Saturday, January 18, 2014


After I turned 70, nearly 8 years ago, I figured I was past doing 100 milers (after DNFs at WS, Cascade Crest, and Rio del Lago), and decided to do all the US trail 100Ks, including those attached to longer races, such as HURT and the Barkley fun run (!). At that time, there were only about 12 of them, but the number goes up every year, and now that the baby boomers are in their late 60s and, possibly (as I was), looking for an honorable substitute for the 100M, this trend will probably continue. Time passed, and the only 100Ks I finished were at Javelina, year after year, until I finally broke through in 2011 with an overtime finish at Waldo, after three earlier attempts. The year before, I had done the Squaw Peak 50M in Utah, and I was confident that, however much I had slowed down in recent years, I could still get through the tough ones as long as I could make the cutoffs. So Bandera, with its remarkably generous 24-hour limit for the 100K, seemed more attractive than ever. TRAINING According to Ed Whitlock (only M70+ to break 3 hours in the marathon), when you get older, you have to work harder, and I have found this to be true. Accordingly, I logged a total of 3165 miles in 2013, the first time ever over 3000 miles, and recorded a total of over 200,000 feet of climb. At Javelina in October, I thought I had a chance and the 100M, but the heat did me in (as usual), and I timed out after 5 laps, at 77 miles. Still, that was an auspicious beginning, 12 weeks before Bandera. Here is an outline of this interim period (hope the tabs survive): WEEK DATES MILES LONG CLIMB ft RACE 1 10/21 99 77 3500 JAVELINA 2 10/28 40 7 990 3 11/4 50 10 800 4 11/11 52 11 720 5 11/18 61 11 2640 6 11/25 72 13 3645 7 12/2 60 12 4445 8 12/9 44 8 4130 9 12/16 55 10 4790 10 12/23 50 10 4440 11 12/30 54 11 2450 12 1/6 86 62 12250 BANDERA During this time, I tried to keep my mileage up and to find a sustainable pace around 4.5 MPH, without worrying too much about either long runs or climb. I got to the starting line rested and in good health (notwithstanding the stress of getting lost trying to get out of the San Antonio Airport Thursday night). I stayed at the Silver Spur dude ranch, conveniently located just outside the Hill Country park entrance. GEAR I was a bit dubious about the weather, as reports from previous years showed various conditions including sub-10-degree starts and continuous rainfall. I had a variety of warm clothes in my drop bags, with a light raincoat at X-Roads and a serious one along with a fleece vest and gloves at the Lodge. Those were my only drop bags, and each one contained lights (Streamlight handheld and Black Diamond headlamps), and a couple of food bags with Ensure, cracker sandwiches, ginger, a flask of Hammergel, and trail mix. At the start, I was wearing (from the bottom up) Inov-8 Terrocs, Thorlo crew socks over Injinji mini-crews, tights, Race-Ready shorts (with Saltstick caps in a container), a long-sleeved Columbia shirt with some kind of metallic thermal lining, a Timex Ironman watch, a Polar heart monitor, a UD lightweight vest with 2 bottles in front (water at the start, mixed with some Gatorade later on), and a fanny pack in front, replenished with food from my drop bags. All this worked out very well, with only the addition of the fleece vest and gloves part way into the second lap. I didn’t eat any of the trail mix, and in the second half relied mostly on those indispensable substances, chicken noodle soup and hot chocolate. THE RACE (I had a hard time finding splits to use as a guide, and the ones I used were from a report by an overall winner, who recorded splits for only the first loop. I pro-rated them for loops of 9 and 11 hours, and I’ll show my projected time and the actual time, which are pretty close, especially for the first loop) On Friday afternoon, when I was getting my packet, I learned that I was the only person over 70 in the 100K, hence would be eligible for an award in the USATF National 100K championship. If I finished, that is! So I paid my $30, providing myself with anti-quit insurance, and adding to my outfit a sign with the number 70, pinned to the back of my shorts. This was also an incentive, because innumerable 50K runners cheered me on as they passed me during the first loop. I wondered why they all said “Good job, SIR,” until I remembered the age ID on my back. Still, they didn’t need to rub it in! LODGE The race shows its character very quickly, within the first couple of miles, with a rocky climb to The Island, and even rockier descent to a series of draws meandering westward to the Ice Cream Hill and back over some easier terrain to the first aid station. 5.6 miles, 1:41 (projected 1:40), 9:11 AM, HR avg 126. NACHOS The next section is pretty straightforward, with no major hills, and one fairly nasty section on a power line cut. At this point, I should mention that the entire course is very well marked, with reflective tape thoughtfully attached to the vegetation with clothespins (where do you get those any more?) to avoid the damage that usually results from pulling the tape off. I was never in doubt about where the trail was, which is not a given, considering how intricate the layout is and how many side trails and roads go off in all directions. If you don’t know the course, the hills all tend to look similar, and there is a shortage of obvious landmarks. From time to time I heard people express concern about not having seen a tag for a while, but these were all in places where there was only one possible trail. 5.4 miles, 1:26 (pro. 1:21), 10:37 AM, feeling good, HR 136 (higher than I would have liked at this point; I took the monitor off because the chest strap kept slipping down). CHAPAS This is the longest section, and also the easiest, being mostly flat. I made up nearly 20 minutes off my projected time, coming into the Cross Roads station (5.9 miles) in 1:26 (projected 1:47), 12:03 PM, ready for my first bag of food, and chugging an Ensure. CROSS ROADS 1 This is the “inside loop” in which the course sort of swallows itself, coming back to the Equestrian Camp four miles later, after a traverse of the Three Sisters. I probably spent too much time at the first X-Roads AS, because I wound up giving back most of the 20 minute gain. 4 miles, 1:36 (proj. 1:19), 1:39 PM CROSS ROADS 2 Things get serious again here, with the ascent of Lucky, way to the north. I believe this is where a waist-high wall appears in the middle of the trail, a high ledge that must be gotten over somehow, and quite a few more of the same, both going up and down. This section was much harder the second time around, in the dark, but this time I got through right on schedule, within a minute of my overall projected time. This was also when the passing of the 50K runners finally let up, only to be replaced by the unbelievable front-runners who were lapping me, gliding and skipping over the rocks as if they were running on air. 4.3 miles, 1:18 (projected 1:19), 2:57 PM (projected 2:56 PM) LAST CHANCE The last five miles are definitely the hardest part of the course, and I had some misgivings about making it through here a second time. I had been pretty much alone during the first half, except for one older gentleman whose name I didn’t get, who kept leapfrogging with me after X-Roads. I was hoping to have his company for the second half, especially as the descent from Cairns looked like the trail would be hard to follow in the dark, over the rock slabs which showed very little dirt. However, he said he was running on an artificial ankle joint against medical advice and didn’t want to risk turning his ankle on the uncertain footing in the dark. I began to think of possibly picking up a pacer at the lodge, but wasn’t sure if that was permissible by the rules of the championship. The climb up Boyle’s Bump is long, but much gentler than the ones preceding it, and eventually I was treated to the welcome sight of the bench at the overlook, a mile or so from the lodge, a fairly easy downhill to the turnaround. 5 miles, 1:36 (1:44 projected), 9:03 for loop 1, 4:33 PM (4:40 projected) LODGE I spent 28 minutes in the AS, eating, sitting, visiting with Mike Dobies, who I knew from Barkley, and who said he might be able to meet me later and pace me from Cross Roads. As I was leaving the AS, I saw only two people coming in, one of whom said he was going to quit. I was still under the impression that I was in last place, and as my energy was quite low, I took the first hills at a glacial pace. Heading up the Ice Cream Hill, I started to feel better. I met a couple coming back toward me; they were feeling insecure about the trail because they hadn’t seen a tag for some time (it was dark by then). I told them I was quite sure there had been no side trails since the Ice Cream turnoff, and after about half a mile we spotted a tag. I went by them, and soon found myself in the company of three or four others, so the second half was turning out to be quite an improvement, socially, over the first. They all went ahead except one woman, who later identified herself as Donna Squyers, who turned out to be a serious veteran of the course, having finished all the races several times, so I was in good hands for staying on trail. We went along at a comfortable pace and had a very enjoyable conversation, which made the tip to Nachos seem short even thought it took a good deal longer than the first time around. 5.6 miles, 2:14 (2:02 projected), 7:15 PM NACHOS Continuing the conversation, we made our way through the 8/9 loop and the power line rocks without incident. 5.4 miles, 1:53 (1:40 projected), 9:08 PM CHAPAS I spent some time at the aid station eating and getting my fleece vest untangled from where it was fastened behind me, as things were cooling off. When I looked up, I didn’t see Donna anywhere and started up the trail at a good clip, assuming she had left. I didn’t see her for a while, and began having doubts that she might have been in the drop bag area when I left. I continued to run at a pretty good clip, and soon caught up with her, only to have her warn me almost immediately about a turn I was about to miss! This section could be difficult to follow if one’s attention wandered, because the direction changes are often counterintuitive; you can see the Equestrian Camp (Cross Roads AS) from a distance, as you seem to be heading away from it. 5.9 miles, 1:48 (proj. 2:10), 10:56 PM CROSS ROADS 1 After replenishing my food supply from my bag, I wandered away from the AS looking for a dark place to pee. There didn’t seem to be one, and I finally realized that my own headlamp was the source of the light! I believe a few brain cells may have been malfunctioning at that point. Seeing Donna and her pacer (Charlotte) on their way out of the AS, I caught up with them and we continued. The next part was troublesome for me. The two women were having a lively conversation ahead of me, and going faster than was comfortable for me (probably owing to the introduction of a fresh runner). After a mile or so, I was about to tell them that I would have to drop back, but they backed off the pace a bit as we climbed the Three Sisters, and I soon got my second wind. This leg is the shortest on the course, but it seemed to take forever before we finally got back to the Equestrian Camp. 4 miles, 2:09 (1:37 projected), 1:05 AM CROSS ROADS 2 Charlotte turned over pacing duties to her sister (whose name sounded like Doy), and we approached the last 9 miles with a sense of dread, at least on my part. The ledges in the Lucky climb, which had been hard enough the first time around, were demonic in the middle of the night. I know that hill was not really 2 miles long and 4000 feet high, but it seemed like it. The way down was even worse. I had gotten over 50 miles into this course without so much as a serious stumble, and suddenly found myself falling backwards three times in less than a minute, getting down one ledge. 4.3 miles, 1:56 (projected 1:37 - hah!), 3:01 AM LAST CHANCE This part is as hard as any other on the course, but for some reason it didn’t seem as bad as I had expected, perhaps because we were down to single digit miles. We took it slow going up Cairns, and the trail going down was easy enough to follow. Going up Boyle’s, I was cheered by the realization that I was actually going to finish this monster, and well ahead of the cutoff. I had come up as far as the bench on Friday, so when I saw it, I knew that we were nearly there. A brief pit stop just before the finish, while Donna and her pacer went ahead, and I actually found myself running the last quarter mile or so. 5 miles, 2:18 (proj. 2:07), 5:19 AM. 21:49 (20:23 projected) First (only) place, M70+ USATF Championship, 1st (only) M 70-79 (age 77 and 9 months) I was greeted at the finish line (by Joe?) as what sounded like “The last runner” but it turned out that he said “The lost runner.” Evidently I had not checked out at an aid station (probably Cross Roads 1, where I had gone off to pee and left without returning to the AS). I know that I had checked in to all of them. Anyway, I was horrified to find that they had called my wife, back in Oregon, when I failed to answer my cell phone (which was back in the hotel room), so I had to wait around for a bit until they could connect the phone and I could call her. Fortunately, she wasn’t especially worried, just glad I had called back, even though it was 4 AM in Oregon. It would be no joke to be really lost on that course in the middle of the night. You might wind up crossing the Rio Grande and getting jailed as an illegal alien. I got back to the Silver Spur in time to go to bed at 7 AM, with the alarm set for 8 AM in order not to miss the ranch breakfast, the only food I was likely to get without driving into Bandera. This was ample, and there were quite a few other survivors of the monster, all much fresher than I was. A great race, well run, on a great course. I told Joe that at Javelina the bikers had thinned out the rocky sections, but he said that wouldn’t happen at Bandera, because the rocks go all the way down.