“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”
I started my preparation for the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Run shortly after the Javelina Jundred, which took place early November 2014. I had set a personal record (PR) at that race which set in motion my thought of doing even better at my next 100-mile race. I had run Rocky in February of 2014 but dropped at mile 72 due to complications of what was later diagnosed as a torn meniscus. Having just come off a great run at Javelina, along with my knowledge of the Rocky Raccoon course from last year, I felt that I could better my PR just set and do so in less than 22 hours.
After taking a week off to recuperate from Javelina, I decided to start training. Rocky Raccoon was only two and a half months out and thought it best to start immediately. I tried some short recovery runs around the neighborhood, but noticed a sharp pain on the top of my right foot after about 4 miles. I ran through the pain expecting it to improve, but it didn’t. After another week of rest, the foot without running seemed to be fine, but running any more than 4 miles caused the pain to return. I thought it might be something more serious and did not want to start a training regimen if I was already plagued with an injury. I took another week off and visited my doctor. She recommended an MRI to eliminate the possibility of a stress fracture.
After a month without consistent running, my doctor had confirmed that I did not have a stress fracture. Relieved by this news, I started to train slowly. I do not know if it was the month off from running or the news of no serious injury, but the pain seemed to lighten and fade quickly after the good news from my doctor. I do believe that the mind is an amazing tool that can control the way we feel and respond to pain.
I mapped out a plan in early December to ramp up my mileage over the next three weeks with a fourth week for recovery, then an additional three weeks ramp up to my peak week, two weeks prior to the race. The only foreseeable impediment to running the training miles was a scheduled vacation during the last week of December and first week of January. The initial week started with approximately 50 miles, adding 10 miles each week until the recovery week. The recovery week would drop back to 50 miles with the next three weeks being 80, 90 and 100 miles, respectively. The plan seemed solid based on the time I had remaining until race day and I followed it the best I could. The first hiccup in my training was not achieving the 80 miles set for the first week of January as anticipated. Due to vacation activities and the drive from California to Texas, I only ran three days that week and mustered 45 miles. Over the remaining three weeks I modified my training to around 75 miles a week average and only tapered one week prior to the race. The reason for this modification was an increase in foot pain. The pain was not constant in either foot but a variety of pains in both feet throughout training. I like to make plans when targeting a goal, but as obligations arise or I feel that I may be running on the edge of injury, I am okay modifying my training.
The Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Run takes place in Huntsville State Park about an hour north of Houston Texas, a mere three hour drive from where I live in the North Dallas suburb of McKinney. The Race is comprised of (5) 20-mile loops around the park with aid stations approximately every 3-4 miles with the longest distance between aid stations at 6 miles.
This year I would be running with my friend and training partner Richard. In November, prior to the race, we discussed the sub 22 hours target. The goal seemed reasonable for both of us for this race and, at least on paper, seemed doable. Our strategy for achieving this goal was to pace the early loops at a much slower pace in order to keep something in the tank for the later miles.
We arrived at the starting line at 5:15 am, well ahead of the 6:00 am start. This calmed any nerves or anxiousness about getting to the event, entering the park, or finding a parking place not too far away from the starting line. There were quite a few runners and their crews entering at this time but getting in and parked was a non-issue.
As the race neared the starting time, we meandered over to place our drop bags in the holding area for easy access to resupply our needs after each incremental 20-mile loop.
The weather was cool but expected to warm later in the day with a chance of showers later that evening. I decided a thermal undershirt, t-shirt and gloves would do the trick. I also wore my AK Ultimate Direction hydration vest with only one of the water bottles because the aid stations were relatively close and the weather was on the cool side.
My plan for nutrition was to take a GU every 30- 45 minutes (100 calories), drink mostly water with NUUN tablets added for increased electrolytes and flavor, and take a couple of S-Caps (electrolyte pills) every aid station. Each Loop I would drink an Ensure (250 Calories) so that I can get some needed protein to slow muscle breakdown. I figured once I couldn’t stand the GU any longer I had Gummy bears, which worked well at Wasatch, and whatever else looked good at the aid stations at the time.
The announcement that the race was about to start momentarily hurried us into position. So, after a quick picture, Richard and I headed to the start line just in time to take off running.
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”
In a hundred miler, you do not want to start too quickly. Although this seems logical, keep in mind you are just coming off a taper and your body is really ready to run. Your mind is fresh and it is telling you not only to run, but run faster. After all, this is a race right? Fortunately, when 400 people are crammed on a Jeep trail that quickly becomes a single track trail full of toe-grabbing tree roots, the tempo of the run becomes downright lethargic.
We patiently worked our way along the congested trail and began chatting with the others around us. We knew soon enough the trail would clear and we would be back at our planned pace. Besides, you lose far more time at the end of a hundred-mile race than at the beginning, so no need to panic. In fact, those last 20 or so miles at the end of a hundred you only wish you had the leg speed to move as fast as you did in those slow early miles.
After the first few miles of the course the crowd seemed to have dispersed, either speeding off ahead or dropping back. As the crowd dispersed we found ourselves settling into an easy pace that would eventually get us back on track to the pace we had planned on running from the start. Our goal for the first loop was 4 hours, and after a few hours of running we were well ahead of that goal, even taking into account the slow start. In fact, our goal was to stay as close to 4 hours for all of the loops and only give up time in the last loop where the wheels could virtually come off and we could still make our sub 22-hour goal. We finished the first loop ahead of schedule in 3:32:38, so we had at least a half hour banked in our time goal.
“I learned patience, perseverance, and dedication. Now I really know myself, and I know my voice. It’s a voice of pain and victory.”
I reloaded more GU and fluids and drank an Ensure as I walked out of the aid station. Coming in ahead of schedule for the first loop was a little concerning but we still felt pretty strong so with a quick turn around at the start/finish line we were off on loop 2. Everything was going well and the additional lighting as the sun came out was a big help. The weather still seemed cool so I kept my clothes the same. The course was easier to navigate in the light. However, I did find a way to bite the dust on multiple occasions. The roots of Rocky Raccoon are legendary and not paying attention for a single moment will drop you like a hot rock. I wound up on my face twice on this loop for one reason or another. Perhaps as the sun came up my guard went down. We held a pretty even split on this loop with the first, completing the loop in 3:34:35. Our total time now was at 7:07:13.
“Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.”
The weather was warming even though it remained overcast, so between loops 2 and 3 there was a wardrobe change. I went with the t-shirt only for this loop because I was starting to overheat by the end of loop 2. Physically, I felt good for the first 40 miles, as we had kept the pace pretty easy. Mentally, I felt pretty good because we were banking time that could be needed as the race progressed. The only thing that started to pain me at this point was my feet. We hit the midpoint in the race at 9:15 which is a new PR for me in the 50-mile distance.
As the race progresses you look forward to the next aid station. On the first 2 loops I didn’t pay much attention, but as the race progressed I looked forward to each and every one. The breakdown of the aid stations within each 20 mile loop goes as follows: Leaving the start/finish line, you have about 3.1 miles to the Nature Center aid station, followed by an additional 3.1 miles to the Damnation aid station. Once you reach Damnation, you go out for a 6-mile loop and return to Damnation. After leaving Damnation for the second time, you travel another 3.5 miles to the Park Road aid station, with 4.3 miles to return to the start/finish line. We slowed on this lap a bit and completed the loop in 4:09:22, but finished the 60 miles in 11:16:35, which was about 45 minutes better than our original goal for this distance.
“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.”
On this loop, we transitioned from daylight into darkness, so in addition to resupplying nutrition it was important to remember the headlamp. I placed my headlamp on my head and put the thermal undershirt back on as the temperature was likely to drop as the sun went down. I also grabbed my iPod so I could listen to some music over the next few miles. These miles are always the hardest for me, so my thought was that the music would help shake off some of the low points. We headed back out on the loop and after a mile I realized that I had forgotten the portable charger I use to charge my GPS watch. The watch lasted another mile and a half and died about the same time the sun finally settled and the darkness immersed us in the trees.
The 6-mile loop became longer each time we experienced it. The rain started on this loop and I had left my rain jacket at the starting line. After the 6-mile loop I stopped at Damnation for some hot ramen soup, which really hit the spot. We ended up finishing this loop in 4:39:43 for a total time of 15:56:18 for the first 80 miles, which was about 4 minutes better than our original goal. This gave us just under 6 hours to finish the final loop to reach our goal.
“I think what endurance sports teach you is to stay dedicated, stay focused, and also to understand you’re going to have ups and downs, but you need to keep running right through them.”
The rain was steady enough at this point that I decided I would put on the rain jacket for the final loop. The iPod and GPS no longer had battery, so they went back in the bag. I changed to my second headlamp because the batteries were getting weak and would not last another loop. I walked out of the aid station finishing my Ensure. Quick check on my physical well-being as I walked out of the aid station: My feet hurt badly, legs were sore but still had something in them, shoulders were sore from the counterbalancing, and my core was sore and pretty weak. In fact, if I kicked one more root I thought my abdomen would split. We joked that every time you kick a root it steals part of your soul. This “soul stealing” started to take its toll late in the race as the muscles needed to keep one from eating the dirt at the moment you kick a root were at their limit. Every time you gain enough momentum that running is possible and you feel like you are moving at a pretty good clip, a quick nick of a root against your foot will sap every last ounce of energy you had and turn your intention of running into a walk. The 6-mile loop seemed endless this go round. Although I understand that on a looped course the uphill and down hill net to zero, it seemed that on this loop it was all up hill. It was like running in an M.C. Escher painting. This is the point in the race for me that the race becomes more mental than physical and determination to finish takes over.
I had been eating GU for some 20 odd hours and the taste of GU, the sight of GU, even the thought of GU registered my gag reflex. I tried eating a quesadilla at the Damnation aid station before I left for the final 6 mile loop but it was not sitting well with me. I would rely on liquid calories for the 6-mile loop and see what I could stomach on the return. When we finally got back to Damnation and I was able to get a square of grilled cheese down the hatch, and choke down another S-Cap.
At about the 95-mile mark, only 3 miles out from Damnation, I knew that something was not right with my stomach. I was only about a half a mile off the Park Road aid station when the vomiting began. I told Richard to keep moving and that I would catch up to him at the aid station. I quickly finished up and felt better so I jogged a ways up and caught Richard right before the aid station. As we entered the aid nothing looked good to me. My stomach felt much better but the vomiting had taken its toll and I was not ready to eat anything. With just over 4 miles to go my belief was that I could finish on water and stored energy alone. It wasn’t long before I was leaning over the side of the trail puking once again. This unfortunate event reoccurred many more times over those final miles.
The final few hundred yards of a hundred mile race are awesome. Even at 3:45 in the morning there is a small crowd of people cheering you on to the finish. I was able to muster a little running the final half mile or so and finished that lap in 5:50:29 for a total time of 21:46:47, my new PR for the 100-mile distance. This was my 4th Hundred Mile Finish.
“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”
“A single twig breaks, but the bundle of twigs is strong.”
Both Richard and I finished in our goal time of Sub 22 hours and running together was a huge benefit for us both. We pulled each other through the inevitable lows that this distance brings and encouraged each other along the way. Thanks Richard! Lets do it again next year. It was a blast!!!
The Rocky Raccoon 100 is a great well-organized race. Special thanks to Joe and Joyce Prusaitis as well as all the many volunteers that make this race possible year after year. The Aid stations were well stocked and full of liveliness throughout the day and night. Each time I entered an aid station a volunteer would get me what I needed to keep me moving. I understand and appreciate the sacrifice they all made and the long hours they put in to make this run a success for all of us runners.