Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Harder They Run, The Harder They Fall - 2012 Rocky Raccoon 50K Race Report

Rocky Raccoon 50K was my goal race. I had laid out a couple goals, and since it was my 1 year 50K-iversary, I at a minimum wanted a course PR. Given my level of fitness since last year's race, that was considered totally doable. And I had a decent chance at pushing myself to a PR... Until I wiped out (but we'll get to that and then read the post here of the aftermath of how much the fall screwed me up!).

I was doing this race all alone. My buddies from last year, Corina, Fiona, and Alicia, weren't returning, which was sad to not have their company. Luckily, a 3 hour drive to Huntsville later, and I run into several friends (Crisann, Shauna, and Maggie) at the hotel's front desk!

We all carpooled to get our race packets and then went to dinner at the Farmhouse Cafe.
And I thought I was going to have microwave pasta in my hotel room! Friends!
I was sad to not be getting their delicious peanut butter pie, but I didn't need that the night BEFORE the race. I was asleep by 9:30 pm for my early wakeup call.

And it was early! 3:50 am I was up and getting dressed. 4:45 am I pulled into the park ranger station. With trail races, always plan extra time because of the bottleneck of the ranger station, especially as this time we all had to pay $5 to get in. The line moves fast but can get long quickly!

Parked and settled 50 minutes before the race start. Kathy and I scope out the race site. When Deborah and Anita arrive, we get our communal area set up with drop bags and camp chairs.
New friends Deborah, Anita, Kathy, and Robin

Loop 1 (15.5 Miles)
6 am, we start with headlamps on, planning to spend the next 6 or so miles in pitch dark. I know the course so I'm smarter than last year. Broken asphalt and a slow uphill for the first mile. Then switchbacks and roots for another mile and a half before coming out to the fire road.

Most of the first loop went really well... except mile 11. I'll get to that in a second. I had a goal to stay sub-14:00 pace to get a new Personal Record after my 7:18 finish 6 weeks before in Memphis at Bartlett Park Ultras 50K. Aid station to aid station, my paces came in... 13:51, 13:49, 14:13 (time includes a big fall), 13:53 (from fall to aid station), 16:52 (1.5 miles of ugh, something's wrong), 13:32 (0.9 miles to the base camp of "just get home" feelings). And then downhill from there......

The Big Fall
I'm rocking along at a great pace through a slightly twisty singletrack section of rooty sandy dirt trail. The top 25Kers are now passing so I'm on the look out for them. Luckily this section is wider singletrack, as is most of the course. Mile 11, I hit a root with my left toe. Bam, right foot step. Bam, left foot step, trying to get my legs back under me but can't and I'm accelerating. Boom, I must have tucked in my arms some because... OOMPH. Exact sound from my lips, and I slam to the ground on my ENTIRE right side and slide a few inches in the sandy dirt. Luckily, to me, I hadn't come down on a wrist, elbow, or knee, but uniformly as dirt covered me in one long line from my shoulder to my ankle. Luckily, no roots that I landed on. But note for the pictures below, there was NO mud. The caking of dirt engrained miles later for the race photographer shows how hard I hit.

The other indication of how hard I hit? 2 fast guys in the top 15 of the 25K were behind me when it happened. They stopped. One went to get my water bottle wherever it had flown to in front of me. The other helped me up. They looked me up and down carefully, with a lot of "Are you okay?!?" Checking for blood to emerge under the dirt. I'm obviously embarrassed and I feel really bad that I'm holding up two people who are competitive in this field. I scan myself and say, "I'm more dirty than anything else. You guys need to GO. I'm okay."

And I thought I was. I ran into the aid station a mile later still on PR pace. Aid station volunteers expressed big surprise at my fall and helped me use a gallon water jug to wash off my dirty hands from using the ground to get up and holding a filthy dirt covered water bottle.

I leave the aid station, and my stomach starts to turn. Something feels off. I slow it down for a lot of the next mile and a half assessing. I get a mile from the end of Loop 1 of 2 though and the "fight or flight" situation that just wants me to get HOME kicks in and I'm back at PR pace.

Into base camp, and I pour water down my arm to clean up a little. I hurry to change my shoes. I know in my head something's wrong but so in denial. Still shooting for the PR. I forget to leave my headlamp but luckily see Crisann a half mile on my way back out, and pass it to her to throw in my bag (such a doll to help!).

Loop 2 (15.5 miles)
And then I begin to feel whiplash. Like I had been rear-ended. I identify places that are wrong. Left foot, right Achilles, left hamstring, right glute, left glute medius, and interestingly left bicep throbs (I think from gripping my water bottle harder as I fell). I decide these are not normal 50K pains for me; the blessing of this being my 6th one is I somewhat know what to expect. My right side hurts from hitting the ground, and my left side seems to hurt from tensing or bracing while trying not to hit the ground.

The second 15.5 mile loop is miserable. And comes down to three stories...

1) Aid station nutrition. 
This race lacks in the things *I* want. No potatoes the whole time. I come into Aid Station 1, headed up by Tejas Trails Joe Prusaitis, and say "I will get you one of my children for a potato." My friend Kay comes in right as I say this, my first time to see her that day, and says, "But which child?!?" And I say, "The person with the potato can pick." They are also out of coca-cola.

Aid Station 2, no coca-cola, and I tell the volunteer, because now I'm in pain and miserable and have no happy endorphins, "If I had a pen right now, I would stab it into my jugular."

Aid Station 3, 20 paces from station, I yell, "Do you have coke?" "YES!" "Oh my gosh, you are my best friends ever" and I tear up and almost start crying. I needed that boost.

2) "You Must Be Jeff!"
Mile 19 is an out and back, a long one, on a jeep fire road. A guy coming back says a hello to his friend in front of me and then when he passes me says, "Now you keep up with Jeff!" Um, OKAY! Takes me 2-3 minutes to catch the guy, but I am on a mission of distraction from my pain. "You must be Jeff!" What a surprised face from the guy. I tell him what just happened, and we have a good laugh. We actually run together for another mile because we are both fans of scenic races and both working on marathons or longer in 50 states (he's at 35 states!). So we chat and compare notes on different races! Then he loses me at the aid station, but I had a chance to talk to him after the race and meet his wife, Sherri, who did the 25K that day. Great to make new friends!

3) New friends make miles pass faster! 
Miles 27-30 or so I spent with a guy named Richard. Super nice guy. His first ultra but he had been racking up the marathons this year. I want to say 17 this year alone! We had great discussions that helped the time pass, and we had friends in common, so again, nice to make a friend on the trail, and I hope to run into him at a future race.

In the end, I crossed in 8:04:30. Still an 18 minute course PR. But far from my 50K PR. And I'm okay with that. I'm proud that I didn't give up and pushed through a very uncomfortable 20 miles after an incident that happens to all trailrunners here and there!
Much nicer than last year's finisher item, I must say.
Then, I jumped in the car, drove 3 hours back hurried so I could shower, clean up, and run to see my friend Adam, and my girlfriends Lesley, Sharon, and Elaine to enjoy a yummy Mexican dinner before Adam headed home to Arizona the next day!
Love these people!


  1. Love reading your blog! M&D

  2. Fantastic! I know you must have been miserable, but good job hanging in there for a decent time after all. :)