A good friend and 100 mile veteran offered some encouragement and well wishes race week of Rocky Raccoon and then he said this – “Don’t take it too seriously, it is just a run…then again it kind of means a lot, right?”
I stared glossy-eyed at the phrase “…then again it kind of means a lot, right?” I read and reflected on that over and over. Did it? Anxiety slowly bubbled throughout my being like one of those build-your-own volcano projects that Griffin and I had worked on during the summer. Again…did it? I had nothing.
Rocky would be my second attempt at finishing a 100. I DNF’d at Rocky back in 2010 by coming into the race injured and having my leg petrify on me as it tried to protect itself in the later miles. Saying “Arrrr matey” to all those I came in contact with wasn’t doing it for me any longer. I was done at mile 75. Over the last three years I have been getting the body healthy and stable again and gradually getting back to the ultra distances.
Let’s try and get this 100 mile finish. So I signed up!
The funny thing is in 2010 I was fairly fit, hungry to finish, but injured going into it.
This year I was unfit, with really sporadic training since Cactus Rose 50 at the end of October. Two weeks before Rocky, I ran a 50 km where I was feeling like poo by mile 20. Poor 100 mile fitness – confirmed!
Waning appetite. I was having trouble creating importance to the race because my mental energies were other places – creating and organizing content on Endurance Buzz, dialing in the final details of our 2013 race calendar and new race for Endurance Buzz Adventures, and my family. “Means a lot” was getting the Rocky Raccoon race preview out, updating the TALON race calendar, and getting the Endurance Buzz newsletter out before leaving on Friday. After hitting “send” on the newsletter, I first started packing my run stuff. One hour later, the family and I were driving down to Huntsville.
Of a fairly significant importance, I was tweak-free! Woot!
So I was in this weird state in the lead-up and began to finally focus on the race during the 3.5 hour drive to Huntsville the day before the race.
On the drive, my race strategy became crystal clear – walk every ant hill, try and easily run everything else. Dominate the little details – hydration, nutrition, body care, and attitude.
Earlier in the week, my good buddy, Tim Jagoda, asked how I was feeling and that he was open to pacing if I wanted it. What? Huh? The ‘p’ word. I was super stoked to have his company through the last 40 miles! Now I just needed to get to mile 60 in one piece.
After a surprisingly decent night of Z’s in Huntsville, we drove into the State Park at about 5:00am with race start one hour away. Wendy was already getting in some early miles as Ainsley (17 months) wanted to “walk….walk….walk.” Griffin (5 yr old) was chillin’ in the car.
Temperatures were already pretty mild, about 50F, and expected to rise to low 70Fs for the day. I was actually pretty excited about this as my engine would not be running hot anyways, so these conditions sounded groovy to me. Plus it would be really nice for Wendy and the kids.
Wendy asked what my splits would be. Had no idea. Went with five hours. Sounded conservative, yet in the ballpark.
Here we go. Five 20 mile loops.
I positioned myself in the back…way back of the 100 mile start. Race director, Joe Prusaitis, was sitting on the top steps of a ladder near the start line. In passing, I looked up to him and shook his hand and said, “thanks for everything” to quickly build up a little good karma that I would likely be cashing in on later this day. Unfortunately, my headlamp beamed right into Joe’s eyes, he had no idea who I was, but thankfully I didn’t send him to the ground.
The first 10 minutes, I was simply walking steady, enjoying the star-lit sky when I dared to take my eyes off the trail. Plenty of ultra chatter and dancing headlamps. Always a memorable beginning to any pre-dawn trail adventure.
My nutritional and hydration plan was pretty simple. Eat on the 30 and 60 of every hour. Pop an Endurolyte on the 15 and 45 of every hour. Water every 15 minutes. Repeat hour after hour after hour until the body said otherwise.
The only catch to this whole master plan – the Polar watch I planned to use to display race time had a broken band…and of course, I didn’t get a new band before the race. So I placed the Polar pocket watch (PPW) in my front pocket of the run vest I was wearing. In ultra nut-house fashion, I would unzip the pocket, dig out the PPW when I estimated 15 minutes had passed, confirm if this was indeed true (was within three minutes most of the time), then drink, eat, or pop an Endurolyte. This is normal, right?
Besides the people chatter, the rolling piney woods were extra quiet during the pre-dawn hours. As the sun began to light the surrounding terrain, the woods became alive with the chatter of birds, the scurrying of squirrels and a variety of other critters. Our little world at Huntsville State Park had come alive.
From relaxed and rolling singletrack to groomed dirt fire roads, the effort was easy. A few brief power hikes but plenty of easy running. A brief “Hey” to Wendy and kids at Nature Center aid station (mile 3.1) before gliding along to the more remote section of the course and also busiest aid station – DamNation. You hit this oasis twice during the early-middle miles of each loop. This also was a drop bag location where I off-loaded my headlamp and grabbed another water bottle as this section contained the longest stretch between aid stations at 6.19 miles.
After some quick bottle fills by Suann of the NTTR tribe, I was off to run the 6.19 mile Jekyll and Hyde section of the course. A good third of it contains a stretch of washed out dirt road rollers. This section seems to go on and on and on. Power hike up. Run for a while. Power hike up. Once you reach the end of the rollers, do a u-turn and move back into some single and double wide trail. A few short little power hike sections before a significant amount of flat to slightly downhill grade goodness. Lots of smooth running here before you hop out to the section of trail along Lake Raven that leads to the dam. This section always is a special little spot with the beautiful views of the calm lake with the sun rays dancing off its glass-like surface highlighting the surrounding nature environment. As a bit of a funny, you can also look across the lake and see where the start/finish is located. The dam also signals one is near the end of this 6+ mile section!
Back to DamNation. Fill bottle. Drop off my extra bottle and fill up my vest pocket with enough calories to get back to the start/finish area where my second drop bag of stash awaited.
Cruised through Park Road aid station (mile 15.61), ahead of schedule but staying true to my pacing effort plan. This section contained a few short grunt hills before connecting onto the beautiful two-way traffic section along the lake back to the start/finish. This is an uplifting section and always requires a bit of self control. So much bubbling energy is swirling and bouncing off runners as they pass one another, it becomes hard not to run just a bit more…just a little faster. This was also the first time I began to see so many familiar faces of the tribe and share encouragement to one another as they were heading out on loop two as I was working to complete my first.
Finished the first loop in 4:31. Grabbed some more calories to last another couple hours, rolled out my calves and thighs with the Tiger Tail (felt so good!), and headed out for another loop.
Wendy and my little raccoons were still playing catch-up so missed them on the way out.
Still pulling out my PPW every 15 minutes. Body and mind feeling good.
This loop was much more of the same steady effort. Walk the ant mounds, easy run the rest.
Wendy and the raccoons caught up with me at Nature Center (mile 23.10). It was great to sync up and hear how they were doing.
We saw each other once again at Park Road aid station (mile 35.61). In an apparent excited or shocked state to see me, and being in the process of providing an update to Tim on the phone, Wendy yelled, “Tim’s on the phone!” I chuckled and told her to tell him to “get his ass in the car, we are going to do this.” A quick update to Wendy, brief chat with G-man and Ainsley and I was on my way to finish off another loop.
Finished the second loop with a 4:42 split. Felt like a similar effort as loop 1.
More calories. More Tiger Tail. More Body Glide and a bathroom break.
To loop 3.
The back half of loop two and the first half of loop three was the warmest section of the day for me and it felt like the uncharacteristically warm temps slowed the turnover a bit but kept up with my walk/run strategy, the run pace was likely just slower.
Still looking at my PPW every 15 minutes…eating and drinking.
Towards the end of the third loop, I was beginning to feel the miles and then my mind began to wonder a bit…40 more miles to go…40 more miles to go. I quickly had to re-vector my thoughts back to my aid station-to-aid station approach…and I was about to be joined by my buddy Tim!
Loop 3 done in 5:23.
Time to regroup a little bit. Clean feet. Lube hot spot on right heel. Put on new socks.
Tim looked to be bouncing off the walls in excitement. I felt like I just ran 60 miles and knowing I still had 40 to go.
I had been moving for the last 14.5+ hours…another 13+ hours awaited.
Walking out of the start/finish area I told Tim my strategy for nutrition/hydration and my run/walk plan.
That lasted for about an hour. I would guess around 10:00pm, in between Nature Center and DamNation aid station, everything suddenly changed.
I could no longer run. This is kind of hard to explain…but I felt like my being was disconnected from my physical self. The signals to fire my muscles were muted, turned off, something. I felt a bit like I was floating…like walking on the moon. I couldn’t lengthen out my stride. I couldn’t speed up. Each attempt to start jogging was quickly shut down. I was in slow motion and couldn’t do anything about it. This is the time I really started to sink deep inside myself, to this dark and quiet place. Tim would start chatting, I wanted nothing of it. The resources to think and respond were not available.
Heading out to the 6-ish mile loop out of DamNation was the area of the course I dreaded most and slid deeper into darkness. I turned on some tunes and told Tim that I was just going to tune-out for a while. The outgoing stretch of the loop contained these pockets of damp and cold air. Felt a bit like the dead were pulling at your soul, wanting to take you with them.
Keep moving forward.
Another interesting observation was how quiet the wooded surroundings were. All the birds and little critters sleeping soundly. Just us goofballs with headlamps wandering around.
Around five miles to the end of loop 4, I told Tim about dropping. He completely ignored me.
We finished the loop in 7:03 and spent another 19 minutes putting on warm clothes, taking in a couple cups of coffee, ramen noodles, quesadillas, and staring at the canopy walls.
We stand up and Tim mentions that we really need to focus on running the flats and downhills.
I respond, “So no f’n around.”
Out we go with 22:00 on the race clock. It is now 4:00am. Eight hours to finish within the 30 hour time limit.
The PPW was officially retired at this time.
Would my body respond?
The initial 1/4 mile is a slight uphill grade, so we power walked up it.
The terrain flattens.
OK, it’s time to make this happen.
I begin running…and running in a manner very similar to loop 1-3. I was no longer walking on the moon!
Most every ant mound I power walked but every flat or downhill grade, I was running, and running comfortably. Light footed. Muscles firing. In control.
A pit stop at Nature Center aid station (mile 83.10) before we cruised into DamNation (mile 86.19). The was the crux of the loop to me. Get through this dang six mile loop!
Steady power hikes up the rolling hills. Ran the flats. Hit the u-turn and looked forward to the gentle downhill section that leads to the dam that I moon-walked the previous loop. The woods were becoming alive once again as the sun began to light our way.
We were flowing like a river along the twisty double-wide trail. Once at the dam, I walked briefly to regroup after the long run stretch before dialing up the go-jo once again.
In and out of DamNation with a steady push to Park Road aid station. Had to hit the porta-loo at Park Road. Grabbed a bite to eat and received a great quick leg rubdown by a volunteer at the aid station. Thank you!!
We continued the steady run, walk where needed, effort through to the finish chute where Griffin was waiting (thanks Matt!) to run down the final 100 meters of the finish chute with me. He was telling me, “this is a long ways” and holding his side as we crossed the timing mat together in 27:23:47.
A handshake and big thanks to Joe before receiving my buckle. I handed Griffin the buckle and he held it like a prized possession.
Tim and I ran that final loop in 5:23:47. Stoked is an understatement.
We stayed, cheered, took pics, and watched the final finishers come in. I was pretty emotional at this point and was welling up in tears with nearly every finish. It was good.
While I didn’t give this adventure the energy it deserved, I am extremely grateful for my first 100 mile finish and the amazing experience it shared with me. This I will not forget.
A big thanks to Joe, Joyce, Henry, Liza and all the volunteers that allow such an amazing event to occur! Thanks to my family for all their support of my wacky adventures! This type of stuff wouldn’t happen without it. Thanks to my good buddy Tim (and his family), for reaching out and offering his pacing interest that included both patience and inspiration. Thank you brother! To our entire tribe that started the day, the warm and friendly faces, the community experience – thank you.
Here’s to more adventures and training consistency in 2013!
PS – Wendy mentioned it wasn’t possible to sleep in the passenger seat of our Subaru Outback. I don’t think we were far out of Huntsville and I found a way.