Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Trail Race 2013: Into The Fire

Posted: February 8, 2013 in Running, Trail Running, Ultra Running, Ultrarunning
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

As I drove my mom’s car with my girlfriend Jenn and friend Heather from Houston to Hunstville State Park on February 1st, I couldn’t help but think about how different this year felt.  In some ways it didn’t feel like it had been a year since I made the same drive with Lisa and Becky to pick up the packet for what would be my first successful 100 mile race.  It in fact was just under a year, which is also part of why it felt like I was a different person as I arrived at the park.

Last year, with the rain and the questionable forecast, I had a sense of wonderment and fear, anxiety and pride.  This year, I felt happiness to be back, but also felt weary.  This would be my 4th go at a 100 mile race inside this 365 day cycle, with the last only 3 months earlier.  I was worried about my training, and how it had to be trimmed back to accommodate from my inability to fully recover from anything I had run since June, and I worried about being able to achieve the 24 hour time I had set as a goal for myself.

At packet pick up I felt like I knew so many friendly faces from the previous years races, and that really made relax a bit.  I was also able to meet up with Samantha and my new team mate from the Runner’s Roost Team, Katie.  Everyone listened to the trail brief respectfully, and followed up with the researchers who would be conducting a Perceived Effort Study on the trail.  They would be asking us to give them a ‘one-liner’ as we passed along with a number 1-20 that would reflect our perception of our effort at that moment.  Oh, the one liners I can come with!  I was excited to have fun with this!  And they would be about 16 miles into each loop, talk about asking for some interesting responses!

With the distinct lack of rain I even got to hang out with my family for a while, taking pictures by the lake,

Jenn and I before packet pick up - photo by Heather Coffman

Jenn and I before packet pick up – photo by Heather Coffman

and enjoying the beauty of the park with Jenn and Heather.  We talked about race plans, and Elizabeth, who had come down to hang out for the weekend and help out as a volunteer or pacer for someone had started thinking about signing up for the 50 mile race.  The overall energy was great and everyone was so happy!  What better way to start a race.

We packed it up and headed to the Hotel in Huntsville after eating some of my mom’s fantastic vegetarian baked Ziti.  I made a point to organize my race gear for the morning, get out my new Runner’s Roost shirt that I could not have been happier for the chance to wear, and get to bed early for a 3:30am wake up call…

Race Day: aka The Counting Song

“I took a walk around the world to ease my troubled mind
I left my body lying somewhere in the sands of time
I felt the world float to the dark side of the moon
I feel there’s nothing I can do”
-3 Doors Down ‘Kryptonite’

Jenn and I arrived at the park a little bit before 5am, and as we pulled up to the shelter some lights at campsites were beginning to pop on.  I did my best to focus on anything other than the task at hand as the clock ticked down.  15 minutes to the start, we all walked over.  My family wearing the Team Blue Rabbit shirts my mom had made for the race to show their support of my running, and my bright blue Mohawk…

I gave Jenn a kiss, told her I loved her, and meandered through the crowd until I found my friend Samantha, then Eric (who I had run with for almost 40 miles the year before) as well as Katie.  Elizabeth and Jessica came over to wish us luck, and Elizabeth let us know she has gotten signed up for the 50 mile distance.  Then before we knew it the crowd was rolling forward.  We were off again.

Samantha and I ran together as we found our way through the slow line moving along the trail.  I knew this would open up after a mile, so we were patient, and sure enough at the Prairie Branch Trail, the field opened up nicely.  I warned Samantha about the small roots, and to watch closely for them since those are what caused me multiple face plants the year before, in hopes that she wouldn’t have to figure that out of her own.  A well known, and somewhat defining feature of the course is that it is covered in roots.  Most are large, easy to spot, and what everyone goes on and on about.  When I ran the course in 2012, I found the big ones are easy to miss, it’s the little ones, sticking an inch or 3 out of the ground straight into the air that were problematic because they are easy to miss.  Knowing this, I made a point of scanning the trail the entire first loop for those little ones, so I could avoid them the rest of the race.

I had made a strategic choice to go out with a race belt and handheld the first loop to minimize weight and

Samantha, Katie and myself right before the race.

Samantha, Katie and myself right before the race.

move faster since I was shooting for a 12 minute per mile average pace.  This also meant it would be easy for me to blow through the first aid station, Nature Center, without lingering, instead relying on the chews I had stashed in my running belt.  Samantha and I stayed together until just before the Dam Service Road, when I decided I needed to dial back the pace a bit for my race.  It was hard to let my friend go ahead, but I knew it would be the best possible choice for both of us.  I knew we had different strategies, and we needed to run out own races.

At DamNation, I pulled my second handheld out of my drop bag, filled it, grabbed a handful of food and left.  Being on my own this early in a 100 mile race was a bit new to me.  I did my best to connect with the runners around me while continuing my own forward progress, and while managing my pace.  I met lots of runners from all over the country, runners from all over the country with amazing experiences they got to talk ever so briefly about as we spent our moments together.

The Damnation loop went by much faster than I expected, and before I knew it the 50 mile course merged with the 100 mile course again, and I was on the levy when out of nowhere, I hear Elizabeth!  She had come up behind me and was willing to run with me for a bit, which made me very happy.  Anytime I can run with a friend I don’t pass it up!

At Damnation I dropped my second handheld in my bag, drank some protein and left.  A quarter mile out I realized I had stashed my Saltstik tabs in that handheld, but happily Elizabeth gave me a couple to get me to Park Road where my crew would have more.

Having a friend made the next 3.4 miles go by super fast!  At this point I was feeling pretty ok, and seeing my crew at Park Road, blue hair and all made it even better.  Colleen, one of Coach Davids friends I ran with at JJ100 was at Park Road waiting for her runners too, so I got lots of smiles to get me rolling.  We came up on the Perceived Effort Study folk hanging out at the top of a hill, so after a smart ass comment about putting themselves on a hill and dropping 10.5 as a number, I made my way onwards.

As we made our way onto the Prairie Branch Loop, my feet started to hurt.  All I could think to myself was ‘what the hell?  It’s too early for this!’.  I kept my pace, and ran into Dogwood, arriving right at 4 hours, which meant I was perfectly on time.  I asked for a change of shoes, ate some food, and headed out without spending too much time.  This wasn’t the time to play with time at Aid Stations, so when Elizabeth and I headed back out, I was happy to be so close to on time.  This next loop would be slower, which made me feel good, but within a mile my feet were hurting again.

Elizabeth had some Tylenol with her that she gave me, but at this point my morale was declining fast.  I actually started verbalizing that I didn’t care if I finished the race, and we were only 23 miles in.  I knew I would need to at least finish this loop, but my head was in the wrong place.  Elizabeth went out ahead, and I kept plugging along, maintaining a pace just slower than what I had planned initially.

As the heat and humidity set in, my mood sank, and I did very little to revive it; I can’t say why, I just couldn’t see the point.  Going into the Damnation loop I added duct tape to my heel as I felt a hot spot on my heel.  On the damnation loop, I had to pull out my inhaler, early, to clear my lungs.  Food tasted horrible and when I hit Damnation for the 2nd time on the 2nd loop, and talked about how down I was.  The volunteers there were not hearing it!  They gave me a pep talk, made sure I took food, and off I went.  My feet were actually feeling better, I was doing well in many ways, was still in the range of a 24 hour time if I kept moving and when I saw my family and Heather at Park Road again, I couldn’t help but smile and keep cruising.  I decided to keep my self doubt to myself, no one else needed to know.  In my head, I was playing odds against me finishing, and no one else needed to know that.

When I came into Dogwood, things started to spiral for me.  A visit to the porta-potty revealed that some

A photo of Lake Raven the day before the race.

A photo of Lake Raven the day before the race.

issues with intestinal bleeding that I had been battling the last couple of months were cropping up again and with where my head was already

I was ready to throw in the towel.  My mom and brother in law were waiting for me, and Jenn came running up.  I started crying and told them not to push me (note, she hadn’t done anything to push me yet), and had a mini melt down and we were only 40 miles in… still, I didn’t tell my crew what was in my head.  I kept all of the struggles to myself.  Even now, I am not sure why.  I should know better, but

I was keeping my issues drawn.  My crew were all so excited.  They were so happy to help, so enthusiastic and so loving, I listened to them, and went back out again.  I wanted to believe, and by now they were hanging at Nature Center cheering me on, which was a huge boost for me.

Going into the DamNation Loop for the third time I had a new found determination.  I wanted to be back at DamNation by dark.  I was going to power through this.  I had my headlamp, was ready just in case, but wanted to try to get through it before I needed that.  I was able to keep this headspace for most of that back loop.  I had to use my rescue inhaler again, but was really moving at this point.  I kept my head focused, and came close to making it out before dark, but wasn’t able to pull it off.  I hadn’t eaten as much as I should have leaving for that loop, hadn’t eaten enough on that loop, and was feeling gassed.  I ate some chews, which tasted terrible, and as I rolled into DamNation was, again, feeling utterly defeated.

This time the volunteers at DamNation were more direct.  I was refusing to eat, and they pushed me to eat, making sure I had food with me before I walked away telling me ‘you cant do this without calories!”  I made it a tenth of a mile from the aid station and texted Heather to tell her I was dropping at Park Road, I then pouted and ran the 3.4 miles into Park Road Aid Station, talking to another runner about just not feeling like I needed this race anymore.  As I talked with that runner, I actually ran a lot more, and as I made the turn towards Park Road, was actually feeling ok, but hoped my crew wouldn’t fight me or say anything other than letting me drop.   No such luck.  They asked what I needed, gave me what they could based on what little information I was giving them.  Heather asked me what I could eat; they fed me, asked what I might want at Dogwood and sent me off with promises of a pacer at the next loop.

I forced myself onward, and when I got to the Park Road realized I wanted a grilled cheese, so I texted Heather, and low and behold one was there, cooked over a camp fire by my brother Joey.  It was the best grilled cheese in the history of grilled cheese.  Feeling excited to have a pacer, I figured I would give another loop a go, and then decide if I wanted to run the last.

Again, I was still not sharing any of this with my crew.  I had not told them about any of my doubts, and still thought I was bent on a 24 hour buckle, which I had long ago forsaken in favor of a reasonably fast moving pity party.

Jessica started out pushing hard, she said we could still get the 24 hour buckle if I could do this loop at 12:30’s.  I knew there was just no way.  I told her I was willing to push hard, but that I didn’t think a 24 hour time was going to happen this time around.  It was time to look at just shooting for a PR, and be happy with that.  I was still not saying a word about wanting to quit.  I was storing that in the back of my head, but as we ran on, things seemed to be going so well, for the first time since mile 23 I really thought finishing this might be worth while.  Jessica kept me pretty upbeat, and we came up with a solid plan for what things would look like coming in and out of DamNation.  I needed to have the G2 dumped from my pack, it was time to switch to water, so she would do that while I started the loop, and she would catch up.  We made eye contact, and I headed out.

I kept the pattern she had established with me since Dogwood, but apparently I was too effective.  When I passed the 50 mile cutoff, Jessica still hadn’t caught up with me.  I started to wonder if something had gone wrong.  I was getting thirsty, and I didn’t have anything with me, no water, no food, not even a jacket.  Just what I was wearing, but I knew if I kept moving I would stay warm, so I kept plowing on, looking back to see if she was coming up.  I started asking the faster runners passing if they had seen my pacer, and I kept getting ‘no’s’.  Then finally a couple of guys coming up behind me asked if I was Trevor.  I said yes, and they told me my pacer had been unable to catch me, and rather than risk missing me in the dark had headed back to DamNation, where she would meet me.

Luckily, they were really cool, and gave me some water, which made a huge difference.  They offered me Gel’s, but I knew those were like ipecac for me, and not wanting to risk throwing up I said no, but thanked them profusely and kept going. I was even more determined to finish that loop as quickly as possible.  I had never done this loop in the dark without a pacer, and was nervous.  I had no music to distract me from the noises in the dark, or to pull me out of my head.  I wasn’t seeing many people, and it felt disorienting as the trail wound back and forth.  Sometimes I couldn’t help but think that maybe I had turned around and was going backwards, but then I would tell myself I would be coming up on runners if that was the case.  I eventually came up on another runner and pacer that again offered me some water and gels, again I just took the water, worried about the impact Gels would have on my already sensitive stomach, and kept moving.  Part of me kept hoping I would see a headlamp coming towards me, and it would be Jessica coming the opposite way to meet up with me, but no luck.

When I popped up onto the levy, I felt somewhat freed.  I knew I was close, but I was feeling hungry and worn down but was happy that I had made it through that without ever once thinking about dropping from the race.  Maybe things were mentally turning around?  Maybe things were moving forward and I was getting a real rebound?

When I made the turn back onto the CCC trail, I saw a headlamp and a pink shirt, and realized it was Jessica!  She gave me a hug and told me what had happened as we made our way back into DamNation.  Apparently I was moving faster than I thought, and when she had gone a mile and a half without catching me, she became worried that I had gotten sick and stepped off the trail, or had stepped off the trail to use the restroom and had missed me, so she backtracked.  At some point it became clear that the only way to make sure I met back up with her, had I gotten turned around, would be to go back to DamNation and wait there, since I would have to come back through that point.  I was just happy to have my friend and pacer back with me on the trail.  I got mashed potatoes at DamNation, and we kept going.  There is nothing to make a runner appreciate their pacer like not having one for a while!

We kept a solid pace all the way back up to Park Road, when my left foot started to hurt significantly more than it had been.  We had used duct tape to cover the hot spots that had shown up early in the race, but the heel of my shoe seemed to be rubbing now.  Since I was in a substantially better mental space, I told Jessica, and when we got into Park Road, we swapped socks, and I’m not certain what else to be honest.  My focus was starting to fade a bit.  Jessica and I headed out, but I noticed a stiffness that had developed during the stop that was new.

I wanted to give it a bit to shake it out, but this seemed to be different.  The farther we went the stiffer I got.  I was moving slower, and slower, but was still able to run the downs.  My mental state was sinking again, and as we headed up the last hill before Dogwood I broke down in tears.  My muscles were cramping badly, and I couldn’t imagine making it another 20 miles like this.  Jessica did a fantastic job with me.  She told me to focus on my yoga poses in my mind.  The hill was like Downward Dog, and I just needed to think about maintaining my breath.  This got me into Dogwood, but I was ready to be done.

The Last Lap: 20 Miles of Something More…

Jenn who was there to pace me walked with Jessica and I down to the turn around where I told them that I needed to keep going.  I wasn’t stopping.  In my head, I was only going as far as Nature Center, I wanted to get a run in with Jenn.  Just 3 more miles.  I asked if they would dump the Gatorade out of my pack and just give me water, so my crew gave me bottled water to get me the 3 miles.  This worked great in my head, since I was ready to be done anyway.  The plan for this lap was for Jenn to pace me to Nature Center, Angie to pace from Nature Center to Park Road, then for Jenn to take me in, and Jenn was in pacer mode.  What she didn’t know was that she had a fight on her hands because what I could run was very limited.

My muscles were freezing up, and between my feet and my legs, even walking was becoming overwhelmingly painful.  I told her a mile in that I was dropping at Nature Center.  She said that wasn’t happening, and we kept moving.  She tried to get me to move faster, and I re-iterated I was quitting at Nature Center, she said no, and we kept moving.    Apparently when she attempted small talk she asked me what animals were out in the woods, and each time she pushed me, I came up with another awful creature with terrible, attributed, like armadillos that carry leprosy, opossums that carry rabies, alligators, snakes of all sorts, and topped it off with panthers… I was getting dramatic.

By the time we got to Nature Center I was in tears, and I sat down at the first tree I saw just outside of the aid station and proceeded to have a total melt down.  All I really knew was how badly I didn’t want to keep going, and my pacer was doing her job, and wasn’t entertaining that.  At that point, I don’t even know everything I was thinking, but I can say it was a mash of how much pain I was feeling, being overwhelmed by the remaining 17 miles, and feeling like I was letting a lot of people down.  I literally panicked.  What if they wouldn’t let me quit?  How was I going to do this with how cooked I felt?  In all the races I had done before I had never felt like this for this long.  Once I let go of all the emotion, all the self doubt, all the worries about time, all the struggles I had been storing up for the last 22 hours came exploding out 20 feet from Nature Center.

Before I knew it and aid station volunteer was there, talking to me, asking me to breath slowly (apparently I was hyperventilating), and gently talking to me.  I can say with a huge amount of honesty that I don’t remember a ton of what happened for the next hour.  I know they gave me warm nutrition, I remember my mom being there, and Jenn helping me change into dry clothes in the bathroom.  I remember the volunteer, Bob, being a really cool guy that kept telling me that I had plenty of time, that I could finish, and that I couldn’t quit here.

Eventually, I don’t know why, but I stood up and was ready to go again.  It was like all the pain just drained out of my mind.  Don’t get me wrong, it was still there, but it was like I just couldn’t let it define the situation anymore.  I had been terrified of the amount of time, and pain that would come with the last 17 miles based on how I had been feeling.  Bob had said something about the things we think becoming our realities.  I think that hit me, so I just agreed to go.  After an hour of being in a total mental shut down, I stood up to go.  Bob agreed to walk out to the road with my pacer.

“I will hold on hope,
and I wont let you choke
on the noose around your neck,
and I’ll find strength in pain,
and I will change my way’s,
I’ll know my name as it’s called again” – The Cave by Mumford and Sons

Those lyrics were living in my head for most of what remained.  I can’t explain exactly why, but I was feeling better.  My muscles were still unbelievably stiff and sore, running was close to unthinkable, but I could certainly powerhike, and that’s exactly what we did.  Angie and I talked about all sorts of things, we made the best of the DamNation loop, and before the sun was up fully, we were crossing the Dam Levy.  Fog floated gently on the still water, and everything seemed so damn peaceful and, well, just ok.

We decided that it would be best to just drop my pack in my drop bag at DamNation, and finish with a handheld.  There would only be 8 miles left, so carrying the weight of the pack was just not necessary.

We were passing some people at our fast walk, but as my muscles continued to stiffen, I was slowing down.  But we were still moving.  Angie and I passed my friend Eric, who had hurt his ankle, so I asked Angie if she would pace him from the Park Road Aid Station in to make sure he made it.  I would have Jenn, and Angie is the type of pacer who can get anyone in, no matter what shape they are in, and I really wanted to know Eric finished.  For some reason my cognitive processes were changing.

At every other 100 mile race I had done, by that point I was ready to be done, and was focused on the “when will his be done” thought pattern.  That was slipping away from me.  I was actually starting to just not care anymore.

Pain, it was becoming irrelevant.  Focusing on it wasn’t going to be of use, it wouldn’t make the time pass

my left foot after being cleaned up.  This was probably the biggest reason running had become so intensely painful that last 20 miles...

my left foot after being cleaned up. This was probably the biggest reason running had become so intensely painful that last 20 miles…

by faster.  Wishing for it to be over wouldn’t make it be over any faster.  Dreaming of better finishing times, well that wasn’t going to help either.  So I just let it all go, and it was liberating.  It felt like I had thrown all of the pain, all of the suffering, all of the things that had been weighing me down this whole race in the fire.  By the time Angie passed me off to Jenn, all I could think of were the beautiful things around me.

I thought of the things I could be grateful for in the moments I had.  Looking into sky as my crew helped

me change my gear out and seeing the endless stars during the night, seeing the fog floating on the lake after sunrise, having the opportunity to make sure Eric had a friend to finish with, getting to stop and thank the DamNation volunteers, enjoying my sisters company in the woods, the time I got to run with one of my closest running friends Jessica, and once I was passed to Jenn, a 4 mile long trek with the woman I love in this beautiful morning in the Huntsville woods.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still hard, but when I would feel my muscles freezing up, and would feel the pain come back in the forefront, I would go back to the hugeness of the world, and the grace I was given by being able to travel 100 miles through this amazing landscape.  Apparently I was also talking about this with Jenn as we walked, I am not even sure what I said, but she told me that I was spouting some reasonably profound stuff, all I know is I legitimately found a place of peace I had never been before, and part of me didn’t want to leave.

By the time we hit the dogwood trail, my legs and my left foot were screaming with every step and we were

my pacers Jenn and Jessica with me as I finish

my pacers Jenn and Jessica with me as I finish

slowing down, but as we approached the last hill Jenn let me know my friends were up on top of the hill.  I remember them talking to me, but don’t remember much else.  My focus stayed on maintaining that place I had found, where things felt so ok, but it was getting hard.  I could hear the finish line, and I knew what had become a journey that had ended up challenging me and pushing me beyond so many limits was almost over.  When we turned the last corner I forced myself into a run.  I saw and heard my Mom and step dad David at the road, there was still a crowd at the finish, and I focused on what seemed to be an enormous Texas Flag waving at the finish.  Suddenly I was done…  I had another buckle, but all that really is for me now is a representation of all I learned about myself, about how much my friends and family care about me, and about the genuine kindness of strangers.  This may sound trite, but part of me is glad I didn’t get that 24 hour buckle this time.  I don’t know that I would have had the understanding to appreciate it that I have now.  I set my goals high, and didn’t hit the goal I intended, instead I achieved the type peace that I have dreamed of my whole life.

Since July I have been using the name “Rabbit” on my bib’s when I can put a nickname there.  It was my great grandfathers baseball nickname, and he was the person who put my grandfather on the path to become the hero of my childhood.  They were great men that I have always hoped to grow to be more like.  I feel like maybe, the way I was able to stand back up and keep going would have made them proud.  Maybe I earned more than my buckle; maybe I earned a smile from them from where ever they are now.

So, at the end of each yoga class, all of the participants bow their heads in respect to each other and the

Me, Heather, Jenn and Jessica right after the race with the buckle that belongs to us all

Me, Heather, Jenn and Jessica right after the race with the buckle that belongs to us all

practice, in deference to each yogi’s experience and the divine that lives within each of us.  The word “Namaste” is used, to express this mutual respect for each person that you shared that practice with.  I feel that way about this race.  It was more than a run in the woods for a very long time.  It was a journey through myself.

So to each runner, volunteer, friend, family member, I close my eyes, and bow my head to you.  Namaste.

 

 

Advertisements
Comments
  1. runlongkatie says:

    Nice work, Trevor. Way to gut it out. See you at a Roost event soon!

  2. Joel Ignacio says:

    Congrats on another Rocky Buckle! 100 milers are NEVER easy. I was happy to read another one of your ventures. I was inspired after reading your previous Rocky 100 report. I don’t know if you remember me, I was the the guy who asked behind you if you were BLT blog guy. It was near the lake heading back to dogwood on the last loop and I was using a stick to hold myself up since I rolled my ankle. Anyways, CONGRATS again! Running 100 milers always brings you to a journey into yourself and you come out knowing yourself more for the better.

    Run on brother!
    Joel

  3. David Newman says:

    I don’t know you but I do remember seeing you on the trail(hair color kind of sets you apart). Just wanted to tell you that is the best race report that I have read. Congrats on the finish. Great display of mental toughness.

  4. Great race report – honest, raw, beautiful. And solid info – I’m doing my first 100-miler this year, and do not know what to expect about how I will deal mentally. I’m forwarding to my hubby, who will be the chief crew-guy, so he knows how to handle potential meltdowns – what’s next for you?

    • thanks! Everyone melts down a little differently, but my crew does it well. Probably the hardest part for my girlfriend, from what she has said, is being firm with me on what needs to happen when she sees me struggling. Thats the biggest thing he will need to be good at. Telling you to keep going in a way that validates your feelings, but doesnt give way to ending the race is very important. Having crewed and paced in the past, in addition to having run some of these, I have to say thats the toughest part he will have to hurdle. Which race are you running? For me, my next hundred isnt until Leadville, but I have a couple of other races between here and there, Jemez 50k and SilverRush 50 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s