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Rocky Raccoon 50K
Huntsville State Park
October 22, 2005
NEWBIE RACE REPORT
Bill (The Geeze) Rumbaugh
Foreword, disclaimer, caveat, etc. As I read this over it's pretty much me, me, me. But that's what race reports tend to be. As a member of the ultra community you already knew this, but if you are put off by it, or you desire a more interesting subject, please do us both a favor and hit the back button on your web browser.
It's a week before my first Ultramarathon, the Rocky Raccoon 50k at Huntsville State Park, not to be confused with it's longer Springtime counterpart of the same name. Giving a little thought about this next step in my running career and I have to say I am really looking forward to it at this point. I've done the training miles and though my taper was fairly abrupt, if I don't do something stupid in the next week, I should be rested and physically in decent shape for the event.
If you wish to know more about your humble author, my bio is posted on the NTTR members only website.
I'm still in the process of morphing from a streetie into a trail runner, so I still struggle a bit with the more ah, technical parts of the North Shore Trail. Constant crop of various strawberries on my knees, palms and elbows attest to this. (It's gotten to be such a chronic condition, I've begun to buy Band-Aids and Neosporin in bulk.) I have heard from numerous sources that the RR trail has even more roots. So it should be an interesting event. At least it will be all in daylight, which should help the eye-foot coordination-impaired like me. Will fall leaves obscure the roots? Will the shady trail hide them? Will they be rain-slicked? Yer about to find out, Buckaroo!
The 50k race was to start at 7:00 and a few minutes prior, it was still pretty dang dark. I had put my small flashlight in my fanny pack just in case. After a perfunctory briefing by RD Paul Stone, much of which was unintelligible because of people yakking and the fact that there was no PA system, he yelled ready-set-go and we were off. No flashlights were in use, so I left mine stowed where it provided ballast for the rest of the day. It was actually light enough to run, by the time we started. Sure as I had not brought mine, it would have been needed. Trying not to obsess about things too much, but guess my Scout Leader training ("Be Prepared") is still alive and well.
The venue is a very pleasant trail for the most part, shady, quite a bit of sand, lots of fallen pine needles, yes there were a lot of roots in places, more than the North Shore's worst, but runnable with caution. Thankfully not too many places like that. Deciduous leaves dotted the trail in many places. The shade was intermittent over many parts of the trail. I was concerned that the constant variation in light intensity filtering through the tall pines would make detecting trail hazards difficult, but it turned out not to be so. (I remember thinking that the pine needles and sand should at least make a relatively soft landing when I go down.) The trail was dry but not too dusty and the temperature was in the mid-60's at the start, warming up to about 80 at the end. A clear, bright fall day that you could not really fault for not being quite as crisp as runners might want. A good day to get the fa! mily outdoors, and there were many taking advantage of it throughout the park. There were hills, but they tended to be longer and a little more gentle than North Shore. I have noticed that the Trail Runner's Mantra of "walking the hills, jogging the flats, and running the downhills," that I have read about for a long time, is not adhered to by the faster runners. Today was no exception. A lot of folks powering up the inclines. I did a little of it, but since I typically don't do much of it in training, felt I needed to "save some for later." I was hoping to turn in a decent time for my debut. After doing a little arithmetic, extrapolating from some of my runs on the North Shore, it looked like I might be able to finish in about 6 hours 40 minutes, if I could maintain a pace similar to my better training runs. Not likely sez I, so I told my Sweet Wife that I would be happy with anything under 7 hours and cou! ld live with anything under the 8 hour cutoff. Probably not an a ggressive goal, but I did not have any frame of reference.
Layout of the course was fairly demoralizing to me. Not whining, more like a word of preparedness to those who have not yet run the course. It starts with a fairly long section (quarter mile, at least) of a gradual uphill grind. Not too bad, on fresh legs. I ran it but took small steps with a rapid turnover (I'M not gonna be the only one to walk it any more than I'm gonna be the only one using a flashlight!). The worst part was the out and back section. The trail comes to a T intersection fairly early on, and you go left for a really long time down a sandy jeep road with a lot of uphill. Did I mention I'm not a fan of hills? Then you hang a left and go another several hundred yards. At the end is an aid station (and course officials who record your number to be sure you did not "inadvertently" omit this little jaunt). Then you head back the way you came. Of course on the! way in, you get to check out the multitudes who are in front of you in the standings. I was glad to see Scott Eppleman in the #2 spot at that point, don't know how he finished though he appeared relaxed, making it look easy, as always. You pass by the intersection again and a little ways later leave the road for singletrack for awhile. Well, that section was OK the first time, I was chatting with a runner from Fort Worth long about then and the distance did not seem too bad. He had run the Palo Duro 50k the previous weekend. A strong runner, and he dropped me at the aid station, which was fine with me, I don't want to hold anybody back. The course is two 25k loops, basically. The halfway point was another out and back section. On the way in, Lynn Ballard was coming out, running strong with a smile on his face, looking like he was having a good day. You run parallel with the main park road for an interminable distance th! inking "We oughta be about there, right?" But Nooooooo . At long last you finally do get there, do a U-turn around a traffic cone and head back the way you came. My time was better than expected, I was under 3 hours at this point. I knew the second loop would be slower, but I was hoping that it would not be slower by too much. By this time the faster 25k'ers (who started an hour later) are thicker than thieves and are flying toward you and the finish line. Eventually you get past that out and back section and are on the trail again. Awhile later, you get to the first out and back that I mentioned above. It seemed to go on forever this time. I had forgotten the left turn, and I swear they must have moved the aid station a long ways farther back. It's a mental thing, as most of running is. I don't feel like I'm making any progress during these "pointless" out and back sections. (I know, I know, they are necessary for the mileage to come out right. Th! e Austin Marathon has one of these (though you only do it once) and it is in full sun, on asphalt and literally seems uphill both ways, but I digress.)
By this time, my body had a full blown case of the "don't want to's" and I ended up walking many of the sections that I ran on the first loop. The next aid station is a few miles past the T intersection. The trail at this point is back on a jeep road that apparently encircles the park. Again, the aid station volunteers had thoughtfully relocated their station at least two miles farther down the trail than it was for the first loop. It was amazing how they found surroundings which exactly matched the surroundings the first time through.
At this point, pretty much everything was beginning to hurt. I have been reading lately about the problems associated with Ibuprofen (NSAID's, vitamin I, whatever) and decided before the race that I would not be having any this trip. In times past, I would routinely take one with each E Cap (one per hour). It may be OK in moderation under some conditions, but during an ultra (and afterward) are bad news for your kidneys, according to numerous sources. So there was no taking the edge off. I was OK with this and still am. About halfway through the far side of the second loop I noticed my right knee was starting to really hurt. Maybe it was the walking/running, who knows. But it really hurt to run. So I began walking pretty much 100% to see if it would go away. As you know, taking a significant walk break turns your legs to tree trunks of Jell-O, making it even harder to get going again. &! nbsp;Long about here, several folks whom I was comfortably ahead of at the out and back began to pass me. At one point a drove of 3 of them blew by. Well, this was fairly disheartening. So I won't have a good finishing time, but I'm going to dang well finish this if I have to walk it in. I caught up with Don from Houston about here and we walked/limped for a couple of miles. He was an experienced trail runner and intimately familiar with the trail and had some good comments. He had fallen earlier in the day and his knee was hurting him pretty badly. He planned to hoof it in, tentatively attempting some of the downhills. I eventually pulled away during a long tempting downhill section that was too tasty to resist. My knee was not hurting all the time, but after running for several minutes it would start up again and try to take the fun out of things. This is how it went pretty much the rest of the way in.
I reached a long section of wooden bridge over a boggy area very reminiscent of the Big Slough area of the 4C's trail in the Davy Crockett National Forest, if you have been on that one. After that section was a scenic part down by the lakeside and I knew the last aid station would not be much farther. Usually my recollection of things is a bit optimistic, but there it was, right on queue! A sight for sore eyes, indeed. There is about 3 miles left at this point, I could do that standing on my head. I took a Clif Gel for good measure (espresso with caffeine) and hung out for an extra minute or two to chase it with water. Met Don coming in as I was headed out and wished him well. During the epic last section into the start/finish area three people passed me, but hey, it took them some 30 miles to catch me. I crossed the line at 6:21. Better than the 7 hours I would have been OK with.
All in all, I'd say the outing was a success. Though I am fairly stove in this morning, another few days and I'll be looking forward to RLR X!
"You hear about how runnin' ultras is all mental; well, I sure wish it'd hurry up and get mental, 'cause it's feelin' awfully physical right now."
- Ken Loveless