The Western States 100 is my dream race and has been for as long as I have been running. I have watched “Unbreakable” countless times and is still my go to when I am getting pumped up about going for a run/race. If you haven’t seen it, “Unbreakable” is a movie that follows 4 men at the 2010 Western States as they chase both victory and the course record, which had been seen as unbreakable. With all of that being said my goal for some time has been to toe the starting line in Squaw Valley. There is only 2 ways to get into the Western States: be in the top ten from the previous years race or through the lottery. So yeah, for me there was only one way to earn a spot in the lottery. To do so one must earn their ticket by running a qualifying time in one of a handful of races. This brings me to the Bandera 100k.
The race is held in the Hill Country Natural Area that is roughly 10 miles outside of Bandera, TX, “the cowboy capital of the world”. The race itself has a 24 hour time limit but for me to earn my qualifying time I had to finish under 17 hours. I had a few options of races to choose from but for some reason Bandera just stood out to me. Most likely because its a “Golden Ticket” race for the elites and because it’s where Jim Walmsley earned his entry to WS last year. I registered for the race at the end of September and planned the next 3 1/2 months around it.
When race day finally came I was ready. In the build up I had completed 2 ultras that were over 50k and was coming off a 9th place finish at the Back 40 race in Bella Vista, AR. It’s a good thing too because Bandera was no joke!! The slogan for the race is “everything out here bites, cuts, or stings” and it more than lived up to the billing.
The race started at 730am and the temperature was in the teens. I told my self that it was going to be a long day and to pace myself for the first loop. The course consists of two 50k loops with around 7000ft of elevation gain and descent in each loop. At the gun I went out as planned and found my place in the middle of the pack. Almost instantly I knew that this was going to take every ounce of concentration that I had. Rocks! Rocks everywhere!! Not just your average rocks but jagged, sharp boulders that were just waiting to tear you apart. To be honest the course isn’t what you’d call runnable at all. On top of that, there are two of the largest climbs in the first 10 miles. I mentioned the rocks but what I didn’t was the sotol cactus things that line the trails. I could hear other racers grunting and moaning in pain as they went through them. Bandera took its share of blood that day.
I made it through the first climbs unscathed but as the course opened up a bit I realized that the early climbs had blown up my hips and thighs. I knew that I had to run when the course allowed, so I pushed for a good clip in the middle section of the loop. Things went fairly well until a big climb in the last 5 miles. The hike up was fine but I rolled my ankle and went down pretty hard trying to go too fast on the descent. When I fell I put my hand right into a cactus and was now donating my share of blood to the trail.
When I arrived back at the start/finish, I asked for a bandage and was told where to find the medic. She was gracious enough to clean out my wound and wrap it up. After seeing Summer and getting the things that I needed I went back out for the second loop. This time with a swollen ankle/foot and some caution in my stride. I knew that I was ahead of my goal of a sub 17 hours finish. So I decided to hike a bit more and try to make it to the middle section that I could run.
As the sun went down and the temperatures dropped back into the teens, my ankle loosened up a bit and I was able to run. Honestly the rest of the race is a blur. With my headlamp on and my vision restricted to 5-10 feet in front of me, I just kept my head down to the trail. I remember bits and pieces, like hearing coyotes howling. Most of all I just remember thinking about all of the hard work and miles that I had put into training. A finish would be great but I came for a Western States lottery ticket!
The last few climbs seemed to never stop going up. I kept expecting the finish to be around the next corner, which of course wasn’t. I eventually crossed the finish line to my beautiful wife waiting for me in 16:29:32. A sense of relief came over me, I had done it! It felt so gratifying to set a goal and attain it. I’m not exactly sure when I had last filled my water bottles but when I tried to take a drink at the finish the bottles were frozen solid. As the volunteers took off my timing chip, someone handed me the finishers belt buckle. At that moment I didn’t feel any pain.
When the Western States 100 lottery happens in December I will have a ticket. A chance, no matter how small, to run my dream race. That’s what it was all about. Hell, that’s what life is all about. Allowing yourself to dream and then chasing that dream down. I’m not sure that buckle left my hands on the 10 hour drive home. Bandera was a success…-JH