Rocky Raccoon 50 Mile Trail run has been 11 weeks in the making and over the course of the run nothing, and I mean nothing, fell short of expectations. I am going to go over the events of the race in this report but over the course of the next few days I will layout the stories that took place on the course as our interactions with other athletes and volunteers unfolded. In addition to that report, I am going to provide some insight into what Jeff and I have to look forward to when we race the Lake Martin 100 at the end of March. Lastly, there will be a nutrition blog post coming up on No Meat Athlete in regards to what I ate before, during and after the race.
Friday, February 8th
With nothing to do on Friday but to pick up our packets and get a 4 mile run in Jeff and I woke up late and went and had a rather large breakfast, as is my normal routine. After breakfast we went back to Jeff’s house and got ready to run 4 miles. As we headed out we ran into my wife (Karen) who was out there running 15 miles as she prepares for the Cowtown Marathon in a couple of weeks.
After the run we met up with Jeff’s wife (Annie) for lunch and then headed to the course for packet pick-up and athlete meeting. At this meeting we ran into Lee and John who were participating along with Byron who is the sherpa-friend extraordinaire. It was during the athlete briefing that I believe I fell in love with Ultra Trail runs. Liza (helping the RD’s) gave us the rules and regulations of the race. Typical stuff of do not litter and stay on course, but the best part:
DO NOT POOP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRAIL
Right then and there I knew I would love the race and the ultra trail run community.
Once the meeting was over we headed back to Jeff’s for pizza and bed time. Bed time was right around 8:30p as we had to wake up at 2:30a to get packed and head to the race.
Saturday, January 8th. Rocky Raccoon 50 Ultra Trail Race Day.
2:30am comes early. Too Early. Luckily we had prepared the majority of our needs the night before and it was just a matter of getting our gear into the car and then making breakfast to take with us and coffee to go. There was not much talk about the race on the way up but lots of jokes and laughter going on, which would be a foreshadow of the day to come.
We got to the park around 4:15am figuring we would see a line of cars entering but there were none. We drove right up to the booth and asked the woman allowing us access if there were a ton of cars earlier and she said “No. Maybe 6 0r 7.” Immediately we thought we could have gotten another hour’s worth of sleep but we were here and were able to get a great parking spot right near the bathroom. After eating our breakfast it was time for me to take a nap. I set my alarm for 5:30am and closed my eyes. 5:30am comes faster than 2:30am but I was ready.
We grabbed our drop bags and walked to the start line. Found our bag spots and then went into the tent to try to get warm. It was mid-30s and it felt colder. I had on 4 layers of tops, a pair of compression shorts, compression socks, Hoka Stinson, two pairs of gloves and a wool hat. When Liza told us to get headed toward the start line that is what we did. Our strategy was: run steady. We knew we would have to walk eventually but staying as steady as possible was our goal.
Loop #1: The clock struck 6:00am and we were off. Headlamps and flashlights everywhere. Foot steps abound and the start of my first 50 miler was upon me. Jeff and I were running in single file with all the others and we were telling jokes and laughing and getting people into the spirt. This was going to be a long day so may as well make the best of it. When you are running in the dark you cannot tell if you are going uphill, downhill or flat. You are just running. About an hour into the run the light starts to break through the trees and you can now tell where you are at and begin to put your strategy in place.
Our strategy was rather simple:
- Walk the uphills, run the flat, cascade downhill and watch your footing.
- Stop at every aid station to get whatever looked good. Drink water at the very least.
- Drink from our hydration packs at every mile.
- Laugh, tell jokes and engage other runners in conversation as much as possible.
We hooked up with Marc around daylight and he instantly joined in the joking. We were laughing so hard and just making fun of life while clicking off the miles. Marc, in hindsight was smart, would walk more than us then run and catch up. He held a steady pace with us and allowed us to forget where we were in terms of miles as we kept moving and joking and laughing. After a bit more we latched onto Fabrizio who is South American (from Brazil and living in Houston) who was also doing his first 50 miler. This group of 4 was great to run with as we all had different backgrounds and stories. After a while Fabrizio dropped off and we picked up Gayle who was the true definition of steady. We ‘allowed’ Gayle to pull our little train for quite a bit until we entered the aid station and after that I took over pulling. After 2:40 we were done with Loop #1. Quick change of baseball hat on and wool cap off then go. Time for Loop #2
Loop #2: When you start the second loop you realize the areas where you should have slowed down or walked a bit more. You also realize how many roots are on the trail. I was amazed that we got through this section without falling down on our faces. Jeff and I talked and decided that once the uphills caused strain on either of us we would walk and then reach the flat and go. During loop #2 you pass the marathon distance and we decided to GoPro us going past this ‘magical’ distance marker. I looked at my watch and saw 4:17…..not bad for a road marathon let alone a trail marathon. Maybe a bit too hard.
Gayle was with us and trudging along and when we hit Mile 28 Jeff and Gayle congratulated me for passing my longest distance run. A PR set in the middle of a race doesn’t happen often but it did at RR50. A few more miles later and we passed the 6 hour mark and I thought to myself: This is way harder than an Ironman but I kept it to myself as I did not want any bad mojo being released into the air.
It was toward the end of this loop that we came across an aid station and they had KING CAKE. Are you kidding me? I did a double take and stared hard but chose to keep to my one oreo and two cups of water routing going at this point as I did not want to add anything to my stomach that I wasn’t sure I could handle. I was doing body checks and made note that my feet were feeling good, legs were tired and beat up but not impossible to keep moving and my HR was staying in the high Z1 or low Z2 range. If my HR crept up too much going uphill I would tell Jeff and we would start to walk.
Coming back into loop 2 finish was a tremendous feeling. We did loop #1 in 2:40 and loop #2 in 2:52 with more walking. We were feeling good about our progress but it was time to lock down and move. In the drop bag area we added our liquid nutrition to our vests and grabbed a few bites to eat then it was back out for the next and final loop.
Immediately I knew this was going to be hard as my feet entered shuffle mode. I am not sure if you could have slid paper under my feet at this point but I was happy that they kept moving forward. We stuck to our strategy and while we kept moving you could tell that our paces had slowed going up the hills and going down the hills was a much more gingerly activity.
Marc caught up with us again and it was awesome to have him with us laughing. Approximately 1/2 way through Marc took off and told us we would see him again further up but the next time we saw him he was waiting for us at the finish line. Such a great and classy move. Once Marc took off we came up on the one area that we knew had a huge puddle and there was not an easy way around it. The first two loops I stepped easy so as not to get my socks and feet wet. This time around with legs not responding as quickly as they were earlier I stomped, like a person killing a roach in a dark apartment, into the mud and got my feet wet and mud up my socks. I did not care and just wanted to get out of this.
Further through the trail, which was in terrific shape, considering hundreds of athletes did 4 loops on the course the week before for the Rocky Raccoon 100 and a few more hundred were going through the course again for the 50, Jeff and I knew that the mud hill would slow us down and potentially keep us from going under 9 hours. What we did not expect was me smashing my foot onto one of the rocks and sending a jolt up my IT Band that never loosened up. Now, it was Jeff’s turn to pull and at this point a couple of things happened that I will never forget:
- Jeff telling me that we had come this far together and that I had done so much to get him to this point that he wasn’t leaving my side.
- Jeff saying that going through this shit was what made friends for life.
Hearing those two statements was a real pick me up and allowed me to block out the pain I was feeling in my leg. We were calculating times to reach the finish line in 9 hours and we would both say that we did not care because of the lessons we were learning for LM100 but inside I wanted under 9 hours and I know Jeff did too. My original thought was that we would finish between 8:30 and 8:45 and I wanted to be as close to that as possible. With about 1.5 miles to go Jeff said that if we run up that hill and bust ass all the way in we would get in under 9 hours and with that we took off. I did not give it a second thought. I did not care how much pain I was in. I wanted under 9 hours. .25 miles into this all out run we saw Byron who took our pictures and gave us the push we needed and our paces picked up to the point of 7:00/mi. We were hauling ass.
Coming down the final stretch and hearing our wives, the spectators and volunteers cheering and there wasn’t a single sore muscle other than my face from smiling so much. I looked at Jeff and said: We did this shit man. It was the best feeling ever. Greater than crossing the finish line of my first Ironman because it was that much harder. As we crossed I saw 8:53:xx and then thought: THAT LIAR! Either way crossing when we did was a testament to our plan for clothing, nutrition, run/walk, hydration and the hours and miles of work we put in leading up to that point.
Rocky Raccoon 50 Ultra Trail Run Conclusion
There is no way around the fact that you have to do work, both in the months leading up to the race and during the race. While the runs prior will help build the physical aspect it is the mental part that is tough to mimic. Most people will not have gone past a 50k (31 miles) during training and it is at that point where it becomes the great unknown. How will my body react? How about my mind? How much should I continue to eat and drink? How do I feel? There are so many questions that you may not be prepared for if you did not put together a strategy leading into the race or execute during the race.
Doing a 50 mile ultra trail run is so challenging but the accomplishment is even greater. The Rocky Raccoon 50 is a great way to get into this sport. I found everybody to be extremely helpful. I witnessed a tremendous amount of support for myself and Jeff but for other athletes out on the course as well. It was tremendous to see people lift each other up and help when needed.
Thank you to the race directors, volunteers and spectators for allowing me to share this spacial day with you. This was my first but will not be my last ultra trail run.