Rocky Raccoon 100
Recently, K2 reminded me that when I joined the club in ’99, I had a concern that the Footprint’s marathon-heavy content did not accurate reflect what our club was about, that it might intimidate newcomers. You all had accepted me for the hamburger-and-pancake-eating machine that I am, while convincing me to challenge my boundaries, so I responded by contributing articles that showed that this is not just a club of svelte marathon runners. Now here I am just a few years later, finding myself writing about my second 100 mile event in 3 months. To all of you newcomers, I want you to know that more than anything else, my latest event is testimony to what this club has to offer you, because if I can do it, so can you! If I’d never joined 6 years ago, if I’d never felt so welcomed and encouraged, I’d probably still be running just 3 miles at a time, having to walk up that little hill by our ¾ mile mark. Where do you want to be in six years?
The Rocky Raccoon 100 began at 6 am, and for me, lasted through two sunrises, a sunset, and a variety of interesting perspectives, and like running one’s first marathon, this was more of an emotional experience than a physical one. Traveling 5 times around a 20 mile loop that has 3 out-and-back sections, it’s possible to see another runner 15 times, noting the facial expressions through various sequences of the event: excitement, pain, numbness, recovery, etc. Only 10 weeks after Ultracentric, I lowered my 100 mile PR by 8 hours, a period of time longer than most running events! Despite 8,000’ of climb and descent, the event is rated as one of the easiest 100 mile events - 1 or 2 on a difficulty scale of 25, (Barcley being 25, see http://run100s.com/Freebies/Ranking.txt ). The Energizer bunny was humiliated on the night portion of the event when I went through 2 sets of fresh batteries!
Big Plans: Plan A, to finish under 24 hours, was like aiming for a bulls eye without expecting to hit it, only hoping. I’d met all of my other outrageous goals last year, so why not hang one waayy out there? Tom Crull very strongly advised, “OK Son, but do NOT finish the first lap before 4hrs 30 min! A pacer is permitted to accompany the runner for the last 40 miles, mostly for reasons of safety. I had previously decided that I wouldn’t need a pacer, but K2 offered to be on standby just in case.
The Start: The weather was close to ideal, with very stable temperatures saving us from at least two clothing changes. A serious threat of rain was held back by a prayer effort of 200+. Heavy rains over the previous week left some deep mud obstacles on various parts of the course - some could be bypassed, and others could not.
I found myself fortunate enough to run most of the 1st 20 mile lap with Dalton Pulsipher who had successfully completed 8 previous RR100’s. He had a lot of valuable advice and gave me strong warning about physical and emotional swings, “You might feel like quitting, but after a few more miles you find yourself feeling terrific again.” The time flew by and we forced ourselves to keep it slow, finishing that loop in 4 hrs 25 min. I was amazed to find that Hélène and Alan had made the long trip to watch the event - I had not expected to see their RAW smiles, so that moment was like wind at my back! Dalton had kicked a tree root around mile 15 and had to take an extended pause while his crew treated a toenail that almost came off. I delayed and walked the next couple of miles until it looked like he might not be catching up. He eventually finished the event 5 minutes before the cut-off!
During the 2nd lap at around mile 25, I pulled off my socks to inspect hot spots, and found my feet covered with sticky sugar sand. A volunteer named, Leonard, helped to remove 90% of it, and then I used a water bottle at mile 40 after finishing that lap in 4:40, feeling confident that I could do each of the next three loops in under 5 hours (15 minutes/mile) and satisfy Plan A. I’d run most of this 2nd lap alone, and found it a stark contrast to the previous one with Dalton, so I told K2 that after another loop, if she was still up to it, I had enough time to myself and could use her help finding the trail through the woods after dark.
Sunset: I hit the wall just before sunset on the 3rd loop at around mile 50. It was a big wall, and so Plan A succumbed to Plan B - trounce the cutoff. The sun was gone about an hour later, and the heavy cloud cover made it unusually dark. The tree roots had grown significantly since the previous lap and I thought of the haunted forest in The Wizard Of Oz as they repeatedly grabbed at my shoes. In training, my Peztel Tikka headlamp was fine on the lowest of three settings, but given extreme darkness, the colors of white sand, black dirt, and brown pine needles, I found even the high beam totally inadequate. The darkness required MUCH more mental concentration and resulted in much more fatigue than I’d planned for. The pain in my feet brought demons and a dose of reality the forced me to walk. Deborah Sexton and an NTTR group went walking past me and I was only able to stay with them for a mile or so. There were also several people effortlessly running past and I noticed that most of them used a headlamp AND a handheld flashlight.
A weird kind of depression set in. I found myself shifting to Plan C (relentless forward motion to beat the 30 hour cutoff) and then Plan D (why I am doing this and do I really want to continue?) I tried to focus on the point of Dalton’s story that his blues passed after a while and he was ready to battle on. Alone in the dark, I had plenty of time to objectively examine the feelings; how could I consider quitting when I hadn’t suffered so much as a blister yet? I could think of 20 good reasons to finish the event, but they all seemed weak compared to the idea of curling up in the back seat of the car. I returned to base camp at 9:05 pm, more than an hour later than I expected and an hour and a half slower than last lap. Tia, the best crew chief ever, simply asked, “OK! What’s the plan and what do you need?” I announced that I would be taking a long break and deciding whether or not I would continue. All talking was suddenly replaced with silent tension until K1 came to the rescue, “No, that’s not an option. You have to at least go out again, and then you can cut it short if you want, but you can’t stop here.” And so, after I massaged my feet for about 20 minutes and grabbed another flashlight, K2 and I headed out.
At mile 60.1, K2 suggested that if we were going to run all night long and most of the next morning, we should agree on some guidelines for the relationship. We literally designed ours on the run, and here’s the way I remember them. Keep in mind that brainpower was mostly gone before we started, and continued to fade during the process:
K2 kept cracking me up and the blues finally departed by mile 65 or so. We were laughing, singing and making so much noise that the other runners were giving us funny looks. Then at the mile 73 Dam Road Aid Station, we found the secret formula for success = fried meat loaf sandwich + pumpkin pie, + a 6 ounce chaser of Dinty Moore stew, raised to the power of K2. I put fresh batteries in the headlamp and hand flashlight, and we charged into the Wizard Of Oz section. I held the hand flashlight low so light hit the trail from two angles, and this made a tremendous difference. We were literally leaping around other runners, something very strange for this back-of-the-packer. Another terrific discovery helped take the soreness out of my feet - stepping on, rather than over each of the formerly menacing tree roots, turned each one into a potential foot massage. One particularly knotty root felt so good that I came to a complete stop to prolong the relief it offered! We finished that loop in 6 hours (3:15 am), 10 minutes faster than the previous loop, despite the long break. No chance of getting back to Plan A, but we were solidly back on Plan B.
Sunrise: We started the last lap 2 hours and 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff for that point in the course, feeling tired but OK, and anxious to see some daylight. It wasn’t until 11 miles later that we celebrated turning the lights off. I finally developed a big blister in the last 5 miles or so, and this robbed me of my motivation to run. When I was content to walk in just ahead of the cutoff, K2 started give me the push I so desperately needed.
The Finish: We finished at 9:53 AM, more than two hours ahead of the noon cut-off, and just in time to fumble through a shower before the huge breakfast buffet and unusual awards ceremony. It was quite a hoot watching each person hobble up to accept their finisher’s award. Of 143 runners starting, 30% DNF and another 30% claimed the prestigious sub-24 hour award. My time of 27:53:47 put me 78th out of 143 starters – middle of the pack with a pace of 16:45 min/mile. The winning time was 14:14, a pace of 8:32 min/mile. As we pulled out of the park, it began to rain – perfect timing.
Memories: One guy scooped his wife right up off her crutches and crossed the finish line with her in his arms. A 73 year old finisher named, Grant Holdaway, finished ahead of the cutoff. One lady won a bet with her husband when she finished under 24 hours, so her husband had to shave his beard right then and there.
Recovery: The blister on my little toe was as big as the toe itself, and there was another large blister between the toes where the sand had been rubbing (I’ve never even heard of that before), and when I got up Monday morning my feet and ankles were badly swollen. I went to work ahead of everyone else, sat down at my desk, and hid there all day. On Thursday evening, I went for a jog in the park, and the swelling suddenly disappeared! Life is good.