Finally! The first 100 miles!
The first one hundred mile race typically holds a special meaning for most people who choose to partake in such an endeavor. Mine was no different. I’ve wanted to run 100 miles since 2010, when I read Born to Run. At the time, I was working in a running shoe store in New Hampshire, and with the publication of the book, came the onslaught of Vibram Five Finger purchases. And there I was, crouched on the floor of a summer-heated shop, helping customers squeeze their toes into the Five Fingers… day in and day out for months, remarking on such an effect from the book. That all of these people read it and wanted to run barefoot, when I read the book and wanted to run 100 miles. (not barefoot). It took another 5-ish years to accomplish this goal, but I did it. In under 24 hours. (barely). I jumped right into a 50 miler, spent some 3 years playing around with more 50 milers, then did a large year (2014) of more 50 milers, a 100k, and finally a 70 mile race. This was only 6 months ago, and combined with watching the Tahoe 200 mile and seeing those around me accomplish their goals, I finally took the plunge and felt ready.
I chose Rocky Raccoon in Huntsville, TX over a more scenic, mountainous 100 mile race for a few reasons. First, the flat course with 5 laps of 20 made it an appealing first 100. The flatness would take away any additional fears that my legs would stop working if it were too hilly and I could focus instead on running smoothly and finishing the race. Plus, my good college friends live in Dallas (perfect excuse to
visit / recruit crew members). And another good college friend, Peter Hogg was running the race. Low-stress course, easy to crew for, easy to just do it. (no 100 mile is easy, however, just wanted to eliminate other factors that would make it more difficult).
“Rocky Raccoon checked into his room
Only to find Gideon’s bible
Rocky had come equipped with a gun
To shoot off the legs of his rival”
Despite taking an abrupt 3 week taper due to an-entire-right-leg niggle, I felt ready. I wanted to deliver myself to the 80th mile ready to keep running and pushing on, but I knew I could fast-walk the last 20 mi if I had to. (…And I had to). I did my best to stay in ‘denial’ and not think much about the 100 miles, instead thinking about just an ultra and trying to stay positive. Indeed, I really don’t think it occurred to me that I was even running 100 miles until perhaps after the whole thing was over!
Joe and I flew to Dallas instead of Houston because our friends from college are living there. My first impression – holy flat! The flight out of Portland had views of 4 volcanic mountains amongst the Cascades and flying into Dallas I saw… nothing! Indeed, it was the flattest ground I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been a lot of places). Also, the trees were approximately 10 feet tall and were likely planted around the city. Visions of tornados and giant thunderstorms filled my head. Agoraphobia! We picked up my packet and went to dinner, with enough time for me to prepare for the next day. 6-7 hours of good sleep later (that never happens!), we were on our way to the race.
We got there an entire hour early, the earliest I’ve ever arrived at a race. I ate a packet of instant oatmeal and a banana with honey peanut butter, and drank a coffee and a chocolate almond milk. I forgot my usual Perpetuem in the morning, but I was okay because I got kind of spooked by the milk product it contains (I think just whey proteins). Peter and I posed for the obligatory pre-race photo and then he was off the the very front of the start line, while I shoved myself somewhere in the upper-middle.
The race started and everyone shuffled into place. I didn’t seem to move much beyond where I started and I basically ran the first lap with those around me. The first goal was obviously to finish – which I was going to do, even if it took 29:59:59 – the second goal was sub-24 (like every newbie, gotta get the sub-24!), and the third goal, if everything went well, was to run around 20 hrs. I believed I was capable of a sub-20 hr on that course if I ran the race well, and I still think so after doing the race. I didn’t run the race well, so sub 20 was out of the window. Despite reading everything I could about first- 100 milers and listening the advice to everyone I could, and despite starting too fast in almost all of my races, I still did it. I clocked 3:22 the first lap of 20 miles. I was okay with this at the time, because I truly had no idea how to run on flat terrain! All of my runs in Oregon have 1500 feet of climbing in the first few miles, making it impossible to translate my pace. So I just went with ‘feel’ even if I knew it was too fast. When a big group of us ran into the start/finish, I announced, “so who here is planning on running a 16:20 100 mile today?” and the general consensus was – no one. Everyone seemed to know we were running too fast and were planning on ‘banking’ the time. Note to everyone reading this, banking time doesn’t work! So I slowed down. Just a touch.
I was having a grand old time talking to people on and off while the day was heating up. I saw Peter on one of the out and backs, who was in front of Ian Sharman at the time, and we shouted encouragements – “how are you feeling???” “ehh”. Somewhere around the 50K I noticed my hip flexors were starting to yell at me. Probably for running for so long! Non-ultra runners may not understand, but normally with a hillier course, I would have stopped to hike up hills, and while there weren’t any hills at RR100, I had no reason to stop running. Also, the roots were a bit insane, forcing me to lift up my legs like doing knee-highs or running through the tires at a football practice. None of this bothered me, actually, but was likely the reason my hip flexors were burning. I also saw a few people take some massive diggers! One guy (Plaid Chris) tripped and fell three times right in front of me during the first two laps 🙂 you Texans gotta lift up your legs better!
Sometime during the second lap I also noticed that my feet were going numb. Strange. The right one more than the left. I didn’t want to stop between aid stations, so when I saw Joe and Jared at the next aid, I loosened up my right shoe to the point where it was barely hanging on. At that point, it was already 38 miles though… and I could tell I was getting some toe blisters (slathering the feet in body glide and injinji socks were failing). I started to think my that my shoes were different sizes, as this had never happened to me before. I experienced my first ‘low’ point here around the 50K, which is where I usually feel a bit blah. The remedy was to start listening to music. A few songs passed, but some 90s Eminem seemed to do the trick. I pepped right up! The second lap was a bit slower in 3:45. This was more along the lines of what I was thinking (laps of 4 hrs).
“Rocky burst in and grinning a grin
He said Danny boy this is a showdown
But Daniel was hot, he drew first and shot
And Rocky collapsed in the corner, ah”
The third lap I was still listening to music and was a bit alone for most of it. Mentally I was fine. It was definitely heating up and I ran out of water between one of the longer stretches of aid stations (only 6 mi). It was my fault, as I didn’t fill my water, so I really went around 9-10 mi without refilling my water. I felt a blister pop between the toes, noticing the warm/wet all of a sudden, making me still consider whether I wanted to switch shoes. I debated on this for a while, but I never changed them. Joe mixed me a Tailwind every lap, which went down easy until the 3rd lap, where the flavor was grape – which I found very disagreeable at that time. This likely contributed to my lack of hydration during the Damnation loop, because I had planned on drinking that. No matter, I filled waters again and went along my merry way, grabbing an oozy cheesy quesadilla to go. I went through the 50 mile mark around 9:15, which was a pretty decent time. At this point, Ian Sharman lapped me in 2nd, his 4th lap, and about 20-30 mins back from the leader at the time (which he would eventually catch) looking like he hadn’t even sweat all day. I knew Peter would be running by at some point, and I kept turning around to look on the straight sections of trail. The 3rd place guy, then Paul Terranova both ran past, both looking great. Finally reaching the only ‘hill’ on the course, I stopped and hiked it. It felt so good to hike instead of run!
Then Peter catches up to me – caught me walking for the first time, already 58 miles into the race. To my surprise, he starts hiking the hill as well, and says “I’m going to run with you.” I’m thinking – yeah, like to walk up this hill. “no, like for the rest of the race.” What! No. Maybe until the next aid station (1 mi away) or the end of the lap, but he was serious. The Rocky course is deceivingly difficult – which makes it more incredible that Sharman has the 100 mile record for trail and the woman’s record was smashed that day, in 14:22. Insane. Back to my race – I was still hovering around 10th place for women and I was feeling fine. I crossed the start/finish in around 4:00 hours, perfect, and wanted to stay at this pace, even though I knew I would have a hard time that final lap. Peter had run ahead to finish his 4th lap but I saw him chatting with someone on the sideline, and he started running with me out of the aid station to complete his 5th lap, my 4th. We basically complained over the next few miles to the aid station where we picked up our pacer, Jared. Since we all enjoyed several awesome years of DePauw cross country and track, this made for a hilarious 4th lap for me. It flew by, with stories by headlamp, and all sorts of nonsense which was exactly what I needed to forget the passing of time.
I was definitely slowing down, averaging 12-13 minute pace running. Regardless, I went through 100K at around approx. 11:30, which could be a new PR for me by 50 minutes. Eventually, I went through the 70 mile mark at around 13:30, also a new PR at that distance, by 4.5 hours. That also meant we were slowing way down, taking our time at aid stations and eating ramen noodles (~2 hrs to go 8 miles). Between Peter and I, we had wildly different paces (ya don’t say… someone who has gone low 14-hrs in a 100 vs someone aiming for a 20 hr finish). I was just chugging along at 13 min/mi pace, Peter would jog ahead much faster then slow to a walk, I would walk at 15 min/mi pace, which was too fast for Peter’s walk. So it went on like this for a while. I thought it was funny, but I’m sure he didn’t think so at the time. Eventually we reached the final aid station for the lap, where Peter finally took off to finish his race, leaving Jared and I to walk/run the final 3 or so miles. More walking than running by then, finishing the lap in 5:11. An hour slower than I wanted, but I was still hoping to have another 5hr lap to close the race up nicely. I congratulated Peter on his finish, thanked Jared, and picked up Joe to ‘run’ the final lap of 20 miles.
Ugh! Can you imagine everyone you were just running with are done? And you have 20 more miles? I could, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to crawl into ‘the pit of despair’ and start feeling sorry for myself. So Joe and I charged (walking) ahead, ready to finish this thing. We likely started walking at the traditional 15 min/mi pace (our firefighting pack test pace) and slowed to a 20 min/mi pace in the later stages of the lap. In the first few miles, we ran out of BOTH headlamp light, and tried to use just the backup light that Joe brought. He called Jared, who probably just settled in to sleep, to meet us with extra headlamps and batteries at the next aid. We were lucky. I had packed 5 different headlamps, and between all of us, they needed new batteries. So we loaded up, with extra back ups and batteries… this would be a looooong night. Joe told me about the soils in the area and I, in exchange told him about all of the interesting plants I noticed. The forest was part of the Piney Woods of east Texas, with mostly loblolly (Pinus taeda) plantation over story and some oaks mixed in. A fun oak species was there – southern red oak (Quercus falcata)! A favorite because the leaves have drastically different morphology depending on how much light each leaf receives. The shaded leaves are more lobed-like, falsely looking like a kind of white-oak. The leaves with the most sunlight look deeply lobed (looking like a turkey foot saying whatsupppp!) more along the lines of a red oak (which it is). I also saw some weird holly species, which I need to look up. Ok! Done with the botany talk.
The night went on and somewhere in the wee hours I got dizzy and slowed down even more. I was wobbly and had felt like I could tilt over. I’m assuming this had more to do with actual sleep deprivation and headlight tunnel-vision than much else. I got over it after taking a caffeine gel and eating more ramen noodles. I sat at the Damnnation aid for about 10 minutes eating my ramen, just observing everyone coming in and out of the station. There were over 6 people sitting there in various states of disrepair – they all had decided to drop. The thought had never crossed my mind, besides to notice that it hadn’t crossed my mind! Everyone says ‘beware of the chair’ but I had no difficulty getting up and moving on my way, a mere 8 more miles to go.
Shortly after this point, while going around the corner near the highway (with about 1-2 more miles before the next aid), Joe and I heard the most ridiculous yelling echoing in the night. It was coming from behind us, a woman just shouting so loud, hopefully not at her pacer. I said something to Joe – “I’m scared!” and we kept on moving forward. Eventually, the yeller got pretty close, but then tripped over something and just screamed bloody murder while on the ground crying frantically. I may be an ass, but this was a fairly dramatic scene unfolding and we kept moving forward. Nothing was going to stop me at this point, unless someone was actually hurt of course. This person got up and her and her pacer passed us while she was wimpering. We are all in the same race, at the exact same moment in the race (5 mi from the finish) and, we do all perceive pain differently, but come on! I couldn’t run anymore at that point, as muscles were dead, and seeing her jog by made me think that it couldn’t have been that bad! Anyway – we kept moving and tried to get in and out of the final aid quickly. Jared and Peter were there to encourage me, which was awesome, but I estimated I’d finish around 24:30 or a 24:15 if I hurried. I really did not think it would be close.
I started walking fast. Faster and faster, even though my hamstrings were dead and my achilles were screaming as loud as the strange yelling woman (just not audibly), but I pushed on with Joe. There were hoards of people coming at me, starting their 5th lap. I did not envy them. One person was dressed in a luchador costume! Another person lost his dinner right in front of us, ugh. We were lucky enough to see where it was on the trail and not have to walk through it. We increased the pace significantly… walking as fast as I possibly could. My watch finally died, after several hours of it chirping of low battery (it did record 85 mi worth, even though it really was working until the final mile). So with no idea of time, I went for it and struggled a measly wimpy run for the final half mile or so. Then, the finish line came into view – with three minutes to spare – I was IN! Under 24 hours! And somehow passed the yelling woman on the way in (she stopped to yell more in the finishing chute). Last lap was 7:38! I passed the finish line with a little over 2 minutes to spare, under 24 for the first 100. Someone was there to great me with the special belt buckle, and I was the last one under the 24 hr goal.
“Now the doctor came in stinking of gin
And proceeded to lie on the table
He said Rocky you met your match
And Rocky said, doc it’s only a scratch
And I’ll be better I’ll be better doc as soon as I am able”
So what next? I posed for a photo with the time…. then meandered around aimlessly. Sat in a chair. Sort of shed a tear. Someone must have texted our friends because they came through the tent eventually. High fives. Hugs. Then us all – hobbling back to the cars. Jared and Peter took off, driving back to Dallas, at 6 am. We had to take a nap, because Joe was awake basically as long as I was. We parked in a quiet location and fell asleep after I took 30 minutes to change into clean clothes. I woke up about a hundred times in an hour and a half – with my legs throbbing. Mostly because they were bent awkwardly from being in a car. Oh and from running 100 miles. We got on the road at around 8 and tried to find something to eat and coffee to drink (impossible in Huntsville on Sunday AM. WTH!). Made it back to Dallas where I took …. approximately 30 minutes to walk from the parking lot and up three flights of stairs to Jared and Kate’s apartment. My achilles didn’t work. I’ve never had achilles problems, but I understand now how important they are to movement! As it took me – literally – inching my way step by step to the apartment. Finally took a shower and changed clothes, tried to drink a beer, then I took a 5 hour nap. During the nap, PTSD dreams of tripping and falling were plaguing (I didn’t trip a single time). I woke up for the super bowl, then went to bed again before the final play where the Pats beat the Seahawks. Then slept another 11 hours till Monday, when we hung out with Kate, Jared’s wife (also a DePauw alum!) before flying back. My legs were tremendously swollen but movement wasn’t too bad. Flights were normal, the 3 hr drive home was awful. Slept another 11 hours and came in late to work. That’s it!
So: big lesson learned… don’t go out like you’re going to run 16:20 when your goal was 20 hours! duh! But everyone around me was doing it! Ha! Ok, I don’t know how many times I’ll make this mistake, but someday I won’t and it will be a success (a la Miwok 2014). Nutrition was stellar, no nausea, no extreme hunger. I loved Tailwind, as it was my first time trying it (another thing they tell you not to do – try a new product during the race), minus the grape flavor. I ate PB&Js, cheese quesadillas, 15 cups of ramen noodles and broth, bacon, potatoes, a spare Huma gel here and there, a few Accel Gels and Second Surges randomly, and I’m sure I’m forgetting everything. Basically, I ate A LOT and ALL the time. And I am happy that I could hold a ‘fast-ish’ pace while eating all of that too, through 70-80 miles with no nausea!
I wasn’t too thrilled about the blisters and tight shoes. It could be that my legs and feet were swelling extra for some reason, but I don’t know why. My PT tells me that my right leg holds more fluid at the knee joint than the left because of torsion inside the knee, but I don’t know. Injinji socks didn’t work this time, nor did the body glide. But I could have taken the time to try a new pair of shoes and socks and reapplied vaseline. Oh well! First time with bad blisters too!
The 100 mile wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. I was texting all of these people after the race that it sucked… it did not suck. Considering how I was feeling after the race, as always – that sucks, but not the actual race. It really wasn’t that bad. Laurel Highlands was bad. Really bad. But this? not bad. Even with the 20 mi of mostly walking I had to do at the end and severely uneven splits. I had my mind the whole time and I wasn’t bored. I won’t fear the 100 mile distance any more and now want to focus on a 100 that matches the terrain I get to train on every day- hilly! Scenic! Regardless, RR100 was awesome to participate in, with loads of great people and amazing volunteers, and delicious food. It was great to see the top runners during the out and back sections, and sort of watching Nicole Studer break the American 100 mile record. Insane.
I’ll be taking my time getting back to running, but already started running every other day after 10 days off. Slow, short miles at first, and hopefully some snowboarding and skiing to go with it. No races on the calendar for the rest of the year, but I want to start planning more! It feels weird to not have anything to train for at the moment.
100 mi down! Whatever is next, it will be awesome.