I really don’t know how I pulled off this one to run and finish the Rocky Raccoon 100. But yay, I did finish.
It was the coolest race I did. Long but top of the line race support and community. People of Texas put up an amazing race.
1. The race is noobish friendly. I picked it for this reason since I had two previous failed attempts in running the 100 and I wanted to finish this time.
a. what made it new comers friendly? The course is looped, 5 twenty mile loops, so it is a “relatively” short course, the course though has the ability to lengthen itself with each passing lap. There are three on course Aid Stations, and four if counting the start/finish. They allowed plenty places for a drop bag (each aid station is a drop bag point).
b. plenty of Aid Stations. AS is what can make or break a run. We have one about every 4-5 miles. They were superb full service aid stations. Aid stations for an ultra usually mean full supply of everything you can ask. What saved my race was a cup of coffee during the early morning and as well a hot salty cup of I don’t even know what it is, but I think it was ramen extract package mix in a cup of hot water. I drank that down thinking it was hot coco, that got me running at 3 AM in the morning. And I ran when many others were walking.
c. Drop bag. At rocky raccoon you can leave a drop bag at any aid station. So you can bring along your favorite food/drink or stuff you need at almost anywhere on the course. Or drop off stuff in the middle of a run was really helpful! My strategy was to run light! I saw some crazy people carry a huge hydration bag on their run and they could hardly move, but I decided to ditch my hydration pack and only carry a hand bottle. I ditched my bag and jacket at an aid station during the last lap, that made a difference in finishing or not finishing the race.
Dropped off that extra five pounds. I don’t know why people were still lugging around theirs on their final lap. Maybe for toilet paper — gosh the lady in front of me just pulled off her pants and pee – I turned away pretending not to see, meh. Good thing though she wasn’t carry her pack. I didn’t ask if she needed some toilet paper. Afterward she let me pass on in front. I think it was her lady friend (a pacer) needed her turn. I think her friend was a bit squirmish to drop her pants. When you gotta go, you gotta go. (I had a similar experience at the wee hours when the girls kept following doggedly behind me and I couldn’t shake them off – I waited until they passed, of course.)
d. crowd support. You never expect to have a crowd support at an ultra, at least not in a traditional sense like at a marathon since normally the course is so spread out. But this race course is small enough (like at most is 5 miles out from anywhere), there is campground in couple places. We have the huge park to ourselves – they reserved it for us this year. I tried to get a camping spot, but unfortunately unable to… due to my procastination – early bird gets the worm as they say. Anyway, you see people from time to time.
The interesting thing about this race is they allow people to set up tents, not the camping tents but those picnic three side tents along the starting/finish line on either side. So at every lap you run through this village of people/tent city and they cheered you. Runners brought their kids and family along and they set in their chairs waving and cheering even when you are half dead. I love it. Things were a bit subdue at 3 AM but there were still people there. One or two had their camping tent there though they were not allowed according to the park rules.
e. plenty of time to finish. We were giving 30 hours, plus an extra 2 for those who wanted an earlier start time. I started at 7 in the morning so I had 31 hours total. It was just about enough time for me. I finished at 28.5 hrs. I almost thought I wouldn’t make it to the finish line. Silly me – strange ideas flew through my head during a night of sleeplessness.
f. terrain and elevation. I think it has a total around 2000 ft. That seemed to be a lot for a marathon, but with ultra, it was almost flat. All of the hills were runnable. The terrain was rough in couple places – this race is known for ‘rocky’ but it was mostly due to roots and not rocks. I tripped over them a few times, but none of them were a fatal race terminating event. My friend unfortunately had to end hers at mile 40 and this was her 3rd attempt.
A 100 mile race is hard no matter how friendly and easy they made it to be. It was mostly on trail and few miles were on a dirt road (the gate portion). My experience from this race was sleep deprivation is terrible.
I was walking with my eyes opened but I could hardly counted as being awake. A few times I almost walked into a bush. I saw weird stuffs – like a bush suddenly turned into a deer and I startled myself and then it turned back into a bush. A few times I thought someone was standing in a shadow watching me. Maybe it was hallucination or maybe it was real.
I wish I had flew in a day earlier to able to sleep better before the race day. I arrived on Friday afternoon. Getting a rental, and race day supplies, and hotel, by the time I settled in it was pretty late. I was too excited to sleep until around past 2 am. I had set my alarm for 3, thinking I would head out at 4, since it is an hour drive to the race site, and I wanted to be there by 5. I had only a moment of eye close before the alarm went off. I snoozed it, then my second alarm went off. By golly it was 4 am now. I was lucky to get an extra hour in. I woke up and was fine. There was a bit of that hazy-head but I sat around a bit for the body to warm up, then I felt good enough for a shower. I ate some and was ready to head out. I arrived at 6 and the parking lot was full by then. But lucky someone pulled out and I got a spot. There were still many arriving after me. They would have to park at a remote lot that is like 3 miles away. I’m thankful I didn’t need to do so. I tell you, it still took me an hour to walk to my car after I finish the race because I was basically limping – one step and rest for five minutes and another step and rest before I made it to the car. I can’t imagine what I would do, if I had to go another 3 miles to my car.
The morning went well. Personally I prefer to have started with the 6 o’ clock crowd, but things just worked out for a 7 o’ clock start. I didn’t have to use a head lamp. Less weight, and less stumbling in the dark. Sunrise was just around 7, so the trail was visible.
My first lap was strong. I tried not to go out too fast but it was hard to control myself. I found couple great people to follow. I called the guy a bionic man because he ran like a robot at a steady mechanical pace. The three other guys behind me were just party people. They were loud and talked the whole way. Luckily I parted way with them a little after. I was with them for maybe 10 miles. The course was more gentle than I imagined (I did study the elevation profile). The terrible infamous rocky roots were not that bad. I ran on more challenging trail than this. The trails were wide and most of them were double trail. Yes it is a fast course as the organizer previously informed us.
My original intention was to bypass all the aid stations since I had my dropbag at the starting line, which is my private aid station. I figured I would be looping every few hours to allow me to get water/food/and change of clothes.
Not sure when that plan started to fall apart, whether it was the second or by the third lap, the official aid stations were pretty tempting not to bypass.
LAP 1 – I finished the first lap around 11 am. A decent time. Each subsequent laps took much longer.
LAP 2 – My goal for my second lap was to arrive back before sunset since I didn’t have the head lamp on me. I made it my goal of not carrying my hydration pack, which mean none of the basic stuffs were on me. Why carry one when everything you need is five or six miles away.
The ideal pace would be 6 hrs per lap with 30 hours for the whole 100 mile. I hope to arrive back at the starting point before 6 when it gets dark. I arrived around 4-4:30. I was two hours ahead by then.
LAP 3 – Going out for the third lap, now the sun has set. I hoped to finish it by 11. They warned us that it would be cold and we should carry a jacket. I don’t remember much after that but I did make it back before midnight. I think it was around 10 pm. Word about this is once the sun had set, the whole environment changed. You could no longer see where you are running even with a flashlight. The place was no longer recognizable. Weird isn’t it, but you get night blindness from the headlamp. The best ones for me were the dimly lit one, then you can see some shadow of trees and bushes to serve as a guide to the trail and can see a almost like in the morning. For me though, the night run became mostly stumbling in the dark. Oh you see all kinds of lighting devices people have. The most popular kind was a waist belt with a row of light. Very interesting. They lighted the whole path. I also saw a guy with christmas light wrapped on him.
What I think people were carrying so much silly stuffs were because this race had the 100km crowded. They are noobies compare to us. Of course they walked. The pro already finished theirs in the afternoon, so you only had the weird crowd at between 10 – 2 am at night trying to finish their 100km.
Lap 4. When did I start lap 4? This was probably the longest lap. I think I went out around 10 pm and hoping for 4am/5am start for my final lap. I took some food before starting. Was it a can of chicken noodle? I started feeling nausate at the time, which is normal, since the body started to shut down the digestive system on a long run — at least from what I read.
I don’t remember much of my fourth lap except yes it was cold. The whole night is cold. 40F. I knew it beforehand but I had no idea where I packed my gloves. Couldn’t find them. Luckily I had those runner jackets that have the extra long sleeves, where you can poke your thumb through on the side.
This was also the most lonely lap because by then the 100km people had left. Also the pros for the 100 miler are finishing or would be finishing. They were on their last lap and you still had two more to go. It was just depressing.
The last two laps were mostly just stumbling through. My body mostly refused to run. Did I say it was cold! I like put on everything I had on and still I was cold. I came in for my final lap an hour before sunrise. Was it at 4:30 am? It didn’t get warmer with the sun rising, I can tell you that.
Aid station was great though. They worked energetically through the night. A fellow runner I was with during the deep of the night stopped at the dam (they nicknamed the place damnation) and she told me to turn off my lamp. I was WTF, who you telling me what to do. I was like at the point of exhaustion. F* the sky. Then she kept on insisting, pointing to the sky. I was moved to tears, because it was the most spectacular night sky I saw. She remained just maybe a mile or two before running off. The moon was there too. It did give me a burst of energy to run for the next 10 miles and she also told me to ask for coffee at the Aid Station. I also didn’t know ramen and mash potato was a thing. She said it easier to slurp that way and it packs plenty of calories. This sweet angel probably saved my race because it was very tempting to quit during these late hours of the night. I didn’t bring along a pacer, but her suddenly appear and stay till I got my groove back somehow served as my needed pacer.
Lap 5. I finished the 100 miler around 11:35 the next day. It was 28.5 hours since I started. Even though when I started the last lap, it was guaranteed I would finish, like hell I had 8.5 hours to do it, no way I wouldn’t. Still there were doubts near hysteria – I was repeating in my head I can’t make it in time. Not sure why, but that was my mentality… I felt like I needed 10 hours. I was walking and unable to run. I was jealous of those who still could run. Majority though was walking and walking very slowly. Every bench I saw I wanted to sit and close my eyes, even if it was just for a few minutes would be heavenly, except it was too cold to be sitting. I know if I did, there is no way for me to get back up.
It was quite a scene there when you see a bunch of us as slow as we can get and still competing for a slight advantage because you would think everyone walks at the same pace, and I scratched my head why some could walk so fast effortlessly while at my pace I was unable to catch them. I did see a guy, he did finish, maybe an hour after me, but he was bending side way the whole time while leaning on his trekking pole. I was thinking how he could continue. He did it one step at a time. We were in various state of misery.
Any joy from the whole ordeal? Yes nothing happier than when we coming through the finishing chute. Cowbells clanking, music blasting, I attempted to run the last few steps awfully, but that was most satisfied moment. A silly fellow runner attempted to challenge me to sprint to the finish. I had nothing left in the tank. She won. It might be the same lady who asked me to look at the stars a few hours before.
I picked my buckle and did a few remaining things like locating my dropbag. I could hardly walk but I did limp to my car. Rolled down the window, wolfed down a few things I still had — F* the squirrels or raccoons for stealling all my remaining croissants that I forgot to put away. At first I was mad, thinking my fellow runners ate my food but then I saw the tell tell bite mark on the container lid. Humans don’t eat plastic. I was so straving but I was unable to keep awake much longer and soon felt into a deep sleep.
I did not know how I made it back to the hotel. When I woke up after everyone was gone. I slept maybe 3 hours in the parking lot. Somehow later, I managed that hour long drive back to Houston. I was in the dreamlike state during the whole ride, but that will be another story for another time. I should have stayed at the park for few more hours of sleep. However, I wanted that nice shower the hotel offers. I was going to go out and eat, but couldn’t will myself. Also the fear from my ride back to Houston hadn’t left me. I went to bed early and slept until the morning. I cooked myself a big meal at an god early hour at the hotel, then ate my own body weight, but still I was hungry afterward.
There is probably some feel good lesson to close this. The whole run has been pretty peaceful. I can probably point to the earlier experiences preparing me for this. I was not a complete noob to say the least. The last four years have prepared me. I know how hard it was to stay on my feet for 24+ hours. I had been through the tougher runs in Atlanta where the sun was burning hot – even at night and we had to climb a mountain at the end of the 60 mile. I had endured thirst and hungry and blisters on my foot and various runner related problems. This race in comparison is easy. You can say, if one set ones mind on it, you can accomplish anything. Hmm. Or good preparation is 90% of the work. Or if you don’t succeed, try again. For me, indeed third time the charm. Nope, those are good lessons, but I think what make this trip worth it, is just to be able to run and have the same shared experience with other runners. I feel happy about it. A runner gave me a pat on the shoulder and said nice work! That was enough, and I felt accepted into this rank — I’m now an ultra runner.