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Bandera Training run

Bandera Training run

Our latest trip to Hill Country State Natural Area brought out some new Rockhoppers. Ivonne, Travis, Christine and Tim were also out on these rugged trails for the first time and they are registered to run The Bandera Races out here January 7!

The weather was drizzly and foggy so we had no majestic views of the hills but we had a great time getting to know each other and catching up with the “Oldies” too.

Good luck to everyone running 100K 50K and 25K in two weeks.bandera1 bandera2

Chris’ Cactus Rose recap

Chris’ Cactus Rose recap

Sat morning was gorgeous. My car thermostat was showing 41 degrees when I got to Crossroads around 745a. The sunrise was incredible. Felt weird wearing a jacket.

– While Sat morning was gorgeous…Saturday afternoon was plain hot. The high may have only hit 80 but the sun was very intense and it was a 40 degree temperature rise from the morning.

– I have come to the conclusion that most female runners are tougher than guys. When I was at Nachos in the afternoon….waiting on Sheila there were a lot of runners in bad shape. They ran too fast in the cool morning weather and then were cooked by afternoon sun.  Quite a few male runners were at Nachos for an extended period of time trying to recover. The ones that were doing a 100 almost all dropped after 50. Rebecca Gartrell came into Nachos. She ran out of water 40 minutes prior and spent a lot of time at Nachos throwing up. However, she ended up finishing 3d female in the 100.

– Finishing rate for the 100 was 45%. 42 runners started….19 finish. I think the big temperature swing was a big reason for low finishing rate.

– Rabbers is convinced that more and more rocks get thrown onto Bandera trails every year. He won’t touch the 100…which is funny coming from a guy who has done many mountain 100s.

– Some young girl was leading the 100 through mile 55. I talked to her then and she was commenting how the rocks weren’t as bad as she expected. She dropped at mile 70 and signed in the book that she was “tired of this place and she was done” (paraphrase). I guess the rocks eventually got to her.

– Times were way slower across the board. The new course is a little bit longer. 50 miler is a solid 51 miles and 100 miler is a solid 102 miles.


100 miler


Julie Koepke – 24:23. 1st female. Julie is amazing. She had very little time degradation from 1st 50 miles to 2d 50 miles. That is phenomenal because Bandera is not an easy place to run at night. Soon she will break 24.

Cara Bass – 29:25. 2d female. Cara had some struggles at times but she hung tough. Hearing mountain lion growls gave her an adrenaline boost.

Sheila Pinkson – 33:24. This was Sheila’s first 100. She was very determined the entire time which made my job as crew much easier. Not once did I have to try and talk her into continuing on.

Jean Perez – 33:32. Huge day for Jean! She got her 400 mile buckle AND earned her Cactus 500 mile jacket. Only 2d Rockhopper to do so!!!

Lisa Keough – 35:18. Really proud of Lisa. She had a really rough start to the race and was pretty discouraged after 1st loop but she stayed with it and got the finish.

Michelle Green – 65 miles of fun. I felt bad for Michelle. She really wanted this but severe nausea (couldn’t keep in any fluids/Calories) derailed her.

Monica Egner – 50 miles of fun. I also felt bad for Monica. She also really wanted this but her previously injured foot started hurting her during the race so medical convinced her to quit before the Bandera rocks made it worse.

Rich Mihalik – 50 miles of fun. Rich set a PR the first loop but the intense afternoon sun did him in. still Rich notched another 50  miles and puts him that much closer to get 500 miles out there.


50 miler


Lorenzo Sanchez – 9:08 2d male. Renzo tried to bromance with Rabbers but Rabbers 2d loop pace was even to slow for Renzo. Renzo did get close enough to 1st place runner to spook him at the end.

Rabbers – 3d male. 4th time is aa charm. After 3 DNFs here…Scott gets it done!!!!!

Adam Mendoza – 11:38. 1st Masters and smart enough not to beat Fumi’s best time at Cactus

Ed Brown – 11:56. It was great to see Ed! I haven’t seen him in awhile. Ed may have the best positive split of the day. A sizzling 4:45 first loop followed by a leisurely 7:11 enjoying the afternoon sun.

Daniel Cadena – 12:53. Daniel is a good friend of Tony’s. He looked great all day.

Tom Bowling & Ash Kabra – 13:35. They were strong first 42 miles but then ‘bonk bromanced” it the final 8 miles.

Larry Kocian – 13:51. It was also great to see Larry. Been awhile. The heat also got to Larry some the 2d loop (plus there are no rocks or hills in Houston) but he held on long enough to finish just ahead of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Gonazalez – 13:57. Typical Elizabeth race. Her 2d loop was about the same pace as 1st loop and steadily moved up all day. She flew that last mile dropping an 8:30 pace

Katherine Fuglaar – 14:11 Great race by Katherine! She ran with Elizabeth the whole time until Elizabeth’s burst of energy at the end.

Carrie Knapp – 14:15 Carrie ran most the of the first 50 miles with Jean and Lisa. She also looked very storn at the finish. As I said…women do a better job pacing themselves.

Kay Perry & Delaine Garcia – 17:04 Kay and Delaine had a great time.  they enjoyed themselves more than anyone!

Texas Trail Championship Spring Season Results!

Texas Trail Championship Spring Season Results!

Hey Gang, I wanted to share a few of the proud moments the Rockhoppers enjoyed at the awards ceremony for the Spring season. This occurred last night prior to the Fossil Valley Night Race up near Dallas.  For the team awards, the Rockhoppers took first place in the Ultra category and second in the Trail category.  We have given the award to the top point getter on our team, so Scott Rabb was given the Ultra award and Joe Schmal was given the Trail award.
We really had a number of stars on our team who ran multiple races in both categories &/or more than the maximum 4 races in one category. This included Scott & Joe, as well as Julie Koepke, MJ Redman, and Nate Smith.  Nate finished fourth in his age group in both categories, but was a top ten point getter for our team in both categories.
I picked up age group awards for the Rockhoppers who did not make the trip, so we need to find a way to get the awards to these deserving folks.  One of the things we are doing for the Texas Trail Championship Facebook page is to ask age group winners to get a picture of themselves on the trail (preferably their favorite trail).  I included some pictures of the age group award (front & back).
Chris posted results earlier this week, but I am going to share them again. I was at the front collecting these awards and the Rockhoppers took a majority of these awards: I carried 10 awards home for team members, not including those for Julie, Scott, & Joe!
30-39 F Julie Koepke – 1st
40-49 F Anabel Pearson – 3rd

29 & Under M Aash Kabra – 1st
40-49  M  Scott Rabb – 1st
50-59  M  Thomas Bowling – 1st
John Davidson – 2nd
60-69  M  Rich Mahilik – 2nd

19-29  F  Alicia Stoll – 3rd
40-49  F  MJ Redman – 1st
50-59  F  Michele Genereux – 3rd

19-29  M  Thor Kooda – 2nd
Nathaniel Guidotti – 3rd
30-39  M  Joe Schmal – 2nd
40-49  M  Scott Rabb – 1st
Ulises Marrufo – 3rd
60-69  M  Don Flynn – 2nd

Congratulations to all and let’s get it rolling for the Fall Season.



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Syllamo! March18-21, 2016

Syllamo! March18-21, 2016

Syllamo was a 3 day race. Friday was a 50K, Saturday was a 50 miler and Sunday was a 20+K. Brian, Rachel, Tanya and Jason Espalin (i.e. the Spleens), Ash and myself did the stage race together.


Great race setting – All of the races originate from the Blanchard Springs Campground in the Ozarks of Arkansas. Blanchard Springs Campground is nestled in a valley and has immediate access to a gazillion miles of trails.. It is very secluded and low key. In many ways it reminds me of the Lodge area at Hill Country State Park except more water (Sylamore River runs right through it) and bigger hills. There is a really nice pavilion area and a big grassy area that is great for relaxing post race. There is also the very cold Sylamore River readily available for a post race ice bath. Even though all races originate from the same area….the RD did a great job of making the course for each race feel quite a bit different than the others and emphasize different scenic aspects of the Ozarks. Most of the routes were single track with some jeep road mixed in.


Old school style race – After Sunday’s 20K, I made the comment to Steve (the RD) that it was an old school style race and he said that was his intent. What I meant by old school style race is that the race was low key (not a lot of fan fare) and non elitist. That is probably why the Legend didn’t come. While there were some very fast runners….there wasn’t a lot of fuss over them and the RD did a great job on congratulating everyone on their finish. There also weren’t a ton of runners…less than 200 for each race. By the first A/S the field was generally pretty well spread out. Even the markings were old school. When I first started doing trail races in 2005…most races were marked with flagging ribbon and flour (on the turns).  There were never arrows or wrong way signs (yes Tejas Trails has spoiled us). At Syllamo the RD just used flagging ribbons at major turns (sometimes flour) with the occasional confidence ribbon. Honestly, the trails were well marked but one had to pay attention. Brian, Rachel, Tanya, Jason and Ash all missed one or two turns in the 50 miler. Ash was a funny story. I was about 50 yards behind him around mile 19 and we were running up a jeep road. I was alone in my thoughts (i.e. thinking about how miserable I was feeling) and heard some runners about 20 yards ahead of me yell ahead at a runner that he missed the turn. I looked up and it was Ash they were yelling at! The problem was Ash had his earbuds in and couldn’t hear them. Time to crank up the Chris Russell voice and it overpowered Ash’s earbuds and we got him back on track. Funny thing is the exact same thing happened about 10 minutes later. Ash learned his lesson and didn’t get off course after that. I was feeling smug about not being the only who didn’t get off course in the 50 miler but that was inviting too much bad karma from the Trail Gods. Tanya and I got way off course in the 20K and may have costs us close to 30 minutes. The flagging was clear (it was a sharp 90 degree turn) but I wasn’t paying attention.


Hardcore Runners – I was very impressed by the quality of runners at the race. A lot of the runners were older but it was evident they had been doing this for many years (including stage races) and I would often hear them talk about races they had done. I thought it was impressive that a good number of starters did finish the 50 miler within the tight 14 hour cutoff despite doing the 50K the day before. They were very smart in their pacing and recovery. Many do Syllamo every year. Even in the 20K on Sunday most of them were running right away and it took me about 4 miles before I found anything resembling running legs. To give an example of the type of runner there….I ran with a gentleman the first half of the 50K. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1988 which was same year I graduated from the Air Force Academy. So we had a bit of a bond. He told me that when he retired in 2012 he celebrated it by running across America. I asked him what route he took.? My assumption was he would tell me in general terms (went through such and such states in Northern Part of US). Instead he started off by saying, “well on Day 1 we did28 miles and we took such and such trail for 8 miles before we had to run on road for 15 miles, blah, blah, blah and then on Day 2 we went 35 miles etc……..”. I got the full blow by blow! It was great. Kept me entertained for a long time and I was amazed by his memory. For those curious he was able to heavily utilize a lot of the rails to trails projects in Northern part of US.


VRBO is the way to go – We stayed at a Vacation Rental By Owner which comfortably slept all of us. It was perfect for a stage race format. We each had our own bed but had a nice central living area to congregate in and hang out. Really made the event a lot more fun. Although actually getting into the house was a bit of a scavenger hunt. The directions for getting the key were a bit cryptic (open the gate by the back stairwell and the key will be on top of such and such). The gate wasn’t obvious (and a bit camouflaged)  and once we finally figured it out it took several more minutes to find the door the key worked in. Felt like I was playing one of those old graphic adventures. The other good part of the VRBO was it made it a lot easier to get up in the morning for each race knowing that the others were doing the same thing (despite being sore and tired). Both Saturday and Sunday morning I looked at Tanya and said…”This is the dumbest idea ever”. A stage race would be tough to do solo.


Experiencing local culture part 1 – One of the best things about ultra running is it often takes us to places that otherwise we would never go. Gives us a chance to absorb local culture and get out of our respective bubbles. We were staying in Mountain View, Arkansas which bills itself as the Folk Music Capital of the World. Unfortunately the big folk music festival they had was a week prior but the evidence of its folk music heritage was all over. It is also the heart of Bible Belt (my people!:)). Consequently, one sees advertisements for things like a Bluegrass Gospel service (let’s blend some folk music with some bible belt). Being in the heart of Bible Belt meant we were in a dry county. This led to one of my favorite stories. Thursday night we decided to eat at Angler’s which is a catfish place. They had very good catfish (as evidenced by the 6 fillets I ate). However, in order to get around the dry county rules, they were technically a private club. So in order to eat there… at least one member of our party had to be a member of Angler’s (fortunately membership was free). So next time you see Brian congratulate him on his membership at Angler’s! We had a lot of fun the rest of the trip asking Brian about his Angler’s perks and privileges.


Experiencing local culture part 2 – Another favorite local culture story also involved Angler’s. Ash decided to get some salad to go with his catfish. They asked him what kind of dressing he wanted. Before I could warn him he asked for vinaigrette. Actually he was going to ask for balsamic vinaigrette but thought they might not have it so he ask for vinaigrette. Now when I was a growing up in Ok….there were 3 types of Salad Dressing offered….French, Thousand Island and Italian. Italian was the fancy one. After they invented Ranch they started to offer that. Well Ark isn’t much different than Ok. The very nice waitress informed Ash (and his elitis taste buds) that they didn’t have vinaigrette. He could have either Italian or Ranch (somehow French and Thousand Island have fallen to the wayside). After she left, Tanya told Ash that was why she brought her own balsamic vinaigrette and Tanya proceeds to show him a small glass container containing balsamic vinaigrette. Obviously Tanya has been to Arkansas.


Spleens and their “tricks of the trade” – Lodging with the Spleens is very intimidating as one gets to see all their “tricks of the trade”. They had 2 foam rollers, 3 rolling sticks, stretching bands, massage balls etc. etc, etc. After every race Tanya and Jason would lounge around in their “recovery” tights. Well actually Tanya did. Jason wouldn’t allow us to see him in his recovery tights and he would put those on when he went to bed. The pair of shorts I was sleeping in seemed woefully inadequate. But the kicker was the Himalayan Rock Salt. Having known the Spleens over the years I am aware of them always looking for any type of pharmaceutical or natural product that will give them an edge. A few years ago at Jemez they were taking some type of Nitro powder (or pill) pre race. This year it was the Himalayan Rock Salt that would give them the edge. I guess they mixed it with water and drank it. It couldn’t be any rock salt but apparently had to come from Mt Everest or K2 or one of those mystical places. So next time you see the Spleens…see if they can hook you up before it eventually gets banned


Hypothermic Ash – I don’t know if I have ever met anyone who dislikes cold more than Ash. The temps were usually in the 30s at race start and Ash is dressed like he is an Inuit Indian ready to go on a Polar Bear hunt. He did all of Sunday’s 20K in a puffy jacket and other layers. I had on a T-shirt. After Friday’s 50K we tried to get him into the river to reduce inflammation in his legs and he stayed safely on the banks. Probably a good thing to. As cold as that water was it was probably a wise move. He might have gone into hypothermic shock.

Ash’s man crush – Veteran Hardrock Runner Billy Simpson was there volunteering. Billy has finished Hardrock a bunch. He is 61 years old and can still run it in under 40 hours. Ash though he was pretty much the coolest dude ever and kept talking about how cool he was. The man has a presence. At one of the pre race briefings the RD is trying to get us to be quiet…not working…finally Billy yells…”Hey, Listen Up!”. Immediate silence. Brian agrees with Ash on Billy’s coolness. I honestly can’t argue with either of them. Likely is the coolest dude in ultrarunning.


Speedo dudes – By now you have all seen the horrific photos of Tanya frolicking with the guys in the tiny speedos. Here is the background. There is a group of guys who call themselves the “Panty Boys” for whatever reason. Every year they work an aid station…Friday and Saturday wearing some typo of crazy costume. This year it was red, white and blue speedos. Even in cold weather they wore them. I had forgotten about them at the 50K on Friday (we were warned prior) until I hit their A/S and I honestly didn’t know what to say. I was stunned. I was trying to get water and some food while avoiding looking at them. Even more unnerving was one of them looked like Rolando’s twin. Seeing Rolando in a speedo is not a sight I want to see. Another one of them told me, “Can you believe we still can’t get girls?”


Credit; Chris Russell

Trail Champs for 2015! and 2016 Bandera 100K highlites

Trail Champs for 2015! and 2016 Bandera 100K highlites

The gang at the last race of 2015, they put us over the top to claim the Texas Trail Championship
The gang at the last race of 2015, they put us over the top to claim the Texas Trail Championship
Tom accepting our awards.
Tom accepting our awards.
Rich places in both the Ultra and sub ultra categories!
Rich places in both the Ultra and sub ultra categories!
Rockhoppers hosting the Crossroads aid station
Rockhoppers hosting the Crossroads aid station

The Rockhoppers claimed the Texas Trail Ultra championship for 2015! We also took the Sub Ultra Championship for the first time. Congratulations all.

We also do a great job at Volunteering. The Crossroads aid station at the Bandera 100K, 50K and 25K races was our responsibility this year.  Thanks to all that came out to help throughout the day, and night!

Below are Chris Russell’s highlights of the day,

I had a multifaceted day at Bandera on Saturday/Sun Morning. I watched Dakota and Zach do the 25K, volunteered at Crossroads and then paced Sheila at the 100K. Below are my top 11 memories from the day.

1. The warmup brothers – While staying in the warm vehicle before the race, Sheila and I entertained ourselves by watching a couple of young guys (they looked like brothers) go through an elaborate warmup series in the back lot. According to  Sheila (who use to be a college hurdler) they were doing A-Skip, B-Skip, and C-Skip. Whatever it was….they were quite impressive and did it in unison. Unusual to see people warming up like that before a trail race. I tried to talk Sheila into joining them but she preferred the warm truck. I did see them in the 25K and they were among the leaders but not sure how the finished up.

2. The gorgeous weather – After several Bandera and Cactus Rose races with crummy weather (thanks to Brian taunting the Bandera Gods a few years ago) I figured we were due for some great weather and it finally happened. Cool temps…nice breeze and not a cloud in the sky. Plus the rain early in the week kept the trails firm and dust down. Made me wish I was racing. Dakota said the sunrise was quite impressive. In fact she said it was so impressive that it was blinding (literally). She said during the 25K she was having to shield her eyes because they were running right into the sun on one stretch and it was very hard to see. During the cold night (more on that later) the stars were as bright as I have seen them out there. Honestly I don’t know if Bandera has ever had a better day for running.

3. Working the big guns at Boyles – I was following my daughter, Dakota, and her boyfriend, Zach, during their 25K race. After seeing them come through Last Chance 2 miles into the 25K, Cory Torkelson and I walked to Boyles. Boyles was an interesting setup. It has always been water only but in previous years they had a table, gallon water jugs and it was manned. When Cory and I got there, it was a bunch of 5 gallon jugs and some cups. No table and no one was there. Runners were already coming through and most weren’t stopping to break into the 5 gallon jugs. Cory and I decided to help out by opening some 5 gallon jugs and pouring directly into the runners’ water bottles. Turned out to be quite a workout. Later on when I was pacing I was surprised my arms were sore. At first I thought it was from the water bottles (and I felt rather wimpy) but then I remembered it was likely from picking up those 5 gallon water jugs.

4. Retro Zach’s first trail race – This was the first trail race for Dakota’s boyfriend Zach. He had some speed but had never ran this far before so I was curious to see how he would do. One could tell it was Zach’s first trail trace by the gear he was wearing. Cotton T-shirt and gym shorts. He at least had trail shoes though. When I saw him come through Boyles he was sporting some healthy blood coming from the knee. I smiled and thought, “He has been properly christened”. Zach had a  great race. He struggled a little at the end (he went a little fast) but still ran a very fast 2:42. I look forward to see what he can do in the future and if he decides to keep the retro look.

5. The Son of Jurek – The first time I saw the lead runner….I thought, “that looks like a younger Scott Jurek”. He had Jurek’s crazy curly hair and was relatively tall for a trail runner. Around 6 feet but very thin and long legs. When he came in the first loop at 3:47 I expected him to finish between 8 and 8:30 since there tends to be anywhere from a 30 minute to an hour time degradation on the 2d loop even among the top runners. He still managed to run the 2d loop in just under 4 hours and shattered the previous course record. I’m sure the cool dry weather all day really helped. The Son of Jurek’s name is Jim Walmsley and he is a budding star. He had won JFK 50 the last 2 years but it was impressive to see his speed translate to more challenging trails. He graduated from the Air Force Academy (although he is now out of AF) and was 12th in NCAA Outdoor Steeplechase final. Has also run a 4:06 mile. Cory and I got a chance to briefly talk to him post race. He liked the course although he said the first 5 miles (Sky and Ice Cream) were nasty. He was happy most of the rest of the course wasn’t like that. He even asked Cory and I how our races went (he assumed we had raced). Super nice guy.

6. Wrong Way Cassie – The women’s leader, Cassie Scallon, can thank the Rockhoppers for saving her race. When she came into Crossroads the first time on the 2d loop she turned around and started walking towards the road. This is the opposite way of the course. Well Brian, Crockett and either Rabbers or Porter saw her do that and followed along. They weren’t sure if she going the wrong way or just went to get something. She then broke out into a run on the road. They hollered at her and got her going the right way. Good job by the Rockhoppers in saving her race.

7. The Birders – During the day (at Crossroads) I found myself talking to Mariana and MJ. They had both done the 25K. Knowing how much Marianna likes birds…I asked her if she had seen any birds during the race. She replied that she had and her and MJ got to talking about the birds they had seen at Bandera that day and previous runs. MJ commented that there were a lot of unique birds here. Listening to them was peering into a different world. I have run at Bandera well over 100 times and the only birds I ever paid attention to were some that insisted on sitting on a trail one morning during a run Tony and I did a few years ago. It was quite interesting listening to them. There is a whole other world out there.

8. 3 for 1 (Take that Tony!) – I was committed to pacing Sheila the last 20-25 miles. Around 450p  I headed up trail 7 towards Nachos in hopes of running into Sheila. When I was almost to Nachos…I not only ran into Sheila but also Jean Perez and Carrie Knapp. Sheila and Jean had been running together all race and Carrie decided to upgrade from the 50K to the 100K (after completing her 50K). So I had the pleasure of pacing these 3 lovely ladies for most of the rest of the race. They did great…I pushed them through the flatter sections and they really dug deep and would run (the R word as Carrie calls it) when I asked them to (although Carrie was very good at perceiving walkable inclines in the dark). When we got into Crossroads I made sure to let Tony know I was pacing 3 lovely ladies. Score one for the Cactus Kid!:)

9. Brian’s crappy headlamp – I pulled an Anabel and left my headlamp at home. I did set it out but forgot to grab it. Brian said he had an extra one that he had somehow acquired (he wasn’t even sure if it was his). Turned out to be an old Petzl. It wasn’t long before I noticed that everyone’s headlamp was so much brighter than mine. In fact there were times I wasn’t sure if mine was working. Carrie’s Energizer headlamp dwarfed mine. When she was running behind me her light totally absorbed my light. I tried to change batteries but still the same crappy light output. To make matters worse…the case had a hard time staying shut so every time I touched the headlamp the case would break open. Oh well beggars can’t be choosers. Still it was a better situation than the Legend. His headlamp went out on the Sisters which resulted in an up close inspection of the rocks and a busted bloody knee.

10. The Cold Night – It got darn cold at night!! One had to layer up pretty good. The biggest impact of the cold is how much longer A/S stops take. Often times a runner would have to get more layers from the drop bag (assuming they had layers in their drop bag) or spend some time eating hot food. The cold definitely makes one hungrier and the food taste better. The quesadillas and ramen with mash potatoes were incredible! At the Lodge Sandy gave me Sausage wrapped in tortilla. Heavenly. Another impact of the cold is once a runner sits down by one of those heaters there is a good probability they may not go back out. Definitely don’t want to get too comfortable!  The coldest I got was in the initial section between Crossroads and Last Chance. I was wearing gloves but hands were cold. My body warms up well but hands not so much. My fingers felt frozen but Jean came through with some hand warmers that did wonders. Thanks Jean!!

11. Sheila’s amazing finish!!! – When we left Crossroads and headed towards Last Chance all 3 ladies were struggling a bit. Jean had fallen and hurt her back. Carrie’s knee was really bothering her and Sheila had muscle cramps. It looked like we would be walking the last 9 miles in. About a mile before Lucky, Sheila was in the lead of our train and we noticed that she was starting to trot and pull away. Jean told me to run ahead with Sheila and tell Sheila not to worry about her and Carrie. They would be fine. Soon Sheila’s trot started to resemble more of a run. Before I knew it we were at Last Chance. Sheila made a very quick stop at Last Chance (Sharpie was there and hanging out with Roger) and we were soon headed towards Cairns. Sheila was definitely smelling the hay!! Except for the uphills she was running everything!! I was having to work! We kept passing runner after runner. By the time we hit the bottom of Boyles she was almost in a full out sprint. I later figured it out and Sheila moved up 13 places in those last 5 miles. That is a lot of people to pass in the last 5 miles of a 100K with spread out runners. It was great to see her finish so strong (she said her cramps finally went away) and on such a positive note. It was a big highlight for me!

There are many other great stories…the awesome job the Rockhoppers did at Crossroads and some of the folks that were there all day, the great job Jazzy and Sandy did at the Lodge, joking around with Chris Porter’s son Joe and Brian’s XC kids telling Joe how the varsity XC guys get all the girls (I don’t think Joe believed them), and it was great seeing so many Rockhoppers do their first Bandera race (Aash, Susan and others) and it was also really nice to see Claudette and Mariana out there running again after extended breaks.

Rockhoppers at the “WILD HARE” trail races. Warda,TX. Nov. 21, 2015

Rockhoppers at the “WILD HARE” trail races. Warda,TX. Nov. 21, 2015

Anabel 3rd Female 50 miler
Anabel (left) 3rd Female 50 miler
Hanging out post race_Sandy&Tony
Sandy and Tony hanging out after their 25K
Julie, First female 50 miler
Matt, First Male 50 miler!
Tom (first Master 50M) behind M.J. on her first ever 50 miler
Wimpy Rich! 50 mile finisher.
Sandy, 25K finisher
Sheila, 50K finisher
Stefan, second male 25K
Tom “Maffetone” Bowling, First Master-50 miler
2015 Cactus Rose Trail 100 and 50 miler recap – Part 1 By Chris Russell

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.


Weather/Trail conditions:


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!