Texan Nicole Studer, won the 2013 Rocky Raccoon 100 in 16:55:02 and finished sixth overall! This was also Nicole’s first 100.
Enjoy as Nicole shares with us her Rocky experience.
I woke up on the day of the race full of apprehension. I had never run further than 50 miles, so I knew that the Rocky Raccoon 100 was going to be a challenge. My husband, Eric, drove me to Huntsville State Park, kissed me good luck, and I headed to the start. I lined up with all the other runners and as the air horn was fired, I took a deep breath and took my first of many steps down the trail.
It was dark as we made our way to the first aid station, and I did my best to establish a good pace. I don’t run with a watch, so it was easy to find a pace that felt comfortable. Within a couple miles, I had settled in behind Nathan Leehman, a runner from North Carolina whom I had never met until that day, but who was to become my running partner extraordinaire for the vast majority of the race. The pace was steady, and before I knew it, we had passed through the first aid station and then the next. Time was passing quickly in these early miles as Nathan and I chatted about our families and jobs. While I had no expectation that we would be able to run the entire 100 mile journey together, I was grateful to have a strong partner to run with for as long as possible.
The miles continued to pass quickly, and Nathan and I completed the first 20 mile loop in less than 3 hours. The pace seemed reasonable to me, as I quickly grabbed some more water and assured Eric that I was feeling strong. Within minutes we were back out for loop two. The second loop also felt very relaxed and comfortable as we made out way from aid station to aid station. The volunteers along the course were truly spectacular and always motivated me to keep pushing forward. A big thank you to all the wonderful volunteers – these races would be impossible without you.
Loops two and three were fairly unremarkable for me and time was ticking by quicker than I had imagined it would. I still felt fairly strong, all things considered, and I knew I was fortunate that I still had Nathan to run with. Throughout the race I kept telling Nathan that we just had to make it to mile 60, because at that point I would have friends waiting to pace us through the final 40 miles. Nathan came to refer to this group of pacers as my “North Star.” The “North Star” was composed of four friends from the White Rock Running Co-op who had driven down from Dallas to run with me from mile 60 to the finish. As I rounded the corner to begin the fourth lap, there they were, waiting on the sidelines and proudly sporting their WRCC shirts. Ally Gump was first to join us. With a characteristic big smile on her face, Ally brought some welcome cheer to the fourth loop. By this point I had already run 10 miles farther than my previously longest race, and I was beginning to feel the miles. Ally was our caretaker- always checking on us to make sure we were eating/drinking enough and feeling strong. Having her there by our side with her fresh energy made me feel that much stronger. Before long, we were at the DamNation Aid Station where Brent Woodle took over the pacing duties. Nathan and I were still running strong together, so Ally volunteered to continue on, but as Nathan’s pacer (each runner can only have one pacer at a time so this allowed all four of us to run together and still comply with the race rules). With eight miles to go in the fourth loop, we had a strong group of four runners. Brent is a very strong runner, but he was always careful to cater to our pace and check with me to make sure I was feeling okay. It was at this point I noticed that Nathan was beginning to get out ahead of us over the hills, and I encouraged him to go forward without me. My legs were getting heavier but I did my best to keep up a good pace as Ally and Brent’s energy propelled me forward to the end of loop four.
By mile 80, everything felt much tougher… and we still had 20 miles to go. After the fourth lap I saw Eric, and he handed me a sandwich he had made. I was getting tired and knew the last lap would be the toughest. I took comfort in knowing that I had two more great friends who were set to pace us through the final loop. Eric gave me a kiss and told me to hang in there – that he would see me at the finish. We set out for the final lap.
James Ayres was the first pacer and he held a flashlight for us as we navigated through the darkness. This may sound trivial, but having someone else light your path is a huge help. It’s also hard for the person holding the light because they have to focus on lighting your path rather than their own and have to do it without tripping and falling in the darkness. James was up to the task and told us stories about his family, St. Patrick’s Day, and his school. Time was going by but not as quickly as during the previous loops despite the entertainment value of James’ stories. By the time we reached the DamNation Aid station, I finally understood the true meaning of “tired”. After we left the aid station, I started to slow down but could tell Nathan was still feeling strong (or at least stronger than I was). As I watched him charge up the hill and out of our view, I felt happy for him and I knew he was going to have an amazing finish (he did – he ended up placing second overall). I wanted to charge ahead with him but simply could not will my legs to move that quickly. James was patient as always, and he kept encouraging me to run through this six mile leg of the final loop rather than walking. I was growing inpatient, and I don’t know how many times I asked him how far we had to go. My poor pacers had to suffer with this question frequently. We finally finished the loop and Brent Yost was there ready to run me in.
After taking the time to fuel, we set off. This was by far the slowest portion of the race for me. I was having trouble just picking up my feet to step over roots and rocks. In typical fashion, Brent was always patient with me, but he encouraged me to keep moving and to keep a steady (albeit slower) pace. Brent and I have trained a lot together. He was my first friend at the WRRC and had run with me through some of my toughest workouts so I had total confidence that Brent would help me power through these final tough miles. At this point, I was doing as much walking as I was running but Brent kept encouraging me to run. Of course, by now I was asking how far we had to go every two minutes. It seemed like an hour, but we finally were close to the finish. I will never forget when we made it to the 5 km (from the finish) mark. Only a week earlier, I had paced my boss through his first 5 km. It was not until this race that I understood his pain with covering this distance. All distances in running are very relative given your experience level. Around this time, we saw our good friend David Renfro running strong along the course. It was amazing- he had only decided to run the race on Thursday. It took all my energy and Brent’s encouragement, but I was able to run to the finish.
I will never forget what a wonderful feeling it was to see Eric and all my friends who had helped me along the way. Race Directors Joe and Joyce presented me my first belt buckle, and I proudly handed it over to Eric as a token of my appreciation for waiting 16:55 hours for me to finish. It was wonderful to see Nathan and hear he had finished second. Amazing! Just knowing I ran 100 miles meant everything to me, and I felt so fortunate to celebrate with my husband and friends. Rocky Raccoon was such an amazing race on so many levels. While it wonderful to complete 100 miles, what was most meaningful to me was all of the support I received along the way. I had so many friends praying for me and cheering me on from a distance. I am grateful for you all. As usual, the volunteers were beyond awesome and made the race as easy as they possibly could on the runners. Then there were my four pacers from the WRRC, Ally, little Brent, James, and Brent, and my husband Eric, who together did something for me that I can never repay. They carried me through the toughest miles and made me laugh when I wanted to cry. I have never met more true friends and to me, that is what I will always remember about the race. Congratulations to all of the runners who participated in Rocky Raccoon. It takes guts just to line up at the start of such a long race, and I am proud of all your personal accomplishments.
- Nicole Studer