Saturday marked the annual Rocky Raccoon 50m/100m trail race at Huntsville State Park. This is the first race I have been a part of in which there was a 100 mile option. Amazingly enough, more people registered for the 100 miler than for the 50 miler! This event has grown tremendously; they had over 700 runners register. Joe Prusaitis and his team at Tejas Trails organize this run as well as several others around Texas (including the 60K I ran at Inks Lake last August). They do a tremendous job. The fifty mile race is the second of five in the 50 Mile Texas Style Grand Slam.
The original long-term forecast of rain on race day did not pan out, but the area got plenty during the week. Driving down I-45 I couldn't believe the amount of standing water beside the road. There were even sections where the access roads were closed because of standing water. I thought this could be a messy race. But the trails were in great shape. In a couple of spots runners had to tiptoe around the edge of the puddles or just plow through and get muddy feet, but that's part of trail running. We saw no rain on race day. The weather was perfect, cold in the morning, warming up but not too much in the afternoon, and cooling down nicely as the sun went down. The 100 mile runners were changing into their tights and long sleeves as I was leaving.
The weather was perfect, the trails were great, and, as I have always found to be the case, the company was delightful. I enjoy meeting other runners and swapping stories. I met runners from Texas, of course, but also from Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, Ontario, British Columbia, California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Virginia, and Guatemala. I have no doubt that many other states, and perhaps other countries, were represented there. One guy from Canada (he was running the 100; later I met his wife, who was running the 50) told me there was a Canadian woman there who holds the world record for the most 100s in a year, and is working on breaking her own record. Later I ran with another Canadian who was out to break the first woman's record!
So how about my run? I went into the race very optimistic. I had heard how nice and smooth and mostly flat the course was. After my 11:47 finish at Palo Duro, I figured I might have a chance to finish under 10. I don't know if I was too naive, didn't respect the course or the distance, or just didn't push hard enough, but I ended up finishing in 11:02:18. Official results put me at 122nd out of 249 finishers (296 started).
For the first half to 2/3s of the race, I felt great! The day was perfect, the trails, mostly soft dirt covered in pine needles, made running a pleasure. The trails do have a lot of roots, which I'm sure caused many of the night runners to stumble. Actually, quite a few day runners took spills over the roots as well. For me, one bad thing was an unanticipated problem. You see, I'm quite dependent on my Garmin to help me stay on pace. I did not anticipate that the tall, piney woods would interfere with the signal. If I got readings at all, they were frequently wildly inaccurate. I became frustrated that I really had no idea of my pace for much of the race.
Toward the end of the second of three loops, I was starting to feel some pain in my left shin and ankle. I don't think I've ever had shin splints, so I wondered if that was the problem, besides simple fatigue. Starting the 3rd loop, I wondered if I ought to be heading out at all. Once I got started, I was OK, but anytime I stopped at an aid station or to water the plants, it was tough getting back to "speed" again. So this last lap was super slow and painful. At times I must have been a little comical to watch: "Look at that guy! He's swinging his arms like he thinks he running, but he's barely moving his feet!" I haven't seen the official splits yet, but I think my first lap was in 3:03, the second was 3:20 or 3:30, so the third was probably 4:30 or so. Ugh.
A note on nutrition: Although I was more sore after this race than after Palo Duro Canyon, I felt much better. My attitude was good. Toward the end of Palo Duro I got grumpy and despondent. Brett Buettner's positive attitude kept me going that day. At the end of Rocky Racoon, I was definitely tired and ready to be done, but still pretty positive. Also, I didn't feel nauseous or yucky like I did late in PD. I deliberately ate more real food (quesadillas, soup, PB&J, grilled cheese) and fewer Sport Beans. I also drank more water and less Gatorade. Plus I took a couple of sodium tablets before I got nauseous instead of after.
A note on apparel: this was the longest race yet in my Vibram Five Fingers. They felt great! There were some short sections of the trail that had a few rocks, but 98% of it was absolutely ideal for VFFs: soft, dirt trails covered with leaves and pine needles (as long as you remember to carefully avoid the roots!). They got wet ocassionally, from splashing through muddy puddles, but dried quickly. I didn't take them off the whole race. Bonus: I didn't get one blister! Not even a hot spot. Negative: I'm still too sore to spend much time bending over in the shower, so I still have Huntsville mud under my toenails.
Following the example of my ultrarunning muse, Stuart Skeeter, I wore a fishing shirt. It worked great because I started out in the morning with it buttoned up against the cold, then as I warmed up I could unbutton it, then button back up as the evening cooled. Amazing what a difference that makes. I don't know why running shirts aren't made with buttons or zippers. The only ones I've seen only have about a 3 or 4 inch zipper, which hardly seems worth it. I also wore my Tilley hat. I like to wear that since it provides sun protection for my ears and neck, which a regular cap doesn't, but the course was so shady (keeping out the sun and the satellites) that I probably didn't need it. One guy asked if I was going fishing or going running. . . . I guess I looked a little non-traditional.
I know I'll always be pretty stiff and sore the morning after a long, hard run, but Sunday morning my left ankle was red and quite swollen and I could hardly walk on it. I hobbled around all day. Fearing a stress fracture, I went to have it x-rayed at CareNow. No fracture, just a sprain, she said. I'll be keeping it iced and elevated and wearing a brace for a few days. I have Cross Timbers on the schedule for February 20th. I haven't marked it off the calendar yet. I am hoping for a quick recovery so I can attempt that one as well and continue toward the 50 Mile Texas Style Grand Slam.
My perception of my ultramarathon ability has gone about like this:
Before the race: I can finish a 50 mile race fairly easily.
Early in the race: This is great! Why didn't I sign up for the 100!
Mid-race: I'm feeling a bit tired. I'm glad I'm in the 50.
Late in the race: I don't know if I can finish this thing.
At the end: I did it! But it wasn't pretty. Am I an ultramarathoner or am I a marathoner who's out of his league?
The next day: I'm sore, but 50 miles isn't so bad. I could do it again.
Two days later: I'm still sore, but getting better! I can't wait to run another 50 miler, and soon I'll be finishing a 100 miler! Bring it on!