Friday, January 16, 2009

Bandera 50K

So it was finally here. The race that I am actually feeling trained for - Bandera 50K at the Hill Country State Natural Area (HCSNA) in Bandera, Texas on January 10, 2009. This is a very beautiful park, and typical Texas hill country - rugged. The trails are steep, rocky and flanked by sotol bushes with sharp thorny leaves. You slide on loose rock, climb over stone ledges and get scraped, cut and bruised by sotol and other cacti along the trails.

I am feeling good about this race, I have been running well this winter. Both physically and mentally, I feel ready for what surely is going to be a tough challenge. Here is the race course.

Pre-race (Friday)
Gaurav and I, after our customary invocation to the Taco Deli gods, drive into the park on Friday afternoon. As we reach, we see that the kids' race is just over. The wind is starting to pick up, so now would be a good time to set up our tent. We walk into the Lodge in time for packet pickup and the race briefing. Joe and Henry are giving the lowdown on the race course and what to expect, but all I can hear and sense is the atmosphere in the briefing tent, 'twas electric with anticipation and excitement from all the runners! Ah, friendly faces all around, chat meet shake-hands chat, and is that food over there, attack chop chow. It is dark and getting late, and I reluctantly tear away from the fun and head over, along with Naresh, to a-bar-a-bunk-house, a home accommodation in town.

The house is nice, it looks cozy and it is warm and Cris is making tea. Hello! How are you? How is the tea? I am done with tea, let me take my bags upstairs and get ready for the race. I am feeling brave, let me wear just a long-sleeved shirt for the race and drop my wind jacket in my drop bag that I can access 15.5 miles into the race. Yeah, and since I start with a long sleeve, the natural progression is to have a short sleeve shirt in the drop bag as well. Surely, if I am not frost-bitten by 15.5 miles, my bravado can continue on for 15.5 more.

Pre-race (Saturday)
My nose is all stuffed up. My cedar allergies are acting up, and I am not able to sleep. I sneeze, breathe hard and noisily and turn over many times, all to no avail but keeping Naresh awake. I wake up still excited but sorely lacking sleep, and head over to the park. I decisively stick to just a long-sleeved shirt, and am determined not to listen to any doubting Thomases in the form of Gaurav, who asks when I see him 15 minutes before the start, 'is that all you are wearing?'. In a sea of eskimos, I am dressed for a warm day at the beach. Almost. After informing him that all that separates his tent from becoming an unidentified flying object is one flimsy peg, I head out to the race start.

Race start to Boyle's
It is nice to see all my friends along the start line. Hi Cris, Oz, Justin, Tania, and hey Jeff, long time! And after a rather social gathering, we go. I cannot go out too fast, I start out slowly, breathe slowly, go slowly. I think I should line up behind Bhavesh and John, they seem to have the same nice idea of going slow. Oz is off in a flash, but my legendary determination wins through and I stay turtlesque.

Hey Roger, good to see you man! Roger is at the Last Chance aid station half a mile into the race, where we pass the station but get no aid other than Roger waving us away.

Cairns' climb is ahead, and I start slowly. I feel good, but climb rhythmically. I let some of the stronger climbers go, I need to run my own race not someone else's. There is a lot of mental talking-to-oneself going on. Wow, is that all that Cairns' has to offer? What a wimp! Here I go then, yippee yay, I see downhill. I find that downhill is good. And I said let me do the downhill. Cairns' goes by without making an impression, maybe Boyle has something bumpy to offer?

The uphill climb on Boyle's Bump starts out a tad gentler than that on Cairns'. This is almost enjoyable. I am not cold, and for once, I am in a position to commend myself on my sartorial choice. I come up along a ridge and I start running, it feels great. I take the Bump of Boyle in my stride and I am having a party down the other side. I stretch out my stride and move...

Boyle's to Nachos
As the downhill tapers off, I am letting the momentum carry me past the aid station at the 5 mile mark. I know Gaurav is supposed to be here, but I cannot see him initially. Hey Gaurav! I have everything I need, food and water, and I don't feel like breaking my momentum. So I just keep running and turn back to see Gaurav make some hesitant steps towards me. He decides wisely to not follow me and just tells me I am doing great. Which is a lie, but it still feels good to hear that. I look at my watch, and I realize that I have been doing 10-minute miles on the hardest section of the course.

John and I are doing good pace along the Sky Island trail. Rob the coach is up there, perched on top of the sky island. He tells us we are doing good. These hills are enjoyable, partly because I still have my head and it tells me that what goes up must come down. And I have just come up quite a bit, and go down the hill with glee.

As we near Ice Cream Hill, we see Damon and he's telling us we are doing good. Everyone lies on a day like this. Bhavesh catches up with us here, and we climb up. There is no darn ice cream up the hill, hey you dark-humored cynic! I am done feeling good now, I want Nachos.

Nachos to Chapas
Nachos! I take a small break here, re-fueling and putting a piece of banana in my mouth. I head out slowly, its a nice day for a soothing walk in the park. Five minutes into the aforementioned s. w. in the p., I hate to break it to myself but it must be done. Buddy, this is a race not a picnic, move it, will ya! Reluctantly, I break into a trot and maintain a steady shuffle. I pass Bar-O and for the first time, I am doing trails I havent been on before. I take it easy here, not because it is hard, but because I want to finish strong.

Chapas to Crossroads
The Chapas house and aid station comes out of the woods like an unexpected gift. I am so happy I just sit down and get into my Patagonia Capilene shirt, and start eating my tamarind rice. And that is about how far I get with the eating, the rice is hard and dry and I cannot eat. While I am still struggling with my picnic preparations, Cris walks in and lets me know what she thinks of my slow pace. I realize she is right. I just pick up a gel or two and head out into the wild.

I have stayed too long at the aid station, I am feeling cold and my body is not warming up. I try to pick up the pace but don't want to push it when I am not feeling warmed up. I continue my slow and steady shuffle and run into Crossroads. More friends here, it is just wonderful to see everyone. Jeanette, Jim and Jeff and more. 5 miles after parking at Chapas, I positively hunker down again at Crossroads. My mind goes, if there is food to be eaten, eat it. If there is a chair to sit, sit.

Cris turns in once again, she is just 5 minutes behind me at this point. Once again, she goads me into moving, thanks Cris! I pick up my reluctant body and head out into the Three Sisters loop.

The Three Sisters
I am in no mood to push uphills anymore. I take it easy, as easy as you like, climbing up. Surprisingly, I still feel good hurtling down and I do, down all the Three Sisters. The Three Sisters are three hills that you go up and down in rapid succession, and they do go by eventually and I hit upon the flat and downward mile back to the Crossroads. This is all familiar territory and it picks me up considerably, I start running well knowing that the aid station is not far away.

Surprise, surprise! Gaurav is outside Crossroads even as I run in, taking pictures. Bhaskar and Gaurav start fussing over me, and that perks me up so much that I want to just head out again and take on whatever comes my way! Gaurav fills my bottles. To the full, to the hilt...

My bottles are starting to feel heavy. Its just a 5 mile loop, mostly flat, and I start watering the plants along the trail. Better them than me at this point. I run/walk hesitantly here, for my mind is expecting the dreaded Lucky's Peak. I tell myself that I am never going to listen to anyone else's opinions, especially dreads, anymore and let them affect me. Lucky's eventually shows up and I struggle up that monster. I call this the second FUJI, J for my coach and race director Joe and I for idiot. Hauling your thingy over Everest at Mile 30 is not fun. But it gets over, all hills at Bandera do eventually get over.

And now it is just a mile more of fun flats and downhills. I pick up speed and excitement as I narrow the distance to the finish. Good to see Roger again, I must be close now. Stretch 'em legs boy, lets go, there's a party waiting to happen in just a bit. Just a bit. Just a bit.

Done. Done! Joe is standing at the finish clapping and cheering and puts out a hand. I smack his outstretched hand with my bottled hand. Sorry Joe, didnt mean to, just really excited. Joe is cool, hands me my medal and Gaurav comes in all smiles. I sit down for a while, enjoying this moment, it feels very good. I check my time, its under 7 hours which is nice. I had a reasonably good race, and given all the things that generally can and do go wrong in a race, I have a rather smooth affair. I am happy.

Lessons learned
I have had a good race, but I still learn. I learn to keep my body warmed up at all times, and to move through aid stations more quickly. And perhaps head out even slower at the race start. And I also realize that my race goes well when I am well-trained.

After eating continuously for hours on end, I wait around the finish area and cheer all the runners finishing. Savitha eventually rolls in with a big grin on her face, she has had a good race and tells us stories about her rolling down every hill on the course. More runners finish, and a lot of backslapping happens.

Course tear-down
At night, as the course tear-down gets underway, Gaurav and I head out to pull down the glow-sticks, ribbons and signs from a section of the course from Nachos to Chapas. Its almost 6 miles, but at night, it is very beautiful and we enjoy the hike a lot. The bright full moon casts a strange and beautiful halo around itself, and nature itself seems to be enjoying this night. We pull down ribbons and as we climb into Chapas, we join Joyce and others as they tear down the aid station.

It has been a long and tiring but enjoyable day. I am in the grips of a Bandera hangover for several days after that. And I cannot wait to go back there and race, and volunteer, and meet all my friends again.


Sharanya said...

Congrats on your race, Mu! Your account is vivid - you write really well!

The Steph said...

Awesome! Thanks for the inspiration. :-) My 'long' run tomorrow seems like a leisurely compared to what you conquered in Bandera!