Every hundred miler I run seems to have its own personality and this one was no different. Rocky Raccoon 100 takes place in the Huntsville State Park in Huntsville, Texas. That is about an hour northwest of Houston. I found this race last year thanks to fellow local runner and Idiots Running Club President David Murphy. I understood that this was a great first 100 because this course was very runnable, and I liked it so much that I had to come back and run it again. That and the 2014 Rocky Raccoon was hosting the 2014 USTAF (United States Track and Field) 100 mile championships.
Although the course is deemed to be very runnable, because it only has 5735 ft. of elevation gain, it does have its own obstacles. Pacing is very important in running these distances because a very runnable course tends to draw you out faster than you would like. The second obstacle is the tree roots, getting caught up in these can trip you up, or worse, end your race.
Leading up to this race I had an off training cycle. I tweaked my ankle at Bass Pro in November, and then like a runner, decided it would be able to make it through Pensacola marathon a couple weeks later. After that I would have a little time to rest. This was a very bad assumption. Although I was able to keep a pretty good weekly base mileage I found it very difficult to run over 20 miles at one time. Each time I attempted, I would cramp and my ankle would swell ensuring that I would get another 3 days rest minimum. In the month leading up to the race I was able to get 3 quality long runs in and felt comfortable that I could finish even if I wouldn’t be at my peak.
The morning of the race I woke up at 3 a.m. sweating and feeling like I just ate a porcupine for dinner. I immediately started coughing and hacking all kinds of slime out of my chest and throat. Yes! Just to top it off I now had some sort of upper respiratory infection. So I attempt to clear things up to the best of my ability, drink my two cups of coffee, get my race gear ready, and get my game face on.
Showing up to the race I forgot how big this event was. Close to 500 runners all packing in to the starting line, setting up tents and getting gear laid out. I don’t get real nervous at hundred milers, there really is no need to, but I do get intimidated. This year there were a lot of fast runners and even a few pros like Ian Sharman. My team, consisting of my wife and Derek Glos, got me all ready and began setting up camp as I made my way to the start line. I have a new race strategy that puts me further to the middle of the pack on the start. This helps me conserve energy in the beginning of the race, plus since you spend such a long time in a pack of runners you get plenty of time to meet new people.
My first loop seemed pretty uneventful, other than a feeling of extreme fatigue. I started getting a little concerned when I was only 15 miles into a run and just wanted to lie down. I could tell it was not looking good when I saw the faces of my wife and Derek Glos. Their expression said it all, “Dude, you look like death walking.” One thing I know about running ultras though, if you are feeling bad wait awhile.
Over the course of 100 miles things will change, hopefully not for the worse. Derek and my wife got me filled full of aid-station food and my favorite protein shake and I was off again.
Loop two was a bit better. I began to get in a groove and liven up a little. Sometimes I get into the rhythm during my run and just get lost in my thoughts. I think about work, about life, about bills. I often solve some of my problems while running as if this is my main time to really focus, but today this allowed me to pass the time of the second loop without much concern. Coming in from this loop I must have looked much better because I saw relief on my crew’s faces. They asked if I needed anything. I think I took some food and a fresh bottle of Gatorade and I was back off. One more loop to go and I can pick up my pacer.
Loop three is always of test of my will. This is the point when you are staring down 50 miles and only halfway there. I find it very difficult to not focus on time, distance and pace. I started to look for a way to take my mind off it. I focused closely on pacing off the runner in front of me. He was hitting a great pace and seemed like he had been going forever and finally came to a walk as he approached the next hill. “Great run,” I said. “Thanks. You, too” he replied. And that was the beginning of an ongoing conversation that would take us through the third loop and well into the fourth.
There are several different types of runners; I would qualify this particular gentleman as a philosophical runner. His opinions and insights into ultra-running and the ultra-running community have kept me thinking for days following the race, but one thing he said stuck with me at a moment of extreme discomfort. “Pain is a privilege.”
The philosophical runner guided us through loop four a little slower than I would have liked, but given my feeling sick and undertrained, any type of finish would be better than none. I could walk the rest of the way and probably get this done. This is where having a good pacer is very valuable. At mile 72, Derek approached me as I was getting some food down and said,“Jones, man what are you doing? You are faster than this. Let’s go and get this thing finished, and stop messing around.”
Although I probably looked at him like he was insane, I responded, “Yeah. You’re right. Let’s get back on track.”
You always want a little left in the tank for the last 20 miles of one of these races. As we stepped off Derek said, “Hey, look at the bright side, only about 5 hours left to go.” I got a good chuckle as I responded, “Yeah, that isn’t even quite a full work day.”
You really must put aside time and distance to finish one of these because the thought of running 24-30 hours straight is almost unbearable, but if you are able to break it up and tell yourself yeah I can run 10 more miles, 5 more miles, a 5k you can make it.
We kept a fairly steady run going through the fifth loop and passed several runners. This is a tough time as you see people doing what is called the death march, people passed out at aid stations, and people heaving in the tree line.
Although no finish was emotionally lifting as my first 100 miler, every 100-mile finish is a beautiful thing. I know the sky parted, and a golden light came shining down upon the belt buckle that was about to be presented to me as I stood on a podium tall and proud. Or someone may have just said,” You look like a finisher; you guys always just stop and bend over at the finish line,” and tossed me a buckle. But nothing is more emotionally uplifting as conquering the race. It is you against the 100 miles, irrelevant if someone else is out there or not. I looked down at my buckle and thought “Yep, pain is a privilege.”
I met with Derek and Stefani, my wife, and we had a small celebration at the finish line. I can never express how awesome it is to have a good crew and how, in every race, the part they play determines how well I run. Because of them I finished the run slightly off of my PR with a time of 22 hours and 28 minutes, in a tough race that had a drop rate of almost 50 percent. The rest of the group we were with slowly trickled back in. Several IRC and PRS FIT members ran the race as well. Some finished ahead of me, some behind, but we all shared a common bond after that race, whether running or crewing.
I strongly recommend Rocky Raccoon as a race for either 50 or 100 miles. The race support is excellent and the race is well put together. Joe is a great race director and keeps the race and trail clean and organized. The downside is that the park is very strict. If you choose to race this, talk to someone who has raced it before about what you can bring, where you can put it, and what amenities you can use.
As I said, each race is different. The support we had from the IRC, OMRR, and PRS FIT, Norene and Tim Prososki, Ellen Losew, Jon Wilson, David Murphy, Chris Oles, Shane Naugher, and especially Stefani Jones and Derek Glos, all made this race like one long 22-hour party. THANKS!