The One With All Of The Headlamps
Now that I’ve had some time to eat and sleep, I’m excited to share everything that went down at the Bandera 100k ultramarathon. And believe me, there’s a whole lot to talk about. From critter sightings to multiple headlamp issues, I’ve got lots of stories to tell. Along with some helpful course information to consider if Bandera is on your short list of races to check out.
The Bandera 100k UltraMarathon Course
So before we get into all the ridiculous follies that my running buddy and I experienced, there’s some useful information about the Bandera course I want to share. The race is held at the Hill Country State Natural Area in Bandera, Texas. For the 100k distance, the course is two 50k loops run (usually) in opposite directions. This year, because of COVID, the course ran both loops counter clockwise.
Earlier this year, I ran the Cactus Rose 50 miler, which is an almost identical course at the Hill Country State Natural Area, so I knew what I was in for. Unlike Bandera, the Cactus Rose course was clockwise. I say this, because the loop can almost feel like two different courses. For Cactus Rose, the first 10 miles feel very fast and mostly flat, with the last 15 miles being full of brutal climbs.
Running Bandera, the course was opposite, starting out with the harder climbs, and then finishing out with the more mild sections. I really preferred running the course this way, since it kept me from coming out too hot, and it also meant that most of the more technical climbs were done in the glorious light of day.
There’s no mountains, but there are lots of lose rocks, sudden drops, and life stealing roots to tangle with. In addition, you need to know that there are crazy cactus plants that fully cross the course and tear at any exposed skin. I was not disappointed that it was cold enough to wear leggings; only my ankles were sacrificed.
The last thing you need to know about Bandera is that the aid stations are freaking phenomenal. Tejas Trails does it right. There’s variety in the fuel offered, and the volunteers are just angels from heaven. They will fill your bottles, make you quesadillas, and give you the genius idea to plop a scoop of mashed potatoes into your soup broth. You won’t forget the party that happens at Chapas; I guarantee it. Bandera aid stations will teach you everything you ever need to know about southern hospitality.
The Race Plan
Going into the race, I didn’t have too many goals in mind. I’ve never run a 100k, and even though I knew the course, I didn’t know how my body would hold up. After chatting with my running buddy, we saw that the weather forecast looked pretty grim after midnight. So we decided to do everything we could to make it back to the start before then, giving us a 17 hour time goal.
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We both wanted to stick together for the whole race. Running on those trails in the pitch black hill country night for a second time was far from appealing. We knew that we needed to start out slow, and the miles of climbing helped us stay on track with this. The only other goal I had was to try to keep my stomach happy, and I’m very thankful to report that the GI issues that nearly killed me at Cactus Rose did not make a second appearance. Praise!!!!
How it Actually Went
Like I mentioned in my weekly recap, we got to Bandera at the perfect time to get everything situated and give our husbands a smooch before heading out. We started out around 6:40, into the dark, cold trails. The sun came up pretty quickly, and after a couple of miles, we could feel our toes again. The first 15 miles had a good amount of climbing, and we felt like we were moving slowly but efficiently. The views of the sunrise over the hill country were amazing.
After 15 miles, we met with our husbands at our drop bags for a quick refuel, and headed back out. We crossed paths with an adorable little armadillo that could not have cared less about our presence.
After 15 miles, we met with our husbands at our drop bags for a quick refuel, and headed back out. The second 15 miles were substantially less technical. We got back to the lodge so much faster than we expected, which meant my husband almost didn’t make it. Thankfully, he didn’t miss us! Since we were at the halfway point, I decided to change my shoes, drop my bladder, and pick up a soft flask instead. All of these things made the start of the second loop feel amazing. My back and feet had started to feel sore, and I was so relieved that the change in gear made things feel better.
We started our second loop a little faster than the first, and we both remarked that the climbs didn’t feel quite as difficult. We were moving really well…..until we stopped to break out the headlamps at mile 45. I had used my lamp a few times, loaded it with fresh batteries before the race, but quickly realized that it kept going from bright to the dimmest setting on its own. I tried to mess with it a few times, thinking I wasn’t hitting the right setting, but it just would not work. Later I realized that the pack of batteries was faulty, or must have gotten wet. I was so frustrated.
We found that if I got in front of Ashley, her headlamp helped me to see what was ahead. After throwing a little pity party, I tried to stay positive, knowing there was a back up lamp waiting at the next aid station a couple miles ahead. We slowed down significantly, since I was slightly less blind than a bat. It felt like it took FOREVER to cover those two miles, but we finally did. Once we got to our drop bags at mile 47, I picked up the back up lamp that was also super dim, but better than my original lamp.
At this point, I grabbed a quesadilla, and was just grateful that we had covered most of the more technical sections during the day. We kept moving at our slow, little trot….until mile 50. When Ashley’s headlamp died. HOW MANY HEADLAMPS CAN TWO WOMEN GO THROUGH?! We were in the middle of nowhere, so we pulled out the cell phone light, slowed down more, and just did the best we could. Honestly, if I had been solo, I would have dropped faster than a college students credit score at the next aid station.
Fortunately, Ashley had a way better attitude, and was gifted another headlamp by an absolute angel at the next aid station just a couple miles later. At this point, we were back in business with the light of 1.5 headlamps (remember mine was dim). Until……Ashley’s second headlamp also started running low on batteries and was stuck on the dim setting at about mile 55. Once again, we slowed down and just thanked the stars (that were behind the clouds and not helping us to see the trail at all) that we didn’t have very many climbs. We did have to stop to walk pretty much anytime we thought we saw rocks.
However, at mile 55 how much do you want really want to run anyways?
You may think you wouldn’t want to run at all. And you’d be right. Except when you hear a boar-sized animal running next to the trail. We couldn’t see it, but we were pretty sure it wasn’t a deer, and it sounded a lot faster than our armadillo friend from earlier. That sure inspired us to pick up the pace a little.
We hit the final aid station, and knew we only had about 5 miles to go. The last section is pretty forgiving, with the exception of one steep ass climb up Lucky Hill. It’s called that because you’re lucky if you don’t fall all the way down it. Speaking of, once you crawl up that sucker (literally on your hands and feet over loose rocks and gravel at a 33% incline), you immediately have to skid back down the other side. Which is just like the front. It. Is. Brutal.
And with two dim headlamps, I honestly feared for our lives at multiple points. Once we made it off that God forsaken hill, we realized that we were probably going to make it in before midnight. We caught a few drizzles here and there, which made the rocks a little slicker, but it wasn’t anything terrible. Once we were about a mile from the finish, we knew we could get it in in under 17 hours.
The trails were mostly flat, and at this point, we figured that if we fell and ate shit, well we wouldn’t have to limp very far to get to the finish. So we picked it up, and a few minutes later heard the sweet sounds of cow bell. Normally, I hate those things. They’re obnoxious. But let me tell you, at 11:30pm, after 62 miles of running, those cow bells sounded better than a Chick Fil A employee saying, “My pleasure,” when I ask for 17 sauces.
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We made a couple of turns, saw the lights of the finish, and ran it in to our husbands. They were waiting with pizza and blankets (it was in the high 30’s). We grabbed our buckles, snapped a few pics, snagged our finisher shirts, and headed for the cars. Normally, I like to hang out at finish lines, but all I could think about was getting home and getting in bed.
We made it back around 12:30, and collapsed into a painful coma minutes later. The next morning, I woke up feeling hung over and less flexible than concrete. But we had our buckles. We survived the night. We deserved some pancakes. So we drove over to Magnolia Pancake Haus, ordered damn near everything on the menu (bacon pancakes included), and celebrated our accomplishment.
The night was Hell. Once that sun sets, you just want to be anywhere besides on a cold trail. Mostly in the comfort of your own bed. But we did the thing. And I am so proud of both of us.
The Lessons Learned
No race is run without learning at least a few good lessons. So what did the Bandera 100k teach me? Well, to have at least 5 headlamps and 17 sets of batteries for anything longer than a 50k. I’m being slightly superfluous here, but honestly it’s hard to have too many good options for light. I also learned to be flexible with fueling. Most races I rely heavily on gels, with a handful of solid foods thrown in. This race, I grabbed anything that sounded good from the aid stations. For me, it was trail mix, twizzlers, a couple quesadillas, gold fish, and an obscene number of golden Oreo’s.
I knew that if my stomach started to turn, I’d need to readjust. But it didn’t. So I kept with the cookie/quesadilla combo’s and things worked out well. I think a big part of what helped to keep my stomach intact this race was how slow we started out. Usually, I tried to keep things slow and controlled for the first quarter of a race, but this course did not give me any choices. And honestly, it paid off, big time. My body didn’t start really hurting until the last 5 miles, and my stomach was great the whole time.
The last lesson I learned was that running with a friend at night is a 234897% better than running alone. Ashley helped keep me from wandering off course more times than I care to count. She helped me stay calm when I couldn’t see in front of my face. And more than anything, she helped me to not panic when things went off the rails in the dark. Running alone at night during Cactus Rose was on my top 10 list of least enjoyable running moments. I still don’t love night running, but night running with a buddy is a little less terrible.
If you’ve read this far, congrats. You also deserve a buckle for your endurance. Because a lot happened at the Bandera 100k. I don’t have my sights set on another race at this point, and I don’t have any post-race running plans. But for now, I’m really happy about the experience I had at the Bandera 100k.