Bandera 50k will go down in my books as the toughest and longest 50k I have ever done. Tejas Trails (the race company) was not joking when they described this as ‘a trail of rugged and brutal beauty where everything cuts, stings or bites.‘ On top of the already challenging rugged terrain, Mother Nature made it even tougher with rain, hail, snow and wind. It then turned the flat dirt runnable areas into a field of mud. Regardless of the inclement weather, I pushed through to finish this race, no matter how long it took. I finished in 10+ hours, but all in one piece, with no broken or dislocated bones. It was my longest 50k ever, and only 1 hour short of my fastest 50-miler finish time. I was spoiled by Bay Area lush and mountainous trails. After this weekend, I think I am now Texas Tough.
I finished 10 hrs 28 min, on the bottom 10.
160 registered for the 50k; 133 finished; 22 DNF; 5 DNS
On race week, I kept checking the weather forecast, it was getting worst. I figured we will definitely have freezing temperatures, and snow, on race day. I had no control of it, so all I can do is prepare clothing layers, gloves, hat, and bring my race nutrition. I brought my trekking poles as well, to this trip, just in case I needed it. The course preview podcast mentioned that poles are not necessary for the 50k. Bandera trail race had the 100k on Saturday, then the 50k and 25k races on Sunday. It is located at the Hill Country State Natural Area, in Bandera, TX. The 100k was 2x the 50k route.
Side bar: I had several teammates from RADrabbit who were doing the 100k on Saturday. They were bad-ass fast runners. I followed them, as inspirations. I read some of the 100k-ers’ updates from their race, to get some idea about the current conditions at the trails. It didn’t rain Saturday; they had a nice sunny but cold day. One RADrabbit’s post was useful to me, but sad for her. She is a fast runner, 5th so far during the 100k, but 10 miles into the race she took a spill at the downhill and fell ‘superman’ to the ground and rocks. She continued to run until she reached 50k, and the medics stopped her as she was bleeding all over and looked really bad. She had a broken chin and missing few teeth.
Pictured above, another RADrabbit, who was doing the 100k, but took a spill and DNF. This is grit. She lasted another 20 miles, and she probably would have continued if she was not pulled out of the race. She also has the best attitude. I look up to people like her.
I stayed at a hotel in Boerne, TX, which is about 30-ish miles to the race site. The night before our race, I had dinner with a few friends whom I met at a previous race (The Circus 30k), and I quickly bonded with them, like we are good long-time friends. They are more bad-ass, they are Ironman triathletes. They finished the 50k before me, and we all have stories to tell.
Stage 1 of race weekend: Get to the start line on race day.
The adventures began during the drive to the start line. I woke up early, still monitoring the weather. There was going to be a torrential downpour. Here in TX, the weather changes so quickly. So when I saw a little break with just drizzle, I planned my drive.
At the hotel, getting ready to go to the start line!
It was dark at 6:15 am. The route to the start line was long and windy on some areas, with speed limits of 70mph on single lane backroads. Texans love to drive fast. I was praying the whole time, that no one would be behind me, because I was driving like a slow old lady, 20 mph below the speed limit. It was light-raining, and roads are slick. I just wanted to get to the start line. Entering the park, there were cars behind me, I was leading the group towards the parking lot, and I couldn’t see the road, but we got lost, inside the park. My MB GLK 350 was also too fancy for these rough roads. It also looked out of place. But it got me safely to the start line.
Stage 2 of race weekend: Start and finish the race!
Tejas Trails knows how to organize and provide a good race, especially during these pandemic days. They have great safety protocols and guidelines provided to all runners, volunteers, pacers and spectators. They set up a rolling start time, where runners signed up for a start window. The start and finish line was never crowded. Participants were limited and capped at a low number. Aid stations had individually packed snacks, and the volunteers are world-class very helpful and friendly. I especially loved the Chapas aid station at mile 21, they were inside a shed, had heaters, and mashed potatoes in broth, with sausages. I think they are called Big Ass Runners Trail Running Podcast. I will follow them and check it out.
Let’s break it down.
Start to mile 5, reaching Boyles aid station:
It started drizzling then raining. I waited, inside my car, for the rain to stop before I started my race. My start window was 7:30-7:55 AM. The rain was not stopping. I just had to get going. The route started out flat, but already muddy. I thought to myself, I’ve ran in mud before. I remember that route down to Muir Beach (Muir Woods area in Northern CA trails), so this is no big deal. There were rollers. I enjoyed the climbs, but not so much the downhill. In some places, my pace uphill was the same as downhill. I’m glad I brought one trekking pole with me during this race, I used it a LOT for the descents and to gain balance on muddy areas.
Miles 5 to 10, at Equestrian aid station:
This segment had muddy areas, rolling hills, and rocks of all sizes. Well, this entire course had rocks all over it. Like large truckloads of rocks got dumped into this park. At one of the downhills, I stepped to the side to let a lot of runners pass; they were going down as if it was nothing. It was rocky for me. I looked up and saw the views. There are mountains out here and some nice, rugged beauty. I took some pictures, probably the only one I have taken during this race. Rain was off and on again.
Miles 10 to 16: The most fun I had in this race — getting to Nachos!
There were a lot of rolling hills in this segment. I had fun climbing because that has been my strength coming from the Bay Area. I didn’t enjoy the downhill as much. There were 2 older gentlemen whom I leap-frogged few times. I pass them going uphill, then they catch up to me and pass me at the downhill. Nice fellows. When they asked where I was from, I said I am from Austin.
It started to snow off and on during this segment, which was a pleasant change after the hailstorm previously. At Nachos aid station, I filled my 500ml soft flask with Tailwind. Even if I had the water bladder in my new Nathan pack, I still am using soft flasks as I am used to this during training. I love my Nathan pack, but I can’t make large changes on race day.
Miles 16 to 21: Starting to feel the regret of doing this race. Just need to get to Chapas aid station.
This section, while shorter than the previous, gave me some low points during the race. At this point I couldn’t feel my fingers, toes, feet, or any of my limbs. I was frozen. I have been drinking my Tailwind, and been stopping to find a bush for a bathroom break, so I know that I have good calories in me and am well hydrated. I ate PB&J at some aid stations as well. It has been hailing off and on. The big ice droplets were hitting my face. I forget to put up my buff, so I breathe in the cold air. The terrain didn’t help. At one point, although it was flat, we were running on a bed of rocks. In some places, the rocks were covered with mud, but you can see some of the white rock tips emerging from the grayish-brown soft mud. I caught up to a lady whom I actually saw at the last segment. We also leap-frogged but she got faster at one of the descents. Her name is Carmela. This is her first race, she said. She fell twice in the last segment, so she was taking it easy at this point. I noticed she had a headlamp, was she planning on finishing in the dark? I continued to run-walk carefully, since it was flat. If it were not raining all day, I bet this section would have been runnable. The mud just stuck to my shoes all the time. At this point I probably ran 5 miles worth of muddy terrain.
The way into Chapas, the aid station at mile 21, was definitely runnable, so I jogged. The aid station was inside this large shed and they had heaters. This was the best aid station in this race. They were called Big Ass Runners Podcast. They had mashed potatoes in chicken broth, with sausages. This was the best food I’ve had at the race. It gave me energy to continue. Waving goodbye to the volunteers, I left the place before my two new friends, the older fellows I met earlier, arrived at the aid station.
Miles 21 to 27: Strength training on a field of mud. On the way to YaYa aid station
Again, if it weren’t raining, this would have been a fast segment. Because it has been wet all day, this segment had a field of mud, at least 5 miles worth, that was just unforgiving. I was able to jog some areas (and when I say jog, I mean a 12-13 min pace). It was definitely the most boring and longest 5 miles during this race. I don’t think there is anything else good to say about this segment. The mud tried to get my shoes several times and it won’t give it back. Lucky for me I’ve got strong ankles and feet, so I pulled it out. It took my shoe off a few times, but I just got back at it. Once I got to YaYa aid station, there were 4 miles left and I was so glad to be almost done. It was not yet time to celebrate though, I still needed to get to the finish line.
This is a picture from one of the 100k-ers and from Saturday when it didn’t rain (I forgot his name, sorry for no-credit photo). For us on Sunday, this was a mud-field.
Miles 27 to 31/ the Finish: Hills at the end? Get to the finish!
In this segment, I could hear the finish line music and could somewhat see some tents, so I thought I was almost there. But my watch just said 28-ish miles. Then the music started fading. We had to run out somewhere before we got to the finish line. Then came this hill, they called it Lucky. I thought to myself, “are you kidding me?” Did they put this here to get props that this is a difficult course? At that point, I remembered the Headlands 50 miler I did, where 2 miles before the finish, we had to climb this long nasty steep hill. I didn’t mind climbing this Lucky hill at all, it was short, maybe 400 meters if that? But once we reached the top, we had to drop down this steep rocky section which seemed longer than the climb. When I reached the bottom, I got slightly lost because I didn’t see the next flag to the left. I went straight. It didn’t look like a trail, but a lot of places in this whole race didn’t look like it was a trail. I didn’t go too far before I started crawling and getting through some large tree branches, walking over larger rocks, I realized, it was not the trail. Back-tracking, I finally saw the other orange flag, it was another drop down to the trail.
Above, extracted from my strava race route, the point where I went slightly the wrong way, so I really didn’t go too far.
At this point, the sun has set, it was dusk, I wanted to finish before it got totally dark. It was 6 pm. The last 1.5 miles were flat but of course, muddy. This was probably the worst mud. It would have been another fast section, but the mud kept accumulating under my shoes. It was like walking with 5 lbs of steel under each foot. When I started to hear the finish line music, with all the strength left in my feet, I ran into the finish line shoot. Nobody was there, well a couple of ladies who asked me if I passed a guy in an orange sweatshirt – I did 5 miles or so ago. The volunteer at the finish took my muddy timing chip (I apologized for the mess), I asked for my shirt and medal, then headed to my car and drove back to the hotel.
Above: The muddy trail leading to the finish, which could have been a nice sprint if it weren’t for the mud (photo credit: Rising Mountains Coaching).
Above: My muddy shoes after I finished. The picture does not do justice to show the amount of mud.
Start / Finish line
Selfie at the Finish
Wrong medal?! I don’t usually care about medals these days, I’ve got 5 small bin-full of past race medals. But for this race, they gave me a 25k medal when I am registered for and finished the 50k. Do I look like I can only do 25k? I guess I don’t look tough enough, or looks are deceiving. I didn’t realize it till I got home. I am in the process of exchanging it, this is a pretty good race company.
Stage 3 of race weekend: Drive home
I spent one more night in Boerne, after the race, instead of driving back that night. It was treacherous on the roads, and it is still snowing in the counties on my way home. It was the right decision. The next day, Monday, as I drove home, I saw snow on the side of the roads. I got home safely, just in time for my first work conference call, at 11AM. I was back to reality, back to work grind.
Photo credit: kxan: Ice and snow on Austin roads.
People ask me, why do I do this? It is my kind of ‘crazy.’ I love to run; it is my therapy and break from the stressful daily grind. I am a back-of-the-pack runner, I do not always win races (except when it is small :)). I have won first female (Miles for Maria 3 hour race, 2019), I have been Dead-last Finisher or DFL/DLF (Woodside Purisima, 2018, the year I received the horse’s ass trophy for finishing last). Participating in challenging activities, such as this one, helps me overcome my fears, insecurities, and makes me a stronger (and tougher?) person. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger — a cliché, I know, but it is true. It is also a humbling experience.
These days, we all need to take care of our wellbeing, and this is my way. After every race, once I am back home, in warm and cozy clothes, I reflect back on the race and feel happy about my accomplishment. This is one of those that I am proud of, even if it was my longest 50k finish. Hence, I need my correct medal!