Tuesday, February 8, 2011
ROCKY RACCOON 50 MILE TRAIL RUN
Rocky Raccoon is a 50 mile and 100 mile trail run in Huntsville, TX. A couple of days after running Rocky Raccoon, this is what comes to mind upon reflection. It’s not all relevant to the actual race, and it's peppered with cussing. There is no test at the end though.
The few weeks preceding my first 50 mile run were not good ones. I doubt I’ll ever be the poster child for mental health, but over the past few years I think I’ve achieved a stasis that warrants at least a pamphlet. Generally, I sleep well, wake up excited for the day, and am happy and content. A few weeks ago I noticed it’s been awhile since I had one of those days. There was a lot of restlessness and discontent, yet I couldn‘t pinpoint a single reason for my malaise. My life has its problems, and I ended up identifying all of those and probably made up some, not knowing which ones were the source of my unhappiness or if it was something else entirely that I was completely missing. It was more than just a funk, but not enough to be put on suicide watch. My emotions were all over the board - crying at one of those neglected animal commercials one minute and manically dancing around the next is one example. After a troublesome incident in the grocery store parking lot which started with me being an asshole to some chic and ended with said chic chasing after me on icy roads in her vehicle (once I ripped the side mirror from her car with my bare hands, a peaceful ending was pretty much out of the question), I realized I must take some drastic action while I still had the choice. So I started going back to recovery meetings, which I had been neglecting for a couple of years. Just having a plan of action and taking the first steps helped matters considerably. But before I could really start the work necessary for getting back my serenity (those rainbows and dancing unicorns are just ahead!!), I had this fucking 50 mile race to run in fucking Texas - rather, attempt to run. I had spent a lot of time training for it, and a lot of time talking about it, and a whole crapload of time worrying about it over the past few months. The final exam was just days away.
I like it hot. I love summer. I hate winter. Cold sucks. I would rather be burned alive five times than frozen once. My training for Rocky really got kicked up at just about the time winter hit. Getting up super early on Saturday mornings to leave a warm boyfriend and a warm bed and a warm breakfast and drive out to the woods (eating cold, congealed oatmeal on that last stretch of road before the park entrance, usually with my finger ‘cause I forgot a spoon) in all kinds of cold and run 20 miles (plus one epic 30 miler mid-December, just me and the El Dog) with all the hills and cold and rocks and wind and cold and roots and mud and cold and ice and more goddamn hills wasn’t always the best of times for me. My fingers (encased in 2 pairs of gloves) would be so cold that it caused pain. I would almost be crying because my fingers were hurting so much. Sometimes I fall and that doesn‘t feel too fantastic either. And this was out at Wyandotte County Lake Park (WYCO) - 20 miles at WYCO is much more difficult than 20 miles anywhere else, except maybe hell. Saturdays were hard work. Sundays were easier - just another 12 miles out on the roads. Day of rest my ass. And don’t think of catching up on sleep during the week either because that’s when I got to get up at the ass-crack of dawn when it’s really cold (and dark to boot) and run 5 miles before coming home and getting ready for work. Cross training and a few afternoon runs completed my workout regime. I had no fucking clue if I was doing enough or not.
The week before Rocky, as mentioned, was weird. But I was in a good place about the race - I‘m just as surprised about that as you. I wasn’t sure of my chances of finishing and was scared of failing of course. But my prevailing feeling was one of super excitement. If I knew anything for certain, it was that I had an adventurous day ahead of me. The race is in a 2,000+ acre park in Huntsville, TX. Huntsville has a big prison. I didn’t see the prison. I did see a statue of Sam Houston in Huntsville though. It was HUGE and on the side of the highway all lit up and it was eerie. I am glad we spent a bit of time in Austin beforehand, because Huntsville does not leave a visitor with a favorable impression of the great state. The 50 mile run consists of three 16.67 mile loops. The 100 mile run is five 20 mile loops. It’s wide dirt trail - kinda rooty, and also really wide dirt jeep roads. Most importantly, it is flat. I’m not used to flat. I usually do not like things until I get used to them. This was different. Bring on the motherfucking flat baby! Every few miles there are aid stations with water, Gatorade, pretzels, PB&J, M&M’s, candy, fritos, soups, even quesadillas. I burned about 5,000 calories during the run so eating is encouraged. And they are manned with helpful volunteers who are usually ultra runners themselves. It’s great support. There were about 500 people in both runs combined - 60% finished the 100 miles and 85% finished the 50. The 100 milers start at 6am on Sat and the 50 milers at 7am on Sat - everyone has until noon on Sunday to finish.
There is a group called the KC Trail Nerds who, surprisingly enough, run trails. They put on races on trails in the area and that is how I know about ultra marathons. Ben and Sophia are the king and queen of the group - they were both running the 100 mile race and there were several other trail nerds who ran this year at Rocky as well. I picked a good year - just knowing they were out there too helped any kind of race nerves. I had spent the week prior to Rocky resting. No running at all. I knew I was going to feel strong as fuck in the beginning. Except I didn’t. As a matter of fact, an old ITBS injury that I hadn’t even felt a twinge of in months started flaring up. For non-runners, ITBS injury means my knee hurt. Annie Wheeler, who I ran a 50k with down in south KS this summer with, came up to me just as I was settling in. She is a machine and this was her first 50 miler too. I wasn’t sure if she was going to be there or not (icy roads kept a couple of hundred registrants away), and was so very happy to see her - this is the third long, hard run I have run with her and every one has ended with her successful finish and my (much later) successful finish. I like the system we got going. I would see her a few times, as I would Ben and Sophia and Brian Brooks and Helen and John and Danny (once) and another guy with a trail nerds shirt I saw once when I had my trail nerds shirt on. It made my day every time I saw another Trail Nerd - I got the biggest kick out of it. You’re never alone on the trail (I caught a lucky break and the one time I peed behind a tree no one saw me), but it’s not crowded either. People are coming and going from all parts and the scene is always changing - I really liked the course and parts never seemed to drag on and on like they have before at other long races.
The first loop was the worst. Actually, a quarter of the way through the first loop until the middle of the second loop was the worst. My fucking knee hurt. Sometimes a lot and sometimes not so much. At the end of the first loop I went to the Trail Nerds tent and Brad Bishop was hanging out there to help. He’s run a gazillion ultras at ungodly speeds and is only like 28 years old. He is also indirectly responsible for Elliot, the SuperDog, being in my life, so there is always a special place in my heart for Brad, even if he hadn't saved my ass on my first 50 mile run. I told him my knee hurt and he offered ibuprofen. He remembered to offer Desitin for chafing (I had lubed up pre-race, but missed a couple of spots) and told me about not stopping caffeine once you start (I had already started and was planning on stopping - huge mistake avoided). I would not have remembered to get/do any of these things and in super long runs like this, the littlest mistake can turn into a DNF (Did Not Finish) result. My brain was already fairly disconnected from my body. I’d been sick for a few days - coughing, sore throat - and had been downing TheraFlu and Cough Syrup as my main liquid sources for the previous 24 hours. I bet I snot-rocketed a good 3 pounds of phlegm all over that damn trail. I started out on the second loop, and had to stop a few hundred feet down the trail - my knee had stiffened up while standing around at the trail nerds tent and was KILLING me. I was quite desolate. I figured I was going to have to walk much of the second loop and then probably quit. I didn’t like that idea, so I stretched out my ITB and turned up the music. I tend to be overdramatic and figured it might go away. Get this - it pretty much did. I can pinpoint exactly when the ibuprofen kicked in/miracle happened (you choose). Whiskey In My Whiskey by The Felice Brothers played on my ipod. My sprits soared, my attitude turned around, and all fell into place. From then on out, it was the normal ups and downs, coupled with all kinds of dull pain, found at the end of marathon and longer runs. I saw Brian about half a mile before the end of the second loop - he was by the car off the side of the road and I ran over to him and blurted out nonsense. Then I ran away and finished the loop (I had to run back to him at the start of the third loop and kiss him because I forgot before). I really ran about 50.6 miles with all that going back and forth extra. Coming in to the trail nerds tents at the end of the second loop, I changed shirts. I told Brad I wanted my shorts and my tank top and he suggested that may not be the brightest idea, as it was only going to get colder. But my thermal shirt was choking me. Luckily, Haley (who paced Sophia on her successful 100-mile finish) dug around in my drop bag (which had about 87 articles of clothing in it) and found a perfect shirt for me to wear. I know it sounds retarded, but that was HUGE. My other shirt was choking me (so I imagined) and I was going to grab a lightweight tank top. I would have been cold, and we’ve established my feelings in regards to that. The last loop was fairly uneventful - did a lot of walking and suddenly hills appeared on the trail that weren’t there 8 hours earlier. I went pee in a port a potty right before the last aid station. It was quick, but enough time to realize everything was swimming in front of me - it was exactly like when you’re tripping on acid and go to the bathroom and the walls are breathing. Exactly. I loved it. But it fucking STUNK in there. Right at the end of the final loop, my absolute favorite song to run to came on (Wolf Like Me by TV On The Radio). Unbelievable. I don't even have it on my running playlist so I don't "ruin" it. I jumped and waved my arms when I passed Brian and tried to shout, only to double over in a coughing fit that was very close to ending in vomit. It was all good though. One more stretch of trail and I would complete 50 miles. In my mind’s eye, I was flying down that goddamn trail to the finish. Flying like the motherfucking wind.
As soon as I finish a lady grabs me to cut off my chip and put my medal around my neck. I gave her the best hug since I was absolutely bursting with happiness. After that, my memory cannot be relied on. Brian and Annie and Brad and Erin and some other guy with a beard were all there and talking was happening. I really can’t be much more specific. Looking back, I was just stunned. Within minutes, I was sitting in the car, starting the 3 hour ride back to Austin in the very same clothes I had just ran in (it seemed perfectly normal at the time). I ate a bag of beef jerky and a footlong turkey sub on the way. Perhaps not the best post-50-mile-run first step for recovery , but I was with Brian and extremely happy. It’s been 49 hours since I finished and I got two sore quads. The first night any lower body movement caused great pain. Going to the airport the next day and sitting on two different planes for a few hours sucked as well. I got home in time to watch most of the SuperBowl. I was very aware of all the pomp and circumstance, hoopla, buzz, worldwide attention, the largest amount of confetti I’ve ever seen, etc. All for a football game. One may realize at a time like this “Gee, here’s a perfect example of how millions of people in the world couldn’t care less whether I ran 50 miles or not because it‘s the big game don‘t you know?” and keep their ego in check. I saw the game and when it was over thought “Wow, this is a copious amount of celebration. I just ran 50 miles. Coincidence? I think not.”
My race reports are no longer complete anymore without mention of Elliot. With the exception of just a very few, he was my running partner for every single run of my training. And he’s the best running partner hands down forever and ever. Elliot is always so happy just to be outside running no matter what (except when it‘s really hot - he must get that from his dad). He is pestering me right now - he likes to throw your hands off the keyboard with his nose when you’re typing. He’s the best dog that ever lived. And Sophia who is the coolest badass mudbabe and ran her first 100 mile run this year at Rocky and I am so glad I was there and did my first 50 on the day she did her first 100 even if I was 130 miles away when she actually finished - with a smile.
I believe my training was adequate. More than adequate. I love WYCO and its toughness even if I don’t always act like it (I’ve cried out there a lot in frustration, and have mentioned more than once how much it “fucking sucks“). I want to run more 50’s ASAP. But I promised I would not train for anything for two months at least. And I won’t. So I won’t say anything now about the possibility of running 100 in the future. Of the 196 runners who started the 50-mile race, 166 finished. The course record was broken by some guy who ran it in 5hrs and 43 minutes. I finished in 11 hours and 26 minutes, good enough for 90th place. It should be noted that the 100 mile course record was shattered this year as well - Ian Sharman finished 100 miles in 12 hours and 44 minutes. That means he ran 7 minute, 38 second miles on average - FOR 100 MILES. I don’t get how that is possible. Also, the next day there were tales from the 100 milers about runners passed out in the middle of the trail, vomiting off bridges, etc. etc. during the night. Just like in non-ultra-runner world, shit gets crazy after dark!
So this is what spewed forth as I sat to reflect on the race. Most importantly, it was a fantastic experience and I would not change one fucking second for the world.