Friday, February 13, 2009

Rocky Raccoon 50 mile Race Report--not as long as the race, but pretty close!

This past weekend I had a great time running Rocky Raccoon 50 miler (and subsequently volunteering for the 100 miler).

The course was more challenging then I expected, however, the enthusiastic aid stations, wonderful race organizers and awesome runners easily made up for this challenge. I definitely will be back at Rocky Raccoon next year and will likely bring my husband so we can settle a question that arose after I PR’d my previous best 50 miler by 1 hour and 10 minutes and beat his 50 miler time by nearly an hour. Nothing like a little friendly family competition!

Going into the race I had hoped to break 12 hours, wanted to break 11 hours, but would even settle for a “finish”. As I completed my first lap and second lap in approximately 3 hours 30 minutes and 3 hours 24 minutes respectively, I started becoming aware that a 10:30 was possible. But I still did not believe it (I grudgingly ran sub-12 minute miles when I was instructed to break 5 hours so my dad could see me finish and the NFC championship a few weeks ago during the Arizona Rock and Roll Marathon!).

During my third and final lap I savored my run through the woods with all my friends I knew prior to the race and those competitors who became my friends during my 10 hour 30 minute journey. I was able to see my friends at the DAM aid station (the most enthusiastic aid station I have ever had the pleasure to drop in on). I was able to enjoy the parts of the course that were relatively easy (gotta love the jeep roads) and say good riddance to the sections of gnarly roots, rocks and sand pits. I think my entire race I was pretty ambivalent about the boardwalk section.

In one section during my last lap I tried to cross a bridge veering away from the course (apparently I was the only person to attempt to do this…in my defense I had just taken a picture of the guy who was on his bicycle taunting us all day with his wheels and somehow decided I wanted to continue going straight rather then turning. In fact I considered stealing his bike at that time and just biking off into the sunset). Then in the last mile I decided to officially make it a trail run by stumbling and falling and slamming into my hip. Luckily all I did was smash my elbow and roll onto my hip so other then getting a bit dirty and bruised I was able to get up and continue on (remember: “It’s not a trail run until you get lost and fall down”!).

As I approached the finish line, I was surprised to see the time clock suggested I was sub 10:30. Never in my wildest imagination could I have predicted this time. I think the enthusiasm of the aid station volunteers, my mom’s cheering at various points along the course and the energy I got from so many GREAT runners on the out and back section really contributed to my success!

My day was just perfect and I am incredibly blessed to have shared it with such a great group of people and runners. Everyone was so encouraging and supportive throughout the race. And from my perspective it was a perfect weather day. I enjoy warmth and a day in which the temperature is 75-80 degree is ideal for me. While the course was a bit more challenging then I expected, I think by doing 3 loops, I knew what to expect and became more familiar with the course each lap. I always knew there were sections that were coming up that I preferred even in the rootiest of areas.

Of course the fear of alligators (and rattlesnakes) kept me moving quickly. I surely did not want to be the person the gator or snake decided would be a tasty treat. And this fear contributed to my strong desire to finish before sunset. Since I had no idea what time sunset was (and my watch stayed on Maryland time), I wanted to make sure I finished by 6:30 p.m. (when it is getting dark in MD now). Of course not setting my watch to Central time meant I had no idea what my target time was! In fact along the course I had a lot of trouble keeping track of the actual time because my watch was stuck on MD time and my Garmin 305 was busy screwing with me with respect to my pace (which if you want to see how badly it was doing this take a glance at my blog post…I don’t think I was speeding up and slowing down to the extent my Garmin captured!).

Finally in addition to my fear of gators, pumas and rattlesnakes, I also picked up the pace at the end when the armadillos seemed to come out. They rustled in the leaves and the first few I ran by I thought were some other creature ready to eat me. Even once I realized these noises were likely to be armadillo’s it did not really help because what about the one noise that is a gator, panther, rattlesnake, or other huge man or woman-eating animals. Better to move quickly then find out you are on some creature’s dinner menu!

My race day started off really well. Getting ready is easy now that I can just slip on Drymax socks and I do not have to worry about my feet. Gliding arms, legs, stomach and seams is a breeze and can be done in less then 10 minutes. And my outfit is my usual outfit that ensure I (or someone facing me) knows who I am…no matter how incoherent I get.

Upon arriving at the park, I almost immediately realized I was parked just a few cars away from my friend (and hero!) Jamie D and her husband David. I walked over to the start line with Jamie and David and we caught up briefly. I might have horrified Jamie in two ways during our walk to the start line. I had no idea where the start line was (hey, I’m a back of the packer…pretty much all I do is follow someone ahead of me and hope for the best). I felt bad that I could not offer any advice about the race, but I think she figured out where the start wasJ Jamie also noticed my beverage of choice: Diet Mountain Dew. This stuff is AWESOME (and I might be a little addicted, but I am sticking in step 1 of the program admitting I have a problem but doing absolutely nothing about it!). In fact I believe my beverage of choice horrifies a bunch of ultra-runners and several work colleagues. In fact one of my physician colleagues has me so scared that I wrap my 3 cans of Diet Mountain Dew in a brown paper bag if I move around the office in the morning (told you I was an addict!).

An observation and commentary made during the pre-race loitering focused on my interesting choice of outfits. I had several Hawaiian lei’s on including one that flashed light (this actually was pretty useful in the Disney Marathon in which I was easy to spot by my family) as well as a regular flower lei. I also was re-using one of my black plastic bags to keep my legs warm. I love “Hefty Coutteoure” because it can serve as a windbreak, rain poncho, and warming sauna-like article. It is very portable and very light (so when I no longer needed it I easily stowed it in my handkerchief tied to my fanny pack).

Pretty soon the announcement was made indicating the 100 mile start was coming up. Since the 50 miler started 1 hour later, I walked out about 400 meters so I could cheer on the 100 mile runners. I saw lots of friends who were starting their 100 mile journey. After the start I wandered back to the starting line, took a bathroom break and next thing I knew it was time for the 50 miler to start.

My first lap was pretty uneventful running wise, but in meeting people it was great! I met so many people who were so cheerful and enthusiastic. I think many of these folks I have pictures of including: Julie, Donna, Frankie, Amy, Steve and so many others. As I moved from group to group finding my pace I chatted about a variety of subjects including running, life in general, etc. Pretty soon we are approaching the first aid station. The aid station is a hub of activity and the volunteers are ready to attend to your every need. I eat a bit, drink a bit and chat briefly. Then all to soon it is time to head back onto the course.

About 6 miles into the race we started seeing the fast 100 milers coming towards us on an out and back section. First there were several men. Then Jamie comes along bounding down the trail. I take a picture and wish her luck and right behind me someone else wishes her luck. It is one of the folks she has mentioned on her blog: Ed C. He is hysterically funny. We chat for a while about a bunch of topics. He mentions he is signed up for Vermont 100. I tell him about my experience and suggest a hotel to consider (Yankee Village if you want an “interesting” hotel or Super 8 for a more normal chain hotel…Super 8 is a bit further but if you want covered wiring the extra distance to race start might be worth it, but if you are up for a death defying experience Yankee Village could be the hotel for you!)

At some point I move forward and join a different pack of runners. Everyone is so supportive and good natured. Even though I don’t know that many folks, I find myself making new friends. Amy from Arizona is powering along like a champ even with a prosthetic, Julie and Desiree are running together supporting each other (it’s Desiree’s first ultra), Frankie and Donna are jogging steadily even though Frankie is going to pace a 100 miler over night and so many others. It is like a party except we are all moving forward. Pretty soon I am arriving at the DAM aid station where it genuinely is like a party! The aid station volunteers could not be more enthusiastic and announce your name as you come into the aid station. “It’s TAMMEEEE, welcome!” is the announcement made each arrival. They do this for all runners but I think my announcement is easiest since I have my name on my shirt (seriously if anyone ever resuscitates me, they better use my name, not “Ma’am”! Even Marine Corps Marathon, because I hate being Ma’am-ed!). And calling me a number is just impersonal and sad ;-(

After a quick bite and a bit of Gatorade I move along. Unbeknownst to me, this loop section is only 2.8 or 2.9 miles so pretty soon we are back to the DAM aid station (maybe next year I should actually read the course map/description…or maybe not:-) This section is very cute and for bits of it we are running with the 100 milers. In fact we have a section in which the 50 and 100 milers merge on the Dam which actually confuses me a bit. A runner comes in from my left and I start thinking I have just cut the course. Finally we establish I am a 50 miler and they are a 100 miler and in this section we re-merge. The Dam is really pretty and from it, you can see the start/finish line area. It is only about 400 meters away. I could easily swim it I think!

Getting back to the DAM aid station coming from the opposite direction, the volunteers are just as enthusiastic. They are a wonderful group of volunteers! Since I have a race to run, I have to continue on.

I have no idea of the course but do know I have about 7 miles until the start/finish. There is one aid station in the middle and some out and back portions. But I have no idea what the terrain is like. Luckily it continues to be sections of rooty parts, boardwalks, jeep roads, relatively easy single track, more challenging single track, jeep sections…. The course really varies and no section is too long (whether it is desireable jeep or yucky single track with roots). There is a bit of switchbacks/zigzags in which you can see runners ahead and behind and the middle of the packers from the 100 miler are facing us on some of the out and back sections. I continue meeting up and chatting with 50 mile runners and try to cheer the folks we are facing along the course.

Pretty soon I am at the next aid station. My mom is there. I give her a hug and my long sleeve pink shirt. I ask her to take it back to the main aid station. I get a picture of us then go the aid station to eat and drink. As I am leaving the aid station I realize I want my mom to bring my shirt to the main aid station so I can put it in my drop bag. Sadly I have no idea what she thinks I said because at the main aid station she brings my short sleeve post race shirt, hmm. Well, after about 10 minutes I get back to the business of running. The last section is very pretty. It is a bit rooty, but it is along a lake. Of course this is not good when I think about the gators. But alas it is very pretty and the sun is out with a picture perfect blue sky.

Up ahead there is the wide dirt path right near the start. I get to the 16.67 mile mark in 3 hours 30 minutes. I am really happy to see my mom and all the aid station volunteers. I get a picture of us, resupply my water bottle (with ice…yum!) and grab some food and gatorade. I am feeling good and happy and now at least have an idea of the course.

During my second lap I run with a variety of 50 and 100 mile runners. During an out and back, I run into Anthony who is looking strong. I start to bond with some of the runners who I keep seeing in the out and backs. My favorite runner becomes #15, who finally in our last lap I learn his name is Dane. He is really encouraging and enthusiastic and finishes his first 100 mile in about 18 hours! He is an ironman triathlete, but this is his first 100. During this lap I see my friends Frank P from Virginia Happy Trails and Bill T who are running the hundred. I see Luann T (Bill’s wife) who is race walking the 50 miler. I see my friend Angela I who I have run about 15 marathons at various locations (most recently I think the New Hampshire Marathon in Oct). At about mile 30 for me, I run across Wayne who is running the 100 mile. We run together for a bit. He suggests he is struggling but I know he can finish for sure and wish him luck in breaking 24 hours. Wayne is really encouraging and is the first person who verbalizes that I can easily break 11 hours. He really gets energized in suggesting that I can do this and all I need to do is keep it up! It really motivates me to keep moving forward keeping my pace. In the out and back sections I also am able to see my friends from the 50 miler. Some are ahead of me, some behind. But it sure is nice to see so many friends along the course!

The aid stations take really good care of us. They refill bottles, provide ice for beverages and putting on our heads, in our sports bra’s (well that’s where my ice went!) and giving us encouragement. Everyone is so kind, positive and upbeat. The DAM aid station announces your arrival and announces your departure, wishing you luck. The Nature Aid station has really nice volunteers ready to attend to your every need and the Park Aid station makes sure to take good care of the runners. The aid stations are a well oiled machine of enthusiasm and efficiency!!!

Pretty soon I am finishing my second lap. About thirty four miles down, only 16 to go! My mom is there to meet me and gives me another hug and some encouragement. I am really excited. I suggest that she go to the next aid station and meet up with me. She heads off in the car and I head off on my feet.

This lap is bittersweet. I am so excited to be well on my way to a PR. And I am glad to be doing my last lap of the sections I dislike (rooty section I’m talking about you!) But I also know that this is the last time I will be running into some of my friends, the last time I will see my friends at the aid station so I must savor every step. I feel really emotional during this lap. All too soon I am at the first aid station. I give my mom a shirt I placed there during the first lap (when I was getting warm) I ask her to bring it to the main aid station). I also incorrectly assert I should be back at this aid station in a few hours (in fact luckily my mom asks someone and they tell her we do not retrace our steps here). I head out of the aid station feeling really good and happy! I move forward and during the out and back, I see Anthony again. He is doing really well and looking really strong. I see my friend #15 and ask his name. It is Dane, he’s my buddy and now I don’t have to call him 15! I see my friend Angela, Luann and so many other friends along the way.

At the DAM aid station they realize they will see me only once more. My return to the aid station is a poignant re-union. I will not see them until 2010. But they have treated me so well with such enthusiasm and passion. If only I could adopt them all! I see my friends Ed, Julie, Frankie and so many others. I am just flying along. I get to the final aid station and realize I am likely to finish before 6:30. But wait, 6:30 Maryland time is 5:30 Texas time…that is 10:30 just like Wayne predicted. I get a case of the nerves for a few moments but then decide I must focus and do this! I get to the bridge where my friend the bicyclist is. I take his picture then try to change the course. Luckily he points out my error and I am back on track. Less then 3 miles to go, then 2 miles…then I fall!

Stupid Root! What the @#$(#%*??? Next thing I know I am falling onto my elbow (thanks elbow for taking the brunt of the fall), and rolling onto my hip (thanks hip!). I am down. This really sucks! I now am dirty. My hands are grimy and my elbows a bit scraped up and my hip hurts….but not bad enough. I am going to break 10:30. That becomes my mantra. I get up and resume my running being extra cautious. I run the single track, I run along the street, I run up the hill approaching the ranger house, and I know the finish is just up ahead. I run across the street and the finish line is in sight.

I grab my camera snap a few pictures, and cross the finish line in 10 hours 26 minutes and 11 seconds. I am so excited! I have PR’d by over 1 hour.

My mom is at the finish. I give her a hug. I get my medal and get someone to take my picture. I then get a picture with my mom under the Rocky Raccoon sign. Since I know my legs have the tendency to stiffen up, I suggest we walk a little. We walk the course backwards and cheer on my 50 miler friends as they approach the finish and encourage my 100 mile friends as they finish a lap. It is a great day for me.

We get about 800 meters from the finish and we sit down for a bit. It is nice to sit. Finally we realize it is getting dark, so we head back to the finish cheering on runners as we go.

I had an amazing day! And it was not over. It was time to start volunteering. But that is a story for another day.

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