Archive for February, 2012

As I am sitting on the couch at my mom’s house, ‘watching’ the Super Bowl and recounting race experiences with my friend’s Lisa and Becky, I feel like I should begin recording and organizing the whirl of thoughts spinning in my head from the race before time contaminates the memories and jeopardize the learning that can be had for future races.  I have to say I feel a bit like an ass writing race reports.  I am not an elite, and dont have that desire.  I have to think to myself, this is for me to learn from what happened, express appreciation for the small village worth of people who helped me, and to maybe, help others in understanding why this is so much fun.

The Lead Up

“I feel a stirring deep within
slowly picking up momentum
like the tide coming into shore
over and under in its course…
I never want to lose what I have finally found                                                                                      
there’s a requiem, a new congregation
and its telling me:
go forward and walk under a brighter sky”
– Delirium ‘Euphoria’

I first learned of Rocky Raccoon while reading the book Born to Run, and the second as a suggestion for my first 100 mile race from my running coach, David Manthey.  I had sworn I would limit myself to 50 mile races prior to pacing a good friend, Lisa, in Leadville. However while I was there, I witnessed the incredible level of comradery the entire community of runners, crews and pacers demonstrated.  Also, watching ordinary people push themselves beyond walls most people can’t even imagine invigorated me.  I had experienced the energy of other ultras, but it was my first exposure to the intensity of a 100 mile race.  Walking away from pacing in Leadville left me wanting to know, could I push myself to that level?  Could I train my body to do something I had always looked on will complete awe?  While I desperately wanted to try, I knew that my relationship with my wife, which was already on very unstable footing needed to be put first, so I considered theBoulder100 instead since it would require less rigorous training.  I would get it out of my system and move on to family obligations.

The day after I learned that my marriage of 7 years was ending, I registered for Rocky Raccoon.  This would be more then a race now, it would provide the distraction I would need through training to push me through loosing one of the most important people I had in my life.  I decided to skip theBoulder100, and let Rocky be my first 100 mile experience as a runner.  I immediately shifted my training to make this my ‘A’ race for the winter.  I had entered the Houston Marathon, which would now be part of my last training weekend.  Most of my family lives in Cypress, Texas, which is on the edge of the Piney Woods (the same general area and ecosystem as Huntsville State Park where the race is run) giving me an amazing opportunity to run all or part of the 20 mile loop that comprised the course 3 times prior to race day.  My family also became very excited about the race and volunteered to be my crew.  My sister, Angie, would pace my last lap, and my climbing buddy, Mike, would come down toTexasto pace my 4th lap.  The stars seemed to be aligning for this race.

Lisa, the runner I had paced in Leadville, and another friend would be coming toTexasto run the race as well.  In the week leading up to the race, forecasts began cropping up with a significant chance for rain.  I took a deep breath, knowing that weather forecasts in the sub-tropical forests of East Texas are rarely accurate, but still planned for the possibility of rain, packing my bags for a great adventure and escapingDenveras the first flakes of a blizzard that would dump 2 feet of snow on the city started falling.  Not only had we escaped just in time, but my pacer and his family had been able to get on an earlier flight as well.  Again, the stars aligned!

Last Minute Preparation (Packet Pick-Up and Pre-Race Prep!)

Lisa, Becky, and I had nicknamed ourselves ‘Team BLT’, as a play on our names, and my mom had made crew shirts for everyone with that embroidered on them.  We all arrived atHuntsvilleState Parkjust in time for the trail brief.  We were told that trail conditions were good, but with rain in the forecast overnight, we needed to be prepared for anything.  When I opened my goodie bag and found a powder blue hoodie… A very nice article of clothing however, with my goth/industrial leanings I was a little sad at the color choice but got over it pretty quickly.  After all, I wasn’t here for a new shirt, I was here to test my training, to dig into my soul and to see what I was made of!  And there was a buckle to be had at the end of this thing.

When we woke up in the morning the ground outside the hotel we stayed at in the suburban city of Conroe, 20 miles from the park, was wet, but patches of dry concrete made it seem as though we had a relatively dry night.  As we loaded our stuff into the car my mom had loaned us for the day, thunder rolled overhead.  We called Angie, who was staying in her dads RV at the shelter we reserved for our crew in the park, and she let us know is was raining in the park, hard.  Sure enough as we drove along I-45 rain began pounding the windshield, reducing viability dramatically.  We slowed to a crawl, and passed a truck that had found its way into the wires along the center

Crew Chief Ryan getting things ready for us to come in after a loop with my mom in the background

median, a sign of how hard it was really coming down.  Once we got into the park we parked at the shelter, and quickly debated if they would start the race on time.  We were told that the people who had availed themselves of the early 5am start option had started on time, and were already on the course.  With the rain pounding down it seemed like they had been dealt a nasty hand of cards to go along with their earlier start time.  We took turns using the restroom, and went to the start.  This thing was happening rain or no so we better be ready.  We came here to run a 100 mile race, not to take an easy stroll in the countryside to look at the flowers.  Rain or no, as long as the race was going to start, we would run, and unless someone pulled us from the race, we would finish.  There was simply no other option in my mind. 

The Race

“giddy up and go, we’ll go as far as we please…
you go down the longest road to nowhere” – Morgan Page

With my favourite First Ascent hard shell jacket on, hood up, and headlamp glowing in the pre-dawn darkness with a somewhat maniacal smiles, the three of us made our way across the start line and onto the course.  Our strategy was fairly simple.  We all had the same pace goals, a finish in the 27 hour range, so we would stay together as long as we could, and as long as no one was slowing the group down, but we all agreed to run our own races and if one needed to fall back that was fine as well.  Course conditions were going to dictate an awful lot given the weather and it wasn’t long before I would learn exactly how much of a toll the rain had taken on the trail.  A huge puddle that spanned the width of the trail and 15 or more feet in length greeted us a mile in.  The field was making its way around the edges with limited success, foolishly believing that we could keep feet reasonably free of mud and water for precious moments.  I saw a mud pit on the edge, and decided to try and jump past it, but quickly found myself on the ground as the mud glued my feet to the ground.  Fall one.  I was dirty, but undeterred.  The conga line of runners continued to the Prairie Branch trail where I would buy myself some Texas real estate again.  With everyone so close together I just couldn’t see the tricky roots in time to avoid them, and in a mile had fallen twice.  I wasn’t going to even let this bruise my ego though.  There was no point, I was here to run, not to stay clean, or look pretty so on we went through drenching rain.  Long mud pits had laid claim to large portions of the trails, the worst of which occupied out and back section of the Chipaquin Trail (about mile 5 outbound and 13 inbound).  I would eventually simply refer to that section of trail as “the wallow”.  The rain let up some as we came into DamNation at mile 6 so I ditched my hard shell on my drop bag for the loop, the rain was warm and I was soaked through anyway.  The only thing the shell added at that moment was heat which I really didn’t need right then.

As we made our way along the 6 mile back loop we met another runner named Erik.  He was very friendly and seemed to be going our pace, so we offered to let him run with us as long as he wanted.  He would be the Egg in the Bacon Lettuce and Tomato sandwich!

We finished up the first loop strong and ahead of our planned splits.  We were banking time for later.  The crew operated flawlessly lead by Angie and my brother Ryan.  I ate some quick calories, and very rapidly drank a muscle milk and headed out.  As we started down the stretch out of Dogwood, I realized that slamming the Muscle Milk was a bad idea.  I felt my stomach tighten, and got fairly nauseous, not was I needed or wanted this early in the game, but I stuck with the group.  We fell slightly behind making shoe and intestinal adjustments, but were still banking time.  Our strategy was working.  Being together, we were able to work through our low moments as a team and keep each other moving.  Team BLT+E was working!

At the end of lap 2, I was feeling the fact that I had not eaten nearly enough yet.  At Dogwood (mile 40) I tried to refuse most of the Muscle Milk, citing the issues I felt it had caused the previous lap.  True to what I told him to do, my brother and crew chief Ryan looked at me and told me to drink it, just to do it more slowly.  He reminded me we were now way ahead of pace, and that nutrition was important.  He even reminded me that I had told him that at some point I might refuse what I knew was best for me before handing the bottle back to me. I took it and finished drinking, but more slowly.

The pace goal that was set for lap 3 was much less ambitious, so from the outset the lap felt a bit better.  Plus, we had picked up our MP3 players, and I had already setup the perfect playlist for a low point.  The hills were hurting until the calories I took in at mile 40 really started to sink into my body.  At that point I really bounced back.  My playlist seemed to be bringing the perfect songs up at the perfect moments.  Benny Benassi’s ‘Love is Gonna Save Us’ come on as we went through the Nature Center, and their wonderful crew support, Morgan Page’s ‘The Longest Road’ came on right as the sun began to set, ‘Born Slippy’ came on going up one of the nastier mud strewn hills, and ‘Hi Friend’ by Deadmau5 came on as we hit the hilly back section of the DamNation loop.  Team BLT+e was cruising again, a bit behind on pace now, but things seemed fine until dark overtook us completely just before mile 51.

Once the sun set, the group’s paces began to diverge pretty dramatically.  I had not issues with running inn the dark, but did want to be cautious with the roots.  However, everyone had different levels of comfort with night running and everyone’s headlamps functioned a bit differently.  This was where my months and months of running in the dark for training kicked in.  I felt right at home.

Once we broke out onto the CCC trail for the last 7 miles of the loop, I began to break away.  I held back for a little over a half mile before my natural rhythm send me too far ahead of my team to even figure out if the headlamps behind me would be theirs.  I felt terrible leaving Becky, Lisa and Erik behind, but I was making withdrawals from the time bank by holding back while I felt so good, and we had all agreed that in the end we would each run our own races.  Besides, Becky, Lisa and I all had pacers waiting for us at Dogwood!

When I moved out on my own, my GPS was giving me an average pace that was almost a full minute per mile slower than we had planned, so my goal was to maintain a cadence that would get me back on track by the time I came into Dogwood.  I felt good.  Really good.  I was eating potatoes in quantity at the Park Road Aid Station.  Maybe not as much as I should have when I went through, but I was able to catch my pace back up by the time I rolled into Dogwood.  60 miles down, and I felt good.

My first pacer, Mike, was ready to go.  The crew had made mashed potatoes, I took my asthma meds as my crew handed them to me, and got dry shoes and socks.  They felt better than words can describe on my feet.  Lisa came in just as I was ready to walk out of the crew area.  I was ready to run, and out I went with my good friend and pacer along side… completely forgetting to eat my potatoes.  Seems small, but the little things, they add up, and in hind sight, this was a huge mistake on my part.  I needed those calories.

Trevor getting ready for Lap 4

Mike and I made great time out to DamNation and worked our way around to the backside of the loop.  This time things were different though.  I was getting cold and hadn’t brought an extra layer with me. Running helped some but not as much as I would have hoped.  And at mile 71, while going up a slippery mud slope, I felt my right knee tighten up, and I went almost instantly from being able to manage a strong gait, to a limp that clearly included some compensation.  Running was beginning to hurt but I was able to run when told, and became pretty single minded about it when I would do so, but I knew I was slowing.  By the time I reachedPark Roadmy right foot was starting to hurt as well.

As Mike and I turned onto the Dogwood trail, I was really beginning to struggle.  I was shivering while running and I became concerned that if I couldn’t get warm, my race could be over.  I asked Mike to tell me some funny stories to get my mind back to a positive place, and he managed to get me back into the start finish.  I was noticeably shivering, so I avoided the aid station tent at first, I was concerned that if race staff thought I was becoming hypothermic they could make me wait to leave again until my condition improved, which would mean sitting for an extended period of time and I knew that would end my race.  So instead I went straight for my crew and asked for my running pants and a long sleeve shirt.

By the time I got them on, I was now shivering uncontrollably, my teeth were actually clacking on each other and Angie told me in no uncertain terms that this had to get under control before we could leave.  I knew she was right, and rushed for the tent, where I knew it was likely to be at least a bit warmer.  I  quickly went to the tent and found myself struggling to orient myself.  This would mark the beginning of a somewhat impaired cognitive state that would follow me the rest of the race.  I honestly don’t remember too clearly what was said around me in the tent, but managed to get to a point that I thought running would warm me up more than staying there.  So Angie and I left, running very slowly, but the movement along with the extra layers were warming me up.

I pulled it together for the first couple of miles of loop 5, before I started to slip again, struggling with heavy legs and I just couldn’t think.  The aid station crew at nature center took one look at me and knew my electrolytes were blown.  They fed me some endurolytes and gave Angie some to take with her, and we were off.  Inside 10 minutes, I was talking and warming up again.  But again, it just wouldn’t last, and my quad was getting so tight it hurt to lift it high enough to run without tripping over roots and everything that I ate threatened to make a second appearance.  I managed to get a bit more sustained running in approaching the levy just before DamNation, but otherwise most of the last 10 miles was me desperately trying to keep my mood up.  Mike brought me a third shirt to put on at thePark Roadaid station, bringing much needed warmth.  However, even that couldn’t get my knees up until we rounded the last corner.  I heard Lisa behind us, and she was telling me to run it in strong, and Angie was (as promised) telling me to do the same.  This has always been important to me.  Finishing a race running.  I dug into the deepest part of my soul and ran.  Every step my right quad screamed, and for the record, the tears were not happiness, it hurt

Lisa, myself, and my pacer Angie crossing the finish

to keep running as my quad begged me to stop but I finished the race running.  I finished moving as strong as I could and I can be proud of every second I spent on the trail.  Lisa, Angie and I crossed that finish line at the exact same time with a time of 27:44:27.  My family were all waiting right at the finish line, and gave me hugs, as I went through a mini emotional meltdown.  Everything I had managed to keep inside over the previous 15 miles just blew at once.  I had my moment, and was done.  The Race Director, Joe, met everyone at the finish to give them a handshake, which really meant something.  It showed that this race not only cares about the elites, but every person who runs across that finish line.

Having stopped moving, the shivers came right back, so Lisa and I made our way to

Angie and I after the race, with mike in the background, I wish I had the brain power to get a photo with him too!

the tent with a heater, where we sat down with blankets, and talked with the other runners who had finished, one of which had finished many hours before but had come back to watch more finishers make their way across the line.  He was wearing the powder blue hoodie, and I looked at Lisa and told her that the color didn’t bother me anymore, and I would be wearing my hoodie with pride no matter what color it was.  I got to see Becky cross the finish line with a time of 28:18, which was awesome, all of Team BLT had made it!

And by the way, the color of that hoodie is perfect now that I have perspective.  Its not the color that matters, or what we get in the form of swag from a run like this that matters.  Its the way it changes our soul, even if just a little bit.  It proves we really are capable of so much more than most people give themselves credit for.  It proves that there is only one thing that stands between us and a universe full of possibility, and thats ourselves.  I now have a blue hoodie that represents that, and its perfect.

The Aftermath

I went into this wanting a time in the 27 hour range, and I got it.  I ran strong and met great people.  We wouldn’t know what had happened with Erik until the next day, but he also finished the race prior to the 30 hour cut-off.

While this race is typically considered one of the easier 100 mile races, the mud, rain, and cold all worked together to give the course a whole different dimension then I had seen on training runs.  Next time I come to Rocky, it won’t be my first time at bat with this distance, and I will have significantly more experience so I think my next trip toHuntsvillewill be with my eyes set on a 24 hour time.  For now, I am at the point where I am focused on figuring out how to translate the lessons I learned in this race, specifically in regards to nutrition, to Leadville this coming summer.

Lisa, Becky and I showing off our buckles the day after the race!

Thanks to everyone who helped!  My family came together in amazing ways to support the three of us running this race.  There is something about this type of race, and the community around it that brings people together and seems to bring the best out in people.

Yes, a thanks list is necessary here: Sister Angie and buddy Mike for being my relentless, and tireless pacers, and their families for donating them!  My mom, brother, Ryan, sister’s Amy and Pamela, step-dad David for making sure that all of my stuff was ready to go and for helping peel nasty socks off my feet between laps!  Ryan and Angie were the Crew task masters, who made sure all 3 of the runners had everything we needed at every single lap no matter how good or bad we looked, or how nasty we smelled or looked!  My ex-step dad Joe, for being willing to come out with his RV to support us even though we haven’t seen each other in over 15 years (you have no idea how much that meant).  And finally, all of my friends inDenver, and Coach David for your tireless support in making this happen!  And last but not least, my fellow runners Lisa, Becky and our new friend Erik for being there so we could get each other through those early miles!