Ultra-Turtle...mostly how I felt like for much of the race during Bandera 50K. This was the toughest race I've ever been apart of, the course itself under good conditions would have been relentlessly challenging in it's own right, with tortuous hill climbs that seemingly never ends, and the subsequent downhill rocky descents that tests your concentration, agility, footwork, and quad strength to it's limits in order to bring you down safely in one piece. Now combine that with the muddy conditions from the rains the night before, dangerously slick rocks, the warm temperatures (mid 70s in January, really?!) and harsh humidity, and you'll have one insane race that leave you frequently wondering why exactly are you trudging up a rocky hill with a pound of mud caked onto the bottom of your shoe in the first place...and, most importantly, why you wouldn't rather be anywhere else at the moment; welcome to the crazy world of Ultra-Running.
I came into Bandera 50K strictly as a training run for Rocky Raccoon 100, running 50+ miles the previous week, taking on Bandera with exhausted legs was part of the plan in order to get me ready for the big dance in 3 weeks, and exhausted was pretty much how I felt for most of the race. The race begins three steep hill climbs during the first 7 miles that will set your quads on fire and leave you gasping for air, followed by yet more gradual hill climbs till you hit the 13 mile mark where the course flattens out for the next 10 miles; don't be fooled into complacency though, the worst hill climbs are saved at the end as a nice "F'You" from Bandera. I finished the first 23 miles in under 5 and half hours, for a training run under such nasty conditions, I was content with how I was doing so far, the last 8 miles would be my undoing however.
By this time, the temperature was in the mid 70s and with practically 100% humidity, I was sweating profusely. My left calf also started to cramp up that no amount of Endorolytes seemed to help, and my stomach became mildly unsettling for the rest of the race making it hard to take down food (it may have been the Redbull I drank, never taken it before during a race). These conditions combined with the exhaustion of already covering 23 tough miles, made for a grueling 8 miles to the finish. At this point, I no longer wanted to push myself so hard, and decided to take it easy and enjoy the magnificent views (the early morning fog had finally cleared up) on the top of the hills overlooking the Hill Country State Natural Area Park where Bandera was held. The easier pace also gave me time to enjoy some extended conversation with new friends I met along the way, something I always look forward to in these trail runs, suffering together on an Ultra trail run is a nice conversation starter. It would take me well over 2 hours to finish the last 8 miles; it starts with 2 moderately steep hills, followed by the next 2 and half miles of gradual inclines that culminates in an abrupt 100 foot sheer climb up the final hill of the course at the 29th mile mark. I sat on top of that hill for 5 minutes to catch my breath, taking in the amazing view it had to offer (I swear I will bring a camera next time I run Bandera!) and having a brief chat with a couple other guys there before moving on to put an end to quite a memorable experience, finishing in 7:45-ish hours.
If there's one lesson I need to take away from this grueling race, it's that I need to put extra effort on my hill training this year; I can make excuses of the terrible conditions during Bandera, and choosing not to taper for the race, but quite simply, I'm not prepared for the type of steep hill climbs I encountered at Bandera and I never was last year in all the ultras I ran either. 2012 was all about putting in high volume mileage under my legs (over 1,700 miles for the year, first time going over a 1,000 miles in a year) and reaching for new distance goals; I chose Wild Hare for my first 50 mile specifically for the paltry 2,000 feet gain over the entire course...I think Bandera had more elevation gain for it's first 13 Miles! If I'm ever going to be a better trail runner, and no longer think of running all the tough Ultras with tens of thousands of feet worth of climbing that I read about as just a delusional dream; 2013 will have to be the year I devote to no excuses, quads melting hill workouts as a regular part of my training schedule. I've came this far in my brief foray into the world of trail ultras, time to push things to a whole new level in 2013!