I had it too easy at Javelina. All the pain and suffering I’ve heard about in 100-mile races? I came through virtually unscathed. Sure, I had some low points, but overall it was an incredible experience.
Leave it to the Raccoon to bring me back down to earth.
When some good friends mentioned they’d be signing up for Rocky Raccoon, my husband immediately jumped on board for the 100. I, however, was torn. Take my chances and sign up for the 100 despite not having run one yet, or stick with the 50-mile? I knew the 50 tended to sell out, so I didn’t want to wait until after Javelina in November. I emailed Joe Prusaitis, the RD, to see if I could upgrade if all things went well and he confirmed I could.
Six days after Javelina I sent him a check to cover the extra cost.
Eleven days after that I pulled my right hamstring — in yoga, no less.
Between that and some major overindulgence during the holidays my training was not ideal. In the nine weeks prior to Rocky I logged just over 320 miles; 100 miles less than what I logged for Javelina during the same timeframe. I also didn’t run anything further than a marathon, although I did get in two. I figured rest & recovery would better serve me and hoped the endurance I’d built up would pull me through.
Since my husband was also racing I’d be going solo — no crew or pacer. Therefore, I took extra care in planning out my drop bags. Hubby saved my ass a couple of times during Javelina when the batteries in my headlamp and flashlight died, so I packed two sets for each of my two drop bags. I also threw in a couple of extra flashlights and a headlamp. With rain in the forecast I packed three rain jackets, two large garbage bags, a rain poncho, several pairs of socks and two pairs of shoes. I also brought enough gels to feed an army.
During Friday’s race briefing Joe said the trails were in perfect condition, however, a storm was predicted to come through early in the morning. They weren’t kidding. We awoke to thunder, lightening and a steady rain that intensified as we drove to the start. We arrived just before 5 a.m. and secured a parking spot relatively close to the start line, but decided to wait out the storm in the car. As the rain pummeled down all we could do was laugh. We sure know how to pick ‘em, huh?
By 5:45 the rain started to die down and we walked over to the start and set down our drop bags. While it was rather warm, I threw on both a trash bag and my poncho in an attempt to stay dry. We then huddled under the main tent with hundreds of other runners, nervously joking about what lay ahead. At 6 a.m. sharp Joe yelled “Go!” and we were off.
I made my first mistake from the get-go. I wanted to save my Petzl Myo XP for the nighttime, and I figured my cheapie headlamp would get me through the hour and a half of morning darkness. However, I neglected to throw in extra batteries or a flashlight into my pack. What a numbskull move! The headlamp provided little illumination while on my head, so I ended up carrying it. However, it got progressively dimmer. I’d turn it off when running with others to save the battery, but I prayed it would last as long as I needed. Although sunrise wouldn’t be until about 7:30, fortunately it became light enough just after 7 and I was able to run without the light.
Given the deluge the course was a sloppy mess. I attempted to keep my shoes dry by running around the puddles, only to sink into the mud. Eventually I learned running through the puddles was the way to go; even though my feet would get wet the puddles were relatively shallow, unlike the mudpits to the side. But by the time I learned my lesson the damage had been done; my shoes were caked with mud both inside and out.
As promised, the course was extremely rooty and I stubbed my toes several times and had a few slight ankle rolls. Then, about two miles from finishing lap 1, I bit it. Fortunately it wasn’t that bad; seemed the worst was a small scrape on my right knee. I brushed the dirt off my legs and handheld water bottle and soldiered on.
My goal for loop 1 was to come in about 4:35, which I pretty much nailed (4:37). However, I broke my rule to not linger at the aid station. I figured my stretch goal of 25 hours wouldn’t be possible under the conditions, so I wanted to keep myself as comfortable as possible. Therefore, I took the time to clean off my feet, knock some of the mud off my shoes, change into dry socks, hit the port-o-potty and grab some food. Thankfully the rain had stopped so I ditched my oh-so-fashionable trash bag ensemble. Nineteen minutes later I was heading out on lap 2.
While I wasn’t feeling particularly good — various parts of my body had annoying niggles — I was at least able to run. I walked most of the “hills,” plus the puddles slowed me down (it didn’t take long before my dry socks were soaked). But I tried to stay in good spirits as I knew that would be key in getting me through. I struck up conversations with various runners, encouraging those who were running their first 100 or 50 and commiserating with those who had done this before. It was also great to see my friend John at the DamNation aid station; he was quick with a hug and words of encouragement. I kept leapfrogging with one man who was running Rocky 100 for the 16th time; he had run more than 180 100-mile races! He confirmed the trail conditions were the worst he’d ever seen. When he stopped to scrape the mud out of the inside of his shoes I took his lead; while I couldn’t get it all out it provided some relief.
As the day wore on so did my body and it was tough to stay positive. Every time I thought to myself, “I have HOW many more miles of this?” I tried to brush the negativity aside and replace it with the mental image of Joe handing me my buckle. Finishing this race meant so much to me: it would be my 90th of marathon distance or further, it’d give me the state of Texas and I wouldn’t have to add another race in my quest to make the Waldo 100K in August my 100th race. I thought about things I could do at the main aid station to help make the journey a little less miserable. I wanted to wait until after lap 3 to change into dry shoes & socks, however, I decided I’d rinse the muck out of my shoes & socks after lap 2. I spent WAY too much time doing so — 45 minutes — but it did indeed feel great. Sure, my feet were still wet, but at least I didn’t have muddy grit rubbing my feet raw.
Even though I wasted a lot of time at the aid station I was making good time. Since it would be getting dark during lap 3 I grabbed my good headlamp, my battery stash and my flashlight. I started off with a brisk walk, but after a mile or so I picked up the pace and started running again (albeit slowly).
I believe it was during this lap where I noticed my hands were starting to swell. Same thing happened at Javelina, but since it was coupled with having to pee a lot I figured I was salt depleted rather than dehydrated. Although I carried just one water bottle during Rocky I was drinking from it liberally, so again I figured I needed more salt (I’m a heavy sweater). I had already been taking salt tabs every hour, but I increased my dosage. Unfortunately that led to nausea, and I came very close to hurling. Thankfully I had some ginger chews with which settled things down. But I still had a hard time choking down my gels, even though I knew I needed to take them.
As darkness descended I slowed again to a brisk walk, mainly due to the roots which were tougher to see at night, especially when the trail had been churned up by so many runners. But I also ached all over. I stopped a couple more times to kick the mud out of my shoes, plus it seemed I had to pee every half hour. Given all the slowdowns I realized I may be at risk for not making the cutoff (we had to start lap 5 by 6 a.m.). Problem was, I just couldn’t muster the energy to run. My mental image of receiving my buckle was replaced with collapsing in a chair with exhaustion at the finish (but with buckle in hand). When asked how I was doing, I’d reply, “I’m doing.” I was determined to keep going until I was told I no longer could.
I finished lap 3 at 11 p.m. Our friend Jess were there to help me out (she had to drop after 40 miles due to Achilles pain). She changed the batteries in my flashlight and got some food for me while I cleaned off my feet and changed into new shoes and socks. Unfortunately that drop bag wasn’t waterproof, and even though I had my shoes in a plastic bag they were damp. Fortunately the socks were in a Ziplock so they were dry. Jess relayed the Facebook messages cheering me on, including one from an experienced ultra running friend who said it was good for me to have such a rough time given how I sailed through Javelina. I took no offense as I had thought the same thing. She then admonished me for spending so much time cleaning my feet; time was a’ wasting and she wanted to make sure I made cutoff. I started lap 4 at 11:20 p.m., which would give me just over 6 1/2 hours.
While I still couldn’t muster up the energy to run, I vowed to keep all my breaks to a minimum. But the damn peeing just wouldn’t stop! (Turns out several people had the same issue). Fortunately it was dark so I just squatted on the side of the trail. Even though I was mostly alone I never felt scared. My lights would create some weird shadows, however, causing me to see things there weren’t there.
I got a boost toward the end of the lap since I not only knew I’d come in under the cutoff (barely), I saw other runners who were on pace for a sub 24 finish. One guy looked rougher than me, although he was hobbling just a tad faster. He asked what time it was, and when I assured him his sub 24 was in the bag, he thanked me and picked up the pace ever so slightly. I had seen my husband several times during the race; while he had to give up his stretch goal of 20 hours, there was still a good chance he too would get sub 24. In fact, I expected him to come running up behind me any minute.
I came into Dogwood with 20 minutes to spare and stopped briefly to ditch my headlamp (there was only an hour or so of darkness left, so I just carried my handheld). I also had someone rub my left calf as it was starting to get extremely tight. Just as I was heading out at 5:45 a.m. my darling was finishing; he did it! I gave him a quick kiss and hurried off.
As runners approached I’d let them know how many minutes they had to the finish. Most were on their last lap, which meant sub 24. But one runner, a guy walking with a trekking pole with whom I’d been leapfrogging, was also finishing up his 4th lap. I assured him he too would make the cutoff, but I knew he’d be the last one. That meant I was second to last; I actually thought it’d be fun to come in DFL (dead f@#king last).
I hit the first aid station with 15 minutes to spare, and DamNation with 20. However, I still had 14 miles to go. The loop out of DamNation was about six miles; I’d have to run it in about 2:20 in order to make the second cutoff. It was getting too close for comfort, but I hoped I’d get the “horse can smell the barn” effect I often do at the end where I’m able to pick up the pace for a strong finish.
About a mile out of DamNation things went south fast. My calf started to seize up and I had to stop several times to stretch and rub it out. DNF’ing was becoming more of a reality. Here I was all alone (I wasn’t sure if Mr. Trekking Pole had made the other cutoffs), the weather had turned cold and a wind picked up. I knew things could turn ugly. I continued on, but thought about turning around as I’d hit DamNation faster. About two miles out of the aid station Mr. Trekking Pole caught up with me. When I told him what was going on he suggested I turn around. I didn’t even have to think about it; I knew the jig was up. Had I kept going it’d be four miles until I could get help. No buckle or Marathon Maniac stat was worth jeopardizing my health and safety.
It was a slow, painful hobble back, taking me almost an hour. We had been warned not to drop at DamNation since it was somewhat remote, but I knew they were getting ready to tear it down and there’d be several people who could take me back. My image of collapsing in a chair came true, but not for the right reason. Another gal had to drop there as well, and we were blubbering fools as the incredible volunteers wrapped us in blankets and got us some hot soup and cocoa. John was especially kind, taking my hand in his, assuring me I was a strong runner who made the right call.
I borrowed a cell phone and called my husband to give him the news. Yet another woman came in and dropped; we waited until one of the trucks was loaded with drop bags before we too were loaded in (by then I couldn’t put any weight on my leg). When we arrived at Dogwood Jess and another friend helped me out; since my husband was gimped up with horrid blisters he could only stand and watch, tears in his eyes seeing me in such pain.
After getting washed up at the hotel I looked down at my left shin to see some swelling. It was also extremely tender to the touch. I now think I damaged it during my fall on lap 1, and running 70+ more miles on it took its toll. While the pain is subsiding, I get an incredible cankle if I stand too long.
I have absolutely no regrets for dropping out, although I am incredibly disappointed. I’ve allowed myself a couple of tearful pity parties, but I know I’ll eventually get over it.
So, will I be back? You bet! Anyone know when registration opens for next year?