Sunday, February 5, 2012
Rocky Raccoon 100: The Best Little Trail Race in Texas
Jo and I travelled to the Lone Star State for the 20th running of the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile trail race. This race is known for being relatively flat and fast, which is in stark contrast to most race venues we visit.
It has been widely reported that Texas has been suffering from a severe and devastating drought. As luck would have it (for the Texans), this condition was remedied by the monsoon-like deluge that was headed straight toward our area.
Jo and I woke at 3:30 to prepare for the race, which started at 6:00. When we got up and checked the weather outside, it was warm and the skies were clear. But by 4:30, a massive thunderstorm rolled in and began to dump inconceivable amounts of rain. The sky was on fire with lightening and the thunder shook the hotel. These are less than ideal conditions for running 100 miles, on trails, in the forest.
But Honey Badger don't care...
We arrived an hour early so we could get a decent parking spot, but ended up waiting in the car due to the rain. There was no need to get sopping wet any earlier than necessary. At 5:45, we braved the elements and headed to the start line.
It's difficult to accurately describe how I feel when I line up for a 100 mile race. Part of me is eager, but there is a whole range of emotions that accompany me to the start line. And there is certainly no shortage of self doubt and anxiety.
It's somewhat surreal to start a race like this because when the gun goes off and I take my fist step, the reality of the situation begins to take hold. 100 miles is a serious commitment and almost anything can happen in the time it takes to cover that distance. It's daunting.
While waiting for the race to begin, the runners gathered around the start line and made small talk in the rain.
With very little fanfare, the race started and we were off into the woods!
Due to the early start, we were going to need headlamps or flashlights for the first couple hours of the race.
The race is somewhat large compared to some other 100's, so it was a crowded and slow start. The race immediately heads onto a narrow double track trail, so passing is difficult. I ran pretty aggressively in an effort to get near the front. While jockeying for position, the runners suddenly stopped and we had an instant log jam. It took me a few seconds to realize that the runners had encountered a large mud puddle that consumed the entire trail and they were trying to navigate around it. As soon as an alley opened up in the middle, I bolted passed dozens of runners and barreled right through the center of the mud.
If these guys wanted to stop at every puddle of water on the trail, it was going to be a long day.
Soon after the "puddle incident", I was on wide open trail and was sailing along effortlessly. As advertised, this is a fairly flat trail and very runnable. I was pushing a pretty aggressive pace, but I felt good and not labored.
This is a 20 mile loop that we repeat 5 times. There is aid every 3-6 miles, with a total of 5 opportunities for food and water. I carried one handheld bottle for the entire race.
Two hours into the race, it was light enough to see without a headlamp, so I switched it off to conserve my batteries for later.
The rain had done some damage to the trail, but only in certain sections. Most of the trail drains well and consists of sandy soil. But the areas with clay and soft dirt were in pretty bad shape. As I passed these bad sections during my first loop, I was worried about how they would hold up after 20 hours of pounding. I knew that the situation would deteriorate significantly before the race was over.
I finished the first 20 mile loop feeling strong. My split for that leg was 3:25. I initially worried that I went out too fast, but I felt good and didn't want to adjust my pace quite yet.
After the first loop, I was in 75th place. I was pretty shocked by this because I knew I was moving pretty quick for a race this distance.
The start/finish area had a massive aid station and crew area. This is where Jo spent the entire race. As always, we had prepared a detailed race schedule and list of my needs for each time I saw her. After the first loop, I needed a some food, fresh bottles, and a wardrobe change!
Headed out for the next lap!
The next 20 miles went like the first, except I spent more time at the aid stations. The volunteers were great and I connected with several people that I knew, but had never met in person. The food selection was great. I had planned to eat a lot on this loop, in advance of losing my energy.
This is the Nature Center aid station.
My second loop ended like my first. I finished in 3:43 and was still feeling great.
I didn't require much care after this loop. But I sat and got fed while I gave Jo an update and made plans for what I would need after mile 60, which would be the next time we saw each other.
It's now after 1:00 in the afternoon and the race is taking a different tone. Runners are beginning to slow, the trails are falling apart, and it's very, VERY quiet in the woods. This is the time that I begin to settle into my rhythm.
Meanwhile...back at the ranch....
This should NOT go without mention.
I would say Texas has a reputation when it comes to law enforcement. I couldn't help but notice the scores of park police in the area, nor could I ignore their overly aggressive presence. Menacing almost. Bordering on bullying maybe? Or maybe they just really take their job too seriously. It's really anybody's guess.
This is undoubtedly the biggest event in the park all year, and it draws a lot of people. It became quite evident that parking was going to be an issue for the entire weekend.
And this is how the park police "protect and serve"!!!
THEY TOWED RUNNERS CARS DURING THE RACE!!!
This is the most ridiculous thing I ever saw. A ticket isn't enough? The cars were towed because they were parked outside a designated parking spot. The owners of the vehicles are clearly tied up (with an event sponsored by this very park, which makes tons of revenue for this town). I think this is the most spineless thing I've ever seen during a race. It's the foundation of a jackboot thug mentality.
Enough of my rant...(except for one more twist at the end)
I finished loop 3 in 3:22. It was now 4:30 and I needed to expect to not see Jo again until at least 8:30. With this in mind, it was time for another wardrobe change and to prepare for night running.
I grabbed my Camelbak for storage, I didn't intend to hydrate with it. I tossed in my headlamp, a rain poncho, light jacket and cap.
I also needed to change my socks before heading out. And not surprisingly, when I pulled my left sock off, one of my toenails came with it. This is one of my least favorite side effects of running, and is also why I no longer own a single pair of flip flops!
Ready to head out!
A quick picture with the worlds best crew chief!
I'm now 11 hours into the race and 60 miles toward the 100. The trails are getting dark and people are getting weird. This is where the field starts to fragment in a 100 mile race. The weaker runners drop. The injured runners flag and begin to make plans to pull out. Some people are starting to lose their minds. And it's even quieter in the woods.
As the sun drops down over the hills and lights come on in the woods, the trail we've become so familiar with begins to morph into the unknown. The shift in perspective is challenging.
Also, when the sun is gone, the reality sets in. The notion that we've been running all day is now unavoidable. And the mind shifts toward thoughts of "how much more?". This is where the term "Zombie Runner" comes from. The woods are full of them!
I continued to run strong and eat heavily. I was chatting less and focusing more. My body was gliding effortlessly and I felt good. Slowing down meant that the night would cool me off too much and I could see that the Zombies were shivering. It's better to run!
I finished the 4th loop in 3:32. I believe we should celebrate often in life. And for me...that means a beer!
I was having the best race of my life, and liquid calories are still calories. Technically, beer is a food anyway...I have plenty of excuses!
I fueled up, changed the batteries in my headlamp, and headed out for the last 20 miles.
I was running with purpose and completely focused. The vast majority of the survivors were walking, or running very slowly. The words of encouragement had stopped by this point. Usually, when you encounter a trail runner, it's customary to say "Good Job!" or "Way to go!". But that was all over now. Runners were too tired, too spent, or simply didn't want to acknowledge. This is typical.
I gave thanks at each aid station on my way through and expressed my most sincere appreciation. These kind people had kept me fed, hydrated, and entertained all day and night. In my book, they are saints.
I pushed hard on that last loop and tried to use up everything I had left. When I came across the finish line, I was running at full speed, surprising the people at the timing desk. I was finished!
My final time was 18:05:35 and I finished 12th overall. It was 12:05 AM. I had missed running 100 miles in a single day by 5 minutes! However, it was my best 100 mile effort by a large margin.
I received my sub 24 finishers buckle and a big hug from Debbie. She's a very sweet lady, married to very fine ultra runner.
Debbie, like me, enjoys celebrating the small victories in life, so we gladly celebrated together. And like me, for Debbie, that means beer!
Let's rewind slightly....
I really like Hal Koerner. He's one of the best ultra runners on the planet and has won, or nearly won, every significant 100 mile race in the country. He's an all around great guy and possesses genuine sincerity.
But I wish he would stop running the same races as me!
Hal getting his buckle.
Hal...if you're reading this...you're screwing up my ultra ranking!!! When you show up, you destroy the field. You don't win by a small margin, you destroy second place. My ranking has nothing to do with where I finish! It's based off your time. Yes...I am getting compared directly to you. Not really fair since you're bordering on superhuman! So, if you could just wait near the finish line and cross immediately before the guy in 2nd place, I would appreciate it.
The same thing goes for you too Michael Wardian. Either slow down, or stop coming to my races!
A final note on Hal. His was among the cars to be towed! Unbelievable!
Rocky Raccoon was the best performance of my short running career. It's far from my favorite race, or venue, but the course suited me well and played to my strengths.
Jo and I have enjoyed our weekend in Texas and may return again next year. Or maybe it's best to just leave it alone, because I may never be able to repeat this performance.
It was great to see old friends, meet new one's, and share this adventure with so many great people.
Now it's time to rest up and get ready for the Febapple Frozen 50 Mile trail race in New Jersey on February 25th. My rest time is over. Its now time to ramp back up and hit as many trails as possible.
I hope to see some of you along the way!