Trail Running in Texas & beyond

Bandera 50k

(me, waiting to head to the start)

(course elevation profile)

Start to Boyles

  • Distance:  4.79 miles
  • Target run time:  50 to 55 mins
  • Target pace:  11 mins /  mile

Olga sends us on our way and less than a half mile we hit Cairns, a modestly steep climb that is just a taste of what the first 9 miles of the course has in store for us.  Cairns was built by Joe, Henry, and others in the earlier days of Bandera following deer trails.   At one time rock cairns guided you along but those are mostly gone and it is a fairly well established trail.

My general plan was to take the uphill easy, fast on the downhills, and sustainable long run pace on the flatter sections.  While that sounds like a pretty obvious tactic, many people who run Bandera for the first time find the downhills very tricky and don’t run them that fast.  If you are bombing down a hill, nothing is more dangerous than coming up on someone too fast (for you and them).  Cairns and Boyles have a bit of space on the downhills but later trails like Sky Island and Ice Cream don’t have as much room to maneuver so being mindful of the traffic around you is important as your approach the downhill sections.

Everything was going well enough as we headed down the hill towards the Boyles aid station.  I was wearing a vest with water with the plan of not stopping at Boyle to avoid the early traffic.  I looked down at my watch as I went past Boyles to see a time of 43 minutes and change.  That was too fast, nearly 2 minute per mile faster than I expect and should have been.  I made a mental note to back of the pace a bit for the next section.

Note about all course pictures, I was busy running so all pictures from earlier years taken by Joe Prusaitis.  Go here for the full gallery.  We had an especially lovely day during this year’s Bandera race and these pictures just barely begin to reflect out beautiful this course as we start our run in the early morning hours.

Boyles to Nachos

  • Distance:  5.27 miles
  • Target run time:  58 to 65 mins
  • Target run pace:  11 mins / mile

As we hit Big Nasty I felt someone approaching fast.  Very fast.  I turned to see Erik Stanley gliding up.  He was running the 25k.  The 25k start at the same time but hit Lucky Peak before meeting up behind us on Cairns.  That puts them roughly 2 miles behind us on the course.  I expected to see the chase pack behind Erik at some point but we reached the 25k cut-off trail without seeing another runner.  Erik was flying, as usual.

Up Big Nasty, through the saddle, and up to the top of Sky Island.  This is easily my favorite part of the course.  The view from the top is stunning with a full view of the park.  As we came off Sky Island, I was chatting with Lance Gay but as we approached Ice Cream Hill, I let him go.  I knew I was well ahead of where I should be and I didn’t want to blow up early like I did during the Dorset Ultra the month prior.  Ice Cream Hill is also a bit in my head as it was where I hit a wall during the Cactus Rose relay run.  On the CR version of the course, it is near the half-way point rather than at 8.5 miles, but still I wanted to mind the climb up.

Ice Cream Hill was still a tough climb but treated me better than at Cactus.  The sotol cactus make their first serious appearance but they didn’t seem all that bad today and I ran straight through them.  Maybe I am just getting used to them.  I did come through the finish to find my knees covered in blood so they did take a bite out of me.

Ice Cream Hill dumps you down into the Nachos Aid Station.  You can close your eyes and find your way to Nachos as they like their music and they like it loud.  It looked like they were having a great time as I approached.  I took off my pack to get some more water and was surprised to see how much I still had in there.  This should have been more of a warning sign than it was but I felt pretty good and I had been staying up on salt and food to this point.

This section took  me about 55 minutes or just under 10:30 pace.

Nachos to Chapas

  • Distance:  5.44 miles
  • Target run time:  57 to 63 mins
  • Target run pace:  10:30 mins / mile

Nachos begins the ‘runnable’ section of the Bandera course.  For the next 2 miles it is a a mix of creek beds, small ledges, and nearly rock free dirt trail that then gives way to 3 miles of choppy rock trail.  What dirt there is has been torn up by horses after the rains a few weeks back and now is hardening into divots.  Then it takes you up a small hill and kicks you out on a trail of rocks, rocks and more rocks.  It is flat and you can move pretty well but can reach up and grab you.  I saw a couple people take a tumble in this section.

Somewhere on the way down into Chapas I see the brightest shirt imaginable and I knew it was Jeremy Day, who was running the 100k.  I had started to see 100k folks about a few miles back but now we were coming across them in greater numbers.  The 100k runners had started on a path that put them about 5 miles ahead of us.

Chapas came in at 53 minutes, 9:50 pace.  At this point I was 15.5 miles through the race and it had taken me 2 hours and 30 minutes.  I was ahead of my target pace and, in theory, I had plenty of runnable terrain ahead.  I knew that the Three Sisters and Trail 6 awaited but I was feeling good outside of a some pain in the adductor (groin) muscle group area.  Foolishly, I started to entertain ideas of a 5 hour finish.

My wife was at Chapas with my drop bag.  I decided to switch it out my pack for a handheld, drank a coconut water, had a snack, made a request for sunglasses at the next aid station, and headed back out.

Chapas to Crossroads 1

  • Distance:  5.85 miles
  • Target run time:  61 to 65 mins
  • Target run pace:  10:30 mins / mile

Chapas to Crossroads is the easiest part of the course overall based on terrain and profile.  It starts with a dirt trail that was very chopped up from horse trailers and horses and then dumps out into the field.  I have been through the field a couple times during training runs and during Cactus Rose but only in the dark.  Now I know what others say when it they talk about how uninspiring that section it.  It also was very exposed and it was warming up.  It only got to the upper 60s but out there it was felt much hotter.

We trudged through the field.  Despite being an opportunity to stretch out the legs and run a  good pace, I just couldn’t find the rhythm.  About 2/3s the way through the field, I came up on David Jacobson and took the the opportunity to run with with him for a while and gather myself.

David dropped back as we came up on Crossroads.  It had taken me just under 63 minutes of running to get here.  10:45 minute pace.  This is definitely a part of the course that I could do better on in future races.

At Crossroad, I got some more water, picked up some more food, sunscreen, sunglasses and headed back out.

Crossroads 1 to Crossroads 2 (aka the inner-loop)

  • Distance:  4.96 miles
  • Target run time:  55-60 mins
  • Target run pace:  11:30 mins / mile

I thought I felt pretty good heading out of the aid station and moved down the trail, a smooth jeep road, at sub-9 minute pace for the next mile.  I came along Sam who was running the one loop of the 100k course as a training run, chatted with him and headed along.  All of a sudden I cratered.  I stopped to go to the bathroom but that was actually a cover for the fact that suddenly I didn’t have any more go in my legs.  Sam came up on me and dragged me through the Three Sisters.  On the downhill of the Sisters I started to feel better and I ran ok for a bit.  As we came up to Trail 6, we came up on Parvaneh Moayedi who was trucking along in the 100k.  She is a machine and is just relentless in her forward motion.

Somewhere around the Sisters I looked down to see that I had run 25 miles in 4 hours and 20 minutes.  I thought about Cactus Rose and how just a few months ago, it took me 4:50 to run a 25 mile loop.  While the course route is not exactly comparable, I was pleased to see how much better I was doing and lifted my spirits.

The inner-loop took right about an hour to run, a 12 min pace. It wasn’t pretty at all and I am very thankful that Sam was there provide encouragement.  Without him, I could have easily drifted off into a much worse state.  Running with the Tejas Trails training group has been better than I could ever imagine and one of the biggest reasons is how everyone looks out for each other.

Crossroads 2 to Finish

  • Distance:  4.75 miles
  • Target run time:  50-55 mins
  • Target run pace:  10:30 mins / mile

Came down into Crossroads and got my last re-fill of food and drink before heading out.  As I was heading out, I saw John Kuss heading back in because he forgot his salt caps.  We headed out more or less together, walking while I ate some food and had a bit to drink.  Parvaneh caught us again and for the next mile or so we passed and re-passed each other.  She was the locomotive powering forward while I was the local commuter train speeding up and slowing down.  At some point I got into a bit of groove and was able to run more or less consistently until we started to hit the pre-hills before Lucky.  I came upon another 50k runner (the first I’d seen in a while) and he mentioned he was cramping badly.  As if in sympathy, my right calf and left quad started twitching.  Joy.

At this point, I wasn’t really worried about places but I knew I was close to the 50k time I ran at Wild Hare in November. That course is a piece of cake compared to Bandera, flat and mostly smooth.  We approached Lucky Peak together and he moved up it much better than my crawl.  I was just trying to survive to the top since I knew it was downhill and flat from there on in to the finish.  As we crested, I summoned whatever reminding nerve I had to bomb the downhill.  I passed several people on the way down include the aforementioned 50k runner.  This last section is about a mile of very gradual down slope on mostly smooth trail so I tried to push through to the finish.

As I approach Last Chance, there was a short internal debate about stopping for a shot of tequila or a beer.  However, it looked busy and with only a half mile to go I was focused on making it to the line.  I nearly catch another 50k runner but he sees me and picks up his pace and I stop to walk for just a few seconds before trying again.  The last mile is around 8:40 pace, though it feels like the legs aren’t moving by this point.  The finish finally appears and I cross in 5:31:19.  Turns out that put me 32nd out of 214 overall.

Post race

I parked myself in a chair at the finish, re-hydrated, cheered the finishers coming through, and chatted with friends for the next couple hours until the need for food and and a shower was too overpowering.   Post race hanging out is really the best part of any race.

Summary / Lessons

I am very pleased with the race overall.  It was probably my most complete run to date.  Still there are plenty of lessons to be had and more than a few areas to work on.

One lesson is that handhelds are not for me on these longer runs.  I switched to a handheld half-way through and within a few miles regretted it.  Not only does it restrict how much food I can carry but my back started hurting and I felt that it impacted my running rhythm.

I probably didn’t take enough water early.  For the last 3 hours I was drinking about 40 oz per hour but it didn’t feel like enough there.  Once you are behind, it is very hard to catch up.  I probably got a bit loose with my food towards the second half of the race.  Both things to continue to work on.

My time at aid stations was well spent and efficient thanks in large part to my lovely wife.

Overall, my fitness is coming along, just need to continue to work on getting more efficient.  Core strength is certainly something in need of focus.  I also need to work on sustained pace and pushing it in the last third of a race.  Something to talk about with Joe and work on before future races.

On the plus side, my new shoes are working great for me.  While they may look dorky (they are alternatively referred to as moon shoes, clown shoes, or short-bus shoes), for the first time since August I can run regularly without pain in my right food.

(Hoka One One Mafate — yes, they are 2 inches thick on the bottom)

Quick year in review

2011 was my first year running with any amount of consistency in over 17 years.   I started hike / jogging summer of 2009.  Lots of 2 to 4 miles ‘runs’.  These were designed more to wear out my 2 year old Weimaraner than out of any notion of fitness.  2010 brought 3 to 5 mile runs with an occasional long of 8 miles.  The pounds dropped (I am now down just over 40 from my peak) and for the year I averaged less than 50 miles per month.  After an ill-fated attempt at the Austin Half, I confirmed roads were not for me.   I joined up with Joe and the Tejas Trails group and 8 months later I am running 40-50 miles per week almost all of it on trails, enjoying it much more, and running distances that I couldn’t contemplate just a year earlier with plans for many more.

For 2012, my tentative calendar is:

Gorge Waterfall 50k, March 24

Hells Hills 25k, April 7th – Anniversary of first trail race.

Guads – May

The Ranch 30k (maybe, I get free entry after the mess from last year), June 10th

Mule Shoe 30 or 60k, July 21st – training run

Angels Staircase 50 (k or mile), Sept 11th

Reveille Ranch 30k – training run

Cactus Rose (relay or ?)

Bandera 50k 2013

I look forward to what 2012 brings.

Last picture is from Ed Swarthout who took this the morning of Bandera:


One Response to “Bandera 50k”

  1. Chris Haley says:

    Great finish Ben! And nice post. I wish I had been running on that glorious day. I agree- hand-helds make me feel out of whack and get annoying after a while. See you on the trail, Chris