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.

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