The weekend really was a good experience and I’m so glad we were able to be part of the Rocky Raccoon 100 in Huntsville, Texas once again. It does indeed suck to DNF and to not finish what I started. However, this was a good experience for me and one that I can learn a lot from.
For starters, I now know what it’s like to be in the mix in a big 100 miler, and I really like what it feels like being in the race from the beginning. Without pushing my early pace, I felt like I was strolling along through the first marathon (~3:18). This had me as high up in the race as third place and only about 5 minutes behind the leaders. There was a buzz and excitement that’s associated with being at the front of these types of races which is addictive and which I am already craving to experience again.
Along those lines, my crew consisting of my wife Julie and our good friend Eric Schneider, were enjoying being part of the front crowd as well. As they made their way from aid station to aid station, always ready with whatever I needed, they realized they were generally around the same crew each time. There was a sense of camaraderie between all the crew people that Julie and Eric really enjoyed being part of.
The basics of the race are that’s it’s a 100 mile course consisting of five loops, each twenty miles. We started at 6am on Saturday morning and we had 30 hours to finish the 100 miles. It was also the national championship race for the trail 100 mile distance. The temps were in the 60’s to start and most likely were in the 70’s by late morning. I heard humidity was somewhere near 98%.
I have run this race before, and have yet to run well here. I was ready for a fast start because I remember it being that way in the past. My plan was to run really relaxed early and to make up ground late in the first lap and into the second lap. However, the pace felt slow and I was quickly by myself in 4th place. By the first aid station I was caught. I then stuck with the two guys, Stephen Moore and a guy named Jeremy. We stuck together for the next 13 miles before I pulled ahead. I felt great and I felt that I was running a conservative effort.
I continued cruising along through the marathon. I was taking two cups of Heed electrolyte drink at every aid station and eating at least one or two gels every few miles. I started slowing a little in the middle of my second loop but I didn’t feel bad. I felt like I was being cautious by slowing a bit as I could feel the heat beginning to affect me. The biggest concern was that I was beginning to feel somewhat nauseous whenever I’d drink or eat. It’d go away but it was worrisome. I took a salt pill at 26 hoping to calm my stomach.
By the end of the second loop I had been caught by two guys. I was cool with it though and knew that if I could steady shuffle along at an 8:30 to 10:00 minute mile pace for awhile, that I would still be in the race. However, between 46 and 52, the nausea was building and it was challenging for me to get anything down without feeling like I was going to puke.
My mental game was quick to come undone at this point as I knew that without fuel, I wasn’t going far. I could also tell that I was really hot. My face and head were really warm and I started down the mental road of thinking of how to salvage the situation.
At the 52 mile aid station I decided to stop for a few minutes. I told myself that 10 to 20 minutes to bring down my body temperature and hopefully settle my stomach would do the trick. While the ice and cold water were helpful, this stop was probably my undoing because once I started up again after about 10 minutes, my legs were shot. I ran very slowly out of the aid station, my quads seemingly out of commission. I had hoped that after a few minutes I’d get them back but after five minutes or so I felt like my day was done.
It was a surprisingly easy decision for me. Maybe it’ll seem like a poor decision somewhere down the road because I was so quick to end it after feeling so good for 50 miles, but at the time of writing this article two days after the race, I feel like it was still a good decision. I have spent numerous hours of my life death marching the loops at Rocky and that was not why I was here this time around. I was here to race and with how my legs and stomach were feeling, it didn’t seem possible to be racing. With 48 miles left to go, simply surviving for that long didn’t seem like a great option. I was in 6th place at the time when I decided my day was finished; I simply had to get back to the Park Road aid station to make it official.
I have every bit of respect for those that were able to deal with the conditions and for those that kept going and toughed it out. I feel like I’ve been there before and know what it’s like to go through experiences like that. However, that wasn’t part of my agenda this time around and I want to live to fight another day. My legs are recovering well, the pre-race mystery leg pain seems to have subsided, and I don’t have any significant joint pain which so often accompanies these long efforts.
A few other positives that stand out in my mind from this race are:
- I love the course. I like the loop, the little rolling hills, the aid stations; basically, I like it all. Joe puts on a good race and everything seems to run so smoothly.
- I like PowerGel. It’s saltier and more liquidy, therefore easier for me to take down. This is my first race purposefully taking more of this gel than others.
- I will probably be back at Rocky. I really like this race. I don’t have a sense of needing vindication or anything, I simply like running here. I know I haven’t achieved my potential on this course and that is what drives me to keep trying.
- I need to game plan better. I think I can train and prepare better. I also think I need to do a better job thinking about strategies for different conditions. I like to think I’m good at adapting to new situations, but I didn’t adapt well to the heat and humidity of this race. I can do more to be better prepared next time.
- Smiling and being positive during races is really rewarding. I had so many people cheering for me, helping push me along and I think part of this was because I truly was having fun out there and people could tell. While I hope to do well and reach my potential in races, I love being part of something bigger, and by smiling and having fun, I think I contributed to a better experience for others too.
- It’s time to go back to the drawing board in order to figure out this 100 mile distance. I know I can do this distance and I know I can do it well, I just haven’t quite figured it out yet.
Thanks to everyone supporting us as we do these adventures. All the kind words, the emails, the Facebook posts, the tweets…they all make this so much more fun. I will keep doing my best and I appreciate all the positive thoughts and vibes that you keep sending our way. Cheers!
All the photos in this article are by Eric Schneider. Nice work and thanks for being part of our RR100 2014 experience.