Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rooty Raccoon Race Report

I haven’t written my Rocky Raccoon race report sooner for a number of reasons. Practically speaking we haven’t had internet consistently. The GeekGrl and I have been living between two houses and I have been working late almost every day and that has made things pretty disorganized. I have also been giving the race a lot of thought and am kind of sick of it. This was a horrible race for me. In just one word I would have to describe my race at Rocky Raccoon as brutal. There was so much not to like and so many things that went wrong for me that I never really stood a chance.

Before I go into my own experiences though I need to preface my report by saying that the race organization was fantastic and if anyone is going to increase your chances of finishing an ultramarathon it is Joe Prusaitis and his crew. He also runs the Bandera trail races, which I loved.

So, back to the story. I hated this course almost from the beginning. Rocky Raccoon takes place in Huntsville State Park, which is basically just a dense pine forest with a small lake stuck in the middle. Within just a few feet you have pretty much seen all there is to see and the remaining 19+ miles of each 20 mile loop is just more of the same. I live in a land of wide open vistas and have never been fond of the claustrophobic feeling I get when completely encapsulated in deep woods or very large cities like New York and Chicago and this course offered no respite. In addition to the densely packed woods the trails of Rocky Raccoon are famously rooty. It’s funny that both the GeekGrl and independently reached the conclusion that Joe’s race at Bandera should have been called “Rocky” something and this race should have been called Rooty Raccoon.

One thing I discovered is that I would prefer to run a rocky course than a rooty course. Here’s the thing about roots…well, they are attached to trees and trees are huge in and of themselves but they are also attached to the Earth, which is fairly big in its own right. What all this means is that no matter how miniscule the root is that is sticking out of the ground it is like kicking an iron wall and so that is how I spent my day and most of the evening, kicking roots, tripping on roots and falling over roots. The worst thing was that every time I kicked a root it caused that leg to drag a bit and made it more likely that I would kick another root in the next 30 feet or so.

In addition to kicking roots my left calf muscle went out on e at mile 3, yes, mile 3 with 97 to go. With my calf hurt I was limited to running no faster than 12 minute miles and I had to take more walk breaks than usual. I also spent additional time taking care of my feet but by mile 80 I was still developing some of the deep blisters on the balls of my feet that caused me so much pain at Lean Horse. They weren’t hurting yet but I’m sure they would have soon enough.

So here’s my race, all 80 miles of it, lap by lap.

Lap 1 – 4:15 – 12:45 pace. The day started great and I was feeling pretty good. The race started in the dark and we were running in a tight line down the trail. By mile two the people started to thin out a bit and I was able to open up into a nice steady pace. Shortly thereafter I felt the pain in my left calf return and had to slow my running and increase my walking. I also started kicking roots and falling by about mile 4. When I first started kicking roots it didn’t hurt too much but it was very abrupt and it took a lot out of my legs to keep from going down and to regain my balance. I probably went down hard four times during that first loop.

Lap 2 – 5:45 – 17:15 pace. The second lap contained the hottest part of the day and it so happens that this day was the second hottest Rocky Raccoon in the history of the race. The heat slowed me down but worse was the increasing pain caused by kicking roots and falling. Now the root kicking moved from obnoxious to concern that I was going to break some toes or some other bone in my feet. Not only did every kick hurt my feet but the pain was starting to radiate through my legs and the tendons in my hips started to feel kind of stretched out like every root kick was pulling my leg from the socket. I had to start taking Tylenol extra-strength by mile 25 just to keep my pace up.

Lap 3 – 5:15 – 15:45 pace. By the beginning of mile 40 my feet and legs were hurting continuously from kicking roots and my stomach was going bad. I took another dose of Tylenol and someone gave me some ginger candy. Within minutes I was feeling much better and running well but about five miles into the loop my calf started hurting again because I had been running too fast. I also continued kicking roots but now the shock and pain seemed to go straight to the bone and shot through the length of my leg. I was also getting pretty angry because I just couldn’t stop kicking those damn roots. This lap ended in the dark.

Lap 4 – 8:30 – 25:30 pace. My fourth lap was fully in the dark and at this point I knew I could not kick another root or I would most likely collapse. I really thought that I had fractured bones in each of my feet but thought if I could just make it through the night and through this lap I could finish the race. I was creeping along pretty slowly and it just seemed that the slower I moved the slower I became. My legs were starting to stiffen because I wasn’t moving fast enough to keep them warm and my neck and back were tightening up because I was super focused on staring at the trail trying to avoid roots.

In order to head out on the 5th lap I needed to finish my 4th lap by 6 a.m. I finished by 5:40ish but could not see myself cutting 2 hours off my 4th lap time. It would have been one thing to have done the entire race at a pace that would have brought me to mile 80 in 23 hours and 40 minutes, then I probably could have made it. I, on the other hand, was completely beat. I was pretty sure that if I kicked another root something much more significant than a toe or metatarsal would break. I had exceeded the amount of Tylenol you are allowed to take in a 24 hour period and my legs were barely working. I walked off the course and felt like I made a good decision but was unhappy none the less.

I had many bad thoughts about this race over the past few days and have seriously questioned my ability to complete all but the easiest of 100 mile races. I have taken off ten days and it is only within the past three days that my legs have stopped hurting. Part of me wants to return to something easier like limiting myself to 100K ultras or shorter or to IM races but I still have a drive to try and figure out the 100 mile ultra. I suspect that if I would have been on a different course I could have finished. I can’t help but think that it was the roots that did me in and not the distance. I am slated to run the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 this summer and believe this to be a better trail surface for me so I remain hopeful. I did go for my first post-rocky Raccoon run today and felt great. I have a good amount of time to train and am now moved in to my new home at the base of a mountain that I can run daily.

Maybe I’m too stubborn for my own good but I need to see how far I can take this quest. I want to try every angle to finish another 100 mile ultra but I would be lying if I didn’t say it is wearing thin. It really sucks to spend all that time and money and walk away an anonymous non-finisher with nothing but a bit of swag to remind you of your failure.


  1. Wow Brian I can so appreciate wanting to accomplish a goal so bad, doing the training, mentally preparing and just not getting there.So depressing!! You will find the secret..and learn alot in the process. I have always have had the mindset I could do anything I put my mind to so this would frustrate me to no end..hang in there!plus give yourself a break-you have alot on your plate!

  2. I decided I was going to give you until Friday before I emailed to see if you were ok. I know you have the big new job and the new house and no doubt even more things that are infinitely more important than the blog world, but I am glad that you got this out there.

    With that said, 80 miles in those conditions is amazing. When you injured your calf the week or so before I was concerned.

    I know you will figure this distance out. You should remember that you already have completed 100 miles. You can do it again, this time with less misery. All of these trials are what will make your victory all the sweeter when you do. It will be an honor be run you in at Tahoe. This will be your race I can feel it!

  3. Sorry to hear you had a crappy day! So I don't know about you, but when I trip over roots, I start to get mad and that will mess with my head and I can't imagine doing it for hours on end!

    And I just have to comment on this sentence: "Part of me wants to return to something easier like limiting myself to 100K ultras or shorter or to IM races."

    Um, first it is pretty awesome you can even utter that sentence! But second, I am sure that at some point those distances seemed as daunting to figure out...

  4. I'm with RBR. Dude, you did 80 miles with challenging (to say the least) conditions. You obviously learned some things, so the experience is valuable. So, yeah, it sucks to DNF, but I call that Did Nothing Foolish sometimes.

    Thanks, too, for writing it up. I'll take away some good info from this one.

  5. Sounds like a hel of a race. This is one to put in the books and move on.

    YOu did 80 miles in horrible conditions. That it great ( A damn good training day!)

    It occurred to me on my 'long' run (a whopping 8 miles), that you've been stacking the deck against you a lot lately.

    Moving can take a big toll on the body; a new job can take a big toll on the body too. Plus you had the calf injury.

    Perhaps, you're not being fair to yourself. The calf injury would have been enough to make other ultramen call it off or shorten the distance.

    100 miles is no joke, even to the best. The fact that you got as far as you did is a HUGE testimate you your ambition and endurance.

    I have no fear that you will conquer the 100 miles.

    Eliminate the obstacles in your way and you'll own this distance.

    Like you said, had this race been any different and you'd have made it.

    You will. I know it!

  6. Good race report. I've been there, done that, at Rocky in 08-DNF'd at mile 80 (glad you said that, I've been thinking I DNF'd at mile 75). I know the feeling of being that anonymous non-finisher-I like the way you put that.

    But don't give up. Heck, I didn't. Went on to complete Umstead and then DNF Mohican. This year I've got 4 100's to complete.

  7. Tough going. I'm sorry this wasn't "your" race. Thank you for sharing..."anonymous non-finisher" really sums up the failure feeling in DNFing very well.

    Aren't we humans weird? Its either a success or a failure. Why can't we celebrate accomplishments that don't result in total success? Seriously, you ran 80 miles. That's HUGE. While it may not be 100 miles, it still a 50 mile race with a marathon added to it! You'd 'celebrate' those, right?

  8. You are still one tough athlete!

  9. Heck of an effort! I'll jump in with the others here who say, "Way to go, and think of it as great training and experience for your next 100 mile run."

    See you at the races.


  10. Mate, I have a whole new level of respect for you and what you do (having just sufferred through my first ultra). You are one tough nut. Well done for getting as far along as you did!

  11. Dude.. failure.. Are you crazy!! your a stud! dont sell yourself too short.
    Did you get a massage to help them legs out? I agree, those roots are not good overall!

    Hang in there and enjoy the new house! I still have to come visit ya know.


  12. Bad day.

    Good write-up.

    I hope you get what you're looking for out of this!