The Bandera Blues
I went into this race knowing it would be an uphill battle, but I hoped that I would at least have a fighting chance to earn that buckle. It did not seem so around ten miles in.
My right IT Band had been giving me problems since two weeks after Cactus Rose 50 mile, when I ran the San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon. I was probably not fully recovered from Cactus, and the 26 miles of pavement agreed it was too soon, but I had committed to being there and I wanted to enjoy the event with my father again. Since the marathon, I tried doing yoga a couple times weekly, IT band stretching most nights and some foam rolling the last couple weeks prior to Bandera. The day before the race I felt as ready as I could be, however, I had my doubts; a massage just 7 days before the event was fairly painful and my foam rolling just three days prior was a pretty unpleasant experience.
The race begin just fine, and I felt wonderful through mile 10 or 12. It felt just like our old training runs on Saturday mornings, logging 20-25 miles at Bandera with relative ease all summer. Then I felt a sadly familiar twinge, and a sharp but short pain, followed by a brief but unnerving loss of sensation in the right knee area. I started playing with my stride; I shortened my cadence greatly, tried using my arms to propel me more than legs, I even extended my walk breaks longer than I’d have liked. To no avail, I worked against what I feared to be the inevitable.
At this point, thoughts of DNF started entering my mind. I figured, however, I could totally deal with this. The issues weren’t great enough to make me miss any cut-offs and I could still jog at a decent rate for a few minutes at a time and my nutrition was absolutely wonderful, which was probably the most upsetting thing of the ordeal. I finally find a nutrition strategy that works, but I can’t run to my potential. Upsetting also, was the fact that at this point of the course we are on the most runnable section and I can’t really take advantage of it.
I hobble, more or less, into crossroads aid station at mile 17 and grab some snacks and refill bottles. I start scrambling for anything that can help mask the issue at hand and pop on my iPod. The music is welcomed, but not helping my knee much. I start having a harder time now being able to run for any decent length of time. Typically, a minute or two max before it becomes pretty painful. Near this point, one of the Rockhoppers, Rich, catches me. Rich is pretty much awesome – he has hosted running weekends for us out at Bandera and provides incredible aid with the help of his wife, Jeanie, at all these races. Rich offered to let me use some of his anti-inflammatory/painkiller muscle rub when we reached the coming aid station. I was set on dropping, but I dared not tell Rich after his generosity, and figured I would give this a shot. At the station, I took my time and refueled before applying the ointment, now starting to realize that I am so behind on time, all of my lights and jacket will be out of touch when it gets dark.
I head out of the aid, not noticing any benefit of the ointment. I may not have let it sit long enough, or perhaps not used enough, but I came to this race to run, and the thought of babying myself for countless minutes just to hobble into the night was displeasing. I find my peace and passion in running, not in walking to a finish. However, I trudged on, wondering if the ointment will seep in after a few miles. I pass the open field section and move into some tree-covered area leading to the most unpleasant climb of the race named Lucky. I become pretty despondent at this point, as no one seems to be passing me, and I am surely not passing anyone else. I try running every few minutes, only to curse myself when I can’t even muster more than ten steps. I look at my watch and realize Ellen will be arriving soon, and how she would be stuck up until 2 or 3am if I tried continuing the second loop. I thought about my friend I promised to pace at Rocky in February and how I don’t want to let him down if I mess up my knee and can’t commit. I start thinking about all the great runs we have had out here, and how good I have felt running this very trail in the past. This is the place where I really found peace in running and enjoying the basic pleasures of running through the countryside.
Then I hear some laughing, chatter, and eventually footsteps. I step aside to let them pass and look back, and realize it’s one of our Rockhoppers, Jessica, and a couple of her running friends. She kindly offers to let me keep the lead as we meet the foot of a tall climb. I decline, as I am obviously not fit to in present condition. We exchange hello’s/goodbye’s and they move on up the hill. I can’t help but take note of how happy they all looked and sounded as they moved up the hill, joking and laughing, looking fresh and strong. I find myself both incredibly jealous and sad that I can’t be in their shoes. I probably hit my lowest point here, as I am back on my own and I can’t shake the thought that running, at least for the next few weeks, will not be an option for me. I start feeling that void opening and just sucking all my happiness into it, and all I can do is hobble forward up some hill that only months ago I was frolicking over with utmost ease. The sun was out and scorching, but I didn’t even notice. The rocks hurt and my feet were sore, but they were the last of my concerns. I just wanted to run. So I gave it another go. Straightened my back, squared my shoulders and hopped into stride. Jarring pain in the knee again. Immediately. I am done.
Then I hit the Last Chance aid station, where Olga was working. Olga has a reputation of being a race angel, performing miracles on runners who, otherwise, had no chance at finishing. I know of at least four people she personally helped back at Cactus Rose to finish their race. My arrival at the Aid Station was low-key at first. I was going to walk in, get some water and head to the Lodge which was a quarter mile down. Then a worker noticed my shirt which had the Trail Runner Nation logo on it, and said “Hey, you’re the Ninja!” I laughed a bit, nodded and introduced myself. Then I see Olga look over from her seat and say “Is that Tim?!” At this point two thoughts run through my head. 1)I tell Olga I am finished, and have her smite me down and also leave the image with this guy I just met, who holds me in some regard, that I am a quitter. 2) Take the advice I know Olga is about to give me, and give this race one last shot.
So back to the present moment, I reply to Olga and say hello. She sees I am struggling and starts running through the potential fixes for my knee. The only solution available at the time was Ibuprofen. This is not something I care to do in a race, ever, but I was at Last Chance, right? Olga was very cautious in giving it, making sure I’d been drinking plenty and will continue too. I knew my nutrition had been pretty good so far so I was comfortable taking it. We say adios, and I charge on to see what the next five miles hold for me.
Leaving the aid station, I happen to see another Rockhopper, Tom, and he mentions that one of his old buddies, Jay Alvarez, is just up the trail and I should say hi. It’s weird how these things work out really. I manage to catch up, as he had been dealing with some severe cramping for a while. I am pretty terrible at random chatter, so I couldn’t really think of anything to say. Honestly, I was going to pass him and just wish him good luck. As I passed by though, he took note of my shoes and asked how I liked my Cascadias. We went on to hang together the entire next 5 miles or so until the start/finish.
I will note that I did try running a handful of times here, to no avail. All I really wanted to do was run. I don’t want to walk for a medal. I don’t even care about the medal. I just wanted to find that joy again of running through the hills for hours. That was plainly not going to happen as my knee just had zero strength left and my left ankle was swelling due to the extra weight I was putting on it, so I made the call to end it at the 50k mark and try to focus the rest of my efforts that night on supporting the other runners and chatting with finishers and Ellen.
I am incredibly thankful to Rich/Jeanie, Olga, and all the aid workers who wouldn’t take no for an answer and tried to revive my knee. I hope it is known that I gave it my best, and in the end, I dropped not out of weakness, but in hopes of running strong again soon. I have many rocks to frolic over.