2011 Rocky Raccoon 50 mile Race Report

The week had finally come for the Rocky Raccoon 50 miler and all of a sudden, the biggest threat to me attempting and finishing my first 50 miler was (of all things) a storm system blowing through Texas, bringing snow and ice to the Gulf Coast. Friday arrived, which I had off from work due to the inclement weather, so I watched the news show the impact of the ice storm on the city, and was starting to question whether or not I’d even be able to make the 90 mile drive up I-45 to Huntsville. Luckily, the weather warmed up enough and Adam and I delayed our trip long enough to let whatever ice was present to thaw out and make our trip safely to Huntsville.  Now the race was all up to me.

Arrived at the park before the 100 milers started, and had the opportunity to see Anton Krupricka and Scott Jurek line up, along with a pack of other world-class endurance athletes (this must be one of the most competitive 100 mile races in the country, so it was pretty cool to be running the same trails as them). These are guys you read about and have incredible determination and god-given ability (imagining playing pickup game of basketball and Michael Jordan decides to swing by…), and somehow I am in the same race (albeit half the distance) !? We cheered them off and waited around for our start at 7 am in the 24 degree morning inside the tent.

Me and Adam waiting to start... It's getting cold!

Soon we started and after half an hour, my fingers and toes were no longer numb and got to enjoy the trail. Three 16.7 mile loops and I was hoping to finish under 11 hours. The storm system had dusted Huntsville and there was some snow remaining on the bridges which made a few of the ramps down slightly interesting. Another section on the Dam Road loop was pretty with frost covering the vegetation surrounding the trail juxtaposed to steam rising off Lake Raven (an unusual sight). But the first loop was pleasantly uneventful.

2nd lap and I'm feelin good....

Began the second loop around 3:20 which was on a good target pace I had planned. Around mile 20 I caught up with another runner from San Antonio and we started up a good conversation that managed to keep my mind off the miles. She had run with Liza Howard a few times (how cool would that be to train with one of the elite runners??) who we eventually saw on the 2nd loop after Damnation (great name for an aid station). It was great having someone to talk to on the trails as it made the time go by much faster and someone to push me along a little bit too. I was a bit sore and tired, but the way I thought about it… I was sore when I walked… sore when I ran down hill, uphill, or on flats, so I might as well just run if I’m otherwise feeling good, right? I was surprised I was able to sustain a 12 min/mile pace throughout the second loop but perhaps the company helped.

One interesting aspect of the race was there were several out and back sections at mainly the beginning and end of the loop, which allowed all the runners to see those ahead or behind them. So, I got a chance to see all the front runners, and other running friends along the way too. Wish I would have had a penny for every time I uttered “good job!” or heard that coming back at me. It’s one thing to have a volunteer saying that but even better with other runners—the camaraderie is always a great boon to the spirit during races. Scott Jurek even said something to me too, so that was pretty awesome. And from what I can tell, all the elite runners were very down to earth and welcoming to their popularity on the trail.

On the second loop, it started warming up a bit and I dropped off my cap and second shirt at the Park Road aid station and my running companion for the last 10 miles headed off. Removing the clothing helped a lot as the breezes now actually cooled me off on what was a gorgeous day. Coming into the start/finish I saw my parents, who I convinced to come in to volunteer, briefly as I ate some food and refilled my water before heading out again.

Left for my third loop at about 6:45 so I had 4+ hours to finish under 11 (over a 15 min pace, which sounds easy enough…). However, I wasn’t feeling too great at this point. Stomach wasn’t feeling great but I thought I was eating enough, and I stepped on one root where I had thought I had pulled my right calf. After I walked briefly I realized it was just a scare and soon arrived at the first aid station on the first loop. I mentioned this to one of the ladies there, and without asking she went ahead and started massaging my calves and even offered to use the roller on it which I declined. Kind of world-class service. Wish I would have thanked them more but my social awareness can get kind of hazy in the midst of 30+ miles. Left the aid station and still wasn’t feeling too great. I came across one runner, who was returning from a brief “break” off trail, as I inferred from his pacer’s sheepish grin. Pretty sure it was one of the leaders, but I didn’t recognize him.

Soon I came upon Adam who must have been at least 40 minutes ahead of me at this point and seemed to be in much better shape than me. I rolled back into Damnation and decided I needed to mix up something, so I went for some potato soup. Left the station and stomach still felt unsettled, but the soup soon gave me renewed strength and I was running very strong again, until I too needed to make a break off trail. Left Damnation again and was still feeling pretty good until the final stop at Park Road. This was at about 9:30 so I knew I had plenty of time to finish the last 4.4 miles under 11 hours, and was somewhat relieved I would finish before dark and wouldn’t be stuck without a headlamp in the woods.

Soon, however, my knee joints were really starting to get sore. I don’t remember it bothering me much before, but it became pretty uncomfortable to run, and with a respectable time relatively in the bag, it was much easier to justify walking. The last 3-4 miles were pretty rough as I managed to crawl my way back to the finish and meet Adam approach me hundred yards out and meet my parents at the finish.

I sat in the start/finish tent and regained my senses and saw the winner, Ian Sharman, come charging in and set a course record.  Something like a 7:39 pace for 100 miles.  I’m not sure I can do that for a 10k!!  He is a brit, and I remember him responding to me on the trail as the only British accent I noticed.  He looked like he could have run another loop but what an amazing effort.  And scanning the results… it looks like there was a 50 mi finisher as young as 14 and old as 79, wow.

I don’t think I would have done too much different except eat a little more real food. Other than that, I think most of the race went rather perfectly and I wouldn’t have asked for much better! And I think I learned that you probably need to have your food consumption dialed in much better for 50 milers as opposed to 50k’s. Hopefully I will have more successful 50 milers in the future.

And returning to work today…only mentioned that I ran 50 miles to a couple of people, but I never know exactly what to say to their responses… but I still get a kick out the usual reactions.