2015 Cactus Rose Trail 100 and 50 miler recap – Part 1 By Chris Russell
I blame Brian. Ever since Brian taunted the Bandera Gods back in Sep 2013 every race at Bandera since then has been marred by “less than ideal” (i.e. crummy) weather. Cactus 2013 was ridiculously warm and humid (thus sealing Brian’s DNF), Bandera 2014 was unseasonably hot, Cactus 2014 was ridiculously hot, Bandera 2015 was freezing rain and mud, and Cactus 2015 was a Schlitterbahn and Tough Mudder combined into one. Even though Brian wasn’t running Cactus this year it seems as if the Bandera Gods are ensuring that no one will ever taunt them again.
I really struggled how best to write this report. I finally decided to give an overview of the weather and trail conditions for those that weren’t there and then do a summary of each of the Rockhopper’s races from my observations and the details I further learned about their races. In doing so I will share much of my own race experiences. Part 1 covers the 100 mile race. Part 2 covers the 50 mile.
The one area where the weather gods cooperated was pre-race Saturday morning. Nothing is worse than gearing up in a pouring rain and being soaked before the race starts. Fortunately the rain held off until after race start (although one could certainly feel the humidity). When leaving San Antonio around 230A the forecast was showing severe Thunderstorms starting around 7a. I was a little skeptical given how wrong the forecast had been all week but sure enough after dealing with some very light rain early in the race the skies opened up a little before 7a and it rained hard for the next 1.5 to 2 hours. Personally I really enjoyed it at first. The rain was cool and refreshing and the trails were streams to splash through. The water did provide resistance and made things a little slippery but the shoes weren’t getting muddy. Plus it was really cool to get to see Bandera up close and personal in those kind of conditions. Lots of waterfalls and it almost felt like one was in the Appalachians.
The rain was fairly steady (and varied in intensity) until more or less stopping around 1pm. On the first loop the tops of the ridges were starting to become bit nasty. Sky was tough to run. It was puddles and slippery rock, The tops of Boyles and Cairns were mostly runnable but rapidly deteriorating. The dirt road into the lodge was unrunnable and an absolute quagmire. When the rain stopped the mud became more prominent. On my 2d loop the ridges got worse and low trails like 7 and 2 were muddy messes. However, the strong wind was drying out the lower but exposed trails like 6, Ice Cream hill section, and the 3s. So some of those were runnable. However, the times this year were much, much slower. Counting only 4 runners (including both 50 and 100 mile runners) broke 10 the first 50 miles. No one broke 9. I ran the first loop 40 minutes slower than I ever had. Granted my fitness wasn’t what it needed to be but still……
However, it was the Sat night when things really got miserable. Fortunately I was done but heard stories while hanging out at the lodge during the night. Sat night a steady and light cold rain came in along with a fairly strong cold wind. The real feel was in the 40s and I was wearing 3 layers just to stay warm walking around the lodge. Runners came in absolutely miserable and very cold. Almost to a person they said the tops of the ridges (particularly Sky and Boyles) had become totally unrunnable and were even difficult to hike fast (especially on tired legs). They were a perfect blend of wet slippery oozing mud and slippery wet rock with a lot of puddles thrown in to ensure things stay wet. Quite a few runners dropped at the end of loop 3 which is unusual that late in the race but they simply didn’t want to go back into the cold wet rain and deal with the terrible conditions of Cairns, Boyles and Sky again.
In talking to runners who did a loop 4 well into sun morning/afternoon they said things improved quite a bit as the sun came out. The last 15 miles had some runnable parts and the sun helped to dry out the more exposed muddy sections.
The 24 100 milers that finished is very impressive and my hat is off to them. My guess around Saturday at 8p was that only 20 of the 58 starters would finish but more than that finish. It took a remarkable resiliency to go out for loops 3 and 4. I only did 2 loops and I doubt if I would have wanted to start a 3d. My legs were worn out from the 2 loops in those conditions.
Okay enough about the weather and trail conditions. Below is my summary of the 100 mile Rockhopper races.
Julie (26:35 – first female and 4th overall) – Julie became the 3d Rockhopper female to win the 100 miler (quick…name the other 2). Julie killed it this race. Given the conditions her splits were amazing! She ran the first 50 in 12:11 and 2d 50 in 14:24. Not much degradation. But it wasn’t by accident. Julie has put in a lot of hours in making her body stronger, leaner and more fit. It really paid off. With dryer conditions she easily would have been under 25 and might have given sub 24 a scare. Notably Julie ran the first 50 miles with Mr Endurance Matt Zmolek who had just ran 102 miles the weekend before. I ran the first 5 miles with Julie and Matt and had a good time in congratulating Julie in chicking Matt at the Habanero Hundred and then reminding Matt of my victory over him at Cactus in 2011 (easily my best race ever). Julie was actually in 3d place at the 50 mile mark and passed Melissa Davis on loop 3 and then passed Lise Plantier at the Lodge between loops 3 and 4. Julie said that she was looking over her shoulder the rest of the way! Even though Melissa and Lise were dealing with some physical issues they are both very tough runners and Julie knew that she couldn’t let up. Anyway…huge congratulations to Julie!
Edward Sousa (27:59 – 8th overall) – When I first saw Edward on loop 2 as I was coming in on loop 1 I thought “there is something different about Edward” but I couldn’t place what it was. Well I crossed paths with Tony as I was going out on loop 2 and Tony exclaimed to me, “Hey Chris did you notice Edward was wearing sunglasses?”. Yep in the middle of the rain with the sun nowhere in sight Edward was wearing sunglasses!! Give the man the Joe Cool award! Edward had a really solid race. He ran the first 2 loops in 11:41. He was around Julie quite a bit on the 3d loop. He slowed down some on the 4th loop and ran it in with Lise Plantier. Oddly the final results have Edward 1 second ahead of Lise but in the actual race Edward (ever the gentleman) let Lise cross first. Edward did admit to me that he did miss the Hawk a little.
Cory Torkelson (75 miles) – Cory crushed it the first loop running it in a very quick 5:23 (especially given the weather conditions). He slowed down quite a bit on the 2d loop and had a really rough 3d loop. As I said before… the 3d loop did a lot of folks in. I was hanging out at the lodge when Cory came in after the 3d loop and it was obvious he was done. He already earned a buckle last year so he had little desire to go out for another 11 hours (not that I could blame him). I did have fun needling Cory a bit about his very fast starts that Rabbers is always lecturing him about. Cory was very good natured about it and admitted that it is very difficult for him to start slow. He just gets too caught up in the moment. I have solved that problem by gaining weight, training less, and being slower in general. Anyway Cory said he might focus on some shorter races in the near term.
John “Bear” Davidson (75 miles) – One knows conditions are tough when the Bear doesn’t finish. He ran a very solid 14:37 the first 2 loops and came in loop 3 at 24:26. I don’t know much about his race so not sure if he dropped after loop 3 or sometime on loop 4. Still good job getting 75 muddy miles in
Jean Perez ( 75 miles) – Jean had a bit of an unusual race. She had a great first 50 miles! She was ahead of me the whole time and came in the first 50 at 13:47. It looked like she was setup for a great race. However the wheels came off a bit for her at 65 when she was having foot and back issues and was generally exhausted (I assume from fighting the elements). She took a long nap at Rockhopper Central. Niki, her pacer showed up and Jean started to feel better so she decided to head back out in the miserable weather and try to beat the 3d loop cut off. She was close but the horrendous trail conditions on Sky , Boyles and Cairns slowed her down too much and she ultimately missed it by 18 minutes. Still I was very impressed by her desire to go back out there in the misty cold and face the hardest 10 miles of the course in an effort to make the cutoff. If she had made the 3 loop cutoff I am certain she would have finished.
Rich Mihalik (55 miles) – Poor Rich’s fate was doomed when the rain first started. It is a shame to because Rich was actually running well. He came in the first 50 in 16:10 but the mud and rain really wore him out and he knew he would be hard press to make the cutoffs. However, he did start loop 3 which is something he had never done before at Cactus. He ran the 5 miles back to Equestrian where he elected to call it a day.
Aash (60 miles) – Perhaps no one was more excited about this race than Ash. It was his first 100 and he had really been training hard recently. He had no time goals. Just strictly wanted to finish. When I headed out on Loop 2, I was eager to see Aash coming in on loop 1 and to see how he was doing. I started to get concern when I came across Rich on top of Cairns because I expected Aash to be near Rich. I descended Cairns and still no Aash. On the trail between Cairns and Boyles I finally ran into Aash. He looked good and spirits were good so I had asked him what happened. Aash said that when the rain hit he got very cold and couldn’t stop shivering. He was only wearing a T-shirt and the man has no body fat. He went into the restroom at HQ to warm up. After a few he went back out and when he got back to Equestrian at mile 15 he was again very cold. He stopped at Equestrian….changed clothes, added some layers and got warmed up. He had a bit of an up and down race until mile 40. He said at mile 40 he started to run with a sense of urgency and ran well until mile 50 where he clocked in at 16:43. He felt good about about his chances of beating the 36 hour cutoff. He continued to run well until his leg (around the shin area) became very painful on the section between Equestrian and Nachos. He had no choice but to walk and was essentially dragging his bad leg. He wisely decided to call it a day at Nachos but in talking to him afterwards he was very upbeat about the whole experience and really felt like he learned a lot. His mom, Rani, was there crewing for him and she was a real joy to be around. She was always trying to give us food!!
Stephanie Bleich – Steph was entered in the 100 but quickly decided to do the 50. I will recap her race when I discuss my epic battle with 63 year old Robert Bleich in part 2. Stay tuned!