Shot Down At Bandera

bandera_2014_buckleThis was my first time going to Bandera, TX, aka, the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” I’ve wanted to run the 100k here for a long time. Race weekend was book-ended with high temps firmly in the 70’s, but over the weekend the temps plummeted. It was gonna be a cold one! This warm-blooded California cowboy purposefully trained in a few chilly dawn mornings at home but not with temps quite as low as we’d see on race day. On Friday’s shake-out run from my hotel, I quickly made the decision to run in tights—with shorts underneath—and dialed in my layers up top so I could shed as it slowly “warmed up” to the predicted high of 42. If you’re comfortable, you’re happy, and if you’re happy, you’re going to be moving well out there. There was an REI nearby and I picked up some some other stuff to help keep me happy during the first loop, hoping to further encourage energy conservation for later.

With Stephen Wassather seconds before the start. Photo Credit: Maggie Tides

With Stephen Wassather seconds before the start. Photo Credit: Maggie Tides

Heading out on the loop #1 there was a good group of us that stayed together for a long while. Mario Mendoza set the pace and we were all happy to be cookin’ along and keeping warm. It’s always magical to be running on trails you’ve never run on before, especially after a long December build for an early Jan event. It was tough taking in the scenery though since the course is crazy technical with rocks galore. You’re doing your best to remain upright. I was having fun dancing over those rocks and trying my damndest to not hotdog it too much. There was some hootin’ and hollarin’ though. I mean, it’s Texas after all.

The miles go by and Mario slowly puts some distance between himself and the chase pack. I’m pacing the first half off heart-rate and I’m being mindful of both it and perceived exertion. I take advantage of what flat stretches and downhills I can get to open up my stride and take advantage of any paths of least resistance. My mantra today, “Quiet mind. Execute.”

Soon I find myself alone while catching glimpses of Mario up ahead. This is my first Golden Ticket opportunity of 2017 to try and gain entry into Western States 100 in June. It’s hard not to run outside myself early. I feel a little numb but the legs are solid. And, I’m right where I want to be in the race. Relax and just enjoy the ride…

As I’m running down a section of trail I see three spectators up ahead at a clearing. I clip a toe and start to go down. My hand-helds cushion the fall and I find myself doing a somersault that puts me right back up on my feet. Whoa, easy does it cowboy, I think to myself. I get composed and press on, keeping that HR right where I know it needs to be. I’m grateful at that moment my bottles didn’t explode, ’cause they have all my calories in them.

Soon enough a marathon of miles has passed by and I know it’s gonna be a great day because the skies are clear, the sun’s warm, and the running’s easy. And the time’s flyin’ by too. And before I know it, I’m about two miles out from the half-way point, back at the Start/Finish. I’m deliberating—hard—about exactly what pieces of clothing to shed. I decide I’ll ditch my nylon shell and my gloves. I’ll keep on my long-sleeve pull-over. Later, I may ditch the pull-over and go down to just my short-sleeve jersey. I’m eager, not only to discard the clothing, but also to get in-n-out of the half-way as quickly as possible since I’ll have the opportunity to see who’s behind me, how they look, and how much separation there is between them and myself. It’s a pivotal moment in the race. A turning point. The moment where I go from pace-mode to race-mode.

I soon see Mario blazing back toward me, returning from the turn-around. We pass one another while we sharing words of encouragement. I kick it up a notch. >>>

Running back from the timing chip mat at the turn-around. Psyched to get some layers off! Photo Credit: Maggie Tides

Running back from the timing chip mat at the turn-around. Psyched to get some layers off! Photo Credit: Maggie Tides

Who better to have crewing for me this day than Meredith Terranova, recent UltraMan competitor and long-time endurance sports veteran. Her husband Paul, a former winner and perennial beloved favorite here at Bandera 100k, was racing the 50k today and she was crushing crewing duties.

Cruising back out, the empty bottles and gloves hit the ground. The jacket comes off. Meredith hands me two fresh bottles of VitargoS2. Knowing the chase group is coming, I bolt back up the same way I came in to go out on lap #2. It’s ON!!

Soon thereafter, I get back to the point where I saw Mario and runners are pouring out onto the dirt road. “Settle down” I’m telling myself. Quiet Mind. Execute. With the changes from last year’s race, I knew the course was a little longer. I was hoping to hit to do the lap #1 in about four hours. When I hit the View button on my Suunto to switch over to race-pace for the first time I was happy to see exactly 8:00/mi average. My average heart-rate for lap #1 was 140bpm. Now the game I would play with myself over lap #2 would be fighting to hold as close to this average pace as possible. I was excited to get to the “Nachos” aid-station at mile 42, with 20mi to go to the finish, because that would represent about one-third of the race remaining. I firmly believe that in racing ultras, “You must save half your energy for the final third of the race. I felt I’d saved enough to make a valiant push to the finish.

Something felt off though and dread started to slowly creep in after Mario and I had passed one another. I was still seeing course-markings. And that volunteer did say, “100k runners this way!” I know I didn’t miss a turn. There wasn’t any other trail to take. Right?

Here’s what I posted on the URP Daily News thread about what happened next:

urp_daily_news“Expect nothing and be prepared for anything.” I came prepared but the devil? Yeah, he’s in the details.

So who’s to blame? The URP Daily News thread offers a lot of thoughtful dialogue about this all-too-common occurrence in trail-running—athletes getting off-course—for one reason or another. Full disclosure though: this isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been bucked off the bull and have found myself off-course more times than I can count. It just comes with the territory. I do buckle down and study course maps for every race I do. For Bandera, I’d printed out the provided race-doc from the website months ago and started studying the course. I drew by hand, over and over again, for example, the Crossroads aid-station because the website stated that some runners “will” get off course here since there was four ways out of this aid-station and you must be paying attention. I was dialed and said to myself, “Relax, it’s Bandera. They’ve been doing this event for years. It’s a Golden Ticket event and it’s the USATF 100k National Championship. They’re going to take good care of you. Then, I pressed the “I believe” button in my head and just hoped for the best.

Naturally, in the days leading up to Bandera I discovered there’d been some course changes and I was nervous about the fact that we weren’t running on the exact same course as last year. The Crossroads aid-station route had been completely changed around. A new version of any ultra-marathon course has vulnerabilities. It’s simply untested. I’m not a huge fan of the course map provided on the Bandera website. It makes me a little crazy, having to zoom in and out to even read aid-station names, which I didn’t even know were correct or not. Still, trusted friends had told me the course is very easy to follow and I trusted that things would flow smoothly and I could concentrate on the task at hand—RACING MY HEART OUT.

Racing on the front sometimes comes at a risk. We’re the first runners to arrive at the various aid-stations, intersections, and the like. Some front-runners will arrive before an aid-station—or even a finish-line!—is ready for them. I’ve run by aid-stations before that weren’t even there yet! It’s a huge challenge for race-directors to successfully orchestrate the myriad tasks that come along with organizing an event over vast distances and accurately predict when racers will first arrive. I volunteer at the occasional event myself. I recently pulled a 12hr shift at a cold, rainy Inside Trail Racing event. It’s definitely given me more empathy for the job race organizers do. In ITR’s case, do all the time, all year round.

I’m not in the habit of finger-pointing and after today I’m done bitching. Athletes and event organizers assume good will toward one another. After all, the people putting on all the events are life-long runners themselves! They know the deal. Athletes racing on the pointy end of the race don’t plan to f*ck up their races by missing a turn and race organizers don’t purposely try to sabotage us. There is, however, a lot of emotion on both sides when things go south. As a front-runner at Bandera on Saturday, with high hopes of earning my way into Western States, I’ve shared herein all that was going on in my head right up the time I went off course. I shared this final comment on the URP thread:

urp2I did the best job I could on the day. A navigation issue hasn’t significantly impacted my racing performance in two years. I was executing the event to the best of my ability and thriving on a challenging course and day. Sh*t happens. Two years ago, at Gorge Waterfalls 100k, an absolutely wonderful spring event held in Oregon, the front-runners were lead astray early as a result of course vandalism. We rallied, figured some sh*t out, helped one another, and got back to the task at hand—racing one another! Later, with the “help” of band of happy hikers, I went off course again for about 4min, thereby putting myself out of contention for a Golden Ticket. I owned the mistake. I rallied and fought hard in hopes of still getting on the podium. With less than a mile to go, and 4th place hot on my tail, I saw a course ribbon at a crowded visitor’s center intersection—no course monitor in sight—and shot straight through it, running on fumes after 60 some miles of racing, going for broke. I ended up way the h*ll out in BFE and had to flag down a motorcycle cop and ask him where the state park was and had to turn around and run back, losing another two places by the time I hit the finish. I f*cked up that race bad. The race-report was emotional in nature. I feel that what I wrote in that report as well here and in my URP comments are both fair and accurate. Some races just go sideways.

Still, many races have gone my way, and for them I’m most grateful. At San Diego 100  later in 2015 I was flying blind for several middle miles before finding a waded up ball of course ribbon some tortured soul threw in the bushes. I got lucky there. Some race directors have moved their 100s to Fridays in part to increase the likelihood that course markings aren’t tampered with.

At the 2015 Run Rabbit Run 2015, I found myself at mile 85ish at 3:30 in the morning, debating whether or not to run down a trail that didn’t feel right and that hadn’t been marked as well as it could’ve been. I looked at my watch and saw it was 0.5mi to the last aid-station. With thousands of dollars on the line, I made the tough decision to run back to aid-station and ask for clarification. A proactive volunteer ran me back out to the turn and told me that I needed to run down a bit and there’d be a left turn in about a quarter mile. I thanked him and went on to secure a top finish. Sadly, the guy that was in 3rd missed the turn and ended up adding an hour to his time. Crushing! Sometimes things pan out in your favor and sometimes you come home with a big fat DNF. I try and remember to dwell on the good races and let my “buddies” dwell on my shortcomings! Like I’m fond of saying, It only takes one “Oh Shit” to undo ten “Atta Boys.” Much to my dismay, folks remember all the “Oh Shits.”

banderaprepAs you can see from my training log leading into Bandera, I’ve been hard at work making my dream of racing well here a reality. There will be other races. Above all else I want to fiercely protect and preserve my passion for this great, great sport of ours. We are truly living at the top of our powers when we’re out there “gettin’ after it.” A recent Rich Roll podcast with former Navy SEAL, David Goggins, really hit home when Goggins shared that his journey as a Ranger and then a Navy SEAL, as well as his participation in endurance events, has really been about being “proud of who I am as a human being” and that what really matters in life is courage, honor, and respect.

Tropical John Medinger brought tears to my eyes last year before Western States when he told us that our fighting to that finish line in Auburn brings honor to ourselves, our competitors, and everyone involved. Sometimes, when setbacks occur it’s all to easy to forget these grand ideals, and take the low road. Here at Bandera, I began practicing a mental strategy Goggins used to finish a raw, excruciatingly painful Badwater 135: envisioning the finish line and “how I would feel [once I crossed it]” On Saturday, the thoughts of how I would feel at the finish line continually buoyed my spirits over a bitterly cold first lap. In 26 days, I’ll step into the arena once again, envisioning that finish line, and do my very best to honor myself, my fellow competitors, and everyone involved, whatever the outcome.

Congratulations to all the finishers at Bandera. Congrats to fellow Hoka One One athlete, Paul Terranova for winning the 50k. Thanks to Meredith Terranova for crewing and having breakfast in the fridge for me when I got up at 4am to catch my flight out. And thanks to all the folks at Bandera 100k for putting on a such a beautifully brutal event. I hope to come back and put things right.

New friends that stayed at the Terranova Ranch over the weekend, Jason Zeruto and Troy Bertram. Both guys fought hard and finished the 100k. Inspiring performance fellas!

Parting Shot: New friends I met over the weekend who stayed with us at  Terranova Ranch, Jason Zeruto and Troy Bertram. Both guys fought hard and earned that 100k belt buckle. Inspiring performance fellas!

A heartfelt thanks to my beautiful and highly supportive wife/agent Amanda for her thankless job as “First Responder” and always picking me up after I’ve fallen.  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support, innovation, and producing the best shoes out there—#speedinstinct #timetofly!  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for all the wonderful support from the HRC/H-Burg crew!! | Thanks Inside Trail Racing for putting on so many great events in the Bay Area and beyond. Your course-marking sets the standard in the sport.  |  Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz! |  Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me manage all of my issues and keep on runnin’ down my dreams >>> 🙂