Rocky Raccoon 100 – It’s just a 20 mile loop…but you have to run it five times. It breaks into easy manageable pieces…roughly three or four miles each except for the Dam Loop…which should be treated as two pieces.
So, to organize this in your mind: 20 miles split between the following five aid stations
- Nature Center (NC) 3.1 miles
- Dam Nation (DN) 3.1 miles
- Dam Nation (DN) 6.0 miles
- Park Road (PR) 3.4 miles
- Dog Wood (DW) 4.4 miles
All five 20 mile loops are exactly the same, so after one loop, you should have it locked into your mind. The only thing that changes your perspective are the amount of sunlight and your ability to manage your own abused body.
Every aid station is managed by a superb staff of very experienced trail runners who know what you are going through and will do whatever they can to keep you going as best they can. These stations are not that far apart, so you will never be very far from constant support and tender care. Also, with 700 people running the event, you will rarely be alone.
The course is pretty docile, with pine needles and leaves over soft earth. The only real demons on this course besides the 100 mile distance are the roots…which usually remain hidden under the leaves…till later. It’s typical for you to start meeting these evil bastards after you become weary…and begin to drag your feet. High steppers need not worry, but all you gliders will regret the energy you save by sliding along…when you introduce your face to the ground.
The course rolls constantly. It is not much of a roll, but I daresay: contrary to popular belief, the course is not flat. You have heard all the tales of unbelievable speed on this course throughout the years, and I daresay this might be because it is not perfectly flat. It might be that it is just enough roll to allow more than the same muscle group to be engaged the entire time. The out and back sections where the competitors get to see each other at regular intervals might also help to motivate. Mostly, I suspect there are a lot of very fast people that come to race each other…and possibly to knock the course record down.
Each section does have a certain personality that you might recognize if you pay attention. Having run these trails for over 20 years, including four 100 miles of five loops each, 12 50 milers of four loops each, and all the other races I have experienced on these same trails…I suspect I could tell you where every root and bridge is.
To begin: From one perspective…
DW (start/end-of-loop) to NC is only three miles but is the most twisted up of all with the intention to get as much distance as possible. You will cross other side trails, and turn at just about every possible place there is a turn. It does roll a bit too. One note to carry beyond this section is that you do not have to cross over all the bridges. They were made for the swamp when it is mucky and wet. Sometimes, it is much easier to simply run NEXT to the bridges…when possible. This entire section is mostly single-track, but does use a small bit of narrow jeep road. This section is the same for out and back, which means it can be the most crowded part of the race. Add to that, most people tend to go out fast and they tend to finish fast, and there are lots of turns here…so that this may be the most complicated part for all of you. It may be difficult to pass and be passed here more than anywhere else. So don’t make this the place you plan to catch up.
NC to DN is three miles again. First thing out of the aid station, you cross the paved park road, then a mile of single-track to Amy’s Crossing. Amy’s is an important landmark to recognize right away. Understand that Amy is an alligator and this is the drainage that Amy uses to cross the jeep road. It is also a major intersection for our course where there is NO aid station and NO guides. When you approach this intersection from NC, you make a right turn to go up the road and then another right turn to get onto another single-track on your way to DN. Much later, when you come back this way to Amy’s Crossing after the big Dam Loop…you go straight up the jeep road on your way to PR. Please look at the map (course map) when you read this and it will be much clearer. Anyway, we are still on our way to Dam Nation, and this is an excellent trail over to DN. Left on the road, then right at the ‘T’ and you should be able to see DN from here…or at least hear it. The last half mile is all jeep road. The trails are both fun and fast, lots of quick twists & short bridges, then the wide & fast jeep road leading to DN. Keep in mind that the section from Amy’s to DN is out and back. There is plenty of room though and this should not be a big deal.
DN to DN. This is the longest section with six miles from aid to aid. A big loop out and back to the same place. It’s a clockwise loop, which means you have to stay left at the intersection when you go out and again when you come back in. This is the second most important landmark to recognize. More than a few people like to run this loop twice because when they get back to the aid station after the big dam loop, they go back out and run it again. It’s three miles out to the end and three miles back. The big Dam Loop has everything. It is the furthest point from the start/finish, the longest distance from aid to aid and some people think – the most difficult. Besides a short bit of jeep road leading in and out of DN, the rest is all single-track.
DN to PR is the easiest section on this course which makes the 3.4 miles more do-able. The first few miles are the same way back out that you came in earlier – down the jeep road a short way and then single-track to Amy’s. Again, Amy’s is the landmark I spoke of earlier. This time, coming at it from the opposite direction…you go straight up the jeep road. Note, I did not say flat…just straight. Its a slightly UP-hill rolling route. Your speed depends on whether you like jeep road or hate it. I don’t like this section very much and it gets in my head, but there are some who cut loose here and make very good time. Of course, the condition of the jeep road depends on the recent weather system. This road is a mix of dirt & sand, and could have ruts & mud, or flat & sweet. I’ll let you know at the race brief the night before. The road bends left when you reach the highway and this is notice that you are near PR, which you reach immediately after crossing the paved park road.
PR to DW is another bit of straight jeep road, but don’t be fooled. This has more hill than you might think. You can hear the NC station nearby but you only skim by to join the same trail you started the race on…to return the same twisted route back to where you began 20 miles ago. This section is a catch all: starting with flat & fast jeep road, then it begins to buck and roll until it connects with the same single-track you came out on. Go back and read what I wrote there in DW to NC. It could be fun, but I would not say it’s a fast section.
For the engineers:
(5) 20mi loops = 100 miles
(5) 4:48 loops = 24 hours
But you know it’s nearly impossible to run five identical 4:48 loops. Consider: it’s dark and very crowded when you start, and yet you will still run your fastest loop first. Why? Because you are buzzed up. Clue! Save some of this energy for later. Back down. Quit rushing around people who are slower. Save your energy and do a few mini bursts later when there is space for you to push past someone..and then back down again. Understand? Bottle it up and save some energy. You have a long way to go. Most people use way too much way too early and end up walking a lot of the later miles…or worse – a DNF. So, calm down, relax, and run easy.
Ok, now back to the engineers. Let’s say you want a sub-24 really bad. You know what you need to do. Might even have your splits written on your wrist. Divide the race up in your mind.
Cut it into parts:
- The Beginning till dark (if you are running sub-24, that means about 60 miles)
- the DARK miles (or the final 40 miles)
Most typically, the first three loops will each be about the same, with each one being a bit slower – 4:15, 4:25, and 4:35. This provides enough of a buffer for later. You see, when the sun goes down, it not only gets harder to see the roots and route, but the temperature drops also and this tightens you up even more, adding to the physical exhaustion of your abused muscles, plus stomach issues that will occur in some small way (or more), and whatever damage your feet have incurred (did you kick any roots?). The first three loops are bright and clear (except for the poor bastards last year who ran in the thunderstorms) and you are hopefully trained to run 100 miles, so you should be good in this regard. After dark, it is a different race. Note: If I can get out on the forth loop before the sun goes down, I push the pace to get as far as I can before I lose the light.
Ok, so the engineering notes stated a 4:48 pace and yet, we ran three loops much faster than that. Yes, that is usually how it goes. Were you to do this, then you would have 10:45 to run the last two loops. You might go slower and if you do, keep this thought, the fourth loop is the hardest. It is the loop that determines not only your time but also if you will even finish. Most people pop out after three loops and few stop after four loops. Why? Because you get a lot of energy knowing you are on the last loop, the goodbye loop. Laughing at every tree and bridge you won’t have to look at again. Saying your goodbyes and getting spun up knowing you are about to finish this thing.
The last loop means you don’t have to save anything for later. Question is: Do you even have enough to do what you did on the previous loop? If you run what you trained to run, stay in your game plan, avoid getting sucked into somebody else’s race, and keep your face off the ground…you could pull this off.
Of course, there is always more: nutrition, training, shoes, gear, crew, pacer, and so on and on. But, that is another day and another topic. I’m just offering up a few pointers to those of you who have not been here before and might like a few ideas to think about while you run in endless circles all day and night and day. I love talking about it and have plenty of time…but…only one more thing…have fun!
– Joe Prusaitis
For you experienced Rocky Raccoon 100 runners, what nugget of wisdom would you share with the first timer?