Last Sunday I raced…well ran, well ran and walked the Bandit 50K. It was a long hot day in the sun and somewhat humbling day! That said, and of course with hindsight, it was a lot of fun and a good challenge.
This is the first time I have run this race and this was the first time on any of the trails that made up the course. Despite being only 20 minutes’ drive away it was just one of those things that I have always headed to the Backbone/Santa Monica Mountains to the west and not to any of the hills to the east.
Becca and I were able to pick up our numbers the day before at the Race Director’s house. Despite this low key approach the race organization and communication was great. Clear instructions in the Race Letter from the RD in the preceding week set the stage and all the remaining questions we had were answered at the pickup. A briefing over the course, a great technical T-shirt and even a wristband with the RD’s cell number were provided. Best of all; some homemade yummy treats!
The morning of the race we were parked well in advance of my 7am start (Becca was running the 30k and started at 7:30). The race start also had a packet pick up and even same day registration. There was party atmosphere. We caught up and said hi to some folks we had met online. There were actually four races, 6k, 15k, 30k, and the 50k so there was a smorgasbord of runners with lots of gear, some gear and no gear. With a drop bag, my Ultimate Direction pack and a handheld I fell into the lots of gear category!
While the morning was cool it was far from cold, the temperatures has slowly been climbing through the week and Sunday was forecast to be the hottest day with temps up around 80f. Not hot by SoCal standards in general but plenty hot when you have actually had a winter like we have!
With five minutes to go I took up a space behind the start line and waited until the 3, 2, 1 Go! Without much fanfare we started. The first mile was actually a parade lap and we ended up running around and back through the start. This was a good thing as it gave us some semblance of a warm up. After the first mile we followed the trail out of the park, up under the 118 Freeway and started up the first climb.
The first climb had some shade from the sun which had yet to rise above Rocky Peak. There wasn’t much if any running done here, it was steep and most people just set in for the climb. At the top there was a water stop, not really an Aid Station. I blew past this one and headed onwards. The first real Aid Station came at M5.6 I was carrying everything I needed and so I just carried on, passing a few folks who had stopped.
My goal was, as with Calico was a sub 6:00, failing that going sub 6:30 which was the ultrasignup.com predicted time. With the heat it was going to be a challenge from the get go but I kept my pace conservative and made sure I was drinking plenty of Skratch on the way. My UD pack contained ice water and I was topping up my handheld and adding Skratch powder as I went. The climbing had started out as single track but once it started to level out it widened to double track and was pretty rough with a lot of rock under foot. There were several more ups and downs and then finally good section of downhill single track that contoured around the backside of the hill. Here I could catch my breath and get my HR down Most of this section was also in the shade and this was the last section that had any real shelter from the sun for the remainder of the day. This lasted for about 4.5 miles where we popped out into a residential street.
I was with 3 or 4 other runners and there was no direction markings so we followed our noses until we came to a sign stuck on a car and turned off onto a side street which took us to the next Aid Station. This section was a little confusing but I managed to stay on course. Experience has taught me in the absence of turn left or turn right signs just keep going!
This AS had our drop bags and as I didn’t need anything from it I passed by only asking a volunteer to get a bandana out of my pack. We would pass through this AS again and then pick up the 30k course. The next section was specific to the 50k and was basically an out and back with a couple of climbs and descents. I had joked when I picked up my number that these looked like runnable rolling hills…well I got the rolling hills bit right…not so the runnable bit!
At the turnaround I made a point of stopping and get my handheld and pack filled with water and ice, it was warming up despite being only a little after 10am. That said I was at the half way point in just under the three hour mark so the sub 6:00 was still on the cards! To complete a 50k in sub you need to run 5.2 miles an hour, that’s an 11:32 pace! Sounds easy right, in seven races I have managed it twice!
I reversed my way out of the out and back surprised by how many runners were actually behind me! I reached my drop bag which was just short of the 20 mile mark knowing I had roughly 8 miles of climbing and then a 3 mile descent. I was having issues eating solid food so I ditched the PB&J rolls in favor of the liquid Plum food sachets which were much more palatable. Again I filled my bottle with ice and water and headed out along a road. I also stopped to empty the crap out of my shoes, regretting not having bought some gaiters! The first couple of miles were a gentle up, I was playing cat and mouse with a girl who had passed me earlier and was resorting to run 20 steps walk 10 as best I could. I pulled out the bandana and wetting it tucked it under my hat in attempt to cool me off. Around Mile 24 the trail turned right and turned up kicking up the incline. There were 4 or 5 of us in the section all jockeying places, including some random hiker! Eventually one of the guys pulled away and I couldn’t keep up but I managed to keep ahead of the rest, until I had to stop again to empty my shoes!
Ahead on the peak I could see a flag waving in the gentle breeze. As I slowly got closer and closer I could hear the whoops from the AS folks. Finally I closed in and was asked what flavor Ice Pop I wanted? Never has frozen sugar water tasted so good! There was a short descent and then another climb to the last AS proper where I filled my Headsweats Looudmouth Cap full of ice cubes and put it on my head!. This final section was rolling uphill and seemed to last forever but in reality it was maybe a mile. The 118 freeway came into sight. From here I knew it was going to be 3 miles mostly downhill albeit in a toe jarring stutter step.
Finally I was back under the freeway and there was less than a mile to go. I passed two girls running the 30k and then looked over my shoulder and saw the girl I had passed previously who had been creeping up on me. I gritted my teeth and got on with it to the finish which finally came after a cruel loop around the starting area!
I finished in 6:46 was 55th OA and 18th in my AG.
Becca took some finishing photos and I found a chair in the shade and collapsed. I was spent. Becca offered me a coke and asked did I want any food, I couldn’t even talk for the next 10 minutes. I had to cool down and get my HR down. After a while I was able to stand up and downed another can of coke. There was no point hanging around so we didn’t.
Post-race it’s always easy to say I should have done this or that. The reality was that I gave this race a really good go. Looking at my HR data I was in Z4 for 4:30 and Z3 for over 2.11 hours. That leaves 5 minutes…2 of which were spent taking a pee or emptying my shoes.
The issue with my knee didn’t go away as such but I only ran on it once, on Monday, and the just eased up off of it for the rest of week, it still didn’t feel 100% on Sunday morning but it wasn’t getting any worse and I could have always dropped down to the 30k in the end it was a non-issue for 95% of the day!
Once home I realized the number I had done on my big toe. A nice blood blister was developing under my toe nail and it was as sore as hell! I cut my toe nail back and that released a lot of the blood (and pressure) and now it seems much better!
Overall it was challenging fun day, without any heat training I suffered but then so did everyone out there! If you’re looking for a fun well organized race that’s local so the Conejo Valley this would be a great choice! As with any race the volunteers are crucial and there were plenty out here cheering and manning the Aid Stations. The Stations were well stocked and crucial on a warm day had ice and plenty of it!
Looking ahead I have 5 weeks to Santa Barbara 9 Trails. That has roughly twice the elevation of this race and is only 4 miles longer. There’s not enough time to really get a major hill work in, but I can get a pair of shoes ½ bigger and some gaiters!