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Rocky Raccoon 50-Mile Trail Run - RunUltra Marathon

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Huntsville, Texas
United States
Rocky Raccoon Trail Run
77F / 25C
Total Time = 9h 51m 33s
Overall Rank = 48/197
Age Group = M50+
Age Group Rank = 9/27
Pre-race routine:

First some background...

I was surfing around the race calendars one night and I've never done a trail run, so I signed up for this event just a few days prior; no special training or preparation. Coming off of a successful Houston Marathon (BQ'd) 3 weeks earlier; I had a solid run base, had recovered for the most part, and figured this would be as good a chance as any to run in an ultra event.

50 miles has always had a special allure. In the Boy Scouts we got a prestigous award for completing a 50-mile hike or canoe trip over a five day period and it was a big deal. According to Teddy Roosevelt; fit Marines should be able to march 50 miles in 20 hours and this was revived again during the fitness craze of the 60's when Kennedy was president. And me being 50 years old, just made 50 the magic number.

So I went to REI and bought a trail running waist belt w/water bottle on clearance for $9.83 and some Injinji socks. These are the socks with "toes" in them and I had read good reviews about them. Since I had blister problems at the Marathon, I thought I'd give 'em a try.

No special trail shoes, I'd just wear my road trainers. They only have ~200 miles on them and still pretty solid, and they'd have to do. I did a couple of practice runs with the socks and belt (nothing new on race day, ya know), and declared myself good to go.

Race Weekend...

I live only 62 miles from the park, so I drove up on Friday afternoon and camped (slept in the back of the truck) for the night. I would be by myself this race; no wife or support crew.

I attended the pre-race briefing and standard-issue pasta dinner afterward. It was interesting hanging out with this crowd. Ultra-running has its own fraternity and most of these people, even though they come from all over the country, know each other and have been doing this stuff for years. I'm a triathlete and this was my first trail run, so I was definitely a little out of place.

I coincidentally sat down at a table of trail running club members who had come down from Dallas to staff one of the aid stations (Dam Road). It was probably a bit late for any secret advice or tips, since I already had my "plan", but it was cool talking with them and hearing some of their war stories. I thanked them for volunteering and said I'd see them tomorrow on the trail.

Went back to my campsite and organized all my clothes, gear, food items, and drop bag for an easy start in the morning. Slept OK given the conditions and different bed. Only got awakened once by late-night partiers (I'm always cursed with noisy camp neighbors).

Race Day...

The 100-mile runners started at 6:00, and us 50-milers would start at 7:00, so I set the alarm for 5:45 and there would be plenty of time to get ready. As I was driving over to the start area to get a close parking spot, I could see the headlamps of the 100-milers bobbing through the woods in the dark.

Ate my typical pre-race breakfast of protein bar, Clif bar and drank a Power Edge.
Event warmup:

The next part is gross and I'll spare the major details (your imagination can fill in the blanks), but it was a part of my race experience, and we've all been there; portacans.

It was pitch dark when I sat down. When it was time to finish up, I was a mess. The more I cleaned, the worse "it" got. "It" was everywhere. I had unknowingly came in after someone who hovers above and aims poorly. I did the best I could and got the heck out of there. Good thing I'm hardcore, but even hardcore only goes so far. "It" would pester me throughout the day.

I had a small pack with extra gels, cell phone, and camera, plus shoes, socks, and shirt to change into after the race. I travel very light. I dropped the bag at the check-in table and milled around the start.
  • 9h 51m 33s
  • 50 miles
  • 11m 50s  min/mile

After signing up for the run, I had to come up with some sort of goal to act as a benchmark and develop a plan. Using my standard method of managing big problems by breaking them into smaller ones I went to work.

I had no formal trail-running experience or expectations, but after crunching some numbers: (3) loops of 16.67 miles at 3 hours per loop (10:45 pace) would yield a 9-hour race. According to the previous 2 years' results, 9 hours would be very competitive in the masters (50+) division. Hey, it was something to shoot for.

I knew it was going to be a very warm day in the high 70s and keeping well hydrated would be a major requirement. The aid stations were 3-4 miles apart and stocked with a variety of goodies; fruits, salty & sweet snacks, PB&J sandwiches, water, G-ade, coke, etc., etc. Keeping it simple; the plan was to carry 3 gels per loop, to be eaten 1 per hour plus 2 Salt Stick capsules, drink my 20oz bottle in between stations and live off the course by pigging out at every station, every time.

The other key to success would be to run conservatively at the start, have some fun and just let the day happen.

Loop 1:
Someone counted down from 10 and said "Go" and off we went. Plenty of daylight now so seeing the trail was no problem. It was a little bit crowded with ~200 runners finding their place in line and on the trail. Really had to resist the urge to speed up a lot to get clear. Be patient; there'll be plenty of time.

I mentally prepared for this by getting used to the concept that if EVERYTHING went well, I would be running 9-10 hours; if it went badly, it would be longer, lots longer. Deal with it. Don't even let your mind wander beyond the next, well, how about THAT root, and THAT one, and THAT one.

Wow, you couldn't let your focus be distacted for more than a second. Long sections of the trail, beaten down by time and a million foot-strikes were covered in exposed roots. The uphills and downhills were like stair steps, but totally random without uniformity. You had to pick your line and plan 3 steps ahead, and do it over and over while passing and being passed by other runners, coming and going.

It was fun for now and my boulder-hopping days and mountaineering experience from a former life served me well, but there would be little fun 6 hours from now. In fact, that was one of my other secret goals; not trip and fall during the entire run.

After the runners spaced out, it was neat just enjoying the woods, the morning was still cool and the wind was strong enough to blow through the thick trees. There were some clear, smooth sections of trail that you could relax on, but they didn't last very long.

The aid stations were great. The volunteers were trail-runners and worked hard at getting you through there. I would hand someone my bottle and say "water" and they filled it while I stood at the table eating orange slices, pretzels, chips, and PB&J sandwich sections while downing cups of coke and G-ade. I'd grab a couple of banana pieces for the trail, my bottle and go. This was repeated at each station.

Forced myself not to look at my watch. Why bother? Will the day be any shorter? The miles any easier? Just run, and other than the hourly gels and caps, just let time happen on its own.

Even though I had "studied" the course map, the trails didn't make any sense; just follow the other runners and the signs, and watch out for roots.

Soon enough, I was back at the Dog Wood station and the start/finish. The time for Loop 1 was 2:35, I was 25 minutes under budget. Awesome and I felt great, but I wasn't deceived.

A volunteer had already grabbed my pack and brought it to me. 3 more gels, a quick, 5-second phone call to my wife with an update, a full water bottle, and I'm out the door.

Loop 2:
It's starting to get very warm now, but the trail is shaded and the wind keeps it tolerable. Still saw some runners who had worn long sleeve shirts and jackets having to carry them or suffer.

By now there are runners all over the place, the 100-milers are fully mixed in with the 50-milers and everybody was heading to and fro. The trails were open to public use, so there were hikers, backpackers, and to make things even more interesting, mountain bikers in packs of 3 to 4 could show up at anytime. Everybody played nice, but you could hardly relax.

Relax is what I did during a "smooth" section and BOOM!, I was on my hands and knees. A toe had caught a stubby root just right and I was down on the deck with no time to react. Fortunately, it was smooth and I didn't crash a knee into another root or rock and both wrists buzzed for a while, but no lingering pains. One goal blown. Whew, that could've been bad.

Runners were friendly and there was a chance or two at some chit-chat. The M-dot tat got some more responses; I passed through one group and someone hollered, "Go IronMan!". Another time, a guy was passing me and said, "I don't remember my IM being this hard, how was yours?". Though there was some talk, most people were quietly toiling away; doing what they had to and keep pressing on.

By now I'm somewhere in the 22-24 mile range and approaching that mythical 26.2 barrier, a point beyond which I'd never run. Today it would be meaningless. Up until now, other than the aid stations and a few really steep and rooted portions, I'd run the entire way. But now I was walking an extra 50 yards coming out of an aid station, taking the hills a little slower and catching some rest. I was starting the process of slowly wearing down.

I knew it would come, I knew I couldn't run a continuous 50 miles, at some point I was going to have to walk. I HATE walking. I hate the idea of walking. I hate the idea that I'm not strong enough to run the entire distance. But the reality is I can't run the whole thing and it's no crime to walk. Other than the very best athletes, and there are some good ones here, everybody walks at some point.

Because it is so easy to walk, the mental part has to kick in to tell yourself to get started running again. Once I got running again, everything was alright. So a few walk breaks on the hard sections, taking it a little slower at the aid station allowed my body to recover a little. But a walk break here, a walk break there; it starts to add up.

I hit another root and almost went down. I was able to recover and maintain my stride, just barely avoiding a fall. A woman behind me, yelled out: "Great save!" A runner going downhill while I went up got just past me when he went down hard. It sounded bad, but I couldn't turn around. That's just the way it was.

Coming back into Dog Wood start/finish I was 6:05. Even though I was only 5 minutes over budget, Loop 2 had taken me 3:30. Another quick phone call, reload the gels, start running again. The cheering folks lining the course in this area were really great.

Loop 3:
33.33 miles down and only 16.67 to go. Don't even think about it. There comes a point in every race, whether it's the local 5K or an IronMan, when your mind basically asks: "How much longer?" I was doing a good job ignoring that question. Just wouldn't entertain the thought; dwelling on that answer will sap your mental energy if you allow it. In the meantime, I had a race to run.

About 2 miles into the loop I got a big sensation and worry that I had taken a wrong turn. I didn't "remember" the trail looking like this before. Other than falling, my biggest fear was a wrong turn that would get me DQ'd or cost me wasted miles. I stopped to let a following group catch up and asked them if we were on the right trail. My question got them to thinking a minute, but then they said we were good. That's a relief.

I was still running at a decent pace in the flats and open areas, but made the decision to walk all the rooted ups and downs, and fast walk the uphills. I didn't feel like I was giving up, the legs were just too tired to have any confidence in negotiating the tricky trails and I just couldn't bounce around any more. A fall at this stage could ruin the whole day.

By now I had serious case of diaper rash from the portacan experience. It was a major nuisance, but it didn't stop me from moving. What finally did cause me to stop was all the debris in my shoes. I'd toughed it out until now, but it was really starting to hurt and I needed these feet to go another 3 hours. Found a boardwalk that was just the right height and used it to prop up one foot at a time so I wouldn't have to bend over to untie and tie the shoes.

I felt lots better now. The legs were dead and the toes were battered, but I had no cramps or blisters. The funny little socks were doing their job. My cast iron stomach never let me down and I was still eating at every station, downing the gels and the caps, so the energy level was fine.

While walking up a hill I came up on a woman with an M-dot tat on her shoulder blade. I told her IronMen can walk when they want to, she said she was on Loop #2 and was walking the entire race, and would be finishing sometime during the night. Here I was; so confident I'd finish in the daylight, I didn't even bring a flashlight. I had 6-7 miles left, she had ~23 and I felt bad for her.

Saw quite a few runners throughout the day having lots of troubles. Saw some very good runners doing the 100, still blasting the trail hard after more than 10 hours. I was somewhere in the middle; not real good, but not real bad.

I could never keep track of the aid stations and their relationship on the course. I'd just run until I got to one and do my routine. Pulled into the station called Park Road and while eating I asked the guy what was the next one: "Dog Wood", he said. Hey!, that's the finish. I asked how far: "4.4 miles". Hey!!, I'm close; I can finally start pondering the answer to, "How much longer?" I've run 45.6 miles. Dang, that's far; it felt far.

Just because I'm close doesn't mean I got a magic dose of adrenaline. There was nothing. More slow running, more walking, more hills, more roots, but now every step had the little mental boost that it was almost over. The last part of the trail was familiar and I could faintly hear the cheers of the finish-line crowd.

Like a horse smelling the barn, I started to speed up. Just to keep me humble, I kicked another root hard and stutter-stepped back into stride. Crap, that one really clobbered the big toe.

Round the final corner and I can see the crowd, the tents and the finish line. Ran on in like I was some sort of ultra-marathon trail runner.

I'd "run" the last loop in 3:46.
What would you do differently?:

Nothing. The run pretty much happened like I expected. Started off fast and having fun, and then slowing down towards the end. Stayed right on top of my nutrition, fluids, and electrolytes.
Post race
Warm down:

After snapping a couple of pics and staggering around looking for a place to sit down, I took off my shoes and socks to let them get some air and see how bad the damage was (not too bad, and no blisters). Drank a couple of small cups of coke.

Decided to go on home instead of camping a second night. The thought of a really good shower and soft bed motivated me to harden up and make the drive. It took me about 15 minutes to walk less than 100 yards to the truck.

What limited your ability to perform faster:

Not being an experienced trail runner, whatever that might mean, and not really planning for this race. Doing a hard Marathon 3 weeks previous to this race wouldn't be one of the smartest training strategies.

In the previous 3 years of results, a 9:51 would have placed 3rd or 4th in the Masters. This year, a bunch of fast, old guys decide to race. Oh well.

But no regrets; it is what it is and it's done.

Event comments:

If you're looking to do a serious trail run and want a well organized race in a somewhat forgiving environment, this is the place. The RD is super-experienced, puts on very good event, and has great support. Having trail running clubs staff the aid stations is first class treatment.

Pic 1 = Before
Pic 2 = Calling in an update after Loop 2
Pic 3 = Finished
Pic 4 = Relief finally

Profile Album

Last updated: 2009-02-03 12:00 AM
09:51:33 | 50 miles | 11m 50s  min/mile
Age Group: 9/27
Overall: 48/197
Performance: Good
Course: Out and back loops criss-crossing through a network of well-worn trails with lots of roots. Very well marked considering the potential for confusion and wrong turns. 99% shaded because of the dense trees, along with their roots. Slight elevation changes with short inclines and declines. Should mention there were lots of roots.
Keeping cool Good Drinking Just right
Post race
Weight change: %5.5
Overall: Good
Mental exertion [1-5] 5
Physical exertion [1-5] 5
Good race? Yes
Course challenge Just right
Organized? Yes
Events on-time? Yes
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities:
Race evaluation [1-5] 5

2009-02-11 9:35 PM

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Waller County, TX
Subject: Rocky Raccoon 50-Mile Trail Run

2009-02-11 10:11 PM
in reply to: #1958054

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Subject: RE: Rocky Raccoon 50-Mile Trail Run
that is awesome
2009-02-12 10:21 AM
in reply to: #1958054

Subject: RE: Rocky Raccoon 50-Mile Trail Run
Fantastic RR!  Congratulations on this run.  I am still in awe that you just decided to do it after the marathon, incredible.  I hope the recovery is going well for you.
2009-02-12 10:46 AM
in reply to: #1958054

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Atlanta, Georgia
Bronze member
Subject: RE: Rocky Raccoon 50-Mile Trail Run
Jim -

I still can't get my head around how this race happened for you more or less on a whim..Awesome.

Your RR's never fail to make me feel like I was right there and I'm beat up just thinking about 9 hours of running.

100 miler next year?

Congrats on your day!
2009-02-12 10:52 AM
in reply to: #1958054

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Mesa, AZ
Subject: RE: Rocky Raccoon 50-Mile Trail Run

Great race.  Way to push yourself past your previous limits.  I hope scientists can determine the gene that gives some people an "iron" stomach because it would help out the rest of us.  Laughing

A&M Class '95

Edited by TexInAZ 2009-02-12 10:58 AM
2009-02-12 12:36 PM
in reply to: #1958054

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Extreme Veteran
Round Rock, Texas
Subject: RE: Rocky Raccoon 50-Mile Trail Run
Awesome race report (as usual).  I can now cross-off doing a 50 mile run from my list.  Your description was all I need to know   Seriously, great execution and performance. I am amazed at how you could bounce back that fast after BQ'ing at the Houston Marathon. 

2009-02-12 1:13 PM
in reply to: #1958054

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Fort Collins, CO
Subject: RE: Rocky Raccoon 50-Mile Trail Run
You have an incredible spirit inside you to race and test your personal limits.  It is very inspiring, Congrats on the finish, its definitely something to remember.
2009-02-13 7:44 AM
in reply to: #1958054

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Longview, TX
Subject: RE: Rocky Raccoon 50-Mile Trail Run

Excellent report!  Congratulations on a incredible accomplishment!

You guys are giving me the itch...

2009-02-14 11:45 AM
in reply to: #1958054

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Dallas, TX
Subject: RE: Rocky Raccoon 50-Mile Trail Run
You crack me up. "Hey, I think I'll just go do this 50 mile run this weekend... why not?"

I don't feel so bad for missing it... or rather missing you talking about it.

Great job! People who trained for it... probably didn't do as good as you did! Great stuff!

2009-02-14 10:06 PM
in reply to: #1958054

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Subject: RE: Rocky Raccoon 50-Mile Trail Run
Awesome race report, good job!
2009-02-15 6:51 AM
in reply to: #1958054

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Subject: RE: Rocky Raccoon 50-Mile Trail Run

Awesome job and really nice turn around time from the houston marathon where you really kicked some serious a$$. As usual you give a great description, perhaps you should be a writer . In all seriousness, nice job.

2009-02-28 2:48 PM
in reply to: #1958054

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Subject: RE: Rocky Raccoon 50-Mile Trail Run
That was a great RR. Congrats on the ultra!
2009-11-10 5:37 PM
in reply to: #1958054

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Subject: RE: Rocky Raccoon 50-Mile Trail Run
Way to go! 
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