I consider Rocky Raccoon my hometown race, even though it's been over a decade since I moved away from Texas. I grew up just south of Huntsville State Park and remember visiting the lake and trails when I was a kid. Rocky is always a 'maybe' as I plan my race calendar each year. Not only is it a fantastic race with great ultrarunning history, famous aid stations, and high energy all day long, but it's also close to all my family who still live in the area and it's a great excuse to visit.
This is my second time running the Rocky Raccoon 50. I also ran the 100 a couple years ago.
(2008 Rocky 50 race report - with my dad)
(2013 Rock Raccoon 100 race report - my sister ran the 50)
Below is a photo of me and my dad on the 50-mile course back in 2008. This was less than a year after I started running, and it was my dad's first 50-mile finish.
|2008 Rocky Raccoon 50 with my dad.
And here I am with my sister before the 2013 100 (me) and 50 (her). Rocky Raccoon is always a family affair.
|With Melanie before the 2013 race.
Late last year, my buddy, Buzz, was throwing around the idea of doing Rocky for his first 50-mile race. He asked if I would be interested in running it with him. I said, 'of course!'
As always, my main concern with a winter race is training for it. Buzz was training in Springfield, Illinois, and I was training in Salt Lake City. Luckily, it's been a super-mild winter my first year in Salt Lake City, so training was about as good as I could have expected. Buzz was dealing with colder temperatures than I was, but he said training was going pretty well too. We'd touch base every couple of weeks to see how training was going.
When January hit, we started thinking about some race goals. This was his first 50, and this was going to be my first time racing a flat, non-mountainous 50. So neither of us knew exactly what to expect in terms of a finish time. We hoped to run together as long as we could and finish together if possible. But we were both 'racing' it, so if one of us felt better late in the race he would shoot ahead.
In early January, we set our finish time goal as sub-8 hours; this time seemed safe and reasonable to both of us.
By the end of January, we had decided that we should go for 7h30m.
The week before the race, I noticed that the Rocky age record for 25-year-olds (Buzz's age) was 7h10m, so I suggested we set that as our A-goal knowing that we'd have some room to still get under 7h30m even if we crashed a bit.
The day before the race, I said we might as well go out on a sub-7 pace just for the heck of it. Buzz said, 'Sure. Why not.'
3 x 16.67 loops
|With Buzz a few minutes before the start,
Loop 1 (Mile 0-16.67)
You'll read how great the volunteers and organizers are in any Rocky Raccoon race report you see. The people there are a huge reason why this race consistently receives high praise. And the looped course through the state park allows for quite a few places for friends, family, and spectators to pull up a chair and watch the race. The start/finish area is bursting with energy from about 5:00am through the end of the race. This was the second year that the 100 and 50 have been split into separate weekends, so there wasn't quite the buzz this year as there was in other years I've done this (since there were fewer runners and spectators), but it was still a great atmosphere at the start.
Buzz and I knew a 7h30m finish would likely put us in close to the top 10, so we worked our way toward the front of the start line. The first hour of the race is in the dark, so we hoped to get in an uncrowded position early on so we didn't have to deal with the course's infamous roots in a crowd in the dark. By mile 1 we saw only a handful of headlamps in front of us and only a few behind us.
By the first aid station a little past mile 3, our Garmins were reading significantly different mileage (we were both wearing 310xt). By mile 10 or so, our mileage was reading about half a mile off from each other. We weren't sure whose was closer to accurate, but we played it safe and started using the shorter reading as our pace maker. Finishing the first loop (a known 16.67 miles) would be when we'd calibrate how far off our Garmins were.
The sun came up and there was a beautiful, foggy mist through the pine forest and across the lake. We saw two, maybe three people in front of us on the straightaways where we could see ahead of us for several hundred meters, but we didn't know how many had shot out of sight early on.
|Foggy Lake Raven at daybreak.
This photo is from Annie when she rented a boat
and went fishing during our first lap.
That's about when one of Rocky's infamous roots popped up to roll Buzz's ankle and send him into a somersault on the trail. Buzz walked it off but had a noticeable limp in his gait for the next mile or so. We were a bit worried, but after a couple more miles his gait was back to normal and his ankle strong enough to keep at the current pace.
Derek's buddy had caught up with us, and then they both shot ahead looking to push the pace. We were holding at our A-goal pace, so we had no desire to follow. We guessed we were in 5th or 6th place, but we wouldn't know for sure until the out-n-back at the end/start of the loop.
|The sun is up and the smiles are out.
|A forced smile only 15 miles in?
We saw the lead runners on the out-n-back section at the end of the first loop. We guessed the first two guys were about a mile ahead of us. Another two (Derek and his friend) must have been only a few minutes up. Another guy passed us just before the turnaround. So we counted ourselves as 6th and 7th place. And our Garmins were way off -- we were running a bit faster pace than our watches said and we came in over 3 minutes faster than our A goal. "At least we weren't slower than we thought," we said to each other. Not too big of a deal, we just knew to re-calibrate our pacing to slow down a bit for the second loop.
|Buzz and I approaching the end-of-loop turnaround area.
Dropping off my headlamp and refilling my vest.
#96 passing us.
Loop 2 time = ---
Loop 3 time = ---
Loop 2 (Mile 16.67-33.34)
The sun was out (and it still wasn't too warm). There were a bunch of people cheering at the end of the loop. We were energized.
We had settled into a nice rhythm and were feeling strong. We briefly entertained the idea of picking up the pace to 'give it all we got' but quickly laughed that off because we still had 33 long miles to go.
I'd changed my fueling plan from previous races to increase my gel intake. Instead of a gel every 45 minutes, Buzz convinced me to take one every 30 minutes. I was a little worried how my stomach would handle this change, but it seemed to have been a smart decision all day long.
Loop 2 was all about being smart. We let the other guys pull away from us until we couldn't see them anymore on the few straightaways. The famous 'DamNation' aid station folks had fun with our closely matching outfits. (We didn't plan it, we promise!) Runners hit this aid station twice each loop, so they were sure to let us know each time we passed that we had by far the best bromance on the course. It's hard not to leave any of the Rocky aid stations without a smile on your face (though it's easier when you're running the 100...).
Around mile 28, we passed Francisco Garza, the guy who was running in a close second place when we saw him near the turnaround over an hour before. He was bent up against a tree trying to stretch. We asked if he was okay and he said he was just feeling a bit tight. We wished him well and moved on.
|Keeping pace near the end of loop 2.
I knew some of my family were going to try to make it to part of the race. They hoped to be there for at least the end, but it was possible they would be there earlier. It gave me a burst of joy and adrenaline when we approached the end of loop two and saw my brother Adam and his family (Jen and two twin infants), my sister Lisa and her family (Travis and two girls), and Annie cheering wildly for us. (Annie didn't catch any fish.)
|Finishing loop 2 and deciding it was time to raise the roof.
We had only seen one person (Derek) on the out-n-back section, and he was about a mile up on us. We saw another guy, #96, at his drop bag. So where did everyone else go? We guessed the guy leading after loop 1 must have put a big enough gap on us that we missed him on the out-n-back section, but Adam says he only saw one guy leave.
Buzz and I made a quick transition and left for loop three thinking we might - somehow - be in 2nd and 3rd place. (Turns out there had been a couple of drops in front of us.)
Loop 1 time = 2:16:59
Loop 2 time = 2:20:01
Loop 3 time = ---
Loop 3 (Mile 33.34-finish)
As we hurried out for loop 3, #96 had finished at his drop bag and was only a few meters behind us. Again, Buzz and I resisted the temptation to make a big push this soon, and we agreed to keep our own pace. We still weren't 100% sure that we were 2nd and 3rd, but we both said out loud, "how cool would that be if we both made the podium?"
And a sub-7 was still on my mind. We'd have exactly 2h23m (only three minutes slower than our 2nd loop) to hit 7 hours. Hold steady!
After a mile or so, we no longer saw #96 behind us...but the thought that he was probably just around the corner behind us gave us some nervous excitement.
The DamNation folks at mile 39 confirmed that our bromance was tied for second place at the moment with the leader, Derek, about six minutes in front of us. "Reel him in!" they said, but Buzz and I knew that he'd have to come back to us if we were to catch him.
About then is when Buzz started walking some sections that I wanted to run. After a couple more miles (back through DamNation again) and a couple more walk breaks, I told Buzz I was going to push ahead.
I was certainly starting to feel the fatigue, but I felt strong enough to hold at the current pace. We had slowed a bit with some of our walk breaks, and I thought a sub-7 was probably just out of my reach. My attention turned to trying to break 7 hours. The lead runner would have to crash hard for me to pass him, so I wasn't dwelling on where he was ahead of me.
By the last aid station, with 4.5 miles to go, my arithmetic was getting a little fuzzy but I figured I still had an outside shot at sub-7, so I tried to push it. (My 48th and 50th miles were two of my three fastest of the day.)
|Making a final push.
Annie was waiting for me at the finish line with a big smile on her face. I couldn't have felt happier. I doused myself with cold water and gave her a big hug.
|My sister Lisa captured this shot
of Adam and Jen greeting me just before the finish line.
|Another angle - slapping hands with Adam
and Jen just before the finish line.
|Charging through the finish line.
Photo from Lisa
|Crossing the finish line.
I hit my A goal and finished with an official time of 6:57:55. It was quite the surprise - and it still feels a little surreal - to come in second place at Rocky Raccoon.
Loop 1 time = 2:16:59
Loop 2 time = 2:20:01
Loop 3 time = 2:20:55
Now the excitement was waiting to see if Buzz would hold on to third place. I changed my shirt and Annie and I perched ourselves at the finish to wait for him. It was awesome to see him turn the corner into the finish chute only a few minutes later in third place. Not bad for his first 50.
|Right after Buzz crossed the finish line.
|A massage and nap!
Now for some rest.