Bandera 100k Race Report

Result: DNF

The so-called “Big Stage” is where the magic happens.

It’s where no-name athletes turn into heroes and where heroes turn into legends. Iconic match-ups and games become immortalized, mishaps become catastrophic, and victories become larger-than-life. Career-defining moments happen when successes are magnified and remembered: that’s what the Big Stage is all about. Multi-million dollar contracts are easier to sign if you’ve just helped your team win a World Series, or a Super Bowl, or if you’ve just won a medal at the Olympics or beat the reigning World Champion in the 5k. Success on the Big Stage, at a world-class event with first-rate competition, sets the exceptional athletes apart from the great ones. No matter the sport, there is always a Big Stage. And it’s the Big Stage where greatness is born.

The Western States 100 is possibly the biggest stage in American ultrarunning: it is iconic, historic, challenging, and ruthlessly competitive. For ultrarunners who cover the 100-mile distance, it is undeniably the Big Stage. What happens when you perform well on the Big Stage in ultrarunning? You get noticed. Rob Krar, Seth Swanson, and Dylan Bowman finished 1-2-3 at the 2014 Western States. What happened when it came time to vote for the 2014 Ultra Runner of the Year (UROY)? Krar won the award, Bowman was voted 4th, and Swanson came in 9th. Later in 2014, Bowman became a Global Athlete for The North Face—a position bestowed upon Krar in 2013 soon after he finished second at Western States that year. To be sure, all three pieced together extremely impressive seasons aside from Western States, but those performances on the Big Stage surely loomed large in the minds of UROY voters.

So what is my point? It’s this: you become an elite—exceptional rather than great—by performing well on the Big Stage.

The 2015 Bandera 100k, though it doesn’t boast anywhere near the same prestige as Western States, is arguably the Big Stage for the 100k distance—or at least it’s one of the big stages. It serves as the USATF 100k Trail National Championship and the top-two finishers earn automatic qualification to the 100-mile Big Stage: Western States.

This was my second time racing on a bigger stage and both have resulted in DNFs: the first was at the 2013 Bootlegger 50k, which served as the USATF 50k Trail National Championship, and the most recent, of course, was at Bandera. I was plainly out-talented in 2013, and run-down from loads of racing to boot, but at the race this past weekend, I believed I was ready to compete at a higher level. In truth, I think I was correct in my belief. But I also had a false belief: namely, that I could run two 50-mile races—the Tussey Mountainback 50 the JFK 50—in just 34 days time this fall and still be fresh enough seven weeks later to run my best at Bandera—my first 100k attempt. The signs from training seem clear now in retrospect: I never fully recovered from JFK, which I ran on November 22nd. So, when I finished the first of two loops at Bandera, 50km into the race, in a rather tame time of four hours and nine minutes, rather than having another gear to motor through the second 50km loop, I found my legs had no power, my muscles had inappropriately high levels of fatigue, and my chances of closing the six-minute gap to first and improving my third-place position were practically zero. As a result, I fought in vain to maintain even a decent pace then dropped to fourth place some 10k into the second loop, and finally was relegated to a walk at mile 42—with nothing but extreme discomfort with every step—which I maintained for four or five miles before dropping.

I take three lessons away from the experience: first, I hate, hate, hate to not finish a race and I want to do everything in my power to not let it happen again unless there are legitimate health issues at stake; second, to that end, I’m not yet ready to run three races of 50 miles or longer at my highest level in just 12 weeks time (and an infinite number of kudos to those that complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning and to those that do seemingly crazy things like win three 100-mile races in just 11 weeks time); third, in order to advance to the next level, I need to perform well on a Big Stage. It’s fine to run well or win a low-key ultra, but it’s the big races that really matter, that really prove what you can do. I have been inscrutably lucky in receiving support from such renowned and excellent companies as Adidas, Nathan Sports, Darn Tough Vermont, and Raw Revolution, but those endorsements can seem unwarranted without sufficient noteworthy finishes at top-level events.

I’ll be hoping that the third time is a charm on the Big Stage, and until then I’ll be working my ass off to make that hope a reality.