Nine hundred ultra-runners converged on the Bandera Natural Area on Saturday and Sunday to compete in endurance races hosted by Tejas Trails of Round Rock. The runners will be competing in trail races of 100 k (62 miles), 50 k (31 miles) or 25 k (15 miles). The trail runners are from all over Texas and the United States, as well as from between 6-12 foreign countries.
The Bandera race started as a casual friend's run but developed into a qualifying event for the prestigious Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race. Nineteen years ago the first Bandera 100 Race was held at the Natural Area. Each year the runners come back to experience the “trails of rugged and brutal beauty where everything cuts, stings, or bites.” Indeed, the race motto is “no whiners, wimps or wusses.”
Race Director Chris McWatters remarked “I feel this is one of our proudest events. We have given so much time and work in the trails, that this is really a part of the Tejas Trails DNA. It is a humbling thing to be a part of something that means so much to so many people.” The Bandera 100k race has grown over two decades and is now one of the premier long distance endurance events in the country.
The best finishing time for Bandera 100k race participants is 8 hours for men and 9 hours for women, although the race starts at 7:30 AM and closes at 9 AM on the following day. 100 k racers can and do run through the night with the help of headlamps. Most of the trails run through the Natural Area’s rugged hills with only a few flat stretches. It is truly an accomplishment to just finish the course.
Endurance racers otherwise known as “ultra runners” come from many different backgrounds. Most have participated in marathons and half marathons and are looking for something more challenging. Some are outdoorsmen and women who enjoy nature and are hiking enthusiasts or bird watchers. All come with serious faces and the obligatory hydration backpack.
The Race offers five aid stations with hot and cold food and drinks as well as medical services. Some racers have a personal “pit crew” that keeps them going throughout the aid station stops. Some racers come as singletons ready to take on the course alone.
Tejas Trails is intense about its responsibility to take care of the runners and meet their needs. One thing is obvious to the casual observer – these people are open and friendly and take care of each other whether on the trail or in camp. It felt like a big family reunion where everyone stopped in groups to chat and discuss the race. Families with parents, children and dogs cheered on the runners as they crossed the finish line.
On Saturday, Jonathan Rea from Boulder, Colorado came in first in the 100k men’s division. He said “I took the first half of the race just to take care of myself. I promised myself that I could race in the second half, but I waited until about the three-quarter mark to really start racing. I just hung on and tried to keep my confidence up. The last 10 miles were not fun, but I kept on.”
Another finishing runner commented “I missed the Golden Ticket by 2 minutes, but I finished well.” All the trail runners seemed to be positive about their race experience as they slowly walked to their RV, trailer, tent or car. Most were covered in mud from the waist down displaying assorted scratches and gouges, some of which were bloody.
Women’s 100k winner, Marianne Hogan from Montreal, ran across the finish line with energy to spare. She just kept smiling when Race Director Chris McWatters presented her with the Golden Ticket. Hogan was bursting with good cheer and when asked why she chose to race said “I came out to see if I could get the Golden Ticket, of course.”
The top three runners were presented with a trophy, belt buckle and other assorted swag but only the top two runners in the men’s and women’s divisions got a pass (The Golden Ticket) to qualify for the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race.
When this story goes to press, the race will be over for another year. But the trail runners will be back. They will come out in the cold and rain, overcoming their mental and physical challenges to test themselves against the long distances and dangers of the Texas Hill Country.