Rocky Raccoon 100 mile - Feb 4-5, 2017

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Rocky Raccoon 100 mile - Feb 4-5, 2017

ErinV
So it has been just over 6 months since I randomly ran my first (only) 100 mile race down in Huntsville, TX.  I figure it’s probably about time I document it…  Short version is I finished, but forgive me as this is a long one…

We arrived in Dallas on Friday morning and picked up our car and drove towards Huntsville, taking a slight detour through Seven Points, TX in order to stop at a brewery for lunch – Cedar Creek Brewery.  Clearly it would be silly to go that far and not try out a local brewery…  They had a pretty tasty IPA.

We drove on and got checked into our hotel room.  I quickly threw what I thought I might need in my drop bag at the Damnation aid station and we headed off to Huntsville State park for packet pickup and to listen to the pre-race brief.  

It wasn’t until we got there that I started to get really nervous.  I won’t go into details on my failed training, but let me just say I didn’t complete any of the back to back long runs, I missed most of my weekday runs and I didn’t come near any of the weekly mileage in the 2-3 months pre-race.  (I don’t recommend training for anything in the middle of moving and planning a wedding…)  However mentally I felt I would be OK and the last half is all mental, right?? ? Of course standing there amongst everyone I started to doubt myself, realizing that about 1/3 of us (based on past years) wouldn’t be finishing and certain that most everyone had to have trained better than me…  

Anyway…  I grabbed my bib (#263) and went out back to listen to the race instructions.  Afterwards we hung out to ask a few questions; specifically Ernesto wanted to confirm that the park gates would be left open so that he could get back into the park in the middle of the night.  While he was asking about that, this very nice lady, whose name I completely forget, pulled him aside and gave him some advice on pacing me and how I might be in the middle of the night…  I had read everything I could and compiled a list that we had gone through at home, but I felt like hearing from her was so much better for him.  Or maybe she was just able to present it in the right way AND answer any questions he had.   (For those of you who don’t know, Ernesto ran his first half marathon 4 months prior to RR…. So my “ask” for him to be my pacer for 20 miles was beyond anything that he had ever done…and, spoiler alert, he was amazing.)

From there we headed towards Houston to meet Ernesto’s childhood friend and his family for dinner.  We had a very nice dinner and time to catch up and then we headed back to the hotel.  It was a little later than maybe was ideal, but I also knew I wouldn’t sleep well so I wasn’t too concerned.  

Back at the hotel I got all of my stuff laid out to wear and I got my hydration pack and flip belt packed with everything I would be carrying.  I also put my drop bag for the start/finish together.  Once I was all set we turned off lights and got some sleep.

My alarm went off at 4:00am.  We were dressed and out the door by 4:30, at the park before 5:00.  (Yes, I’m paranoid.) A quick potty break and I closed my eyes although I couldn’t sleep.   We headed over to the start area around 5:50 and put my drop bag for the start/finish area in its place and waited for the 6am start.  

It was 46 degrees at the start, with a forecast high in the upper 50s. I opted for my running skirt, t-shirt (Green Bay Marathon – yay Sue!!) and arm warmers.  Then I added my MCM jacket, with plans to leave it in my drop bag at Damnation for use later.

At 6am promptly we were off on the first loop.  I was nervous about going out too fast so I kept myself tucked behind a small group that seemed to be averaging 12:30 – 13:00 min miles.  I thought that was a good place to be, even slower than I had thought I would go out, reserving more energy for the end.  The first hour was spent in the dark, flashlight out and just trying not to trip.  Towards the middle I met a guy (Timmy?  Jimmy?) who seemed quite friendly.   We chatted a bit, typical runner stuff.  He had completed a previous 100 miler so I was (of course) looking for any insights.  I lost him at the first aid station.  The one thing I learned at Lookout Mountain was that I spend WAY too long at aid stations so for RR I was very careful to get in and out of the aid stations quickly.  I would fill up liquids as needed and then grab food to go and eat while I ran/walked ahead (assuming it wasn’t in a cup… which I consumed before leaving the aid stations…no cups to go…)

Anyway, I continued moving forward at a decent, but reserved pace.  Eventually the man I had been talking to caught back up towards the end of the first loop.  I finished that loop in about 4:10, which I was very pleased with, not too fast, and not too slow.   I grabbed some food and then headed back out for loop two, still feeling strong.  

Loop two went very much the same.  I talked to a handful of people here and there.  I passed a man who had gone out too fast on the first loop and was struggling to get back on track.  I ran back into the guy who I had talked to earlier.  He would catch up, chat, fall back, catch up, chat, fall back…  It was at the first aid station that I used the bathroom – a real bathroom with running water which I kept in mind for all future loops – nice and convenient for the time…As loop 2 continued I still felt good.  I was enjoying the course and being outside.  Still in denial of how far I had left to go.  I finished the second loop at in 4:20, very pleased that I was still feeling good and running conservatively.  

Loop three started out well.  However it was during that loop that (1) my stomach stopped liking everything and (2) my feet decided they had enough of the sand.    I (again) ran into Jimmy/Timmy at some point during this loop – which I remember because I was done talking to him (at this point found him annoying) but he kept seeming to reappear.  HOWEVER, this is also the loop where I lost him completely.  Specifically, I lost him when I stopped to get my feet “fixed” at the Damnation aid station.  So the sand…  there were a few sections with a lot of very dry, white sand, which, of course, went straight through the top of my shoes and settled in around my toes.  I did stop at the first aid station on the 3rd loop to dump the sand out (in reality I was waiting for that lovely bathroom to open up).  I figured I was good…of course I was wrong.  By Damnation (I believe it was the 2nd time through, so about mile 52) I knew I was getting a blister on the bottom of my foot as well as on my heels.  So I stopped and I’m very glad I did.  My feet were filthy, but the very nice man cleaned them all off and taped my heels up really well (preventing further rubbing and what I’m sure would have been even bigger blisters, assuming they didn’t rub raw) and then the spot between my big toe and the toe next to it on both feed.  He promised it would be good for at least another 20 miles, if not the whole race.  I changed my socks (recommended) and let Ernesto know that I was leaving Damnation, as he had promised to see me at mile 60.  I was starting to slow down and my feet were hurting.  I finished the third loop in around 5 ½ hours.

According to most everyone, the hardest part is actually the 4th loop (miles 60-80).  I wasn’t worried about that one, I was worried about starting out on my own after 80 miles…. Whereas knowing I would have someone at mile 80 would get me there…  However after talking the lady the night before and studying the map, Ernesto came up with a new plan which involved running from mile 60 to the first aid station and then meeting me at the last aid station to get back to the start, where we would then complete the last 20 miles together.  Again…MY AMAZING LOVE HAD NEVER RUN FARTHER THAN A HALF MARATHON…  Now I say this but I had no doubt that he would be able to accompany me for the end of the race.  I was expecting to be walking the end and I know that Ernesto is capable of being on his feet for 12+ hours for work and I know that he can always put a smile on my face…

Having Ernesto join me was such a boost.  I was so excited to see him and get to chat with him.  We started out strong for my 4th loop. He stayed with me until the first aid station.  I was still kind of running at that point – we were about 16 min/miles.  So he left me there with plans to meet me at Park Road (the last aid station) for the last 4 ½ miles to the start/finish.  We chatted and enjoyed the night running.   I wasn’t nervous about leaving him.  I knew I would make it to Park Road to see him again.  But I did turn on my audio book for the first time during this time.  I was just looking for a little distraction and it seemed like a good option.  I was mostly alone during this loop.  It was also during this loop that I began really hating the road to Damnation and the 7 mile loop back to Damnation.  It was long and I was ready to be done.  I did end up back at the medic tent to have my feet re-taped – specifically the part between my toes.  I could feel the tape had moved (I’m sure due to sand getting in there).  We chatted some about what to do.  I asked if I should switch to my Hoka’s, even though I had only run in them once.  But they were bigger and he was recommending putting on two pairs of socks to help prevent the dirt from getting in, plus he said no one has problems with Hoka’s (I assume because they are so padded).  So that became my plan, just needed to get back to the start finish.  I let Ernesto know I was on my way to park road, where I would be meeting him.  He was already there.  Poor guy had to stand around for quite awhile, although he said they were having a good time at the aid station, so maybe it wasn’t too bad???  I loved getting Ernesto back.  Although there was no more running for him.  And yes, I mean just for him as I was still trying to move.  Sadly my attempts to run moved us ahead slightly faster (think 1 minute/mile?) than walking, Ernesto was still able to just walk at my side.  I had to laugh about this as what else could I do.  Ernesto told me about his day, told me a couple of stories from his childhood, we chatted about wedding stuff, etc.   Loop 4 took almost 7 hours.

I did stop and change my shoes and put on two pairs of socks at the start/finish before heading out on my last (fifth) loop.  (FYI for anyone trying to do this, make sure the shoes you’re changing into are bigger than what you’re taking off…. my feet were so swollen they barely fit in the “new” larger shoes….) Ernesto encouraged some Advil, which was an amazing idea for my aching legs.  The very nice people next to us gave me a few bandaids to cover the new “hot spots” that had developed…  They were WAY better prepared than I.  I showed up with a bag of stuff that I may or may not be “kind of” organized… they had a whole setup just for medical (meds, band aids, wipes, this whole big thing…) I had met them on the trail and they were super friendly (one thing I love about trail running) and always encouraging – telling me I would definitely finish kind of thing, so that was really nice.  The other change I made here was to drop my hydration pack and switch to just my handheld.  I was a little nervous to just have 20oz of water (specifically for the 7 mile loop) because I had been drinking so much, but my back was so sore and I thought it would be a better change (Plus I had asked  at the park road aid station if I would be OK with just the handheld and she had said yes, I figured she knew better than I so I went with it).  So we headed out for the fifth and final loop.

I had been doing my runners math in my head since the start of loop four…how fast/slow can I go and still finish in time.  I decided I wanted to have a cushion of an hour (no chance of trying to beat the cutoffs at the aid stations) which meant I could average 24 minute miles and still finish no problem.  Ernesto agreed and we continued to chat and he walked along next to me while I waddled along, trying to move as fast as possible.  I really enjoyed our time together through the night here.  We were alone for most of the loop.  It was kind of surreal, this beautiful trail through the woods all to ourselves.  We chatted, he comforted me when I got low, he kept me drinking and eating but never pushed too hard on the food – if I told him something wasn’t sitting well he would encourage other food options, just so long as I got something in me.  He was fantastic.  He even sang to me…. drinking songs.  It was amazing.  I shared with him about the guy who I couldn’t shake at the beginning.  I whined about my feet.  I told him about the parts of the trail that I liked/didn’t like.  He got to see firsthand how that loop from Damnation and back went on forever.  Although for this loop it really did go forever as I was moving SOOO slowly.  I did break down a few times here.  I was so ready to be done.  But it was also during this loop that we hit mile 90!!! Only 10 miles to go.  How much better to count down single digits than double…  But then I’d do my runner math and realize we were still going to be out there for HOURS, which we were.   It was also during this loop that the UMBRELLA came out.  I am probably the only runner ever to have my pacer bring an umbrella and then HOLD IT OVER ME when it started raining (keep in mind, I did have my poncho to stay dry….and it did only rain for a few minutes at a time)  It was actually really cute.  And we definitely got some comments   I think it was during the 5th loop (as opposed to the time Ernesto was with me during the 4th loop) that I started asking Ernesto if anyone was around – when I got a “no” I’d tell him to turn around so I could step off the trail and pee.  I should have been embarrassed but I really didn’t care at that point.  

Around 7am the sun came up.  For the hour before we had been watching as the sky slowly changed colors.  Again, it was quite magical.  And it also meant we would be done soon…  kind of…  Everything I had read (clearly I’m a complete nerd) and everything people told me said that once the sun came up I’d get this boost.  I didn’t get it.  I was still tired and barely moving.  The biggest boost was just to not have to use my flashlight.  We put the flashlights in my drop bag at Damnation and then Ernesto actually carried my drop bag for the last 7 ½ miles to the start/finish so that we didn’t have to wait until noon for the drop bags to be returned.  I continued to slow down over the last 10 miles.  I was tired and my feet hurt.  I could literally feel every step and I didn’t like it.  My love gave me a boost, encouraged me, promised me we were close to done, that we would finish, that my buckle was just ahead.  (Again…amazing)  It was during these last miles that we started seeing people again – after seeing no one all night we were being passed.  And I didn’t care.  The woman who gave me bandaids was a few miles from the finish – asking if we had seen her guy – I told her no but that we weren’t passing anyone, so he could be right behind us and I wouldn’t know…  I didn’t see them again, but I’m sure he finished.  It wasn’t until the last couple of miles that my attitude really turned positive – we were going over the bridges and moving forward and almost done.  We started talking about the finish.  And getting my buckle.  And how I was really going to get it.  We FINALLY got to where you turn the corner and can see the finish.  Ernesto turned his phone on to record me finishing.  He even made it look like I was actually running at that point ;)  I was so excited to be finishing.  To get to check it off my list.  To get to get off of my feet.  FINALLY I crossed the finish line.  My official time was 28:16:54.  Chris, the race director, shook my hand and congratulated me, leading me over to the table of buckles.  We were actually able to pick whichever buckle we wanted from all available – so instead of the shiny new style I picked the last one, which I thought was way cooler.  They also had the first version, which actually had a raccoon on it.  I did hesitate with that one, but decided against it.

I went to medical to have my feet looked at.  In reality there wasn’t much to be done.  That same wonderful lady who gave Ernesto advice after the pre-race brief recommended pedialyte, soaking my feet in Epson salt, and cushioning my blisters.  She pointed out which blisters might be popped later and then which should be left and would just reabsorb.  Ernesto came back from the car with a huge bouquet of flowers – absolutely beautiful, and with sunflowers of course – and we got some pictures before heading to Kroger for necessities (Epson salt, pedialyte, large band aids, etc…) Ernesto went in and I called and ordered a pizza to be delivered to the hotel.  We got back to the hotel and the pizza was there, I grabbed a quick shower, soaked my feet, ate a couple of slices of pizza and had a beer.  Ernesto had restocked the fridge with fizzy water, Gatorade, and beer, as well as bought plenty of snacks…again, how did I get so lucky?  We got me situated (and trust me, it was definitely a joint effort as I was incapable of doing it myself) in bed with my feet elevated on some pillows and we both finally slept for a few hours.  It was after 12:30 by this point, meaning I had been awake for 32 ½ hours straight.  Of course sleeping was difficult because every time I moved something would hurt which would make me wake up.  I woke up around 4:10 and we hung out for a couple of hours then went for Mexican.  I was still struggling with a lot of food not sounding good but the thought of Mexican didn’t turn my stomach so we went with it… I hobbled/waddled.  It was difficult to get up and down and really just to move in general.  Everything hurt.  After dinner we went back to the hotel to pack and for some more (interrupted) sleep.

The alarm went off early so we could get to the airport in plenty of time.  We stopped to pee and for coffee – first time that I was asked if I was OK.  We returned the rental car and went to wait for the shuttle to the airport.  I’m not sure if the driver saw me walk or just saw the terrified look on my face as I was trying to figure out how I was going to step up; he lowered the front of the bus (who know they could do that!) so that it was much more manageable…  Then we got to the airport and the guy there (the one who pushes the wheel chair) asked if I would like assistance….  I declined….  

We eventually got through security (don’t bring Epson salt in your carryon luggage…) and went to breakfast.  I had an omelet and bloody mary – it was delicious (or I was starving).  We cashed out and went to the gate which looked like it had started boarding.  Ernesto asked a guy standing there which sections they had called.  The guy said “first class and those with special needs” to which Ernesto said “that’s us” and we kept walking (lets be honest I was barely waddling) We walked up, the lady asked if I needed assistance to the gate, again declined, and I waddled down.  She said she’d hold off on boarding so that I could get seated first, which was appreciated.  We had a beer on the plan (they didn’t charge us!) and then we were home.  

It’s still kind of surreal to think about.  It doesn’t feel like I actually ran 100 miles.  The time went quickly.  And somehow I never got tired.  I think that is the part that I was most surprised by.  I really thought that at some point I would be absolutely exhausted and needing to sleep/nap but at no point did I feel that way.  For the record, my most pleasant time was at night when it was just Ernesto and I running (walking) through the woods.  Chatting and enjoying the peace.  

I swore “one and done” which I am still standing by…  But who knows.  

I am glad that I chose RR as my first 100 mile attempt.  The course was very runnable.  There were no crazy hills.  The 5 loops with access to drop bags 3 times each loop really made it easy to run relatively unsupported.  But it was also great that I could meet up with Ernesto.  The aid stations were fantastic.  The volunteers were super helpful, the food good and plentiful.  Obviously I don’t have any experience, but I don’t know what I would have changed.  Although if someone could tell me how to prevent the blisters I think it could have been a very different (faster) race.

A huge thank you to Ernesto.  I regularly say “we finished” and I mean that.  In reality I don’t think I could have done it without him.  So much is mental and knowing that I had him for 20+ miles (extra were bonus) was huge for me.  Not to mention that when I did get low he was able to bring me right back up, entertain me, and put a smile on my face.  Thank you sweetheart.  

Stats:
Overall: 334 started the race; 210 finished the race; I was # 174

Female: 93 started the race; 52 finished the race; I was # 39

Female 30-39 division: 22 started the race; 12 finished; I was # 5 (keep in mind, the top 5 overall were all in their 30’s so aren’t counted in the division….)

I ONLY fell once… Of course it was in the 5th loop so Ernesto got to see…  I did, however, kick a BUNCH of roots…ultimately lost 2 toenails…not the first time, won’t be the last…

Total Time: 28:16:59

Moving Time: 26:41:32  (So for 1:35:27 I was sitting/standing – although given approximately 40 minutes for foot care and another 10 for changing shoes before lap 5, I don’t think that’s too bad.  Not to mention I had to stop to pee easily a dozen times…)

Elevation Gain: approximately 6,900 feet (according to my Garmin)

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RE: Rocky Raccoon 100 mile - Feb 4-5, 2017

Tnova
Administrator

Wow, what an amazing job! Congratulations!


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Re: Rocky Raccoon 100 mile - Feb 4-5, 2017

ssiragusa
Administrator
In reply to this post by ErinV
Omg Erin, you are amazing! What a great epic race report. You are such an inspiration and Ernesto is a Rock Star for doing his longest distance ever with you.
Thanks for sharing and I bet you'll do another loooong distance (50 or 100) again.
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Re: Rocky Raccoon 100 mile - Feb 4-5, 2017

clark.barrett
In reply to this post by ErinV
Amazing recap. Congratulations on a huge accomplishment.
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Re: Rocky Raccoon 100 mile - Feb 4-5, 2017

Jim M.
In reply to this post by ErinV
Epic!  (and nice write-up)
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Re: Rocky Raccoon 100 mile - Feb 4-5, 2017

Boston
In reply to this post by ErinV
That's completely amazing!   Thanks for sharing the details.
Simple Maniac #3.1415
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Re: Rocky Raccoon 100 mile - Feb 4-5, 2017

Jennifer B.
In reply to this post by ErinV
I am in awe of you! Amazing work!
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Re: Rocky Raccoon 100 mile - Feb 4-5, 2017

Laura L.
In reply to this post by ErinV
You are amazing. And i would've totally accepted the wheelchair! Great recap and thanks for sharing!
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Re: Rocky Raccoon 100 mile - Feb 4-5, 2017

psantini67
In reply to this post by ErinV
That's amazing Erin!  That was a great read and props to Ernesto for being there as well to help  you through it.  You're awesome!
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Re: Rocky Raccoon 100 mile - Feb 4-5, 2017

divesh
In reply to this post by ErinV
Thats an amazing race report, now I am pretty sure I dont even want to think of anything like that.
 I am so proud of you for even thinking to attempt it, forget about finishing it. But I am more proud of Ernesto for being there and carrying you through the toughest miles.
Congrats on such an amazing accomplishment. But you did lose a bet when I said you will do 100 miler and you said noooooo