Monday 2 February 2015

Race Report : Rocky Raccoon 100

Rocky Raccoon Course Map
I've been in hiding for the past few months after another DNF in 2014 as well as failing to get a finish at my first 100 mile event, The Winter 100. Nobody to blame but my body, as I picked up an ITB niggle and quit at mile 75...and I still believe that was the right decision. I ended up taking 6 weeks off running, which was tough and really impacted my fitness levels but seems to have got me over the issue (caused by a fallen arch).

Anyway, enough of that, this is all about Rocky Raccoon, which I entered at the beginning of December having spent a week or two back running without any knee issues and discussing it with James Elson (not to be confused with James Elston, who is a friend of Dean Karnazes). My events calendar was already sorted for 2015 and the only options I had to fit in a 100 without forgoing another event was in the January/February timeframe and as James was planning on running it, it seemed like a good idea.  

Huntsville State Park, Texas
Entries confirmed and having recruited John Volanthen to join us, we set off for Texas to run five 20 mile loops around a park in Huntsville. We booked in to the palatial Motel 6 just up the road, which is a little pricey, so to save a bit of cash John and I shared a room to bring the average cost per person per night to under $25 which is my price ceiling for hotels. 

After a delayed arrival, thanks to a fault, we arrived late on the Thursday evening and got in to the hotel around 1am. Our plan had been to try and stay on UK time as much as possible, with the race only one day away, we'd need to be at the start early doors so it made sense. Friday was a long day with quite a bit of it spent hanging around Starbucks, McDonalds, The Olive Garden, Subway, Starbucks again and a quick visit to the park to collect our bib numbers and listen to the race briefing.

The briefing was straight forward, follow the markers out on the course and don't drop any litter. With the most important piece of advice being imparted to us by the local park ranger, don't park on the grass or you'll get towed away. Oh and there are Alligators in the water, including a 9ft one, so don't go for a dip. A very sensible race policy I think, I can't abide bad parking.

John between visits to the gents pre-race
After going to bed what would have been artificially early (7pm) if we hadn't been on UK time, the reason our hotel was cheap became clear. They hadn't constructed the hotel with normal partition walls, they'd use rice paper or perhaps a cheaper alternative, which isn't renowned for it's sound reducing qualities. The room next door were making some interesting noises throughout and caused some broken sleep before John and I decided to get up and head to the start (around 4am).

Having bagged a good parking spot and with a bucket of coffee from McDonalds, we now just had to sit it out in the car park for 2 hours. John used this time to make 413 visits to the rest room (this is what the yanks call the toilet) while I sat around wondering what on earth I was doing sitting in a car park in the middle of the night, 5000 miles from home and about to run around a random state park with 500 others.

Without much fanfare, we proceeded to the start line, dropped off our drop bags, shook hands wishing everybody the best of luck before the horn went off. No time to turn back now, we were shuffling down the trail on our first loop of five. It was a little crowded and the first mile was very stop start taking almost 15 minutes, although it certainly felt even slower than this. 

The first loop was pretty uneventful and John and I ran all of it together, starting in the dark by the time we got to our drop bags at Damnation it was getting light. We dropped off head torches and continued getting used to watching exactly where to place your feet as we side stepped all the way round the 6 mile loop and back to Damnation again before proceeding on to the final aid station and then back to the start. One lap done and right on race plan (3 hours 33 minutes).

Friday's race briefing
After a quick stop, John and I left together but I slowed during this lap, just a little and sat about 3-5 minutes behind his pace. I knew this because we passed James around Damnation, looking as fresh as a daisy. The second lap was uneventful too although the temperature was creeping up and by the time I got back to the end of the loop I knew I hadn't drunk or eaten enough and had to take a few minutes to sort myself out. Forty miles in and I was still on race plan, it just so happened I was starting to feel a bit minging.

Getting out on lap 3 I'd dropped right back from John and was having a bit of a mare, when Ian Sharman lapped me and informed me it would pass and to keep going. Words of encouragement from the eventual race winner (and course record holder) was nice, it's not many sports where the elites give us slow runners much attention. During lap 3, it got really hot. I was overheating & feeling dehydrated. Having informed the girl I was running with, she suggested I take my shirt off. This isn't something I normally do (Robbie take note) but after I did, I felt cooler although I did have to keep telling people that while I look a bit like him, I wasn't in fact Anton Krupicka.

Back at the start at the 60 mile marker, I was feeling awful although I was only just behind my race plan by 14 minutes. I took some time here and changed shoes (big mistake) and forced myself out on to the course again. I walked the 3 miles to the next aid station, feeling terrible with people passing me all the time. Head torches were now back on, so you could see people coming, which on a lapped course plays havoc with your head. You don't know if people are ahead or behind you but psychologically it's horrible being passed in a race.

Funnily enough this was the Start/Finish
After a good 10 minute sit down again at the aid station, I got some noodles and set off on what I thought would be a 37 mile death march to the finish. I got to Dam nation (another 3 miles further on) and was starting to feel a little better, the food had really helped and I was now drinking half a litre of water between aid stations which was helping with the earlier dehydration issues. I also met a nice Mexican chap here, who didn't speak much English but we worked together to push on and run what we could. This helped me around the loop and back to Damnation when I let him go on ahead as I changed my top and put on my waterproof (it had finally started to drizzle).

80 miles in 18 hours 25 minutes, so I knew that all I had to do was keep walking and I'd get my finishers buckle. Sounds easy but I was tired and had already had a few occurrences of falling asleep on my feet on lap 4. I changed my shoes back again (a joyous feeling) took some paracetamol (I know!) with caffeine, put some ibuprofen gel on my leg and got out there again on my final lap. Knowing it's your final lap is mentally rewarding but the negative creeps in and says "you've still got 6 hours to go". 

I was feeling much better now and began pushing to maintain a 4 mile an hour pace, walking and running whenever I could. The first half of this loop flew by (relatively speaking) but my legs became very heavy and I slowed down on the back half. With the sub 24 hour time slipping away, I didn't care as I knew I was going to make it, get that buckle and banish those DNF demons.

The clock ticked over to 24 hours 20 minutes 2 seconds as I stepped over the finish line, not a moment too soon. I certainly had a feeling of accomplishment, in equal measure with that of complete and utter happiness that the pain was now over, no more loops, no more tree roots, no more aid stations snacks. It was over, I'd earned my buckle and now it was time to relax.

4 British Runners, 4 Finishers!

John had also done it (sub 23 hours too), I found him in the car waiting for me (probably because it was more comfortable than going back to the hotel). James had also managed an amazing 8th place with a time of 14 hours 50 minutes and Pete had also achieved his sub 18 hour race, ensuring he's got an automatic Spartathlon qualifier! Unfortunately, Travis DNF'd after a nasty fall and with breathing difficulties, it sounds like he took the sensible option, there'll always be another event, in his case, that's next weekend (gulp!).

After an uneventful flight home, on which I slept like the dead, unsurprisingly, normality is returning and normal life resumes. While I don't compete for position, it's that race bubble that I now have diminishing, that I crave. I love the support from near and afar, on the phone, twitter, facebook etc. It's nice to know people are watching you and willing you on as you trudge around far away places, even if some are verging on stalker status (not mentioning any names Louise). Thank you for all the lovely messages and support, reading them yesterday took some time but was so wonderful!

January has kicked off the year with a big tick, 100 mile finish and my highest mileage month ever (327m/527km). All good prep for what's next on the calendar, Transvulcania but first I need to lose some of my winter coat and then I'll start preparing for 'them thar hills'.

100 mile BLING!
Rocky Raccoon official lap timings below and my Strava track is here

Lap 1 03:33:34
Lap 2 03:49:58
Lap 3 04:50:31
Lap 4 06:11:00
Lap 5 05:54:59