Rocky Raccoon Race Report
Rocky Raccoon 100 mile
February 1-2, 2020
Finishing Time: 27:36
Why Rocky? I finished Twisted Branch in August and was looking for another WS qualifier for this next year. After chatting with my coaches a bit, we decided Rocky could be a good option and could play off my training from Twisted Branch rather than doing a summer or fall race and “re-training” for it. I was a little unsure because to this point, each of my qualifiers has intentionally been harder than the previous – each having more elevation gain than the last. Rocky did NOT have that, being more of a “flat” race, but we decided a good goal could be speed for this one, rather than elevation. I was definitely excited about that goal but also cautiously optimistic. To this point, my best 100 miler was 25:50 and that was Hennepin – towpath, gravel, and SO FLAT. I barely count it. My other four have been IT100 (twice), Hennepin again, and Mohican. I finished each of those with between 10-30 minutes to spare on cutoffs. Needless to say it was going to be a HUGE challenge to entertain that goal, but I was excited to try.
Not long after “official” training started, I started having foot issues again. I lost a long run and some training, headed to the bike for miles instead, and then when that was feeling better and I was feeling stronger, I headed to San Diego for two weeks. I had foot issues there trying to run, ended up hiking and climbing a LOT but I was crazy nervous because the long run miles weren’t there. The hours on my feet were there. The strength was there. I was still doing weights at the gym and a LOT of foot strengthening exercises, but I lost one long run on that trip and postponed another one. After California, I headed to Pokagon for a 30 miler, which actually was amazing, followed by a 20 mile road run. Then as I was getting ready for my final long run weekend, the Midwest weather hit, leaving me not only NOT going up to ChainO or Pokagon, but not on trails at ALL. My last “long run” was 10 miles on an indoor track (140 laps), 10 miles on the treadmill, and 2 hours on the bike. Followed by some strengthening and time in the sauna. Definitely NOT what I anticipated for my last long run. I was getting nervous. This wasn’t supposed to be how it went. I spent the last couple weeks doing more strength and weights and speed workouts and resting, nervous about heading into Rocky with a lofty goal and NOT the training I ideally wanted.
Now, I should also throw in here that my coaches are AMAZING and flexible and never once seemed to doubt my capability to do this. Most of it was my own frustration and trying to adapt – I’m such a “schedule” person that if my plan says “20 miles”, I’m DOING 20 miles, darn it, or I’m not happy. So I did have to learn how to adjust and trust that what I was doing was still going to be good training, just different than what I originally thought.
Another part of this race was that it was in Texas. Six and a half years ago, I was matched with a running buddy through the I Run 4 program. Evan was just under a year old, and he became my inspiration and motivation for so many of my runs. With the challenges he was facing nearly every day, it put into perspective that my “hard run” was not actually that hard. I dedicated my miles to him and ran my races for him. And this race, being in Texas, was going to mean meeting him for the very first time. They still lived 8 hours from the race, but were willing to drive to the race to see me finish on Sunday morning. Part of me secretly thinks I wanted to finish in over 24 hours so it would be light outside when I finished with him. Much of my excitement around this race was the thought of meeting my buddy in person for the first time AND having him meet me at the finish line and cheer me in.
I could rehash my foot issues but if you really must know more, they’re mentioned multiple times in previous race reports and blog entries.
For this race, I went into it fat-adapted. I first tried this out just over a year ago and found that it really improved my races and training. I could run longer without trying to figure out what food would and wouldn’t work for me, and I didn’t need to worry about stomach issues brought on by force feeding myself during a run in order to keep my caloric intake up. Most of you know I am NOT a huge fan of the keto diet. I spent the majority of my life avoiding foods that had carbs in them and when I finally came to the conclusion that carbs were NOT actually the devil and I weighed more than 80 pounds, here I was cutting them out again. Mentally that is definitely a challenge for me, but I knew the results were what I wanted so I stuck with it. My original plan was to have some turkey and mayo on low carb wraps to bring with me as well as bacon, in case the aid station fare was not super keto-friendly. Then as the race progressed I would eat more of just what sounded good, keto or not. I had plenty of “junk food” with my sister at the start area as well.
For this race, my usual crew and pacers were not able to make it. I was CRAZY nervous and maybe freaked out more than once about being terrified to go down there and try this alone. I eventually found one pacer whom I had met at the July training runs at ChainO, Brandy. That was going to be amazing. But I was still without a pacer for miles 75-100 and still on my own for crew. I joined up with the Tejas Trails FB group and quickly found several pacers willing to help, and settled on the one Brandy spoke highly of, Chad. Both had run the race before and were pretty expert on the course, so I was excited for that. On one of my longer runs alone up at ChainO, I kind of fell apart. It was just before Thanksgiving and I was having a rough day. I was in tears, being so scared that if I couldn’t even make it through a training run alone, there was no way I’d make it through a RACE alone. But I didn’t know what to do.
Thanksgiving evening, my sister messaged me that her Christmas gift to me was flying to Texas to crew for me. Cue the tears again. My sister is NOT a runner. She has never been to an ultra. And yet she was willing to join this crazy adventure and be my “person” for the race. I got excited again. This might not turn out to be a disaster after all. Could I run it without a crew? Sure. The aid stations are pretty close (except freaking Far Side) but I had a goal and I also do better knowing there’s someone waiting for me at the end of the loop for a hug and encouragement.
With plans in place, I started packing. I made a spreadsheet of expected times. I wrote crew instructions for my sister. I packed two suitcases (never had to FLY to an ultra before) and made sure I had more than what I needed. I packed warm clothes/coats for my sister if she was going to stay outside all night in the cold. I headed to Chicago Thursday morning and was in Texas by evening waiting for my sister to arrive. We drove up to Huntsville, found our hotel, and made plans for the next day including lunch with her mother-in-law, grocery shopping, packet pickup, and walking the trails for a bit to get an idea of them. We also managed to get a good Maurices shopping trip in there, too. Because. Maurices.
Packet pickup and race meeting was fine. Met up with Brandy but Chad was getting things ready at the aid station he heads up so I didn’t get to see him Friday. I talked to the race director about my running buddy being there and he absolutely loved it. Classy guy, the RD. He’s a combination of humor, compassion, and seriousness that a race like that needs!
Kristin and I grabbed some dinner on the way back to the hotel and ate and relaxed a bit. The morning would come early and we wanted a good parking spot, so that meant arriving at the park by about 4:30. We went to bed and hoped we would get more sleep than the night before when we were both a bit restless.
The race started at 6am. It was dark but I had my waist light. The first few miles were good. I stayed in the conga line and kept mostly to myself, feeling out the trail and seeing what I was in for. I’m not huge for making random small talk at the race, although I do like meeting people eventually. The beginning in the dark with the roots was just a “pay attention” sort of thing. When the sun started coming up, I switched off my light and trucked on. The first AS was about 4 miles in or so, at the Nature Center. It was light shortly after that. I kept close to the 12 minute/mile goal for quite a bit of the first 25 mile loop. Some were well under that. The trek out to the Gate AS was SUPER easy and runnable in the daylight and I definitely took advantage of that and ran a LOT faster there. I hoped it wouldn’t screw me over later, but it felt good. I was in and out of Gate pretty quickly with a quick bottle refill. I hadn’t stopped at Nature Center the first time. After Gate, you do a quick backtrack the way you came and then continue on to the Damnation AS. At this point everything was feeling pretty good. I remember feeling a little twinge in my knee but I figured it was from dodging roots and not being quite warmed up, so I just went with it. I did feel better by the Damnation AS. That was where I met Chad for the first time. He helped refill my bottles and put more Mio in them. That was my drug of choice for this race. I hate plain water, especially when it’s warm. Mio Sport has electrolytes AND a pleasant taste, so I had loaded up on little bottles of that to keep with me as well as a few packets of sugar free Kool Aid for a treat. I grabbed a couple quarters of PBJ and realized my plan to stay keto was not going to happen. They looked good and I was hungry, so I ate. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through years of an eating disorder, it’s that NOW, if I think something looks good, it’s usually because my body needs something in it and I’ve stopped denying myself things. I did that for too long and now I just GO FOR IT. With my PBJ in hand, I started the long road out to Far Side. This particular AS is over 4 miles away and is an out and back. The AS itself doesn’t actually have food, just water and Tailwind, because it’s so “far out” that it’s hard to get supplies to. This would be the worse part of the course, for me AND everyone else. The first loop it wasn’t too bad. I was still warming up. I got out there and refilled one bottle and then headed back, looking forward to Damnation again and it’s lovely fare. It was kind of funny because either out to Far Side or on the way back in to Damnation (I think) I ended up leading a group of people. I NEVER lead ANYONE. I’m always in the back, but I was moving well and powering up the hills and they stayed behind me. At one point I heard the guy behind me say something like “dang, who is that? She’s hammering it!” Or something and I looked around because I knew it wasn’t me, but then he said it again and I was all, “oh wait, that WAS me he was talking about!” And I almost laughed because someone actually thought I was hammering it up hills and running fast! That was a nice boost of confidence for me, although it wouldn’t last too long. Mostly just until Damnation. When I arrived there I asked Chad to message my sister because originally I had told her there was no way I’d get back to the start area at a 12 minute pace, but now it looked like I just might.
I loaded up my bottles again back there, grabbed some more food (oreos maybe!) and was happy because now there were only 7 miles back to the start area and my sister! With an AS in between to break it up! So far, my pace was ON, but after leaving Damnation, I fell off the wagon a little. It was warming up and I was tired and I knew I had gone out too fast leaving me a little winded. It was humid too.
It was somewhere between Damnation and the start/finish area that I first felt that twinge of doubt that I could reach the sub-24 goal. I had it in me this loop but I knew the next ones would be harder. I’m not sure if I decided I COULDN’T do it or if my body just decided that. The mental game would be hard the remainder of the race. I did make it back to the start area smiling and still slightly hopeful that taking off my tights and long sleeves and getting refreshed for a few minutes would be a game changer. I knew I only had one more loop until my pacers so I just needed to hang on and keep moving. My sister had EVERYTHING (I mean EVERYTHING) meticulously laid out on the picnic table we had snagged. She was ready for me. I dropped my pack and headed for the bathroom while she reloaded my pack. She had wraps ready for me and I took two (I wouldn’t end up eating them) and when I came back I had decided I needed to re-lube my feet. I wasn’t changing socks at that point, but I had a little hot spot I wanted to get some lube on quick. I left after about 7 minutes or so with my shorts and t-shirt, new water and Kool-Aid, a couple donuts, and a hug from my sister. It was off for round two after I figured out which way to go.
The second loop I slowed down a bit. The first part to Nature Center I was doing okay. Moving pretty well and not sore or anything yet, but it was definitely starting to warm up and I needed to drink more than the previous loop. I refilled my bottle at the Nature Center and headed toward Gate. I wanted to run this part because it had been so runnable the first loop but by the time I was getting close I was a bit winded. I met up with a guy, Phi, and we ran/walked for a while together chatting. He had run this one a couple times before. I left him just before Gate. When I got to Gate, Brandy was there waiting for me! That was such a relief! I was hurting more now but still smiling. She was videoing me but I didn’t know that. I thought she was just taking pictures so I’m sure the video is hilarious. Anyway, it was a great boost to see her there before heading out to Damnation again. She took some pictures and I got hugs and I refilled my water bottle and added more Mio and grabbed some more PBJ. Then it was off to Damnation. I chatted with a couple people but didn’t really stick long with anyone. I enjoy company but I also knew I had gone out too fast and needed to run my own race instead of sticking with people. I was already in my own head and feeling defeated. A quick text to the “group text” gave me some encouragement and I did really need that. I tend to set unreasonable goals for myself and then get upset when I can’t reach them, and this was a good example of that. I knew there was a LOT of race left and even if I didn’t make the sub-24 hour goal, I knew a finish was possible and, really, in a 100, that’s the ultimate goal, especially when people drop.
I did manage to get myself a 50K PR on this loop. For a lot of people, a 6:42 50K isn’t a big deal, but for me it definitely was, especially being part of a 100. That put a bit into perspective for me. I was stronger than at my last 50K and that gave me a little boost also. I trucked along to Damnation and tried to smile and be excited. Chad was there again so that was good to see a friendly face. The volunteers at this race are AMAZING and I felt in good hands constantly. I refilled my bottles, made sure I took enough food for the next long 9 mile stretch out to Far Side and back, and then took off down the road eating my cheese quesadilla.
Somewhere between Damnation and Far Side I met a guy and we chatted for a bit. Then I let him go and settled into my own pace again. Just a few minutes later I came across both him and a lady on a bridge who had fallen. That’s how I met Karen and we walked together for a while as she caught her breath and made sure she was ok. At this point the walk was super nice because I was sore and hurting and a bit discouraged. It was good to chat with someone.
About a mile away from Far Side I left our little trio we had formed, quietly, and ran in to Far Side. I needed to move. I think it was a good break to walk but my body was ready to run again so run I did! I didn’t stop long at Far Side, just long enough to fill my bottle and then head back. I was SO looking forward to Damnation and not having to see Far Side by myself again. The next time would be with Brandy. I ran/walked back to Damnation, more than ready to get back to the start area. I was so far off my pace chart that I didn’t even want to look at it. I think between Far Side and Damnation was where I tried to come to terms with not meeting my goals and not even being CLOSE to meeting my goals. I was messaging my sister out of frustration and trying to have her recalculate new goals for me and to help Brandy have a plan for what we would do. I spent a lot of that 4.25 mile stretch back to Damnation crying or almost crying because I was just angry at myself.
I shouldn’t have been.
I worked hard. I trained hard. Could I have trained harder? Maybe. But this was the race that was being given to me and simply to FINISH it was the ultimate goal I needed to keep in mind. The night hours were going to be hard. I didn’t want to get all crazy before it was even dark. I tried to keep perspective. I was running. I was ABLE to run. I was able to BE HERE. I was going to meet my buddy. The A-goal is not always the goal that is going to happen. And I needed to be okay with that.
Damnation came and went. I think I was upset at that aid station. Chad could see it. I told him I was struggling. He called out for a friend of his and I hooked up with Dirk and Hamlin and they were my lifesavers for the next 7 miles back to the start area. We ran some, we laughed some. I listened to their banter back and forth which was WAY fun. It was absolutely PERFECT for those 7 miles I laughed for REAL for the first time in 20 miles. I was having FUN again. As we were less than a mile out, Hamlin’s speakers started blaring “whooooooa, we’re halfway theeeeere……whooooooooa livin’ on a prayers” and I laughed because it was unplanned but perfect.
Back at the start area, I put on my long sleeve shirt, kept my jacket in my pack, decided against pants (I still can’t decide if that was a good or bad decision) and got my light ready. I didn’t make any other major changes. I was still eating and drinking well. No stomach issues. No chafing issues. Just a couple hot spots on my feet but apparently that is how Texas trails go. Brandy and I took off on loop three, halfway done.
Loops two and three are harder to remember. A little blurry. I remember telling Brandy several times that I was NOT having fun anymore. She played a video from a friend back home about 4 different times and I think I cried all four times. Occasionally I would think of something she could text my sister to have ready at the beginning of loop 4. We chatted some but a lot of it I think was just me complaining about hurting. She let me “earn” sitting down for a few minutes, and that was glorious. I really hadn’t sat yet in the race, which was good for me. I got some ramen or mashed potatoes and ate that while I was sitting for a few minutes and then it was back out there. I tried to run some but my feet were not really letting me and my knee was bugging me a decent amount. I would run a short spurt and then be back to walking. We were still moving pretty good, so that was nice. At Damnation I grabbed more water and COKE and we headed out to Far Side, knowing when we got back to Damnation, Chad would get ready to pace.
I got to sit again at Far Side. Just for a few minutes. Then it was back to Damnation knowing I only had to go out to Far Side ONE MORE TIME. That was a glorious thought! I was still eating and drinking well at this point but I was definitely hurting and DEFINITELY getting cold. I was moving slower AND it was later than I originally thought. I do remember telling Brandy a few times that we needed to run because I was getting crazy cold. I had put my jacket on but I knew I’d need more at the start area. I asked her to text my sister and have her have my Patagonia jacket ready. She already had it. And my mittens with handwarmers. She was amazing. And my sweat pants. I knew my tights might not be enough and this wasn’t a fashion show anymore.
Finally back at the start area, Chad was waiting. I had used the bathroom at Nature Center so I didn’t need to stop at the start area, and could get right to getting warm. They had hot chocolate and mashed potatoes for me. I sat down and did decide to change socks and relube my feet since I had to take my shoes off anyway to put my sweatpants on. I put my windbreaker AND Patagonia jacket on and my pack over those. Changed the battery in my light. Got my headband and mittens with handwarmers, took a couple pictures, and away Chad and I went into the night. I warmed up pretty quickly after that.
Loop 4 was a blur. I had been taking Aleve for a while now (since Hamlin asked me why I’d wait) and it was making my vision a little sketchy. Just hard to focus. Part of that was also being the middle of the night. But it did slow me down a bit more. I had taken JetAlert at the start area also, to give me more of a caffeine boost. I could always tell when the Aleve was working and wearing off because I’d be able to run more. I did make sure I was drinking enough and taking in electrolytes because of the Aleve. Chad and I chatted some. I don’t remember what about, honestly. Some if it was just me following him and trying to keep up. He set a good pace that I was trying to maintain as long as I could. We were still on par for a decent finish and nowhere near chasing cutoffs like I usually am. That was a relief but also might have made me slower. I was between goals – I had missed my A and B goals and now all I had to do was finish. I tried to push myself because I didn’t want to finish with 20 minutes to spare. And I knew at some point my buddy would be waiting for me that that would push me along even more.
I was hurting. I know I mentioned that more than once to Chad. I know I was complaining. I had a blister that was NOT getting better and at Gate we had someone look at it and take care of it. They indeed had saved me some spicy apple juice so between that and the emotional support puppy I was petting, the blister popping and draining wasn’t as bad as it could have been. After that I was limping for a while because it hurt so bad. I remember Chad telling me that the pain was in my head and if I kept telling my brain it wasn’t hurting, eventually it would stop. Well, he was right. It did stop hurting a few miles later and I could hardly feel it. I ran a little bit and walked more.
It’s funny how an 18 minute mile pace can feel like a 15 minute pace. I think if I learned one thing it’s to tell my pacer ahead of time what pace I want to keep and then try to just hang on and follow them. I know I wasn’t moving fast but I do remember thinking at the time that I was literally going as fast as I possibly could at that point. Sometimes that point changed and I got a bit faster, but looking back at it, I remember thinking I was pushing myself as hard as I could in that moment. That’s something I need to remember. I think increasing my strength will help me be able to push myself harder at a slightly faster pace in the future. I think there are always going to be those moments when you are absolutely positive you are pushing yourself as hard as you can. My goal is not to get rid of those moments. This is an ultra. It’s SUPPOSED to be hard. MY goal is to get to those moments and just be strong enough that an 18 minute mile pace that was my MAX effort turns into a 16 minute mile pace.
As the sun was coming up, there was fog over the lake. It was beautiful. I stopped to take a picture of it and Chad took a picture of me, and then I checked my phone. I’d had it in airplane mode most of the race, as evidenced by the 60% battery life still on it after 28 hours, but I checked it briefly, and saw the only thing I needed to see to push me – Evan and his mom were AT THE PARK. They were HERE. I told Chad, “let’s go, I have a buddy waiting for me!” And we took off hobbling/running for a few minutes until I had to stop again. From that point to the finish, I knew exactly what I was going for and I pushed as hard as I could. I really do think I did push myself as hard as I could. I’m looking back on it now wondering if I could have done more or gone faster, but in that moment, I was giving my all.
About a mile to go, I took my mittens and hat off and stuffed them in my pack. It was getting warmer. Chad said he wanted to run ahead to take pictures but I think I told him to wait until we got to the straight away. Weird that I was telling him what to do when he knows the course WAY better but my brain wasn’t working crazy well and I think I really just wanted someone there as long as possible so I didn’t fall over!
When we got to the straight away road, he took off and I started running. A slow jog at first – REALLY slow, and then I saw the road crossing, and I got faster. The tents were there now and at the end of the tents I saw them. Evan and his mom. I started crying at this point, a bit overwhelmed at both finishing 100 miles and meeting my inspiration for the first time. I tried to hold it together but I was a weird combination of crying, smiling, laughing, and stinky. I helped hold on to Evan as his mom put his shoes on, and then as I was reaching for his hand to have him walk across the finish line with me, he just raised his arms up toward me. So after 100 miles, I picked up the sweet little guy and the most precious moment was carrying him across the finish line with me. I will never, EVER forget the look of pure joy on his face, or knowing that the same look was on my face. His mom took him from me after a little bit of a struggle (He didn’t want to let go!)
And then I had one of the volunteers bring Evan his own buckle. A HUGE thanks to the race director Chris for listening to my story and allowing me this amazing privilege. It’s a memory none of us will likely forget.
The moments after the race were equally precious with my little buddy, and we took some pictures and chilled for just a few minutes before deciding on breakfast plans and heading back to the hotel to pack up and shower. I’m glad I didn’t need my “plan B” to shower at a Planet Fitness in case I didn’t finish before we had to check out of the hotel.
Lessons learned, things that went well, regrets?
Hydration, salt, calories, chafing – everything was nearly perfect in this regard. I did have some sausage fingers and I’m not sure if it was from too much or too little salt. I did stay pretty up on my electrolytes and salt, and I never felt sick or bad. My stomach never gave me issues. Nothing I wore chafed. I do need to consider the terrain next time to try to prevent blisters. I have a few nasty ones. This happened at Mohican too, with similar roots and rocks. I ordered some Injinji socks today to give those a try just for fun.
Lesson learned? The UltrAspire waist light is junk. What I didn’t mention further up was that about two hours before sunrise, a runner came by with their pacer and their lights had gone out. I had my backup flashlight in my pack and happily gave that to them to use, since we had replaced my waist light battery with a fully charged battery a few hours before. Then about an hour before sunrise, my light went out. Chad and I ran the rest of the dark part side by side using his waist light. Apparently that’s a known issues with the UltrAspire old waist light, and it got me at Twisted Branch also. I really feel like a battery should last more than a few hours when it’s a light USED for ultra running. That was disappointing but I’ve had that light for a few years and I’m doubtful the company really cares at this point. It’s a chunk of change to save up for the new one, and I’m hesitant to do that if the new one has the same issue. I need a light that can last through the night or at least more than a few hours.
The light was the only major malfunction, honestly. I learned a lot about myself once again. I can push myself more than I think. Sometimes I can get into my head EARLY in a race and that can destroy me. I also learned that my sister is an AMAZING crew and an even better friend. I learned that motivation can be as simple as a Coke waiting for me or a tiny Snickers bar. I learned that trail friends really ARE the best type of friend.
I need to give a shoutout to Coros, also. I used the Coros Apex for this run and I’m pretty sure every time I use it I fall in love with it more. I used it in full GPS mode and I still ended the race with about 25% remaining on the watch battery power. Never had to charge it. Never had to worry about it running out of battery. I’m pretty sure that had I kept it running, it would have lasted MORE than the 30 hours it touts.
Also in use was Muir Energy, for the first time. I had a lot with me and ended up not using a ton of it, but i did use the caffeinated raspberry one and a sunflower butter one and man those things are GOOD and effective.
Also, props to Tejas Trails for making this a cupless race. I appreciate not having to waste cups at every aid station and while we DID use cups for the hot stuff, it was nice to be able to use my own cup (the awesome Tejas Trails one!) for drinks. Mental note – bring a tiny carabiner next time to make it easier to get the cup on and off my pack!
Regrets? I hate saying I have regrets. I feel like I learned from everything that happened and it will make me stronger and better in the future. I do wish I wouldn’t always set the bar so high and then be SO disappointed if I fail. I do like making big goals and I’m sure I will make them again. But my perfectionistic tendency is to be super down on myself when I fail to reach those goals, rather than doing the old yelling “PLOT TWIST” and changing things up.
Overall, I AM happy with how the race went. I TOTALLY busted my trail PR for 100. I barely count Hennepin because it’s not so much a “trail” and has no elevation. But rather than finishing with 20 minutes to spare like usual, I finished with 2.5 hours to spare, and for me that is pretty incredible. I felt STRONG for a lot of the race. My knee was bugging me from almost the beginning and I’m not entirely sure why, but it didn’t start getting worse until halfway through or so. Here’s to training hard and getting stronger and turning my “max effort” pace into a faster pace!
Many many thanks for my incredible pacers and crew, and the many friends who shared miles with me, encouraged me, picked me up when I was a wreck, talked me through a hard long run, and just are generally amazing. I have the best teammates anyone could ask for.