I posted this little meme back on December 2nd when I registered for The Rocky Raccoon 100. I had run the Rocky 50 last year and loved it and after running my first 100 at Arkansas Traveller 100 last October, I thought it would be fun to try the 100 at Rocky Raccoon this year. I had no idea how true this meme would turn out to be.
The Rocky Raccoon 100 is held at the Huntsville State Park in Huntsville, TX, about and hour outside Houston, but I got a round trip plane ticket for $57 non-stop to Dallas on Delta (after using the $50 gift card my sister gave me for Christmas last year), so I saved about $400 in exchange for a 3 hour drive.
Even with catching the earliest flight out of Salt Lake City on Friday morning, I just missed the trail brief and made it to the packet pick up with about 30 minutes to spare. I was just glad I got there in time to leave my drop bag. I only had two and that Damnation drop bag proved to be vital.
The Start/Finish as I left packet pick-up.
Missing the trail brief was one thing, getting my drop bag there on time was another. I would have hated to carry it for the first 5.74 miles!
Huntsville is a small town, so pre-race food was limited to fast food, BBQ, and an Olive Garden, so I headed over to Olive Garden for some pasta. The restaurant was packed with about an hour wait, but being alone has its privileges and I got a seat at the bar with no waiting and had a nice spaghetti and meatball dinner with all you can eat salad and bread sticks. It's the one time I didn't feel guilty about eating those bread sticks! LOL!
The Spaghetti and Meatballs was delicious!
My alarm went off at 4:00 AM. I got up, had a cup of tea, a banana bread energy bar and a banana for breakfast, got dressed and headed to the park.
This is my before shot when I looked fresh as the daisy on my head!
I was worried about traffic into the park, so I left at 5:00 AM just to give myself enough time to park, walk to the start, use the facilities and make sure I was ready. It was so cool to run into some friends at the start!
It was awesome to see my Memphis friend, Kaci at the start. She had the Tremendous honor of pacing Gordy Ainsleigh (Western States 100 Pioneer)! Plus, we love rocking our Yeti hats!
Always good to see fellow Marathon Maniac and Run It Fast member John at a race! He killed it the last loop!
The race started promptly at 6:00 AM. The 100 mile course consisted of five 20 mile loops. Looking at the elevation chart and having run just over 10 hours in the 50 miler last year, I thought a 24-26 hour 100 was doable if things went to plan.
The Rocky Raccoon 100 Course Map
My goal was to keep each loop around 5 hours. My first loop I went nice and easy as it was dark for the first hour and I did not want to fall on the notorious roots. I finished loop one in 4:14:23 feeling great.
My first approach to Damnation!
I headed out for loop two thinking that if I could just keep my pace nice and easy like I did in loop one, I might even have some time in the bank to slow down overnight. I crossed the timing mat at mile 28.5 and shortly after that I found myself face first onto the trail. No warning at all. That tree root just grabbed my foot like the Whomping Willow in Harry Potter!
What I felt like when I fell on the trail!
I landed so hard that the breath was knocked right out of me. There were two hikers on the trail that saw me fall and rushed over to help me. When the young lady asked me if I was OK, I could not find the breath to answer her. I felt like a bird that ran into a window and was stunned!
The first thing I noticed was that my left had started to swell and I thought I may have broken it. Then I got up and my ribs were REALLY sore. It hurt to breathe, it hurt to run and every time I tripped, I felt shock waves of pain shooting through me.
Thanks to another runner that offered me some Tylenol right away, I was still able to run, but my pace slowed out of fear of falling again. I still managed to finish my 2nd loop on track.
Coming in to finish loop 2 with my new pal Ash! (Hey Ash! Email me if you move to SLC! I will show you some nice trails!) Photo Credit: Daniel Bucci
I was in quite a lot of pain, so before I started loop 3, I went to the medical tent and had the doctor look at me just to make sure I had not broken a rib. I was examined and was told that I did not break my rib, but I definitely bruised it. There was nothing they could do for it so I had to make a decision to drop or keep going. I was not ready to give up yet, so I headed out for loop 3.
Thanks to the runner and his wife (who was volunteering at the Damnation aid station) for sharing your McDonald's cheeseburgers with me! I never eat this stuff, butt DANG did that burger taste good!
The trail was marked really well. It would be hard to get lost, even for me! Lol!
Just follow the arrows! (I may or may not have sat on that bench during loop 5 too).
Loop 3 felt really good considering. I was able to run and I felt like I was keeping a fairly good pace. It felt the best of all the loops so far, but towards the end of the loop, it got dark and I got scared of falling again. So I decided that a power walk was the safest way to go. Being slow is better than falling and having to quit.
When I finished loop 3, I decided to grab my drop bag and head into the heated tent to change my clothes. I was already cold and I thought some dry layers would help. Since there was no other place to change, I went back to my dancing days and let modesty fly out the window for a few brief moments. My pacer Andy was there so I asked him to hold my sweatshirt up in front of me so I could change out of my wet bra. Showing a brief shot of side boob was better than being cold, so I went with it and was glad I did!
When we got to the Damnation aid station, we were seeing our breath. The temperature had dropped into the 30's and I was shaking violently. I put on another sweatshirt under my clothes, opened a new pack of hand warmers, and 3 pairs of gloves and I was still freezing! The aid station volunteers were ANGELS giving us hot soup, mashed potatoes and quesadillas that fed and warmed us, but even with the best care in the world, I for the first time thought of giving up.
Damnation at night.
There were others in chairs that looked as bad off as I was, but one of the volunteers pulled a portable heater in front of me and had Andy hold a blanket over me like a tent to channel the heat and I dozed off. When I realized that I was sleeping, I jumped up and asked Andy how long I was out? "About 40 minutes" he said. "40 MINUTES?!" I yelled and jumped up and we headed back out into the cold.
You hit the Damnation aid station at mile 5.74 miles into each loop, then take a 7 mile loop until you hit it again. This is the longest stretch between aid stations. Another runner told me earlier in the day that the 7 mile Damnation loop was the hardest on loop 4 and she was right! It felt like an eternity. A cold, dark never ending eternity.
I was always so happy to leave Damnation the second time as the trail was not only mostly downhill, but it consisted of the smooth, packed sand that was easy to run on and not fall. We took full advantage of that section every time, but what followed were sections of lose white rocks that were like running on a pile of marbles! The more times I ran (OK walked) over them the more I cussed!
When we finally hit the Park Road aid station (the last aid station before the finish), I started to cry when I heard the volunteers clapping and cheering as we came in. With tears running down my face, I asked them if we had made the cutoff. They said "YES!" I cried some more and they offered me a bacon and cheese quesadilla for the road. I only had 4 1/2 miles to go!
This section of the trail was a pleasure to run. Nice soft packed sand with no roots! It was the only time I could kind of zone out and not be afraid of tripping!
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be chasing cutoffs on this course, but when I left for loop 5 at 5:45 AM (fifteen minutes before the 6:00 AM cutoff to start loop 5), I have to admit I was a little nervous. I mean, I had 6 hours to finish, but It was still dark and I knew I would not be able to run a good pace until the sun came up.
When I left for loop 5, I was feeling OK. Since time was tight, I was in and out of the aid station, but had Andy grab some extra batteries from my drop bag and what ever he needed, then catch up with me. By the time he caught up to me (about a mile into loop 5), was having a hard time keeping upright. My vision was blurry and I was hallucinating. Thank God for Andy! I just grabbed his arm and told him to make sure I stayed on the trail (as I headed out to the woods a couple of times).
The sun had just came up when we made it to the Nature Center aid station. I sat down in a chair and the wonderful volunteer handed me a cup of warm chicken broth. I told Andy that I knew we were on a tight schedule, but I NEEDED to shut my eyes for five minutes. This is when that same wonderful volunteer said, "Sweetie you don't have time! You have reached the cutoff for this aid station. If you want to finish, you have to leave NOW!"
I wanted to cry. Had I made it through the cold dark night only to get pulled when things are getting better? NOOOOOOOOO! Andy and I jumped up and the pain and tiredness did not matter. We started running! I COULD NOT get pulled at this point!
We made it to Damnation with 15 minutes to spare, hit the 7 mile loop and held onto that 15 minutes. When we hit Damnation on the way back, the sun was warming me up so I dropped some layers, had a melt down (in which the sweet volunteer was so wonderful to me), grabbed a hot pancake and hit the road!
We hit the nice smooth ground and gained back the little time we spent at Damnation. Then we hit the white rocks from HELL! Those stupid rocks were going to be my downfall as, for me, they were impossible to run on without twisting my ankle. At this point I had no reflexes or balance left, so we just power walked them and let the expletives fly!
The white rocks from HELL! They were like running on a pile of marbles! I twisted my ankle pretty good on these a few times!
It was right around this point that Andy's Garmin died (I didn't even start mine) and we had to guess where we were on time. We knew we were going to be close.
I am smiling, but sooo ready to be done! Photo Credit: Andy Bowden
I had to get a quick selfie with my AMAZING pacer Andy!
Getting closer! Photo Credit: Andy Bowden
Stupid roots! Photo Credit: Andy Bowden
After running the loop a few times, you start to pick out land marks that let you know you are getting close to finishing the loop. The first one was the water. When I saw the water, I knew I only has about 2 miles to go.
The lake was so pretty! Photo Credit: Andy Bowden
Photo Credit: Andy Bowden
The second thing was the road crossings. I knew when I crossed a paved road, I was super close. As we got close, I told Andy, we just have to cross 3 streets and we are there. I can't explain how happy I was to see that first street!
Crossing the first street! Now to cross the second and the third one goes right to the finish! Photo Credit: Andy Bowden
After I crossed the first street, Andy ran ahead to the finish so he could make sure he took some pictures. I was left alone to cross that second and third street and I felt a range of emotions. Relief, happiness, sadness, pained, scared and grateful.
Coming into the finish! Photo Credit: Andy Bowden
Ugly cry face and all! Photo Credit: Andy Bowden
When I saw the finish chute, I started to cry when I saw so many people still at the finish line cheering and supporting us at the back of the pack! There had to be over 100 people still there! I crossed the finish line in 29:46:47 (14 minutes and 13 seconds under the cutoff!
Race Director Chris McWatters was there to greet me with a shiny new belt buckle!
Getting my buckle!
After I finished, I sat in a chair in disbelief that I actually survived and was able to finish. I thought about the Tejas Trail tag line "Get Lost and Find Yourself". I did my first 100 at Arkansas Traveller 100 in hopes of finding myself. I came out of that race more lost than ever. Rocky Raccoon was a second chance and I think it worked.
What did I learn about myself? I learned that I my feel weak sometimes, but I am tough.
I learned that I never give up. I may get hurt or beat up, but I won't let the pain tell be who is boss. I will fight for what is important to me.
I learned to respect the distance.
I learned that total strangers can care for you and make you feel like family, let them do it.
I learned that I am blessed with AMAZING friends.
I would like to say THANK YOU to ALL the volunteers! You made each one of us feel special. It was so nice to have volunteers come up to me at the finish with hugs and congratulations!
THANK YOU Chris and Krissy McWatters and crew for putting on such an incredible event!
THANK YOU to Rob Benson for, well everything. Almost everything I needed for this race was given to me by you. I love you dahling!
To my Pacer Andy Bowden, THANK YOU coming out thinking you would be running more, but were totally OK when I had to walk loop 4 in the freezing cold.
THANK YOU for waiting on me hand and foot.
THANK YOU for playing the best of David Bowie on loop 5 to take my mind off of things with a sing along!
THANK YOU for saving ALL the gluten for ME! Dude! Pancakes are AWESOME! LOL!
THANK YOU to my twin sister Angel, who always champions me. I love you twin!
And THANK YOU, my friends for all your well wishes! I REALLY appreciated it!
The swag (jacket is ordered at the finish. I can't wait to get it!)
So what happened after the race? Six things:
- Long, hot shower
- Consumed obscene amounts of fried chicken and mashed potatoes (while laying in bed).
- Super Bowl
No trip to Texas is complete with until you hit a Buc-ee's!
Could barely walk when I got to the airport, so yeah, I went there.
No this fat ankle is not the result of my fried chicken binge. Thank you white rocks from hell!
So Rocky Raccoon, I did not let your evil rocks and roots stop me and who knows, I might come back next year!