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Rocky Raccoon 50KM Race Report

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Rocky Raccoon 50KM Race Report:  11/01/14

This may not have been the most ideal day to run a race considering it’s the morning after Halloween and a day before the time changes and falls back.  I wanted to have an organized run with aid stations to see where my performance is and also work out any kinks, and pick up on a few things with trail running as I’m six weeks out form my first hundred mile race.   When I registered I didn’t even think about it being the day after Halloween so of course I took some heat from my better half.  Sunday probably would have been better but it is what it is.  I didn’t let the race change our plans and went trick-or-treating and pulled two munchkins in a wagon for a couple hours.  We enjoyed the evening with some friends over and I actually had some beer (one), sangria (one), and too many bowls of chili (four).  I got a lot of rest, more than usual Thursday night knowing the night of the race would not be enough. The night of, I went to bed after 11 p.m. and woke up at 4 a.m.  I felt fine and had my gear and everything ready to go.  Breakfast was a banana and coconut water on the ride to the race site.  It was the first time we’ve seen temperatures in the 40’s so I prepared for the cooler temps.   I had running shorts, calf sleeves, arm warmers, gloves, head wrap to cover ears, and a hat.  I arrived at Huntsville State Park around 5 a.m. and picked up my packet.   I had a few trips to the bathroom thanks to the chili, and then got a chance to warm up with some stretching.  The race began at 6 a.m.

The start of the race looped through the parking lot and then onto the trails.  I planned to take easy but there was such a big group at the front that I decided to pick up the pace and see if I could put a gap on anyone before entering the trail.  I figured if I could get far enough ahead then I could slow down and get into a rhythm and run my own race.   With it being dark enough the other runners would hopefully lose sight of me and wouldn’t know where I am.  Out of sight out of mind!  Well that didn’t work as another guy took off and started out at a 6:40ish pace.  Not the pace I had planned so I set him up pretty good to build a gap.   Three of us ran together and it was a tough course with lots of roots.  Within the first mile I rolled my ankle enough to make me wonder if running this race was the right decision.  I had a headlamp on that worked well on some early morning training runs, but it wasn’t bright enough to see well enough on these trails.  Two of us were second and third and we started to build a gap on fourth place.   Just after four miles I tripped on a root and went face first into sand.  It didn’t hurt but I was covered in it.  I quickly got up and closed the gap with second place.  I looked at my watch and realized it was beyond four miles so I took a gel as my plan is to have a gel every four miles.  The gel went down with quite a bit of sand but didn’t think too much of it.   There was an out and back section and we got to see the leader.  He was 2 minutes and 20 seconds ahead of us at mile 5 so we quickly did the math and knew he was running about 30 seconds faster per mile.   I also noticed that he didn’t have a water bottle as the other three of us each had our own.   There are a total of eight aid stations with five miles between stations two and three.  I knew he was going to have to get liquids at every aid station which would add to his time where we could skip a 2-3 stations if we wanted to.  There was a couple miles of jeep trails that I thought was pretty clear of roots and I somehow found one and went down hard.  I scraped up the left knee on this one and also managed to lose my head lamp.  It must have hit the ground hard enough that it opened up the battery cover and turned off.  I panicked for a few seconds because it was nowhere near light outside and I couldn’t see two feet in front of me without it.  I had a choice to crawl around on the ground sweeping my hands through the sand with no guarantee of quickly finding it, and not knowing if the batteries had falling out, or run with the runner that was behind me and now had caught up with me.  Second place was too far ahead so I made the decision to leave it and run on this other guy’s heels.   It got very challenging as we got back onto single track trails with the roots.   I kept about 6-8 feet behind him and had to look in front of him to see the trails.  I was looking for large roots so I could be prepared to lift my feet high enough to hopefully keep from tripping.  The problem was I didn’t know where to step because it was pitch black in front of me.  My feet and ankles were taking a beating as I was stepping on everything.  I went down again a couple more times but the guy was nice enough to make sure I was okay and would wait for me to get up.  Every time I fell my heart rate would spike about 15 bpm as my breathing would be all screwed up.  I had to focus on staying relaxed and try to get my breathing under control.  We came to the second aid station at around 8.75 miles and passed second place.  The next aid station was five miles so he stopped for water and then ran with us.  I probably could have used a refill but I wasn’t going to be left behind.   He came with us and it was much better being in the middle as I could now see my footing.  Somewhere around mile 10 there was a steep down section of the trail and one area dropped about a foot.  It happened to be at the same time I kicked a root and I went flying in the air.  I don’t know how this happened but I landed backwards on my back with my feet in the air.  Fortunately there was sand at the bottom and it cushioned the fall.  I think both guys were feeling bad for me at this point as one of them said something.  I jokingly replied this is quite the haunted trail.  It was just becoming comical to me.  I knew the sun was going to come up soon and I had to pee really badly as all the falls probably put a lot of pressure on my bladder.  I just couldn’t stop until there was enough light where I felt comfortable running alone.   The first chance I got I stopped and relieved the bladder and stretched a little bit at the same time.  I let the other two go and to my surprise they were starting to slow down.  I was back with both of them within a few minutes and decided to pass them and do some of the work up front since I had been relying on them to take the lead.  For whatever reason both of them kept running at that pace and didn’t go with me.  I noticed earlier one of the guys had what looked to me like racing flats.  I knew if my feet were hurting wearing Hoka’s that his feet had to be killing him so maybe he wasn’t all that comfortable either.  I started putting some distance between us until I approached a section of the trail that split and went three different directions.  Every turn leading up to this had a sign with an arrow and ribbons along the race course.  Both trails had ribbons and I was really confused.  It was ribbon for about 50 feet and then it stopped.  I thought I was on the wrong trail so I turned back and the other guys had caught up.  I lost four minutes as we went on the other trail and then turned around because those ribbons stopped as well.  None of us remembered seeing any other trails or signs leading up to this point so we decided to just go straight.  It was mile 12 so I knew we should only be ¾ of a mile away from the next aid station.   Again the guys didn’t come with me so I made it to the aid station about 40 seconds ahead of them.   The volunteers told me I was in first place which I was shocked and figured that the first place runner took the wrong turn.  I told them it was very confusing ¾ of a mile back and that we almost got off course and others will most likely do the same.   As I came around to the starting line to complete my first loop (didn’t know it was a two loop course…ha!) I quickly refilled my bottle and went back out the same direction to do another loop.  One of the guys shouted that I was second place.  I then realized the first place guy missed about a mile and half of the first loop.  My time for the first loop was 1:59 and not knowing at the time his was 1:43.  I was now ahead of third place by two minutes and fourth place by three minutes.  I changed my watch screen to display only my heart rate and I ran the second loop just paying attention to heart rate.  I didn’t want to get caught up into running a certain pace and knew I would be better off finishing stronger if I paid attention to heart rate and not let it get into the high 160’s.  At the next out and back section of the jeep trails, first place and I crossed paths and my overall time was 2:20.  He looked really strong and I didn’t make it to the turnaround point until 2:26 so knew he was 12 minutes ahead with 11 miles to go.  I thought no way am I’m going to make up that much time on this guy so I kept running my own race and figured I would try to build a solid lead on second place.   I passed third place and was now four minutes ahead of him, and six minutes ahead of fourth place.  My hamstrings were getting really tight and I had to stop to stretch to hopefully loosen them up.  I’m sure it was helping but it didn’t feel like it.  When I approached a self-serve aid station, which was just after where I fell on the first loop and lost my headlamp, I asked the volunteer if anyone turned one in.  He said he had two and I noticed one was mine.  I put it back on my head and was glad I found it so I could retire it from future trail races.  It’s good for running on the street but that’s about it.   There was another seven miles of single track trails and it was really pounding my legs.  I would stop often to try and stretch and also mash my fist into my hamstring as well as glutes to hopefully get them to fire.  My pace was low 7’s for one mile and then upper 7’s to low 8’s for the next.   I was still running by heart rate and kept taking fluids and gels every four miles.  I felt comfortable and never pushed it too much as I didn’t want to do more damage to the legs in hopes of being able to recover from this race in a week.  I made it to the last aid station which is mile 28 and there he was.   The first place runner was leaving the aid station and we both made eye contact.  He looked in control but I couldn’t believe I just made up 12 minutes in eight miles.  All these thoughts went through my head in a matter of seconds as I’m trying to figure out what challenges he could have possibly be dealing with.  Did he have some bad GI issues and had to go to the bathroom, did he bonk because he didn’t have a bottle with him and maybe not enough hydration or nutrition, or did he know he cut the course short on the first loop and decided to wait for me to catch up and make it a race to the finish.   My bottle was getting very low on water and I was planning to refill it there but didn’t think twice about stopping.  I immediately took out a gel as I had some water left and new I needed to get one in before I was completely out of water.  Within seconds I was on him and went by him showing no pain.  As I went by he said you got this.  I was thinking there is no way he is going to let me go without a fight.   I figured it’s unlikely he could run a 6:40 pace as that is what he started the race at and apparently had slowed down, but you never know what people have left in the last couple miles.  I just went as fast as I could without completely blowing up and allowed my heart rate to climb into the mid 170’s.  I was already uncomfortable with the tight hamstrings so why not pick up the pace and get it over with sooner.  My last three miles were 7:06, 6:42, and 5:43.  In the last three miles I put an 8-10 minute gap on second place.  It was the greatest feeling of satisfaction crossing the finish line in first knowing I had to work hard and adapt to a bunch of changing circumstances.  At today’s effort I definitely could not have continued another 69 miles so there is a high probability that I will control my pace at the hundred miler so I can make it to the finish line in one piece.

Official Time:  3:50?

Place: 1st Overall

Attire:  Hoka Clifton’s, Nike running shorts, Klean Athlete tech shirt, Nike arm sleeves, Salomon EXO calf sleeves, cotton gloves.

Fuel:  Banana and PowerGel before race with coconut water, PowerGel every 3.75-4 miles with Gatorade or water,  Klean Recovery and Klean Protein after race.

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