We’d listened to everyone gathering at the starting area and we could hear the voices over the announcement speaker giving instructions to all the runners on the cold morning when I stepped out of the camper I had rented for the Bandera Trail Race 100K. I was so thankful for the camper. Last year we were stuck in horrible traffic and arrived late to the race, while this year we could sleep in and casually get ready and just walk over to the starting area. There was a spotty fog and the ground was wet as though it had rained a little the night before.
We came here with a purpose: to earn the new redesigned buckle we saw on the Tejas Trails Facebook page about nine weeks earlier and as soon as I saw it I looked at Michelle and told her I wanted to run the 100K at Bandera. She looked at me like I was crazy, I’d seen that look before, many times before. Between that time and the time we crossed the finish line I would be continually reminded by her and every non-distance running friend how crazy I was. I printed out pictures of that buckle and placed them everywhere to remind me what I was after. I wanted that buckle, it would not be given to me, I would have to earn it. No! I would have to take it! So many obstacles to overcome, but I drew a line in the sand and like Tejas Trails says, “I had to cross it.” The Christmas holidays, travelling, finding good supplements that wouldn’t upset our stomachs while giving our bodies all we needed for the race, while also finding time to train proved difficult and as usual we undertrained again. The Tejas Trails tagline is “Get lost, and find yourself.” That’s what happened over the next nine weeks and the ensuing 62 miles.
This was the only race we ever developed a race plan for. Yes, it intimidated me, but I was excited. With a 7:30 a.m. start, Michelle said our pace would have us finishing our first loop around 4:00 p.m. I placed our dropped bags at the aid stations the night before. Our plan had a bag at each aid station. Sadly, we were not allowed to place bags at two so I called an audible that would lead to later success. We gathered around the race start/finish area. I always love seeing everyone, taking pictures, many people I only see when we race together.
I really felt great as we started. The cold was perfect, the ground wasn’t muddy and we quickly filed into the single track which appropriately resembled a large snake like creature winding its way through the woods. We found a group we felt comfortable running with and the conversations started. The runner in front of me was from Nashville and signed up for Bandera by invitation from a friend and was lured in by the 24-hour finish time which he thought was more than enough time to do a 100K. He had never seen such terrain where the ground moves out from under you, and if it doesn’t then it will probably bite, sting, poke you and make you bleed.
Moving through the field, the humorous comments began, “I got Chucked,” I would hear behind me as people l passed saw this attached to my USA Championships bib on my Ultimate Direction hydration vest. I love puns and so this was a joke my wife and I had just between us for lots of races. She would chick em and I would chuck em. So the day before Bandera she made this sign and I thought it would be funny and create some humor on the trail to wear it. Thankfully, my trail running friends showed up with a sense of humor and enjoyed the sign. One guy yelled out at around 45 miles, “dang it, I’ve been chucked 15 times today!” That was usually because we took long aid station breaks and slower runners we passed usually got out ahead of us.
I felt great for the first 10 miles until it started to heat up. By mile 13 I was suffering. We hadn’t tested our EFS slurry and carbo-pro mix in higher temps and I began to dehydrate and my stomach began to revolt at a flat and fast point in the race where we wanted to do more running, but my body was having none of it. I kept going just trying to reach Crossroads where I could hydrate and try to recover.
I learned once again that the human body and mind are absolutely amazing. But in the end it was having my wife by my side that got me to the end. So many people commented about our running together and how lucky we were to have “that person.” That wisdom was not lost on me. There are many races either I or Michelle could finish faster if we ran them separately, but we pride ourselves in finishing every race strong together. The trail will teach you a lot of things, but one of the best lessons I have learned is to accept the help of my wife and always remember how much better I am with her than without. We may go faster alone, but we will go farther together and I promised her the rest of our lives together. So if you’re looking for me, I’ll be by her side on the trail and in life.
As I said, I was having trouble with my stomach and dehydration, but I made a decision to stay positive and to enjoy the trail. I knew there was going to be a lot of beauty to see; the many overlooks, the stars and moon at night, the harsh beauty of rugged terrain like Bandera, and I was not going to miss out. This is the beauty of trail racing. Normally, you would think trail racing wouldn’t be for me. I enjoy being around people and don’t like being alone very much and that second loop can get very lonely when the field thins out and its dark; a fact I was reminded of at mile 56 when the coyotes started howling in the distance by the light of the almost full moon filling the trail around us with a dim light. Maybe that’s why I take a little longer at the aid stations, why I tend to talk a lot on the trail. People have told me I was welcome to keep talking but they were too tired to talk anymore. So a positive attitude is essential, after all, a negative attitude will not lead to a positive life.
When we left out on our second loop I felt recharged and ready to take it on. In my mind I heard a voice that said, “take it.” I decided I was going to take it, that finish line was mine, the buckle I came here for, nothing would stop me from getting it. The rest of the race I had that mantra in my mind, “take it,” I even thought of a Scripture verse where Jesus talks about violent men who take the kingdom of God by force. I was going to take the finish line. It was not going to be handed to me, or given. I was going to dig deep and take it for myself.
Michelle reminded me that we could take the rest of the race one aid station at a time. Every step we took was the last time we had to step there. We were gaining ground, closer and closer to the finish. I watched my Garmin closely realizing that we were about to pass the 50 mile point. We had never ran more than 50 miles. We determined that once we hit 50 miles we would push on and with every step set celebrate the new personal record for ourselves.
We were going to march this one in and it wasn’t going to be fast. I took a consensus with my body and the pressure pain on the bottom of my foot and two of my toenails already felt like they were about to fall off so that was OK with me. I was enjoying the night and our conversation had been enjoyable so I set in my mind to encourage her in to the finish, remain positive, and keep moving forward. My wife and I would finish strong together. Reaching the jeep road to walk our final ¾ mile to the finish the light caught up to us and we finished the race with our good friend Rich, the man who probably saved my race by giving me gin-gins and Tums, he and Jeanie were so essential to our finishing this race we couldn’t have finished in better company.