Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2012 USA 100 km Trail National Championships

Bandera 100 km Endurance Trail Run - 
Race Report and Adventures
A Trail Run of Rugged and Brutal Beauty
where Everything Cuts, Stings, or Bites

January 7, 2012
Bandera, TX

As usual, my races are way more than the race itself.  It's all about the journey, not the outcome.

Texas Longhorn
The decision to make the trip to Texas was sort of last minute.  I had been training for the USATF 10K Club XC Nationals held in early December in Seattle with my local 50’s team and had been racing a number of 5K to 10K distances to prepare.  But I felt a need to get back into the longer distances and on trails.  I quickly ramped up the miles and even managed to get in a 50k day at the Christmas Marathon in NY.  And with the lack of snow in VT, I had been able to continue running on trails.  So I figured what the heck, time for a change of pace.  I didn't feel 100% trained for such an event but thought my fitness level was good enough to go.  The bigger factor for me would be the weather, especially the warmer temps that Texas could produce.  Last March I went down to the Nueces 50 Mile Trail Championships, only to arrive in 87 degrees.  Luckily it was cooler for race day but still hot enough to set off some good cramping for not being acclimated to the heat.  Training in Vermont in the winter is more about staying warm and dry.  And the week before Bandera, the temps had been in the 0-15 degree range, which was feeling rather nice to me.

I made reservations to fly down for a quick weekend, leaving on Friday morning, race Saturday and back to VT early Monday morning.  The wild card would be the weather, for flying.  Winter traveling in the Northeast is always a challenge.  As I finally prepared and packed for the trip, the weather was looking fine, possibility of light snow to fly out with but nothing out of the ordinary for an area that normally receives snow in the winter.  I was up early on Friday for the 5:30 AM flight and there was about ½” of snow on the ground and it wasn’t all that cold, maybe 20 degrees.  I arrived at the airport with plenty of time and soon we all boarded, right on time.  There really shouldn’t have been delays as I think we were the first plane out that morning.  But then we sat, and sat and sat in the plane.  After sitting for 30 minutes, then it was time to de-ice the plane which took another 15 minutes.  So right from the start, we were running 45 minutes late on the first leg of the trip to Dulles Airport.  I knew there wasn’t a lot of time between flights but thought if all went well, the connecting flight to San Antonio would still be possible.  We landed and I figured I had about 15 minutes to catch the next flight, if we got out of the plane after we landed.  Well another snafu.  We sat in the plane forever and they wouldn’t let us out, losing time fast.  Finally we got out and then had to wait for our carry-on bags. I knew they were already boarding my next flight.  As soon as I could, I grabbed my 40 lb roller bag, threw on my 25 lb backpack and started running.  To make it worse, we landed at terminal A and I needed to get to D which could require either a shuttle or a train ride.  I went to the shuttle area but it wasn’t arriving until my flight was already gone, so off and running to catch the train.  The train was for gates C & D.  First stop it said Gate C.  I poked my head out the door, a bit lost but looked again and the train said Gate C, it made no mention of Gate D so I stayed on.  When the door closed, I noticed I was the only one on it.  The train electronic banner now said out of service and traveled a short way up the track and stopped in the middle of nowhere.  I was stranded on this train, doors locked and nowhere to go.  Then it started moving up another rail and it said Gate A, what the heck!  So back to A, then to C where I got off this time and then ran from the far end of C all the way to the far end of D only to see the flight was closed.  Not a happy camper.  A bit overheated I arrive at customer service only to wait in line.  At the counter they were having issues but found a flight going back up to Chicago and then to San Antonio.  I started to complain but the woman at the counter said they were already boarding and I better get going or I wouldn’t be out until the evening.  They were having problems printing a boarding pass and said they would call ahead.  So off I was running again, this time from the far end of D to the far end of C.  When I arrived they greeted me and said, “Didn’t she tell you, we couldn’t get you on”.  At that point I was ready to go home.  I think she saw the look on my face and said wait here and somehow found a spot for me as the plane was waiting.  I finally boarded and then off to Chicago and then to San Antonio.

In all, I lost about 4 hour’s time, the time I wanted to check out the trails and attend the pre-race briefing.  Not a huge deal.  I got off the plane and it was HOT.  The sun was shining and I thought I might melt.  I took the shuttle over to get my rental car which would also be my camper for the weekend.  When I made reservations I upgraded to the next size up so I would have room to sleep in it.  I got the keys and found the car.  It was this lime green thing, not much bigger than a smart car.  There was no way I could fit in any direction in this car.  I went back to the counter. The woman said that was the larger car and if I wanted to pay $15 per day more I could get a bigger car.  Back out I went to see if there was any way I could fit.  Right next door was a larger car, the one that I thought I was getting and was listed on the reservation so back to the counter.  The woman was busy so I talked to some guy.  He was very accommodating and said sure; you can have one of those.  With a quick phone call and some new paperwork I was finally out of there.  More lost time.  I drove straight out to Bandera as I wanted to at least get in a little run in daylight to see what the trails were all about.

I was feeling better as I had finally made it which was questionable for some time.  After a little trail run I headed back to the town of Bandera to find some dinner.  I was supposed to be meeting up with David Ploskonka from Baltimore, Maryland.  I met David last year at Bull Run Run and thanks to David’s efforts we were part of the wining men’s open team.  As it turned out David’s flights were also messed up and he hadn’t yet arrived.  In Bandera I found a great little pasta restaurant, John’s Pasta House.  I had a table outside and David would meet me there a bit later.  Sitting alone, I was invited to join some local Texan’s who were adjacent to me and also running Bandera.  We had a great dinner and David finally arrived to enjoy the local pasta house.  After dinner it was back to the start/finish area which was also the camping area.  I set up my Hotel Nissan, folding the front seats all the way down and retired for the evening.

Hotel Nissan

The race start was at 7:30 AM, right around sunrise, much better than a 4:00 AM start in the dark.  It was cool out but you knew it would heat up and the forecast called for near 70 degrees and sunshine.  Not really what I was hoping for but it is what it is.  At the start I met up with David and saw some other familiar faces.  Yassine Diboun was there and Liza Howard.  I saw team Pearl Izumi all ready to go.  There was an excellent field of runners for this National Championship and also part of the Montrail Ultracup with 2 spots available for Western States. I knew they would be fast out of the start.  My plan was to go out at a reasonable fast pace until the pack thinned and then settle in and do my own thing, just run at a comfortable pace and enjoy it.
This was a two lap course.  The terrain seemed very runnable.  Some hills, nothing too bad and rocks but again, not that technical.  Not like the slippery rocks and roots back home.  And plenty of nice single track to cruise on.  Shortly after the start I could hear a familiar voice behind me.  It was Liza running along with local Steve Moore.  I ran quite a bit of Nueces with Steve and Liza last year.  They soon caught up and the three of us ran a good part of this loop together, many times back and forth and pacing off one another.  I could also see Darcie Africa just behind.  There was an impressive women’s field this year including Liza, Darcie, Pam Smith and Cassie Scallon and all capable of winning.

At some point on this first lap, I spacing out, tripped on a rock and went down hard.  Nothing unusual for me.  Landing on rock is no fun.  But the other alternative is landing on cacti, equally as bad.  The usual tuck and roll technique doesn't work either as you hit hard on rock and then roll on cacti.  Something you want to avoid altogether.  I got myself up, scrapped and bruised and continued on.  About mile 16, I came into the Crossroads aid station and stopped to find my drop bad and pick up a fresh bottle of Gu Brew and some more GU gels.  I saw the familiar face of Meredith Terranova who helped me get through which was great.  Another 5 mile loop and I was back to Crossroads again.  At this point I could feel the heat increasing and made certain to increase my fluid intake as well as electrolyte pills.  Continuing going back and forth with Liza and Steve, we all arrived at the halfway point somewhere around 4:28 which I thought was right on, trying to be a bit conservative.  After refueling at the Lodge and grabbing a replenished supply of electrolytes I was on to lap 2.  Right from the get go, I could feel twinges in my lower extremities, signs of cramping.  The heat to me when not acclimated is like kryptonite to Superman and can take me down.  I increased my electrolytes again and backed off a notch on pace hoping these adjustments would help.  The climb up Ice Cream Hill was in full sun and just after I passed a distressed runner, a big calf cramp kicked in and stopped me in my tracks.  I stomped on my foot to get it to bend, took another electrolyte pill and kept on moving.  This seemed to be the pattern for a while.
Jack coated with salt wearing Headsweats Super Duty Race Hat
As I came into the second aid station, I saw another smiling familiar face through my now fuzzy eyes.  It was Meghan Arbogast.  I was dizzy and had to sit for a moment.  Meghan helped replenish my electrolyte supply which was needed and off I went while munching on a pb&j sandwich.  I continued on doing the slow run for a while when suddenly I felt a weird sensation in my left foot.  My entire ankle cramped and then my right foot cramped causing me to collapse right across the trail.  I laid there like a corpse and couldn't move as the pain shot through my body.  I could see another runner coming up and thought for sure they would think I was dead on the trail.  So as this runner approached I lifted my head up to say, “I’m not dead”.  As my eyes cleared enough to focus I could see it was my friend David from Baltimore.  I think he kind of chuckled as he saw me there unable to get up.  With a little boost, I was able to finally stand and we both moved ahead slowly.
David relaxing the morning after the race
David has experience with heat issues himself as he has run Badwater the last 2 years.  Before long, David was far ahead and out of sight as I still had to move slowly, but move ahead I did.   The rest of this second lap was more of the same with continued cramping, slow running and ingesting up to 8 electrolyte pills each hour.  I forced myself to eat at each aid station knowing that my body needed fuel and kept drinking, all the while feeling nausea and wanting to hurl but didn't want to lose what I already had in my body for electrolytes.  I thought as the day progressed, the heat would lessen and I could continue on at a faster pace but the heat and the cramps continued for most of the race.

Slow but steady I continued on, had another hard fall somewhere and reopened a wound on my hand from earlier in the day.  I ran through some more sotol plants and felt the thorns rip my legs but it really didn't matter at this point.
Sotol Plant with sharp spikes
Sotol damage to skin

As I looked at my watch I could see this second lap taking almost 2 hours longer that the first, not good.  Trying to better that I was able to pick up the pace a bit, on and off for the last 9 miles.  I also wanted it over, that’s always a motivator later in the race.  Finally, just before darkness set in, I crossed the finish line.  I was immediately greeted by Liza Howard who gave me a puffy coat to put on as the temps were quickly cooling as was my body.  Liza ended up with a stellar run finishing 2nd for the women just behind Cassie Scallon with Pam Smith not far behind in third.  Also greeting me was Charles Corfield, another awesome master runner from Boulder and Dave Mackey who finished second for the men just 10 minutes behind Tim Olsen.  Thankfully Charles brought me some fluids while I sat on the ground trying to regroup.  It didn't take long and afterwards I headed over to the heated tent to find some food.  I ended up hanging out there for hours with Steve Moore, Liza Howard, Tim, Chris and many other local runners while finishing runners came in.  I truly enjoyed the overwhelming southern hospitality while exchanging war stories over some cold ones.  Thanks to Steve for supplying the Lone Star beverages.

Steve Moore & Dylan Bowman
In the end, I didn't have the best race result based on my inabilities to deal with the heat but still I finished, had a lot of fun and had a wonderful experience revisiting with familiar faces and meeting new folks from around the country.  It's amazing what we ultra runners consider fun :)  The heat and course also took its toll on others as of the 215 starters, 56 dropped down to a 50k with only 153 runners finishing the 100k.  I finished with a time of 10:46:32 which was good enough to place first for the USATF National 100K Championship in my age group and set a new age group course record and finished 13th overall in the men’s division.  Click here for full results.

Thanks to RD Joe and Joyce Prusaitis for putting on this fabulous event and to all the volunteers who made this race possible.  Put this one on your list of to do’s!  These guys put on a whole series of races which can be found through Tejas Trails.  And thanks to Headsweats for supplying the Super Duty Race Cap which worked wonders on this hot and sunny day.

Liza and family at awards with RD Joe Prusaitis
One final note, the trip back to VT was mostly uneventful, hurrying as usual to catch flights on a three airport journey to get home.  On the last leg from LaGuardia to Burlington I was in this short bus with wings waiting to take off among the huge mega jetliners.  As we were heading to position for takeoff I could see some of my fellow passengers getting nervous.  This 37 passenger bus with wings had propellers and only one was working.  Finally one of the passengers spoke up and questioned the flight attendant with hand signals as the noise was too loud to hear anything.  He motioned that the propeller wasn't working, how are we going to get off the ground?  The flight attendant very calmly said they will turn it on when they are ready.  Just before the final takeoff stretch on the runway, they did turn on the propeller, it worked and off we went.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.


John LaCroix said...

Hey Jack - wish I knew you were running. I was in San Antonio last weekend to watch my nephew graduate from basic training at Lackland. I saw the signs on the road to Bandera...

Unknown said...

John, you should have been there running it yourself. Great course, you would have had fun!

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that you should meet us at killington tomorrow. No planes, no heat issues just fun.
Enjoyed your blog but glad i was not travleing in the twilight zone with you.
Steve C

Kristin said...

Ha! I had Sotol in my hand for 3 weeks last year, good times.

Unknown said...

I like the Sotol so much and couldn't get enough of it so I brought a plant home with me and have it sitting in a pot.

Joyce said...

Great blog post Jack! Yes, you'll have to do some Bikram hot yoga next year with me :-)