Bandera 100K

After running Masochist a few months ago, I finally wrapped my head around signing up for my first 100K. With a good dozen 50 milers under my feet, I was ready for the next step. On my 31st birthday in December I signed up for the Bandera 100K. Running 2 miles for every year of my life seemed like as good an excuse as any! Flights to Texas were cheap and my parents would be able to come be a part of my adventure. Game on!

Even though my training through December wasn’t ideal with lots of ridiculously frigid days and most everyone else in full on holiday and rest/recovery mode from a big year of racing I felt ready to tackle the 100k and give it my best shot. This particular race also happened to be both the USA Track & Field National Championship for the trail 100k distance and one of 5 races in the Montrail Ultra Cup that would award an entry into the 2014 Western States Endurance Run to the top finishers. I’d be lying to say that I didn’t eye that WS100 entry but I also knew it was lofty dream. As I made my way to the starting line, I tried not to think about it too much.

At the start, saying hi to “the Queen”, Meghan Arbogast, and course record holder (and super woman), Liza Howard. These women are incredible.

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Easing the pre-race jitters with some photo opps with Paul Terranova and Meghan.

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Ready, set, GO!

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The first few steps… and miles and miles and miles to go before the last!

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A mere 5 miles into the day the sotol cactus were already attacking any exposed leg skin with a vengeance.

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This is the sotol cactus. Its beautiful long blades look relatively tame from afar…

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…but an up-close encounter reveals its ruthless serrated edges:

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And where there was one, there were many. Millions of them, all over the place. Leaving you no way around but to plow right through.

[Photo credit: Caleb Simpson]

The 2nd section of the course (between the Nachos & Chapas aid station) was significantly less rocky than the first section but still pretty much looked exclusively like this: a mix of fixed rocks, loose rocks, bigs rocks and small rocks. Basically, it made for all kinds of confusing footing!

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Coming into the Chapas aid station was the first spot where my crew was waiting for me.

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A super quick refill and refuel and I was off!

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I started off enjoying the reprieve from the previous 11 miles of rocky terrain only to later curse the next 10 of entirely way too smooth and runnable dirt track. Here I worried that the leading ladies would leave me, literally, in the dust. I knew that both Meghan and Melanie were Olympic Marathon Trials qualifiers. This was exactly the kind of turf that was going to destroy me and this was exactly the kind of competition I had no business trying to hold on to. I started to unravel mentally and I doubted myself.

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But the good thing about having 62 miles to run, is that you’ve got plenty of time to work things out in your head. So I fought back. I convinced myself that even though my strengths as a MUT runner comes on the gnarlier, rougher, steeper, mountainous terrain, I am still a runner. I might not be able to break 3 hours in a road marathon, but an untrained 3:19 a few months ago is not half bad. I yelled at the daemons in my head and pulled myself away from that ledge.  Yes, those women are infinitely faster and more accomplished runners than me but it didn’t matter. I needed to continue running smoothly and do my own thing as best as I could possibly do it.

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Without having to focus on my footing, I engaged cruise-control.

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Coming into Crossroads aid station, Ryan leads me straight ahead towards my mom who had water bottles ready and a buffet of bite sized nibbles for me to choose from.

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More running…

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As I made my way across the last 10 miles to complete the first loop, I was glad the trail started to regain its rugged character. A few short, sharp rocky ascents and descents made my legs happy again. I was back in my element. I only wished the climbs were longer!

[Photo credit: Darcy McMaughan]

[Photo credit: Darcy McMaughan]

Finishing up the first loop. The first time in my life that 31 miles has merely marked the half-way point!

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Oooooooooo! Cold cold cold! But it felt soooo good in the midday heat! While the Texans relished it, those of us from the mountains were sweltering in the 75°F sunshine!

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No time for looking pretty! Ryan slaps some sunscreen on me and off I go!

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Refreshed, refueled and ready to run the loop again!

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It wasn’t long before Liza, Melanie and I were running together again in the first few miles of the second loop. It was super nice to have company and cover familiar terrain. For the next 20 miles or so we’d flip flop back and forth, running together at times, then separating, then catching up again. For the first time in an ultra I spent more time running with a fellow woman than with a guy and I loved it! Even though we were all facing our own struggles and feeling the fatigue of 40+ miles on our legs, sharing a few grunts and groans, words of encouragement and a bit of casual conversation definitely lightened the miles.

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I reset my mental odometer back to 0 when I started the second 50K loop so I could deceive my brain into thinking it wasn’t running more than 31 miles (…twice). Coming into the Chapas aid station the second time around, I counted it as mile 11 (again), not 42.  Focusing on getting to the mile 26 aid station sounded a lot less intimidating than calling it mile 52! It actually worked pretty well as my legs didn’t seem to deteriorate significantly as the miles added up. The thing that did deteriorate, however, was my appetite. A few too many caffeinated gu’s on the first lap sent me into a nauseous vortex for most of the second. I’m not a caffeine junky so I’m usually pretty sensitive to it but for some reason that day even just consuming 3 chocolate gu’s in a 6 hour time frame hit me hard and not in a good way.

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For the next three aid stations it was a battle to pick something to eat and then actually eat it. A slice of pineapple, a Nuernberger Lebkuchen (a traditional German spiced cookie), and a granola bar – surely one of those things would hit the spot!

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Afternoon shadows. What a relief to no longer have the sun beaming overhead.

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Chasing daylight, trying to finish up before nightfall!

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About 2 miles before the last aid station I finally vomited. As much as I had tried to avoid it, I felt infinitely better afterwards. The nauseous cloud overhead lifted and I finally felt like myself again. I continued drinking at the same rate I had been all day (2 bottles every 5-6 miles!) but decided to forgo any more solid food until the end. Ryan hiked into the last aid station to give me my head lamp and one final kick-in-the-butt to get it done. He mentioned to me that Melanie was only about 2.5 minutes ahead of me but I’m not sure it registered in my fuzzy brain. All I could focus on was the final 5.2 miles to go.  I committed to myself to finish it up as strong as I could – my main motivator being trying to get to the finish without needing to turn on my headlamp.

I nearly managed it. At about the same time that I turned my light on, I heard the finish line. And a mere half mile later, I saw it.

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11 hours 1 minute 44 seconds. 62 miles done!

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Massive congratulations to Melanie! In the end we were only separated by 60 seconds but we both snagged a coveted Western States spot!

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4th place at the USA Track & Field 100K Trail National Championships ain’t all that bad 😉

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My biggest thanks to my crew: Ryan and my parents. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to push as hard, run as fast or share the crazy experience that is ultra-running.

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I’m super proud to have earned my first belt buckle and completed my first 100K run.

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And the opportunity to toe the starting line of Western States is the dream of dreams for any ultra runner. I am elated!!

USA 100km Trail Championships: Top 5 Women
1 10:12:57 Meghan Arbogast CA
2 10:39:00 Liza Howard TX
3 11:00:44 Melanie Peters MI
4 11:01:44 Silke Koester CO
5 12:22:20 Anabel Pearson TX

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