Finding the Fire – Rocky Raccoon 2016
Rocky Raccoon holds a special place in my heart, as it does for a lot of us in the Idiots Running Club. This was my third time running Rocky. 2013 was my first year, and first ever 100, I made several Rookie mistakes including racing a veteran ultra runner for 40 miles, not eating well, and running the course completely wrong. The second year I showed up and came down with a terrible chest cold. To say that I have been unlucky at Rocky is a bit of an understatement. I skipped 2015 out of spite, and well… because I didn’t think I could run the Damnation Loop section of the course one more time and keep my sanity. But 2016 was going to be different.
Although my training has suffered since I had taken my new job a little over a year ago, Derek Glos was able at least keep me accountable for my 3 most important runs. The rest I was able get in, between meetings and lunches with clients; but the truth is the flame was burning dim. Running had taken a back burner in my life and I spent 2015 on a roller coaster of mediocracy. I still liked running, but the love was mostly gone, and to be honest I was looking at running Rocky one last time before throwing in the towel on Ultra Marathoning. (BUT) Glos drug me out on a rough 30 miler. Then coerced me out on a, not too awful, 40 mile training run. Finally, he got me out on a mildly enjoyable 50 miler, each training run clicking just a little better than the one before.
The trip down to Huntsville, Texas was hell, 3 traffic jams and a couple of hours behind schedule left me showing up at the park well after the pre-race briefing, where everyone found out that they added an extra mile to the Dreadful Damnation loop. I had just enough time to pick up my packet and check my drop bag. After a brief moment setting up our canopy tent at the start finish, we were off to get some food and call it a night. By the way if you ever get an opportunity to hit up the Farm House Café in Huntsville Texas DO IT!!!! It was fricking rad and you need to get some fried pickles.
Since the majority of the people who will be reading this have access to the 2016 Rocky Raccoon IRC video on David Murphy’s YouTube page, I will spare you the fun and games. If you have not watched the video then it is a great supplement to this race report and you can watch the full 50 minutes here…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xMjy2qG0EU
Honestly the fun and games provide a good distraction from the reality of the race. 100 milers suck and will push you to your limits. They will make you ask a lot of questions about yourself, they will definitely make you overcome your perceived limitations, and they will make you Dig Deep; and that is why I love them and Rocky Raccoon would be no different this year.
I often hear from people.. “oh… Rocky Raccoon is flat and fast….” you will never hear that from someone who has run the course. Rocky has enough net elevation gain to subtly kick your ass while the shallow roots make it difficult to find solid footing. I have seen people coming into the aid stations covered in blood from the wicked beating they have sustained though the darkness of the night. But this year was feeling good. Training went well, I was loose, and so I did something I haven’t done in a long time… I started toward the front of the pack.
The first loop I stayed focused. I had a couple of familiar faces run by me. Derek Glos and Kelvin “The Ultra Cowboy” Reid; both easily passed me up in the first three miles, along with several others. I thought I may be running a little slow but I liked the pace it was just slightly above my comfort zone and not too exhausting. Only one thing was really going through my mind at this point. Beastie Boys “Girls” for absolutely no particular reason…(other than Beastie Boys provides a pretty good cadence for trail running)
Girls, all I really want is girls And in the morning it’s girls Cause in the evening it’s girls
I like the way that they walk And it’s chill to hear them talk
And I can always make them smile From White Castle to the Nile
Back in the day There was this girl around the way She liked by home-piece M.C.A.
He said he would not give her play I asked him, “Please?” he said, “You may”.
Blab la balab abbla blab la blabla b blabl
Blablblb blalb < sorry I forgot the lyrics and I just would start over.
(You were singing it in your head, weren’t you??)
I came in very ahead of schedule for the first loop, and was not really happy knowing I wasn’t running the conservative pace that I had planned. I saw Mr. David Murphy and my wife Stefani cheering and getting everyone pumped up and I felt a sense of pride, because I knew they saw that I was pushing the pace, at least a little. Stef being so consistent as a crew chief, is a huge part of my races because she always makes sure I am doing what I need to without having to think too much. At the 12:00 minute mark you can see she doesn’t let me get too far when I get off plan.
Loop two would have been mostly insignificant except for the fact that at about mile 35 I began to get sick. It is a feeling that is a mix of slight flu, hunger, and exhaustion that lets you know you’re running a little hot. There is only one thing that can get you through these situations and that is experience. You have to know how to shut it down, eat and hydrate while still making progress. It is like walking a tightrope, one false move and you can end the race. You can see this interaction at the 15:00 minute mark of the above video. When a runner doesn’t know what will help they are “HAVING ISSUES”. I was able to get some sugars, hydration, and dial it back just enough to stroll in a bit ahead of schedule for the second time…
I had one thought that never made the video… “Ahead of schedule and behind on nutrition, right where I wanna be”. It was kind of a smart ass way to say I’m screwed, but still could get a laugh out of your friends and crew.
Loop three you become a scientist. You are going through complex mathematical equations that would perplex Einstein. If I do 100 calories every 1.45 miles and 5 oz of hydration.. I need to dial back the pace by 15 seconds per mile because… It is only about 52 degrees that is 20 degrees cooler
than… but 15 degrees warmer than…. The third loop is critical! You are running in the heat of the day so hydration and calories are extremely important, and pushing the pace can destroy everything you have worked for thus far, so I dialed it back a little and tried to get everything under control. With an upset stomach still haunting me, I thought “maybe I had been lying to myself up to this point and I need to go back to my comfort zone”. I found a fellow runner who was struggling as well, and we started to pace off of each other and chat as we made our way through the dreaded Damnation loop. I have done this in the past and have allowed myself to slow down too much. I remembered hearing Derek Glos’ voice taunting me saying “Jones, you get out there and get too friendly with people and hang out when you should be running” and I broke away. I left the comforting feeling of someone else who was struggling to make up more time.
I was doing great, in my eyes, up to this point and it was killing me because I selfishly wanted to prove how awesome I was and not take a pacer (Months before I had planned to do a 100 without a pacer). Although I knew deep down inside I may have survived without one, I broke down and asked for a pacer. Not only the one I expected at mile 80 when I arrived, Justin, but wanted another to come out earlier to help me get through the 4th Damnation loop. This interaction happens at about 20:00 minutes into the video.
I arrived ready to go out on the fourth loop hoping to hear the good news about having someone ready to pace me through Damnation and Lindy Glos hopped out of the tent in her running gear. I’m not really sure if I was more shocked at running with Lindy, or that I was heading back out in daylight; both of which didn’t seem realistic to me at the moment, but after a brief stop we were on our way. I remained pretty confused throughout the loop, as I thought I was going to head out with Justin McCune into the Damnation Loop, although Lindy was going through the loop with me…whatever, I’m still not really sure what happened. But let me tell you, I was all laughs with Lindy. She was extremely encouraging to each runner out there, to the point I thought, in their weakened states they would find her enthusiasm overly chipper and try to trip her; but nobody seemed to make an attempt at her life, so I just rolled with it. On a side note, I expected a long thank you letter from the Race Director graciously thanking the runners for keeping the trail cleaner than they had ever seen it. I, however, would have known that Lindy picked up at least a full trash bag of litter throughout her time pacing. I dropped her off back at Damnation, so she could get back to Derek and picked up Justin for the final 28 mile run.
Justin McCune. I don’t know what to say about this dude. I was once told by a wise, Yoda like, running coach, “You can get to know someone pretty well after running 20 miles with them” I would also say to Mr. David Murphy you can get to know someone pretty well after having a couple of beers with them, as well. I always look forward to these opportunities! I have taken this advice and found that just because you run 20 miles with someone and get to know them doesn’t mean you have to like them either. I now use that as a benchmark for any new friend that wants to know more about Ultra running….They will find themselves on a 20 mile run with Jones, and usually Glos. A few people have passed this test… but McCune got an A+. I had the pleasure of running with this guy in Kansas last year and had an absolute blast. So when he came down to Texas it was like running with an old Marine Corps Buddy or College Buddy…whatever. McCune and I go way back.
McCune came in at a great time and his humor was even better than it was 50 miles into his own hundred that I had paced him on the year before. I’m really not sure why??? The last 20 miles was a blur and I hated it mostly. I recall trying to give Justin the Rocky Raccoon tour in an attempt to get him to think about this as a future race. We had several hilarious conversations that included tethering and flatulence, and I absolutely hate the fact that I didn’t have the camera to record all the fun we had, and I will never be able to do it justice…..because, well, you can never put in words the impact your pacer has on your race…but again, (I give Justin and A+) and look forward to the next opportunity to hang out even if one of us is running a 50 or 100…. I HAD A BLAST!!!
Finally, during the last loop, while I was having an out of body experience, I told Murphy (41:36 minutes in the video) that I would do a 19:30, I actually meant a 19:50….I cussed myself for a few minutes and told Justin several times that I was stupid and I meant 19:50…but you know what??? JUSTIN KEPT ME ON PACE. In an error and a moment of weakness I said 19:30 and that became prophecy, because, JUSTIN KEPT ME ON PACE.
I am very happy with this year’s Rocky Raccoon. Not just because I PR’ed. Not just because I had a successful race. I am happy because the fire started burning again. It started with a spark (Murphy giving me a goal) and started to glimmer in the second loop. The fire burned stronger in the fourth and raged in the fifth. I hope the fire continues to spread…..It is so hard to get focused with the daily grind of work and our day to day…..Remember that although we face the criticism of our peers and the funny looks we get, as if we are only weekend warriors…..We need to embrace it. Sometimes we get an opportunity to go do something great. We get to bond with those that lift us up in a way that others will never understand….We get to do something great….Go do something great!!