Wednesday, February 13, 2013

2013 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Race Report

100 Mile Races are more than just physical tests of the human body. I've heard that you can run 50 miles with your body, but the next 50 must be run with your mind.  Great amounts of pain and suffering are inevitable and if you want to finish, you must forge a "no quit" attitude. I came into this race more under trained than I have ever been for any of my ultra races. I hadn't logged a long run in three months, and the past three months were spent mostly with tennis and a few short runs. The plan was fairly simple: walk early and walk often. Run the downhills, stay positive, and enjoy everything - one moment at a time.

Miles 1-20: In the early miles, I kept my pace around 15 minutes per mile.  My goal was to finish the 20 mile in 5 hours. I only ran the downhill portions and made sure to take it as easy as possible.  I started with my friends Jessica, Kynan, and Laura, but I let them go on after about half a mile in. It was very tempting to run more. "Patience" became my mantra. Patience is magic.  Patience is a virtue. Practice patience. Be patient. I had to keep reminding myself to conserve my energy and save my running for later. The REAL race for me starts at 50, partly because I had never run past 50 in my life. The first 20 was done in a blur. It was my fastest lap, done in around 4:56 (including the few minutes I spent at the aid station and my drop bags).

Miles 20-40: I continued reciting my "patience" mantra here. Patience can be magic. Continue to conserve. I met a new friend during this lap.  She was running the 50 mile race and her pace was comparable to mine so we stuck together. We enjoyed each others' company and the miles melted away quickly. But eventually we had to part ways. I've met so many good people during my races. Patricia Crespi, from Colorado finished her first 50 Miler in 12:56! It was also during this loop that I chatted with a 71 year old runner who had finished 14 other 100-Mile races. I dubbed him the "Master" and tried to hang with him for a while. Even though we were run/walking at a 15 minute pace, he was predicting a 29 hour finish (15 minutes per mile times 100 equals a 25 hour finish).  I was a bit shocked that he would suggest we'd slow down that drastically! Slowing down at night makes sense, but I still had secret hopes of a 28 hour finish.

It was around the 36 mile mark that I developed a bloody nose. A ran with it for a short while, hoping that it would stop on its own, but it just kept bleeding. The older gentleman gave me some tissue and I was able to plug my nose and stop the bleeding. It probably looked bad, with blood all over the place, but it felt fine. I finished the 2nd 20 mile loop in 5:14. I spent 10 minutes at the aid station here, to change my socks and to refuel. It was at this time that I asked Brian if he had any pacing duties and if he could pace me for the 4th lap.  I told him I should be back in about 5 and a half hours - at least that was the plan!

Miles  40-60: I started this Loop with Justin (one of Gary's friends from work) who was on a quest for his first 50 Mile finish. I walked and ran with Justin for a couple miles and learned about how he lost a ridiculous amount of weight and turned his life around through running. He had an inspiring story! He had already logged over 33 miles at this point and he was clearly a bit tired. I did what I could to cheer him up and gave him some tips finish strong. And he did great! He finished his first 50 mile race later in the night. 

When you're going to be running/walking for a long, long time, it helps to talk to people and make new friends. Motivate each other, inspire one another, and it all makes the experience more positive and worthwhile.  I crossed the 50 Mile mark at 13:04.  The real race had begun. I was in uncharted waters from this point on.  I had never run/walk past 50 miles - ever. I had completed 5 50-mile races, but all those races left me beaten and battered.  Here, after completing 50 miles, I had 50 miles to go, and most of it would have to be done in the dark.

This is where I met Joel Ignacio, from Austin, who quickly became a very good friend. We got along right from the start. We ran together and talked about our lives. His Dad has cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. He told his Dad very definitively that he was going to finish this race and get that belt buckle. Joel was clearly a man on a mission. When we got back to the start/finish line area, I offered Joel one of my Starbucks Expresso cans, and I asked him if he wanted to stick with me and Brian for the next loop. Brian could help pace us both through what I suspected would be the toughest loop of the race (and it was).

Miles 60-80: It didn't take long for me to completely unravel during this loop. By the 4th mile, I was struggling to keep up with Brian and Joel. My left leg had begun to hurt. The shin was hurting (probably because I kicked a million roots with that foot!) and then my left knee started to join the pain party! To make matters worse, a 22 minute/mile pace felt difficult! The positivity that had been my strength all day quickly evaporated. I was scared. I told Brian and Joel to go on without me. I was holding them back, and that was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted Brian to jump off my sinking ship and pace Joel for the rest of the 20 mile loop. Neither of them left my side.

I hobbled the next 2 miles into the next aid station, ready to quit. I saw no chance for me. I was dead as far as the race was concerned. And fittingly, the aid station at mile 66 was named Dam Nation. My bib number was 66. It felt as though I was predestined to "die" here! I was sure of it! I sat down, took two advil and rested. A trail angel offered some Tiger Balm, which I gladly tried, massaging it into my ailing left shin. The next 6 mile trail section scared me. If I ended up walking at 22-25 minute pace, it could take 2.5 hours to get through to the next aid station! I tried telling Brian to head back on his own and that I didn't want to subject him to this slow slog through the woods. Brian stuck with me. I was at least able to convince Joel to move on without me. I sat for a while, not knowing what to do. I ate some more soup and warmed up next to a heater. When I realized that Brian wasn't going anywhere without me, I decided to give the race another shot.

It was amazing what happened next. Since walking hurt so much, I decided to stretch out my legs and try some faster running. AND IT FELT AWESOME! It didn't hurt! It was as if someone gave me fresh new legs to play with! So I went for broke and let my body go. Roots and rocks be damned. I had nothing left to lose. It was no longer a time to be patient and conservative. It was time to spread my wings and fly. I had risen from the dead, and found some shiny new wheels. I blasted through the next 6 miles with reckless abandon. I would stop for short stretches to catch my breath, but then I would continue. I imagined it was a simple 6 mile run through the woods.  And in a 6 mile run, you run - you don't walk. Brian was enjoying it too, which filled my heart with joy. I don't know how fast we were going, but the pace felt like 8-9 minute minutes/mile at times. It doesn't even matter how fast I was really going. It felt like I was FLYING!

We got to the next aid station and I was still in shock and awe that I was able to come back from the dead. I was hypothesizing that my fast twitch muscles had been dormant all day and finally got a chance to be put in play.  But could it last? I sat down to figure things out. It was risky to sit down while I was on a roll, but I needed a moment to calm down and figure out what to do next. I didn't think this break-neck pace could continue, but I was planning to ride it out as far as it would take me. So after a short break and a cup of soup, we moved on and continued running like a pack of wolves was chasing us. At 76 miles, we caught up to Joel again. We were somewhat surprised that it took so long to catch up to him! He told us he was running scared, like he was in danger of missing the cutoff.  Joel ran with us the rest of the way, even though he had trouble keeping up at times. We came into mile 80 at around 22:25 (4:25AM). My Garmin had died after about 16 hours. Brian's Garmin was fresh though, and it showed that we finished this lap in 6 hours flat.

I got to see two sunrises in the course of one race. The sights and sounds we experienced were breathtaking. Normally, I would have a camera to document the myriad of sights, but I chose not to bring one along to focus on the race. These pictures were borrowed from other people at the race. Most are courtesy of Matt Hagen, who took some fantastic pictures!

Miles 80-100. Psychologically, I was a changed person. I was stronger. And I was confident that I could beat the pain. All I needed to do was take one aid station at a time, and just run as much as I could. So I ran. And I ran. And I ran some more. Walking didn't hurt as much anymore, but it was still very slow compared to the run.  I really enjoyed the last 20 miles. I didn't feel rushed. And when the sun came up, it gave me even more strength and positivity. With a couple miles to go, Joel caught up to me. He had turned his ankle somewhere in the last loop and was using a big stick as a cane, but was still moving very well. I walked with him, and told him that we should finish together. As long as the race was, I was kind of sad to see it end. Joel insisted that I run it in strong. With a quarter of a mile to go, I was greeted by my good friends Brian and Jennifer. I felt so happy and blessed. These friends, old and new, were cheering me in. So I was inspired to run it in with everything I had left. Again, I went for broke. I started to speed up and I kept speeding up until I was sprinting at full speed, as though I was running the mile relay in high school. The finish was so sweet. It was the hardest thing I had ever done, and I had come back from the dead to finish strong. I was so happy. I was a 100-mile finisher. It was euphoric, and having friends there to cheer me in made it so much sweeter. My dreams of finishing a 100 Mile race came true.

Here is link to the video of my finish, thanks to Linnea!

I finished in 198th place out of 229 finishers (there were 340 starters), with an official time of 29:01:50 - an automatic PR!

Other Notes:
I ran in my La Sportiva Crosslites for the entire race. I took 10 servings of Vespa, one every 3 hours.
I also drank 6 bottles of chocolate Pediasure, one every 20 miles. During the day I ate cheese tortillas and drank coke at the aid stations. At night I mainly took chicken noodle soup. I also drank 3 cans of Starbucks Expresso to stay awake at night.

I was really proud of Jessica, who finished her first 100 miler! I was also super proud of Jennifer who finished her first 50-mile race and found out later that she had bronchitis! I wish she could have done her first 50 mile race where she wasn't a bit overshadowed by 100 mile racers! 50 miles is a big deal! And Linnea, who came into this 50-mile race under trained did fantastic for her 2nd 50-mile finish! I also have to thank Brian for saving my race and coming in to pace me for 20 miles on short notice. He was nothing short of amazing. I also want to thank Gary and Mo for being there to cheer us all on.  I met Gary on the Runner's World Loop, and this was the first time I had ever met him in person. I am honored to have him and Mo (his lovely, and superbly talented wife) as friends. And I am super proud of Laura and Kynan, one of the nicest ultra running couples you will ever meet. They finished 80 miles though all kinds of pain.

Thank you all for your support and kindness.  I know its too early to be talking about Rocky Raccoon 2014, but I've been thinking... Would you consider joining us for a little run in Texas next year?


  1. Wow, pretty incredible to bounce back like that so late in the race. I don't hear that very often. It sounds like Brian saved your race, making you continue when you wanted to quit. So lucky. How was the elevation profile and technical terrain? Would my Hokas work? :)

  2. There were a lot of people in Hokas out there. I think there was a total of 5500 feet of gain over the whole course, which makes it pretty flat!

  3. wow! you are just amazing!!! I loved reading this... WS100 in 2014? :)

  4. Way to negative split the 100 miler!!

    Congrats on your huge and impressive accomplishment. The mind is SO much stronger than the body.

    Very cool that you got to meet Gary and Mo. They are some neat people- and just a bit loopy :)

    1. 50% of the 100 miler is very mental. I know a lot of runners could pull it off if they really wanted to - you included!

  5. Congrats, John! Smart running / patience is a virtue.
    Yeah, sometimes it hurts less to run than walk-- will try to remember that...