Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rocky Raccoon 100 (1 February 2014)

Rocky Raccoon 100
1 February 2014
Huntsville SP, TX
“We Came, We Saw, We Kicked Its Ass”
-Peter Venkman (Ghostbusters)
“Why has it taken you this long to figure out that you and Lorenzo [Sanchez] should be running together for all your races?” my wife and awesome supporter asks me during the race. That’s a great question and I feel stupid for not pursuing it earlier. I met Lorenzo in the middle of Bandera 100k in 2013. We ran together for a few miles before separating. During that time, we found out that we were both going to be running Rocky Raccoon 100 in three weeks. And that’s as far as it went. During that latter race, as I was finishing my first lap, I saw this familiar guy about two miles in front of me (from the turnaround at Rocky) and all of a sudden, “Lorenzo?!” as he was 50 feet the other way now. “Matt?” I had to speed up, not too much, but a little bit to catch up with him and run with him. As I finished my second lap, he was in the same place. And the same when I finished lap three. By the time I finished lap four, it was dark and I had little hope of recognizing him when I was really concentrating on not kicking roots. And it turned out, by the end of lap five, that he was only four minutes in front of me.
Now it’s once again race day and I’m waiting at the starting line. Robert Brooks had posted on Facebook that he was looking for someone to run with that would get him to a 16-17 hour finish time. I replied that that was my goal this year. I found him that morning and followed him to the start. I also saw Lorenzo and somehow got separated from Robert even before the race began. So I ran with Lorenzo instead. Matt Crownover (a name that I’d seen numerous times) was with us as was Matt Smith for a bit. When I heard Smith, I thought, ‘Oh yeah. He’s another Tejas 300 runner that’s really close to my time and I wanted to know just how close, only to forget to do so.’ 
We set out at a nice comfortable pace (conversation pace) and just talked it up. The best rule that I learned three years ago for my first 100 (here at Rocky) was that it was vitally important to walk the uphills. Crownover’s take on it was “If a basketball can roll down it, I’m gonna walk it.” And Lorenzo’s wasn’t much different: “If water can run down it, walk it” or “If you’re not gonna run it on lap five, don’t run it now.” All great words of wisdom. The hard part is enforcing it early on in the race when you’re still fresh and wanting to fulfill your race dreams/goals (when later on your goal dwindles down to: just finish). It’s hard to see fifteen to twenty hours into the future and know how running this hill or running slightly too fast is going to affect you. And that’s why running with others is so helpful. You collectively make the decision and hold each other accountable for following it.
We finished lap one right at 3:30, which is what we wanted. After ditching shirts (the lovely humidity forbade such clothing) and refueling, we were out again. We lost Crownover after leaving DamNation (aid station), but he stuck with us a little ways back, keeping us in sight, and later telling us how helpful it was just to see us right there. And from this point on, it was Lorenzo and I. It didn’t matter if we were talking. Just having someone right there was so helpful. We traded off leading; when one was not feeling it and would normally (if alone) have stopped to walk, the other kept going and so you just followed him (and vice versa). It was wonderful and much better than if I was by myself just listening to my audio book, as the book would only keep my mind from thinking about hurt but wouldn’t motivate me to keep going when the hurt was bad.

Lap two was nice and strong, 3:09, though it didn’t feel like we pushed too much. “Gotta save it for later. The race doesn’t start ‘til mile 70.” Lorenzo repeated to me a million times during the race. And it’s not like I was going to start dropping the hammer this soon. My take on these races is based on a slow and steady pace. Running consistent times that still leave you with energy for your last lap is the key to a strong race. I’ve noticed over the years (as I view results and my place at the end of each lap) that even though I may finish lap one in 150th place, I’ll drop thirty the next lap, and another thirty the next, all the way until I’m in the top ten to twenty by lap four or five. It’s a hundred miles, and even though this race is flat and fairly easy (not technical), you gotta respect the distance. Go out slow, and hold that pace at all costs.
Lap three was not any different. About 3:20, just under 10 hours overall. Still felt great and was still running with Lorenzo. We kept seeing Matt Smith about a mile from the turnaround. We weren’t catching him at all. “Don’t worry Matt. The race doesn’t start for another 10 miles.” I wanted to beat him (to have the fastest Tejas 300 time for the year), but all I really wanted was a sub-17 finish. So when Lorenzo asked, if we did catch up to Smith, if I’d mind if he asked for him to tag along and run with us, I had to realize an actual purpose of these races: camaraderie and companionship. It felt so great having a running partner during this race that how could I possible turn down having another with us. “Of course he can run with us.” But we never found him until five miles in on lap five. By then he was just walking, his wife pacing him. And Lorenzo wasn’t able to convince him to come with us. When I asked Lorenzo what had happened, “83 miles happened.” The race doesn’t start ‘til mile 70.
Lap four ended around 3:30 again, 13:30 overall. Another lap at the same pace and I could achieve my goal. The only problem was that I was in no mood to start lap five. I just wanted to be done. I’d also be ok with finding myself back on the jeep trail after leaving the forest with only eight more miles to go. Lorenzo and I started back out. He pulled me along running when I normally would’ve just walked for quite some time until the bad thoughts left and I was back on the good side, ready to run again. But we kept running. I knew it was slow, but it was faster than I could’ve done on my own. We got to the Nature Center (aid station) and I was a little better, but still knew that awful 6-mile stretch after DamNation was going to be incredibly long and torturous (and its length increases later in the race, which darkness doesn’t help).
We left DamNation heading out on the long loop. About ten minutes in, I started feeling silly and started talking a lot. Pretty soon, I asked Lorenzo, “When we get to the end, how are we going to finish? I typically start getting the finish line jitters a mile or two out and can’t contain myself and by the end, it’s an all out sprint to the finish.” “It’s your race. You do what you gotta do.” I felt bad/selfish that I might be leaving him. I don’t know if I could’ve done this well without him being right next to me for fifteen hours. We had climbed a couple of the hills on the jeep trail and still had three or four hills remaining. And then the last straw had fallen on my back and I couldn’t contain it anymore. I thanked Lorenzo for the wonderful bromance that we had, apologized for having to leave, but I had been struck with this sudden enormous burst of energy. I felt like I hadn’t even ran 87 miles at all, and I blasted away in what felt like a sprint up and down all the remaining hills. It’s crazy what your body can keep in store for you. I ran the entire way back to DamNation.
At DamNation, I heard a runner say to someone that he was on lap five, and from that moment on, everyone I saw was on lap five and driving me to the finish with whatever I had left in me. Hills meant nothing anymore. The race had really begun. Granted, I couldn’t run everything, but I sure tried. Before I knew it, I was out of the woods and on that jeep trail where I knew I could let loose. With the exception of the biggest of the rolling hills, I ran almost that whole section. Right before I came into Park Road (aid station), there’s a semi-treacherous rocky downhill. A pair of runners warned me to be careful. But I was wide awake, my light was bright enough, and the finish line’s tractor beam was pulling me ever closer at an alarming rate. I flew down that hill and up the other side, arriving almost instantly at Park Road. I got a couple drinks and was on my way. At one point along that dark trail, I let out a loud hoot and holler just because I was feeling so wonderful. The basketball adage no longer applied. Only two hills forced me into a brisk walk and before I knew it, I was back on the in/out section. “Just a few more miles.” And then, seemingly as soon, was the lakefront trail. I had been pushing a lot, and had to take ten-second walking breaks to allow for continued running.
Once I got back to the trail next to the road, elation was overflowing. The little speed bump that was a definite walker before was no match for what I was feeling. I sped right up and over it, crossing the first and then the second road. I saw a pair of runners, and I really kicked it into high gear. I was all but sprinting at this point. When I hit that final corner (and was sad to not see the pompom traffic director), the tears were flowing and whatever energy was left was poured out. “AMY! I’M HOME!” I don’t know how I can finish these races by sprinting the last quarter mile. For a split second, I thought ‘What if I trip? I’m gonna end up flying about twenty feet and then tumble and roll for another twenty.’ But luckily I didn’t trip and I made it all the way in. Sometimes I wish that the race would start earlier so that spectators could see such crazy finishes, but that’s not important. What’s important is that I finished and didn’t have to do any more laps. I lay down on the ground for awhile before changing into some less wet and chaffing clothes. I asked Amy how I did. “You were 17th and your time was 17…00…18.” Just eighteen seconds! If only I had taken a couple fewer walking breaks at the end. But really, who cares? I achieved what I wanted, even if it technically wasn’t true. It’s just two tenths of a second difference per mile. I’m happy.  Amy and I picked out my Texas-shaped granite slab for completing the Tejas 300, and then I proceeded to wait for Lorenzo to come in. He took longer than I expected (though his wife says that’s just what he does on his last lap). But hugs and thanks were given for such a memorable race. 
So if you’re wondering what makes a great race, here it is. You’re not a super elite, so don’t push yourself hard (or much at all) during the first 70 miles of the race. The race doesn’t start ‘til mile 70. Relax and take it easy, no matter how good you may be feeling. Don’t run up the hills. You’re gonna spend a lot of energy and get very little (except tired) out of it. It’s much more efficient if you just walk up it and then run the downhill. Run consistent times. If you can hold a fast pace for a lap or two or three or four, but not for the fifth (change this to miles if your race is out/back or point to point), you’re going too fast. Negative splits are where it’s at. Lots of people can run 50 miles easily, but not all can for the second 50. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Cactus Rose 100 (October 2013)

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. And it would’ve been much better if there was a moderation of the two feelings. Because as great as 50 miles of feeling on the top of the world may have felt, it was sure a hellish 50 miles (and an extra 6 hours) to end and remember the race by.
The tradition of Grandma coming to town to watch the hoodlums seems to be set. I was all excited like a kid waiting Christmas all Friday. Luckily, my Fridays at school are fairly easy (which always makes a great start to my weekends). With the new school schedule this year, the kids leave at 2:30 and we’re allowed to leave at 3:00. I figured it wouldn’t matter too much if I left early one day (since I get there early every day and typically work through all my lunches). The bell rang at 2:30 and by 2:35 I was biking home as fast as I could. We got Zack out of school early and then Amy and I were off to Bandera at 3:00 p.m. Friday afternoon.
We made it to Boerne by 7 p.m. and it was still light outside (which had never happened up to this trip). After gassing up the van and getting our traditional Little Caesar’s pizza (Friday dinner and Saturday breakfast), we headed out to Hill Country State Natural Area, aka the rocky hilly place with no cell reception, electricity, running water, bathrooms, or paved roads (as our van will attest to).
Since we made it before 9 p.m., I was able to pick up my race packet that night instead of waking up early to get it Saturday morning. There wasn’t anything special in the packet (some sponsor stuff that would cost me money if I wanted their products. And I got this far without buying anything special, so why would I need to do so now?) except for the jacket. I love how Joe Prusaitis (race director) always gets really nice running jackets. They’re so nice that I don’t even like running with them (besides the fact that it’s never cold in Houston) so I don’t end up with permanent sweat stink.
Amy and I walked around a bit just to kill some time before we went to bed. We looked at the various trophies, found where the port-o-potties were, and were gonna go down the trail except the trees blocked out any light from above and it was very dark (and we didn’t bring a light). So after about fifty feet, we turned around and went back to the car. It’s so nice to not have little yappy kids around sometimes.
I came prepared this year to get myself to fall asleep. I brought my Nook, two mp3 players, and a fully charged phone. And because I was prepared, I didn’t need it at all. I woke up at one point during the night, but otherwise slept soundly ‘til my alarm went off at 4:15. Starting with the breakfast of champions, I had myself a pizza sandwich and began getting my running clothes on. I walked over to the bathrooms to have
my last excretion for the next 24 hours and had to wait in a short line. People were all excited about the race like I was, only they seemed less able to contain themselves and talked to each other about (at least I thought) silly things like ‘What shoes are those?’ and ‘Which race are you doing?’ and other random pointless stories.  

Finally I got in and out and back to the van. I got my race chip Velcroed to my ankle (which I learned from last year would need to be switched to the other ankle half way through so it wouldn’t rub my skin off), my shoes tied, my bib number on my shorts, and took another pizza sandwich to the starting line.

Though it didn’t really make a difference last year, I didn’t want to be late again. With our camera broken (thanks kids), we had to resort to our phone cameras (which luckily have flashes). Amy took a few pictures of me eating my pizza and within a few more minutes, the race had started. One last kiss and I was off.
The start of every race (even this one with so many fewer people) has enough light from everyone’s headlamps and flashlights that I typically never turn on my light(s) until I’m a few miles into the race and the runners are a little more spread out. One part of this race that I always enjoy and wish there was a way I could get a picture of it, is when we get out of the forest (at least that’s what I call it) and onto a flat wide grassland. The runners are finally able to spread out to 3-4 wide and there is a quarter mile of lights bobbing up and down right before we get to the first aid station (Equestrian). As I turn to go up and cross the road, I love looking back at that sight.
The first five miles is rather uneventful. We don’t have to sign in at this aid station and I never stop for anything this early. There’s a bunch of people there clapping and cheering all the runners along. Five miles of nearly flat trails that are void of any killer rocks that inhabit so much of the rest of the course make this the
easiest and most desired section of the course. It also passes with no problems. I have already told Amy that there would be no need for her to be at the aid stations until I got back to Equestrian aid station the second time. I figured that if I ran five and a half hours per lap that I could finish the race in roughly 22-23 hours. Since there are five aid stations per lap, I divide the miles equally (even though they’re not equidistant) at five miles between each. So I would have just over an hour to get from station to station. And despite the number of times Amy and I have planned out my times and when she should be there to help me out, I always end up going faster than anticipated. I waltzed into Equestrian aid station at two hours forty-five minutes. Not bad for 15 miles. But enough ahead of schedule to start worrying me. But I didn’t feel like I was pushing it. I wasn’t breathing hard; and that’s my usual gauge for how hard I’m going. It was warm and light enough, though, that I had to drop off my T-shirt (which was soaked) and lights (since the sun decided to finally rise) and hope Amy would find them. 
Now it was off to start the fun part of the race. So far, with fifteen miles there were really only two hills that would bother most people. However, the next ten miles would have about seven hills with a few non-rocky patches scattered here and there. But the first lap doesn’t ever matter. I walked up all the steeper parts of each hill, ran all the flats (or anything close to flat), and walked down the really steep downhills. I was feeling wonderful as I checked my breathing rate, my exertion, and my hunger/thirst. Breathing felt normal; I wasn’t breathing hard at all (except for those longer uphills). I didn’t feel like I was pushing the pace. I knew approximately how fast I was going just because I had to write down my number and the time of day at each aid station. And since I had such a fast race last February at Rocky Raccoon, I figured that I’d be just fine if I was a little ahead of schedule. The sun was still mostly behind clouds, so I wasn’t being fried and the food/water I got at each aid station every five miles was feeling more than sufficient.
I finished the first lap in 4:39:08 and was around 11th place or so (from counting the 100-milers as they came back toward me). Got some sweet tea in me (and man did it taste so good), a snickers bar, and an orange (I ate so many of those during the race). A little bit of water and I was off to retrace my footsteps but now in the opposite direction. One good thing about the clockwise, counter-clockwise laps is that you quickly complete that hellish ten miles right off the bat. But again, the second lap doesn’t mean too much. Just don’t go too fast or spend too much energy fighting rocks and hills so you still have something left in the tank for laps three and four. But I was still floating on top of the world and feeling great. I passed Lorenzo (Sanchez) a little bit before getting back to Boyle’s aid station. Asking him what was wrong (he was walking), he replied that his body just wasn’t cooperating today. He said I looked strong and to keep it going, and I left not knowing that I wouldn’t see him again (at least not until the next race). His wife (girlfriend?) asked me when I was at Boyle’s if I’d seen a shirtless guy and how he was doing. I said, “Lorenzo?” and I think she was surprised I knew his name. I told her that he was walking and not feeling too good, but he should be coming by in the next fifteen minutes or so. 
As my second lap continued, I started thinking to myself that this was going to be a great race. “I’m a machine! I’m gonna smash my last year’s time (just as I smashed the time from the year before).” Those
thoughts fueled my continuing pace (11 minute miles) for the remainder of this lap. Amy kept being at every aid station to help get food out and help minimize the time I spent at each one so I could go kill this course. I ended up passing a few people here and there and kept thinking to myself that it’s because I’m a machine and I can keep this up all day if I need to. The last hill was crowned and I started my descent to the best part of every lap: the smooth/slightly downhill section that ends at the start/finish line.

I finished fifty miles in 9:15:04 and was in about 4th place. Incidentally, that time would’ve qualified me for a 6th place finish in the fifty-miler. But I still had another fifty to go.  First place was only about five miles ahead of me at that time. As I was finishing the last few miles of lap two, I kept hoping to not see any other 100-milers for as long as possible (since that would mean I’d be closer to being able to pass them). But then I saw them both within a few minutes of each other, and they were roughly two miles in front of me. Not to worry. Two miles over fifty miles just meant speeding up a few seconds a mile to pass them.
Though the sun was still mostly behind the clouds, the temperature was rising. Yes, November was just around the corner but it was in the 70s and the humidity was a little more than I was used to for this time of year. The only thing ok with this is that everyone would have to deal with the abnormality of this weather. I left the Lodge for my third lap and felt pretty good considering I’d just finished fifty miles. I knew where my three runners were ahead of me and set off to see what I could do. By the time I got off that lovely hill and down into the forest, it started. The machine wasn’t feeling tip top anymore. My pace slowed down quite a bit as I realized that I couldn’t keep this up anymore and still wanted to be able to finish.
It’s funny how quickly your goals can change. You start the race knowing you’re gonna be awesome and surge at this place and that place and how you’re gonna make sure to check your vitals throughout the race to make sure that you’re not going too fast or skimping on nourishment. Then you start feeling the pain of doing something wrong (or forgetting to do something) and no longer do you care about having this great race. You’ll be just fine having an ok race and not losing to last year’s time. And then the race continues to wear on you and you don’t even care if people pass you; you’re just gonna finish, no matter how much time it takes. And then you start to contemplate what was unthinkable (or sacrilegious) just half a day earlier-DNF’ing (Did Not Finish).
At this point, the thoughts started creeping in that I might not be able to catch any of those guys in front of me and that I wouldn’t be bringing home a cactus (the nice three-foot tall metal trophies for the top finishers). But I could still fight it. I just couldn’t fight it continuously for fifty miles, so I had to back off the pace. I came into Equestrian aid station not feeling super like I had all day up to this point. Amy noticed and though she was planning on going in to town for some real food and to post race updates on Facebook, she stayed here to help me. And man was I thankful for that. Leaving Equestrian, I knew I had a basically flat five miles ahead of me. But I held back. I wasn’t going to have a crappy finish and I needed to slow down to save energy. I pulled into Nacho’s aid station feeling even worse. When asked what I wanted, I responded with “I don’t know. Whatever.” I walked out of Nacho’s and after a while was able to get myself to start running a bit. I even took a water bottle with me, hoping that it would make me feel better. It was the first time I had ever done that during any ultra (I ended up carrying it for the next ten miles-to Boyle’s aid station). Then I realized that I had taken my hat off and left it on the chair. But there wasn’t anything in the world that was gonna get me to go back a quarter mile to retrieve it. Good thing the sun was on its way down and was still behind clouds most of the time. There was a beastly hill a few miles out, but it was still mostly flat until then. Once I got to the hill, the walking commenced until I was down the other side. One thing I hate about the last half of this race is how hard it is to go down those steep rocky hills. The trail isn’t smooth in most places and the 1-2 foot drops, which were not even noticed during the first half, all of a sudden are huge cliffs that require your utmost attention or you’re gonna fall to your death (maybe not literally).
I came into Equestrian aid station again with ten more miles to finish the third loop. This is where it gets really fun. The next twenty miles are the suckiest of the whole race. But if you can get through that suck, you are almost guaranteed to finish. I wasn’t feeling too great (still) and just wanted to get a bit to eat and drink and get out of there. But of course I’m moving all slow and whining to Amy about how I’m walking so much and not feeling good (like it’s her fault). And despite wearing compression shorts, my groin is all kinds of chaffed and my nipples aren’t feeling much better. So I took out the trusty ol’ Vaseline and lubed up like crazy. Maybe next time I’ll want another pair of compression shorts on hand in case the first pair get too sweaty from the heat. I never had a problem with them before (not putting Vaseline on and running with them), but I’d never gone on this long of a run with them.  I ask Amy what time it is and then do some math and figure I’m probably not gonna make it to Boyle’s aid station before dark, and it’d  be just slightly stupid to try to do this part of the course by the light of the stars (which ended up being covered by clouds anyway). I’m still in fourth place at this time, and I kinda still want to keep that. I have no idea how close the next runner is to me and…wait. There he is. Great! Well, I gotta go now. So I take off (at the jogging pace that is my new top speed) and go to make my way up the first of many hills. Fifth place is right behind me by a couple minutes. I come off that hill and then I saw a tarantula and had to stop for a few seconds to admire the beauty of it. A few seconds later I was passed and dropped to fifth. Oh well. I don’t care. No, I do care. I’m gonna go with him and stay behind him. We get to the next set of hills and he just keeps going like the machine I was during the first half of the race, which seems like it was ages ago in another lifetime. If only I had just signed up for the 50, I’d be done with this and I’d be enjoying some nice rest and a break from all these damn rocks.
Ok. I made it up this first rocky hill. Now to go over and up the second. Whoa! I don’t remember it dipping down so low and then going up like this last time. I can do this, but it’s gonna take some walking. Now on to the steepest rocky hill of them all (at least in my opinion). It’s not too long, but long enough for how steep and gravelly it is. I made it passed this point last year while it was still light and repeated the feat this year as well. I like not having to go down this beast in the dark. Up isn’t so bad in the dark (not that I get much of a choice). As I wandered down that bastard of a hill, my calf started cramping. So I flexed my foot (which was also cramping every now and then) only to have my shin muscles cramp. Now there’s something that’s never happened to me before. Then after flexing opposite side muscles my quad cramped up. How am I gonna get down this thing? After stopping numerous times so my cramped muscles didn’t help me topple over and speed down the rest of the hill, I finally made it to the bottom.
 Now a little break and some ups and downs and I’ll be rolling into Boyle’s aid station. I make a right turn and…what is this monster of a hill doing here. Plenty of expletives were given up to the evil race gods. I was so disappointed that I put my hands on my knees and was about to rest for a bit before I continued up another hill. But a few seconds after doing so, I got all light headed and felt like I was going to pass out if I stayed in that position any longer. So I got up and continued, whining in my head the whole time. Finally I recognized the hill. Oh, so now you decide to just show up right here in the race and expect me to just be ok with going up you? I get to the top and make the horseshoe loop around to go back down. I need to come up with a game plan. I’m gonna finish this race. I’m still in fifth. I can catch fourth. I can still beat my time from last year. But I’ve got these cramps that just won’t leave me alone. Why am I cramping? Hey. It’s been a hot day and I probably haven’t drunk enough liquids nor enough salts/electrolytes. My muscles are just yelling at me for not taking better care of them with all this heat and the number of miles I’m make them do. So, how to fix this? I’m gonna get to Boyle’s aid station and get some water and food and salt. I’m gonna take a break. But if I sit down, I may not wanna get up as I’ll still have thirty miles to go. But if I don’t sit down, I’m probably not gonna make it through the next five miles. So. Sit down. Get food and water and salt in me. Wait awhile so my muscles can take it in and recover a bit. Then get up and I’ll be good as…as good as someone can feel after running seventy miles.
So I follow my plan. Amy’s there of course. She now has a wind breaker on and has a folding camp chair for me to sit in. I told her my plan and like she had read my mind (or saw how awful I was feeling five miles ago), she had heated up some broth. And as sacrilegious as this may sound, it was better than ice cream (at least at that moment).  She got me some s-caps (salt pills) that were on the water coolers at the aid station (I think I had about two or three of them). I drank a couple water bottles of water. And I lay on the ground thinking nothing would be better than just being done right now and being able to go to sleep. Oh man this feels great. Here comes a runner. Now I’m in…Oh wait. He’s with the relay race. So I’m still safe. Another runner came up. Crap. Now I’m in sixth. But he had somewhere to be by 2:00 and wouldn’t be able to finish. So he dropped. Why do I care which place I’m in? I don’t deserve any glory for how I’m finishing this race. But I’m gonna finish it. Now I just need to get up.
My resting time was drawing near to an end. Amy knew the shivers were on their way, and as soon as I convinced myself to finally get up, there they were. I kept Amy’s jacket so I didn’t die before the next five minutes were over. But the uncontrollable shivers shook me like an old man. I hate those shivers. I know they go away after a few minutes of exertion, even if it’s just walking. I leave the aid station. I’m freezing, but I didn’t quit. And I feel much better, excepting for the shivers.
Those ten to fifteen minutes helped so much. Once the cold was finally gone, I could fully appreciate how much better I felt. How did I ever come up with that thought process feeling the way I did? But I’m glad it came to me or my race report would be over right now.
I was on my final five miles of loop three and I don’t think I’ve seen any of the lead runners come back passed me yet. But no bother. I’m moving and feeling pretty good. This five mile stretch is one of the longest in the whole race and the only section longer is the five mile return trip after starting your fourth loop. Here comes the front runner. I can’t see who it is, but was hoping it was Nathan (Leehman). I recognized his face the few times I passed him near the end of each loop, but couldn’t remember where I’d seen him before. Then I saw his name in the books at one of the aid stations and was able to put the two together. Here comes the second runner. And he’s running too. And the same with the third. No hope for top three. But why would I expect to be there with the last five hours of getting whooped on by the trails? It wasn’t until I was coming down the last hill, about a mile from the start/finish, that I passed two runners going the other way. One was the one that had ‘recently’ passed me and the other was moving slow enough to be another hundred-miler. I was coming down hill. I could run a bit. It was rocky, and when it was too rocky, I slowed down. But overall, I was able to run the rest of the way in to finish my third lap (75 miles). The time was 15 hours 40 minutes 40 seconds. Not too bad. If I just keep that up for this last lap, I can finish in just under 22 hours. If. If is a nice word.
I told Amy how much better that felt and how I was able to run parts and how the muscle cramps had vanished and how close I was (about three miles behind) the next runner. I was excited. I got some stuff in me and headed back out. Joe (Prusaitis- race director) asked me if I was done or if I had another lap to do. “I wish I was done, but I’m heading back out.” He informed me that there was a system coming by that might miss us, but also might be dumping some rain on us. I found out when we got home that Houston had quite the rain storm. And if there’s one thing I don’t need right now, it’s some rain (warm or cold) to cool me off even more and force me to quit early. Just twenty five more miles. Just one more ‘marathon’ to go. So I left the start/finish and headed back out-running. After about thirty seconds, I realized that the trail was slightly uphill on the way out. That sucks. Well, right now it sucks. I’ll be pretty happy about it when I get back on it and take the downhill express to the finish line. But I can’t get myself to run or even jog for that matter. So I set out and speed walk, because that’s what my legs are allowing me to do. If I have to speed walk this whole lap, I’ll speed walk a marathon to finish this race.
As I’ve already mentioned, this five mile section is long. And it did get longer even though I just got done running it. It’s amazing how much longer it is from aid station to aid station when you walk. At least it’s amazing when you’ve been out running all day long. Most people would realize this and not think anything of it. But I was so used to being an hour or less from the next aid station. And now I was an hour and a half. And that extra half hour is like an eternity. The night probably doesn’t help it seem any faster either. I finally end up walking in to Boyle’s aid station (I didn’t run a bit that whole time). I  need another break. Luckily Amy brought a blanket for me this time. And more broth. With the windbreaker on and the blanket over my legs, I was nice and toasty. There was another hundred-miler sitting next to me. We talked a bit. He was finishing his third lap and I was more than happy I wasn’t in his place, even though he was only ten miles behind me.
Should I quit? The car is right here (Amy drove over). I could be in bed and be asleep in seconds. And that would make me so happy. I think I’m gonna quit. Eighty percent of the race is complete. I did eighty miles. That’s more than most people would even dream of doing in a few months, and I did it in less than a day. But I’ve never DNF’d before. What excuse will I tell people? I don’t like excuses. They wouldn’t understand. They don’t know what it feels like to be on this terrain for eighty miles. But all I think they’ll hear is ‘You didn’t finish? What happened?’ And then I’d have to try to explain something that would never make sense in their heads. I have to keep going. But it feels so good to just sit here. Can’t I just quit and have no one bother me about this race? And if I quit, then I won’t feel like I have to do the Bandera 100k race in January (which’ll save us a couple hundred bucks) since I won’t be completing the Tejas 300 (Cactus Rose 100, Bandera 100k, and Rocky Raccoon 100). So this will help us financially and help me feel a lot better right now.
Up again with the uncontrollable shivers. I didn’t forget the huge hill that was fast approaching this time. At the top of the hill I can see the cloud cover and the lightning passed the far hilltops. It doesn’t seem like we’re gonna get rained on. And that makes me happy. At least something’s gonna be nice to me. I go up the rocky beast and curse it one last time: ‘Til next year you bastard! Down the last of the rocky hill chain, I’m back to where I saw my tarantula a few hours earlier. I still haven’t ran a bit, but the walking can go from super slow to speed walking as the trail is now a jeep path and rocks are nowhere to be found. I’ve been passing numerous groups of hundred-milers and their pacers (you know they’re pacers because they’re talking/singing/etc. with the runner they’re with, and nobody who’s been out all day long has any desire to say anything but grunts). I’m so glad I’m not where they are. I don’t know how they can do it. And every race convinces me more and more that those are the really strong ones. Sure, it’s hard to go fast for a hundred miles. But at least if you go fast, you can get it done in twenty hours or so. These guys are out here for thirty plus hours. They will have seen the sun rise twice during the same race. And they (some of them) will still stick it out ‘til the end. Those are the real crazies. Not me.
I’m back at Equestrian aid station. Just fifteen more miles. Just two more tough hills and the rest is basically flat. I can do this. But man, it’d feel so great to just stop. I take another break and sit down with a blanket. I’m ‘double or nothing’ for the third time in a row and it’s only a matter of time before my luck runs out and I actually quit. I’ve done nothing but walked for the last ten miles. And it is killing me that I can’t get my body to run. If I can’t run the race, why should I finish? I just need to quit and let people that ran a smarter race get their buckle. I don’t deserve it. But somehow, I upped myself out of that chair, freezing once again, and walked with ever-chattering teeth and a shaky flashlight for the next mile. After I made it up and down the next rocky hill (Ice cream), I passed what would turn out to be the last hundred-milers that made it out before the cut off time to start the third loop. It was really nice having the whole trail to myself. And since there was not a single big hill to worry about for the next eleven miles or so, I could speed walk on the non-rocky trails. I think I’m really gonna make it now. No, I’m definitely gonna make it. It’s flat for the next eleven miles, so they don’t really count. Then one big rocky hill with its even worse downhill followed by the best part of the race: the last mile. And it’s all downhill (at least slightly).
By the time I got into Nacho’s aid station for the last time, I was actually happy and not thinking about quitting. I gave Amy her jacket back. I got a bit to drink. Ate an orange. Kissed Amy and left walking again. No more shivers for me. I got a race to finish. I speed walked the whole way to Equestrian aid station. And I repeated the same entry/exit as I had at the last aid station. Five more miles to go! “Amy- What time is it?” “3:37.” Ok. 3:37. I just heard someone say something about 4.5 miles. This section must not be a whole five. That’s good. If it takes me a whole hour and a half, I’m not gonna break twenty-four hours. I know I told myself over and over these past many hours that I didn’t deserve to finish, but I still want to come in before twenty four hours. So. The five mile loop back home. If I run kinda slow, I finish it in about forty minutes. That’s around eight minute pace. So if I speed walked it, maybe that would be around sixteen minute pace. Sixteen minute pace for five miles is, is, is eighty minutes. That doesn’t leave me much leeway. And then there’s that hill. That’ll definitely slow me down. I’m gonna have to run/jog some of these parts. I’ll just run while I count down from ten to zero. Then I’ll take a break for a few minutes and do it again.
I’m into the forest doing my “run”/walk thing when I came up on a light in front of me. This can’t be the guy I passed. Who is this? He’s a hundred-miler, or else he’d be running at least a little bit more. We say a few things to each other, knowing that we’ll both finish as we have now completed ninety-six percent of the race. I continue my “run”/walk and quickly leave him behind. Now out of the forest and starting to make my ascent up the last treacherous hill, I see a small group of what looks like three runners. Who are they? I don’t remember being passed by that many people. But I was sitting down at so many aid stations and was surely not paying attention to anything around me. The trail bent back on itself, so it was awhile before I saw them again. I started imagining what the rest of the course was in my head. There was the uphill, turn and flat. Then another turn, uphill, and flat. Then the last mother of a hill, the downhill, and then a tiny steep section that led to the blissful mile-long downhill to the finish line. But I kept going up, turning, up, and wasn’t getting to that awful hill. Where are you? Why don’t you just get over here so I can walk up you one last time? I just want to be done. Get over here! There’s the lights from the runners I saw earlier. They’re up the big hill a little ways, but they’re not moving. Nature called one final time for them. I passed them as I walked as quickly up that hill as possible. It droned on forever, but I was in much better spirits (being so close to finishing and all), so it didn’t matter at all. I got to the top and might have said some choice words to all the hills in the area, and started my descent into happiness. There’s the steep uphill. Now I’m on a rocky trail. I don’t remember this being rocky, but I don’t care. My forefoot (on both feet) has never hurt so much in my life before. They are aching every step and have been for the last twenty plus miles. But nothing matters anymore. Nothing can keep me from finishing now. I repeat my run count downs. Start running. Ten, nine … zero. Break. Repeat. Ten, nine … zero. Break. I think I should up this to twenty. Twenty. Run four steps. Nineteen. Run fours steps. Zero. Break. Repeat. Now I’m to where the loops split and it’s only about a half mile to the finish. I gotta finish strong or I won’t be coming in before that twenty-four hour mark. And I’m gonna hate myself if it’s just a few seconds or minutes after. Gotta keep running. No more breaks. Just go. There’s a light up ahead. That better not be a hundred-miler (it was a relay team). Here’s another light. I try to say ‘Good job’ to him, but my emotions are running wild now and as I say ‘Good job’ to him it comes out like when you’re trying to talk right before you cry and it’s just a bunch of air and indecipherable whimpers. So I just give him the thumbs up as I pass him. And there’s the lights from the Lodge. The happiest thing I’ve seen all day long (besides Amy of course). I’m coming in and Amy, not knowing if it was me, is asking “Matt?” “Yeah.” I get through the finish and I look up at the clock. 23 hours 48  minutes 24 seconds. I made it under twenty four. Twenty minutes slower than last year, but I still made it. Joyce (Joe’s wife) and Amy come over and hug me. I’m practically in tears I’m so elated to be finished. The hurt is gone, at least until I wake up and can’t hardly walk. I tell Joyce that I swear Joe must have brought in a few extra truck-fulls of rocks for this year’s race.
A few seconds before my headlamp
 and flashlight crossed the finish line
And if I don’t step on another rock until Bandera (the 100k race I’ll be doing in January), I’ll be just fine with that. I’m not quite crying, but I feel like it I’m so relieved. I go sit down and get some dry clothes out and Amy helps me change into them. A few minutes later, Joyce comes over to me with a little boot. “You were fifth place. Here you go. Congratulations.” “I thought there were only rewards for the top three male/female for the two races.” “Sometimes Joe likes to go overboard.” That Joe. I love him. Even with this evil race. I’ll be out here in January to run again. And I’ll be out here next October to run the 100 again. He puts on one hell of a race and I’ll run any of these super long races with him and Joyce at the helm.

Amy and I look at the results. I’m fifth overall. Fourth was an hour and a half in front of me. But sixth and seventh were just ten minutes behind me. Wow. I didn’t think I would finish it from about mile 60-80 or so. But I did. And my biggest help was my lovely wife who gets a birthday weekend away from the kids only to spend it crewing for me all day long. Man I love her so much. I gave her my race jacket as a thank you, which means a lot because I love those jackets Joe gets us. I know I wouldn’t have finished the entire race if Amy hadn’t been there. I’m so thankful for an understanding and helpful wife. She's the greatest crew for races, and more importantly, for life.
After a few hours of sleep, I waddled over to get my picture taken with my buckle and 5th place boot.

Amy loves when I sleep with my eyes half closed.

Bandera 100k (12 January 2013)

A relatively last second decision and I was going to be adding another ultra race to my yearly schedule. I had read about the Tejas 300 last year and thought it sounded cool, but for whatever reason, I didn’t sign up to complete it. The two 100-mile races that I do are put on by the same race director. He actually has a number of races that he manages (and quite well at that). But it’s been hard for me to want to do the shorter races as I see them as less than a challenge (instead of a different challenge). Perhaps this is why I didn’t do this last year. 
The Tejas 300 is a club, I guess, in which you have to complete Cactus Rose 100 in late October, then Bandera 100k in mid-January, and then Rocky Raccoon 100 in early February. 262 miles. Three races. Three months (plus a few days).  For completing it, you get bragging rights and less importantly, though much more pretty, a thick five-pound slab of polished granite in the shape of Texas.
I figured this year I’d see what all the hype was about. So I signed up for the race in December or so and saw that there’s quite the turnout for this race. Since 2011 (and through 2014) it’s been the US 100km Trail Championship race. Along with this race there is a 50k and 25k race. Thus the big turnout. Almost 1000 entrants among the three races. And when we all showed up in the minivan at the same field as two and a half months ago, I was shocked to see the place packed with cars. We parked in the camping area, set up our tent right next to the van, and got ready for bed. We of course had our super nutritious dinner (and later to become breakfast) Little Caesars pizza. When we returned from my last race, the boys saw that we had removed the chairs to sleep in the van. They wanted to do the same this time. “As long as you guys are dry, you can sleep in the van.” It was nice having the whole tent to ourselves (and Lena) and also not worrying about two boys that are not very quiet when they awake in the morning. 
Sleeping was not a problem this night. Since this race is so much shorter, its start time wasn’t until 7:30 a.m. It was enjoyable to sleep in ‘til 6:30. I proceeded to get dressed, check in, and have my pizza breakfast. The boys were of course awake (the first glimpse of the sun’s rays instantly removes any need of further sleep) and Amy brought Lena out a little after 7. It was cool, just 50 degrees. But it was very foggy, which meant there was a lot of water in the air. It was clear that I’d be needing some Vaseline to keep from chafing too much. It was going to be nice not having to start the race with a headlamp/flashlight as it was already bright enough to see all the rocks along the path. I was hoping to be able to finish the race without needing a light at the end (because I hate carrying anything with me and headlamps are not comfortable after a few hours). Which I figured would require me to finish in less than twelve hours. And that made sense to me. I did some math in my head: just under 24 hours to finish 100 miles; that means 11 or so to finish 50 at the same pace; but I wasn’t running 100, just 62. So my pace was going to be faster than 100-mile pace. Goal for this race: sub 12 hour finish for 100k (62 miles).

Each race had its own starting line and went in their own direction. The countdown ensued and we were off. I saw Amy and the kids off to the side and waved as we left the camping area and entered the hills. It seemed as though a number of people took off and I wondered why. I knew this was the US 100k championships and that a number of awesome ultra runners would be here to fly through the course, but it couldn’t be this many people. But I was here for myself and all I cared about was finishing under twelve hours.
This race was going to be a bit different. Not only was it much shorter, but there were only two loops instead of four or five. There were a few people that I ran with for awhile and enough to even exchange names. About 12 miles into the first loop, I happened upon a couple of runners that I ended up running with for 6 miles or so. Lorenzo (Sanchez) and Hannon (Didier), though I didn’t know last names at the time. Lorenzo had done a few of the same races as I, but Hannon hadn’t. But we were all going to be doing Rocky Raccoon 100 in three weeks, and it was Hannon’s first 100. So we talked about this and that and what to be ready for. (He’ll end up finishing it 34th place in a time of 21:16:17.) My body told me it was time to move on. I said my goodbyes and left them. 

Alone again. As I continued, I was thrust back into the low clouds higher up on the hills. And that’s where the problem magnified itself. I was already shirtless as my top was drenched (between sweat and moisture from the air). I had wrapped it around my waist and tucked it into my shorts on the sides (something I learned in high school cross country). I couldn’t quite remember how the last 10 miles of the lap worked. I wasn’t worried about getting lost as Joe (race director) always marks his courses very well. So I just followed along. I got to an aid station called “Last Chance.” Its location was a mere half mile from the finish, but I quickly found out that the 100k’s had to turn and continue another five miles through the part of Cactus Rose that I hate the most. Great. And to make matters more fun, this part was a bit muddy and slick with all the moisture and light sprinkling during the previous day. Adding insult to injury, my Vaseline had more than worn off and the insides of my thighs were rubbing themselves raw to the point I just wanted to stop. Of course I didn’t, but it hurt so much. Everything under my shorts was raw and rubbing on wet shorts. I needed to finish this lap so I could change my shorts and slather that region with some much needed Vaseline. 
Ahhhhhh! Dry shorts and a layer of protection. That’s how you spell relief. I didn’t bother bringing a shirt with me as I was certain it would just end up around my waist again. Just 31 more miles. Or as I quickly thought, just one more lap. That made it sound much better. I finished my first lap in a little over five hours. Someone I was running with mentioned how nobody ever has negative splits on this course. Adding another half hour put me at eleven hours or so. I could handle that.
I left for my final loop with my thoughts to entertain me. I was running solo for almost the entire lap except when I passed people. One thought that kept running through my head was how much more I needed to run. I would compare it to loops that I usually do around town.  “It’s like I’m leaving my house and doing my Cypresswood/2920 loop (a 24-mile loop).” “Now it’s like I’m doing the Benders Landing loop (18 miles).” “Now I just have 10 miles. I do this just about every day (minus the hills of course).” At the second-to-last aid station, Amy and the kids were there waiting for me. “What time is it?” “45.” “What 45?” “5.” “I need my flashlight and headlamp. I’m not gonna make it 10 miles before it’s too dark to see and I’ll be on rocky hills at the time.” I didn’t want to have to use my lights as I hate carrying things. So I started going back to my not-so-very infallible calculations I made before the race. For some reason, I was thinking the sun wouldn’t go down ‘til after 7:30 (which is what happens in the spring). Maybe it’s because the weather had been so warm at the time. But as I thought about it, the sun was gonna be gone shortly after 6 p.m. And there was no way I was finishing 10 miles in an hour. Especially not after having run 50 miles. 

Once again I made it through the long forest and finally made it to the last aid station. The one that’s only a half mile from the finish. I wanted so badly to just go straight and not make the turn to do my last five miles. Then I’d finish in the light and not have to use my lights. But alas, I turned and made my way up over the first of two super fun hills. The sun made its way behind the hills and as I was going up the last hill, I had to turn on my lights. I was worried that this was gonna be bad because of the mud and slick rocks I experienced on my first time around. However, much to my delight, the mud was drier and the rocks were hardly slick at all. 
As I was coming up to the last of my uphill battles, I heard a couple of guys up ahead of me, but I didn’t see any lights. Weird. “Where’s your lights?” “Well, we kinda miscalculated our paces and didn’t bring any with us.” So I got to use my headlamp as my light in front of me and I held my flashlight straight down as I shared that light between me and one of the other two guys. But the guy in front of us seemed to not want to benefit from the light as he remained rather far in front of us. Continuing downhill, we finally came to the turn off the trails and into the field. Shouts of joy came from the three of us. Apparently the guy in front of us was using the light, but just the very edges of it. He had to slow down every now and then to keep in range of the light. We talked it up as we entered the field. Just a few hundred meters remained. As it was brighter from the various lights around, I took off for my typical finishing kick. I saw the kids up ahead and they saw me. “Daddy!” And they tried to run with me up to the finish line. But I passed them and was gone in a second. I crossed the line and it beeped at me saying ‘Congratulations!’ Final time: 11 hours, 23 minutes, 50 seconds. 22nd place out of 186 finishers and 256 starters. My sub-12 hour goal was fulfilled. Race number two of three in the Tejas 300 completed.

Cactus Rose 100 (27-28 October 2012)

Amy’s mom offered to fly in to town to watch the kids for the duration of the race. That sounded great. It offered Amy and me to have a whole weekend together with no kids. And Amy had a surprise for me (she had already told me): She was going to be my pacer for 20 miles of the last 25-mile loop. I guess you could say it was my birthday present for her (and who wouldn’t give a 20-mile run for a present?).

We cleared out the back of the minivan including the seats as that was going to be our sleeping quarters. After four and half hours, we arrived in Bandera, TX (actually the state park just outside of Bandera). We had just bought our dinner/breakfast: two pizzas from Little Caesars. We found a spot in the huge field next to the starting line and rearranged the back so we could sleep (it was after 9:30 by the time we got there and we didn’t have any kids to get ready for bed.).

I couldn’t sleep for awhile. I tried to listen to music on my phone, but that didn’t help (Thanks a lot Garth!). My alarm woke me at 4:00 a.m. After finding some super nutritious race prep food (the leftover pizza), I walked over to check in and get my race number. Amy was awake and I double checked to make sure that my drop bags had the correct things in them. I got my race number on and was finishing some more pizza when I looked at my watch. 4:55! Ok, I have to really get over to the starting line ‘cause I have 5 minutes ‘til starting time. Amy came over with me and took my picture (the race had just started as I finished tying my shoes). You might think I’d be worried about not starting right when the gun went off (though there was no gun), but when you run 100 miles, two minutes of lost time translates to a 1-second time difference per mile by the end of the race. I had to sport my fire department shirt because the guys at the station said I needed to better represent them. And I figured that it’d be a good conversation piece as I met various other runners on the trail.
The weather was around 46 degrees and cloudy, which I was more than happy with. Since this race is nowhere near as popular as the other 100-mile race I do (2-300 people are on this course compared with 750 at Rocky Raccoon), the start was really smooth. There were no huge bunches of people that slow you down, though I never complain about them as they help keep me from starting too fast. It’s hard to make sure you go slowly enough so that your legs aren’t out of energy when mile 75 comes around. So I went at a pace that I felt was slow enough. I would be in a small pack for a bit and then leave them and find the next pack of runners until later in the morning I found myself basically alone for the rest of the race. Back in the morning, I came up on a runner whose light had died. So I shared my lights with her until we got to the next aid station (which was only at most a mile away).
As I got up to the top of one of the hills (mountain if you’re from Texas), I looked out across the valley below and thought how beautiful it looked. The sun was up, but it was cloudy, so it was still kinda dark. There was a guy up there at the top with a camera and he was taking pictures of everyone as they came by. I stopped, said “Hi,” smiled, and continued on my way.

Right after I started, Amy drove to the aid stations and left my drop bags for me and then went back to bed. I knew could do better than last year’s race (27 hours and 11 minutes) and felt that if I could run close to five-and-a-half-hour laps, then I would finish under 24 hours. That was my only goal: sub-24. I felt fine during my first lap (who doesn’t?) and came in around five hours. It was a little faster than I wanted, but oh well. What’s done is done and I’ll hope it doesn’t come back to haunt me later on in the day. 
The second lap is backwards from the first lap. I like this because I quickly finish the 10 miles of the race that I hate the most. Amy met me at every aid station all day long starting with my second lap. It was great. She got my drinks ready and had food out of my bag for me and put it away to save me some time (which adds up after stopping at aid stations all day long). After those ten not-so-fun miles at the start of the second lap were completed, I had an “easy” fifteen miles ahead of me.

I was more or less by myself for this lap and for most of the rest of the day. And at some point (on my third lap) I decided to have a friend with me. I got my mp3 player and listened to Interview with a Vampire. People frequently ask me how I can run without listening to music (or at least something). I used to run with music, but after I drowned an mp3 player numerous times with sweat (to the point that it no longer worked), I decided to not run with music anymore. I was free to think about things I needed to get done, how I was going to accomplish them, what to get Amy for her birthday (or Christmas, Mother’s Day, etc.), random parts of various songs that continuously repeat (such as things from Backyardigans, other shows my kids watch, or a song I recently hear while driving), or just nothing at all. I found that I really enjoyed running headphone-free and have never thought twice about trying to find a way to make it work. The only time that I now run with headphones is during our “winter,” but only because I don’t sweat nearly as much. And I never listen to music; always audiobooks.

My second lap ended in roughly the same time as my first lap—another five hours. Fifty miles completed in ten hours. Way ahead of pace (by two hours) and still feeling great. But fifty miles is just that. Fifty miles. There were still fifty more and those are the miles to be scared about when doing long races. I never run very long when training for these 100-milers (18-24 miles are my usual long runs that I do every few weekends when it’s cooler out). So it’s hard to gauge what pace you should be running at to make sure your body can still have something in store when you’re 50 miles farther than any of your training runs. But that’s how I learn—trial and error. Just about everything I know about my so-called crazy running habit is stuff I discovered by trial and error. I don’t read running magazines/web sites to see which food to eat or which shoes to wear. I don’t run with a running club to know how I should best train for ultras. I don’t anything. I just go. If it works, great. If not, don’t do that again. I feel I’ve learned quite a bit in the little time I’ve spent running ultras. And when I’m 60 and still doing this, I know I’ll be closer to being an expert.
My third lap continued in the same direction as my first lap, so the first fifteen miles were “easy” again. When I completed this lap, Amy would be running miles 75-95 with me. I knew we’d be going a bit slower than I’d like, so I made sure to keep this pace going to leave less energy for my last lap. It didn’t really bother me that my time with Amy would be slower; I was excited to spend 4+ hours with Amy (on her birthday) and all the conversations that we could have while kid-free. 
I was still feeling great as I finished my third lap. In fact, I didn’t need to use my headlamp/flashlight until well after I got passed this horribly steep (though short) hill. I did not want to “run” down it in the dark if I could help it and I was well passed it when night set in and I needed the lights on. I don’t know why I was feeling so good—maybe I drank more and ate more this year (compared to last year). I think that’s about the only difference between the two years. But I finished my third lap around 16 hours. 75 miles complete. Just one more lap. Amy was there waiting for me and we quickly headed out. “The first 10 miles we’ll just walk fast with a tiny bit of actually running as it’s rather hilly.” The sun was long gone and even though we both had headlamps and flashlights, Amy managed to kick a number of  rocks (they’re all over the trails). And somehow she used the same toes each time to kick the rocks. Funny how that happens. We got to the second aid station on that loop and completed those awful ten miles. I think I zapped Amy’s energy though. She usually runs a couple times a week and only 2-3 miles at a time. So ten miles (though there was plenty of walking) kinda drained her. And we still had ten more miles to go. The paced slowed considerably, but I still enjoyed our time together. We don’t get much time alone anymore and we talked the whole time. Even on the flat parts we walked and I could tell she was ready to call it quits. But we were getting sorta close to the aid station at mile 95 and we continued on our way. I don’t think Amy could’ve been any happier when we got there. I got a quick bite to eat and a small drink, kissed Amy, and took off for my final five miles. 
Amy jogged back to the start/finish (a mile and a half up the road) and I could see her light across the field that separated us. I yelled at her to keep talking with her, but she couldn’t hear me. Then I cut into the forest (These are the only pine trees in the area. Everything else is just mesquite trees, which are very short.). Every succeeding lap the forest grows longer and you’re sure that you made a wrong turn because it wasn’t this long last lap. I finally made it out and onto the last mountain. Just a couple more miles, literally. I was feeling wonderful still and pushed it, running as much as I could. Coming down the steep hill, there was just one more little steep part and then it was flat all the way in to the finish. Once again, I found the strength in me to really pick up the pace on that last mile. When I was in high school, I always figured that if you had enough energy left in you to have a super fast kick at the end of a race, you probably ran too slowly for the rest of the race. And maybe I’m still right but haven’t figured it out yet. In any case, I know I’m getting really close and the sheer joy of knowing that I’m almost done is really settling in. Just a quarter mile more and I’m flying. I cross the finish line and Amy’s there. I look at the timer—23 hours and 26 minutes. Hugs for everyone! I’m ecstatic. “I love you Amy!” The race director, Joe Prusaitis, and his wife are there for hugs as well. “Sub 24 on this course. Congratulations! That’s no easy feat.” “Thanks. That’s all I wanted to do today.” I received my belt buckle, though there’s not a sub-24 buckle for this race. No problem. I go and change into some dry clothes before Amy and I go crawl back into the back of the minivan to sleep. Amy got everything arranged and within a few minutes I was unconscious. 

Rocky Raccoon 100 (4-5 February 2012)

I knew the weather wasn’t going to be perfect and I knew that the course wasn’t going to be in tip top shape. But I was still very excited for the race to begin. 

I woke up early that Friday so I could continue my 44-day running streak since December 23. Amy and the kids picked me up from school at 3:00 and we left for Huntsville State Park. It rained quite a bit and I wasn’t looking forward to setting up camp in the rain or spending the whole evening in the tent. And I was hoping that it wouldn’t rain too much so Amy wouldn’t get stuck in the tent all day Saturday with three kids. After about 15 miles the roads looked dry and the rain had stopped. Maybe it’d be dry up there. We got camp all ready and not too much later it started raining for awhile. The rest of the evening and night were just fine and quiet. 

I woke up at 4:40 to start getting ready and to make sure I could find a ride from our campsite to the start/finish. (I didn’t want to have Amy wake the kids and all just to drive me over when I knew lots of people would be heading over there anyway.) While brushing my teeth (which ended up being the last time for two whole days), it started drizzling. That was fine. I could handle that. Back in the tent and changing into my running clothes, it started raining pretty hard. This is definitely not what I wanted, at least not right now. I’d have been okay with it if it started after the race began. But I don’t get to choose what the weather will be. I looked out of the tent and across the street to the restroom and saw a car was parked there with lights on. I got my drop bag and a half loaf of French bread for my breakfast and ran through huge puddles to get into the bathroom to ask this guy for a ride over to the start/finish. “No problem.” Ultra runners have got to be some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my entire life.
My feet are already rather wet and there’s a quickly growing crowd underneath the tent at the start/finish. Just 30 more minutes until starting time. 10 minutes. I’ve been standing next to a couple guys; one’s from England and the other from Portland, OR. Since this is my third 100-miler, I’m not very nervous- just excited to get running. 3 minutes. I think the rain has stopped, but who cares. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO! And we start shuffling out of the tent and walking up the path that all of us hope to be coming back on within the next thirty hours (of course with all 100 miles finished).

After a few minutes I see the guy from Portland that I was talking with earlier. “Jon?” “Yeah.” “Matt.” “Oh hey.” We’d end up spending the next 55 miles side-by-side talking mostly about running, but also about lots of other random topics and sometimes there were stretches of silence. It’s not every day you get to run with somebody for nine and a half hours. The only times we were apart was when we returned to the start/finish at the conclusion of every loop, and that was only for a few minutes before we headed back out for the next loop.
Despite the amount of rain, most of the course was just fine. There were, however, several large and unavoidable mini swamps that used to be trails. When I reached to first of these I wanted to try to avoid it. But considering how far out I’d have to wander, it was a better and quicker idea to just go straight through it. This ended up being just fine. Sure my feet would feel like they were drenched (which they were) but after a few minutes they’d feel “normal” or maybe I just didn’t notice it anymore. So this became my strategy throughout the rest of the race. And when I saw others trying to avoid the mud pits, I’d jokingly tell them that they were missing out on the best part of the race or that there were no points for finishing clean.

The hardest thing was after sundown and all the muddy parts became nearly invisible even with a flashlight. Anticipating this, I tried to memorize where the muddy spots were on the downhill parts and where the best spots were for avoiding these troublesome areas. However, a lot of the time they all meshed together and I’d have to re-figure it out as I got there.

Being my third 100-miler and having already run this course before, I was hoping to greatly improve my finishing time (despite all the rain). I wanted to make sure that I started out a bit slower so that I’d be able to still have energy to finish strong instead of lots of walking intermingled with some running. There were nearly 400 starters and I had no intentions of running someone else’s race. Just start out with an overly slow pace and know that I’d be happy I did after 60 miles. I finished the first lap in 3:48:09 and in 138th place, which was nearly 20 minutes slower than last year’s first lap. But I was okay with this as it still put me on pace for finishing just over 19 hours (even though I wanted to finish sub-19). One thing I definitely wanted to change this year was to not spend as much time in the aid stations, especially the start/finish. I had to take a bit of time and lube my chaffed nipples before my shirt rubbed them off my chest. I decided against lubing up my groin which was not a good idea. So I made sure both sensitive areas were lubed each time I finished a lap.
The second lap proceeded just as the first. As we were now past the last aid station and ready to meet up with the two-way part of the trail, I noticed that we were probably gonna be a bit faster than last lap. I had never had a negative split and was really excited to have one now. We finished the second lap in 3:40:22 and in 78th place. 40 miles and almost 7 ½ hours of running completed. The best part of the third lap is that you reach the half-way point. A few miles after this was when I began my solo trek for the next 29 miles or so. The third lap finished in 3:42:19 and in 50th place. Slow and steady wins the race. Well, not really wins it but it sure beats a lot of the rabbits.

The fourth lap is great because you only have one more when you finish it. The only problem is: it’s one whole entire 20-mile lap to still endure. But I was prepared and took my mp3 player along for the lap until Josh Udy paced me for the last 20 miles and I’d have someone to talk to. I listened to a book (Next- a Michael Crichton novel about genetic engineering) for the whole time except a few spots when I was talking with a fellow runner. About 7 miles into this loop was when I needed my lights again. I was feeling fine, considering I’d already run 67 miles. It was a very uneventful lap though I did notice I was walking a bit more on some of the smaller hills I was running earlier. But oh well. I did notice that on the 6-mile loop from DamNation back to DamNation I was running a lot (at least I considered it a lot). The same thing happened on the long straightaway before the Park Road aid station. I was feeling great mentally and physically as I finished the fourth lap in 4:07:21 and in 31st place. Seeing Josh I said, “I hope you’re ready to run!” since last time (at Cactus Rose) we ended up taking 8 ½ hours to go 25 miles. 

Just 20 more miles. An entire lap. I don’t want to do another lap. I just want to be done. It was difficult getting started on this lap and we walked/ran for the first couple miles. But then, just like I did on the previous lap, I was able to find it in me to go strong on those backside hills (or speed bumps if you live somewhere mountainous) and continue that through most of the rest of the loop. I warned Josh about the mud “puddles” also. He seemed to enjoy striding through them as it reminded him of Fiji- traveling in the dark on muddy hills. 

We left DamNation for the last time and I thanked them for their super work, love and support, and bid them farewell for the last time. Eight more miles to go. “I’ve walked up most of this hill each lap, but I need to run parts of it.” Josh never seemed to be bothered by my ‘let’s go’ or ‘okay I need to walk’ instructions (especially when it was time for walking). The best part of having a pacer isn’t to have them push you along and tell you that you’re doing great, that if you just run this fast you can get this time, or to try to compel you to stop walking so much and get running. The best part is just having them there next to you. They don’t even have to say anything (though 20 miles would be a long time of silence). Just being there is so refreshing. What else says true friendship like running for four hours in the middle of the night with no reward but the company of your friend? Pacers don’t get T-shirts or trophies or the sensibility of having finished any race. They get a hug and a big thanks for going far beyond what normal people would call a favor.

Having left the last aid station, I only had about 4 miles to go. Ninety-six percent of the race completed. I can do this. No problem. I could start feeling the finish line pulling me in with its tractor beam. There were a few times when my legs forced me to walk for a bit, but I still had control of the override button and was able to relatively soon. With about a mile or so remaining, the time was 1:24 a.m. I wasn’t going to even beat my last year’s time. “Sure you can. You have 11 minutes.” Then whatever energy I hid away for this moment was found and we started running. There was no point in walking anymore because I didn’t need to run once I finished this loop. I felt bad for each person I passed as I knew that had at least one if not two more laps to complete and that they knew I was about to finish (why else would someone be running up these hills?). But that feeling would soon pass after a few seconds and I’d be back to focusing on getting to that finish line. We were now out of the forest and next to the main road. Just a few more side streets to cross and then one final left turn onto the last straightaway to the finish. I was picking up the pace to the point where Josh was starting to fall behind. But a couple points about this: 1) Josh is not a 20-mile runner. He really only does about 5 or so when he does run. 2) Even though I had already run 99 miles and Josh only 19, Josh was just going to cross a line and go home while my body was going to be drenched in happiness because of what I had just completed. 

I didn’t bother turning around as I came up to that last corner. “Sprint it all the way in!” He didn’t have to tell me. My legs were already doing it. I flew down to the line like I was about to get out-kicked at the finish. My final time: 19:36:24 and in 26th place. Not too shabby considering the less-than-favorable trail conditions. I also felt a lot better about how I ran this race (less time in the aid stations and lap times that were closer together). Out of 218 finishers, I was in the top 12%.

Having congratulated me over and over and telling me how amazing I am, Josh was ready to drive me back to the campsite and then go home. I, however, wanted to wait for Jon, the Portland guy I ran over half the race with. “Are you sure?” I was. I needed to. It was the right thing to do- to congratulate him on his finish and then to thank him for the fun 9 ½ hour companionship. I got my drop bag and Josh left. Changing into warm and dry clothes was a must. The top half was easy; I could do that by myself. It still took awhile, but I changed into warmer clothes. Getting my warm up pants on was another story. Lucky for me, the volunteers are even nicer people than the ultra runners. One of them helped me get my pants on. I felt like Drew (our 2-year-old) when he’s less-than-cooperative in getting his pants on. He even offered, multiple times, to change my socks for me. But since my clean and dry shoes were in my other drop bag, I declined the offer. Plus I didn’t want to see how bad my feet were. So I sat in a chair waiting for Jon to finish. “If you see/hear runner 150 come in, could you let me know?” I asked a couple of volunteers. I must have fallen asleep or missed him when he came through because I never did see him. But he made it to the end in approximately the time I remember him saying that he wanted. So I sent out my ‘good for you’ vibes and asked a guy that was about to leave for his hotel if he wouldn’t mind taking me to my campsite. “Where is it? Sorry. Of course I can.”

I got back into our tent around 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning, about 24 hours after I woke up. Amy was worried, as she was expecting me to have returned much earlier. When I woke up around 8:00 a.m., I knew I needed to shower. My legs from my knees to my ankles were caked in dry mud and my feet had been wet for over 24 hours. I hobbled over to the showers and proceeded to attempt the removal of my socks. The mud had dried and as I pulled on the toes, the socks ripped a bit. When I finally got them off my pruned feet, I noticed that the socks were beyond repair and just threw them away. I also discovered that on my left foot, the big toenail appeared slightly elevated from where it should have been. I had never lost a toenail before but was pretty sure that this one would be lost. Maybe I’ll put it on a chain and where it as a necklace. Yeah right. I hate jewelry. The hot shower was very nice and relaxing. Though I could have stayed there much longer, it seemed that the hot water was starting to run out. Amy packed up camp by herself as I walked around with Lena. We picked up my other drop bag and we left for home. The boys got their first nap in 2 days and I enjoyed a lot of relaxation in a bed. And I can’t wait ‘til October when I can do another 100-miler and kill my body all over again.

I know I hardly mention Amy and the kids at all during this. It’s my selfish version of the race. But Amy single-handedly took care of three kids all-day Saturday while I played psycho runner man. I owe her so much for her dedication to and understanding of the weird need that I have in this unusual hobby of mine. She carted the kids around to a couple points on the course to cheer me on and just to see me for a little bit. A little girl at one point asked her mom, “Why didn’t you bring the other kids?” “Because I’m not as brave as her.” I truly have a wonderful companion and am so thankful for her unselfishness.