Chris and I made the easy drive up from Boerne Saturday morning and arrived at the park about 40 minutes before the start. Joe and his volunteers had parking down to a science – just as the three races (25, 50, and 100K) each had separate starting locations, so too the parking. We checked in, dropped small bags in the Chapas truck, hit the bushes for a quick restroom stop, snapped a photo with a few TREX members, and headed up the road to the 50K start line. The weather was perfect – in the lower 40’s with a beautiful, nearly-cloud-free dawn breaking. A few minutes later we were underway.
Despite following Chris’s instructions to remind him to “slow down,” it wasn’t long at all before he was out of sight, not to be seen again until the finish. Ran much of the first two climbs (Cairn’s and Boyle’s) surrounded by plenty of folks. Not a conga-line or anything like that (choosing a pace wasn’t a problem), but hardly alone. By the time we came off Sky Island, I found myself running with a couple of TREXers, Kevin and Michael, and we generally stayed together until the halfway point at Chapas. Throughout this first half, I was feeling really good. My abdominal issue certainly let me know it was there, but it never became much of a problem. Stomach, legs, etc – all of it was working just fine. In seemingly no time, we pulled into Paul Stone’s wonderful Chapas aid station, at almost exactly the 3 hour mark. Seeing as I initially wondered whether I could finish at all, hitting 15.5 in 3 hours was a pleasant surprise.
After scarfing down an absolutely delicious waffle with melted peanut butter and a bit of syrup (just brilliant ultra food!) and changing my socks (a few spots felt hot), I ambled out of Chapas, content to take the second half as it came. Initially it came slowly, as I walked for a bit to allow my breakfast to settle, but soon I felt like running again and I managed to make fairly good time in this mostly flat-ish section leading into Crossroads (a big, bustling aid station you visit twice in a row). My energy flagged just a little coming into Crossroads, so I grabbed a Coke and a couple of warm cheese quesadilla quarters (delicious!) and walked out down the wide path toward the next technical climb, The Three Sisters.
After a few minutes of walking, I pushed myself to start mixing in more running, and by the time I hit the Sisters a couple miles later, I was feeling pretty solid again. The climb up the first Sister is the longest, but after having done it a number of times now, it didn’t strike me as all that significant. Took in the wonderful view at the top of the second Sister, and eventually descended down the nasty, nasty trail off the last Sister quite slowly, as I was caught behind some runners who were definitely playing the descent safe. In no hurry, I was happy to pull back as well.
Off the Sisters, I made my way to the hidden, outcast slutty forth Sister (aka #6 Trail climb). The first couple of times on this course, this climb caught me by surprise – you think when you’re done with nos. 1-3, you're done with all the technical stuff. Wrong. This time, I knew what was coming, and that knowledge makes all the difference in the world. Soon enough I hit the final descent down into Crossroads (maybe my favorite descent of the course – not too steep, but enough rocky nastiness to keep you on your toes).
Coming out of Crossroads, I ran into Mary, deep into her successful 100K effort. She was fishing something or another out of a drop box at least twice her size(!) and shortly thereafter we ran close to each other for a bit. I could sense she wanted her own space – a feeling I totally understand from many long races – and I bid her good luck and ran out ahead for a while. Couple miles down the trail, I ran into Michael, who I had not seen since Chapas at 15.5 miles. He said he was having a bit of a struggle with dehydration and he looked a bit down mentally. We walked for a ways and after a short time, he was happy to start running again – back in the game. We hit probably the nastiest little up & down on the course, Lucky Peak, grunted on up and picked our way down the crazy bust-your-ass descent.
Hitting the last aid station (aptly named Last Chance) seemed to take forever, but eventually we came around a gentle bend in the trail, and there it was. Michael moved through without stopping. Me, well I needed my sip of beer. See, every other year I’ve been doing the 100K, and on that course Last Chance is nearly 5 miles from the Finish. On the 50K course, the finish is a mere ½ mile away. So I took a small cup of Shiner and was happy to walk down the trail and drink my beer for a few minutes. Yeah, I know, definitely not “racing.” Once I could hear the crowd at the finish, I started running again and crossed the line in a very satisfying 6:36:06.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent lounging near the finish line, watching folks come in and out and waiting for the winner. Beer, jerky, and folding chairs with footrests - not a bad deal at all. Soon enough, the 100K winner, Dave Mackey, cruised across the finish in an absolutely stunning 8:16, slicing about an hour off the course record. In all seriousness, he didn't even look tired. Amazing stuff. Shortly thereafter, we packed up and bid Bandera goodbye. Already looking forward to a return to my favorite Texas trail run in 2012 - hopefully healthy and ready to race.