Wednesday, February 12, 2014

2014 Rocky Raccoon 100 (Huntsville, TX)

Rocky Raccoon 100 – February 1, 2014 – Huntsville, TX
The biggest challenge in writing this report will be to not turn it into a novel. There are far too many things i want to mention and describe. I have mentioned in my previous posts that racing has become fun for me again. Why? Cause i decided it was going to be. I can't exactly explain it but something has clicked in my brain. I feel like mentally I can accomplish anything I want when it comes to running.
My Rocky experience began the Wednesday before when Rodney picked me up and we began our drive to Houston from Philadelphia, also Wyatt the dog was with us, quietly riding in the back. 1,550 miles one way. Yes, driving 1,550 miles to run 100. I can honestly say the driving part was 100% Rodney's idea. #Rodneysfault. Rodney chose Rocky Raccoon as his first 100 miler mainly to visit his childhood friend Gary. I eventually decide to run as well. Therefore, Rocky Raccoon is also #Rodneysfault.
Fortunately, the ice storm that hit the south the day before we left didn't impact us too much. We drove 27 hours straight through and when the sun came up on Thursday we were somewhere in Birmingham, Alabama. Once I could see my surroundings i couldn't believe my eyes; ice covered roads and hundreds and hundreds of cars abandoned on the side of the highways. It looked like a scene from Walking Dead. I wanted to take pics but i was driving and that is dangerous. Don't text and drive.. The more you know.....
We arrived in Houston to stay with Gary and his family. Gary and Rodney have been friends since 1980! The only people I have known since 1980 are Jim and Gail, my parents. ;P Gary and his family were amazing. Gary had set up his pop up camper in their driveway for us to sleep in. It was so luxurious. My first glamping experience. My brother's girlfriend's mother goes glamping which is the first time I heard the term but I have never glamped myself til now! Can i go back to tent camping after this?? Heck yeah!! But glamping for the next few days was awesome!
Friday morning we hop in Gary's truck with the camper in tow along with Gary's son Nathan. We arrive in Huntsville and go straight to the Fives Loaves deli for a meet and greet with elite athletes. I came to support Dave James who I had met after Bandera and had become Kino's new coach. I was excited to see Dave again but I also was really stoked to possibly meet Pam Smith! I got to chat with Dave for a while and meet Rob Goyen and Mark Kenney from the Houston Area Trail Runners who put the whole meet and greet together. Also, in walks Chris Knodel, who i have been following on Facebook for over a year now. Another runner traveling the globe and doing amazing things. Finally, i can say i know Chris in person and he did not disappoint. His genuine passion for running was enchanting.
Sometimes I feel uncomfortable in situations like this. A lot of people i don't know. But not with runners. Throw me in the middle of 100 passionate, strange, runners and I feel like I'm surrounded by family. Rob's passion for the same was really cool. He arranged the whole thing and yet was as awestruck as I was by who had showed up; Ian Sharman, Connie Gardner, Gary Gellin, Ryan Ghelfi, the great Dave James and of Course PAM SMITH!
I'm chatting with all these amazing runners but at the same time trying to get up the nerve to say hello to Pam. I wanna ask her so many questions. But she is eating her salad and chatting with Connie Gardner and i don't want to interrupt. I wonder what is in her salad. Eventually Rob makes an announcement and introduces the elite runners who have attended and mentions some of their notable achievements. He hands out thank you gifts to all the elites which include a Houston area trail runners hat and shirt and, of course cause we are in taxes, a cowboy hat. When he is done Rob hands me a baseball hat and shirt as well. Rob, I really appreciate that gesture. After the introductions I walk up to Dave to get a picture with him but I tell him I want Pam in the picture too. He calls Pam over and the three of us take a pic. Dave so graciously lends me his cowboy hat for the pic which is why i look so cool in this picture here....
I thank Pam for the pic and we start chatting. For all of those reading who are not runners, which probably means you are my mother, Pam is like the Meryl Streep of running. (I guess that makes Ann Trason the Queen of England.) Pam is the best of the best. Although unlike talking to Meryl Streep who I would not have the slightest idea of what to talk to her about, Pam is easy to talk to. Why? Cause she, in reality, is just another runner like me who is passionate about the sport, works hard and just genuinely loves it. She just happens to be waaaaay faster than me and has a first place Western States trophy. Although I don't think she has one of these? A first place railroad spike from Viaduct 100? .....
Wait.. Is that Pam on the cover of UltraRunning!? Yeah ok you win this one, Pam!! ;).... I tell Pam I think her 28 hour finish at Western states is as admirable as her first place finish the year after and she explains how and why she pressed on at such a pace. I, of course, ask her about nutrition as I ask every runner who is successful at ultras. The conversation was not unlike any other conversation I would have with any other runner. That's the beauty of this whole thing. It's an amazing community of people. Some of us are more well known than others but we all love the sport and on race day we are all there for the same reason. To run the distance or die (what feels like it) trying.
BACK AT THE LODGE.... The trail briefing. We meet up with Kino, Otto and Thunder and our crew peeps Evy Gonzales and Ken Tom, plus many other familiar faces from races past. Cindy Stonesmith greeted me, who I met after Bandera and stalked her times online afterwards (She's fast, by the way). I finally could put a face to the name Jackie Choi, who is running a ridiculous amount of 100s this year. I also got to meet the amazing Melanie Peters in person, who finished third at Bandera, and her boyfriend Kai who I had met at Bandera out on the course!
Ok time for the race!! Rodney and I get dropped off at the start by Gary. We meet up with Yoshiko Jo. Yoshiko is my friend and I consider her a mentor in the sport. I met her through Achilles International. If you have been running 100s for any amount of time chances are you know or know of Yoshiko. Mainly you will remember her smile. She smiles from mile 0 to 100!! She is a slow and steady machine (but not that slow). Finally, I get to run with Yoshiko and observe how it's done.
It is also worth mentioning this was my first race running as an RWB team member and as a Headsweats sponsored athlete. I had my red RWB singlet on and my Headsweats visor on. (This is all thanks to fellow Headsweats ambassador Hideki Kinoshita aka Kino. #kinosfault) That singlet brought me lots of encouragement through out the race from other teammates. What an awesome group of athletes. I also met Liza Howard in person for the first time at Damnation, a fellow RWB member and elite athlete. She was volunteering and tweeting as the race unfolded. Just for all the none runners AKA Mom, Liza Howard finished second at Bandera 100k. She stopped twice to breastfeed and once to take a nap!! Insane!
Rodney, Yoshiko and I line up at the start in the dark and off we go without a bang. Any nervous energy i had dissipates and there is nothing left to do but run forward. My hope is to hang with Yoshiko for as long as possible. Rodney, Yoshiko and I run along. Yoshiko is so fast at the aid stations. I find myself having to run faster to catch up after aid stations. I make a note to myself to be faster at aid stations. Grab N Go. We continue our 20 mile lap. We must run 5 in total in case you are bad at math. I can tell Rodney wants to go faster because he runs ahead but we both know Yoshiko is like a wise Yoda and if we are ahead of her we are too fast!! Sometime towards the end of the lap we meet up with Zsuzsanna Carlson, another accomplished ultra runner and I find we have a friend in common. ;). Did i mention i love this sport?? I'll say it again just to make sure. I absolutely love this sport. About a mile out from the start/finish on the first lap, I stop to tie my shoe and Rodney runs back to tell me he is done. His achilles injury he had going into it is going to prevent him from finishing. With the possibility of rupturing his achilles and being out of commission for god knows how long, I would definitely say he made the right decision. I wasn't exactly 100% going into this either. Here is where I give credit where credit it due. I have to admit I was a little nervous going into this event because I had been dealing with a bit of tendonitis and swelling in my right foot. It literally flared up at mile 58 during Bandera. Dr. Ted Loos of Great Life Chiropractic worked his magic... again. I limped into his office, told him i have a 100 miler in three weeks and to fix me. He did. Through electric stimulation, ultrasound and good old fashioned ice, my foot felt great. Everything felt great. Until the second lap...
Yoshiko and I finish the first lap and 5 minutes later head out on our second. With no watch, I wasn't sure how fast we are going. I was saving my Garmin for the last 3 laps. I'm trying to keep up with Yoshiko but it seems like she is getting faster and I'm not sure its wise I try to hold on. Finally, at Damnation I let her go. I run along at my own pace beginning to realize that perhaps 24 hours would be a very hard fight. My original hope of 22 hour seemed unreasonable at this point. I chose 22 as my goal thought because Yoshiko said I could do it! I didn't want to get to greedy and jeopardize a sub 24 finish like I did at my first trail 100 back in July at the Viaduct. I was not even at a marathon yet and I felt bad. Maybe my lack of distance leading up to Rocky had actually hurt me. I had run only a total of 40 miles between Bandera and Rocky!! That's decent weekend mileage for me! No! Its not gonna happen like this. I'm gonna have fun with this and I'm gonna keep moving forward no matter what happens, even if 24 hours comes and goes. This is it, Maggie. This is the moment you play in your head during training over and over again. This self talk. You are mentally tough even if you aren't in as good as shape as you want to be. There is no pacer to remind you to get your ass in gear. There are lows and highs and this is a low. Just keep going. And just like that something clicked. I got into this crazy, focused zone. Kind of like what I experienced at Duncan Ridge 50k in Blairsville, GA when I woke up looking like this and decided to just get through it.
My mother pleaded with me over the phone to go to an ER instead of start the 50K but I am stubborn. I just really wanted to check Georgia off my list. I didn't want to have driven all the way down there by myself for nothing. In the end, I finished in just under 9 hours (over 10,000 ft of elevation gain) and got myself to an emergency room. I am grateful for that experience and wouldn't change a thing about it. They still don't know what caused that allergic reaction.

Towards the end of lap 2, I catch up to Sophia Shi and run with her for a while. She is another idol. She is such a strong runner and she runs all the inclines. She ran the Tahoe Super Mega Triple Dare ( I don't remember what it is actually called) in September the Friday after completing the Center of the Nations Series and the Air Force marathon (6 marathons in a row followed by 4 days off then three 72mile laps around Lake Tahoe for a total of 216 miles in 3 days). Another insane person, but arent we all?
Coming into the start/finish at the end of my second lap, the crowd went wild. WOW, I thought. These are some super energetic spectators...then Ian Sharman comes tearing past me. Ohhhhh. Now I get it. Awesome! So i decide to sprint along right behind him and soak up some of his cheers! It felt good to sprint and I could have kept going but i decided to let Ian go. Haha. It was fun pretending I was second for just a little bit but I didn't want any lactic acid building up in my legs.... Plus I hear my name. It was Pam Smith! She was standing there with Olga King and Gary Gellin wearing pants and a jacket. She told me she was done and that a lot of runners were dropping. Gary had dropped too. Olga wasn't running. She was just chilling. Pam told me I had a good chance. I ask about the weather and I felt like my brain was mush. I want someone to tell me exactly what to grab from my bag. I'm stalling. Pam reminds me politely to "get going!" Pam says go, I GO!! I run to my drop bag and grab my headlamp and jacket in case I don't finish my third lap before dark. I run back to the start/finish. Olga cheers me on with Gary! I'm on cloud nine! (disclaimer; i cant remember if this happened after my 2nd lap or after my third lap. ultra running kills brain cells)
The third lap was definitely my strongest. Three amazing runners just gave ME encouragement I felt great and I kept thinking I should maybe slow down but I was warned that you will inevitably slow down once the sun sets. I pick my way through the very "rooty" first 3 miles of the loop. This is gonna be really tough when it gets dark I think. At some point during this lap Michele Yates comes barreling past like a bat out of hell! Seriously. It was awesome. She looked really strong. Again, I think how cool it is to be running the same race as some of the best ultra runners in the country. I get to Nature Center and the #comeandtakeit crew are waiting for me. Evy and Ken are crewing for a number of us. Otto is there already sitting on a bench. He is a fast, strong 100 miler but he is not doing well. He is being visited by the puke monster. Damn, for an "easy" course there sure is a lot of carnage today. I feel good now but this is ultra running and anything can happen.
Finally I reach my favorite part of the course,the flat exposed part of trail along the lake about a mile out from Damnation 2. No way! Ahead of me I see Michele Yates... walking. I had caught up to her which means she was not doing well. Once I catch up I slow to a walk to see if she is ok. Michele says shes sick and she is done. Like I said this is ultra running, anything can happen. She asks me if I like my new UD pack, turns out she helped design it! Way to go, Michele. That was the first time I ever used the pack and no chafing! I hardly even noticed I was wearing a pack. Usually by 50 miles I want to shed whatever pack i have like its weighing me down. This did not happen with my UD vest. Towards the end of this lap on the jeep road I catch up to Melanie and Kai. They are both walking back to the start. They are both done as well. This course was really claiming some casualties. I walk along and talk to them for a bit. Injuries forced their premature end to their race. Melanie unloads some of her Roctane on me. In the end, Rocky Raccoon will claim 42% of the starters. 58% finish rate on an easy course.. Well let's agree that in the way of 100 miles, there is no "easy" course.

At one point during this lap i had the opportunity to run with Jason Lantz. I have to be honest but Im not sure why more people don't know his name. If you have run or are familiar with Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 you have probably heard of him. I have never run Wasatch or Leadville but my buddy, Joe Laskey, has and I think he decided Massanutten was by far the hardest. (It could have been all the puking he did during the race. Sorry, Joe ;) I volunteered at Habron Gap and paced Joe for Massanutten in 2013 for 45ish miles over 18 hours!! And Joe isnt a slow runner! He finished in just under the 36 hour time cut off. It has a lot of climbing. A lot!!! Well Jason won in 2012 in 19:33! Only a handful of the fastest runners even have a chance of running under 24 hours and to finish under 20 hours is nothing short of super human. We chatted for a little. He is a fellow Pennsylvanian. He ended up finishing 7th male in just under 16 hours, so when i say ran with him i mean when he lapped me i sped up to his pace for a few until i let him go as we ran up one of the only "hills".

Fourth lap and I'm really looking forward to seeing the #comeandtakeit crew at Nature Center. Its dark now. "Come and take it" I yell. Evy answers back. I walk over to where they had their set up. I tell them i feel great and its not a lie. 63 miles in. Evy and Ken and Rodney were all there. Gary and Nathan too. Its definitely a morale booster.

The fourth and fifth laps definitely got really hard but i still felt mentally strong. I kept seeing Yoshiko and Kino out there on the out and back part of the course. I also kept seeing Thunder. Chris Knodel looking good in his kilt. Sophia Shi is out there running strong too. Cindy Stonesmith kept telling me to catch up to her so we could run together.. mayber next time Cindy:) They all kept me going. Cornball alert: my eyes welled with tears of happiness so many times during this race. I would just look at the trees and think how beautiful and be thankful for being alive and able to do what I am doing. Is it normal to love something so much it makes you cry? Maybe not. But normal is boring.
OK enough cornball. Trying to run fast at night through those roots with my crappy headlamp taught me one thing; BUY A BETTER HEADLAMP! There, I learned something! More lumens and the light must travel many more meters! Just keep moving forward i think. I have to focus really hard at this point or i catch myself walking. It's weird cause i have the energy still to run but if i don't concentrate i find myself walking. I hear coyotes everywhere. OK i will run now. I also hear peepers. Lots and lots of frogs. Peeper sounds I have never heard before. (Next time you see Yoshiko, please tell her to do her impression of these peeper frogs. Its hilarious!) I want to finish but i don't want this to end. Finally around mile 94 I hit the wall of cold! That is the only motivation i need to finish. I hate cold. Oh by the way it was warm and humid all day but i didn't think to mention that til just now cause i thought i was perfect weather. The humidity caused many a runner's demise that day. I love the heat. I don't mind the humidity but i was cold and i wanted to be done so i started running and i didn't slow to a walk at all again. I stopped only to throw a jacket on at Park Road and then the home stretch. When i finally saw the red timing sign and the colored flags I felt like I was running a brand new race. My legs felt fresh like I had just started running. I was so happy the tears welled up again but they didn't last long cause now I was just smiling. Smiling and running and talking aloud to myself as I had been doing for the last miles. Telling myself it is really happening. Sub 24!!! The clock said 22:37. I heard Evy yell my name as i ran in. I was greeted at the finish with a sub 24 belt buckle and the medal for tenth place USATF female.
I thought it couldn't get any better but it does. I stood at the finish and watched everyone of my friends i shared the course with come in under 24 hours!! Kino finally earned his sub 24 buckle after so many tries! Trust me when i say no one deserves it more than him! Otto turned his race around and was only a few minutes behind me. So was Thunder and Sophia. Roy the Legend Pirrung also ran in strong! And then comes Yoshiko, smiling away and finishing faster this year than she did last year!
We are all done and under 24 hours!!
Well almost everyone. Little Jackie Choi was out there fighting through the cold downpour that happened sometime around when i crawled into my sleeping bag after my shower. She fought off hypothermia by wearing trash bags and finished in just under 30 hours with a smile on her face.
Here is where I thank the volunteers and Joe and Joyce Prusaitis. The volunteers all made me feel like I was an elite runner every time I came into the aid stations. Liza served goodies and snapped pics of fellow RWB teammates. Also there, was Jen, who I had met on the course at NJ Ultra festival during my first 100k. She was a member of the US National ultra team. Jen was also working Damnation. I didnt get a chance to chat with Joe this time around but I finally got to meet Joyce, who at 11:45 am Sunday morning was helping load things into the truck long after I had been showered and finished. She stopped what she was doing to walk me to the lodge and exchange my shirt for me. (Turns out my shoulders and biceps dont even fit into a medium!) She was all smiles even after what I am sure was a sleepless night for her and many others. I also really appreciate Rodney for driving pretty much the whole way home! Even though he wasn't able to finish I have no doubt this will only make him more hungry for that railroad spike at the Viaduct in July. Rodney, that spike will be yours!! #comeandtakeit

Things worth mentioning in a nutshell....

1. I fell at least 8 times during the first 3 laps. That's full on hitting the ground and doesnt count tripping. After nightfall i feel none.
2. I changed my socks zero times which is a first for me. I had terrible blisters but it was worth the saved time.
3. This is the first time i went without a pacer and it was actually quite nice. I enjoyed the lovely conversations we had. And yes I did talk aloud to myself.
4. Evy and Ken make an excellent crew team, even though Ken almost got himself thrown in jail for reckless driving and bribing a Texan Officer of the Law. Well that's a bit of an exaggeration.
5. I learned i need to work on my technical trail running. Badly.
6. I learned not everything is #kinosfault.
7. Running 100 miles in 26 hours is way harder than running 100 miles in under 23. Running 100 miles on trails is way easier on your body than running for 24 hours on pavement yet somehow I find myself signing up for another 24 hour paved loop. NC24. I'll explain why that is in a future blog post entitled Maggie and Yoshiko's Quest for UR's Top Times List aka World Domination.
When it comes to running, inspiration is everywhere, from the Pam Smiths to the Jackie Choi's. For me, my Rocky experience just makes me want to train harder and get better, faster and stronger. I'll say it here so to make it real. I told Yoshiko last night that one day I'm going to run a sub 20 100 miler. I really think I can. She replied and told me in a year or two you will run sub 19. Well i dont know about that one but if that doesn't motivate me I don't know what will. The rest of February is recovery month and March my schedule is full. I have two 50ks including Caumsett (which is the 50k National Championship), back to back marathons and a 100k.
Ok enough typing.. there is training to be done. And remember, it's ultra running..Anything can happen.

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