Rocky Raccoon 100 Race Report
if i can run an ultra, you can too.
I posted this Race Report to Facebook in 2014 to encourage anyone aspiring to be a marathoner or an ultramarathoner, but my Facebook is private so I thought I’d post it here in case it might be helpful to anyone (or at least amusing.) Hope you enjoy!
So I just finished my first and last 100 miler this past weekend and as I found reading the race reports of other inexperienced runners like myself to be extremely encouraging and helpful leading up to the race, I figured I should also pen one for other aspiring ultra-marathoners. If you don’t care about all the details, you can just skip to the summary.
***Running Experience & Training***
I ran my first half marathon in November 2011, my first marathon in September 2012, my first 50mi (The Northface Challenge in DC) in June 2013, my first 100 k (The Cajun Coyote) in December 2013, and my 100mi (The Rocky Raccoon) in February 2014.
My times were approximately:
As you can see, I’m a “just trying to finish” kind of runner. That said, I think it is also important to mention that I happen to be an extremely lazy runner when it comes to training. I usually try to find the easiest training plan I can find and even then, it’s definitely a guideline at best. So when it came to training for the 100mi, I have to admit, my last training run over 13 miles was back in September. I did do a marathon and a half-ironman in September but then spent the next two months enjoying short runs and trying to let my poor knees recover.
My 100 k in December went surprisingly well. I had some minor IT band and plantar fascitis issues but came out basically unscathed. My two major lessons learned were: bring an extra headlamp (I lost mine and had a minor panic attack. I would not have made it if another runner hadn’t taken pity on me and lent me his spare) and running at night in the woods (especially in the sleet) is a mental challenge not to be taken lightly.
About a week after the 100k I felt well enough to go roll my ankle pretty badly playing racquetball, but I had more than 6 weeks to recover so I didn’t stress too much at the time. I ran an 8 mi race and the Disney Dopey challenge, about 50 miles over 4 days, so I felt confident my ankle would hold up.
Going into the rocky raccoon I felt pretty confident I could run 60 miles (slowlyyyy), walk the last 40 and make the 30 hour cutoff time. I knew my biggest challenge would be staying awake for the last two laps, but that’s what caffeine and pacers are for, right? Besides, I had pulled all-nighters in college, and the rocky raccoon is well known to be the easiest 100 mile course. All in all, I felt reasonably good about finishing, barring any disaster!
Wake up: 0430 Saturday morning.
Race start: 0600.
Well everything went great until in the midst of 400 people converging onto a single track trail in the dark, my left foot found a large root. I stumbled to the side of the trail, feeling the too familiar pain of a rolled ankle. I looked at my watch—mile: 1.5.
My first thought was that after flying myself, my mom, and my sister out to Texas for a 100 mile race, I was going to have to quit before the second mile! Then as I tried to walk off some of the pain I started trying to think: if it was just a rolled ankle it wouldn’t get worse unless I rolled it again, I could technically finish the race if I held a steady 18 min/mile pace, and I really didn’t have anything to lose by trying.
So I continued, and my ankle started to feel better. In fact, (with a little readjustment and being very careful) it actually felt better running than walking. Unfortunately, stopping for any longer than I had to was out of the question as I knew my ankle would stiffen up, and my initial strategy of walking up the hills went out the window. My goal was to stay under a 14 min/mi regardless of any delays.
First goal achieved! Lap 1 time: 4:22.
My mom could tell I wasn’t running normally when I came in to the 20mi aid station and I got a little teary when I described to her what happened, but we both agreed that there was no reason not to try to keep going for as long as possible. I was out of there in 10 minutes and my ankle had still stiffened horribly, but I knew it would loosen up as I kept running. I tried to stay positive: at least nothing else that normally bothered me (plantar, IT’s, knees) were hurting yet, and at 70 degrees and overcast, the weather was perfect! My goal for the 2nd lap was to keep every mile under a 15 min/mi regardless if I had paused at an aid station. Even so, by the end of the lap, my limp had increased.
Second goal… almost achieved. Lap 2 time: 5:04.
At the 40mi point I agreed to sit down for a moment to let my mom and sister wrap my ankle, have a blister dressed, change my socks, Vaseline my feet, and eat half a bagel. I was worried that the wrap would cause more problems than it was worth (chafing, blisters, general discomfort etc) but I also knew that it would be getting dark in my 3rd lap and that if I rolled my ankle again, I would be done.
But lo and behold, the brace was awesome! I had to stop about a half mile to loosen it slightly, but after that I was basically able to go back to my normal gait. Morale was high! Also, as far as I was concerned I only had to run to the 60 mile mark and it would be my pacers’ responsibility to get me through from there. After all, that’s what pacers are for right?
I was still refusing to walk, but my run had slowed considerably. Staying below 16 min/mi was the new goal. Around mile 45 I started to feel kind of sleepy and took my first sips of ice coffee to try to wake up. It worked though. As I rounded the 6 mile loop after Damnation Station I was singing Bruno Mars and in high spirits. When I came through Damnation Station again they put watered down coffee in my bottle. Excellent!
Third goal… eh close enough. Lap 3 time: 5:46.
Coming into the 60mi point, I didn’t achieve my goal, but I was looking and feeling great! I had seen a few people take some bad spills, and a few more reduced to limping like I had, but thanks to the wrap, my gait was even and I had successfully run (not walked) for 60 miles. Which might seem a silly distinction at a 17+ min/mi, but it was a moral victory. After all, even before the ankle injury, that’s what I said I would do.
I knew the 4th lap would be the toughest, but I had my sister to keep me going. So after changing my socks, re-vaselining my feet, and eating another half a bagel, we were on our way! At this point, my legs were getting too tired for straight running, but luckily it seemed that walking wasn’t hurting my ankle as much as it had been. In fact, at that point, I could walk about as fast as I could run.
So, we fell into a walk/run strategy: run the declines, walk the inclines, and run the flats when possible. My sister illuminated the trail with the flash light at either a quick walk or a slow jog, and I followed directly in her footsteps. I wasn’t in the mood to talk, but just having her there in the dark with exhaustion creeping in was a huge boost.
The 4th lap lasted from about 9pm-330am, and I was getting sleepy. I started taking gel packets+caffeine in earnest, but still my mood was poor. The walking started to hurt my right calf and left shin, and my armpits were chafing awfully (something that had definitely NEVER happened to me before.) Goal: stay under 18min/mi.
Fourth goal: almost achieved. Lap time: 6:07:39.
I finished the “Beast Lap” in a bad mood and wishing that it was only an 80 mile race, but it was the LAST lap. I grabbed my mom and left as soon as we could—I was fading fast. Walking was painful. Running was painful. It was still pitch black and hours from sunrise. We passed by gobs of people finishing the race and it was demoralizing. I had 20 miles and approximately 8 hours and 45 minutes to do it in. The finish seemed a lifetime away in all respects.
I was limping again and trying to stay under 20 mi/min by whatever means possible. Strategy had gone out the window, but I was assured we weren’t at risk of not making the cut-off times. Still, I had passed plenty of runners with stories of DNF’ing in the last 10 miles—it didn’t give me a warm-fuzzy. We passed runners in worse shape than me, and I couldn’t imagine coming that far and not being able to make it the last 10 miles.
Then, struggling with just one working light between the two of us, my mom took a hard fall and split her lip clean in two, blood everywhere. Morale took a hit. I was dying for the sun to come up, but even when it did, it brought a 30 degree temperature DROP and rain with it. Ugh!
We pulled out the ponchos, but I still felt wet, cold, and feeling like the end would never come. At mile 95, the last checkpoint, emotionally, I cracked. I walked into the aid station sobbing through my chattering teeth for no rational reason in particular: I was freezing, had been awake for almost 30 hours, soaked despite my poncho, and hurting everywhere.
My mom took off her blood-covered outer shirt to give me an extra layer, put her socks on my hands, and got me some hot soup, but I was still miserable. I didn’t care that we had “plenty” of time to go “just” 5 miles. The fact that we still had to go anywhere was awful! It was at that point that a runner came in reporting that the runner behind him was shaking uncontrollably and was having trouble standing up. The possibility of DNF’ing at mile 95 was terrifying.
Time to finish!
Final lap time: 7:15. 100 mi time: 28:36.
Course: Wonderful! Flat, frequent aid stations and well-marked. Lots of roots, but it’s a trail run—just watch your step in the dark.
Nutrition: I stuck with pb&j, oranges, bananas, some pretzels, with the occasional fruit snack or bagel & cream cheese. I took electrolyte pills, watered Gatorade, heed, and water, depending on how I was feeling. I started taking caffeine gel packets (and the two instances of coffee) after dark. In the last 10 miles I drank chicken broth and had the best potato pancakes I think I will ever experience.
Gear: plantar fasciitis socks, road shoes (so sue me, I like them and I’m too cheap to buy a million different kinds of shoes), handheld water bottle, ipod & headphones, ponchos, flashlights, headlamps, ankle wrap, multiple pairs of socks, Vaseline, GPS watch, and lots of things I didn’t end up using. Also I had my sister bring her watch & ipod so we could swap and charge every two laps.
Things I wish I had: extra batteries (we brought an extra flashlight that was dead from the start, and the batteries in both our other flashlight and headlamp died, if another runner hadn’t lent me batteries we would’ve been in trouble)
It’s hard to describe how much harder the 100mi was than the 50mi or the 100k. I may be biased considering that I was injured for this one, but there’s really no two ways about it: staying up for 30 hours and burning 10,000 calories at the same time, is emotionally, physically, and mentally tough.
I usually say that I like to try these endurance runs to see what my limits are, but I think that what I have found, even when it comes to the 100mi is that your emotional and mental limits ALWAYS ALWAYS come before your physical. Having come to this conclusion, I think I can say I’m officially going to retire from 100 milers. 😊
***Advice for aspiring ultra-marathoners***
– Running a 100 miler is a matter of will and experience. Make sure you do a few shorter ultra’s to realize what your needs are in terms of gear and nutrition. To DNF for preventable, logistical reasons would be the worst. And every runner is different. You may like different foods, clothes, shoes, music, running strategy, or whatever. While race reports are good for ideas, ultimately you must make the choices that YOU prefer.
– Pacers are a must, for safety reasons as well as morale. Being cold, exhausted, demoralized, and hungry, in the dark and the rain in the middle of the night will seem better with a buddy. I definitely would not have made it without mine.
– I read in someone else’s blog/article/race report that the best advice they could give is to “Eat, Drink, and (try) to be Merry.” I cannot emphasize this enough. These are the three things that will keep you going. If you are unhappy, even if your muscles can push through, you will quit.
– When in doubt, maintain forward motion, and you too can look this happy! 😂