Short report – Doing things that scare you help you grow so much more as an athlete. Experience breeds confidence. Running in the dark makes the up hills less intimidating. Bandera was actually fun!
After Reveille Ranch, I thought my future trail running was going to be limited to the equivalent of soft green fields. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating but the course definitely got the better of me and my initial post race reaction was to avoid similar terrain in the future.
Once my ego healed, I realized that it was my lack of experience on trails, especially more technical trails, that left me vulnerable on the course.
The very first thing I did after Reveille Ranch was to hire Joe P as my coach to prepare me for the Rocky Raccoon 100 in February. It was clear that I have a lot to learn and I want to be completely prepared come February. Joe P is not only an incredible race director but he is also a seriously experienced trail runner.
The second thing I did was to start doing all of my long runs on trails when possible. I needed the confidence that only comes from experience. I know that Rocky is not a technical course by trail running standards, but having run the Little Rocky 50K and Escape from Huntsville 50K there last year, I am here to tell you, coming from only road miles, even Huntsville can feel hilly and technical. Plus, even for a non-technical trail, I imagine that the roots start to jump out at you after 60 some odd miles.
So, under Joe’s guidance I started adding specificity to my weekly runs. Intervals, hills, race pace. I also realized getting out of my comfort zone would only make me a stronger trail runner. I did long solo runs in Warda and ventured out for hilly runs in Tulsa and Little Rock, on trails when possible, on my business travels.
I had zero intention of running in Bandera. I had heard nothing but crazy things about the course and to be honest, it scared me a bit. Then I read about the history of the Cactus Rose race and that a relay option was available. My curiosity was definitely piqued. Then I started seeing requests on the Tejas Trails FB page for requests to help fill spots on relay teams. A quick call to Joe later, we both agreed, doing something that pushes me would be great experience and I was signed up to run 25 miles of the Cactus Rose.
My team agreed on how to split up the legs, and I ended up with the third leg. The good news was that I was able to show up in Bandera mid-afternoon on Saturday (less time away from home and the kids), the bad news (or so I thought) was that most of my 25 miles were going to be run in the dark.
Due to the lack of cell coverage around the race site, I had a difficult time locating my team (whom I had never met before), but I quickly realized I could check the log books at the Lodge and Equestrian to see where our Leg 2 runner was on the course.
We ran into town to grab some dinner for my husband aka, my crew, which gave me the opportunity to text my team. We finally met up at the Lodge around 5:30 and I felt much better. We also chatted with other runners and cheered on folks who were coming in finishing 50 miles or continuing on their 100 mile journeys. It gave me the opportunity to get some real time feedback on the course as well.
The Cactus Rose is run clockwise and counterclockwise every other loop. This allows runners to see each other more frequently and adds a fun dynamic to experience the course in both directions. Doing leg 3 of the relay meant that I had a clockwise loop.
In talking with Joe and looking at the course elevation map, I knew that the most challenging part of the course would be the last 10 miles of my 25 miles – and that section would certainly be in the dark. My plan was to run as much as I could during the daylight in the “easier” sections not knowing how much I would be able to run in the more technical sections, especially in the dark.
My nervousness and uncertainty was driven by my unplanned walking at Reveille Ranch with a nasty blister and a turned ankle (caused in part by my inexperience on the technical course) and having never run in Bandera, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of my ability to actually run the more technical portions.
Right around 6, I made myself a PB fold over and I was about to have it for dinner, when our leg 2 runner appeared. A quick change of the timing chip and race number and I was off, still eating my fold over.
With aid stations every 5 miles, I set out knowing I would have about that much time before sun down. As I set off, I felt fantastic and I was running strong on the course. There was one steep, rocky climb up and descent in the first five mile stretch that I hiked rather than ran, but other than that, I was able to run the majority of the time. This definitely boosted my confidence.
My only mistake in these early miles was misreading the aid stations. I told Doug that the Equestrian station was 10 miles out, but it was only 5 miles out, so when I arrived there, I thought that I had missed a turn. A few helpful folks assured me that I was on the right track, so I signed into the log book and knew that Doug would figure out what happened. I couldn’t even text him to let him know.
One of the negative things about running the third leg is that a lot of the 50 milers were finished so there were fewer runners on the course. Of the runners I did pass or come across I couldn’t help but feel like a bit of a poser. Running 25 miles in Bandera is still a great accomplishment, but when someone running 100 miles tells you that you are looking great, I felt like I had to clarify that I was running the relay. Maybe it stems from my own issues, I just know that when I am doing a long run and someone blazes by me it can be demoralizing, especially if I am in the midst of a bad spell. I usually tell myself (whether it is true or not) that they aren’t going as far so that is why they are passing me like I am standing still. Nothing against fasties, this just helps me feel better :) Anyhow, I tried to encourage everyone I came across and I found that as is the case in the ultra community, everyone I came across on the trails was encouraging and inspirational!
As night fell, I found that my new Black Diamond Icon 200 Lumen headlamp made a huge difference. I had plenty of light and was pleasantly surprised with the course. A good portion of the course was trail that was very runnable and I even got comfortable with all of the rock. The darkness definitely helped to mask the elevation changes. I really think there is something psychosomatic about seeing how steep a hill is and making it seem harder – as they say, it’s all in your head, and when you can’t see it, you can’t psyche yourself out!
I got to see Doug and Indy when I made it back to Equestrian and it was just the boost I needed for my last 10 miles.
I knew these last 10 miles would be challenging and they did not dissapoint in terms of sotol, steepness and no shortage of rocks. At one point noticed a headlamp off in the distance that looked like it was on top of a mountain, and that gave me a clue about how much climbing I had ahead of me. However, besides the sometimes very steep, rocky climbs and descents, which I carefully hiked, I was able to keep running. The sotol was prolific, but my legs stayed generally protected in my running tights
Overall, my three biggest surprises were how comfortable I was running alone, in the dark and on the terrain. Shockingly, besides one near slip on a rocky downhill and one toe stub, I had no issues at all. There were no ankle rolls or blisters like at Reveille Ranch and I felt really good.
My hydration pack was great so I was able to run empty-handed and I had easy access to my PowerBar Gels. My gels of choice are Tangerine and Berry Blast because of the caffeine, which is great for night running! Also, there is not a better gel on the market in terms of consistency. These gels are thin, taste great and easy to swallow and they gave me just the energy I needed for this course.
I finished my 25 miles in 5:43, which given the terrain, made me happy and Leg 4 of our relay took off just before midnight. I would definitely like to run in Bandera again in the daylight to enjoy the beauty of the terrain.