Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bandera 100K

It's been a frustrating month or two since JFK running-wise, which led to lots of days off and some goal adjusting.  JFK left me with a sore tendon in the top-of-my-foot/bottom-of-my-shin/front-of-my-ankle region.  I started running again the week after JFK after a few days off to recover, and thought it was just residual soreness form the race and that it would go away soon.  But it continued to bother me, and was sore even when I wasn't running.  I would take a couple of days off, then try running on it again, and it would flare up after a mile or two.  Then I would extend the number of rest days between runs, still to no avail.  When Jackie and I went up to the Horseshoe Trail in PA for a fat-ass event in mid-late December, I had taken 4 or 5 days completely off from running, and I thought my foot was feeling good.  I could feel the injury after a few miles again, and it still felt stiff/sore throughout the run, so I stopped after about 23 miles of the 50K, as it was only 3 weeks out from Bandera.  Then I took a full week completely off, and my foot was feeling good in daily activity.  I ran 4 miles easy and felt good.  Seven miles the next day felt good.  Ten or so on some trails, with a couple miles hard, the next day felt good.  The following day I went for a moderate 20 miler on hilly roads and felt great.  I was running again and feeling good and healed.  The only problem was it was already only like 9 days until Bandera.  The next day was about 17 miles with Jackie back on the JFK course - it was really nice to get back out there. 

Love the hilly roads in northern Harford County
Back on the App Trail w/ Jackie
Now that I was running again, I was excited and wanted to keep running, but I figured I had better cool it in the week leading up to Bandera.  Originally, I planned on training hard and racing hard at Bandera.  I hoped to get at least a couple 90-100 mile weeks in between JFK and January 7th.  Instead, that one week when I started running again was the only week over 30 miles in that span.  Although I felt good running once I got going again, I had to come to terms with the fact that I most likely lost some fitness in basically a month off from running.  But that was okay, because I was pretty sure, the way my foot was feeling, that I'd at least be able to finish Bandera.  The trip was more of a vacation in my mind anyway: it was the last weekend of Christmas break, and we had a really nice, big house rented for me, Jackie, Trent, Gorie, Matt, and Alex.  It was a ton of fun, an extraordinary event and location, and a nice challenge to start off the new year.

Trent and Gorie were running the 50K, and the rest of us the 100K.  Before the race, Gorie asked me how long I expected to take, and I told him anywhere between 10 and 15 hours.  I really had no idea.  "Around 10 hours" was going to be my goal if I was trained and healthy.  I figured I would act like I was "trained and healthy" when the race started, and just see what happened.

So the gun went off, and I settled in, seeing the Texas Hill Country trails for the first time.  I was immediately introduced to the rocks that everybody talks about.  I will now join the ranks of all those who say that the course is unimaginably rocky.  I've never seen or run on trails like that before.  It was pretty cool, and I was having a lot of fun dancing around on the rocks and bouncing down the hills.  On the way up toward the top of the first climb, the sun was rising over the Hill Country and the weather was perfect.  That was my favorite part of the race (which I guess speaks to how the rest of the day played out for me :D )  I felt good for the first 2 or 3 hours of the race, but that's about it.  I definitely started out to aggressively for the shape that I was in, and was forced to back off after 20 miles or so.  I was by myself for the entire first 50K loop.  I don't think I ever really exchanged a word with anyone, other than at aid stations.  It was fun, though.  I loved the change in scenery, the rocks, and the aid stations. 

I took my only fall of the day somewhere in the middle of the first loop.  A rock actually jumped out of the bushes and grabbed my foot, laying me down hard on his rock-friends.  I saved my face, got a couple of scrapes or small cuts, and hobbled it off pretty quickly without consequence. 

I noted that the course was actually not as hard as I was expecting.  The middle 15 miles or so of the loop were rolling hills at best, with several stretches or relatively rock-less trails.  Usually when there weren't rocks, the trail was hard, misshapen mud (like petrified horseshoe prints), but it was better than the rock beds of the other 15ish miles of the loop.  The hills on the course were unlike any hills I'd ever seen.  In a panorama view of the Hill Country, they are shaped like mini-mountains.  But the climbs were not very long, just technical because of the rocks.

Now, that said, I got my butt kicked.  My first 50K loop was completed in 4:59:something.  Granted, that would probably not be unreasonable if I were in good shape (though, honestly, I started out faster and slowed down in the later miles of the loop).  I went out on my second loop, and I don't really know what happened.  Something just shut down and I decided I would be walking a lot of the second loop.  My feet were killing me, my stomach was feeling kinda weird after every aid station no matter what I ate or drank (which is very unusual for me), and I started feeling my foot injury again.  The injury wasn't exactly bothering me, but I did realize that the more I pushed it today, the more recovery (i.e. completely off) time I would have to take after the race for it to heal up.  My legs weren't tired, but I felt drained, and I could barely run.  It's hard for me to describe, because I've never really experienced that before. 

I was also incredibly lonely.  I kept thinking about Matt, Alex, and Jackie and wondering how they were doing, knowing they were out there on the course somewhere.  And Trent and Gorie, wondering how their 50K went.  I was hoping to see them at some point, either on the course or at the finish line when I finished my first loop, but I never did.  After the first aid station on the second loop, a guy named Matt caught me.  I hadn't had any company in hours, so I forced myself to run with him.  We talked quite a bit on that segment between aid stations.  I was very thankful for the company.  I felt like I was riding him to the next aid station.  After 4 or 5 miles, though, I had to let him go a little bit.  I would see him a lot throughout the remainder of the race. 

The next highlight was at the third aid station of the second loop, a little over 9 hours into the race.  I was feeling terrible.  In the segment leading up to that, I kept looking back over my shoulder in the open stretches, hoping to see someone I knew.  I thought about just getting to the aid station and waiting because I really wanted to run with someone.  I spent probably 10 minutes at that aid station, and sat down for the first time.  When I got up and was about to leave, one of the vollies said another runner was coming.  I turned around and saw Jackie come storming in.  She was excited and surprised to see me; I was excited and not surprised to see her.  She did her thing at the aid station and I left with her, running again.  I wasn't exactly comfortable with the pace, but it was great to have her.  It was a bit of a flashback to Burning River.  She felt better than me, I felt terrible.  After about 3 miles, though, I had to let her go, too.  She actually had something to race for, and I wasn't comfortable keeping up.  By the time I got to the next aid station, she was already gone from it.  From there, it was less than 10 miles.  I knew it was going to be a very long 10 miles. 

The second-to-last section of the race was only about 4 miles.  Night fell during this section, and I heard some coyotes egging me on.  The moon was big and bright.  I ran for what I thought must have been about 2 miles at a slow but steady pace, then stopped to walk for a bit, thinking I must be within 2 miles of the last aid station, called Last Chance.  Shortly thereafter, I began hearing the cheers and voices of the vollies at Last Chance, and they sounded very close.  Then, about 30 minutes later, I finally made it to that aid station.  I guess the trail winded very near the aid station and then went off for another couple miles before actually getting there.  That was frustrating.

That aid station was great, definitely my favorite of the day.  The volunteers there were energetic, enthusiastic buttkickers who forced electrolyte pills into my hand both times and didn't let me stay too long.  Again, I wanted to wait for Matt and Alex to come rolling in, but I had no idea where they were.  So I chilled at Last Chance for probably 10 or 12 minutes and, 11 hours and 30 minutes in to the race, left it at a walk.  It was 5 miles to go, basically up hill the first part, and then down to the finish, with rocks galore.  Shortly into the climb, I was walking up when another guy came up behind me and joined me at a walk.  Greg from Boulder.  I told Greg from Boulder I'd probably be walking most of this last section, and that he should feel free to go ahead if he wanted.  He said that he did, and I let him pass.  About a minute later, I decided to get it over with, and started running.  I caught up with Greg from Boulder pretty quickly, and we ran the whole way to the finish together.  It was actually my best section by far on the second loop.  Greg and I talked the whole way, and caught up with another guy shortly before the finish.  The three of us ran it in and crossed the finish line together.  Twelve hours, 35 minutes, and 49 seconds later.

I still don't really know what to think about this race.  I can only attribute my blowing up for the second half to not running for a month plus.  But that was okay.  Despite all these 'negative' comments about how I felt, I enjoyed the experience a lot.  Since I got injured, I never actually looked at Bandera as a race, but as a vacation.  I didn't really think about the fact that I was running a 100K until a couple miles into the race.  I thought of it more like the Grand Canyon spring break trip last year.  It was an adventure in a new place with some great people.  And it was different, in a kind of nice way, not to be racing for anything and just taking in the trails.

At the same time, it's frustrating, though.  When I finished the race that night, sure my legs were stiff and cramping, but the only thing really bothering me was the cold.  After an hour or so, I was fine.  I've been a lot more sore after a lot of other runs, even a lot of marathons.  The next day, my foot was sore in the same place, but not as bad as it was after JFK.  Under normal circumstances based on the way my legs felt, if I hadn't been injured, I would have started running again the next day.  So fitness-wise, the race left me remarkably unsatisfied.  But the course, the experience, the location, the trip, the several days with friends in a sweet Hill Country house, and the shiny belt buckle made this vacation extremely rewarding and well worthwhile.

Now, a week after Bandera, I sit here with my foot on my desk under two bags of ice.  I'm thinking about giving running a shot again tomorrow for a few easy miles.  This is the first real injury I've ever had, and I'm not good at this.  I hate not running, and I'm dying to get going regularly again.  Once I can do that, I can start picking races for this year.