This one begins about a week before Bandera 100K. My training plan had gone well, but looking back I should have added a few more long runs and elevation gain over the weeks leading up to my taper and training in general (things that I’ll apply moving forward). Three weeks before the race I had my final long trail run. This was done at Cedar Ridge Preserve on a weekend where Dallas was hit by a freezing cold front. I did this whole run in 16-17 degree temperatures with a real feel of 0, little did I know that this would be a perfect simulation for the morning of Bandera. I kept this run nice and smooth, with a few stops to use the bathroom and refill my Nathan SpeedMax Plus bottle, and upon completion felt excited to begin tapering for the upcoming race.
Fast forward to one week prior to Bandera 100K. My taper has really just begun, I go to sleep and wake up the next morning only to find that I have some slight pain in my left knee. Thinking that it will go away, I head out for an hour run and by the end of it I’m having trouble lifting my knee up without experiencing pain. From this point on I began to ice my knee, foam roll my leg each day and swap easy runs for cycling on a stationary bike in hopes that the issue will go away. Four days go by and nothing has changed. I start to panic, thinking that I might need to scratch from the race due to the pain and so that I don’t damage anything further. I call a Sports Medicine Doctor and schedule an appointment for Thursday morning before the race to see if they can tell me what is wrong. The diagnosis, runner’s knee. I’m told that despite the fact that I’ll experience some pain with each step at Bandera that racing won’t cause any additional damage. Game on.
The day before leaving for Bandera, my fiance Tracie Akerhielm taped my left knee in order to help relieve some pain during the race. The 5 hour drive down to Bandera went by without anything of note happening. I arrived at Hill Country State Natural Area, picked up my packet/USATF bib and tested out my knee with a quick 10-minute run. Update, nagging pain was still there but I thought I should be able to deal with it. After the shakeout, I drove out with Bryan McKenney and over to the house that the Dallas Dirt Runners had rented for the weekend. When we arrived, spaghetti and meatballs were on the dinner menu and then I prepared everything for race morning in my Victory SportDesign Bear II bag, which I would send out on course with my Nathan Halo Fire Headlamp and some warmer clothes, just in case things didn’t go as planned and I was still on course after dark. I’d like to thank Nikki Davis for organizing the house and being so kind and helpful with everything over the weekend, Jorge Gonzalez for handling all of the delicious meals that fueled and helped our runners recover after their race and the rest of the Dallas Dirt Runners for being so accommodating and generous. This group truly has some of the most caring and thoughtful people you’ll ever meet. Make sure to join us for a run sometime if you’re ever in the Dallas area.
Race morning came soon and I departed for the race start with Robin Phelps and Bryan as the thermometer outside read 17 degrees, arriving around 6:30AM. When we got there, I left my drop bag with the race staff to be transported to the YaYa Aid Station, then huddled in my car until there were 15 minutes til the start. I jumped out at 7:15AM, ran for a few minutes and did some leg swings to warm up before heading to the start line. I decided that given the cool temperatures that I would start out with my Altra Zoned Heat Jacket, a long sleeve shirt and two pairs of gloves and shed layers as needed throughout the race. Things kicked off right at 7:30AM.
The first few miles went by quickly as a pack of 6 (Mario Mendoza, Bob Shebest, Anthony Jacobs, Justin Ricks, Stephen Wassather and myself) ran together. Although it was still under 20 degrees, I decided to drop my jacket, long sleeve shirt and outer pair of gloves at the Equestrian aid station at mile 4.68. Katie Graff, fellow Team TROT teammate and all around amazing person, took my items, loaned me a pair of arm sleeves that kept me warm through the rest of the first 50K loop and I left to catch back up with the rest of the group. We all continued to run together until around mile 11 when Mario started to pull away and our pack became five. A few miles later, Bob Shebest picked up the pace and Justin Ricks followed. It was now Anthony, Stephen and myself running in 4th-6th position. It’s always hard not to go with someone when they make a move and you feel that you’re able to respond, but I wanted to run my own race so I held back. I was still in 6th coming into Chapas aid station at mile 16 where my crew, Katie and Rob Goyen, helped me to refill my bottle with Outlast (new sports nutrition drink mix that I’ve been using with great results). I still felt great as I left with my eyes on the two runners in front of me, despite still experiencing nagging pain in my left knee.
I caught back up to Stephen close to mile 18 and we ran together through mile 21 before he started to pull away. As I approached the Yaya aid station I could see him pass Anthony and immediately leave, not wasting any time. I was once again greeted by Rob and Katie who filled my bottle again and I left, passing Anthony and moving into 5th. I moved quickly along the next section, once again reeling Stephen in. I asked him how this pace felt compared to last year’s race as we pulled each other along. Shortly after mile 24, Stephen moved ahead and Joel Frost-Tift came up behind me out of nowhere. He asked if I knew how far ahead everyone else was and I tried to provide him with an estimate. A pattern emerged for the remainder of the first 50K of the race; Joel creating a gap on me when running the flats and me catching up whenever we came across technical climbs. Eventually we both caught up to Stephen and the three of us headed down the last downhill towards the turnaround point. On our way, we saw Mario and Bob running back towards us and a little bit later Justin. This provided a good gauge of how far ahead they were and what ground needed to be made up on loop 2.
I crossed the turn around split at 4:17:02 as the temperature was reaching its high of the day around 45 degrees. I handed Katie my gloves and also my water bottle which she refilled with Outlast. Rob handed me a Red Bull and I chugged it as I headed back out for loop 2 in 5th place. Within half a mile of leaving the aid station I caught up to Stephen who turned around to ask me which way to go at an intersection. Just minutes ago we had seen Mario and Bob heading up toward us as we were coming down, but we both realized that they had gone up to the right at the intersection instead of taking the correct left turn. I noted that I hoped that they had realized their mistake and turned around before running too far in the wrong direction. Soon after we encountered the first big climb of the loop, I passed Stephen and pressed on. I ran all alone until hitting the Equestrian aid station at mile 36. Rob and Katie were there waiting for me and told me that I was now in 2nd place. Going into the race I knew that a Golden Ticket to Western States would be on the line and if I could hold on, it could be mine. Rob told me that I had to push myself to the finish and let go of everything else; the pain in my knee, the fatigue in my body and any self doubts. This was my time and I couldn’t let it go to waste.
I made my way to the Nachos aid station at mile 42. The adrenaline rush of knowing I was second had started to fade and the pain of the race started to set in. As I approached the aid station I heard someone behind me and cheered Stephanie Violett on as she pressed forward, as she made traversing the rugged terrain and hills look effortless. The word was that Bob and Mario had dropped out of the race and that 3rd place male was only 3 minutes behind. I knew that the 11 mile stretch from Nachos to YaYa would be the easiest remaining part of the course so I hoped to move the best I could until I reached mile 53. Although, my knee was becoming more and more painful with every step, I was reassured by the fact that nobody was catching up to me and by reports that I was now 6 minutes ahead of the 3rd place male. I entered the YaYa aid station and Rob and Katie quickly filled my bottle and I put down some chips and pretzels before heading out for the final stretch. On this section of trail, I felt that I was moving slowly, but I just focused on moving as fast as I possibly could.
My crew filled up my bottle with coke at the Last Chance aid station at mile 58 and sent me on my way for the last time. Within a few steps of leaving the aid station, the cap of my bottle exploded off from the carbonation and took half of my drink with it. There was no time to go back and refill it so I picked up the cap, put it on and charged forward. Only two climbs and two descents remained. I pushed with everything I had left and dashed towards the finish line. I had done it. My reward: 3rd place overall, 2nd male and USATF 100K Trail Champion Runner Up . A huge thanks to Rob and Katie for devoting their time to help me in frigid weather and making sure that I had everything I needed throughout the whole race, including a healthy dose of encouragement. I couldn’t have done this without them. I’d also like to thank my sponsors for providing me with the best gear and equipment around to get me through the course; Altra for the Lone Peak 3.o’s, Victory SportDesign for my Bear II bag and Nathan Sports for the Halo Fire Headlamp (which I luckily didn’t need), SpeedMax Plus bottle and the Phantom Pak.
I am excited to announce that I gladly accepted the Golden Ticket to Western States. I’m both ecstatic and scared at the same time to take on my first 100 mile race at such a prestigious event. I’m fresh off a week of recovery and knee rehab. I can’t wait to get started with my training and see how I handle the 100 mile distance.