Monday, January 9, 2012

My Bandera 100K experience

“You push yourself too hard.” “Don't overdo it.” “Be careful.” “Listen to your body.” This, and more, is what I heard from family and friends going into the Bandera 100K this past weekend. The last one I heard race morning and it hit home because I preach that one to many.
I had been suffering from a sinus headache and congestion all week. A visit with my good friend and fellow Ultra runner Lalo (the Good Doctor) on Tuesday helped to relieve my suffering. By Friday all seemed well. I felt much better and had finally experienced two nights of restful sleep. So going into the race Saturday I felt I had a good shot to finish and do well. Lalo planned to pace me from mile 51 to the finish. We had exchanged text messages throughout the week teasing each other and looking forward to hanging out on the trails together.
Driving on the lonely, hilly two lane Hwy up to Bandera TX from San Antonio under the cloudless predawn sky, the bright full moon hovered like a weightless soap bubble. With the road winding around the hills the moon seemed to move from the left, to my right, then directly in front of me. The moon was so bright, the stars seemed insignificant and I felt it was shining on me like a stage spotlight.
Pre-race socializing with the Rockhopper group was fun. Smiles, hugs, pictures, and encouraging comments were plentiful. Also pleasing was visiting with the folks from Austin and others we don’t see very often. “Are you ready?” I was asked several times. How do you answer that? “Yes”, of course.
I tucked in behind friends Larry and Chris at the start line. These guys are entertaining and although I know I can’t keep up with them, starting with them would be fun.
With two 31 mile loops the Bandera aid stations in order are Nachos, Chapas, Crossroads, Crossroads, Last Chance, and The Lodge.
Start to Nachos;
My legs felt ok as we began running. I had convinced myself that not being able to run the week leading into the race would not be a problem. I’d be rested. And I kept telling myself that as the climbs began. I began to lose sight of Chris and Larry once over Ice Cream hill. At Nachos I refilled a handheld and kept moving still feeling good occasionally coughing to clear my throat of phlegm
Nachos to Chapas;
My legs started to feel tired going down trail eight. I told myself they were waking up. Looking for the smoothest path is fruitless going down trail eight so I let go. On the jeep road leading up to Chapas I began to slow and settled into an even pace. At Chapas I had some ramen noodles.
Chapas to Crossroads;
My legs began to ache. It seemed like every muscle below my waist was hurting and it was getting worse. I attempted to get into an even paced trot on this flat section. I’m just having a bad spell earlier than normal. Yeah, That’s it! I tried taking deep breaths to relax and realized I couldn’t breathe very deeply. Arriving at crossroads my head began to ache just a bit. Maybe it’s the Newton running shoes that are making my legs hurt. I changed into a pair of New Balance I ran the 50 miler in last October.
Crossroads loop back to Crossroads;
There was some relief to my lower legs but the quads and hamstrings felt very weak. It’ll get better was all I could think of. Climbing the three sisters was not too bad but then my lower back began to hurt along with my head aching more. It was the sinus pressure headache that was back. All I could think of was getting back to crossroads and lying down. Arriving at Crossroads Rich’s wife Jeanie spread a towel on the ground for me to lie on. I took some Advil she gave me and rested on my back for about 20 to 30 minutes. The thought of dropping entered my mind. No! I’ll go on to finish one loop then reassess things. It can get better. It will get better.
Crossroads to Last Chance;
I tried again to take deep breaths only to come up short. Connie, running the 50k, passed me on the trail leading to Lucky peak. She looked tired but strong. She asked how I was doing. Breathing was becoming laborious. I tried stretching my neck and felt pain in my throat. Not sore throat pain but muscle pull pain. The Advil I had taken relieved some of the pain in my legs and back but my headache had only dulled and was still there. And now my upper chest was hurting.
Last Chance to The Lodge;
Difficulty breathing continued. I began to think my race was over. Should I stop? But Lalo and I had talked about all the fun we’d have late in the evening as he paced me in! How will I tell him I can’t go on? Can I live with it?
I kept thinking of Mr. Miyagi in the Karate kid movie. “Balance, need to find Balance. No need to prove nothing.” Can I find Balance in this? Can I face the music if I quit? Without being down on myself?
I don’t know how I’ll do it. Quit. But I’m not going on after the Lodge.
Lalo and his wife Amanda tended to me at the Lodge aid Station. I could see the concern and care for me in their eyes. I didn’t want to go back out but could not say the words.
Lalo made it easy for me. He pulled the timing chip off my leg and turned it in. Maybe in explaining to him how I felt I was asking him to throw in the towel for me. I wanted to thank him and at the same time I wanted to apologize.
I licked my wounds but felt I couldn’t leave with my tail between my legs. I stayed to try and offer help to other runners on their quest to finish the 100k. I was able to offer comfort to others who would also drop.
I was able to see my friend Liza come through Last Chance on her way to a second place overall finish. And also give her a hug after she crossed the finish line.
I found more satisfaction at Crossroads aid station where I was able to help some friends on their way to the finish. I also saw Lalo! Pacing! After seeing many friends out of the aid station I thanked Jeanie for all she does and headed home.
It was dark. The road seemed flat. The moon was nowhere to be seen. Covered by cloud cover, it no longer shone on me. The spotlight was off.


Rosario Lovelace said...

Tony my friend, you were not defeated, you just proved that we're not obsessed psycho's.Your encouragment at the lodge carried me through my second loop and I am sure that there were many others that benefitted from your loss. It isn't a race till you lose a toenail and you aren't seasoned till you've had to throw in the towe. There will be many more moons to dance under and the Oso will see his moonshadow again. Thank you for your passion and honesty, you are a great running mentor and the best Oso I know.

Jeff Farrell said...

It's all good good friend Sam V told me 10+ yrs ago....."we're lucky to be at the start line of these things". There will be more start lines!!

Lalo said...

There was no need to apologize then or now. You are one of our leaders and heroes and we are privileged to call you our friend. The spotlight always shines on you because of who you are and not because of what you do. More importantly, you shine the spotlight on others because of the way to treat them: special.

After talking to you when you came in at the halfway point, there was no way I was letting you go back out there. A leg or stomach issue is one thing, but a chest or breathing issue is totally different. These issues should never be taken lightly. The only thing I could think about was what would Veronica tell me if I would let you continue and something happened to you. I knew I needed to help you make the smart decision and call it quits. There is no shame in giving your best shot and making a wise decision based on health. There will be more runs and races in the future. Sometimes we just need to live to fight another day.

You are a wonderful friend and Rockhopper teammate. You show that all the time and you again showed it after you finished by cheering and helping the others. I have really enjoyed getting to know you over the past 6 months and I look forward to our future runs together. See you on the trail soon my friend.


Tony Maldonado said...

Thanks Rosie. It is always great to see your smiling face and to be around your positive attitude.
Jeff, Thanks. I also often think how fortunate we are to have the physical ability to do these crazy runs. There are so many people who, by no fault of their own, are not physically capable of even thinking of doing what we do.
Lalo, Thanks for your kind words. It's always a pleasure being around you and Amanda. I had so much about life I wanted to talk to you about Saturday. But as you said, There'll be another day.