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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Rocky Raccoon 100 - because racing 1 ultra a month is just not enough... :)

Here's to another one. Photo Cred: Calum Neff
Last Saturday I completed my lucky #13 ultra, the Rocky Raccoon 100, in Huntsville, Tx just 3 short weeks after the Bandera 100K.  This race also marked my 3rd completed 100 miler, a distance that I have learned to admire, respect, and hope to one day master.  Thankfully unlike Bandera, we lucked out with perfect race day weather - mild and dry!

As we lined up at the start I found my teammate Matt Zmolek, and knew I'd be in good shape for the first of five 20 mile loops as he's great company until I tell him to stop letting me slow him down! The loop starts with nearly immediate double track, wide enough to get around people; but not wide enough to not feel crowded. I tried hard to run comfortable, but maybe a little quick to secure a spot where I could run a safe distance behind the person in front of me without ensuring a tumble if they caught a one of the many roots.  This navigation of people and roots occupied most of first 5 miles or so.  Somewhere around mile 4 or 5 Matt and I were able to get enough distance around us to really  run free and start enjoying the crisp, but not cold, morning.

At exactly the 10K point we ran through the DamNation aid station and we seemed to be clicking along right around 10 minute pace.  Perfect.  After DamNation the course takes you on the longest segment without an aid station, a 6 mile loop with the only "big" hill on the course.  This is my favorite part of the course.  It's terrain is pretty similar to the rest of the course, rolling hills and roots; but the hills and roots are perhaps a little bit better spaced as for whatever reason, it's a little more runnable than the rest of the very runnable course.  Also, when you get back to DamNation, you are over half way through the loop.

Upon returning to DamNation, I realized I hadn't been eating much, so I started making my way through my rations as we proceeded along the trail.  Matt and I were running very comfortably, and in the cool air I simply hadn't noticed. OOPS! Somewhere along this segment, I happened to check my watch to see where our splits were and realized that I probably shouldn't be clicking off sub 9 minute miles, no matter HOW GOOD they felt at the time.  So when we got to Park Road aid station, I told Matt to have a great race, and stayed at the station a minute or two longer than him to ensure I didn't try to catch him again, a nasty old road racing habit of mine that has taken a long time to die - I ALWAYS try to catch people running in front of me.

Park Road became my favorite aid station stop of the day.  Maybe it was because I'd see fellow Team TROT runner Cal Neff, and TROT owner Rob Goyen and fellow Houston Area Trail Runner Jose out there all day; or maybe it was because it was a giant party all day.  Either way, it was a fun little pit stop.

The segment between Park Road and the loop start/finish is another really enjoyable segment.  More of the same rolling hills, and the last 2.5 miles are the same as the first 2.5 miles of the course so it's a good chance to see where you are, and get a glimpse of the unicorns up front running sub 15 and 16 hour 100 mile times. Eventually, I came out of the woods, and crossed the road into the S/F chute. 1 lap down in 3:19 - almost exactly 10 minute pace.  Not too shabby.
20 miles down - photo cred: Jeff Ball
Thanks to my fantastic  crew of Team TROT runners and HATRs, I was in and out quickly and off onto lap 2.  My NASCAR style pit-stop made me realize again how lucky I am to be part of such a phenomenal running community.  Seeing them after the end of my first loop was actually the first time I had ever met Team TROT members Tracie Akerhielm and Jeff Ball.  Fellow HATR Mark Kenney was also there to help out.

Lap 2 went pretty similar to lap 1.  I felt good and was still clicking along at a decent pace.  The only hiccup was the catch up eating I had done, had well, caught up and I was a bit overloaded for the first half of the loop.  I took the volunteers advice and stuck to ginger-ale only, and by mile 32.2, I was back to feeling just about normal.  I would be a bit more conscious about how much I was eating the rest of the day though, and this little hiccup probably hurt me a bit later on when I didn't have the energy stores from steadily fueling all day. In fact from mile 15.7 to 35.7 the only calories I took were gingerale, 1 orange slice, and 1 hammer gel. But as Cal can attest, when I reached Park Road at mile 35.7, I was ready to get my calories back up and at least attempt to keep my energy levels back in check. I downed some stir-fried ramen, and was on my way.
Bacon grease stir-fried ramen. Don't judge me.
Photo Cred: Calum Neff
I finished the second loop in 3:32.  About where I expected to be, a little slower than loop 1; but still nice and steady.  The miles started to hit me a little as I headed out for loop 3. I still felt great; but I could feel the tiredness setting in.  I tried to keep fueling, keep moving, and started taking in a little bit of caffeine to get the extra pep.  I kept moving pretty well this lap and crossed the 50mile mark around 8:52 or so, and finished the lap in 3:53.  Upon reaching mile 60, I knew I didn't have another sub 4 hour loop in me; but hoped I still had about a 4:20-4:30 hour lap in me.

Another lap bites the dust. Photo cred: Jeff Ball
The lap started out pretty fantastic, with Tracie as my safety runner I was able to click through the 100K mark in 11:15 - a PR of about 1hr.  We continued on at a pretty decent rate until about 66 miles, and then I got tired.  REALLY tired.  The rest of the lap was a bit of a struggle.  I wanted to be moving faster; but was having a very hard time doing so, and the roots had grown to colossal heights, as had those small gently rolling hills from earlier in the day.   Eventually, we got through the loop about 40 minutes slower than planned (just over 5 hours); but still with plenty of time to spare to hit a big PR.

When I arrived at mile 80, Daniel my gracious impromptu pacer from Brazos Bend was ready to go.  After a few minutes of chair sitting, and being waited on (THANK YOU!) I was off for lap 5.
I should probably take a minute here to thank and apologize to everyone that helped me on Saturday - you all really help me to achieve my best, and patiently deal with me in my not so proud moments of barking orders and whining. So thank you, thank you, thank you.  And PLEASE give me the opportunity to support you in your ultra endeavors I'd love to crew and pace you all at some point.

Lap 5 sucked.  But so it goes.  I did my best to run what I could, and power hike the rest (most of the loop).  I think it's evident that I still have a lot to learn when it comes to running 100 mile races; but this one went the best so far.  At no point did I want to quit, or did it seem impossible - even if I did have bouts of being deliriously sad or tired late in the night.  I got small lifts from the aid-stations, and from seeing Jeremy and Rob at DamNation. I also got to for a few small minutes take in the beauty of the tall pines as I convinced Daniel to let me take lie down for a few minutes at mile 85. :)

At 22:35, we made it back around and I crossed the finish line.  A full hour and 48 minutes earlier than I had at Brazos Bend only 7 weeks earlier. True, the last 60K took me every bit as long as the first 100K. But I made some great improvements over a season that started with a DNF at Cactus Rose and ended with a sub-24 and huge PR at Rocky Raccoon as well as a USATF medal for 7th female in the USATF 100 Mile National Championship.  Can't be disappointed with that! And I have a list of things that I could have done slightly differently that would have maybe improved my time - so I'll be ready to head into my next hundo with an even better plan of attack.
Rocky Buckle and USATF National Championship Bling.
Time to rest up a little bit and start training for spring.  Next up, a few shorter races to get some leg speed back at the San Felipe Shootout a 5K, 10K, and 1/2 marathon triple event in 1 morning.

Thanks to Hammer Nutrition for fueling me with several Gels and Perpetuem and Heed along the Way.  Also thanks to EPIC bars for the delicious Lamb bar that was my unofficial breakfast. And Feetures Elite Merino wool that kept my feet dry all day.

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