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The Road to Bandera Part 1: Chicago to the Grand Canyon

On June 25th of this year, I spent about 10 hours watching the amazing live coverage of the Western States 100-mile endurance run. As a huge fan of the sport of ultra-trail, this was highly entertaining but also a dangerous proposition for someone with easy access to Ultrasignup and a plethora of races to sign up for. It did not take long for me to be researching what races were qualifying races for Western States. There are several ways to get into Western States, you can run a qualifying race and finish under the required time to get one ticket in the lottery, or you can finish in the top two at any of the 7 golden ticket races and get an automatic entry. The Bandera 100k checks both of those boxes and so I signed up! The top two finishers get golden tickets into Western States 2023, and all finishers under 17 hours get into the lottery for 2024. I have decided to bring back my blog to share my training for the Bandera 100k, I will be starting from the completion of my last training block that led up to the Chicago marathon, enjoy!

On Sunday October 9th I ran the Chicago marathon. It was an amazing day; I ran a huge PR of 2:33:35 and never felt so strong throughout a marathon. Afterwards I took things pretty light for a couple weeks. I took two days off from running before getting back into some very easy running.

Monday October 10th: Off

Tuesday October 11th: Off – 2.5 miles of easy biking with cross country team

Wednesday October 12th: 6-mile easy run with summer group

Thursday October 13th: 5-mile easy run with Rosa’s group at Wash Park

Friday October 14th: Off

Saturday October 15th: 11-mile easy run with summer group

Sunday October 16th: Off

Weekly total: 23 miles of running - 3.5 hours

The following week I again kept things light and ran mostly with my cross-country team and at group runs. I capped off the week with an amazing bike ride in Boulder with the Newtown boys: Kevin, Max, and Erik who was in town visiting.

Monday October 17th: 3.1 mile run with cross country team in the AM to scout the regionals course, 5 mile run in the evening at Sloan’s Lake.

Tuesday October 18th: Off

Wednesday October 19th: 6.2 mile run first solo and then with the high schoolers

Thursday October 20th: 2 miles of easy running around the course at regionals, followed by 3.1 miles pacing Averi on the regionals course!

Friday October 21st: Off

Saturday October 22nd: 7 mile run with the high school team

Sunday October 23rd: 31 mile bike ride with the boys!

Weekly total: 26.7 miles of running, 31 miles biking - 6.5 hours

Week 3 after Chicago we started to ramp things back up a bit, I actually ran every day this week as I ran with the high schoolers a good amount as it was our last week of practice leading up to states. I had two high school athletes go to states this year and they both did phenomenal!

Monday October 24th: 5 mile easy run at Sloan’s Lake group run

Tuesday October 25th: 4 mile run easy run + strides with the high school team

Wednesday October 26th: 4.5 mile easy run with the summer group

Thursday October 27th: 5.3 mile easy and snowy trail run with Jon + 4 miles easy with the HS team

Friday October 28th: 2.6 mile shakeout run with the HS team

Saturday October 29th: 3.5 miles warming up with Nick and Allison and running around the course cheering at States

Sunday October 30th: 11.7 mile long trail run with DTR. Lots of stopping to regroup made for a long morning but it is always great to run with the DTR people!

Weekly total: 41 miles - 7 hours

Heading into the 4th week post Chicago I had decided to take a road trip and head to the Grand Canyon to run a bucket list trail: rim to rim to rim. This involves running from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to the north rim and back for a total of 45 miles. I drove from the Denver area to the Grand Canyon on Tuesday November 1st, a 12 hour day in the car. I did get to drive down this iconic road that has a very popular running scene in a movie...

I found a place in the national forest to camp, heated up some pasta I had brought, and got bundled up in my sleeping bag in the back of my Subaru. I surprisingly slept very well and woke up at about 6AM to have a small breakfast, change and get to the trailhead. As the sun was rising, I embarked from the South Kaibab trailhead and began my 6 mile descent down to the Colorado River. At sunrise each day a train of mules carry supplies down from the south rim to Phantom Ranch and so unfortunately, I got stuck behind one of these on my way down, I also took it a bit slower than I had planned as it was very steep and technical and I was not interested in rolling an ankle or falling this early in my journey.

I made it to the river in a little under an hour and settled into a rhythm as I made my way across the canyon and then gradually started ascending towards the north rim. In retrospect, I should have gone slower on the descent from the south rim as my quads were feeling fairly beat up. I also should have stopped to filter some water from the creeks when I had the chance. I wanted to travel as light as possible so I used gels and water mixed with Nuun to fuel and hydrate. It wouldn’t be until I had left all water sources behind that I realized I was getting very tired of sugary drinks and fuel sources.. The Grand Canyon is spectacular, this was my first time going down into the canyon and it won’t be my last. You really feel the immense power of nature when you are down there surrounded by towering canyon walls. I reached 10 miles in about 90 minutes and felt good about my time but I knew that I had a ton of climbing still to go.

Again, with hindsight being 20/20 I know that I got competitive too early. I should have focused more on enjoying the experience and taking it all in, instead I was thinking about trying to break the unsupported fastest known time. The climb out of the north rim humbled me. I had been moving pretty good for almost 20 miles but the last few to get to the north rim kicked my butt. I was physically and mentally beaten down and as I trudged forward, struggling to lift one leg after the other, doubts began to creep into my mind. Could I safely make it back across the canyon? Did I have enough calories? How long was this going to take me and would I be forced to hike out of the south rim in the cold and dark. I had enough service to look up if there were shuttles running from the south rim to the north. While I couldn’t find any, I decided that what I needed most was some plain water and rest. I reached the north rim 4 hours 15 minutes after I embarked from the south rim, a very respectable time, but about 45 minutes slower than I had hoped and on the flip side, probably much faster than I should have gone considering the shape I was in. There was no water at the North Kaibab trailhead but there was a spicket a half mile up the road. I somehow missed the spicket and continued on to the visitor center. While the visitor center was closed, a park ranger was there and he was able to tell me that there was a 2pm shuttle back to the south rim that would cost $120 and he gave me the number to call. At this point a strong wind had picked up and he told me that a winter storm was coming in quick. The north rim is notoriously wintrier than the south, hence why the north rim closes in November while the south stays open year-round. I called and got myself a seat on the shuttle. It was a very difficult decision, but I knew that I was in rough shape and while I could go back down in the canyon and drag myself out the other side, there was an increasing chance it could turn into a very dangerous situation. I am confident that had this been a race situation with aid stations and crew to support me, I would have been just fine, but going back down in the canyon self-supported with less calories and winter gear than I likely would need was not a wise move. I did not want to be one of those people who was unprepared and got themselves into trouble and needed others to help them out of it. Putting other people in jeopardy by forcing someone to come rescue me from the canyon was not something I was willing to do. I learned a tremendous amount about myself and what to do and not to do in these types of long endurance objectives. Here are a few that I will be taking into the Bandera 100k in January.

1. Run intuitively in the first half, not competitively

2. Have plain water in addition to electrolyte mix – I plan to try salt tabs again to see if this will work better

3. Plan for the worst-case scenario, not the best. I was planning for 6-10 hours, I did not bring my headlamp, a winter hat, or an extra long sleeve shirt since I was expecting to be done by sunset. I should have planned for the worst-case scenario so that even if things went south, I had whatever I needed.

4. I thrive when I get to run with others. Doing an objective like this solo was really tough. Had I been with someone else it would have been more enjoyable and I would have had someone to hold me back when I wanted to go too fast too early, someone to talk sense into me when I blew past the last water source in the canyon.. At Bandera I plan to find some other people to run with to enjoy the experience to its fullest and have people to share in the suffering with.

On the bright side, I made it out safe, I was soon in a warm van heading back to the south rim and I lived to tell the tale. On the van ride back, I spent a lot of time thinking and reflecting on the experience and taking notes on what I learned and what I could have done better. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them. I was annoyed with myself for making similar mistakes to the ones I made at Mace’s Hideout 100 in June 2021. But I needed to relearn these lessons and now I am determined to be smarter with how I approach Bandera and other endurance events in the future. Because I shortened the overall adventure, I was able to drive to Flagstaff that night and take a shower, eat some delicious Thai food and have a good night’s sleep in a real bed. That winter storm had rolled in good, so I didn’t have any interest in staying around the Grand Canyon to hide in my car form the snow and cold. Spending the night in a warm bed was just what the doctor ordered. However, it was hard for me to avoid the thoughts of judgement and regret. I was angry and disappointed with myself for not finishing what I set out to do. So, I decided to go for a run the next day in Flagstaff on the beautiful A1 Mountain Road which is a long dirt road that many runners in Flag use for their long training runs. I ran about 7 miles and ran off some of my upset by pounding the dirt road with my Hokas. I then went back to the hotel and took a soak in the hot tub to ease the body and the mind. I then drove down to Cave Creek, AZ where my friends Adam and Hannah were getting married. It was a weekend with too much drinking, not enough sleep, and lots of fun.

I did get out for a 9 mile long run on a really nice trail surrounded by Cacti. My watch died on the run which I was honestly okay with. I don’t run without a watch often so it was a good reminder to forget about the distance or pace and just focus on being present.

Monday October 31st: Halloween costume run with the crew at Sloan’s Lake! 5 miles dressed as Ace Ventura!

Tuesday November 1st: drive to Grand Canyon

Wednesday November 2nd: rim to rim: 26 total miles in 5 hours 22 minutes

Thursday November 3rd: 7.2 miles on A1 Mountain Road Flagstaff

Friday November 4th: Golf

Saturday November 5th: 9 miles in Cave Creek

Sunday November 6th: Off

Weekly total: 47ish total miles - 8.5 hours

Here is my video recap of rim to rim!

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