Wednesday, February 24, 2010

2010 RR 100 Race Report



Rocky Raccoon 100
Huntsville, TX
Feb. 2010

A chilly, rainy, mid-morning flight out of Augusta, GA set the tone for the day.  With more than adequate time planned for the connecting flight out of Atlanta to Houston, the inclement weather delayed our departure.  The plane was also late arriving from Atlanta because of the same weather system.  The pilot assured us not to worry about connector flights because everything was delayed in the South.  Nonetheless, it gave me a chance to spend some time with this gentleman who owned a local medical supplies business as we talked about friends we had in common from my work.  He goes out to Colorado and Wyoming with them periodically for some big game hunting.  He was most entertaining as he shared some of his traveling experiences from his adventures out west, which made the time pass by, and kept my mind off what laid ahead.

By the time we got to Atlanta, my connector would have left 45 minutes ago, but no worries because everything was delayed according to the pilot.  When I scanned the flight departure screen, my connecting flight was not displayed so I found a rep from Delta for assistance.  “Yes sir, your flight did depart on time but I can get you on the next flight to Houston, which departs in 5 minutes.”  Sweet, I was thinking, until we started to taxi down the runway and I started to think there was no way my luggage could have made it with me.  Too late now!  Most of my running gear and supplies were in the bag I checked-on, and I could only imagine not having this for my race.  “Don’t think about it”, I told myself because there is nothing I could do about it now. 
 With two hours of flight time, I had a chance to reflect on all the hard work I put into this race to ensure I didn’t have a repeat of last year.  I changed my training plan to include more miles with the long run, longer tempo runs, and weekly mileage peeking at 100 miles.  I thought about why I dropped 80 miles into this race last year (see 09 race report), and what I was going to do different this year to guard against it – Re-lube my feet after each 20 mile loop and change into trail shoes at the 40 mile mark.   I didn’t get in as much hill training as I normally would, but with only about 10,000 feet of total elevation change, this is a fairly flat trail course with a few rolling hills to keep it interesting.  My only concern was I tapered more than usual because of my work schedule, and felt a little flat with fewer miles ran the past three weeks.   I ran the course through my head, thought about the roots which would be a challenge later in the race when it was dark and the legs tired.  Imagined running strong on the flats and downhill sections, and conserving on the uphill sections!  Another challenge I would be faced with is running 100 miles without my crew or a pacer - A solo run, and relying on the aid stations and myself, to get through this.  I arranged for a drop bag at Dam Road aid station and one at the start / finish line.  I went over in my head the critical items I would need each 20 mile loop, and rehearsed each stop to the point it would come naturally because thinking clearly would be difficult the last two loops.

Before I knew it the pilot announced we were arriving in Houston TX and would be landing shortly.  Now, let’s see how lucky I was with my luggage!  And lucky I was as my baggage rolled around the luggage carrier.  Now I have a rental car, luggage, and a one hour drive north to Huntsville.  Woooooo, not so fast, the traffic out of Houston was a nightmare and I was going nowhere soon.  Two hours later, I found myself trickling into Huntsville and I only have minutes before race check-in ends and pasta dinner turns into a pumpkin.  The storm shelter facility where the pre-race check-in and trail brief was looking really empty, but I made it in time to hand-off my drop bags, get my race package, and grab a large plate of pasta, salad, and garlic bread (no waiting line – imagine that).  I missed the race brief, but no worries, I know the course, the challenge, and what to expect.  The only thing I’m missing is trail conditions which I suspect is very wet with all the rain and snow TX has received this winter.  I asked one of the volunteers about what to expect tomorrow and she said with it being a sandy soil, the water drains very well, and there was only a few muddy spots to navigate.  Okay, now I can relax, enjoy the moment, soak in the ambiance of nerves energy from those few runners around me.  I can hear this one lady behind me entertain about 7 others at her table as I marvel at her talent to talk non stop while breathing, eating, and drinking at the same time.  Another runner across the table from me hits record time for inhaling a plate full of pasta and salad.  Maybe there is something wrong with me in my relaxed state, and I should be more nervous and full of uncontrollable energy!  I feel at peace with myself, calm, and just enjoying the moment for I know how soon it will pass and will be left with only a memory.

On my way to check into the hotel, I swing by Starbucks and grab some coffee for the morning (hotel coffee is always bad) and a slice of fresh banana bread covered with walnuts to go with my Boost to top my calorie tank off before the race.  At 10pm I’m settled in bed as I check the weather one more time and go over my routine for the morning.

A blink of the eye and the alarm is sounding which indicates I must have slept really well.  It was a cool 41 degrees which indicates to me shorts, light gloves, and two layers upstairs.  My concern now was getting a parking spot close enough to the start / finish line so I could leave my bulky gear in the car.  With over 600 runners signed up for the 100 and 50 mile races (record year), parking would be limited.  Fortunately, I got a spot within 500 yards, and would only have a short walk if needing additional gear.
 Race morning check in was smooth, and I milled about with small talk with other runners waiting for the big show to get started.  I tossed on an extra sweat coat because of the morning chill, with plans to drop it off in my drop bag at Dam Road along with my flashlight and gloves.  I knew the start would be slow the first few miles with it becoming a bottle neck of runners and no place to go.  Eventually, everything would thin out which would allow me to set my own pace and not be dictated by the pack.  Before I knew it, I could hear the countdown and we were off at a walking pace waiting for the head of the train to get going with about 100 runners in front of me.

Loop 1 (20 miles)
It was a memory as we steadily moved down the trail.  I thought about last year when the race started not knowing what lay ahead.  Now I was going into this race with every little hill and turn memorized.  I thought about the changes I made with my training plan and if I would see a difference.  My focus was not to get too involved with all the chatter around me, and to hit my marks with refueling, calories, and salt.  I planned on starting each loop with a bottle of Perpetuem, taking a gel every time I hit an aid station (about 30 to 45 minute intervals), an S-Cap every hour (cool conditions), peanut butter filled pretzels bits during the 2nd half of the loop, and a Boost drink after each loop.  I would also eat whatever looked attractive at the Aid Stations (AS) to mix things up.

As we got settled into a slow pace waiting for things to thin out, the conversations are always interesting and memorable.  This one young man was confidently talking about how he has done several marathons and decided to venture into ultras.  Some of the runners asked how many ultras has he done before taking on a 100 miler, and he replied “None – This was my first ultra!”  There was a brief silence in the air for nobody wanted to speak their initial thoughts and dampen his spirit.  After a pause, everyone wished him luck and said to go slow for the racing doesn’t start until you make it to the 70-80 mile mark.  RR100 is unique because it does not require a qualifying race, such as a 50 miler or some other ultra, to enter this race.

I ran for a couple miles with a young Army Captain who was a medic stationed in Texas.  This was his first 100, but he has completed a few 50 mile ultras, and was ready to take the next step.  We exchanged some military talk as we shared our good and bad experiences.  He has 12 years invested and planned on going into retirement, followed by getting a civilian job as a nurse.   I said you won’t have any problem getting a nursing position for they are always in demand.  I told him to not get too far ahead of me for I might need his expertise before this race is over (LOL). 

WOW – That was quick as we flew into the first AS (Nature Center – 3.1 miles) with no need to stop.  A lot of the runners around me stopped just because the AS was there, but I knew it was only a distraction so early in the race.  I checked my watch and was 5 minutes behind schedule, but knew it would be slow going at first.  I laughed to myself saying OMG 5 minutes with only a day to go!  Within 15 minutes I found myself with no runners around me, and no need for a flashlight, as dawn was breaking and life was waking up.  It was so peaceful and quiet as I started to find my stride for the first time since the race started.  My legs felt so fresh, feet feeling great, no stomach issues, trail in excellent condition, and life was in a perfect state.  I was thinking how many people in the world woke up this morning knowing they would be running all day and night with few stops to refuel!  Most would not even fathom the thought, most would think this was completely crazy, most would find a thousand reasons to not do it, and not all would have the right genetics to complete such a daunting feat.  Does it require an Olympian caliber athlete, body of iron muscles, or super human features?  I say no – Just a goal, a will to accept no excuses, determination to train in all conditions, and self belief that one can when most ask why. 

I refocused my thoughts as I reached the next AS (Dam Road – 6.2 miles) and dropped off my extra layer of clothes and flashlight, refilled my water bottle, and downed another gel.  With my pace increasing, and the sun starting to rise, I can feel the change in temp although it’s only a few degrees warmer.  The next section is a 6 mile out and back on more smooth rolling hills.  So far I only encountered 2 noticeable muddy spots with standing water, which required nimble feet to avoid from getting too wet.  Most of the trail was in great shape with soft pine straw and a few challenging sections of large surface roots.  Not a problem for the most part until further into the race when these roots magically grow to twice their size in the dark of the night on tired legs.  But for now, the roots are almost fun as it mixes up the running surface and takes your mind off what lies ahead later in the day.
As with most of my races, I don’t get far without the call of nature knocking, reminding me who takes priority.  Last year I was lucky that the call didn’t hit me until I made it back to the start / finish line with lots of Porto-potties close by.  Not so this year as I find myself out in the middle of nowhere with the trees spaced apart.  As we all know, no need for modesty during these events, as I find my way a little off the trail for a tree to hug.

A lot of the runners I passed earlier were now ahead of me as I found my pace again to put time behind me.  Turnaround point had a guy stationed there with his large tent recording numbers as we passed by.  Next landmark in my mind was running over the dam where you could look across Lake Raven and see the main park where the race started.  Last year I was thinking there was my crew just on the other side waiting for me to come back in, but this year I had nobody waiting so it was not as exciting. 
With the 6 mile out and back loop done, Dam Road AS (12.2 miles total) was now booming with 100 miler and 50 miler runners going in all directions.  This AS really had their stuff together, and did an incredible job of giving each runner individual attention as swarms of runners passed in and out.  Now it was time for my least favorite part of the course because it just seemed to take forever with it mostly on rolling dirt roads forever in sight.  Much to my surprise, it actually passed by fairly quickly as I munched on my pretzels.

The Park Road AS (15.6 miles) was just as I remembered, and I spent only enough time to refill my bottle again and notice the mardi-gras theme decorations for the night time running support.  Time to hit the rolling hills near the power lines, surface roots on the woody section, and walking bridges along side the lake!  I thought back to last year again on how painful the 4th loop was returning on this section, and how I was almost in tears because of the pain from the dollar size blood blisters under the pads of my feet.  I told myself this would not happen this year because I was going to stop and take care of my feet whether or not they needed it, after each 20 mile loop.  The day was shaping up to be a beautiful cloudless day with the temperature just right in the 50s.  I counted the walking bridges and came up with 7 as I ran the final section back into the start / finish line. 

Another runner heading back out was Olga.  I knew what she looked like from visiting her blog from time to time but never met her at a race.  I yelled, “Hey Olga – Looking strong girl.” She replied, “You too.”  I know she was wondering who that was, and most likely heard that from a lot of runners.  She is one tough cookie, well known in the ultra circle, and a very talented runner.  We would cross paths a few more times throughout the day, but never getting a chance for small talk.  The stretch leading into the main AS (Time 3:54) was full of people on both sides as they clapped and yelled for morale support.  This is always such a rush and I soaked it up like a sponge feeding off their energy.

Okay, without my crew, I needed to focus on my mental checklist so I wouldn’t make any mistakes which would come back to haunt me later in the race.  I grabbed my drop bag and set up camp inside a large open tent for runners.  There was plenty of camping chairs around for use, and started to re-lube my feet and ditch the sand in my socks and shoes.  I decided to run with my road shoes for one more 20 mile loop before changing into my trail shoes.  I re-lubed a few other areas, drank a Boost, restocked my gels, another bag of pretzels, ditched my outer long sleeve shirt, and refilled my bottle with Perpetuem.  It turned out to be a 20 minute stop which was more time than I had intended.  It took me longer than expected to re-lube my feet, and it felt like I hardly spent any time stopping.  I sure did miss my crew and all they do for me.  I especially missed the energy I got from them as they unknowingly would recharge me before heading back out.

Loop 2 (40 miles)
Time for a self check – Feet felt well, supplies refilled, clothing just right, and loop 1 complete with no issues.  The only thing that needed attention was my turnaround time.  I reminded myself of the goals I established for this race:  Finish, personal record (PR) if all was going well, and sub 24 if having a perfect day with no mistakes.  My plan was to have three 4 hour loops (3 loops complete by darkness) and the last two loops would be whatever I had remaining based on how well I took care of myself the first 12 hours.  I was already 15 minutes behind schedule, and had to figure out how to take care of my needs and cut back on my turnaround time.  I also knew that after the 3rd loop, it would be more of a challenge with the fatigue factor, muscle cramping, and the unexpected issues that always surface during this type of race.  I told myself there was plenty of time to make up what little I lost, and that the first loop was expected to be a little slower with all the runners at the start, along with the unexpected nature break.  I stopped worrying about my time and reminded myself the important thing is no feet problems. 
The 2nd loop was uneventful as the temperature felt perfect under a clear blue sunny sky.  Last year I had a bad patch half way into the 2nd loop, so I was expecting a low point which I call my first demon to confront.  To put it into symbolic terms, I have discovered during these 100 mile races, I have 3 demons to confront with the first appearing around 25-30 miles, the second around 65-70 miles, and the third around 85-90 miles.  Each one I confront is stronger and more persuasive than the last.  Some runners I know use different analogies to describe this such as the Pain Cave, walls, or low points.  Nonetheless, it does occur, it is very real, and you do feel it physically, mentally, and emotionally.  You just have to have faith that it is only short term, push through this tough stretch, and all will be better with a sense of victory once on the other side.  I’m not sure what happened, but I never got a chance to face my first demon.  I felt great the entire 2nd loop and never experienced a low point.  I rolled through the AS with little delay, maintained a steady pace, and ended my 2nd loop feeling strong (8:14).

I went through my routine as fast as I could making sure I didn’t miss anything.  I changed my socks and swapped into my trail shoes.  I checked out my feet really well and had no blisters, no soreness, and no hot spots.  Went over my mental checklist again – feet, gels, Perpetuem, Boost, all is well.  Then I was interrupted by nature again and although unusual for me to go twice during a race, the Porto-potties were close and I better take advantage of this.  OMG, was it really bad in there – And this was the nicest one I could find.  The first one I checked looked like a bomb went off inside.  I think I was better off with the trees!  Fresh air never smelled so good!
 
I thought about my third loop and what I would need ahead of time to make it a smoother transition.  Then I realized I had no cold gear for when the sun set other than what I originally had on at the start of the race.  I made a dash for my rental car, grabbed some running pants, extra shirt, hat, and heavy gloves, and placed it in a large zip lock bag in case it got colder than expected.  I put the bag next to my other drop bag hoping nothing would happen to it with no name or other info on it.  While getting my gear out of the car, I called my wife real quickly just to let her know all was going well.  I knew she would be worried with this being a solo run and no crew support.  I assured her the feet were doing great, a little off my pace, but so far no problems.  She said to try and call before heading out on my last loop, but only for a second if possible.  Although 900 miles away, her crew experience kicked in, as she told me “I better get moving.”  An older gentleman and his wife pulled up beside my car and asked for direction so they could find the start / finish line.  They wanted to see their daughter finish her first 50 mile race.  He asked if I wanted my picture taken and I replied thanks.  I got back to the main area and realized I left my water bottle on the roof of the car – RRRrrrrrrrr.  I was so upset with myself and wanted to pitch a fit like a schoolyard boy.  I ran back to the car, which no longer seemed like just a short distance away, and returned ready to go.
Loop 3 (60 miles)
Again, I lost a lot of time in this AS, but felt like I had wasted little of it with idle time.  All those little things that need attention can consume a lot of time.  I did grab my handheld flashlight thinking I most likely won’t make it back before sunset.  I told myself I would dedicate this loop to my daughter Renee and thought about the positive vibes she would be telling me, and her competitive spirit she displays in dance and volleyball.  I maintained a positive upbeat attitude knowing I was in good shape for my first two goals, and still had a good chance at my third goal. 
I was about half way into my third loop when my stomach started to fail me.  Maybe it was from all the gels I took, or lack of salt, or…Ok, back off, drink more water, and take a couple of S-caps and see how this settles.  I thought back to last summer’s Mohican race, and how quickly my stomach can drag me down.  I used this experience and knew I had better resolve this now before it consumes me.  I made it back into Dam Road AS and they were really pushing food / calorie intake to the runners.  I said I need to back off the food for a little and get my stomach under control.  This one Dam Road AS helper, which I never got his name, but reminded me of Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs (same look, mannerism, and voice – could have been his twin) talked me into a handful of fresh PB&J cubes for the way out.  I agreed and actually found them to be most tasty as it helped to keep my stomach from getting worse.  I did have a couple cans of ginger ale in my drop bag at the start / finish line which should help also. 

As I approached Park Road AS, it was just starting to get dark when I needed my flashlight.  I’m glad I grabbed it earlier for it would have been a nightmare traveling over all those roots in the dark.  I made it back to the main AS (13:41), and the first thing on my list was the ginger ale, which I’d been thinking about for the last 8 miles.  I could not do another Boost or Perpetuem with my stomach upset, nor did I want to make it worse.  I let the ginger ale settle as I went about my ritual of re-lubing my feet, dumping out the sand, and grabbing my long sleeve shirt with the temperatures starting to drop.  I was glad I took the time to grab this gear earlier which was now paying dividends. 

Loop 4 (80 miles)
With my handheld and head flashlight, full water bottle, and re-lubed feet, I was ready to take on the loop that did me in last year.  This loop was dedicated to my son Josh, and I thought about his unwavering devotion for wrestling, and courage to get on the mat and take on wrestlers 4 years older than him, and win.  I told myself I would finish this 4th loop in better condition than last year. 

This was when the race started for me and I got myself pumped up to take on my demon – Bring it on and don’t forget to give me your best effort because I don’t want any excuses when I beat you.  No way was I going to let him win this one.  I was starting to feel my legs getting fatigued and heavy, but still able to maintain a steady pace.  The temperature was dropping fast and I was really glad I grabbed extra clothes.  I was moving fairly good on the downhills, but getting slower on the uphills.  My feet were getting tired, but still no blisters, no hotspot, and no problems moving forward.  My focus was to get through this loop with my feet in good shape (relatively speaking considering 80 miles on them) so I can head out for the final loop.  I still looked good for my first two goals, but the third was slowly slipping away.  Although I was still on a 23 hour finish if I held my current pace, I knew the night time and fatigue setting in means a slower pace.  The good news is my stomach started to feel better, and I no longer felt like throwing up.  I knew I was getting behind in my calorie count and needed to start eating everything that looked good to hold me over for the cold night.  I was no longer sweating which means less water and salt intake compared to the day light hours.  I felt like I was starting to hit my first real low point for the race, which is unusual for it to hit me for the first time this late in the race.  Nonetheless, I recognized it and just put my head down and pushed my way through it knowing it would get better soon. 

After leaving Dam Road AS for the 6 mile out and back loop, I could really feel the affect of the race as fatigue started to kick in.  I heard a pack of coyotes not too far in the distance howling at something (most likely me being easy game).  It was a little creepy between the coyotes and unusual loud sounds coming from the swamp (something from a horror movie).  Then I was wondering if I would run across any armadillos or alligators.  But I soon realized that it was most likely too cold for them.  I finally made the turn, which seemed to take forever, and started on my way back when I had a personal encountered with a trail root as I went stumbling out of painful control, but stayed on my feet in a not so eloquent style.  I didn’t want to fall and tear something else up by landing on the roots.  My right ankle took a good shock from the impact and was not too happy.  Nothing broke, no bone sticking out, no blood, and the most important part, my feet in good condition.  I didn’t get 50 feet down the trail and again I hit a root with the same foot and jerking my ankle about.  What was going on!  I go all day dancing around these roots and loving it, and now I’m tearing my ankles up and cussing like a sailor.  Before I would make it back to Dam Road AS, I managed to catch a few more roots but not nearly as hard as the first two hits.  My right ankle was not feeling the love, and I was starting to get concerned for how much damage I might have done to it.  Time for a pep talk with myself - Quit complaining, suck it up, stay focused with the task at hand, and get through this loop with no more mistakes.

As I arrived at Dam Road AS (72 miles), the same guy asked if there was something I needed help with, which I replied “a new set of ankles.”  I refilled my water bottle, grabbed another PB&J, and asked for my drop bag to get my light gloves and sweat coat because I was starting to get really cold.  After bending over to get my gear, and sealing up my drop bag, I stood up and felt a little light headed.  One of the AS guys asked if I was alright, and I replied “just got a little dizzy from bending over but I feel good now, considering.”  I just need to keep moving I told him!  I took about ten steps out of the AS down the dark road toward the woods and my world was flipped upside down.  It was a strange feeling because I was fully aware of what was happening, had no control over it, and had a difficult time trying to put one foot in front of the other, like I was drunk or something.  It wasn’t a dizzy sickness feeling, but it felt like I had no control of my balance.  I kept convincing myself I just needed to keep moving forward and all would work out. 

The next thing I know two guys have each of my arms, holding me up, and asking if I was alright.  They turned me around and start walking / dragging me back to the AS to check me out (this was a first for me).  They get me in a chair and said that I looked really bad heading out of the AS, and I would have bit the dirt if they didn’t catch me.  I said I felt fine except for being a little dizzy.  They asked me some questions, which I was able to answer, and they said I looked mentally sharp, but that I needed to hang out with them for awhile to get me stabilized.  They asked about my water intake, calories, salt, which they seemed to be satisfied with.  They checked my hand for signs of dehydration and inadequate salt intake.  I said I might have gotten a little behind with my salt and calorie intake because of an upset stomach earlier.  They suspect my dizziness was from not enough electrolytes, so I took two S-caps there along with some chicken soup.  The guy who looked like Mike Rowe was absolutely awesome and displayed great compassion for my condition.  He took it upon himself to see me get better so I could continue this race.  He was worried I might enjoy the chair too much, with the heater blowing in my direction, and decide to DNF.  I told him to keep the heater away from me, and to let me go when they felt comfortable for I hadn’t come all this way not to finish.  He just wanted to keep me a little longer to make sure I was good to go before heading back into the cold dark swamp.  I started to shake uncontrollably while sitting in the chair because I had lost all my body heat.  They insisted turning the heater towards me to get some heat back in me.  They did give me some hope, and a laugh, by saying I was in the right chair on the right side of the big tent.  The other side was for those dropping out, and it looked really full.  I didn’t realize how many runners were dropping at this AS until I glanced over.  I took a good look at them and could see defeat in their eyes.  I said I needed to get going, that I felt great, and would like to continue.  They were excited that I wanted to continue, got me pumped up for the next stretch, and handed me a couple freshly grilled slices of cheese in a taco shell. 

I lost a lot of time at the AS, but I didn’t have much of a choice.  I was now feeling better as I continued down the trail.  Thank God this didn’t happen between AS in the middle of the woods with the freezing cold temps.  It’s strange how all you can hear is your inner voice telling you to not stop no matter what.  Although your body is begging you to stop, your mind is exhausted, and the pain becomes accepted.  This is called pushing your limit!

Alright demon, is that all you have?  I’m still moving forward, slowly, but moving forward with one less step to take.  I make it to Park Road AS with no problems, grab another cheese taco shell, two more S-caps, and immediately get heading back to the main AS to start my last loop.  I’m thinking about what I need to do when I get to the main AS:  Get some warmer clothes, re-lube my feet one more time, and get back out to start my last 20 mile loop.  I count the 7 walking wooden bridges and know I’m close to warmer gear.  I was thinking how thankful I was that I got this gear earlier because the walk to the car now would seem like eternity.  Ok, I need to put my running pants on, but I need some privacy because my shorts need to come off first.

OMG – Porto-pottie city here we go again.  The good news, the smell wasn’t that bad with the cooler temps.  The bad news, changing clothe in one.  Legs fatigued and cramping, feet sore, torn-up ankles and everything hurts!  I couldn’t sit down (didn’t want to), and it was dam cold.  I said, if I survive changing clothe in here, there is nothing I can’t do.  Twenty minutes later, I came out victorious with warmer clothes on, and thinking I never want to do that again.  Next time I will just strip down no matter who is around me – Just don’t toss any money expecting a show (not much to see anyway with it being so cold – shrinkage factor - LOL).

I re-lubed my feet for the last time, and sipped on a cup of chicken soup.  As I sat in the big tent, I looked around at all the hurting runners and wondered if I looked that bad.  Some lady was wrapped in a blanket near the heater (which I stayed away from) looking really bad as her crew tried to get her back on the course.  I heard another conversation of two race officials talking about a younger man also near the heater, and saying they have heard of cases, but never witnessed a runner losing his vision during a race.  He was just staring off into no mans land, as they waited for his vision to return.  For me, I knew my 3rd goal of a sub 24 hour finish was gone and had to just focus on finishing this race.  I was really tired and needed to close my eyes for a few minutes to get myself together for the last loop.  Fifteen minutes later, I startled myself when panic initially hit me thinking I’d been sleeping for what felt like a long time.  Just then two runners and their pacers arrive in the tent to get refueled before heading back out for their last loop.  One of them said no way am I going back out in that cold.  I told myself that I needed to get out of there and away from the negative vibs.  With warmer gloves on, running pants, and fuzzy hat, I was back out and feeling good about completing my last loop. 

Loop 5 (100 miles)
The last loop was dedicated to my wife Laura for believing in me, supporting my passion, sacrificing, and the strong character she displays day to day.  I took it easy at first as I tried to eat another PB&J sandwich.  I counted the 7 wooden bridges, and started up the woody section, when again I stumbled over more roots.  My ankle was already getting sore, but now I can feel both getting swollen with pain in my right side.  Come on, 17 miles to go with plenty of time to finish.  I just needed to keep moving.  This is the part when everything hurt, and it turns into mind over pain.  Except I have additional pain, and I can’t move without my ankles attached.  Too late now, but maybe I should have had them taped at the main AS.  Okay, quit your whining and get the job done, I tell myself.  My run has turned into a limp.  The temperature felt like zero degrees, but it was actually around 34 degrees, and I’m still making forward progress.  I hit Nature Center AS and kept on moving as a few runners are huddled around the heater trying to get warm.  I remind myself to stay away from the heater and keep moving – Don’t get tempted.  Further down the trail, I got to the point where trying to be nimble going into the mud hole was no longer an option, and I just trudged my way through as I was thinking nothing could be worse than falling down in the middle of this mess.  I finally hit Dam Road AS and my new friends are relieved to see me make it around one last time.  

We talked for a brisk minute as this young man checks in and out, with little delay, in this completely ridiculous running attire – at least that’s what I think of it.  Imagine top and bottom matching tights for a man with a white background and 2 inch size round polka dots in pink, purple, and light blue colors (must be European – several runners from across the big pond, Canada, and South America participated in this event).  After he clears the AS, the AS workers say, “I sure would hate to see that in front of me the entire loop.”  “Thanks,” I say, “He is going in the same direction as me, and he’s in front.” (LOL).  Now I have a new motivation, which is to pass that guy, and keep him in the rear view and out of sight.  I’m thinking he must be one tough dude to be running in that, tough to have nothing else on in this cold, and he’s beating me.  I muster up what I can best resemble a run and pass the polka dot wonder from toughville.  Thank God that is done, now to keep moving and focus on the turnaround point.  Another eternity before I’m making the turn, as I celebrate inside thinking all I have to do is run back to the beginning.  I don’t get far when root city strikes again and my ankles are in so much pain.  The swelling is noticeable with the tightness of my shoes and socks.  It definitely feels like a good sprain in my right, and the left is not far behind.  I approach these two guys in front of me as they motion me by, but I reply your pace is good for me and don’t mind me if I hang for a few.  One guy looked worse off than I did with a very noticeable limp (worse than mine) as he cursed every root he went by.  The other guy was not as bad off, but moving very slow.  They were in a chatty mood as they complained back and forth.  It took too much energy to talk so I just kept my head down trying to avoid collisions with roots.  I wasn’t sure how much longer my ankle would hold on, and I didn’t need anymore distractions.  Then one of them started to question his sanity by saying why do we do this terrible thing to ourselves knowing how painful it will be!  The other runner agreed and added more to the thought provoking conversation.  I finally broke silence and said “because most can not, it’s too easy just to quit, and this is what makes life taste so good.”  That was the end of that conversation as the one with the bad limp pulled over to the side to close his eyes for a few minutes.  The other followed me for another mile before pulling over himself for a break.  When I hit the dam portion looking across Lake Raven, the sky started to get light and the need for a flashlight was once more not required for the second time this race.  I felt a serge of energy come back into my bones, but only if the rest of my body was cooperating.  Back into my favorite AS ever (Dam Road), only 8 miles to go, and I only stop long enough to thank my angel for bringing me back to life.  With another PB&J in hand, they say we don’t want to see you again this race (more LOL stuff).

The hobble back to Park Road AS was painful with a smile inside because I knew nothing was going to get in my way of finishing.  The pace was slow, but deliberate, as some passed me, and I hobbled past others.  It was finally starting to warm up some with the sun rising in the sky.  The final AS was here as the volunteers muster up some energy to send us down the home stretch.  The power line and woods sections was slow traveling, and the section with the 7 bridges never felt so good knowing this was the last time I would be counting bridges.  I tried to run a few stretches but there was too much of a sharp pain in my ankle, and I didn’t want to magnify the damage for what little gain there would be.  Finally, the home stretch, and all I could see was Joe (RD) cheering me on to cross the line.  He looked straight into my eyes with a firm handshake, said congratulations on your 100 mile finish, and handed me my first buckle (Time 27:43). 

I had been battling so much inside of me over the last 30 miles and could not believe it was finally over.  Some guy was videoing the moment and said how does it feel?  All I could muster up was a big smile and said it feels good to be over.  Soon after crossing the line, a few more runners came trickling in with the same expression. 

Two out of three isn’t bad – Finish and PR for a 100 mile race with no crew or pacer.  I felt good with this and I consider it redemption for last year’s performance.  I could have done better, and based on my training, I feel a sub 24 was achievable.  But like life, no race is perfect, and you always walk away with a little more experience as a building block for the next challenge.  This chapter is closed and time to move forward, but first I have a thousand miles to travel to get to my car (so much for the short walk).  I grabbed my drop bags and started the painful, but victorious, walk to the car and was thinking all I wanted to do was crank the heat up and warm my bones.  I called my wife to let her know it was finished and I felt good considering the challenges.  She told me when she didn’t hear from me, that she considered this good news because it meant I was still making forward progress.  I drove back to the hotel, took 5 minutes to hobble inside with this wonderful aroma from over 27 hours of running, and the young lady said from a distance, it would be about 3 hours before my room would be ready.  She was aware of my situation because other runners were also staying at the same hotel.

I stretched the car seat out, reclined with the heater on full, and blinked my eyes for a 2 hour power nap.  When I woke, the car was still running with the heater on full, and I drove to the storm shelter to pickup my Dam Road drop bag.  I changed into another pair of clean sweatpants and a new shirt, and started back to the hotel when I saw a Denny’s restaurant – Breakfast sounded really good.  It took me a few minutes to make it inside as I got a few stares from people around me wondering what my problem was with walking.  The waitress said they only had one cook so it will be slow.  I told her I’ve been waiting all night for this, what’s 30 minutes!  Nonetheless, my grandslam breakfast showed up within 10 minutes (not the 30 she told me) and it really hit the spot.  Maybe it was the funky odor I was sharing and she wanted to get me out of there soon, or she was afraid I might drink their entire sprite supply – 4 glasses.

I returned to the hotel feeling good, but stiff, and took one of the best long hot showers I’ve ever had.  I got everything repacked for the flight the next day, and laid my clothes out for I knew I would be in the hurt locker when I woke up.  By now the Super Bowl was on and I didn’t feel like going to sleep yet so I ordered a pizza with all the trimmings.  Forty-five minutes later the pizza arrived and I never slowed down until it was all devoured.  Belly full of food, rehydrating, new belt buckle, hot shower, and stretch-out in bed with the super bowl on – Life is good.  The drive down to Houston went smooth, the flight home was uneventful, and I was not as stiff as I thought I might be.  I actually felt fairly good with the exception of my ankles being twice the normal size.  I made it home in time to get another good night’s rest before going to work the next day.

Stats from the RD: 344 started the 100 mile race and 217 finished.  I was number 146 to cross the line.  This was one of the lowest finish rates in the history of the race due to the cold.

Reflecting back at this race, I did a lot of things right – Finished, PR, no blisters, and didn’t throw up.  I learned there is a big difference between going out for a 30-40 mile training run in the cold when compared to running in the cold after 70 miles with a broken down body.  It is difficult to produce enough heat to keep you warm, even with extra gear on.  I still have some improving to do with my electrolytes, and need to cut back on AS stops.  Most of the AS stops I was able to keep within a minute or two, but the main AS I lost a lot of time.  This was also complicated by not having a crew.  I’ve always had a crew (Laura, Josh, and Renee) in the past, and I appreciate and value them so much more than ever before.  I can’t say enough about the difference a crew makes.
This also would not be possible if I didn’t have a strong family (Southern and Vermont) that believes in me and supports my endless training - A hallmark for success.  My blogging friends are always providing supportive comments and I often thought about their positive vibes and personal experience they shared with everyone, while running around the loops.  Now it’s time to stop typing, a little more recovery (ankles), and I’ll use this success to jump start my training for the next adventure.  Bring on the heat!
(Most of the pics came from the RR100 race site and from ultrastory.com)

12 comments:

Rio said...

What a great race report. Thank you for sharing your journey. Congrats on finishing the 100 - that buckle is well deserved! You put a lot of work into your training- and you persevered. Outstanding!

Hannah said...

WOW. Wow! What an incredible recap! 100 miles is simply amazing! One of my Team in Training coaches had done a 100 miler before, though I've not had a chance to discuss with him the details of it. It is so neat to have a better understanding of what he (probably) went through. You guys are awesome!

I loved that you dedicated portions of your race to your daughter, son, and wife. Made me tear up.

Thanks for sharing your very impressive and inspiring experience. (Sounds like you've done more than one!) I could relate to several things you said, though obviously on a much smaller scale, mileage-wise.

So awesome!

GeorgiaSnail said...

That was an amazing race report. I am really grateful that you are able to share your expierence, I felt like I was on the trail with you.(Except I am sitting in my comfortable desk chair in a heated office.)

Congrats on finishing and the PR. The entire journey will provide motivation for countless runners.

I will embark on my first ultra(50k) in a few weeks and will take some of this information with me. One of the things I liked most about your mindset was knowing that these demons will come and you need to be ready for them. Also, knowing that these bouts of pain and struggle will pass is an important thing to remember...Thanks!

Laura said...

Wow...so inspiring...I'm going to feel cool when I run my first marathon...but 100 miles is a real legacy to leave with your children. Thanks for documenting your journeys...

lindsay said...

i really really enjoyed this recap! it makes me want to run an ultra now, believe it or not :)

loved all the details and bits of humor. glad you survived the porta-potties each time, and thank goodness for those helpful folks at the aid station who nursed you back to health!

congrats on an awesome race and thank you for sharing it with us!

NJ said...

Great RR! I felt like I could envision the course from your perspective. While you didn't quite hit your goal, you gutted it out and finished - which sounded like it was challenge enough for many during that race.

Thanks for stopping by and giving me a few pointers! I'm finding the ultra community to be very supportive.

olga said...

Next time yell your name! Good times, and it was cold, indeed. I couldn't believe front runners finishing in tank tops, but then again, they ran fast and were done before the real pre-dawn chill came over. Congrats on a PR!

DawnB said...

outstanding,great race report, I felt every moment, your determination is inspiring. I am still hoping to cross over one day, you have taken me one step further, congratulations on your PR

Big Daddy Diesel said...

Thats just amazing!! Congrats!!

Stephanie Gehrsitz said...

That was so nice to read - you write so well and I almost started to cry. I am so impressed you went through an event like it without a crew nor a pacer. You did it all yourself - that is amazing. Congratulations:-)

Ulyana said...

WOW! I am simply amazed at the fact that you could remember and recount everything that happened during the race. I have trouble remembering what happens in a marathon.... I just know I started and that I finished, haha.

CONGRATULATIONS! It's really an amazing accomplishment (but you know that:))

Let us know how you recover!!!!

Jameson said...

OUTSTANDING! You are the top of the top of endurance athletes. Congrats