One of my goals in 2009 was to be able to run any distance on a week’s notice. Why a week? Well, I’d want some time to taper if needed. My definition of “any” distance was really 50 miles max. I mean, who would just go out and run a 100…unless your name is Snipes? :) Two weeks ago my boss talked about the possibility of heading to Austin, TX for most of last week. Gotta check out the race schedule, right? I asked if I could stay the weekend. No problem. (Yes, on my dime of course.) I mean how often will I find myself in TX only a few hours from one of the biggest 100 mile races in the country? Plus, it’s so much flatter out there, so how hard can it be? LOL! :P
Even though I’ve only done one other 100 miler, I’ve done enough longer races that I think a large part of completing them is race execution. I’m not talking about going out and racing, but finishing. So, let’s try it! I’ve barely put up a couple hundred training miles since the beginning of December. But, Hellgate was only 2 months ago and I did have a really long MMT training run three weeks ago. Sunday I entered the race…
We arrived in Austin early Monday and it rained through Thursday. Buckets of the stuff. Yeah, the same storm that nailed the East later. Wonder what that would do to the Rocky course? One of the neat things about this new Internets thing is finding other runners around the country. Sandy (Slowdown) from RWOL said the course drains extremely well. I found out why, firsthand later…ugh.. He’s also part of the huge Dam Road aid station along with “jlynnbob”…he’s the AS captain.
Thursday afternoon I make the 3 hour drive to Huntsville. There were some interesting towns I went through along the way… Friday it was pretty nice. I checked out the historic part of Hunstville, drove over to see where I had to go the next morning and did the packet pickup deal. Rocky Raccoon is a multi-loop course. I wasn’t sure how I’d like doing the same loop five times? Also, just finishing this thing wasn’t going to be enough. I must get the sub 24 hour award. And, not push so hard that I can’t get back to training very soon. I scribbled out a plan the evening before. I wanted to be right at 8 hours after the 1st 2 loops with each loop after that a bit slower. The plan came to 22.5 hours which should give me room for the “unexpected”.
Up at 4AM, take my time getting ready and make sure everything I need is in my drop bag. This was a challenge. I had to pack business suits and all of my running gear without checking any bags. So, stuff that I might like to have didn’t make the trip. I also did a “pseudo” 2nd drop bag which I wouldn’t get back. They weren’t bringing those bags back until 1 PM after the race. I had to be on a plane that afternoon. There’s another reason I better not take too long in this thing huh? I hit Target and got a $2 bag and zipper cooler for my, as you should know by now, my “go to” Nesquiks for later in the race. So, don’t use one of those cheap cooler bags. Even with the ice inside plastic bags, its still melted and soaked some of the stuff in the main drop bag at the start/finish. That would be including a change of socks if needed. Woops!
6 AM and we’re off! There are somewhere around 350 people running this thing and a similar number would start the 50 miler an hour later. I have one of my disposable flashlights that I intend to put in the Dam Road drop bag at mile 6 to grab later if needed. I also put a few granola bars and gels in that bag. So, no big deal if I never see any of it again. It was more for parking stuff like the gloves and headband which I intended to grab at night. I really like this running surface. In the dark the hills weren’t that noticeable, but you could see that’s it’s a rolling course once the Sun came out. It was a near perfect day for running. At most aid stations the next couple loops I’d grab a handful of PBJ quarters, quesadillas, grilled cheese, etc. But, no sweet stuff…yet… There were only a few short muddy stretches. The course did drain extremely well as a lot of it is now packed sand.
I finish the first loop and drop off the gloves in the main bag and grabbed a bar or something. I didn’t look at the watch until I headed back out. 3:50. Maybe a hair fast, but darn close to where I wanted to be. I should slow down some. It’s really starting to get nice out. My favorite part of the course is the 10k loop between the Dam Road aid station, which I should see 10 times. With the 5o milers out there now, it sure is a busy place. I’ve never seen one with that much going on. The loop was the most technical section of the course with lots of twists, turns, little ups/downs and root, roots and more roots. I like rooty trails as that means no rocks and it’s soft! :D I dropped off the long sleeve shirt when I came back out of the loop and just kept plodding along til I finished loop 2.
Now it’s time to grab one of the 3 Nesquiks. Time out of the aid station was 7:58. Nailed that 40 mile goal time. Then it’s mistake #1: I chugged the Nesquik so I wouldn’t have to carry it. I was also carrying one of these. So, I didn’t want too much to haul around. It was getting warmer too. Maybe mid 50’s by now? Well, I may have been able to get away with chugging it when it’s colder and I’m walking, but that didn’t go over well. It took me 45 minutes to get to the next aid station only about 5k away. I was okay after that. Funny thing is I knew I wasn’t going to be happy at mile 40. You’ve already covered a lot of distance and you’re not even half way there. It’s mostly a mental thing. Now let’s see if I can get back within a half hour of getting dark as planned? Just kept on slogging along.
When I got to Dam Road this time I finally found Sandy and talked long enough for me to inhale a half a cup of coke and a Roctane. Yeah, it’s time to start moving over to sugar and a little bit of caffeine. Blech, that gel tasted awful. Mistake #2 (Don’t eat anything that doesn’t look appealing.) This isn’t going to go over well…and it wasn’t more than a few hundred yards and I didn’t have to worry about that stuff any more. I’ve heard many stories about stomach problems in these things, but I had been bullet proof prior to this. I did have a granola bar and nibbled on that and drank some water during the 1ok loop. Got back to the temp drop bag and grabbed the long sleeve shirt and light I stashed earlier. I’m still moving along pretty well. I was worried about the multi-loops getting annoying, but it wasn’t bad at all. The familiarity could be a good thing at times and it was fun seeing some of the people going the opposite direction, including a few VHTRC people including the legend – Frank Probst. ;) As planned, I had to use the light shortly before I finished that loop. It took a bit longer than planned though because of the “chugging” and gel. My foot had been bugging me for a while now. It was a “hot spot” on the ball of my left. I’ve had that feeling before wearing the roomy Vasque Blurs on technical downhills as my foot tends to move around a little, but it’s never been an issue. This time I wore a hybrid, my Mizunos which is basically a road shoe with a trail tread. I assumed that’s the issue. I thought about changing to thicker socks, but they were wet from that stupid cooler.
Now it gets fun! Night running! This stop took a bit longer than the others. I grabbed the visor, Petzl Headlamp, Fenix flashlight. my pacer the iPod (which I attached to the water bottle) and the gloves. I think I planned 4:30 and with the long stop it was 4:45, so not too bad. Still, plenty of room under the 24 hour target. I planned much slower for the next 2 loops as running at night is simply slower and the miles were adding up… As bad as the start of loop 3 was, this was the opposite. I was having a blast. This time I also grabbed a Nesquik and nursed it til the 1st aid station. That worked well. Still probably needed to eat more though…hmm… Once I got to Dam Road again I was cold; not good. I drank a little bit of coffee. Umm, yeah, that didn’t work out well either. Here we go again…ugh. I’m not really sure it was my stomach though. I noticed when I got to TX my allergies kicked in big time. They said mold was at a crazy high level and that’s one of my biggies. And, I was doing some coughing. I think it was actually the runny nose and coughing that triggered it all. Well, things just aren’t going well now that I’m not eating enough. I did eat another of my bars I stashed in the bag which kept me going. But, good grief was I getting cold at this slow pace. Even with the light running gloves I had to keep my hands in a fist. And, the cooler weather kills the iPod battery much faster, so it was done with a good hour to go in this loop. Can’t wait to get back to the drop bag!
I finally finish loop 4 and grabbed my jacket and the other iPod. That loop was about 15 minutes slower than planned, but not too bad. Mistake #3. I so didn’t want to carry anything the way my hands felt. So, I left the water bottle in the bag with the intent of only drinking at the aid stations. I couldn’t open the last Nesquik and one of the awesome volunteers helped while I chugged a cup of chicken noodle soup in the warm tent. The jacket made a big difference and I was moving along nicely after I warmed back up again. Not bad for over 80 miles! I did really well on the loop this time and even at 90 miles was moving along very well. But, it just kept getting colder. We’re not talking crazy cold here, just 30’s. But, with shorts, a light jacket and thin running gloves, that may be too much at a half marathon pace, but not enough at a late 100 miler, low heart rate slog. So, I started running faster on the uphills to get the heart rate up to help keep me warmed up. The foot was bugging me…well, lots of stuff was hurting now and what felt like running was probably a shuffle at best. I think I grabbed some more coffee to warm me up a bit. No issues…another cup of soup later, but that’s it. With a planned 5.5 hour loop, that’s just nowhere near enough and boy would I pay for that.
With 8 miles to go all I wanted to do was get in the car and crank the heat. My hands hurt and I was too cold. I blasted through the aid stations just wanting to be done. I knew this wasn’t the right thing to do, but I didn’t care. I was still trying to “run” up the hills but that was getting harder with no energy. With about 3 miles left my legs just didn’t want to go and I was reduced to mostly walking. And, it was some slow walking. It was so slow I started to doubt the sub 24! This was a “mega-wall” unlike no other I’ve experienced. And, it was my fault. But, eventually I got there! And, the very nice man congratulated me an handed me my sub 24 buckle!!! Mission accomplished with almost a half hour to spare…phew…too close. Here’s a pic I took of it when I got home.
Quickly I attempt to find the car. Oh, it’s the other way. Then I held my hands in front of the full blast vent for a good 15 minutes. Uh oh, I still have my timing chip. You mean I have to go back out there? Just that 15 minutes and my legs will barely move now. I handed to the first volunteer I could find, and of course he was happy to help. Why? Because Ultra volunteers are awesome! These people were standing out there, in the cold, all night helping us. I cannot thank them enough! I also started shivering wildly and struggled to get into the car.
Now it’s time for the next challenge. Cleaning up, changing clothes and heading back to Austin on no sleep. I had a nice breakfast of champions at McDonalds, some coffee, and then hit the road. I needed a 2nd cup to make sure I stayed awake. I got to the airport and had almost 5 hours to hang out, which was fine as I’d find some food and find a place on the floor to stretch out. Hmm…a flight is boarding for Dulles in 15 minutes. Let’s see if I can get to the end of the terminal. Standby…I’m in! Amazingly I made it home before the Superbowl started. Why so amazing? Dulles airport officially had 32 inches of snow the 2 days prior!! Most flights had been canceled. And, I’m home today writing this because the DC is still pretty much shut down with another foot or more on the way tonight. Good thing I don’t have to run any more this week huh? Look what showed up while I was gone…the plate for my Beast trophy. :)
As they say, there’s always something to learn in the long races. Just an extra $2 while at Target and I could’ve picked up a pair of those cheap knit gloves and a hat that would’ve made a huge difference. Or, packing an extra pair to layer. And, don’t listen to the forecast which had the low much higher than that when I left VA. No more cheap zipper cooler which I thought wouldn’t leak that do. Oh, I did have pretty much everything else in the drop bag in zip lock bags, so that wasn’t an issues with most stuff. Eat regardless! Eating for this race is a bit different than other races. This was 9 hours faster than Grindstone which means a lot more running. It’s easy to eat and digest stuff when you spend an hour or two hiking up a mountain. Not so much when you start running immediately.
So, what about that foot? When I cleaned up after the race there was a bunch of fine sand inside my socks that apparently got through the webbing of the shoes. It was almost like I was wearing sandpaper socks. Still, it was just worn a bit? But, it wasn’t until I could see it in the light when I got home that I noticed a big blister…my first! So, change socks if I run into that situation again. Maybe wear a real pair of trail shoes that won’t let that stuff in also.
Rocky Raccoon 100 is a great, well run event. The volunteers were outstanding and I really liked the trails. The “dreaded” 5 loops were kindof neat. Also, this course isn’t nearly as flat as some say. It’s far from a mountain course, but it has some nice rolling hills that grow pretty big by the last loop. :P Asking me about another long race or MMT at about mile 95 would’ve gotten you a dagger. But, I’m definitely happy I did it. Just a few minor changes would’ve made a good experience even better. Lessons learned and mission accomplished.