Three weeks after Bandera 100k, I found myself toeing the line again – this time at the Ray Miller 50k, across the road from the beaches north of Malibu, into the trails of the Santa Monica Mountains. Feeling fulling recovered from the flu and from Bandera, I was anxious to race and see what I could do. I had some smart-ass goals – beat Craig by 30 minutes and run 4:45 which would break the course record. The women’s field was strong – course record holder Jen Benna, Kate Freeman, Bree Lambert – all contenders for the win.
With a start time of 6:00 am, it was advisable to have a light. Thankfully, I remembered mine, and with the most technical, rocky section occurring in the first few miles, I’m sure it saved me from a scraped chin. From the “GO!” I felt strong and light. In the dark I was unsure, but thought I was the first female after a good 10 minutes into the race.
As we reached the highest section of the early part of the race, the sun was coming up and shining on the Pacific. I was in a short train of runners with Jimmy Dean Freeman and Chris Rennaker, and few others I couldn’t determine. Winding up and down we eventually bottomed out in a grassy meadow. I hung onto the train of men as they cruised by for awhile, then two women caught up to me. Kate Freeman, and a new ultra runner, Mandy Hicks. We all chatted a bit, and they pulled away, with Mandy taking the lead. She had run some marathons, but this was her debut at the 50k. She wasn’t sure what would happen after 26.2 miles, but for now she looked pretty damn awesome. It was early in the race, and I didn’t want to get into trouble yet.
At the first aid station I drank from the cups, ate one Clif Shot gel and swallowed the salt supplement they had available. My hydration pack was full of coconut water, and I intended for that to last the whole race as long as I drank from cups at each aid station. I was also sticking to downing a gel in between aid stations – roughly every thirty minutes.
On the climb out, I was joined by Thomas Reiss, and we chatted for awhile until he finally pulled away. I was soon joined by Chris Rennaker and offered to let him by, but he said he was right where he wanted to be. We hung together on the very, very, long and sweet switched back descent, until he got antsy and decided he would rather be going faster. The flat section at the bottom was treed, sheltered, cool and runnable. I cruised along with the men, and commented to one that I was worried about all the downhill, since it meant a big-ass climb was certainly to follow. And I was right. When we reached the road that would take us to the aid station, I began my slow jog up. I passed a few men on the climb, and was passed by “man in blue shorts” – very tan, very toned, and very fit. I could see Kate ahead, and was glad she hadn’t got too far ahead. I pledged to run as much as I could, and maintained that all the way to the top and to the aid station, mile 10 or so. The volunteers were as good as any I had experienced – asking me what I needed, and hurrying me out.
I jumped on the trail, a slight uphill, which quickly turned to downhill. I cruised with some intention, but not too aggressively. I caught Blue Shorts boy again, and asked if I could go around. He gladly let me by, and I felt like I was flying, until I heard AJW and Jen Benna chatting rather casually. AJW spotted me , and yelled “you’d better hurry up Meghan!”. Yikes! I felt like I was running kind of hard already, but decided to push it harder. When we reached the bottom, I was still ahead, and at the water only aid staion, I high fived Jesse Haynes, and cruised through. A climb quickly ensued, and I look down to see Jen. I yelled back to her – “come on Jen!” fully expecting her to catch me. Surprisingly, I gapped her, and passed a couple of men. For the second time in the race, I saw a sign “Awesome Sauce”, which made me feel good, but Blue Shorts was done with the platitudes. “If I see another Awesome Sauce sign, I”m gonna punt it out of the park!” Dude, I said to myself, you need to chill. This is what we do for fun.
He passed me again on the climbs. I could see Kate still, on the climbs ahead. Gradually she came closer, but after every climb, she gapped me on the downhills. Sheesh! I ran the downhills harder and harder, until finally I caught her on a climb. As she let me by, I remarked she would catch me on the downhill, but I managed to put enough space between us that by running like a jackhammer down the next hill, I maintained my lead over her. As the course flattened out again, I caught up to and ran with Mike McMonagle, a runner I had met at JFK 2011, and we ran together the next couple of miles to the next aid station, just under 20 miles. I had seen Kate not too far back, so ate a gel, drank some coke, downed some salt, and yelled to Mike “let’s go!” He was soon behind me as we began another long climb. He felt good, and I let him pass. We both caught Jimmy Dean Freeman, walking, but upbeat. He was planning on dropping, just not doing well at all. But he encouraged me to go after the first place woman, Mandy, as she was only about 4 minutes ahead. Motivated by that and by the desire to stay ahead of Kate and Jen, I soon caught back up to Mike. He was beginning to cramp, and told me that he didn’t actually feel right running in front of me. I chuckled as I went by, and in a few minutes I was alone.
Fortunately the weather was very cooperative. Dry, 60+ degrees, with a light cloud cover. I had been fairly relaxed with the salt given the mild temperatures – maybe too relaxed. At some point a muscle on my lower left leg stopped firing, and my foot toed out and sort of flopped against the ground. Wow, that was weird. Not knowing what else to do, I consciously started using my glutes and core more, and took an S!Cap. It started working again, and I changed my focus to running a hard effort to try and maintain my lead over Jen and Kate, and perhaps close in on Mandy. I finally reached the turning point for the 50 milers to do their out and back 20 mile section, and found myself careening downhill. I was having fun, yet getting a little banged up from the jarring. I ate another gel, and pulled out the S!Caps again, took one, and decided to pop one ibuprofen to ease the pains. There were several technical creek bed crossings, twisting trail sections, some short steep climbs, long ascents down open fields, and I pushed hard through it all, calling in the memories of running the Ice Cream Sandwich run on Cal Street for Western States training.
Cheers greeted me at the last aid station, and sign telling me I had 4.5 miles to go. “You’re second place woman! Good job!” “Where’s the first place woman?” I asked. They pointed up on the hill behind them – and I could see her blue shirt, about 4 minutes ahead. I ate another gel, drank coke and Heed from the cups, and took off on a fast section of gravel road for about a quarter mile, then hit the single track and began the climb up. It felt like more than 4 minutes to reach where she had been, but I began to get beta from hikers and runners on the trail coming in the opposite direction. “You’re closing in on her!” On the last very steep ascent, she was about a quarter mile ahead at the top, and looked over her shoulder, spotting me. I put my head down and ran almost the whole thing. When I crested, she was no where in sight. Running flat again, out of a bend, I saw her, and again, she saw me. There was a stretch of dirt road, and onto single track – the wonderful Ray Miller trail. Every turn to that trail, I could see her. I was closing in but running out of real estate. And then, BAM! My left calf cramped like there was a small rodent inside it wiggling around. Wow – that was weird. I slowed way down, grabbed an S!Cap, and sucked the last drop of fluid from my pack. The calf relaxed, I’m sure due to my slowing, and I picked it up again. This was all in about 30 seconds time, and I was chasing her down again. BAM! A rodent in my right calf now. Wow, this was so weird. I grabbled another S!Cap, just for lack of anything else to do, since we had only about a mile to go. Gradually I picked it back up, and resumed the chase. We both passed Laurie Thornley and I yelled out to her – “I don’t think I’m gonna catch her!”
Mandy continued running fast, and looking back at every turn, ultimately keeping me at bay, finishing in 4:46:57 to my 4:47:49. She greeted me warmly, and we had some good laughs over that last section, where she was sure I would catch her. Shortly thereafter, Jen Benna came in, then Kate, and Bree. Post race atmosphere was celebratory with good food and friends. Laurie and I spotted Craig when he was about 5 minutes from the finish, and I’m afraid I schooled him a bit much – he was 40 minutes back, and proudly announced himself as 6th place female.
Keira put on a wonderful event. Her volunteers were well attuned to the needs of the runners before, during, and after the race. Post race socializing continued for hours as we waited for many of the 50 mile finishers. Running in such mild weather in February is a great draw as well.
Two years ago I competed in Bandera 100k, and was thoroughly schooled by the rocky, undulating, sotol cactus infested course. A 50k loop run twice, I ran the first too hard, and slogged through the second, to a third place time of 10:19. Now, all trained up and ready to run the not-so-unfamiliar course, I was going to overcome that first experience. My game plan – run the first loop super conservatively, and try to run the second loop only 20 minutes slower. I was going to ignore all my female competitors, as that is one factor that can result in my going out to hard.
Race morning was pleasantly mild – in the low 60s with a heavy fog sitting atop of the Hill Country State Natural Area. It had rained heavily the week before, and the stories of shoe-sucking-mud were being tossed around. It didn’t concern me – I knew we all had to do the same course, and I just remained bent on keeping my goal of running easy. The women’s field was good – Liza Howard, Stephanie Howe, Melanie Fryer, Michelle Yates, Sabrina Litlle, and some fine young women I did not yet know. And the men’s field equally exciting – Sage Canaday, Dave Mackey, Karl Meltzer, Jeff Browning, Gary Gellin, Paul Teranova. It promised to be exciting.
My experience with the sotol cactus led in my decision to wear capri-tights. Short sleeves and arm warmers were sufficient to keep warm, and my gloves proved their worth, protecting my hands from random grabbing at sotol, and keeping the sticky gel from my fingers and driving me insane.
The race started at 7:30 sharp, and I kept my eyes focused down on the ground, not letting my brain argue with me by seeing the women ahead. I kept a very easy pace, was patient when I was behind slower runners, and generally stayed relaxed. The first few miles climbed gradually and rockily, and I used small efficient steps up, and relaxed strides on the downs. Like clockwork, at 30 minutes I took my first Powergel. The field of runners was still fairly congested, nice for conversations, and lots of me getting passed on the climbs, and me passing runners on the downhills. I arrived at aid 1 – Nachos – in 57 minutes. Very conservative. I ate another gel, drank from the cups, took an S!Cap and was on my way out. The course took a gradual and twisty downhill, crossed a park road, and then ran down to a creek bed. Running beside it, the mud became part of the story. Not too bad here, but definitely sticking to the shoes. There were a few short steady climbs, and I was still going back and forth with runners near me. I struck up a conversation with a runner who was running his longest race ever. We passed the time to the next aid station discussing races, nutrition, shoes. Finally at aid 2, I drank from the cups, ate another gel, and was on my way. I was still running slow, keeping myself contained and not concerning myself with the women ahead. There were multiple long sections of muddy trail, and as the mud accumulated and made me taller, it was wearying. At times, I stopped and scraped the gluey mess off for a short fresh start. Finally hitting the Cross Roads aid station, I appreciated the supportive volunteers inside and out of the tented area, and was soon on my way to the 5 mile loop that would bring me back to the same station. As much as I would have liked to think I was slow from being conservative, I was beginning to doubt my ability for the day. I started the long climb section, catching a young man who said “oh, man, you caught me!” He was worried about his day, as he felt it was falling apart, and that he may not make the cut-offs. I tried to reassure him that he was having a bad patch, and there was plenty of time to rebound. I bumbled along in front of him, and when I hit a level stretch, heard footsteps approaching. Hoping it wasn’t female, I was pleasantly surprised to see Timothy Olson running the 50k, closely followed by a fellow competitor. We exchanged supportive words, and I began to think that Denise “Little D” Bourassa would be passing me, even though their course put them 5 miles behind us at the start. I was definitely getting into a funk.
When I arrived back to Crossroads, I blew into the tent and almost crashed into my good friend and travel buddy Stephanie Howe. Her eyes welled up as she told me “I’m done.” I quickly hugged her as she told me that she was having difficulty breathing and was pretty worried about it. We had both had the flu (respiratory) ten days earlier, although her cough had developed into something far worse than mine. Regardless, it was sad to leave her there, but encouraged her to crew for me and her boyfriend Zach. She was definitely planning on that, and I looked forward to her help back at the end of loop one. I told her I was going to run faster the second loop, since I didn’t think I could run any slower.
The last nine miles of loop one included some nice runnable territory, and I met up with many of the 25k runners. I cruised into the last aid station, then began the last 5 miles back to the start/finish, which included some serious, rocky climbs. My right shoe had rocks in it that no matter how much I tried to wiggle around would not find a comfortable place to hang out, so I stopped, emptied the rocks, snugged the shoe up, and kept forging on. I had been passing a few 100k men, but no women were evident. All the math I did kept putting at the end of loop 1 later and later. I had hoped to be around 4:50, slower than 2 years ago, so I figured a good conservative split. Now I was hoping to be under 5:00. With each climb I added more time, until I finally stopped as it was not doing me any good. I hit the last rocky descent, and was gingerly dancing down the slippery muddy rocks, happy to know I was almost done with 50k. Running past a volunteer, I smiled. He replied “Nice smile and smooth stride!” to which I replied “Why not – I’m doing what l love!” Not that I was loving my running at the moment, but in the big scheme….
I came into the start/finish. Steph was ready with my fresh pack. I swapped mine out, ate some banana, drank some coke. Then took off, vowing to run faster and work my way up. But it was not to be. Try as I might, my legs were not interested. By the time I reached Nachos again, I was 11 minutes slower than my first loop. Aye-aye-aye this did not bode well. I drank, ate, and left. I seemed to have very little resiliency in my legs. The analyses began. “It’s humid. The mud wore me out. I’m old. I’m not fit enough.” And then I would get a hold of my whiny self and replace the negative chatter with – “I’m so lucky to be here. I am healthy. I don’t have cancer. I’m suffering First World Problems Poor Me.” I didn’t feel much motivation, and was stunned at how much slower I kept getting. Next aid station I filled my bladder, ate some soup, drank from cups – I was definitely keeping up on the nutrition. I ambled out and onto the previously shoe-sucking-mud section to find it had dried to tacky over the last 5 hours. Well at least I could “run” without stopping. I hadn’t seen a soul other than volunteers for 16 miles when I finally heard footsteps approaching. A young woman came up beside me and asked how I was doing. I blurted out from a childhood book – “I’m having a terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-day.” Jeez, what a whiner. I went even further and told her all of my problems, including that I had the flu just a week ago, oh poor me, and that this course just rips me up. “That’s Bandera for you!” she said cheerfully as she glided away. I would have left me as quickly as possible too. Just ahead, Steph and Little D were exuberantly cheering for me, giving me love and support. I told them I didn’t think it mattered how slow or fast I ran the first loop – 31 miles of it destroys my legs. They pushed me on into the aid station at Cross Roads, and asked if I would need anything when I returned in 5 miles. “Well, yes, I’m going to need a headlamp.” Yep – in my arrogance I had not brought one as the plan was to be faster than 2 years ago, and I finished in the light then.
I fueled up again – soup and Heed, filled my hydration pack, and off I went. For about 5 minutes I felt a little revived and got hopeful that maybe my very long bad patch was going to disappear. I watched the woman who had passed me increase her lead. Soon I was back on the single track, but the rockiness was more than my legs were willing to take. I tried to stay relaxed, but was pretty beat up. The downhill turned to uphill, which was more comfortable, but harder. I was now going so slow that all of my excuses just could not add up to what I was experiencing. I was not too old, I was not under trained, the shoe-sucking-mud was not THAT bad, it wasn’t that humid. I was struggling from the after affects of having the flu. Knowing that at the next aid station I had 9 miles to go, I hoped I could talk Steph into pacing me to the finish. I planned on using the tact of “you didn’t get to see the entire course, wouldn’t you like to see it!” When I came in, she had a headlamp for me, and I posed the question, but with different words. “Would you like to experience the last 9 miles at an embarrassingly slow pace?” An innocent bystander said “As someone who has run Bandera, there is no such thing as an embarrassingly slow pace!” Steph was more than ready to run with me, having hoped I would want that. It was good to have the company, especially once darkness fell. We passed precious few runners from the 50k, and when a cold breeze picked up I was even more grateful to have the company to share the discomfort with. And try as we might, neither of us could let go of the fact that we should have gotten a flu shot, and how tired we both were. The last two long climbs seemed to go on forever, and I was overjoyed to finally reach the bottom after a long, rocky, slippery, dark descent.
When we finally reached the last 100 meters, I didn’t even have a kick. I jogged to the finish, to the warm welcome of RD Joe, who expressed only congratulations and jocularity, plus my award – in Joe’s mind, a master is a 50 year old, not the traditional 40, so I was the Bandera Master’s winner, receiving a unique piece of art.
I am 0 for 2 in satisfaction with my performance here, which is unfortunate, because it means I feel compelled to again return next January, with a flu shot, and put myself to the test once again.
I want to thank all of the volunteers, RD Joe Prusaitis, Stephanie Howe and Denise Bourassa for their support during the race. My daughter Ruby for reminding me how lucky I am to be able to run at all. My sponsors, Scott Sports, Injiniji socks, and Garmin. My coach, Ian Torrence, of McMillan Running.