Rocky (Road) Raccoon 100 Miler
5 years ago, when laid-up with my first-ever running injury, I stopped eating ice cream. This past summer, my two little boys asked me why I never eat ice cream. Claiming a healthy lifestyle, I vaguely told them that, after I finished my first 100-miler, I would take them out for ice cream and actually eat some too. Looks like it’s time for me start thinking about what flavor to get . . .
ROCKY RACCOON 100 MILER
We must always be gracious to our hosts, especially when they are as wonderful as the folks from Tejas Trails. A huge thanks is due to Joe and Joyce Prusaitis and their exceptional volunteers for marshalling the small army that makes this event possible. From my perspective it was flawless. Thank you all. I have a whole new respect for Texas!
This was to be my first attempt at 100 miles and I was approaching it as a practice run for Western States in June. My primary goal in any race is simply to finish, but entering Rocky I added two additional goals: finish in 15 hours, plus/minus and hour, and finish top-5. From a goals standpoint, the race was an incredible success: I learned some invaluable lessons for Western, finished in 15:35, and was fifth. Here is the (nearly 3,000 word) blow-by-blow, starting at the very beginning.
EMAIL, Me to Joe (Rocky RD): I’m a neophyte to the 100 mile distance and am planning to run alone. If you know of anyone who might be interested in pacing the last 20 miles, I wouldn’t say no.
EMAIL, Joe to Me: Meet Meredith Terranova [a human dynamo].
EMAIL: Meredith to Me: I’ve got a great guy to run with you, Pete.
The stage was set, and all I had to do was get myself to Texas. After tweaking my knee on my 32nd birthday (December 24), I had had about 6 sessions with PT Danielle Clark at Boston Sports Medicine in Somerville (any folks in Boston looking for an excellent PT, I cannot speak highly enough about Danielle’s skills),. My body was healthy, and I knew the training was there to get me to the finish line in a time I could feel good about. I did not feel cocky, but had a total belief in my preparation. The anxiety I did have centered around how many GUs I would be allowed to carry-on the plane (I was bringing a lot – too many, as I learned). Despite my desire to travel sans-checked luggage (I’m cheap), I checked a bag ($25 dollars on top of my plane ticket? Really?). I (and the bag) all arrived safely in Houston on Friday, and I headed the hour north to Huntsville State Park, in the 80 degree heat.
I finally got to meet Meredith and Pete (veteran of some gnarly 100 milers) the night before the race. They proved their incredibly kind natures by introducing me to a second pacer, Bryan, who would run miles 60-80 with me, Pete’s wife, Kristy, and Meredith’s husband, Paul (an accomplished ultrarunner/triathlete), who would be offering encouragement and crew-support during the race – all for a total stranger! (Meredith and Paul were really crewing/pacing for Ian Sharman, but stuck around at many aid stations to cheer me through, and were there at the end). I proved my lack of race experience by asking them how to assemble the chip-timing bracelet we would be wearing.
Race morning commenced with an inauspicious wake-up call. Around 4:15 AM the heavens opened up and it rained. It rained hard. And it kept raining. Hard. One can either embrace this sort of situation or suffer through it. Given the downright pleasant mood of everyone at the start, it seemed the former was the preferred philosophy on this day. By the 6:00 AM start, the rain had let up (a bit), and we were off.
The race is 5 loops of a 20 mile course, with several sections you run twice each loop. Every step is runnable, and if you’ve ever run in places like the Fells or Blue Hills around Boston, you will feel like you are running on a road. As expected, a group made up of Ian Sharman, Hal Koerner, Karl Meltzer, and Osawldo Lopez were running at a very fast clip. I found myself about 1 minute back through the first several miles, thinking that I had a long day, and not wanting to push things too much too early. The course was superbly marked, making it easy to follow. I simply ran at what felt like a comfortable pace. I found myself running alone for much of the first loop, just staying comfortable, finishing about 6 minutes down from the leaders.
I ran the second loop entirely alone***, after being buoyed by the all-star crew of Pete, Kristy, and Bryan at the start/finish (***One is rarely actually alone on the Rocky Course – there are a lot of people. I was thrilled to see so many friendly/familiar/furry Trail Animals, including Dima (who gave me accurate splits all day, and made me smile when he told me to run faster with about 7 miles to go), Karen, Gail, Jason, a gentleman who volunteered at Stone Cat (sorry, my memory was shot at that point!), and “Sully’s Friend.” I also saw Randy, who I met in the airport the day before, who managed a strong finish).
As I approached DamNation the second time (26 miles in), I had my lowest moment of the race (which is saying a lot. If you keep reading, you’ll understand why . . .). My knee started to get tight, like it had been off and on since November, and for the only time in the race, I thought, NO! I STILL HAVE 74 MILES TO GO! I was on top of my calorie intake (until the last 14 miles, I only used the aforementioned GU, GU’s new Grape Roctane drink, and, thanks to the wisdom of TARCer Julie O’Mara, ginger). This time through the DamNation loop was fairly depressing. It begins with a long straightaway over some gentle rollers, which just seemed to go on forever, my mind slowly creeping to the negative, as the knee continued to give the slightest hint of getting angry. Fortunately, by the time I finished the loop the knee felt fine, but it had definitely raised some doubts in my psyche. At the next aid station I told Pete that the knee was being a little funky – I think mostly as a way to accept what was happening (and because I like to whine).
To find a good groove, and try to forget about the knee (which was feeling fine at this point), loop three started out just running a pace that felt very comfortable, trying to build up momentum like a big Diesel train. As I headed out, I saw one 100 miler a couple of minutes behind me, looking strong, which gave me a little extra motivation (as did the crew All-Stars, who kept me in and out of aid stations in a flash – whatever I needed, they had, ready to go. They were topnotch all day). After seeing the crew at the first aid station (mile 43.5), things started feeling good, and I went with it. There were about 3 miles to go until DamNation and it clicked by easily. It got even easier when 100 yards from the aid station I saw Oswaldo Lopez, the 2011 winner of Badwater.
Oswaldo looked like he was hurting. After being up on me by ~8 minutes six miles before, he was limping and moving slowly (he later told me that through 30 miles he and Ian had been running 7:00 pace). I was stoked by the possibility of taking over fourth and building a strong lead, but I introduced myself, and said, “BAMOS OSWALDO! Let’s run fast together!” He understood, and hung on my back. At first he was doing a lot of grunting on the little rollers, but we kept at it – chatting in a comical mix of English and Spanish (Oswaldo was probably hallucinating and in need of a medical check when he said he was impressed with my Spanish) - and made very short work of the next ten miles, hitting some low 7:00 miles out of DamNation. And then I learned my first lesson about the difference between 100 milers and 50 milers: I cannot exclusively eat GU!
56 miles in, I had to stop at the aid station for a pit-stop. While doing this, Brooks Williams caught up. We ran together into the start/finish, where Bryan would be joining me for miles 60 – 80. Brooks stopped to change socks, and I needed to keep moving to stop from getting tight. As Bryan and I started, we almost immediately caught Ian Sharman, and Paul (who was pacing Ian). I asked Ian if he wanted to run with us, but he was clearly hurting. Still, passing the guy with the course record and such talent was rather uplifting 60 miles into the race (to his great credit, after dropping, Ian stuck with the All-Star crew for the remainder of the race cheering folks on).
Having Bryan along was a great morale boost. His shiny shoes made me laugh, thinking about what they would look like after some of the muddier sections (to his credit, his shoes stayed shiny for a long time). I was still taking in GUs, but after 60+ miles of that, the body was starting to “get rid of it.” I felt as if I was running pretty well, but on this 4th loop, started to make more “pit stops,” which killed some momentum – I would gain ground on Oswaldo, only to lose it in the bushes. Brooks caught us at the end of the DamNation loop (where Meredith started pacing him), and we ran together until I needed to make another pit stop. The running still felt smooth, but I was becoming less responsive – I had to tell Bryan that some stories would have to wait until the end of the race, because the mind didn’t have the ability to run and talk in great detail at this point. Bryan and I just cruised into the start/finish.
A final start/finish transition with the crew All-Stars, and Pete and I took off, less than a minute behind Brooks and about 10 minutes behind Oswaldo. This was unchartered territory – I would be running further than I ever had. Pete was patient (he does teach middle school . . .) putting up with my inability to communicate, and, at this point, my very frequent pit stops. As we pulled into DamNation to begin thatt final loop, I contemplated what to do to get the gut back on track. Pete suggested forgoing GU (we only had 14 miles to go!). Knowing that Josh Finger (who finished 6th) was only about 25 minutes back at the start of the last loop and I was having to stop so frequently, we went with Pete’s idea (Meredith had been at DamNation, and offered my an Imodium. I was nervous of any side effects, so did not take it – perhaps a poor choice). A few more pit stops were needed, but at mile 90, I had my final trip to the side of the trail.
Unfortunately, with this final stop, came a new problem. Stepping back onto the trail and starting to run, my left knee, which had been bothering me since November, seized up. For a moment, I thought I was done, but with Pete’s steady presence, we started jogging and it loosened up. We kept moving as best we could over the next several miles, running a couple around 8:15 pace (according to my Garmin). We pulled into the final aid station, and, having not been taking any GUs, I stopped for Coke. I drank a couple cups, and psyched myself up for the final push.
The race nearly ended about 50 feet from that last aid station. The knee did not realize it still had 4.5 miles to the finish. Suffice it to say, it hurt. This may sound clichéd, but I actually thought about my family who had been following the race all day online. I thought about taking my boys out to ice cream. The idea of stopping quickly left my mind, and again, Pete offered a steady presence. After some rather unsuccessful walking steps, we decided it would be better to simply “get it done.” I started “running.” The knee loosened up (with the exception of these two moments, it never actually hurt at all during the race). I felt the need for another pit stop, but Pete kindly suggested that we just push forward, lest the knee lock up. We hit the out-and-back from the start/finish. We hit the boardwalks/bridges. ~1.5 miles to go. Was that a guy driving an ATV telling us, “Good job!”? Did Pete really say, “Good job driving” back to him? 0.5 miles to go. I told Pete I was really looking forward to sitting down. We ran the last little hill. The final turn. The end.
Sitting down has rarely felt so good. Ramen noodles have never tasted so good. Taking my shoes and socks off has never felt so good (although it was a bit embarrassing that Paul had to take them off for me . . .). I have never washed that much mud off my legs before. And, a day later, when I got home, my boys have never looked so stunned as we all sat down to enjoy our ice cream together (we had Oreo, cherry, and ginger snap). Looks like I’ll have to finish another 100 pretty soon . . .
My feet and legs were rather dirty. The course was wet and muddy all day. I didn’t change any footwear during the race, wearing my Flite-230s, with some Darn Tough running socks for the duration. Amazingly, other than being pruney and dirty, I only had one small blister on the side of my big toe – I haven’t even lost a toenail yet!
While the feet were good, I still have to thank goodness Pete, Kristy, Bryan, Meredith, and Paul were all there. They got my car, helped me walk to it (after sitting for a while, I could put no weight on the knee), drove me back to the motel, and Paul basically carried me up to the room. The interesting thing was, with the exception of the left knee, the body felt surprisingly good. The next morning, with the knee being quite sore, I contemplated buying crutches. I also noticed that my right ankle was swollen (and, naturally, both feet were a bit swollen). As Meredith had foretold, the Ramen post-race had settled the stomach a bit, with the salt and solid food combination, but I hadn’t really eaten much after the race. So Sunday morning, I headed over to IHOP.
There were many knowing nods walking into/out of the restaurant (and motel, and airport) that morning. It was clear who had just spent the better part of the past 24+ hours running around Huntsville State Park. We shared a special bond (and “walk”). It was great travelling back with fellow Trail Animals Dima and Karen – we were all a little punch drunk so we could abandon all civility and just relax (I also managed to score us bulkhead/exit row seats for Huston - Phili. I was the last person on the plane from Phili – Boston, and the flight attendant took such pity on me that she allowed me to literally fall into a 1st class).
I finally got home at 2:00 AM, using my rolling suitcase’s handle as a make-shift crutch. I was tired. I got to the door, and there, in my 5 year-old’s handwriting was a giant poster saying, “Congratulations Daddy! We Love You!” Perfect.