On Slaying Monsters…
It all started with the sound of the snapping of a branch. Or, I thought it was a branch. Searing pain told me otherwise, it was in fact my ankle. That was the end of my 2015 adventure at Rocky Raccoon, with a broken ankle and a fiberglass prison sentence.
I came into the 2016 race with one thought on my mind, redemption.
Don’t get me wrong, I had other goals as well. I’ve been chasing a sub-22 hour 100 miler for a couple of years now. I got close at Javelina in 2015, but no cigar. However, the most important goal for me was to finish the race and get the monster of last year fully behind me!
On the Tejas Trails Facebook group, Ben Phenix provided a fantastic statistical analysis of splits at RR100 of those successful in achieving 20-24 hour finishes. He also gave advice on pacing towards these goals. I used that data to generate 3 different pace charts to deliver to my pacers prior to the race to aid in their planning. One was my lofty goal of 20-hours (best case; unicorns and rainbows case), second was my goal(ish) of 21-hours (base case) and third was my “poor” case of 22:25.
I then did a “sense check” of how this lined up with my previous successful attempt at RR100 in 2013 (my first 100M).
Loop 1 – 3:38:40; Loop 2 – 3:52:43; Loop 3 – 4:12:18; Loop 4 – 5:31:53; Loop 5 – 6:15:03
I had cratered in the final two 20-mile loops at my first successful RR100, so I felt confident as I was better trained, I could successfully execute my mid-case prognosis. Cautious optimism with a healthy dose of gut-wrenching anxiety coursed through my veins. I made some pretty crazy proclamations before, but this seemed like one of the crazier ones! I’ve been slowly picking my way towards sub-22 hours. However, a few friends told me I’m not “reachy” enough with my goals, so I decided to reach a little on this one.
My “poor” case would be anything but poor. Honestly, it would still be a PR if I hit those numbers. My training had been going so well that I decided these pace charts would give my pacers a decent idea of what to possibly expect.
However, I had a caveat: “…of note is that I did NOT do a full probabilistic workflow to determine my paces. Therefore, everything is subject to change and anything can happen during 100 miles.”
The night before the race, we traveled the hour(+) up to Huntsville after rush hour traffic subsided. After laying out my things, I crashed to hopefully get a good night’s sleep before the long day ahead. My alarm was set for 4am to give me just enough time to get ready and not let my nerves get the best of me before leaving.
I woke up at 3:30am to another nasty running “nightmare”. I had my first one the previous week before Chocoloco 10k. However, in this one, I was running late for a race as my Mom was trying to find the location of the race start. I missed the race start (sorry Mom, don’t know how you got involved). I was devastated. I got angry. It was an unrealistic nightmare, as many are, but it still shook me awake with a jolt. I stayed in bed until ~3:45am to minimize the disruption to Julie’s sleep.
Friends graciously gave me a ride to the start so Julie could sleep in. She was penned to be an aid station captain for the 6pm to 6am shift, so she needed as much rest as possible.
I packed lightly for the race and had no drop bag at Damnation. My hydration pack, an extra bottle and some warm clothes for nighttime. I tried not to over-think nutrition or gear too much this go-around. I got myself settled and promptly, at 6am, the gun was off and so were we…
Loop 1 – 0-20 miles (3:28:46; 20-hour pace)
My motive for the first loop was to just get to know the loop. The loop changed slightly from years past due to the long-awaited commencement of construction on the dam at the park. This required the race to change the 6-mile “Damnation loop” to a nearly 7-mile “Damnation loop”. In addition, there had been “improvements” made to the jeep road to and from Damnation and from Damnation to Park Road.
These “improvements” came as long segments of loose cobble-sized concrete pieces across several hundred yards in each segment. At best, they were occasionally packed down and “runnable” at worst, they were ankle busters! This changed with each loop, making it a surprisingly difficult section to navigate.
This in combination with the soul-crushing 7-mile damnation loop, it was seemed like a totally different beast from years past. Not a bad thing, I like a good challenge!
I did my best to stay steady for the first loop and aim between my best and mid-case scenarios. I came in pretty much in line my best-case scenario. Pacing felt good and comfortable.
Loop 2 – 20-40 miles (3:49:30; 21-hour pace; overall 20:30 pace)
I started suffering a little bit on this loop. My legs, quads in particular, just didn’t seem to have juice in them. I can’t really describe it any better than that. They weren’t sore, they just felt a lot crankier than they should have been at this point in the race. During this loop, I started leap-frogging with a fellow HTRex member, Peter. We both were having the same experience. As he is a more seasoned 100-mile runner, I didn’t see this as a bad thing.
As I entered Damnation after the Damnation loop, my friend Aaron asked me if I was hot and needed my sleeves taken off (I was wearing a tech-t with separate arm sleeves). I thought for a second and thought that it may actually be my problem, I was too warm. Bingo! I felt much better and I powered through and stayed on my mid-case pace for this loop.
Loop 3 – 40-60 miles (4:19:32; ~21:15 hour pace; overall 21-hour pace; 50 mile split ~9:40)
The wheels started coming off in this loop. At points I was feeling much better since I was eating well. At other points I felt like crap. People kept on remarking how strong and good I looked. In my head, I was failing. Failing to meet my own high expectations. I had to get rid of the negativity and get out of my own head.
You can and do get deep into the depths of one’s soul while running a 100 miles. In it, you see the good and the bad. I didn’t have any distractions other than the matter at hand of running, eating and drinking. I was ahead of the main pack in the race, so I had little company around me during most of the daylight hours. My mind wandered to all sorts of places without the distraction of company. I was really looking forward to company for the final 40 miles, the real meat of the race.
Loop 4 – 60-80 miles (5:02:20; 22:25 pace; overall ~21:30-hour pace)
Though on paper, this loop looks like a disappointment, it was anything but. I had picked up my first pacer, Christian, and we had a fantastic time. We work in the same industry in similar capacities, have similar interests in activities and musical taste and speak the same “lingo”. Also, oddly enough, he was next door neighbors to my first pacer at Rocky Raccoon in 2013 (my first 100), Cees! Christian did a fantastic job of keeping my mind off of the miles and on the matter at hand.
I had one major goal for this loop, to run the downhills and any non-technical flats (i.e. few roots) and power-hike the climbs and overly technical areas. We successfully made it to the Nature Center (~63 miles into the race) without having to turn on our headlamps. This is the furthest I’ve gotten in a 100-mile race without needing my headlamp once again (the first hour of this race is in the dark).
I was mostly successful at executing my plan for this loop. However, I wish I would have run a little bit more. I really think I underestimated my caloric demand as the weather turned cooler. I needed more calories to sustain my momentum from the daytime. It was fantastic to meet Christian, but it was going to up to my loyal friend Kristie to get me to the finish…
Loop 5 – 80-100 miles (5:41:48; 22:21:56 finish)
First, I must apologize to Kristie. Kristie is just a lovely and wonderful human being. She’s an amazing teacher, runner, training partner and mostly importantly, friend. I was a terrible human to Kristie on this loop. There is something about running 100 miles that can bring out the best and worst in you. I was acting like a complaining whiny teenager (or toddler) the entire loop.
Going out on this loop, everyone was convinced I was completely capable of reaching my sub-22 hour goal. I had it on paper, it shouldn’t have been extraordinarily difficult given what I had accomplished to this point in the race. My brain just decided to jump ship and go crazy.
It started off fine enough, we continued the strategy of running the downs and hiking technical sections and uphills. Then, as time progressed, I decided to consider more and more sections “hilly” than necessary. I think Kristie caught on to my trick and tried to coax me into running more and more often. Sometimes I relented and jogged for a couple hundred yards. Other times I grunted ‘no’ and continued to power-hike.
The worst low occurred during the 7-mile damnation loop. I knew it was the last time I had to complete the loop, but it got completely into my head. It was, by far, the coldest part of the course. At this point, the temperatures were headed into the mid to low-30’s on this section of the trail and I was still wearing a running skirt and with my legs exposed. I was cold and refusing to run (again, misjudged caloric need in the cold). By this point, my ankle started locking up on me pretty good. Power-hiking was difficult and running was very slow. I felt miserable and just wanted to get back to Damnation.
However, I was still on track, if I hustled and ran…
As we returned to Damnation, Kristie texted Julie to let her know we were on our way and to have my running pants on hand and ready. I needed warmer legs STAT. First though, I had to get myself out of Damnation. Thankfully, I still had my wits about me that I knew going near the heat lamp was a bad idea. I needed to keep moving to stay warm and make my goal. The heat lamp was like being a mosquito attracted to light. I would stick around way too long and miss out on my prize.
Coffee from Damnation picked me up quite a bit (kicking myself for not getting some sooner). Back on the jeep road, I started to jog the downhills again! Heck, I even started jogging some inclines. I was feeling a lot better with the running and the coffee was doing it’s magic. We arrived back at Park Road (mile 95.5) sooner than Kristie anticipated.
Julie helped me quickly put on my warmer pants and grabbed a coffee and veggie broth to go. Both Damnation and Park Road were out of the vegan soup options, so I was stuck with low-calorie veggie broth. It would have to do for the final 4.5 miles. It was clear once we hit Park Road that sub-22 hours was long gone, we had less than 45 minutes to achieve the 4.5 miles. However, we could still manage a PR if I hustled.
Kristie kept me hustling! There were even times during this stretch that I took the initiative to start jogging without prodding. We both just really wanted to be done. With a mile to go, Kristie asked if I wanted to run it in. In retrospect, I should have started running when she prodded (my ankle was very achy). Instead, I told her I’d start running once we got to the ranger station (not far from the finish) to preserve my energy.
Run we did. Progressively faster until we crossed the line!
Official time was 22:21:56, a 15-minute PR over Javelina, slightly ahead of my “poor case” scenario.
It’s a funny thing when you designate a “poor case” scenario as a PR. In retrospect, it was anything but “poor”. How can I say slaying my monsters and dragons from years past DNF’s at RR100 (2014; 2015) is poor? How is a PR “poor”?
I still have a lot of learning to do about pacing, fueling and race strategy planning. That’s what keeps us keeping on challenging ourselves to these races. Living, learning and challenging ourselves to what we don’t think is possible. Another goal? Look like this during more of the race!
A big thank you to all of the volunteers and race organizers. Also a HUGE thank you to Julie. She not only took care of me, but everyone else who came through Park Road from 6pm to 6am. A huge feat, especially with all of the demands she’s needing to meet at work (which has been crazy for her). Heck, after we both got naps in the hotel, she was able to safely drive us both home and get dinner ready in time for the Super Bowl. Seriously, she’s Superwoman!
As always, it was a fantastic race and I can’t wait to challenge myself again!