Chris Russell’s Thoughts from the other side (Bandera 2014)

Chris Russell’s Thoughts from the other side (Bandera 2014)

For the first time…I was at Bandera, not as a runner, but as a volunteer and pacer. Below are my thoughts and observations of the day, first as a volunteer and then as a pacer.




– I didn’t have to be there until 730 so I didn’t show up until 730. Very odd to drive in on race day and encounter no other cars.

– It was a gorgeous sunrise. While one couldn’t see the sunrise from Nachos it was cool to watch the changing light on the nearby hills.

– We had a few of the newer folks helping out. It was great getting to know Jessica (Dunn), Kerri and Thor.

– Thor Kooda could be the best name in ultrarunning. Seriously, how can the rest of us even compete?

– There was a Tim and Ellen Smith sighting.

– The ladies quickly took charge. Helena with the snacks and Kerri with the drinks. Later… when Cindy and Claudette showed up they took charge of the grill. All us guys did was pour ice and water and hold top level strategic planning meetings.

– Claudette brought some killer tamales to grill but  NO SALSA!!! What’s up with that??? She tried to blame Jason saying he is in charge of the salsa. Last time I checked Jason isn’t from Mexico. I told Claudette she was going to have to give up the Mexico side of her dual citizenship.

– It was fun seeing the Rockhoppers coming through the first time looking fresh and enthusiastic. Knowing that it was going to get hot later on I was curious to see the contrast the 2d time through.

– I wore Nike Frees while volunteering at the A/S. Not recommended. My feet were already sore before I even started pacing.

– Speaking of footwear, we saw a couple of runners in sandals. I will never understand why someone wears sandals on that terrain. Nothing about it seems appealing.

– I don’t know if it was from the sotol or rocks but sure saw a lot of blood!

– The strangest sight I saw were these two guys running together and wearing matching (yes matching) ugly green singlets over t-shirts. One had to visually see it to fully understand.
– I have some embarrasing stuff to say about Sandy but I will save that for the Rockhopper awards.

– I must’ve told Tom 20 times that I felt bad for Brian in this heat. It was hot just standing around the A/S. I can only imagine how it must’ve felt running in it.

– One person came in wearing all black (long sleeves). I likely didn’t help matters when I said, “Dude you must be burning up in that”

– There was a definite contrast in state of runners 2d time through. It seem just about everyone was really hurting. Including the leaders (the 17 year old kid Ford Smith was in pretty bad shape).

– Speaking of leaders…the sales job Tom did on Matt Smith the 2d time through Nachos was shameless. Poor Matt is hurting and just trying to get some fluids down and cool off a bit and he has to endure listening to Tom explain the benefits of representing the Rockhoppers in the USATF championship. Classic moment.

– But Kim Brown should feel vindicated. As you recall, Kim almost gave Matt a hug after Pedernales thinking he was Dave. Well Chris Porter kept calling Matt, Dave. He thought Matt was Dave Brown. All the skinny, white, bald runners look alike I guess.

– I got big kick out of Ghost’s fan club. Shelley (his wife) and company come walking into Nachos with their fold up chairs. They find a good spot for their chairs. Chat while waiting for Renzo. Renzo comes in. Mad cheering ensues. Renzo leaves. Pack up chairs and head to Chapas. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

– I think the stretch from the Lodge to Nachos on 2d loop is hardest part of the race. First…it is exposed and getting hot. Second…runners have recently completed Lucky, Cairns, and Boyles and now they have to deal with the rugged terrain of Sky Island and Ice Cream with over 30 miles on their legs. Plus there is the mental factor of knowing that after that section you still have 25 miles to go. Considering that runners are coming into Nachos at their lowest point mentally and physically it can seem a bit daunting.

–  Most of the Rockhoppers I saw were definitely hurting second time through. Liza, Brian, and Joe T. had come close to dropping but were still battling. Rachel was running really well but her side was cramping badly. Edward Sousa had developed some knee problems and was afraid he would have to walk the next 25 miles. Fumi and Michelle were battling nausea badly.

–  I was really proud of Joe T. He was fried when he came in and was “done”. He was reduced to walking at that point and Joe disdains walking in a race (the anti-Larry). I know it took a lot of effort for him to start up again.

–  Ironically the runner that looked the best was the Larry ” the Sandbagger” Legend (Julie looked pretty fresh as well). Sure he was doing his typical complaining about his knee and pogoing on one leg blah, blah,blah…but no one else seem to be in better spirits and fresher.

– Maybe the key to the Legend’s success lies in all the stuff he was carrying. The man was carrying a hydration pack full of stuff. He was carrying a 2 bottle waist pack also full of stuff. I’m firmly convinced he was ready to bivouac for the night if necessary.

– One thing I have learned at Bandera over the years is on a hot day the key is making it to 5p. Once 5p hits the temps start to drop pretty fast and a runner will typically feel much, much better. I was really proud of how the Rockhoppers fought through that bad stretch and most of the runners really rallied to some strong finishes and others just gutted it out and got it done anyway. Couldn’t have been more proud to be associated with such great folks. After the Cactus Rose debacle (a day that will live in Rockhopper infamy) it was nice to see the Rockhoppers bounce back strong!



– Several weeks ago I had committed to pacing Michelle the last 15-25 miles of Bandera just depending on what she needed. However the weekend before Bandera she could barely walk. Her knee was so swollen. Fortunately airrosti worked its magic and she was able to tow the starting line.

– When she came into Nachos 2d time she wasn’t doing that great. She was feeling really nauseated and had to stop and sit some from the Lodge to Nachos. Consequently that section took her over 2 hours. Fortunately, while her knee was a bit gimpy it was holding up. We gave her some stuff for her nausea at Nachos and I told her I would meet her at Bar -O.

– When I saw her at Bar-O she said Fumi was walking and feeling sick so she asked me to pace Fumi to Chapas where the A/S folks there might be able to help.

– I headed up trail 7 and met Fumi. I felt bad for Fumi because her legs wanted to run but her stomach wouldn’t cooperated. She repeatedly would stop to see if she could throw up.

– It was still warm so I squirted cold water on her neck and on top of her hair. I don’t think she liked getting her hair wet. Something about the race photos.

– About a mile from Chapas, Jean comes flying past us. Jean was another one who really rallied. Jean said her first 20 miles were so bad that she thought it was her last ultra. But she got a 2d wind and she was running well. Sometimes I forget how fast Jean is when she is feeling good.

– I left Fumi at Chapas. Claudette was there and told me Michelle had come through Chapas not that long ago. I took a couple of shortcuts and was waiting for Michelle on one of the 9s.

– Michelle definitely wasn’t 100 percent but she was moving along as efficiently as she could. Fortunately the temperatures were starting to cool at this point.

– One of my favorite sections of the race is the Field at sunset. I feel bad for the faster runners that miss this. Something about running through the grassland as the sun is going down is very calming.

– Before we got to the Field, Michelle had told me that the Field during loop 1 didn’t seem bad and that it was shorter than she had remembered in the training runs. At the time I chalked it up to first loop excitement.

– However, she was right! It was shorter! Joe had cut about a mile from it. Poor Michelle had to listen to me the rest of the run constantly trying to come up with theories on why Joe cut the field and why did he do it the year I didn’t run? I’m sure she got tired of it.

– After leaving crossroads, Michelle got very cold and was shivering. She commented that she wished she had brought her gloves. So I quickly ran back to Crossroads and got them out of her bag. While I was catching back up to Michelle on trail 1 my schizophrenic headlamp went out (despite new batteries). I noticed that the moonlight was so bright that I didn’t need the headlamp for the wide trail 1. It was a lot of fun just cruising by moonlight solo. Simply a really cool experience.

– Speaking of cold, Bandera has very bizarre cold and and warm pockets. Several times he would transition from a cold to warm pocket or vice versa and it instantly felt like the temp changed by 10 degrees.

– During the sisters loop and all the way up to Last Chance we played leap frog with Jeremy Day and a guy named Phil from TN. In fact Michelle had been leap frogging them much of the race. I know Jeremy but didn’t recognize him at first because he had gone the Full Ricketts. Big beard with a Ricketts Race T. He use to wear a yellow shirt all the time but he was trying something new. He really liked the Ricketts Race T.

– I got to talk to Phil as we were on the sisters. He had really helped Michelle during her bad nausea stretch and actually stopped to sit with her when she had to take a break. Really nice guy.

– One of my favorite things is to get” out of staters” impression of Bandera since it often doesn’t fit their stereotype of Tx. I asked Phil how he liked the scenery. He said he hadn’t seen any scenery since he was looking at his feet the whole time (rocks).

– Phil was telling me about some of the 100s he had done including Leadville. I told him they had a 100 miler on these same trails in October and he should do it. He immediately said “@%$# that!”

– The mashed potatoes and gravy at Crossroads were killer.

– About halfway between Crossroads and Last Chance, Michelle really started to smell the hay and her pace picked way up! Her nausea wasn’t as bad and it really seemed to dawn on her that she was going to finish. I was having to work to keep up with her.

– As we were running into Last Chance, Michelle started to hobble pretty good from a blister. She was worried about being able to effectively run the last 5 miles with a blister. Fortunately Troy was at Last Chance. Troy was waiting for the Legend. I told Troy the Legend was likely finished already but would he mind taking care of Michelle’s blister?

– Troy had it patched up in no time. As we were leaving Last Chance I asked a guy what the time was and he said around 9:15. I was happy to hear this because I knew it meant Michelle had a shot to break 15 hours despite the issues she had been dealing with. I had no idea how accurate he was but I figured we were close enough that if Michelle put the hammer down she could break 15.

– Once Michelle heard she could break 15 she really pushed it after she got to the top of Cairns. I worked up a big sweat just trying to keep up. She flew across and down Cairns and ran up parts of Boyles. She passed several runners during this section.

– The thing I don’t like about the finish at Bandera is how much longer Boyles is than Cairns. Cairns is 1.6 miles and Boyles is 2.4 miles. That .8 miles difference feels much longer. Michelle is running the entire ridge of Boyles but after awhile she says, “Is this ever going to end???!!!”

– I could sense her relief once we started going down Boyles. She flew down Boyles and on into the finish. As we got close to the race clock she asked me what it said. My night vision isn’t the best so it took me awhile but I finally saw a 14. I knew she had it. She finished in 14:53.

– My feet were extremely sore at the end. Combination of standing around in the Nike Frees at Nachos and then doing 20 plus miles of pacing was not a recipe for comfy feet.

– It was great seeing the other Rockhoppers immediately afterward. Brian, Tanya, Jean, Cara etc were there and all had strong finishes. It was terrific to see them in such good spirits.

– I was really impressed with how Michelle handled her race attitude. Even though she was battling nausea, blisters and her knee she never threw a pity party and just had a “It is what it is and all I can do is my best” attitude. Inspired me.
– On the drive home I noticed a lot of cops in Helotes. I guess Brian met one personally.




I did talk to Joe about the Field reroute. He said the new Supt told him no ” bushwacking” so he had to cut out the sections that entail “bushwacking”. He didn’t have time to come up with alternatives. Naturally, I have been spinning my wheels since then to try and figure out where Joe can get a mile back without “bushwacking”.

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