Friday, February 22, 2013

Rocky Raccoon 2013 Race Report

"It's an eating and drinking contest with a little running mixed in."
"Earn this."
"Git your $#!*!"

These were the mantras I used as I returned to Huntsville for round two with Rocky Raccoon. The second was my favorite. Just a reminder to me that it wouldn't be easy and to make good on the sacrifices others had made, namely my family, for me to toe the line that day. I ran it last year as my first 50 miler and was pretty happy with the results. Especially given the rain filled mud fest it turned into on race morning. In 2012 I finished in just over 10 hours and within two weeks was sidelined with a stress fracture in my foot. I wanted to return in 2013 and give an honest effort at a sub 9 hour finish. Despite my horrible race at Lookout Mountain 6 weeks before RR I was confident in my training and ability to get the job done. I was determined to eat and drink more than I had at any race before. I was determined to earn it, even if it meant suffering. I was determined to get mine.
In the words of Capt. Miller from Saving Private Ryan

As with last year Friday evening was spent with friends, both old and new, at Homestead on 19th for dinner. And same as last year both the food and service were top notch. The group was split evenly between a NW Arkansas contingent and some Taturs from Tulsa. Always enjoyable to break bread, share stories and laughs  with like minded folks. Of course the topic of race day concerns came up. My biggest concern was the expected high temperatures reaching the mid 70s. I hadn't run in anything even close to that in months.

Otherwise there were no pre-race jitters to note. I lined up with everyone else simply wanting to go out and do my thing. I quickly found it interesting just how different the course looked from last year when every step required attention due to the footing and mud. I settled into a comfortable pace and watched as several others passed me and noticed how hard each was breathing. I knew I would see most of them again down the trail. Within a few miles I came across Jon Wilson from Missouri. We had met the day before at the race briefing through mutual friends. This was his first 50 and he had the same time goal as I did so we latched on to each other. We kept one another honest, not too fast and not too slow.
Shannon, me and David on Sunday morning

My strategy was to stop at every other aid station and that's what I did. A gel every 30 minutes, Heed in the handheld bottle (not my preference but that is what they offered), regular nips from my flask of Liquid Shot and that's it. I had forgotten my fuel belt back at home and Edward, one of the Taturs, allowed me to use an extra he had. Better than showing up to a race without your shoes, right Tim Harrington? The first loop went off without a hitch and I came in to Dogwood feeling good at 2 hours and 45 minutes. A little faster than expected but no real worry. I knew I could ease off just a bit on the next one. The fuel belt I borrowed wasn't working quite right so I dropped it there, refilled my bottle, gobbled a couple of S! Caps, fresh gels and grabbed a fresh flask. I was out quickly for loop two.

John and I stayed together for much of the second loop too. And as I expected the further we went the more folks we reeled in that had passed us at the start. This loop was highly unremarkable. My splits stayed even and I continued to feel comfortable. About the only thing of note is witnessing a runner, female, operating a breast pump while running on the trail. Not sitting at an aid station but while moving on the trail. That was a first. And Jon Wilson is my witness. Sorry fellas, no pics of that for you. It did begin to get warm on the back half of the loop. I knew staying on top of hydration would be key. My Garmin died. No big deal, in fact I expected it. Everything would be done be feel from here on in. I continued to do my best to drain my bottle between stops as well as 2 gels every hour. I finished the second loop feeling OK at 2 hours and 55 minutes. I was beginning to feel a good hot spot under a toe that I expected so I decided to take a quick look. Not a blister yet so I just cleaned the dirt and grit off, applied some Slik by Skin Strong and changed into a pair of clean socks. One more to go and I had some time in the bank. A full bottle, a new flask and a couple of more S! Caps, fresh gels and I was off to finish this thing.
A little pre-race ritual that gives me good juju

I rolled through Nature Center as I had on the first two loops without stopping. Somewhere on the way to Damnation my stomach decided to throw a party. It began rolling and suddenly it felt that everything I had consumed was just sitting down there. I had the sensation that perhaps I should just puke to empty it out. In addition I began to feel a twinge in my hamstring. I more or less expected that as I had been feeling it in the weeks leading up to the race. What I didn't plan on was the cramp developing in my left butt cheek. That was another first for me. Two weeks before RR I rolled an ankle on a training run worse than I ever had in the past. In fact, I had rolled the same ankle 6 times in about 10 weeks. I assumed the hammy and butt cheek issues were related to compensating for the weak ankle.

The scene at Damnation went something like this...
"What do you need?"
"I think I need to puke."
Volunteers scatter
I didn't puke, just kinda wondered if I should.

That's when Fred Thompson stepped in. He quickly asked me some questions and assessed my condition. As he was doing this I realized that I was no longer sweating (except for my nose). The skin on my face, neck and arms was gritty and dry. I had a slight headache and those twinges of cramps. When in the Hell did this happen? He prescribed some Endurolytes, filled my bottle with ice and Heed and I downed a gel in front of him. The conclusion was that we would re-assess when I returned there in about 3 miles. I left Damnation at 2:04PM so I had 1 hour and 56 minutes to cover the last 10.5 miles and get my sub 9 hour finish. Given the way I was feeling I knew I couldn't waste any time. I left as best as I could.
The Damnation crew, that's Fred throwing the deuces. (photo by  Deborah Scharpff Sexton)

Shannon was leaving Damnation as I had rolled in and looked kinda worked over. By my foggy ultra math he was at mile 46 of the 100 miler. I caught up with him on the "hill" about a 1/2 mile out and walked with him for a minute or two. He was feeling a little rough and I tried to gather some mojo for him and from him. After we walked that first kicker at the bottom I ponied up and began moving again. It simply didn't feel good. I could tell my hot spot was now a raging blister. My abdomen was cramping. My butt cheek was barking at me and I didn't have any juju to move with a purpose. I knew I had to be tough mentally here. I knew what was wrong (dehydration) and I was doing all I could to fix it. I told Fred that I would try to drain my entire bottle before I returned to Damnation in about 3 miles. Since I left at 2:04 I felt if I could get back there by 2:40PM I could try my best to finish under 9 hours. I moved the best I could but it really began to feel like work. I took a number of short walk breaks (20-30 seconds) trying to muster something up. I finally made my way back to Fred and Damnation. The bottle was empty. My stomach still felt bad. So did everything else.

"What time is it?"
"It's 2:46."

Dammit, it was gone. Seriously, a long 46 minutes to cover the 2.7 miles on that little loop? The gig was up. I knew the sub 9 hour finish was not going to happen. But I could still PR. I told Fred I wanted to sit for 5 minutes and drink as much as I could and cool down. I just felt so hot. They counted down the time for me and at 4 minutes I got up and began to make my way to Park Road and the final 8.5 miles to the finish. The first couple of miles were rough but as I reached the top of the double track and turned back into the trees I felt better. By the time I reached Park Road things were coming around again. Not great but better. About two miles from Dogwood I got some energy back and started actually running and not jogging. It hurt but I had some mojo working for me. I made the final turn and could see 9:26:XX on the clock. I tried to finish strong and overheard a couple of comments as I cleared the chute that my pace was good. A mix of disappointment and satisfaction.
Heading out for second loop (photo by

I had missed my goal by hitting a rough patch for 8 miles on the final loop. The time I banked on the first two loops was given back and then some. But I still had a 40 minute PR and felt that I battled mentally pretty well. Much better than I did at Lookout Mountain in December. I really don't think I could have run any harder. I am happy with my effort. Now could I have run smarter? Yes. My fueling was spot on the first loop and damn near on the second. I got off track the last loop when the GI went south but by then it was hydrating that was the priority. I needed more electrolytes and missed the early signs that I was behind the curve there. But bagging a 37th overall in a big race like Rocky Raccoon is nothing I can complain about. I am still convinced that there is a sub 9 hour 50 miler in these legs.

Thanks to the entire Tejas Trails crew, the wonderful volunteers and HSP staff for another memorable weekend in Huntsville. Congrats to all the Goats and Taturs. My man, David Newman, cruised to a sub 24 hour finish in his first 100 miler. Shannon McFarland gutted out a gritty final loop to finish another 100 miler under duress. Stormy Phillips also battled demons out there and brought it home. Mark Riley was stellar and threw down a wicked race. Mark Den Herder proved yet again he knows what he is doing. Russell Bennett had a 2+ hour PR in the 50 miler. Congrats to Amelia and Jeff Elbert on a strong first 50 miler. Jon Wilson, cheers to you for keeping at it and thanks for all that good company.