I was really happy throughout the race and really enjoyed seeing so many friends, having so much fun running and just enjoyed the whole day.
I know I am really lucky to be able to do what I enjoy. I also am so fortunate to have so many great friends.
The weather was nearly perfect for an ultra. It was sunny, not too cold and there was only a slight breeze for the most part.
Here is my friend Dane running the 50 miler for the first time.
Here is my friend Dane running the 50 miler for the first time.
Due to some health issues earlier in the week he ended up running a 50 km not the full 50 miler, but realistically it is better to stop to run another day than to do something foolish.
Dane will be running Umstead 100 mile in just about 2 months and then will be running the Oddesey Race a 204 mile race from Gettysburg to DC (I think) later in April/May.
Previously Dane ran 52 marathons in 52 weeks which he chronicles in his book "See Dane Run"
Approaching the Dam I had a moment to take a self portrait picture. Sometimes I take pictures because I need a bit of a break and this is the way I can easily take a break without looking like a slacker:-)
You can see that the majority of the course is run in forest. Some of the forest is evergreen while other sections are oaks or other trees with leaves.
The course is pretty nice soft pack dirt with about a 50/50 split of jeep road and single track. There are also a bunch of bridges you run along that apparently cover some really muddy sections.
We ran a good portion of the first 40 miles hopscotching when our paces were different as well as running together.
Paige is really sweet and a super strong runner. She is lots of fun to run with.
I spent a bit of time running a bit with them at the end of both our lap 1. They were finishing their 20th mile while I was finishing my 16.5 mile.
I took a moment to examine what I could win if only I was running the 100 miler and if only I was a decent runner.
Someday perhaps I will be faster but for the time being I am perfectly content to do the best I can.
In fact I have learned that I was 73 out of 240+ finishers (top 30%, wahoo!) as well as the 13th female overall out of 70+ females. This placement really exceeded my hopes since I think of myself as a "back of the packer".
Ready, set, go!
It was the start of my second Rocky Raccoon 50 miler. I knew what to expect from the course (lots of roots) as well as 50 milers, but I did now know what the day would bring for me. I was optimistic about my ability to break 10 hours and was confident that I would finish unless something catastrophic happened.
To break 10 hours I knew I needed to run on average 12 minute miles. However, I knew I needed to run a bit faster to give myself a bit of a buffer as well as to enable aid station breaks, potty breaks and drop bag breaks. This was going to be tough but hopefully manageable.
Unfortunately with ~300 runners doing the 50 miler I inadvertantly placed myself in the wrong place. Because I am so used to being far in the back from the start to the finish of a race, I loitered around a bit. But this meant for the first several miles I was with runners who were aiming for 12 hours up to 29 hours. This enabled me to pace myself in the beginning while I warmed up but after a bit I realized my goal of sub-10 hours could be adversely impacted.
After about 2 miles the single track opened up a bit and I re-assorted myself to a more appropriate place in the conga-line of runners. As I passed runners, my friend Mike from VHTRC was surprised to see me as he was aiming for 12 hours. I explained about being in the wrong place at the start, but I always would prefer to be with a bit slower runners that I can pass than to feel pressured to go super fast.
Continuing on I ran with 3 young ladies who had just run the Disney Goofy. Oddly enough they had their disney marathon shirts on, I think if I were running in a previous race shirt, I would pick the longest/toughest shirt. Luckily I have my lucky outfit including my bright pink "Tammy" tank and long sleeve shirt. It makes dressing easier and of course if I become unconscious everyone will know what name to use.
We chatted for a bit then I headed on to find runners aiming for 10 hours. I was surprised and delighted when I arrived at the first aid station. It was less than an hour into the race and I was feeling great! I drank a few glasses of gatorade then headed on. I was still full from my breakfast of a Cosi chocolate biscotti (my new favorite pre-race breakfast).
As I headed out of the aid station I was alone. I would sporadically catch up with runners and chat briefly but many folks were running their first 50 miler and a few were already struggling. I wanted to draft off an experienced runner who had run a bunch of 50 miles
Pretty soon the faster 100 miler runners were heading our way. They all looked amazingly strong and were in good spirits. Many of them gave us words of encouragement. After a few clusters, I saw my friend Jamie. She was looking so good. She was moving super fast and steady and was in a pack of about 5-10 runners. We exchanged a brief "Go Jamie/Go Tammy" then continued on our way.
As I continued running I was running alone for the most part. But I was happy with my pace. This also enabled me to deal with the occasional mud puddles as I saw fit. I could stop, walk around and figure out the best way to make my way around the puddle in a way that would keep my feet dry and mud free. Sadly by not being in a pack of runners I could not watch where others stepped to avoid the mud; however, I get the impression that many of the runners were just running right through the mud. This was not an acceptable strategy to me, but I believe I am not exactly an ultra runner as I had dirt, falling, getting sweaty and a bunch of other stuff that 90% of the other runners are okay with.
Pretty soon I was approaching the Dam aid station. This was my favorite aid station last year. The North Texas Trail runners lead by Lynn are a super enthusiastic group of volunteers who take GREAT care of all of the runners. I was so excited to see them and as last year they were so cheerful and encouraging. While in the aid station, I saw my friend Dane who was crusing along. He looked really strong and was in good spirits at this time. After a brief chat he headed back onto the course, while I grabbed some gatorade, pretzels and banana's and M&M's and then continued on.
In this section I met Barbara a Texas based runner. She was really nice and seemed to know everyone on the course. We ended up hopscotching our positions for much of the race, but ultimately I believe she finished well ahead of me.
Heading down the jeep trail I was happy to pick up some speed. I wanted to continue building my buffer and this part of the course is easy to run. I was moving fast and feeling really good. It was getting warmer (but not to warm) and it was sunny. What a great day for a race!
After this out and back section, we had a small loop to complete before we headed back to the dam aid station. Somehow as I headed into the loop I got confused. I knew we had to stick left but was running like an American. I almost took out a runner completing the loop in my confusion.
Unfortunately the beginning of the loop section had the worst mud puddle that entailed a long side trip around it. Luckily the puddle was really big, looked very deep and the runners just ahead of me started walking around it. I simply followed these runners and they did a pretty good job of picking their way around it. A few minutes later we were back on the course running. The loop for the 50 milers headed off pretty soon after the huge mud puddle.
We then quickly arrived on the earthen dam. The start/finish line was visible about 300 meters across the lake. Each time I run this section I think how much easier it would be to simply jump in the alligator infested lake to get to the start/finish. Alas I continued running.
A short segment of single track connected us to the jeep trail near the Dam aid station. I grabbed another cup of gatorade for the road then continued running. Although this little loop is supposed to be about 3-4 miles, it felt like it went super fast. I was about 10 miles into the race and less than 2 hours has elapsed since the start.
The jeep road out and back went really quickly. There were many 50 milers heading towards me many of whom I knew by name and/or face. It was so much fun and I was having a great race.
Back on the single track I was moving along quickly and efficiently until I got back to the pretty large mud puddle we would see on both the out and back. I disliked this mud puddle and struggled to figure out if the left side or the right side was better. Unfortunately my first choice was wrong and I had to double back to retry the other side. But it was so worth it.
Again I ended up being being between runners but it was nice to be able to cheer on all of the runners heading towards me without interrupting a conversation. And it allowed me to think about my mom. I spent alot of time along the course thinking about her. This was the last place I saw her, so it was special to reminisce in my mind. Sometimes I miss her so much but during the race I felt closer to her than I have for quite some time. I know she was there in spirit cheering me on and supporting me.
The course continued on with a mix of jeep road and single track. This section heading back to the start/finish has undulating hills. The jeep road has a bunch of hills some of which are steeper than others. However, on the first lap the hills are not as noticeable.
The final aid station along the course had a theme this year, it was the "Mardi Gras" aid station. This became my new co-favorite aid station because the volunteers were so enthusiastic and the station had all sorts of beads all over it. It also had lots of sparkeley Mardi Gras decorations. I felt at home. After chatting with the volunteers and grabbing some gatorade, pretzels, M&M's and banana's I headed off to finish up my first lap.
With only 3 miles until the start finish I was sure I would be finishing my lap in under 3 hours and 15 minutes. I was very excited because this would help in breaking 10 hours. However, at this point I started to have knee pain. It was pretty bad and was on the top of my knee cap and under my knee cap on my leg that has had a bunch of surgeries. This was worrisome because I never know if/when pain might go away or get more severe. I decided to take 2 advil and hope for the best. Because of this pain I knew I was changing my gait a bit and this was the most troublesome. I tried to fight the urge to bend my leg funny but it was tough. My knee was objecting to bending and it was less than 15 miles in. Luckily after a bit the advil or else some endorphins kicked in.
Luckily during this section there were several hills on the jeep road. This gave me an excuse to walk a bit and massage my knee. Finally I was able to run normally again. And it was time to run on the final miles of the single track. This section of the race is very beautiful. The lake is in the horizon and with the bright blue sky it was so lovely. Sadly because I was focussed on the ground trying to make sure I did not trip on a root I only saw this view from my peripheral vision.
This sight was a sign that the start/finish line was really close. Just a few bridges to go, a small hill and I would be finished with lap one. As I headed away from the lake up the small hill I was excited to see the road and the other finger of the lake. Less than 1 mile to finish this lap and I was feeling great! Other than my knee issue, I was feeling strong, my legs were moving and my stomach was doing well.
As I caught up to a pair of runners, I thought I recognized the long blond hair from VT100. I did, it was my friend Paige and Geoff from the VT100. They were running the 100 miler and were looking super strong. I chatted briefly with them and caught up since I had seen them last at JJ100 in Oct. Both looked really strong and were enjoying the race immensely. I was thrilled to see them and enjoying catching up. They are running a bunch of races over the year including several 100 milers.
Heading to the turn around, I was pleased to see my friend Frank from VHTRC heading out for his 2nd lap. I also saw a bunch of other 100 milers and several 50 milers. Then soon enough I was making the right hand turn into the start/finish line. The clock time indicated it was just a little over 3 hours from the start. I was on track for my sub-10 hour finish.