Sunday, February 17, 2013

Retiring an old friend

I had been looking for a way to sort of "memorialize" my old pair of Vibram Spyridons before I stash it away forever in that great big shoe closet in the sky, and just got an idea for it recently. The Spyridons has been with me through my very first Ultra at Hells Hills 50K, 6 additional Ultras through 2012 including both my 50 Milers, a couple smaller trail races, and countless training runs in between for an estimated 500 trail miles. I was very tempted to bring my old pair of Spyridons to Rocky Raccoon 100 for one last go around, but it's pretty much falling apart now, so I wore it's sexy new Orange/Olive Spyridon sibling instead.

There's a sense of primal connection I feel whenever I take my Vibrams on the trail, to be so close to the ground and actually feel the roughness and all the subtleties of the terrain you're running on provides a whole new sensory aspect to trail running that's simply missing with bulky and cushioned shoes. You can't exactly picture yourself as a lithe and agile jungle cat steathily making your way through the woods with a pair of Hokas on, but that's how I imagine myself a lot of the times on the trail with my Vibrams. With that said's not always the best choice to bring them on very technical trails, I've been ceding more of those grounds to my Altras, but I feel like I'm running partially blind every time.
Time to retire an old friend, I've never felt more attached to a shoe in my life; I can't help but find myself sometimes staring at it and reminiscing about all the pain and glory it has carried me through on one grueling Ultra after another. Here's hoping my newest pair of Spyridons will see me through even more amazing and challenging Ultra races and many miles of great memories on the trail; its already off to a good start with the completion of Rocky Raccoon 100. A list of the races I've finished wearing my retired Spyridons:

2012 Run Like the Wind - 51 Miles

2012 Wild Hare 50 Mile
2012 Rocky Raccoon 50K
2012 Whispering Pines 50K
2012 Reveille Ranch 60K
2012 Cedar Ridge Trail Run 36K
2012 Pedernales Falls 60K
2012 Pandora BoX of RoX Half-Marathon Trail Run
2012 Hells Hills 50K

Sunday, February 10, 2013

2013 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Race Report

On the first weekend of February, a major annual sporting event was being held that I’ve been anxiously awaiting for all year, no not the Super Bowl, but what is considered by some the local “Super Bowl” for Texas trail runners, the 2013 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Endurance Trail Run (also a 50M option).  This wasn’t supposed to be the year to challenge myself at the 100 mile distance; I had only started running Ultras since last April and laid out a rough road map at the beginning of last year to tackle various Marathons and Ultras, including half a dozen or so 50 milers, all in an effort to build a solid base of races under my legs as I work up the nerve to make a go of it at Rocky Raccoon 100 in 2014.  The faint optimistic side of me, however, wanted a shot at the 100 at Rocky Raccoon in 2013; with the race entries selling out in record time by July (it sold out a year earlier in December!), I had to register quickly once the floodgates were opened for 50 milers to sign up for the race.  With little time to hem and haw and spend agonizing months of talking myself in and out of running the hundred, and some encouragement from Ultra running friends (Ultra Runners are truly a terrible influence), I sat at my desk, ashen faced with dread staring at the register button for probably half an hour and finally signed up for the 100; the race sold out two weeks later.  I could have always drop down to the 50 miler later on I told myself, but something about hitting that final confirmation register button makes it so that there’s no turning back now; no matter how badly I wanted to drop to the 50 later on, I was committed to running the 100...nothing left to do now but train for the impossible.

As it turns out, signing up for the 100 was the best thing I did for my training, as it finally made me take training and approaching Ultras more seriously; sure I was already committed to Wild Hare 50 Mile in November by that point, but that distance didn’t quite scare me as much as a 100 Miler did.  Following mainly the 100 mile training program at the Ultra Ladies Trail Running website that emphasized back to back long runs on the weekends in order to condition your legs to run while fatigued in the later stages of an Ultra, I felt stronger than I ever had before and started knocking out Ultras every 2-4 weeks (along with PR’s) for several months; until I got a just a bit too sure of myself and took on a challenge that was perhaps, a bridge too far.  Just 3 weeks after my first 50 mile at Wild Hare, where I put in a pretty decent performance completing the run in about 11:18Hrs, I signed up for the Run Like the Wind 24 Hour timed run event held in December at Austin, Tx.  

I wasn’t anywhere near ready to run for 24 hours, especially so soon after Wild Hare, but with Rocky just two months away, I felt I badly needed the experience of just being on my feet for that long of a period.  My objective at Run Like the Wind was to work on some Run/Walk strategies, see how long I could last on my feet, and just enjoy myself out there with no specific goal to stress myself about.  While I found the timed format and short 1KM course to be monotonous, I generally had a great time at RLtW, you’ll probably never eat better at a running event, as the race director was cooking meals all day like grilled cheese sandwiches, spinach lasagna, quiche, other great food items, and a variety of delicious hot soup and gourmet coffee to keep you warm late into the night, I’ve never eaten so well at a race before!  Being stuck on such a short course for hours on end, you can really get to know other runners who are often eager to strike up long and interesting conversations to distract from the monotony of going around in circles over and over again.  The course wasn’t in the best of shape and had a lot of hard mulch that constantly beat under my feet while wearing my Vibram Spyridon trail shoes.  I was also not fully recovered from Wild Hare either, the last 6 miles were painfully slow, where I had to stop after every half mile for an extended break.  I reached my goal there of at least 50 miles (turned out I had an extra bonus mile later on), and dropped at just under 14 feet were so numb I couldn’t stand for an hour afterwards.  While I would do Run Like the Wind all over again if given the chance, I was effectively burnt out from running afterwards and spent the next two weeks barely getting out of bed for a run...with Rocky coming ever closer on the calendar, I started to worry.

After a couple low mileage weeks following Run Like the Wind, I did what I always do to stay motivated to train, I signed up for another Ultra, Bandera 50K in January, where I would plan to use it as my last long run before Rocky.  In the meantime, I seeked out any trail running group I could find because I had a lot of trouble motivating myself for those long tortuous training runs.  First up was with a pickup group at the Lake Georgetown trails, whom I promptly missed out on after arriving late, but happened to run into the third place finisher at Cactus Rose 50 Miler.  For most of the Marathon loop around the lake, I thought he was trying to get me killed by speeding through the ridiculously technical trails of Lake Georgetown and bombing the rocky downhills with absolute reckless abandon.  At any moment I was deathly afraid of busting my head open on the sharp cheese grater rocks that litters the course like the Lunar landscape, but it was exhilarating at the same time as I haven’t really tested my speed and gone all out in so long, while training for Ultras speedwork is almost an afterthought sometimes; managed to hang onto him for a good 21 miles anyway before I bonked hard...still managed a Marathon PR that day.  My longest mileage week for the month came right before Bandera 50K when I joined a small group for a 20 mile training run at Huntsville on Saturday and did an extra 18 mile the following Sunday (53 total miles for the week), and as I wrote in my race recap for Bandera, running it on exhausted non-tapered legs was part of the plan to get me ready for Rocky...I would question myself later at Rocky if that was a good idea or not, Bandera 50K under muddy conditions felt a lot tougher than the Wild Hare 50 Mile that I ran earlier.

That 3 week spurt of hard training helped to ease my mind a bit going into Rocky, but I was still way off on the 100 mile training schedule I was supposed to follow, not once did I hit the high volume 60-70+ mile weeks that was scheduled, and only broke 50 miles in a week once all December and January!  This sent my anxieties about running a 100 mile race into overdrive, and I proceeded to sandbag to everyone I knew and all over the Tejas Trails Facebook group.  I needed to publicly lower expectations about the race (such as abandoning delusions of a sub 24 finish) to take some of the pressure off myself, and soak up whatever last minute advice and encouragement I could receive; the Tejas Trails Facebook group truly is one of the best running communities you’ll find online, filled with passionate and knowledgeable runners from all walks of life.  I may have had to stumble into Rocky woefully under trained, but at least I would be rested and prepared.  I’ve learned a lot from all the previous Ultra’s I’ve ran in the past year, and would recommend anyone contemplating a 100 miler to spend at least a year racking up as much Ultras in the 50K to 50 Mile range as they can.  I came into Rocky with my legs well rested from a long 3 week taper, took the time to prepare my drop bag for anything I might possibly need, planned my nutrition and race strategies over the course of the day, and sprung for a Hotel room just to get an extra 2 hours of sleep (Huntsville is less than a 3 hour drive from where I live in Dallas); anything can happen in a long Ultra though, and I would be in for an incredibly long, painful, and difficult ordeal when disaster struck early into the race.

Learning from the race morning crush from Bandera where it took me over an hour just to park my car, pick up my race packet, and barely making it to starting line with 5 minutes to spare (no time to hit the porta johns, had to sneak into the woods for one last go); I picked up my packet the day before the race, attended a great trail briefing, and arrived early to Huntsville State Park the morning of the race.  It was nice to actually have some time before the race to stretch, calm some last minute jitters, and catch up with friends I only get to see at these races and this being one of the largest trail runs in Texas, it seemed like everyone I knew showed up for the race and plenty more people that I didn’t but recognized me online.  Races serve as a large social gathering more than anything, especially to Ultra Runners who probably spend the majority of their long training runs alone, I normally walk away with a half a dozen or more new friends after each event.  

So bright and clean at the start.

After more than a years worth of training and nearly 3 and half years since I first read “Born to Run” and started dreaming of running a 100 miler someday, the countdown to the 6am start time completed, and off I went with 339 other runners down a single track trail in the darkness to start the race.  It was an awe-inspiring sight to see a “Trail of Fireflies” as a never-ending stream of bobbing headlamps snaked down a winding trail as I looked behind me.  The first loop went by before I knew it, I approached Rocky with a run 8 minutes and walk 3 minutes interval strategy, but the first 3 miles to the first Aid station at the Nature Center went by in a blur and would have been difficult to stop anyway with hundreds of other runners directly behind me on a single track trail.  I decided to start my intervals after the Nature Center, but kept running into old friends and complete strangers to strike up conversations with and spent most of the first loop chatting.  Finished the first of five 20 mile loops in 4:14:50 Hrs, a little bit faster than I would have wanted, was targeting an easy 14 minute pace for my first loop; next time I’ll try starting near the back of the pack to make sure I don’t go out so fast.

It was now noon, with little cloud cover, the temperatures was slowly starting to rise from the mid 40s into the mid 70s with lots of humidity; I grabbed my handheld water bottle, in addition to the 20 oz fuel belt I was already wearing, and headed off to start the second loop...I didn’t get very far before an old nemesis came back to haunt me for the entire race.  If you’ve read my previous race reports, I’ve talked a lot about coming back from a lengthy injury to my left knee that held me back to limited miles for half of 2011; it’s the main source of anxiety that I have about running and why I’m hesitant to really push myself towards new challenges before I feel ready for them, and also why I chose Wild Hare to be my first 50 miler, because I would have most of 2012 to ease into my training for it.  My knee problem is the constant boogeyman that I live with, and every-time there’s the slightest bit of pain coming from my left knee, I panic and shut down my running in fear of aggravating it further.  I was feeling great starting off loop 2, and then it hit me at around mile 23, the Iliotibial band over my left knee crapped out on me, so soon into Rocky, I was mortified.  I haven’t had ITB issues for over half a year now, I’ve done both my 50 milers and Bandera 50K without a hint of pain, the Running Gods were cruel to torment me on my Goal race!  Was Bandera the straw that broke the camels back when it came to my aggravating my ITB, with it’s tough climbs and muddy conditions, or was I just worn out completely after a year of hard racing with 8 Trail Ultras and another 2 Trail Marathons?  I would have more time to contemplate that question later, it was much too early to quit now on my Goal race (any other race, and I might have dropped).  Afterwards, I couldn’t run more than 5 minutes before my knees would badly ache and I would have to take a 2-3 minute walking break to settle my knee pain back down.  I was already doing a Run/Walk interval strategy anyway, I just had to dial back my running a few minutes and walk a bit more, and once I made it past the second loop, I can grab my Cho-Pat Dual Action Knee Strap for loop 3 and hope for the best.  

I reached the DamNation aid station 6 miles into the loop and stopped for a few minutes to massage my knee, something I will be doing at every Aid station and any log I could sit on from now on, before heading out to start the DamNation loop.  The DamNation loop is a 6 mile out-n-back, beginning and ending at the aid-station, I could have sworn the loop didn’t take half as long during the first go around.  In addition to my Run/Walk strategy, I planned to walk any hill and incline I saw, at least for the first 3 loops, the goal was to start loop 4 with my legs still feeling fresh.  I knew that if I pushed myself too hard in the first 3 loops and my legs felt trashed going into the fourth loop, I may have not finished the race.  I read many people DNF at Rocky after the 3rd loop because they pushed themselves too hard at the beginning, and the thought of 40 more miles was too daunting to contemplate; at Rocky the race really begins at loop 4, the first 60 miles is just a training run.  The DamNation loop starts off with a lot of long gradual inclines, and for the sake of my knee, I started power-walking anything above 0 degree grade.  The temperature was now in the mid 70s, and I started taking in an S-Cap and three Endurolytes every hour (works like magic for me, I cramp everytime I try to get away with less in similar temperatures) to stave off cramps, ran shirtless and used my second water bottle to periodically dump ice-cold water over my head.  I don’t like to drink much in a race, as it causes stomach issues for me, so the second water bottle to cool myself down was crucial, and especially needed as I drained all my water bottles upon finishing the DamNation will only seemingly get longer and longer each time I start it again.  

I finished the second loop in 5:04:21 Hrs, not bad timing for being hobbled with a bum knee; before heading off for the 3rd loop, I grabbed my Cho-pat knee strap from my drop bag along with a headlamp for when it gets dark again at the end of the loop.  The knee strap was a huge relief for me, the last time my ITB flared up this bad was during the middle of Pedernales Falls 60K back in June of last year, it allowed me to finish the race, so while I was a little more optimistic with my chances of finishing the race with the knee strap, I still had 60 more miles to go.  The knee strap didn’t quite alleviate the pain, however, but I was able to run a lot longer before I had to stop for walking breaks (around 9 minute run for ever 3 minute walk); I still chose to take things conservatively with my interval strategy though and kept things easy going, I would need my knee intact for the last two loops.  The DamNation loop this time took nearly 1 and half hours to complete, but ran into a couple friends that made the time fly by quicker, including an older 60-something year old guy who I met earlier during the first 3 miles of the race, Bobby K, who was on his 14th go around at Rocky 100!  The race got dark by this time and he was caught without a headlamp, so I ran with him till we made it back to DamNation; it was amazing just listening to the guy, he’s lived a pretty incredible life, one of things I enjoy most about running Ultras is the people you meet, and I think everyone doing these tough races have a story to tell, because we all have to be a little bit peculiar to want to run a 100 miles in the first place.  

I would run into Bobby K again later, after a brief stop at DamNation for some wonderful hot Vegan Barley soup they were serving at night, and after so many gels, I felt re-energized to have something hot in my stomach (especially when the temperature started dropping); off I went to a 3 and half mile trek to the next aid station, called Park Road, on one of the most boring parts of the trail, it’s pretty much a flat jeep road but I met a few more people along the way to keep it interesting.  Ran into the only other person there wearing Vibram Spyridons besides me that I saw, met her briefly on the second loop, but with this being her first 50 miler, the roots must have gotten a bit much out of her so she had to switch shoes; I was doing great so far in avoiding the roots, but they will ding me hard a few times later on.  After she couldn’t keep up anymore, I ran a mile or so with my friend David J, who was going for the Tejas 300 (a Granite in the shape of Texas for completing Cactus Rose 100 Mile, Bandera 100K, and Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile, sequentially in that order), unfortunately he was having a rough go of it, and I found out he had to drop later on; ran with him for about a mile before he fell behind.  After having ran into such an accomplished Ultra runner in Bobby, I met an equally accomplished older lady who was power-walking her way to a 50 Mile finish.  Not sure how the conversation got started, but it turns she was on her 1,300th mile finish of Rocky (combined 100 and 50 Mile races); she was telling me about her knee injuries and how it kept her out of running for a few years, this gave me the opportunity to ask her about my own knee problems.  I was growing very worried at this point that I may be doing permanent damage to my knees, because it wasn’t getting any better, but she assured me that as long as I stuck to my short intervals and don’t push the knee too hard, I wasn’t going to permanently damage it.  She also showed me a few stretching exercises to loosen up the ITB that would help immensely later on, feeling relieved after all the advice I received from her, I thanked her and ran on ahead to complete the third loop in 5:34:44 Hrs.

With it being night-time for several hours now, the roots were getting harder and harder to avoid with just one headlamp, so I grabbed my second headlamp from my drop-bag (I wrap the band around my arm and palm the headlamp, very comfortable to hold this way and easy to direct the light with my hands), also my Brooks Essential Run Jacket for the cold (temperatures would drop to the mid 40s again), and before I up on Vaseline; mentioning this purely as PSA for the new trail runners out there contemplating a 100 miler or even a 50 Mile, Vaseline or baby rash cream like Desitin will be needed periodically to apply “down there where the sun doesn’t shine” or you’ll experience VERY uncomfortable chafing 8 hours or so into your run.  Shortly after leaving for the fourth loop I ran into another “legend” of the Ultra-running world, Parvaneh Moayedi, an older lady I met during Pedernales Falls 60K who goes around completing Marathons and Ultras practically every week (260 something lifetime total, I think), even when she broke her arm!  Got the chance to ask her some advice about dealing with ITB pain, and most importantly got reassurance that taking pain killers like Advil or Tylenol would be okay during an Ultra, as long as I continued to take it easy and stay well hydrated.  Pain killers is something I try to avoid as much as possible, as I prefer to “listen to my body” and what it’s telling me; I fear masking the pain would cause me to do too much damage, but the pain in my left knee was slowly ratcheting up, I would be begging for pain killers later on.

Parvaneh was falling behind, so I thanked her and ran ahead, not long after I ran into Bobby K again and we immediately struck up conversation.  He was telling me about his past life in the service as a Paratrooper, living 7,000ft up in the mountains of Arizona in his current home, and his adventures of running in the rugged trails and facing dangerous wildlife in his many jaunts through the forest.  He’s had more near death experiences than he could count (including one that almost paralyzed him in a parachuting accident), and lives life to the fullest as a result, I couldn’t help but think I wanted to grow up to be exactly like him when I’m his age.  We made it to the Nature Center aid station in no time, I bid Bobby farewell and ran ahead, I wouldn’t see him again till he blew past me on the fifth loop.  The short 3 mile trip between the Nature Center aid station and DamNation is one of the rootier sections of the trail, this is where two powerful light sources come in handy, a headlamp to see further in the distances, and a handheld one to direct where you’re stepping on the ground.  I was being extremely careful with the roots, but after 60 miles, exhaustion sets in making it hard to pick up your feet, I stubbed my toes particularly hard, and at that point in the race, the pain seemed to magnified triple wouldn’t be my last time.  Vibrams Spyridons does have decent toe bumper protection, but no where near the protection of something like the Altra Lone Peaks that I had as my back-up shoe, but I’m stubborn when it comes to Vibrams, and was determined to finish the entire race in them.

By the time I made it to DamNation, the pain in my left knee was getting more intense, I rested there for about 10 minutes to massage and stretch my ITB (not to mention more soup), and would have stayed longer, but DamNation was starting to look like a M.A.S.H camp at this point with weary runners huddled under blankets not wanting to leave.  I saw an Aid Station volunteer there talking to a runner who seemed to be in state of shell-shock, it was painful just to witness, I asked for some Aleve, pounded down a can of V8 (never tasted so good!), and got out of there in a hurry.  The painkillers kicked in about half an hour into the fourth DamNation loop, and I was able to move in a decent pace this time.  I started running into less and less runners by this point, with the 50 milers already done and me being fairly in the back of the pack for 100 milers, along with no Pacers to keep me company, I prepared for a lonely march.  Thankfully I ran into couple people along the way, including Juan who seemed to be having a lot of trouble when I met him, this was both of our’s first 100 miler.  We talked for a bit about why exactly are we in the middle of a 100 mile run, the various pain and ailments we're both struggling through, and upcoming future races; where he’s doing the Caballo Blanco Copper Canyon 50 Mile Ultra next month, a long time dream of his and mine.  After a while of talking, I had to keep moving on, and we parted ways; was relieved to see him finish at the end, and later found out in his own race report that I was big help in motivating him to finish the race.  Everyone may be in there own races, but in a long Ultra, in a way, we’re all in this together; it’s always nice to receive a bit of encouragement from other runners late into a race, even if it is just a short “Keep it up” or “Finish Strong” while they pass you up.  

After finishing up the DamNation loop, the long Jeep road to the Park Road Aid station seemed to stretch on forever, and I ran it completely alone without another headlamp in sight.  I remember joking earlier to a runner who was in the 50 Miler that I was so looking forward to all the hallucinations and freaking out that can occur during 100 milers so late into the race that I’ve read about in “Born to Run”.  While I didn’t quite experience much of that during my run at Rocky, this was one of the few moments that I started freaking out.  The Jeep road seemed endlessly long, I kept looking around swearing a turn would come up at any moment, only to be disheartened to see a reflective marker far off into the distances. A few times, I must have hallucinated and jumped aside thinking a tall and dark monster was jumping at me, but it just turned out to be trees...even though I was in pain, I started running faster just to get through this section.  I was relieved to finally make it to the Park Road AS, rested my knees a bit, had some Ramen soup, and gorged myself on some amazing Nutella Coffee squares there.  With the brief rest and all that sugar and caffeine, I was back to my senses and headed off to finish the loop.  The rest of the trip to finish up loop four was pretty uneventful, near the end of the loop though, my ITB pain started becoming excruciatingly bad...I hobbled my way to finish line in almost an hour greater time than my last one, at 6:25:23 Hrs.

It was now around 3:15 am on Sunday morning, and I’ve been running for 21:15 hrs, with most of it on a bum knee that was now screaming bloody murder at me.  I asked the AS volunteers there for some painkillers, he said he didn’t have any, and that’s when I started shamelessly pleading for some because my ITB was killing me.  Someone close by heard me, and gave me some Tylenol, thanking him, I sat down for around 10 minutes to massage and stretch my ITB, along with the rest of my legs that were beginning to all tighten up on me.  I had a cold Vege Pizza at the aid station, and before leaving for my final loop, I proclaimed out loud “Death March to Finish!” to some cheers and slowly started the fifth and final dreadful pain.  The first 3 miles to the Nature Center AS I passed a ton of people on their way to the finish area, congratulating those finishing up their races and wishing luck to those who had one more loop to go; it was a re-energizing moment to see the happy faces on the finishers, and running into some friends I hadn’t seen in awhile finishing up their fourth loops.  

I was now in Aid Station to Aid Station survival mode, I made it to the Nature Center AS in surprisingly good pace, running past all those people helped me forget about my pain a little.  I got stuffed with warm mash potatoes before leaving for DamNation, this time the 3 mile trip would be tortuously slow.  My calves started seizing up, and it became painful even to run downhill now, with this being one of the more rootier sections, somehow I could swear the roots have doubled in number AND in size, I stubbed my toes a few times more, the pain would shoot through my body like lightning.  I limped into DamNation, sat down and never wanted to get up again.  When I got there, there was this girl passed out in the chair for about half an hour, the volunteers managed to coax her out of the aid station, but she came right back like a lost puppy and went back to sleep, passing out almost immediately.  Freaked out by the sight, just like the last time at DamNation of the shell-shocked runner, I got my soup, pounded down another V8, and left for my final DamNation loop...I didn’t get more than 15 feet before I almost felt like crying from all the pain, and wondering how much more my ITB could take before it snaps like a twig from under me; yes, the thought of race organizers finding me lying crumpled on the side of the trail entered my head if I continued on at that point.  

I sat down on a log beside the trail for a moment to gather myself, I never felt more like quitting than at that point, the 6 mile DamNation loop never seemed more daunting, and after that I would still have 8 more miles to go!  I remember discussing with a friend over a year ago who was just starting out Ultras, that you’re not proving anything to anyone by running a 100 mile race, and that’s true; most people you know thinks you’re crazy for attempting any Ultra distance event in the first place, much less a 100 mile race!  I had something to prove to myself though, before I started running Marathons and Ultras my life felt pretty damn stagnant, working at the same boring office job day in and day out wondering what to make of it all.  I was suffocating with the content I had with my life at that point and I started running again after a long hiatus to deal with the stress; that eventually led me to the book “Born to Run”, the world of running, trails, and Ultras and the challenge they present has called to me ever since.  I was running a 100 mile race that day to prove to myself that no matter how long and perilous the challenge may be, that I would still be able to find someway to draw on some deep hidden well inside of myself, to find the will to keep moving forward, and finish what I’ve started.  I got up, fished out my iPod, played the "Rocky Balboa: The Best of Rocky" soundtrack album, and got moving.

As cliche and corny as it may seem, the Rocky Balboa soundtrack was deeply motivating for me, especially when Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” song came on; I sang along, embarrassingly so, forgetting a lot of the pain I was in, the lyrics never seemed more fitting to me than at that very moment in my life.  With lyrics like these:  

“Went the distance now I'm back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive
So many times, it happens too fast
You trade your passion for glory
Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive”


“Risin' up straight to the top
Had the guts, got the glory
Went the distance, now I'm not gonna stop
Just a man and his will to survive“

It’s as if the song was made for Ultra Runners to pick themselves up from the moment of utter despair and keep moving forward, no matter what.  I resolved to finish the race after that song, it won’t be getting any easier though, it would take me over 2 hours to cover the final 6 mile DamNation loop.  I eventually ran into two ladies about half an hour into the loop, one was pacing another lady who was walking at a 45 degree angle the entire time, I wasn’t the only one suffering out there.  I asked them if they had any painkillers, the Pacer gave me some Advil, and proceeded to talk non-stop for probably 15 minutes or so.  The other lady didn’t say a word, it must have been like that for awhile for these two, so the first person the Pacer had a chance to talk to, she wasn’t going to stop.  They were going at pretty good walking pace, so I didn’t mind too much, and it helped take my mind off the pain a bit.  Once the extra painkillers started kicking in, and I was finally able to get in a word, I bid them good luck and started running again.  

It was well past 6am by this point, I had been up on my feet running for a full day now, and the Sun was finally coming up again.  After spending 12 hours straight in the cold dark night running, the sunlight was rejuvenating and at the same time, highly disorienting.   As I said earlier, it would take me over 2 hours to finish this loop, going at effectively a 20+ min/mile pace, the DamNation loop was dragging on forever.  With me being disoriented from the bright sunlight, I started panicking and wondering if I was lost, all the trees suddenly seemed similar to what I vaguely remember that was there at the beginning of the race.  I had my GPS watch on me this time to map the course for Rocky, I had been using my interval watch for the rest of the race, so I knew how painfully slow I was moving and how much more miles I had to go; I took solace in the numbers, it was the only thing I had to go by.

For all the times I stubbed my toes hard on the roots at Rocky, I had never once fell down, until now.  I was Zombie running, exhausted and hungry, the loop had gone on for too long and I had nothing to eat; I was just mindlessly moving my body forward hoping to make it back to the DamNation aid station soon, that’s when I promptly tripped on a root and collasped onto the ground.  It wasn’t a hard fall or anything, but I just didn’t want to get up, the ground underneath felt so invitingly soft to lie on, and there I laid for maybe a good 2-3 minutes.  The brief rest was exactly what I needed to wake myself up and finish up this damn loop (pun intended)!  After another mile, I finally ran into other runners and someone I recognized, the lady who had helped me at Wild Hare so many months back.  It was really great to see her again, she was out pacing a friend, and we immediately broke out in conversation for the rest of the way back to DamNation.

I hated having to watch her go, but I needed to rest my knee at DamNation for awhile, and I was so hungry I ate everything in sight, luckily they still had more of their wonderful soup left.  I now had less than 8 miles to go, and with 4 hours left, I actually wondered out loud if I could actually make the cut-off...I was moving that dreadfully slow.  On the way to the Park Road AS, I eventually ran into two other runners who had been death marching their entire last loop, I joined them in the march on that long jeep road.  We got to talking, one upping each other on how much more pain the other was in, and when one of them mentioned he took some Hydrocodone he found in a bag on the side of the trail out of desperation from walking on a swollen ankle for most of the loop...he won that conversation.  

The trip to the Park Road AS didn’t seem too long that time thanks to them, they marched off on ahead, while I had to rest my knee again for awhile.  I got a surprise when my friend Ben Martinez finally caught up to me, I hadn’t seen him since the first loop, he was also going for the Tejas 300 award, so I was happy that he was finally near the end of that grueling challenge.  I joked earlier with him that I may jack him for his Hoka One One’s late into the race, with my feet pretty painful by now in Vibrams, there was maybe a hint of temptation there...but he left soon after arriving.  I fattened up on a some delicious breakfast burritos, ramen soup, and some more of those addictive Nutella Coffee squares and headed off for the final 4.4 miles to the finish.

Inexplicably, I started running again...well shuffling at a decent 16-17 minute pace (it was a decent pace after 95 miles...) most of the way.  Maybe walking for most of the way with the two other guys to the Park Road AS rested my knees, it felt great to be able to do some form of running again, even though my calves were stiff as a rock by this point, and I was developing a lot of pain on my shins.  I threw out finishing sub-24 hours weeks ago as I said earlier in the report, but finishing under 25 or 26 hours seemed very possible, but after my ITB got aggravated so early into the race, I dialed back my expectations to under 28 hours...and finally just to make it under the cutoff of 30 hours when the pain was at it’s worst.  Now that my knees were finally feeling halfway decent again, and after such a long and painful day, I didn’t just want to merely make the cutoff, I wanted a small victory I could be proud of for putting myself through so much torture.  A sub 29 hour finish now seemed possible, maybe even a finish under 28 and half hours if I really pushed myself, with a new goal in mind, I was now running with a bit more purpose under my legs.  

On my way to finish line I passed a handful of what you could accurately describe as the “Walking Wounded”, including a lady who was waddling like a Penguin not being able to bend her legs anymore, she almost took my head off when I informed her she had 2 and half miles to go.  I also passed the two guys I was death marching with earlier just a quarter mile to the finish, they too must’ve had found some life left in their legs.  I was now starting to hear the cheers and loud noises from the crowd, which set me to full on running at a 9 minute pace all the way to finish line, completing my first 100 mile run in 28:32 Hrs.  

Across the finish line

I have never felt more relieved and elated at the same when I crossed the finishing mat for the final time in front of a small, but boisterous crowd.  I received some high-fives and hugs from friends waiting for me at the end before the Race Director handed me the Finisher’s Buckle to signify that the 100 mile journey was officially over, I told him that the buckle was well earned, and got a hug out of him as we took pictures together.  I couldn’t stop smiling as I stayed at the finishing area with friends, cheering on till the very last runners completed their own journeys; it was a very inspiring sight to see all the joy and relief as they all crossed the finish line into the arms of their family and friends.

My finish at Rocky Raccoon 100 has been a long and arduous road that has been over a year in the making that has repeatedly tested my resolve to keep moving forward to it’s limits.  I ran when I was hurt, I ran when I was tired, I ran in the freezing cold, I ran in the pouring rain, I ran after making 2 hours of excuses of not wanting to run, I got up and ran at 4am in the morning many times, I made excuses to get out of countless family gatherings to run, and I ran in many hours of solitude, all to train for one punishing Ultra after another with the underlying goal of crossing that final finishing line at Rocky Raccoon 100.  I can still hardly believe I finally made it, completing a goal that seemed like an unobtainable dream to me 3 and half years ago after reading “Born to Run”.

So I’ve finally obtained that goal I’ve been chasing for so what?  More 100s of course!  Rocky was just the beginning, I want to see just have far these legs can carry me.  I have my sights on Cactus Rose 100, the toughest race there is in Texas, with a date all the way in October, it seems very doable, especially after just completing Rocky.  In the meantime, I’ll be focusing on recovering for a few more weeks, and aiming at much, much shorter races, like a 5K.  I’ve ran many Ultras, but I’ve never actually ran an official 5K or 10K before, I want to focus on the small stuff for awhile and build up my base speed.  I’m not content on just finishing these long Ultras afterall, I do want to start placing higher up in the results sheet as well, maybe even a Sub 24 hour finish at Rocky Raccoon in 2014!

Posing with my Buckle and one of the greatest RD's there is.