling pretty good. I really need to start utilizing that “lap” button on my Garmin to analyze my splits more fully, because I’m pretty curious as to the pace I was putting up on some of the miles, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. Eventually I met up with a girl as I was barreling down a hill as she paced me side by side with reckless abandon, and we discussed our mutual lack of regard for our bodily safety as we flew down the hills like giddy children. By this point I had begun to realize that this was EASILY some of the most fun I’d ever had running. I felt good, I was flying, not trying to run too fast on the flats, I was drinking Tailwind regularly and now I had a buddy. We ran together for quite a while, chit chatting about this or that, and eventually parted ways at Crossroads aid station (mile 10.75) as I stopped to stuff my face with oranges. (I go INSANE when I see oranges during races. Freaking nectar of the gods.)
The end was near at this point. I’d had most of the fun with the sotol cactus that I would see for the remainder of the race, as I would eventually turn back into the wooded area of Bandera and hit some pretty solid flats for a while. I knew this was the area I’d crapped out on last year (well I’d been already pretty far past crapped out at this point) where it was flat and I just COULDN’T run. So I resolved to take it easy and not push myself until I KNEW I was ready. I couldn’t remember any significant hills after this point. (Right?!)
Well, eventually I hit Lucky Peak again, and I was completely, totally unprepared for it. I won’t say this is where my race unraveled – I don’t think my race ever “unraveled” at any point – but it was definitely where I lost a bit of spark. I’d completely forgotten about hitting Lucky Peak again. The runner who was hiking behind me later described me as looking “completely demoralized” upon seeing that wretched hill, and I can’t disagree. I hiked it, feeling alright at first but then having to stop. I was a little disappointed because I had hiked (almost powerfully, even!) straight up all the hills so far with no stops, so to make it all the way to the end and have to break that track record made me slightly upset. But I continued on. “Don’t let that hill beat you!” The runner behind me shouted as I took a breather, hands on my knees and face glaring at the rocks as I crouched down slightly. At this point I was less demoralized and more like pissed off, pissed off at this hill that had the audacity to come in and ruin all my fun.
But you know, that’s life. And that’s most certainly trail running, so eventually (like, two seconds later – I don’t hold grudges even against gnarly hills) I powered through it and took off again. I was definitely a bit slower the last 1-2 miles, and the playful skirting through the rocks turned at this point into more of a slog. As it turned into a slog I definitely started having some dark thoughts about having to go out for a second loop at Nueces in March – if I was tired now, at 14 miles into my 25k, how was I going to feel when I hit mile 15.5 and then had to do it all over again in March? Was that even going to be possible?
I quickly realized that this negative self-conversing I was doing was exactly what killed me last year (besides being woefully unprepared) and then began to think about getting to Last Chance. I had been drinking Tailwind the whole race and my mouth was getting a bit irate at not having any straight water for most of the race. So I thought about getting to Last Chance, grabbing a quick shot of water, and then powering on to the finish (a measly .5 miles away).
And that’s pretty much what I did. I got to Last Chance a few minutes later, and after rinsing my mouth I took off with a bit more pep in my step than before. There were people lined up in lawn chairs spectating and cheering all down the trail from the finish line, and as I began to cross I smiled. I finished an hour and a half faster than last year. My husband was there taking pictures, once again having followed me around the whole race because he’s awesome and supportive and well, I kind of like him. 🙂
So, in a nutshell…Bandera began as my nightmare and ended up easily being one of the greatest, most challenging and fun races I’ve ever ran. I’m already thinking about doing the 50k next year. In fact, I can’t wait to do the 50k next year. Crazy how these things turn out. It definitely gave me a lot to think about in terms of doing the 50k in a few months (really not that far away…yikes). I felt like my nutrition was great but could have been ramped up a little bit for the end. And as cheesy as it sounds, there’s really no beating the power of positive thinking. No doubt my miserable race last year was caused by allowing myself to get to that Dark Place of No Return – that gross and soul-suckingly negative place you go when your race isn’t going great and everything seems to have gone wrong. I resolved to just go and do it, not kill myself, and have fun this year. And I think it worked out just fine.