Rocky Raccoon--60% for me--Better for everyone else :-)
Getting to Rocky Raccoon this year was a lot easier than last year. We didn't have to fight drifting snow, and then ice for 11 hours like we did last year. But watching the weather forecast for the race was just as frightening. The chance of rain danced between 80% to 95%, and faded to 30% for later on in the race. Come race day morning, they were calling for flash flood warnings. But more on that later.
We made it to Huntsville in great time. This was possibly the earliest I have ever been to packet pickup in an event. They were just setting up, and as Kathy, Charlotte, Russell, Stormy, and I strolled in to the race headquarters, they were just setting up. They did let us get our goody bags despite being 30 minutes before the official opening time. This sign gets every one's attention on the way into Huntsville State Park. It's true, too. I ran here once in a warmer part of the year, and a portion of the trail was closed due to a mama gator claiming a area near the trail for her eggs. Russell took a lot of pictures and actually took his camera with him on his second loop. I left mine in the car, afraid that the rain would eventually get to it if I took it--even in a Ziploc. So, I am in debt to Russell for about half of the pictures in this post. Here, he captures a shot of three optimistic 100 milers. I caught Kathy and Stormy goofing around. Kathy is going for her 11th 100 mile finish, with Stormy eyeing his 3rd. I was going for #11 too, with Charlotte gunning for her 2nd. Russell, probably the smartest of our bunch, was doing the 50 miler. Funny stuff. There was a moment while ALL of us were goofing with our iPhones taking pictures. What a bunch of tourists!! I visited briefly with blogging buddy Derek Westbrook. Derek was seeking revenge on RR after not making it to the finish here last year. I saw Derek several times during the race on the out-and-back sections. He always had words of encouragement for me, which was appreciated. I just looked at the results, and did not see Derek listed as a finisher. :-( So sorry, Derek--I know how you must feel. Kathy showing off bling for the one mile fun run. There were 13 starters, and a 100% finish rate for this event. We should have done IT. This grouping of tents was the Dogwood aid station at the start/finish. A 100 mile finisher would start here, and visit it five more times. Race day morning. The weatherman was right. Putting the Doppler in motion, this line was moving from the south west to the north east, insuring a long wet day, or so it seemed. It was thundering, lightning, and pouring!! All the 100 milers were trying to cram inside the gigantic tent which served as the Dogwood aid station at the start/finish. Just outside the tent was an acre of drop bags. Most of the runners had gear stashed here. Waterproof bags were recommended. Charlotte had huge Rubbermaid containers, which was an intelligent choice. I had a canvas bag I got from Mother Road 100, and although I had a lot of stuff in Ziploc bags, most of my dry clothes were saturated. Fortunately, that was never a factor in the outcome of my race. That's Kathy, sporting her "Where's Waldo" costume.
The next several pictures are Russell's. Russell and the 50 milers started an hour later, whereas the 100 milers starter at 6:00 am in the dark. The bad weather had slackened up to a nice steady but light rain. It was actually nice. A half mile in, we hit our first big mud puddle, and it jammed things up like a Tulsa rush hour. Everyone was trying to step around the mud, into the thicket, where stickers, gators, and softer mud beneath the pine needles lay in waiting. I tiptoed around with the masses, and still submerged my left show, said the hell with it, and plowed right through the big fat middle of the mud pool. Got it over with! Most of the miles were like this. Wet, soft in places, but runnable. Rocky Raccoon is anything BUT rocky. There are legendary roots that will jar your spine if you kick them in the middle of a night slumbering shuffle. Rocky Raccoon is known for miles of fairly flat (REALLY!) trailz blanketed with pine needles, decorated with roots, and highlighted by wooden bridges. These wooden bridges get you across the boggy areas, but this year, there were a few miles of swamp mud that were bridgeless. YIKES!! Imagine this--but without the bridge. Well, actually there were no deep water crossings, but ankle deep mud was the flavor of the day. Rocky Raccoon is also famous for GREAT aid stations. The Nature Center aid stop (about mile 3) was manned by friends Josue and Paula Stevens. Sorry, no pix, but it was good seeing them. Josue made me a coffee on my 3rd loop, and it was AWESOME!! (I really needed the caffeine.) The aid station pictured above was Dam Nation. This oasis we hit twice, at mile 6.5 and mile 12.5. It was a non-stop party here. Any ultra could take lessons on aid station-ese from the NTTR folks. Notice the guy in the back with the white hat and the red apron? That's John Morelock, also known as John M from the Runner's World Forums. He also writes for UltraRunning Magazine. He's a very talented writer, and a wealth of knowledge about trayul running (his spelling.) He sees the spiritual side of the trailz (my spelling.) It was an honor to meet him. More mud. This is what I'm talking about!! It actually stopped raining about two hours into our run, and we saw no more precip for the rest of our race. But the damage was done. The muddy sections were just that, and even though this course seems to dry out fairly well, the bogs were whipped up by 750 runners passing repeatedly over them. The bad spots seemed to get worse with every lap. Doing the detour thing actually was little help, as you often got into softer non-packed dirt/mud. I did overhear someone ask if that detouring would count as volunteer trail work for Western States.
Charlotte and I stayed together, or at least close for the first two laps. As the sun began to set low in the west, Charlotte stayed closer--seems she isn't really all that thrilled about running alone in the dark. That was just fine with me.
We began our third lap knowing it would be slower. Fatigue was beating me down, the mud put the brakes on whatever pace I had, and my knee was beginning to seem ever so slightly sore--not so much as to stop me from going on, but it had me thinking. I SURE did not want to kick one of those monstrous roots with my left foot!! So, we walked. 20 miles. By the end of the loop, over seven hours later, I was done. We needed to finish the next loop in five hours to even make the cutoff--and that was not happening. We were through.
Meanwhile, Russell finished his 50 miles in grand fashion.Russell had told me he thought he could run it in 15 hours, and I assured him he could do better than that. !3 hours seemed like an easy enough goal for him, but he was unsure. In these muddy conditions, Russell conquered 50 miles--his first--in 12:44:25.
When Charlotte and I called in a day night, we thought we'd find Russell and the three of us would go get a room, shower, sleep, and then come back to see Kathy and Stormy finish. But Russell, not knowing we were gonna drop, had already left, and was cleaned up and tucked in--sound asleep. It took a little doing to get the clerk at LaQuinta Inn to answer the darn phone, and then to ring Russell's room. Kathy had rented the room, and it was in her name, so it was a bit confusing to this night-desk-person.
I played my cards like this: "Hey Russell--Congratulations!"
Russell: "(yaawwnnn) Thanks zzzzzzzzz"
Me: Hey, buddy---well, we need a huge favor..."
Russell: " (silence) "
Me: "Ummmm we had to drop, and we were just ummmm kinda wondering....if you could come get us???"
Russell: " zzzzzzz "
Me: 'You were sound asleep, weren't you?
Russell: " zzzzz snort...Oh, no, I had just laid down."
Me: (feeling a bit bad, but also a bit cold) "Hey man, I'm sorry. it's just that all my clothes are wet..."
Russell: "No, it's alright. I'll be there."
Me: (hoping he was actually awake) "Hey, man, I owe ya big time! (And I do--I need to buy him dinner, a 30 pack of good beer, or comp him into a race--SOMETHING!!
He was there soon enough. I added a couple of damp layers, and huddled up in a chair in the big tent, while Charlotte had a wonderful aid station volunteer remove her shoes and socks, clean her feet, and help her get dry socks and shoes on. (Remember--she had big Rubbermaid containers for drop bags.) When she got out of the chair, her IT band seized up, and she almost had to be carried to the car.
We got hot showers, and I slept like a log for about three hours, and then Russell and I came back to see Kathy and Stormy come in. While waiting, I ambled around. It actually felt better standing and walking than sitting. I took a few pictures, and briefly thought about hunting some geocaches, but thought better about that idea. We were not exactly sure when they would be coming in, but by doing the math, it seemed like they should be there any time. I saw my friend Jason "Mike" Thomas finish. He notched another 100 mile finish on his belt. He seemed in good spirits, but glad to be through.
Just after that, Kathy showed up--but not across the finish line. My heart dropped, as she told us she had been pulled at mile 83. She had went 20 miles without eating and drinking, due to nausea. (Been there, done that!) Then, she had an asthma attack, and they pulled her from the race.She had spent the last few hours in the medical tent sleeping. That had to hurt, being a mere 17 miles (but a looooong 17 miles) from the finish. Jason and Kathy---and just one medal between them. I hate DNFs. Even when it's Kathy!! Another picture across the lake.
Then, the man approached the finish line. Kathy ran out to meet him for the last 100 yards. Stormy had really gutted out the last several miles--walking a lot, and dragging his bum foot. This makes his 3rd finish, and according to him, the hardest one so far. He had his foot and ankle taped up, and I swear it looked like the foot of a corpse. He was fun to watch (in a sadistic sort of way.) But he took home a buckle.
This race beat me up bigtime. Things learned--even a slight injury can be a problem over 60 miles. Mud sucks when you run like a duck. And never underestimate the importance of training.