Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Rocky Raccoon 100 (Part One) - The Good Stuff

A DNF (sorry...spoiler!) is kind of like a grief process. It's nothing like a death of course, but I feel like I'm going through the motions. I was in the anger stage when I wrote this, now I have moved on to acceptance and moving forward.

Much to the surprise of a lot of people, I showed up at the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile race the weekend of 2/6/16. While this had been something on my schedule for months and I had been planning for it all along, I didn't tell very many people of my intentions for several very personal reasons.

PS I did not earn this buckle.

I put in (almost) all of the training. I did a 50 mile race, back to back marathons and a couple of 50ks thrown in for good measure to get ready for this. I felt really good about this race. I could only see myself crossing the finish line. I knew what it felt like to suffer (see Rough Creek 40). I felt tough. I fell a little off the plan after the holidays, with grad school deadlines and then a minor hip injury. I didn't get a lot of miles in those last few weeks leading up to Rocky, but I had already put in my dues.

Brazos Bend 50
The weather for the weekend was looking beautiful, heading into race weekend. One of my best and oldest friends from MN was driving down for the weekend just for this. I was incredibly honored. She and her boyfriend had never been to Texas and now they were coming for me?

This is not Lisa, this is a raccoon showing his glee!
Initially, I wasn't planning on having a pacer. I have these bizarre notions to do these things myself. I did a 50 miler on my own without a pacer (which was really never a is kind of unusual for that to be allowed in the first place), but I couldn't wait to spend some time with Lisa in the dead of the night for 20 miles – everyone's girl's night out dream, right?! It was really a blessing in disguise.

Ryan and I had a fun little road trip down to Huntsville on Friday afternoon. We made a required pit stop at Buc ee's (a gas station mecca that all people must experience once in their lives) and made it to the park for packet pick up.

because, fudge n'more
I tried to get some sleep Friday night and was actually kind of successful until I heard the LOUD, BOOMING thunder! What. The. Ever. Living. Hell. I have had the worst luck with race weather over the last year or so....40 mph winds, rain, rain and swamp ass humidity. The forecast said NO RAIN. What was happening here? So it rained for a few minutes. Kind of a lot of bark with no bite, but unfortunately, that was at 0345. My alarm was set for 0440 and now I was wide awake listening for more rain.

We left for the park around 0510 and were met with a ginormous line-up, although it did start moving ok. When we got to the ranger station and got ready to pay, the ranger told us that the car in front of us had paid our fees for the day. Seriously, trail runners are a unique group. We decided to pay it forward and pay the entry for the car behind us as well. It was good karma.

I got to the start and it was a sea of headlamps and darkness. I had wanted to meet up with fellow Altra ambassador, Lint, and see Lisa before the race started and I had no idea how I was going to make this happen with just a few minutes until the start.

scared, ready and nervous, really about to cry
I no more dropped my bag at the drop site stood up, but heard someone call my name. It was Lint! He recognized my pink jacket! Have you ever met a total badass? Well I have. Lint has hiked the Pacific Coast Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and my dream, the Appalachian Trail all the way through, at one time, three separate times. Sometimes from North to South, sometimes the other way around. He referred to himself as the “everyday runner”. I laughed.

We said our hellos, I decided to stick with him for awhile so I wouldn't tear off like I'm good for and before I knew it, it was go time. Then out of nowhere...there's Lisa and Matt! I only got to say hello, and give Lisa a quick hug. They had also gotten up at the butt crack of dawn to see me cross the start. I almost cried I was so happy! A quick hug and I took off.

gorgeous, right? my friend Lisa took this as we were all plodding along in the forest. see more of her amazing photography here.
Lint kept telling me that he wasn't a fast runner. Ummmm....yeah. What he is, is a super fast walker (and a solid runner). We were hiking 14min/miles. The start was pretty congested, which was probably a good thing. One of my goals for the race was not to fall (plenty of you know why) and running in the dark on a rooty trail with lots of energy would've surely seen a face plant had I not held back some at the start.

what a gorgeous day to run 100 miles
The aide stations, very well stocked and as frequent as about 4 miles apart, with the exception of damnation, which proved to be the most challenging section of all the entire day, both physically and mentally, 7 miles in a loop. But, being the researcher I am, I knew this well ahead of time and had prepared my head for it.

We did a lot of talking about trails, friends, talked with lots of people along the way who had some really amazing stories. We caught up to Gunhild Swanson, a 70 year old spitfire who had an epic finish at Western States last summer. She was so nice, super positive and really funny too! It was an honor to meet her, even though it was brief. I met up with her a couple more times during the day, eventually she passed me one last time out on the damnation loop. She is crazy amazing!

Those first 20 miles flew by. Before I knew it, I was at my drop bag, changed my clothes and shoes, restocked and headed out for miles 20-40. I was still feeling really good, super fresh. I made a point to keep eating and more importantly drinking as this has been an issue for me in the past. Another goal: no puking.

I had started out wearing my Altra Superiors, which handled like a dream on the rooty parts of the trail. I knew I wanted them early on as they are light and fast, but also knew I didn't want to run the entire race in them as they don't have a lot of cushion and a rock road along the road could get pretty gnarly later on. So I switched up to my Lone Peaks, light with more cushion. Perfect for running and hiking.
These shoes have seen some adventure.
Most of this loop was really a blur. I met up with another girl about my age from Maryland and we shared some laughs and stories. This really helped this loop go along pretty quickly too.  Lisa, Matt and Ryan had also met me at one point along the way. I could see the boy's orange sweatshirts before they could see me!

twinsies! photo cred L. Groene
I was doing well on time, taking about 4:45 on loop one and just a bit over that on the second loop. My splits were still really nice. I was still running a good portion of the trail. While it was pretty rooty in a lot of place, it was still a beautiful, runable trail. It was a gorgeous day and the woods were bathed in sunshine, yet it never got too hot.

At the last aide station on loop 2 I had to stop and take care of my feet, or else I knew they would take care of my later in the day. I could feel a couple of hot spots creeping up between my toes, so the amazing volunteers helped me with getting them lubed up and made a good point about turning my compression socks inside out so the seam wouldn't rub on my toes.

a fallen tree with a root system as tall as me
Before I knew it, I was back at the staging area with my drop bag and amazing crew: Lisa, Matt and Ryan. They helped me do what seemed like a million things in about 10 minutes. I changed my clothes and socks again and felt ready to go again. I was doing really well with my nutrition, eating something substantial at every stop. It was hard not to turn down quesadillas, potato soup, mashed potatoes, hamburgers and so many other things. When it started getting dark, there was even hot chocolate, coffee and of course, chicken broth. I wasn't really hungry, but I knew I had to eat. Poor nutrition has gotten me into some bad situations in the past and I wasn't about to let that be my downfall this day.

I had my own personal paparazzi! phog credit to Lisa Groene
After I had passed the damnation station, my son called me. He told me he had wanted to call me to see how far I had gotten and how much further I had to go. At that point, I think I was 47 miles into the race. It was good to hear his voice. He had wanted to come with us, be he also had a birthday party he wanted to attend. He was pretty torn, but we decided the birthday party would be more fun for him this time (he is going to Leadville with us this summer and is super stoked!).

Soon after I hung up, it started getting dark. Headlamps on. This lap had been pretty lonely as runners were very spread out, some had already dropped and the really fast people were close to finishing. I started listening to one of my audible books, but later decided I really liked the silence of the woods. It was so peaceful. Even the sky was amazing, almost many bright stars that you just don't see in the city. I was still feeling really good and really positive, but I knew it was time to have Lisa come with me for a loop. At first we had discussed her doing miles 80-100 with me, but after this lonely loop and the fact that I was getting a little sleepy, I decided it was best she come with me for loop 4.  

I had to - #bearfact
How's that for a cliff hanger? 

Stay tuned for Rocky Raccoon....the not so good. 


  1. DAMMIT!!!!!!!! I HATE CLIFF HANGERS!!!!!!!! :)

  2. I love this!! You tell it all so well, it is like I was there all over again (secretly wishing I was)! I can't thank you enough for posting all my pics!! That's so awesome... thanks a heap! Can't wait to read part two, even though I know how this one ends. :-)

  3. P.S. I may actually look like a raccoon some mornings. Tehehehe...
    Did you try any of that fudge at Buc 'es? It was so tasty!!