Wednesday, October 15, 2014

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.

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