07 February 2013

Rocky Raccoon 100 - Race Report

(I dedicate this race to my dad.)

Rocky Raccoon 100 / February 2, 2013 / Huntsville State Park, TX

I grew up just south of Huntsville. I camped, swam, and rode my bike at the state park long before I ever became a runner or had even heard of trail running.  I moved to Washington ten years ago and became a runner six years ago. It didn't take long for me to catch wind of Rocky Raccoon.  In 2008, just a few months removed from my first marathon, my dad and I traveled to Huntsville State Park to successfully tackle the 50-mile version together.  That day still ranks right near the top of my running memories.

I'd been wanting to get back down to attempt the 100 ever since, but travel and training just haven't been right. Winter is usually my 'down' time of the year since all the mountain trails are closed with snow and it's hard - mentally - to put in big mileage weeks when there's sometimes only two or three miles of pavement in town that are plowed and runnable.

After the disappointing dnf in Scotland over the summer - and subsequent time off because of the injury - I was itching to do something big soon.  When my sister, Melanie, mentioned that she was considering Rocky for her first attempt at a 50, I think it took me less than 30 seconds to pop online and register myself.  The perfect excuse for a trip is to run with a family member.

Winter training had gone well. I was a little nervous that a big, white winter would slow my training, but I was lucky that so far it's been a winter on the mild side. So I've been able to get lots of running around the mostly runnable - often snow covered - hills of Pullman even if I couldn't get to the mountains.

With Melanie before the start

The 100-mile course consists of five 20-mile laps on flat, often rooty, sometimes out-n-back pine forest trails.  This can be a very fast course because of the lack of hills, but the roots can turn ugly on you fast - especially when the sun goes down and you only have a headlamp for guidance.

Course Map

Pre-race Goals:
  • The 'that would be awesome' goal -- sub-20
  • The 'I'm pretty sure I'm fit enough' goal -- sub-24
  • The 'gonna finish even if it's a death march' goal -- 30 hours (the race cutoff)
  • The 'I want to be alive enough to watch the Super Bowl and eat some gumbo on Sunday afternoon' goal -- trumped any time goals

Just before we started
Lap 1: Miles 0-20
I planned on running the first lap with Mike Morton, but I got held up in the crowded start so I figured I'd just stay back and run my own pace.  So I put it on cruise control and tried my hardest to run without expending any energy.  I felt like I was idling for the first lap, and I was happy with that. I walked here and there to save up as much valuable energy as I could.  Mentally, this is a tough course to make yourself walk early on because it's all very easily runnable. 

Sunrising over Lake Raven
The 50-milers started an hour after us and ran virtually the same course we did minus a three-mile section.  I was around mile 12 when I crossed paths with Melanie on an out-n-back section. We high-fived and hugged and exchanged quick excitement about how beautiful a day it was to be running on the trails.

I crossed paths with a few Marathon Maniacs and other faces that I knew. It's always a little treat to see a smiling face. 

I kept an easy, uneventful pace and finished the lap in 3:35.  Melanie and I had an awesome crew waiting for us at the end of each lap: my brother Adam, sister-in-law Jen, and Melanie's good friend Kirstin.
Restocking at the main aid station

Lap 2: Miles 20-40
The second lap felt like an exact duplicate of the first lap. Easy, nearly-effortless pace. Fueling and hydration seemed to be right on. If anything, the only difference was that the runners had finally spread out, so I got some time to run alone -- though there were plenty of out-n-backs to remind me that there were something like 700 people out on the trail.

These multi-loop races are tough.  The fact that the second lap felt exactly like the first lap is mentally challenging. I kept thinking of one of my favorite Modest Mouse lyrics:

'The universe is shaped exactly like the earth, 
if you go straight long enough you'll end up where you were.'

That helpless feeling of putting energy into something to be able to move forward but realizing that you're never actually getting anywhere was certainly crossing my mind at the end of each loop.

"Wow. I've been 40 miles now...but I haven't gone anywhere."

This lap was done in 3:43. Total time was now 7:19.

Finishing Lap 2

Lap 3: Miles 40-60
I crossed paths will Melanie for the fourth and last time. She was about to finish her second lap and was looking very good. At that point she'd been longer than she'd ever run before, and she was confident she could finish the 50. It was so cool to see her out on the trails in such a good mood.

Brooks Racer ST5
About the time I was hitting the halfway point of my race was about the time my stomach first started rejecting the notion that it was going to let me go for another 50 miles. At this point, I'd already had to make a couple emergency bushwhacking detours in the woods, but now my stomach was rumbling upward and I just needed to heave. But the heaving fits were producing no relief, just a bunch of echoey noises that probably didn't sound attractive to the runners on the trail just behind me.  

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, just dry puking. No biggie." 


My legs still felt good, but they were definitely getting to that 'okay, let's not forget you've been 60 miles already' stage of achy fatigue.  By the end of lap three, the miles were far from nearly-effortless.

I finished this lap in 4 hours, which put me at around 11:20 for the day.  I took about ten minutes to sit with Adam and Jen while eating a cup of noodle soup at the aid station.  That's what the doctor ordered for my stomach, and my stomach wouldn't bother me much more for the rest of the day.

Taking a break with Adam and soup
a couple hours before the sun set

Lap 4: Miles 60-80
I grabbed my headlamp.  Remembering back to the brutal dark lap that my dad and I ran/walked/stumble through back in 2008, I knew things were going change when the sun dropped.  There are roots in Huntsville State Park that only come out at night.

First the first time all day, I felt like I pushed my pace. I had about an hour and a half before the sun set, and I wanted to pick up even just an extra mile in the daylight because I knew I would be slowing considerably on the dark, rooty sections of the trail.  Maybe not the smartest choice I made all day, as I may have gassed my legs way too soon.

About 70 miles in I started toe-kicking just about every root. One of the kicks, I was certain, split my big toe nail right in half. (Turns out that it didn't; I was just being a baby.)  I tried to keep my spirits up by cursing leaves and branches and dirt and trees and roots and the moon and the inventor of trail running.  

Nearing mile 80 the ugly thoughts of quitting were popping into my head. Not because I was particularly hurt or tired, but because I was having a hard time remembering why I was doing this.  I thought, "80 miles? Heck yeah that's awesome, and heck yeah that's the perfect amount for today."

I checked in with Adam and he said that Kirstin was super-excited about pacing me for the last lap. I'd put Adam and Kirstin down as pacers just in case, even though neither of them really wanted to do it. They both said they would if I really needed them to though. I planned on not asking either, so it was a nice surprise when Kirstin excitedly volunteered.

Lap 4 done in 5:03. 80 miles done in 16:23 or so.

Lap 5: Miles 80-100
Kirstin's excitement to come out with me for the last lap certainly gave me extra resolve. 

"You sure? It's going to be at least 6 hours, I'm guessing," I said.

"Yep!" she said.

Okay, let's go. Even if it was just a mind trick I played on myself, I told myself that I needed to keep moving - and moving as fast as I could - because I didn't want to be an inconvenience on her.  I tried to imagine that I needed to finish strong so it wouldn't ruin her twenty mile night run.  I guess this is a common motivation. I'm not doing this running business just for me; I'm doing it for everyone who supports and loves me.

I told Kirstin that I planned to walk all the rooty sections, and I would try to run as much as I could on the smooth, dirt road sections.  So that's what we did.  It was hard. I was tired. I was sore. My entire body wanted to give up every time I stumbled on a root. I had to stop often to stretch my quads. I was sucking down warm broth at each aid station. I wanted to lay down on the trail and take a nap, and I might have if I was out there by myself. I was moving okay on the smooth sections, and I even still had running left in my legs, but dear trail gods those rooty bits had me at a near stand still. 

I hit a few points when I honestly believed that time had stopped and the finish line was infinitely away.  But I know at those points that reality is as cliched as just putting one foot in front of the other. A thousand smalls steps equals...  etc etc.

It wasn't until maybe mile 98 that I said to Kirstin, "I think I finally smell the finish line."

I had just enough strength left in me to run the last half mile or so (may have been only 100 ft...but it sure felt like a long way) to the finish line.  I let out a big yell to Adam and Melanie and Jen who were waiting for me at the end.

"Is this your last loop or do you have one more?" asked the race director.

"My last!"

He handed me my buckle. I smiled. I took a few pictures with Melanie. Then I went straight to the car, called Annie, emailed my dad, then went to sleep.

Thanks to my awesome crew. Thanks to Kristin for running that last lap with me.

100 miles done in 22 hours and 51 minutes. Results.

Me with my 100-mile buckle;
Melanie with her 50-mile medal
Runs of this magnitude have a tendency to force you to reflect on why you run.  Why do I love to run? Am I running for the right reasons? Did I get anything out of it (besides a shiny buckle)? Am I a positive influence on those around me, or just some obsessed nut?

But my thoughts often tend toward those who support me. In a sport that at the core is very selfish it's easy to notice who loves and supports me doing this thing that I love to do so much.  So I want to publicly thank them all.

Thanks, most of all, to my dad.  He was the inspiration that got me on the trails in 2007, and he's been inspiring me ever since. We've spent countless miles together over the last few years. Through a quadruple-bypass and several injuries, he keeps getting back on his feet and heading toward the mountains. The most recent set of injuries have kept him off his beloved mountain trails for several months now, but I know he'll be back. When I run I'm running for him too. I know he can taste the mountains through me.

Thanks to Annie. She's been my number one supporter and fan. She's been by my side...even when she thinks I sometimes run too much. She has put her heart and soul into supporting me, and I'm so grateful for her. Sometimes as an ultrarunner we like to think that we don't need anyone else. But that's simply not true.

Thanks to my family. They all think I'm crazy but they love me and support me in any way they can. Mom, Melanie, Adam, Lisa, Megan, John, and AJ. Eddy, Mike, Jen, Travis, and Ally. My craziness has even worn off on a few of them. My family is as supportive as they come.

Huge thanks to all the Beer Chasers and locals who train with me and cheer me on to big things. Aaron, Linda, Jeff, Dan, Shirley, Brian, Buzz, Chris, the Johns, Dave, the Dougs, and the rest of the awesome gang.  Diane, Michael, Drew, Mandy.

And to Sadie, of course.

I'm thankful for my health. I'm thankful for those around me. I truly feel blessed. I can only hope that what I give back to the world might one day approach what I have received.

Keep running!



  1. I always knew you were an awesome person!

  2. I am so impressed!!!!!!! I did the 50K there back in December and fell three times! Hahaha. You ROCK, Scott!

  3. Don't mess with Texas! You truly are an inspiration. Can't wait to run a race with you in the future!

    1. When you come visit after the snow melts we'll take a couple trips up to the mountain trails. :)

  4. You are inspiration. I am glad you made it. Keep running!

  5. What a running inspiration you are! Congratulations on an amazing race/finish:).

  6. Well done on a really great run! Your report inspires me, thank you. This looks like an absolutely awesome event. Rest well!

    1. It's an awesome event, Johann. Not sure if there are any out there that are better organized and supported. It's always highly recommended.

  7. I ran those trails several times per week in grad school and many times have gotten "lost" in both a metaphorical and literal sense!

    Your questions post race are some that go through my head too. There may be some truth both ways in all of them. Congratluations!

    1. Thanks, Adrienne. I love getting 'lost' on the trails!

  8. Wow - I am so impressed!! My favorite line: I was just being a baby. Uh-huh. I don't think so!!

    1. You should have heard me crying... :)

    2. Our family chants, "Baby... baby... baby!!" when people are justifiably crying. It works in times like this as well as broken bones, blown-out knees, and similar situations.

  9. Great job, Scott! You're so inspiring.

  10. You looked great when I saw you, Scott! Smiles and all! I didn't realize that you and I had started running as a lifestyle around the same time! I figured you were a runner from birth!

    It is so nice to have Huntsville so close. I know that there are more challenging and beautiful trails in this country, but Huntsville holds a special place in my heart, and sounds like yours too.

    Congratulations to you and Melanie!!

    1. Yes, Huntsville holds a special place in my heart. I'm sure I'll be back down there for other runs sooner rather than later. :)

  11. Good job. And thank you.

  12. Congats! Excellent Race Report- thanks for sharing!

  13. Only in Ultrarunning would the reply to "just dry puking" be..."good". Congrats on your 100 miler Scott. You're Hardcore!

    1. Yeah, I wish I had a tape recorder for all the stuff I hear on the trails and especially at the aid stations. Some crazy people out there. "I can't feel my left foot. Got any ibuprofen?" Stuff like that. :)

  14. I loved reading your race report and seeing the race from your point of view. It was so fun to come crew for you both and witness the McMurtrey awesomeness in action. Thanks for letting me be an honorary member of the family for the day and tag along with y'all. It was such a blast. Congrats.

    1. You can be a part of the family any day. :)

  15. I LOVE that I was able to be out there on the trails with you for part of this accomplishment. You are really, truly amazing. And I think it's really funny that you call Rocky a flat course because I thought it was really hilly. I guess that's what happens when I train in flat Texas and you train on the mountains. Congratulations!!!

    1. You ain't so bad yourself. ;)

      Congrats on your huge run too. Love you, sis.

  16. Visiting from Brooks ID :) Whoa. The farthest I've gone is 14 with a marathon looming around the corming for me at MCM this year. How inspiring are you?!

  17. Wow, what a great race, and dedicated to your father, which even makes it even better. Congrats!!

  18. Wow..!! A model and example to follow .. You are incredible ..