Hill Country State Natural Area - Bandera, Texas
This last weekend I watched the movie 100 miles to 40 about a woman’s journey to run the Western States 100. While I’ve watched other movies about ultras that have focused on elite runners, this one was great in that it focused on someone balancing the realities of life with the effort one has to make to train for ultra distances. It also reminded me of the year I signed up for the Cactus Rose 50 Miler in an attempt to get an entry into the lottery for the Western States 100. I signed up for the race on short notice since I had just read an article about the list of qualifying races for the Western States being shortened to only include 100ks and 100 milers. At the time I thought I had a decent chance of finishing the Cactus Rose under the qualifying time.
The Hill Country State Natural Area is a little over an hour northwest of San Antonio, Texas or just over two hours southwest of Austin, Texas and is in Texas Hill Country. The area is made up of 500 foot (150m) hills covered with a thin layer of dry topsoil with a lot of scree and exposed rocks. The biggest surprise to me about the terrain was what I can only describe as forests of cactus (except it’s not really a cactus). The plant common on these hills, and also having sharp leaves that cut my thighs up with 100s of cuts, seems to go most commonly by the name of sotol, but is also called dasylirion wheeleri. Contributing to the forest, or almost alien landscape, feel is that these plants have 15 foot (5m) stalks that grow out of the center of the plant. I spent a lot of my run wondering why these plants have such tall stalks (it’s for keeping the fruit away from animals).
The race was well organized and started off with a briefing on Friday night. Tejas Trails put on the race and they are well known for the many ultras they hold in Texas. Since it’s been 5 years since I ran, I can’t remember much about what they said, but I’m sure they warned us about the heat and to stay hydrated. Being a mid-west runner I am used to heat and humidity, especially from runs in the forests of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. However, I didn’t prepare myself for what was to come the next morning. The oddest part of the start was that despite the temperature being in the lows 60s (15 Celsius) I could see my breath because of the extreme humidity. I didn’t think much of it until only about 30 minutes into the race when I was 100% soaked from my sweat, nothing could evaporate.
Because of that humidity, the hot sun, and plenty of elevation change (5000 feet / 1500m) I didn’t meet the cutoff requirements for the Western States. However, I was happy to finish in under 13 hours because it was a tough, rewarding course. I also felt good in that I finished in the top half (and top third in my division) but it wasn’t enough to get that entry into the Western States Lottery. The best part was I got to experience a part of the country I hadn’t run in before. I also didn’t know Bandera, Texas is known as the Cowboy Capital of the World, but should have guessed when I booked my hotel at the West 1077 Guest Ranch.
Texas is huge, Germany can fit within it, so it has many great ultrarunning destinations. However, If you find yourself in San Antonio or Austin, be sure to take an extra day and explore the Texas Hill Country since it is so close by car. Austin has boomed in recent years, so there are also many convenient flight options there from cities all over the US. It’s a unique place that has challenging trails so I hope you can make this into one of your ultrarunning destinations if you live in the US or are here on vacation or business!
Unfortunately I was so focused on trying to qualify for western states I didn’t take any good pictures during the race :(