Monday, February 6, 2012

My Rocky Raccoon Race Report

I am going to try to write about the experience and feeling of running my first ultra marathon. And I am going to fail. This is one of those things that there is just no way to properly understand without experiencing... but here I go.

A little info about the time leading up to the race...
Training was going great. My runs were mounting, and I had not been injured since going barefoot and minimalist. And then, the week of Christmas, I stepped on glass. It went deep in my foot and had to be cut out. This was not regular glass either, it was ornament glass. I never injured myself on the road, but in my own garage, I got glass deep in my foot. After taking a tad more time off than I wanted, I got in a 30 mile run on New Years Eve. But I did something stupid. I ran the first half in my MT 110s. Now these are great shoes, but they are great for rugged trails where heel striking is not a worry. I ran on a flat trail in them and the knee issues that used to plague me came back. My right knee had some pain and my left knee had major ITBS. I still got in a 26.2 run after that and a 15, but had to decrease my mileage and pace greatly. For the last two weeks I got 1 5 mile run in and the rest were 1 mile runs. DNS started creeping into my mind. But I had wanted this for so long, I decided to at least try. I got some KT tape for my left knee which was hurting even on my 1 mile runs, clicking, and catching. And guess what? It worked PERFECTLY. My left knee was never more than a slight bother...

Race Eve...

So I went out there, feeling like I might just make this thing. I am in really good shape and mostly in tact. I did get a glass splinter in my foot on a 1 mile run two days before the race but was able to cut it out myself with very little issues. I planned on running barefoot, but was going to see what the track looked like.

Weather was looking bad. So I was glad to get there pretty early Friday and set my tent up just before the rain started. Chase (Chaser as most know him), Robert, and Jim were all running a bit late, so they were not so lucky.

Camp Barefoot worked out pretty well. Once it was all together, our tent was great. Overnight we had major winds and rain but had very little leak issues.

If you are thinking about getting into ultra running and want to know how hard you HAVE to diet, this is probably about right. I think if you run enough, it usually takes care of itself. But that is what works for me and we all have to find what works for us. I had Dairy Queen for lunch on Friday, then Mexican food and a few beers the night before as a pre-race meal. I never had a stomach issue.

After packet pick-up, there was a trail briefing that I must say was pretty entertaining. Joe, the race director does not screw around. When explaining why a rule was the way it was, he said "because it's my damn race. If you want it different, start your own damn race." It was good that at least one of us went. Some of the good tips were to not park your car illegally, and that you could skip several of the little bridges, but not to skip the one after the Nature Center, because it is an alligator nest. Good to know on both accounts. Several 50 mile and 100 mile racers got their cars towed during the event. We were warned, but I have to wonder about the Parks decision to make people participating in their largest event of the year not want to come back when they are having trouble getting enough people to camp this year in order to make ends meet... but I digress.

I went to the trail to try a little barefoot run and this is what I found:

Now, this was not the norm for the course. But I thought about it and decided being my first time, I wanted to play it safe and wore my Merrell Trail Gloves.

So after mexican food, a few (well, okay, 5) beers, and a pretty fun evening, we all headed to our tents and tried to go to sleep.

I think I must have woke up every 20 minutes after not really getting to sleep until around 11. But 4:30 AM came.

There was heavy, somewhat cold rain and a lot of lightning. Chaser and Robert had to pick up their packets in that mess, so I was again glad to have arrived early.

This is a picture someone posted on facebook of the 100 mile start... and what it did to the trails...

Now, I know this is one of the flattest ultras you can do, but I do have to say on the inclines that there were, this sloshing mud made it pretty interesting. Sometimes when we hit the real squishy stuff I felt like Fred Flinstone...

And so, the race:

We got to the start, saw Louie who has run with the Austin Barefoot Runners Club, albeit in some pretty heavy duty shoes, chatted for a bit, and off we went.

The first couple of miles were pretty slow due to how crowded the trails were. But I'm sure that was good since our adrenaline was soring. A couple times I wanted to go faster than Chaser did but stayed with him - which was really good. That faster pace was me being inexperienced and letting adrenaline get a hold of me. If I had gone faster with the injuries that lingered later, I am pretty sure I would have DNF'd my first ultra.  I think it was a good thing that Chaser and I stayed together for about 48 miles. Robert (Bubba Hotep on BRS) would get out in front of us, fall down, get behind us, and catch up. this was a pattern until about half way. I think he ended up 15-20 minutes ahead of us.

At mile 2, it was not my left but my right knee that began to have pain. It felt like someone had stabbed me in my knee. And that was the best it would get. I referred through the rest of the race to that as my "baseline" level of pain. I thought I would just tape the knee up when we got done with the first 16.3 mile loop.

One of my favorite parts of the run was the great aid stations. quesodillas, tacos, peanutbutter and jelly, gummy bears... everything you could ever want. I even had peanut butter and jelly with gummy bears while peeing in the muddy woods... a truly new and unique experience.

I kept a steady stream of Succeed! caps in my system and never had a single cramp, so I felt like I did that right. I never felt that hungry, other than at about lunch time, when I grabbed a ton of food and handled that quickly.

Our strategy was to run as much as we could and walk up steep inclines quickly, though sometimes that was slower than I would have liked. One thing I have seen Jason Robillard say that I need to listen to is that I need to learn to speed walk better so I can do that better on those inclines.

At the end of loop 1, we both felt great. 16.3 miles in and life was good. We stopped at the aid station, I tried to tape my right knee but it was just too muddy. One lesson I learned was to add a towel to my drop bag for times like this. I wish I had used the KT tape on that knee.

So out we went again. I have no idea of the splits yet because race results have not been posted and I have not bothered to plug in my garmin, but I suspect we slowed a bit on this loop. The first loop was probably in the 3 hour range and this one in the 4 hour range. I have never run in the mud like that, and think it helped slow us down. Running through ankle deep mud for that many miles does a bit of a number on your quads and hips.

At around miles 23 and 26 you hit an aid station called DamNation twice. On our second hit during this loop of Damnation, we ran into Louie who looked trashed. I swear, his skin was almost see-through. He had been sick earlier in the month and did not finish his training like he wanted to and was paying for it. I imagine his sytem must not have been fully recovered. He was sitting between trees and had thrown up 5 times at this point. We talked to him tried to encourage him to take a rest and advantage of the 29 hour time limit and headed out. He was in good hands at that station.

I told Chaser I really hoped he was okay, but did not see any way he was going to go on in that shape.

And then it happened. The ITBS pain that had been killing me since mile 2 stopped me completely. I could not run. Bending my knee was terrible. I began to see DNF (Did Not Finish) in my future.  I told Chaser he could go on and I would walk a while, but he said no, he would stay. This was awesome. It did two things. 1, it made me keep going, period. 2, it made me not want to hold him back. After hobbling and running, and mixing the two for a part of that loop, Chaser went off to pee in the woods for the millionth time. During that time, I did an old karate stretch... and boom, I was back in business... I was running with the baseline level of pain and on a rush from the Moutain Dew I tossed back at DamNation.

I have to say, had Chaser and I not been together, I don't know if I would have finished. We both had down times in the race where pain or something was getting us and we had the other one to help out. I'll let him discuss any down times he had on his own if he wants to, but I know during mine, it was good to have someone there to help me out of it. I like to think I did the same for him. And I know he would have had a nice, raw butt from no TP, more cramps from no S! caps, and pain from no advil if not for me. You see, he just runs with Chia seeds because he is a barefoot hippie.

From there on, though, any time we stopped, even for a moment, it took stretching and about a tenth of a mile before I was not longer in intense, intense pain in my right knee. For the rest of the race, I hardly stopped moving. I ran in circles while he did his business and while I ate at aid stations.

I'll also say this. Chaser was kicked out of the Runner's World forum. He is known as crass and all sorts of things... but I bet nobody paid more people or compliments or gave more people more encouraging words on Saturday than he did. That was an effort in itself.

I was on a high at this point. I was ready to charge up hills, we were passing by people, and feeling great. When we finished lap 2 at 32.6 miles, I felt GREAT. We were in positive spirits. Jim took some pictures I'll add later when I get them that I can show for proof. I think we both felt like if we had made it this far, there was no stopping us.
(Edit-photo added, after lap 2)

So off we headed for our third loop. I think this is the loop that Chaser stepped in human poop with his barefeet... we know it was human because they left their toilet paper. Which is just disgusting. If you are reading this and you left your toilet paper out there for the volunteers or workers to have to pick up, you are trash. No other way about it. Pick up your crap people. Well not literally, but your trash.

I think we as trail runners need a better system of notifying people on the other side of the tree that we are pooping. Oh well. I'm glad I never had to do this. My stomach held up perfectly.

I let off a loud shout, which Chaser had been trying to get me to do all race, and hobbled off. It turned back into a run, but it was indeed a hobble every time I stopped. I tried to remember not to do that.

And a couple miles out, who did we see?! Louie! Looking normal colored! We exchanged high fives and he said he was gonna finish as he was getting close to finishing his second loop. I was glad that he was still going and not hurt. I think this motivated me for a good little bit. I kept noting at every land mark that I felt better this loop than I did the 2nd loop.

This picture was somewhere around mile 42 and I was feeling great. I was all smiles when I talked to people. We looped around DamNation and saw Lesley (RacingitOff on Twitter) who I regularly destroy on Words with Friends. Even if you only know someone from the internet, the running, and really the ultra running community is so great. Just seeing someone else you know is encouraging.

My knee was starting to throb bad at the end of this loop, so I kept moving and kept my mouth shut as much as could, which was not much. Even stopping to pee was too much. We were on pace for a 5 hour loop now, and it was way slower than we anticipated. I think partly due to some pain that neither of us planned on getting, which was not muscle soreness, and just the muddy conditions. It was becoming dark.

Once it did, Chaser obviously wanted to get back, had just had a ton of Mountain Dew at Damnation, and no longer wanted to walk the inclines... but this made me laugh... my speed walking was the same speed as his running at this point. Sometimes as I ran behind him (so he could see roots better with bare feet) I secretly was speed walking for a minute. Our run had slowed down a bit... but speed walking takes completely different muscles. Oh. And if you are wondering why he was muddy and not me. He kept farting on me on loop 2 (or was it 1?) so I kicked mud back on him.

Then it got dark.

I am a cheap ass. And I bought the cheapest headlamp. And that was a bad decision. So, I could not see crap. Chaser was in front of me and could hear me hitting ever root, asking "are you okay?" each time. Pissed that I was in that situation, I somewhat harshly told him "I'll tell you when I'm not okay!" "Allright..."
He was determined to not walk and I think was about 30 feet in front of my speed walking hills, as I was also slowing down because I could not see the roots, when I hit a root hard on mile 48 or so and twisted my left ankle. So far, this is the most painful soreness I have. It is pretty bad. I must have skidded about 6 feet. I think this was my 3rd or so fall? I am pretty sure most people fell at least once on Saturday.

So after that, with throbbing ITBS in the right knee, and a twisted left ankle, I ran what must have been a very funny looking run to the finish. I was in pain from those two issues, but other than that, I was good. Muscles were good. Hydration felt fine... though it was not... I switched to gatorade around mile 15 and should have been switching for water... I never paid for this during the race, but when we went to IHOP, I collapsed on the sidewalk out front. I remembered having the flu and being dehydrated, so I knew that is what this was. Jim stayed with me, Chase and his wife got the water I asked for, and a few minutes later I was fine. I really feel it was the gatorade + S! caps with a lack of water that did this. But that is what a first time is for, right? Learning!

Anyhow, official times are not up yet but I think the finish time was about 12:15.

It was way slower than I wanted, but a year ago I was running a 5K at almost 29 minutes. Now it is in the 19s. First times are this way, but finishing is what was important.

A few random notes:

Thank you so much to Barefoot Jim for crewing. It was great to know I had what I needed and if I had missed something I had someone with a vehicle. It was also really nice to have someone to there Saturday night and to help pack up Sunday.

Robert (Bubba), it was great to meet you! Congrats on a strong finish and a great race! Sorry your tent took water on like the Titanic.

Chaser, it was great running with you. Other than the gas. But it was the first time I have kicked mud on someone's face... and then they smiled.

Almost everyone running was great and encouraging. There were a few jerks. A lady running near us in the first lap commented to two men who were doing some sort of math that it was too early for math, to which they responded "maybe for you. You worry about you and I'll worry about me." They were real jerks about it. No need to be that way. But 99.9% of people were great. And there was quite a bit of hero worship to Chaser for running barefoot.

Minimalist shoes > big shoes in my opinion. Lots of people posting pictures of their dogmeat feet today and mine are perfect. My toenails are all perfect, I have no soreness in the feet, and no blisters.

I will also be going to a new doc ( this week to get everything checked out. I can't wait! This will be my new primary care doc and he should be a better fit than the doc in a box I've been going to. I hope this will help me come out strong for Hells Hills.

I have to say. This was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I loved it so much. Those painful moments are what makes it worth it, if that makes sense. There is very little pride like the pride of overcoming adversity.

If you are thinking about doing something big or hard, do it. And never give up. VA docs told me I could never run again. And I ran 50 miles. I'm not particularly athletic and my legs are not long, obviously. There is nothing special about me that allows me to do this. And if you ever need a running buddy, just let me know.

So there it is. My very inadequate race report. I will post later with a "things I forgot" post. I'm still on the high of finishing right now. Oh, and more Pictures once I get them.

See you at Hells Hills (50K)


  1. Wait, your legs aren't long? Are you sure? (Sorry, you begged for that one with your WWF comment...) Seeing friendly faces out there was sometimes the only thing that carried me the next few miles. Congratulations on a fantastic finish, continue to destroy me on WWF, and I hope to see you on another course really soon.

  2. First off, congratulations!!! Tough conditions running 50 miles at all, then add rain, mud and injury. Wow! Great job hanging in there and finishing strong!
    Yes, this is what I love about ultrarunning. The people. I love that when you see another runner you encourage them and they you. I love that we all form friendships out there on the course.
    So glad you got some photos of the trail. It was dark when I paced my runner but it's bringing back the memories of all that mud!

    Congratulations again - hope your recovery is going well.

  3. Congrats on your 50miler!! We have only run a few trails a couple times and it all still seems a bit scary, but wow way to go! Especially with the weather and how the course ended up being from the rain! Hilarious recap - really enjoyed reading it! Totally didn't know you could get kicked off a forum on Runner's World! Ha