Inspiration & training
|Photo cred: Let's Wander Photography|
Many, many years ago, I learned of Rocky Raccoon through the internet blogging community of “The Loop.” At the time, I thought people that ran ultras were nuts. I was running one marathon a year and was pretty proud that not only had I finished one, but that I wanted to run MORE than one.
But these people that were running 50 miles, 100 miles, that just seemed crazy. Many of my original real life running sheroes and heroes ran this race and as I dabbled into the ultra world, I was curious about this event. The more I leaned into the crazy myself, the more I realized that this particular course would be in my wheelhouse. Runnable (re: not a ton a vert), loops, and if I was lucky, not incredibly hot.
I had been thinking about it for awhile and started watching registration this fall. The number of spots dropped pretty dramatically right after I ran The Stinger 24 Hour and I was on the fence about going back to the pain cave so soon. But grief is weird and on the same day I went to put down Tory (our Boston Terrier), I decided to just sign up. No one else I knew was doing it and it was a pretty tight turnaround considering I would only have about 12 weeks between 100 milers. But YOLO, or something.
Training went really, really well. I took about 10 days off running after The Stinger to recover. Then I did the tiniest build ever to race the Rehoboth Marathon 3 weeks after running 108 miles. I knew I wasn’t in any place to chase down a marathon PR, but I was feeling healthy and good and ran a very respectable 3:32.
I ramped up my training in December and early January, adding in longer workouts and building my mileage slowly. My coach helps to put on the Jekyll Marathon in mid-January and I decided to sign up to use that as a last long run of sorts. I had been feeling so good with my running though so I used the opportunity to race hard and came up with a 3:19.
On Thursday, I flew out to Houston in the afternoon, landing around 6:30pm CST. Somehow, even with a supposed full flight, I ended up in a row with an open middle seat. The flight was on time, my car rental pickup went smoothly, and it was an easy drive to Huntsville. The universe was sending me good vibes.
I did a quick Google search to find a spot for dinner and opted for Tex-Mex. The service was quick, the food delicious, and I had a good conversation with the bartender and a barfly.
After the travel and giant margarita, I fell asleep easily, allowing myself to sleep as long as possible the following morning. I lounged leisurely at breakfast in the hotel and enjoyed a slow start to the day.
Hoka was sponsoring a shakeout run on the course at 11am so I headed over to the park. I chatted with a few fellow runners before and during the run, making me feel a little better about my solo adventure. Alex said he was running a 100 miler for the first time after completing the 100k the previous year. He actually somehow picked me out in the dark to say hi the following morning!
Packet pickup wasn’t until 1pm so I decided to just hang out at the park, enjoying the sunshine and reading a book on my phone. It was shaping up to be a gorgeous day so I was actually kind of glad I was able to kill time outside rather than holed up in my hotel room.
After I grabbed my bib, I went outside to shop for some of the gear and a fellow runner, Jenniffer, asked if I would take her picture in front of the backdrop. We ended up talking for a long time and exchanged phone numbers. We saw each other twice on the course the following day and it truly was a pick me up both times to see a newly familiar face.
It was well after lunch time so I went to Kroger next to the hotel to grab a bunch of things to snack on during the afternoon. Then I proceeded to lie in bed, eating snacks, resting, and reading.
Eventually, it got to be dinner time and I ordered myself a pizza from a Pizza Hut within walking distance. The sunset was gorgeous and I was excited that the next sunset I'd see would be from the trail.
I set 3 alarms, laid out my race outfit, and checked and re-checked all my gear. Then it was time to sleep!
I slept okay, but not great. I knew I had slept well all week so I didn’t worry too much about it. I ate my pre race muffin, drank some coffee, and was out the door by about 4:40am. I pulled into a very close parking spot at 5:00am at race headquarters and immediately went to find where I could pick up my timing chip. It was in the low 30s so I went back to my car to stay warm and off my feet, getting out at 5:40am or so to find a place to leave my drop bag and line up.
There was no designated place at headquarters to drop a bag so I just found a picnic bench near the start/finish line and hoped for the best. No one was standing in the start line area and it was 5:50 with a race start time at 6:00. Very different from a road race! And there were a few hundred starters!
They announced that we were to go line up and we ended up having to go through the back of the corral. This put me back a little further than I wanted, but I think it worked out for the best.
Lap 1 (miles 0-20)
I clicked on my watch at gun time and shuffled my way to the start timing mat. Being further back in the field to start, I did a lot of walking in the first mile. People were chatting away and I tried to enjoy the conversations around me, knowing that I would be welcoming that kind of thing later in the race when it got much, much harder. I tried to not panic when I saw my first mile clicking off at 13:XX, knowing that there was still 99 miles to go.
Luckily, the field opened up after the first mile and I found myself finally hitting a faster, but comfortable pace. The first 20 mile lap would be all about getting the lay of the land and figuring out just what kind of race I thought I was capable of.
Having never run the course before, I wasn’t sure just how fast I could be. The course records made it seem super fast, but the elevation profile showed constant up and down so I wasn’t sure until I was actually running it myself. Plus, I had heard all about the roots that jokingly get bigger with each lap. It is a 5 loop course of 20 miles each with a mix of single track and forest service roads. I found it to be 100% runnable and in fact, did very little walking until about 50 miles in. The forest service roads in particular were where I was able to gain a little bit of time on each lap.
We needed a headlamp for just a short while in the first lap, but I did end up keeping my long sleeve on the entire first 20 miles. There were only a few short sections that weren’t shaded and it was still quite chilly throughout the morning. I was comfortable though and was hoping that it would not warm up too much in the afternoon.
|Photo cred: Let's Wander Photography|
I didn’t take aid at the 4.1 mile aid station, but did top off my water bottles at the 9 mile and 14 mile ones. Throughout the rest of the race, I would stop at each aid station and fill up, but not linger. I was eating snacks from my pack in the beginning - gels, fruit snacks, fig bars, etc. I knew I would tire of this stuff soon enough so I tried to eat what I could, when I could.
I rarely found the aid stations to be crowded and the volunteers were all excellent in helping fill up quickly. It could have been my attitude too though. I wanted to race patiently and my race mantra was “don’t be greedy.” I wanted to feel good for as long as possible and not let self-doubt ruin my outlook. It didn’t mean that it didn’t get rough at times, but I truly felt the best I ever had in a 100 mile race. I took my time to thank volunteers, pet dogs, do a little aid station dancing, and said good job to as many of my fellow runners as I could.
|Photo cred: Let's Wander Photography|
As I was nearing the end of the first lap, I thought about what I needed to do to minimize my time at my drop bag. I dropped my headlamp, grabbed more nutrition, and refilled my electrolyte bottle with Skratch. I actually used 4 of my 5 Skratch packets throughout the race which was pretty surprising. Normally, I get tired of electrolytes quickly, but I decided to not take any Tailwind on the course and I think that made all the difference for me with not getting too tired of sugary stuff.
Lap 2 (miles 20 - 40.1)
I grabbed my Aftershokz, deciding I wanted music early and stuffed my long sleeve in my pack in case it was cooler than I thought. I didn’t use a drop bag at any of the other aid stations so I was relying on carrying everything I needed for 20 miles at a pop.
I fired up my EDM playlist and was happy that I was finally going to have plenty of space to actually run the first few miles of this lap. However, about a mile into the second lap, I tripped and ripped open my knee and elbow. After yelling at myself, I jumped back up and brushed off the dirt as best I could. Within a few minutes, the pain of the scrapes and my stubbed toe subsided and I fell back into a rhythm.
My second lap, miles 20-40, was actually a tad faster than my first lap. I was moving well and feeling good. I kept thinking about my “don’t be greedy” mantra, but I also wanted to push when it felt good. If I was feeling good after running 20 miles, I thought it was an opportune time to try to put a little time in the bank.
Lap 3 (miles 40.1 -60.2)
Coming around to mile 40, I knew it was highly unlikely I would need my headlamp in the 3rd lap, but put it in my pack anyway because I didn’t want to assume anything. It would be midday so I definitely was getting warmer, but left my long sleeve in again. I was starting to tire of the sweet stuff after 7 hours so I pawed through some of my preplanned nutrition bags to pull out what I thought I might actually eat.
I was still feeling pretty good on the third lap, miles 40-60. I started to walk a little bit more, but I was definitely still moving really well.
|Photo cred: Let's Wander Photography|
It was in this lap that I started to try some ramen and soda at the aid stations. I would drink the soda in the aid station and then walk out with my ramen cup, eating it for a few minutes, letting it digest fully before I started moving again. I was determined to keep food down and not let myself fade with a calorie deficit.
There were times in this lap that I hit a few high patches and I was starting to talk to people around me when I had the opportunity. There was a guy with a clown figurine on his pack that I chatted with and ended up taking a picture of his setup for him. I leapfrogged with a guy who was wearing the men’s version of the shorts I was wearing. He probably thought I was super weird when I came up next to him and said “nice shorts”, but to be fair, it’s hard to not be weird running 100 miles.
I saw Jenniffer on this lap twice, once on the out and back section, and then again near the last aid station. It definitely lifted me up both times I saw her and we were both determined to get it done. She was racing without crew or pacers too so there was some solidarity in our experiences.
|Photo cred: Let's Wander Photography|
I remember at some high point on this lap that I was bombing down a cruisy section with Beyonce’s “Break My Soul” blasting in my ears, forgetting that I was in the middle of racing. Rarely do I have that kind of moment in an ultra and when I snapped back to real life, I just knew I was going to get this one done.
Lap 4 (miles 60.2 -80.3)
However, there were still 40 more miles to go and I had 60 miles on my legs already. My mile 60 treat was reading text messages that had been piling up on my phone all day. After I grabbed batteries, a fresh long sleeve shirt, and repacked my snacks, I scrolled through my phone as I walked out onto lap 4 feeling the love from all the people who took time out of their busy lives to send me messages.
Things got rougher for me running-wise in lap 4. I knew I was going to have to do it all over again one more time and I was not looking forward to the single track sections in the dark. Whereas I’d spent the majority of the race actually running up until this point, I did start to take longer walk breaks at this point. But I did talk a little bit more to people at this point, forcing myself to stay positive even if I had to fake it. There were a lot of people with pacers at this point so it was nice to have some people with life in their voices out there.
At mile 73, a group of supporters called the “Mile 13 Hilltop Party” had set up for the evening in between aid stations and apparently this year’s theme was Working the Run-way. They had laid down a platform of sorts next to the trail and had music blasting so that you could run/walk/sashay down the runway. For anyone that knows me well, this was CLEARLY something I had to participate in and jumped right up to flaunt all my best moves. Their energy was a much needed boost and it was a reminder to keep it fun for as long as possible.
Even though it was still relatively early in the evening, the darkness was making me feel very sleepy. I decided to try a little Mountain Dew on this lap and realized it sat in my stomach a bit better than the Coke. At this point, I was trying to eat something from the aid station and a cup of soda. I was still kind of working on some of my own snacks, even if it was just a handful of gummy bears or a few jelly beans every few miles. I thought about how Megan cajoled me into one chew at a time during my final 20 miles at Javelina and knew something > nothing.
Lap 5 (miles 80.3 - 100.4)
I was convinced that if I just made it to mile 80 that everything would feel doable. I had planned to call Adam at that point for my now-traditional pep talk. I didn’t really need much of anything from my drop bag for the final lap so I took my time to chat with him (and the occasional side bar from Jeff who was keeping him company) as I walked out onto the final lap. He said that I sounded better than usual (re: not a crying mess) and I told him I had been having a pretty good day.
I had kind of been paying attention to the time as I wanted to go under 20 hours if possible, but in my “don’t be greedy” mantra, I was trying to remember to just be grateful for whatever the day gave me. My watch kept falling off the charger, beeping at me when it was under 20% so I just had left it stuffed in my pack. I told myself I would put it back on with a few miles to go and to just not think about it until then.
In the final lap, I was leap-frogging with another racer (we will call him blue shorts guy as I don’t remember his name) and Arild and his dog Lulu, who was out just running a lap after DNSing. As we came up to the Nature Center aid station, I ran with them for a short while, enjoying a bit of company at mile 89 and talking about how it would be really great to go sub-20 hours. I bypassed food at this aid station as nothing sounded good and got out pretty quickly. Somehow I was still doing some running at this point, but did slow down a bit closer to the final aid station. Blue shorts guy came past me and said how the eff did you get here? And I laughed, taking this as a compliment.
Arild came past shortly thereafter and encouraged me to stick with the blue shorts guy, to go get my sub-20 hour finish time. I just shrugged it off, saying that whatever time I get is whatever I get. I still had 6ish miles to go and by my watch beeps thought that I was already at 19 hours. 10 minute miles didn’t seem feasible at that point, but there was no way I was going to let myself be sad about finishing a 100 miles in 20 hours so I was content to just keep moseying along at whatever pace I could sustain.
Well, when I finally pulled my watch out of my pack with 2ish miles to go, I realized that I actually was off by a half hour. The beep was actually 18 hours, 30 minutes. Oops. But in this case, it worked in my favor because I had more time than I thought! I did get super excited after that because that sub-20 and a trail 100 PR suddenly felt within reach. It was only like going from 1st to 2nd gear, but I did find myself digging a little deeper in those final 20ish minutes to squeeze out what I could.
Once I crested the final baby hill, I told myself there were no more walk breaks. The pain would be over soon enough. Like out of a movie, my shoe got swallowed briefly by the mud pit about 200 meters from the finish line. I just laughed to myself, shoved my heel back in, and grinned as I came into the finish chute.
4th female, 18th OA, trail 100 PR
A volunteer let me choose my buckle color (purple!), another grabbed me some pancakes, and one of the race photographers took my picture with my phone. I tried to keep it brief at the finish line, knowing I would be likely to get cold quickly. Because I was so over-the-moon about how it went, I was all of a sudden riding on adrenaline. Thankfully, I was wide awake to drive the short distance back to the hotel.
All day my stomach had been pretty good and I was relieved that I didn’t throw up during the race. However, once I got going in the car and was about to get onto the highway, I immediately felt sick. This was odd as I NEVER get motion sickness. To make matters worse, I couldn’t figure out how to open the stupid rental car door (there was a child safety lock on the driver’s side door??) and so I was panicking about trying to open the door, flailing and pressing every button in the car. Eventually, I figured it out and then realized how bad it looked that I was puking on a highway on-ramp (in the emergency lane!) at 2am on a Saturday night.
Fortunately, I felt much better after that and continued on without further incident to the hotel. Though I desperately wanted to crawl into bed immediately, I was filthy and a shower was absolutely necessary.
Once I rinsed off the dirt, blood, mud, ramen-splatter, and Coke-splatter, I was ready to finally lie down.
In my experience, sleeping after these things is brutal though. I got about 2.5 hours of sleep before I was wide awake with aching legs. The adrenaline of finishing now long worn off, I started to feel all the physical pain. My ribs sore from my phone bouncing against them all day, blisters tight and angry, chafe upon chafe, and every muscle in my body feeling tight.
I waited until I was confident the breakfast buffet was open in the hotel, not wanting to waste precious steps on multiple trips. I did venture out a few times that day to Kroger for more provisions (re: beer & pineapple), Target (for feet sheet masks), and to get one more serving of Tex-Mex. But it was a day full of gluttony and sloth for the most part as my brain and body were too tired to do much of anything.
Somehow I got up the following morning at 3:15am, drove an hour to the airport, flew home, drove an hour home, and did a bunch of laundry before passing out cold on the sofa for hours in the afternoon.
I feel better than I ever have after a 100, but I think it’s due to a number of things. A PR always helps. I knew what to expect post-race. I actually fully rested for nearly a day after the race. The trails were runnable, but not super verty (re: didn’t destroy my quads completely).
My next attempt at 100 miles will be at UTMB, something very, very outside my wheelhouse. It will take me twice as long and then some to finish, assuming that I can make cutoffs. That being said, I’m excited to go try something crazy and amazing and see just what I can do.