Rocky Raccoon 100 in Huntsville TX was the longest, most miserable 28 hours of my life and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. So many lessons learned on a personal level as well as a coaching level. The highs and lows of life in one day.
RR100 was my 3rd 100 miler. My other two races were at Tunnel Hill, where I ran a 22:30 and a 19:30. I wanted to run TH100 again this year, but Josh challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and tackle an actual trail. I’ve done several trail 50k’s, 50m, and one 100k- but this 100 really intimidated me, even though the elevation was relatively low. Trail running is a whole different ballgame. Training specificity is key, and running trails can be so contingent on weather and time. I went into this race knowing it would be my longest “time on feet” attempt.
Josh and I ran this race together. Our goal was 24 hours, with a secondary goal of finishing before the cutoff to get our Western States lottery ticket.
Race day weather was perfect. Lows in the 50s, highs in the 60s, humid and overcast. It had rained quite a bit mid week, and on the race course (which was a 25 mile series of out and backs ×4) and there were about 20 huge shoe sucking mud pits with standing water. Most were unavoidable. You could tiptoe all you wanted, but your feet were gonna get wet.
I did my usual precautions before the race. Bodyglide, preemptive taping, and a plan of attack for shoe and sock changes. I know that I’m succeptable to blistering on trails, so I wanted to head it off the best I could.
Our plan of attack as far as pacing, stupid easy (as I say). We learned the trails, talked to a lot of people, stayed quick through aid stations, and enjoyed the weather. My feet got wet very early, and I could feel some damage that I needed to address at our drop bags at mile 25. I taped my big toes, both which already had blood blisters between, and reapplied some lube. I also put dry socks on, knowing they’d get wet again very quickly. Other than that, loop 1 was executed as planned with a lap time of 5:30. Lap 2 was more of the same, stupid slow, boringly easy, 5:30 split, more blisters, more tape, more lube, sock and shoe change, knowing they would get wet again.
Josh and I made the decision when we registered for this race last year that we would not have a crew because of the travel logistics. We still had some familiar faces at the race though. Local runners John Wright and Michelle Bischof were tackling the 100. Compass athletes Jeremy and Erin Couch came down to crew for Michelle, and Jessica Partin for John. It was nice to have some hometown support!
JEREMY, ERIN, JESSICA, & JOHN
I hit the 100k mark in good spirits. We were both managing fluids, salt, and calories well (mostly in the form of coke & ramen noodles…). That’s when a switch was flipped. My. Feet. Hurt. Every time I stepped on a root, rock, or moved my foot out of a back and forth running gait, it would put pressure on the blisters. Some popped when this happened, just to give room for another one to form. Treating them wasn’t doing any good. The fluid from the blisters and wetness from trails just slid tape off and caused it to cut into my skin. There were a few sections on the course with powder fine sand that kept seeping into my shoes, and it kept grinding into the wounds on my feet.
AID STATION DRINKS (yes…that is a bottle full of coke 🙂 & SNACKS ARE THE BEST
At around mile 64, I started really struggling. I couldn’t tell if the pain was mental, if I was being a baby, or if it was truly pain pain. I began beating myself up for stressing about it and questioning if I was just looking for excuses. It became too painful to run though, and Josh encouraged me to just keep moving the best I could. Lap 3 was really slow- the second half mostly walking. 7 hour split, but still keeping sub 24 finish within reach.
SO. MUCH. WALKING.
Josh ran ahead of me to our drop bags so he could prepare to assess the damage. I finally made it to mile 75, feeling pain in every step for about 4 hours at this point. Josh took my shoes off and cleaned them up. They were total garbage. Blisters between all of my toes, on the sides, balls of my feet and heels. He did the best he could, even threw duct tape at it. I was miserable. I knew that if I started my 4th lap, most likely I would have to walk the whole thing- and that would be another 10 excruciating hours on my feet. I put Josh in a tough spot. As my coach, seeing my feet and knowing how much pain I was in, I knew he would agree with my decision to drop. Knowing me personally, he knew that I could tough it out, and that he should make me. I’m not a quitter, and he didn’t let me quit. He told me that my feet were already f*****d, they would hurt regardless, so I can have f*****d up feet and a DNF, or f*****d up feet and finish. This got me headed out, against my will, onto loop 4.
1. My strength is my mental game. This race pulled a complete 180 on me. My physical pain didn’t allow room for me to pull out my mental bag o tricks. The physical element was screaming at me, not giving me room for any of my mental cues. Every step hurt, and all I could think about was every step hurting. I couldn’t pep talk myself into every step not hurting because it did.
2. Josh is a complete and total badass. He did everything he could for me. Popped blisters, made sure I was eating and drinking, carried a pack so I didn’t have to, kept me moving. The perfect mix of sympathy and bluntness. He backed off when he sensed he needed to, took the lead when he knew I was struggling, and never once complained. He stayed positive and confident in me for 28 hours. Keep in mind, he logged 100 miles as well. This wasn’t pacer/crew duty- this was during his 100 miler.
3. I let my pride go. I finished this race 4 hours behind plan. I walked for 40 miles. I met the back of the pack racers, and I have a whole new understanding for their grit and determination. Walking the last 40 of a 100 was hard. 28 hours. Hard. Way harder than running sub 24, sub 20. These people fight like crazy to get to that finish, watching their second sunrise, seeing the aid stations diminish, losing crowd support, knowing that their finish times are double that of the winners and won’t warrant respect in any award categories. At the late miles, the zombie walks kick in, the spirit is broken, the exhaustion and pain rears, and yet they press on. We press on. Josh pushed me into that 4th lap, but these people gave me the inspiration to keep going. Absolutely amazing and unbelievably inspiring. I have so much admiration for them.
4. This is my proudest race. I had to fight harder and longer than anything else I’ve ever done. It took a nurse at the finish line fixing my feet telling me that she can’t believe I got through this race in the shape I was in, to understand that I didn’t fail. It took Josh telling me for 40 miles that all we needed to do was finish, that finish times offer zero indicators on what goes on during a race. Close to half of the 100 mile starters did not complete this race. Most reports indicated that “trench foot” from the wet and muddy trails were the main reason. My training was on point- the rest of my body held up better that I expected. Josh “walked” away (thanks to me, haha) with practically no wear and tear from this venture. Pretty good indicator of his fitness as well. He would’ve finished strong at this event had he been left to his own devices.
POST RACE “PROFESSIONAL” FOOT TREATMENT
This write up isn’t a justification on why our time was slow. It’s a reflection on what I learned, which is why I wouldn’t change a thing. Perfectly executed races are great- don’t get me wrong, but you grow from your struggles even more so than your successes. Embrace the suck, and always look for the gift. I am better because of this, and hope I can translate this into better coaching for our clients.
We will be revisiting this literature…
FINISH LINE PHOT0… 28 HOURS LATER