Rocky Raccoon 100 mile 2020
|February 3, 2020||Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized|They gave me a 100k buckle.
Nope. That’s not how this post is going to start. let’s try again.
I earned a 100k buckle.
How was that? Better?
Now you know everything you need to know about the race last weekend.
It means I both won and I failed, and that’s exactly what running an ultra is sometimes – especially when attempting a 100 mile.
I went about 70 miles. I won. I didn’t cross the finish line after 100 miles with tears in my eyes from joy. I failed.
I’ve come to realize that if I only run 100’s that I’m sure I’ll finish, I would do very few 100’s indeed, and life would not be as wonderful. So, with a philosophy that I would rather try and then fail, I’m trying to be ok with the fact that very likely I’ll be sharing as many “failure” stories with you as successes. I’m putting this up front in the post, instead of at the end even though it was an important revelation AFTER the race because I want you, My Dear Reader, to know that it’s OK. This is a story of how I didn’t finish what I set out to finish, but it’s OK.
Since I publish a lot less frequently than I used to let’s go backwards a bit and talk about what happened after Rio 2019.
After Rio my feet swelled so badly post race I had legit cankles. My feet were PISSED. But physical I felt good so instead of taking my typical two weeks of NO RUNNING after the race, I started running about a week later very easy. Let’s call it active recovery.
Probably as a direct result of this rather short-sighted decision I had lingering foot pain at the end of December six weeks post race.
So I took 2 weeks off at the end of December.
Nagging foot pain (some tendonitis on top of my right foot, heel pain in my left) completely resolved!!!! It’s amazing what giving the body some time will do
If you are keeping track, why yes I DID reduce my recovery by 1 week, only to have to take 2 weeks off later to compensate.
Now I had 4 weeks until Rocky.
I got two 20-ish mile runs in and some good shorter flat runs, and started doing some cross training on the bike and yoga.
Then I got Strep throat.
Then I got a cold.
Then it was 10 days until Rocky.
Physically I was ready to go 100 miles. Cardio, muscle, bones – all the squishy stuff and physiological systems were saying “you got this”. My feet were sore after the runs, but honestly it can be hard to tell the difference between the feet-are-sore-because-you-ran-20-miles, and the-feet-are-trashed-and-this-is-a-problem type foot soreness.
This all is sounded suspiciously like a Nailed It Failed It post so let us talk about the race now.
The trail doubles back on itself quite a bit, but if you straighten it all out it’s basically in the shape of a large “T”. You start at the bottom of the T and travel up, turning left to complete an out-and-back, then going straight to complete the other right hand arm, then back down to the bottom.
That’s 25 miles.
Then you do it for a total of 4 times.
I didn’t really think about it too hard before showing up at the race and sort of thought some loops were involved because everyone, including me, calls them loops. They aren’t loops.
The entire 100 mile course takes place on 12.5 miles of trail, if you do the math. Which I did after the race, which means it is math done after 20 hours of running, which should always be suspect math, but I’m not wrong, right?
I really wanted to make a joke about how everything is bigger in Texas except for its 100 mile races, that take place on a trail shorter than a 1/2 marathon.
But then I thought as a guest in their state and the fact that I really did like the race management and organization perhaps it would be offensive…AND, because I’m the sort of person that can run the same 3 mile loop week after week for 20 years and not get bored, it’s not like this was a problem. Not really. The problem was my feet. Have I mentioned that yet?
The trail is mostly packed sandy soil, with rolling “slow burner” hills that are very hard to judge whether they are slightly uphill, downhill, or flat in the dark. There are lots and lots of lots of tree roots, but I think that’s one major reason there isn’t significant soil erosion on the trail? In California if we had a similar trail it would be deeply grooved by water run off and erosion, which is really hard to run on. I’ll take the tree roots any day.
I planned to do the first loop in 6 hours 40 min. I did it in about 6 hours and 5 min. Oops. TOO DAMN FAST. I also fell once, and had multiple close calls. That was because I was going too fast. I didn’t have any issues after that first loop with my footing because I was going slower. In my defense, in the morning it was really hard to tell what was uphill AND the pace also just felt right, so I have trouble blaming all my later troubles on pacing this loop too fast. It is usually the first thing I blame and the thing I HAMMER into anyone that is asking me for 100 mile advice. DO NOT BLOW IT IN THE FIRST 25 MILES. But, I really think that for my current fitness level (I’ve had a good year!), a 6+ hour time for the first loop wasn’t out of the question.
My stomach was cooperating which was a huge relief. Running Rio on a NQR stomach the whole time was a b*tch and the fact I was feeling hungry and my food was tasting and sounding good was a really good sign.
Here’s the other reason I think fate had me run that first loop faster than my plan.
I met a bad-ass women named Faith. Who was doing her first 100 miler 5 months post partum, knowing it was probably her last chance to do one for at least a couple of years. She was struggling and talking about DNF’ing. But I KNEW she could finish. I just knew it. She looked good. Nothing was going on that you wouldn’t expect in your first 100 at mile 25. I gave her a pep talk, we got separated at the start/finish area at mile 25, but then met up again a couple of miles into the second loop.
It was the start of a beautiful thing. I did some quick trail math and told her we were going to do loop two in 7 to 7.5 hours, which gave both of us a good cushion for the last half of the race without pushing the pace. We nailed it.
We picked up her pacer and started loop 3. The pacer had to turn back about a quarter of the way through the loop because she forgot batteries. I promised to keep me and Faith on track and off we ran into the dark.
We got through the worst part of the third loop (the right hand arm of the T) and that’s when the wheels fell off for me and Faith ran ahead in the darkness. She only had to make it five miles by herself before she met up with her pacer again.
I screamed after her to keep running, and don’t stop, because she had plenty of time and I knew she could make it. I desperately hoped she wouldn’t wait for me.
I found out later that she did wait a little. And then yelled my name as runners came up behind with their headlamps. And searched every face as she came back up the trail on loop 4, looking for me.
BUT SHE DIDN’T STOP. She kept going.
She finished in 29:30.
I’m so proud of her. I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I did without her company, and from what she told me, she believed I was the reason she didn’t quit too.
At every race I’ve DNF’ed I’ve been able to make a significant positive impact in some else’s race that they later told me was the difference between them finishing and not finishing.
Sometimes I think that’s why I end up at races. Not because I’m going to finish, but because I’m suppose to help someone else.
Let me tell you a secret.
Knowing she finished is as good as finishing myself. I’m crying happy tears as I’m typing this part of the post. It’s the same tears I feel welling up when I watch videos of me running across 100 mile finish lines, knowing the sweat, tears, and blood that it took to get there. I feel that for HER.
I’m not an empathetic person. I can fake it really well but self-sacrifice is not one of my strong points. But Damn. When it comes to 100’s you exist in a whole ‘other reality. Every 100 miler I do changes me and I exist in the world a little differently and a little better for it. For this race I spent 6 months of allowance money, plus all my Xmas/birthday money for the entry/flight/hotel/car/miscellaneous and technically failed and I don’t even care.
Where were we? Loop 3. Probably around 65 miles. Somewhere just short of 20 hours of running. Faith running off, her eyes set on the finish. Me, arguing with my feet.
“Feet, pain is a construct of the brain and a figment of my imagination. ”
Feet: “Oh yeah? Hold my beer and watch this!”
Debilitating pain. 9.5/10 pain. Unresponsive to ibuprofen that had kept the slow building pain at bay for the last 30 or 40 miles. Unrelenting pain over the entire bottoms of my feet. It wasn’t blisters, hotspots, an injury, or anything definable other than generalized inflammation that made it impossible to be upright or moving forward.
Which I then did for another couple of miles until I got to the aid station.
I negotiated with my feet to give me a top speed. It was probably 2 mph.
The aid station didn’t have any way of getting runners out. They asked me if I could make it to the next aid station. Based on the mileage I estimated it would take me 3 or 4 hours. The temperature was in the 30’s. Yes, I had a jacket – but when you’ve been running for 20+ hours, drenched with sweat and salt, and in pain on a trail that you don’t know well I considered it unsafe to trudge out into the cold darkness and I held my ground. No, I could not hike out to the next aid. I remember how compromised I was when I did exactly that at Rio 2018 in better conditions.
A volunteer said his shift was ending and he was taking another runner with a knee injury out with him. It would require 1.25 miles of hiking and then being willing to cram myself into the back seat of a Lotus (some sort of sports car?). Sure.
I’m pretty sure it was closer to 2 miles.
If I had held onto any illusions that all I needed was a good sit down and then to get up and try again, they were shattered on that hike out. I can say with zero doubt that my race was 100 percent over. I broke my rule of being actually over cut offs, or having something broken when I quit at mile 68-ish, but I think I made the right decision. Child birth wasn’t as painful as that hike out. At no point did it get better than a slow, painful, crawl. I barely managed the two, never mind the 30 it would have taken to finish.
I then pretzel’ed myself sideways into the back of a tiny sports car with my nose somewhere in the vicinity of my belly button as I thanked the Good Lord that I had taken up yoga in the month of January (more on this later), and prayed to the Same Good God that nothing would happen on the way to the start/finish area that would cause my body to fly towards the roof of the car.
And then I went back to my hotel and performed the rotisserie chicken routine. This is the process in which you sleep in short spurts while waking to occasionally rotate your body 90 degrees at a time in a painful fashion so that all parts roast evenly, and to drink mouthfuls of water while contemplating whether you can put off getting up for calories for just one sleep cycle more.
Running 100s. It’s a glamorous sport.
Did I mention that I had to cut off my underwear with a pair of scissors at mile 59?
(edit since enough people asked: It was chafing me, giving me a wedgie, and I decided the time was past that I might need emergency toilet paper in the form of underwear. But then it became a question of how to get them off when you are wearing shoes, socks, gaiters, compression calf sleeve, shorts AND have no fine motor skills left AND the temps are dropping into the thirties AND the race clock is ticking down. The answer is a pair of sissors and not looking any of your fellow runners in the eye as you systemically cut the underwear off your body and extract from your shorts, thanking the aid station worker profusely for the loan of the sissors, grateful they were too distracted to see them in use….)
Oh, and I’m pretty sure I forgot to mention the part where I couldn’t pack deodorant because my gels filled up my quart bag for TSA security check.
If this post isn’t an endorsement for running 100’s and you aren’t jumping in the air and saying “HELL YEAH!” I’m going to be honest. The sport may not be for you.
What isn’t there to love?
In case it isn’t obvious, despite the outcome I don’t have a single regret showing up and doing my best at this race. Nailed it, Failed it will be up next.