,This weekend the GeekGrl and I both went back to Huntsville, TX to run Rocky Raccoon, she the 50-mile and me the 100. We did this back in 2009 and I DNF’d at mile 80 with a time of 23:45. The GeekGrl finished the 50 but went into the race with IT band problems and ended up walking the entire distance in over 16 hours. Needless to say we were both ready for revenge. Not only were we ready for revenge but we actually did something about it, we were better trained, lighter and much more experienced as trail runners.
Loop 1 – 3:39:38
The first loop was great because my only mishap was a quick slip on a footbridge that was slick with frost. I went into the race worried about the roots because they had destroyed my race last time but I assumed that I would not have trouble with them because I am a much more experienced trail runner and it turns out that I was right. The other great thing about the first loop is that it presented the most beautiful scene of the day. The loop takes a very convoluted circuit around a lake that sits in the middle of Huntsville State Park. The morning was about 20 degrees so the air was much colder than the water. Steam was rising off the water and as the sun rose you could see that the steam had frozen onto the pines that ringed the water’s edge. As I ran across the earthen dam I could see the lake with steam rising off it and the crystalline trees glistening on the distant shore. It was one of those scenes that most people only get to see in photographs but that ultrarunners get to see at least once during every race.
Loop 2 – 3:46:20
The second loop was one that I decided to run with my ipod so I had a pretty good time. I’ve come to enjoy running with music but can only seem to tolerate it for a few hours and one loop was enough. I have added some new songs by the Beastie Boys and Fatboy Slim to my playlist and I’m lovin’ it. I still had yet to trip on a root but now that the sun was up moisture was starting to drip from the trees and was then freezing on the roots so now it wasn’t only an issue of trying not to trip on the tree roots but you couldn’t even step on them otherwise you would slip and fall. Despite this extra challenge I was still running well and I was easily on track to break my 50-mile PR by the time loop two ended.
Loop 3 – 4:34:20
Loop three I tripped and fell twice but they were both minor and I recovered easily. One thing I have found, and I don’t know why this is the case, but if I trip and fall later in a race it takes much less a toll on me if I just stay still for a second and then get up slow and easy rather than try to bounce right back up and take off. So the big news of loop three is that I hit mile 50 in 9:35:02! I broke my old 50-mile record by almost an hour and it was done during a 100-mile race so I am confident that I could go under 9 on the right 50 mile course, probably on the Rocky 50-mile course or something similar. If my race at Rocky were a movie then loop 3 would have also foreshadowed things to come later. I had two headlamps out on the course, one at the kind of half-way point of the loop at the DamNation aid station and the other at the start/finish area at Dogwood. During loop three twilight was approaching and while I figured I could make it to Dogwood while it was still light I knew that a lot can happen in 8 miles when you have already run 52 so I took my headlamp and didn’t need it.
Loop 4 – 5:41:20
I spent about 20 minutes at the Dogwood aid station changing out of my damp day running clothes and putting on some warmer night running clothes. I also grabbed my super-bright headlamp and a handheld flashlight. Despite the time spent at Dogwood within the first two miles of the loop I easily broke my 100K record. All but about two miles of loop four was run in the dark and I ended up struggling a bit mostly because I was getting bored. It also occurred to me that unless I missed my sub-24 goal I would be running the rest of the race in the dark. Normally I can look forward to the light of a new day when I always get a huge lift but it wasn’t gonna happen today and I started wondering how I would cope with lap 5.
Loop 5 – 6:15:20
Lap five was the make or break loop for my sub-24 goal. I had been running well all day but toward the end of lap four it really started cooling down and I was having difficulty maintaining my body temperature and I knew that could really spell trouble. I was also unable to figure out how long it would take me to get from one point to another because I couldn’t do the necessary math. Despite all that I headed out on loop five. I don’t remember the first 6 miles at all but it must have been kind of miserable because by the time I hit DamNation the first time I was freezing cold and miserable. When I got to the aid station I immediately went into the tent and sat near the heater. This is truly where my experience paid off.
When I came into the aid station I saw others sitting around outside the tent. I knew they were trying to remain in the cold so they wouldn’t be seduced by the warmth of the tent. Others were standing around in the cold and I figured they were afraid that if they sat down they wouldn’t get back up. However, I have done those things and I have also taken time out to get warm and comfortable and getting warm and comfortable always works better for me because somehow I am always able to get back up. Still, when I plopped down in that chair I seriously wanted to drop. At that point I couldn’t bear to head back out for the next six mile loop before my return to DamNation. Instead on perseverating on how badly things sucked at that moment I just sat near the heater and asked for some noodle soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. I sat there and ate slowly and just tried to relax. I watched people come and go and watched the aid station captain talk a woman into heading back out and she was still on loop four. I remained there for a half hour before I finally felt better and thought I could move well enough to keep myself warm.
I departed the aid station feeling a bit better but moving slowly and I started to get cold almost immediately. I was slogging along but at least I had my determination back. Probably less than a mile out of the aid station a fellow New Mexican ultrarunner Bobby Kehoe came up on me and asked how I was doing. I told him I didn’t feel like I could do much running and he said, “Come on, let’s go” and so I fell in behind him and tried to keep up. We chatted a bit and before I knew it I was feeling better and moving faster. Before I knew it I was pulling away and actually running a bit. I made it back to the DamNation aid station feeling pretty good but I was noticing my lights were starting to dim.
The last time I ran Rocky the final nail in my coffin was a dim headlamp that had me hunched over squinting at the ground for hours. My light was still bright enough for me to see and stand up straight so I left the station quickly. About a mile out of DamNation Bobby passed me along with a small group of other people and they were all running while I was back to walking. I still had no idea if I was going to make my goal but I knew it would be close.
The last aid station before the finish is called Nature Center and when I arrived I was feeling better but my headlamp was extremely dim. I got in and out of the aid station very quickly and didn’t realize that I had departed with Bobby still sitting there. It was only 4.4 miles to the finish line and I knew I had the energy to run it but I did not have enough light to run. I just kept moving forward as quickly as possible. A couple people passed me with bright headlamps but they were moving too quickly for me to keep up. Many others were heading back out on their last lap with headlamps shining in my eyes making it even more difficult for me to see.
About a mile and a half from the finish line two guys came up behind me both wearing super bright headlights. They were running and I had plenty of energy to keep up partly because I had been forced to rest for the last 3 miles and partly because I figured I was right on the cusp of 24 hours but I didn’t know which side I land on. I started running just ahead of their lights and we were maintaining a good pace. I was starting to pull ahead so had to slow a bit to stay in their light. I started getting impatient so started yelling over my shoulder, “Come on, let’s go. We’re almost there. Dig deep!” One of the guy was starting to grunt and moan but the guy immediately behind me was keeping up. Me and the guy behind me pulled away and picked up the pace a bit.
I heard him say “Where’s that road?” (There is a little road crossing about 200 yards from the finish and shortly after that there is a sharp left turn and a straight away to the finish) so I said,” Come on, let’s go. We are really close to the road.“ I was praying that he wasn’t going to die on me. I needed him to last just a couple more minutes and then I knew I would have an easy sprint to the finish.
Almost as soon as I told him we were almost at the road we hit the road and I just started sprinting because I knew there was smooth sailing all the way to the finish. As soon as I rounded that final corner I could see the glow of the aid station but could not see the clock. My headlamp was completely useless but I ran hard anyway and just lifted my feet high and hoped for the best.
I soon saw the red glow of the clock and it began with 23! I knew I had done it; I had finally broken 24 hours! My final time was 23:47:46.
The cold weather was a blessing and a curse. This year Rocky Raccoon had more people drop than any previous year and more people were sent to the hospital than at any previous year including one woman who slid off an icy bridge and broke her leg. On the other hand the course record, and I think the world record for a 100 mile trail run, was smashed by someone who is obviously talented but not one of the recognizable giants of the sport.
I have a feeling I’ll be heading back to Rocky because Misty likes the course and she may want to try the 100 miler but if I do go back I’m not so sure I’ll run the 100 again but I would run the 50 for sure.