Saturday, February 06, 2010

Rocky Raccoon 50 mile race report

Awake by 4:30 in preparation of today’s battle. Nothing like a little Nyquil to ensure I get good night’s sleep.

Odd as it may seem, two egg and cheese biscuits have become my pre-race meal of choice. After driving through a nearby McDonalds we ate breakfast on our way to the park, arriving at 5:30am. Andrea had enough foresight to rent a shelter for Friday and Saturday. Not only did it serve as a home base for our gear, but it ensured us a convenient parking spot close to the start line.

First on the list of things to do was check in with the volunteers. As I stood there among the runners who were about to start a 100 mile foot race I wondered what must be going through their heads. It seemed like everyone knew each other. With the exception of Andrea, I was there alone. I also considered this a benefit. Without friends around me, I couldn't be sucked into any bad vibes. Most runners are positive in nature, but as a group we seem to confess all our aches and pains to anyone willing to listen.

The temperature was a pleasant 38-ish degrees, which is perfect for running yet too cold to stand around in shorts and a technical shirt. With the truck parked only a hundred yards away we decided to spend the next 30-45 minutes in the protected shelter of our vehicle. I set my alarm to wake up fifteen-minutes before the race, but I was too anxious to sleep.

A weird feeling crossed over me as I heard the hoopla of the 100-milers starting their race. It felt like someone punched me in the stomach, but without the pain. Very odd!

With 20-minutes to the start I finally walked back to the starting line. Once there I became extremely selfish. Deep inside me the mental preparation had begun. This fight would be a long battle in which I planned to win. Andrea was energized and probably expected more from me, but I blocked everything out during those final minutes. Today was about me and those fifty miles ahead.

If there were pre-race instructions I didn’t hear them. Maybe the self-induced trance I placed myself in was too deep. I had not noticed the start of the race until the runners in front of me started moving. I hadn’t looked at my watch, but it would appear we started on time.

The night before the race I preloaded a workout in my Garmin forerunner. Having never run this far, there was uncertainty if the watch battery would last the entire race. To manage battery life I kept the workout simplistic. I loaded time goals for each loop which were; 4:00, 4:30, and 5:00 for laps 1, 2, and 3 respectively. What I should have skipped was the upper pace parameters. During the first tenth of a mile the pace alert was beeping and buzzing non-stop. I knew if this pattern continued the battery life would not last the entire race. I made a quick decision to stop the workout, reset, and restart the watch in its normal mode.

My only strategy for this run was to walk every incline, no matter how insignificant. Everything else was left loose, but obviously I wanted to run as much as possible. The first mile went by smoothly. I was caught off guard by the route. This park isn’t huge, but it’s amazing how many different large loops can be configured. The last two 50k’s I ran in this park made a complete loop around the outer parameters of the property. This route is hard to explain, but it did not completely loop Lake Raven. I think that is what confused me the most, especially since I didn’t view a map beforehand.

My plan was to start loop one without a lot of gear. With me I carried only two Gu’s, an Ultimate Direction 20 oz water bottle, and a small baggie of s-caps. The Gu and S-caps were neatly tucked into my Race Ready short pockets.

Everything was going a lot better than planned, until mile five. It was at that point my legs started feeling tired. This struck me odd because I was moving at a pedestrian 12:30 pace and I only had five miles under my belt.

The discomfort progressed with each mile. In the area of ten miles the issue had isolated itself to my right leg. There were times when the pain was sharp at the top of my right hip, the lateral side of my right knee, and less frequently the lateral side of my right calf.

All kinds of thoughts ran through my head while I was trying to determine the root cause of the problem. I rested most of the blame on the massage I received Thursday. The therapist was being rough on my ITB and had me fidgeting in pain. I’ve had a great training season and remarkably very few injuries leading up to this race. I know it’s a long stretch to link the two, but I was also wondering if my lack of S-caps was to blame. Anytime I run more than 10-miles I take one cap every 30-minute’s. I had forgotten to order more and found myself with only nine caps to last the entire race.

Once I reached ten miles I was running with an obvious limp. The change in gait seemed to compound matters and at mile twelve I was reduced to a fast walk. I’d walk for five minutes and the discomfort would dissipate, only to return with an attempt at running.

Surprisingly, I stayed in good spirits through it all. Thoughts ran wildly though my head. Mostly I thought about my endless chatter regarding this race. I’ve mentioned my fifty mile race so many times at the fire station they’ve been teasing me about it. I wondered what I would say to them if I quit.

Each of the three loops measured 16.67 miles. I gained enough time in the first ten miles it didn’t matter that I walked the last four miles. I crossed the first loop timing pad at 3:42:xx, forty-eight minutes ahead of schedule.

Andrea did a superb job as my crew chief. She found prime real estate for my gear and chair near the timing pad. As orchestrated, she handed me PB&J sandwiches along with a glass of unsweetened green tea and a Payday candy bar. From my medication box I took four ibuprofen and one muscle relaxer. I didn’t plan to take any medications, but I’m glad I brought them.

The mud wasn’t as bad as I expected so we skipped the change of shoes. As intended I dropped off the handheld water bottle in exchange for my Nathan hydration vest. Andrea reloaded my supply of Gu’s and captured pictures when she had the opportunity. I was carrying my Flip camcorder, but it went haywire and completely froze up. Since it was dead weight I left it behind as well.

As I stood up out of my chair I sensed the end was near. The angle at which I could move my knee without pain was less than 10%. I made a small attempt to stretch, but it only seemed to aggravate the injury. With a heavy heart, I told Andrea it was going to be a long day if I had to walk the remaining distance. I was back on the course in eleven minutes.

The pain was unbearable. My knee was giving out in a manner that I was worried about falling. With the finish line still in sight I turned around. Andrea was still there watching the agony unfold before her. As I limped in I told her I’m done. The first volunteer I crossed asked me if I was quitting. I didn’t say yes, but I didn’t say no either. This same volunteer pointed to another volunteer and told me, “If you’re going to quit give your bib to her”. There was an indescribable sense of shame I felt as I limped those twenty feet to surrender my bib.

I had one hand releasinf a pin holding my bib on when I reached the person who would document my DNF. Thankfully, this person didn’t accept my surrender as easily as I did. She asked, “Have you been to medical yet?”. When I replied, “No”, she told me, “Go see what they say. You have thirty hours, maybe you’ll feel better in a little while”.

Once I arrived at the medical shelter, I joined another runner with the exact same issue. The medical officer in charge took us inside and showed us how to use a foam roller. We took turns lying on the floor trying to stretch our ITB’s. There was a significant amount of pain when the roller crossed the top of my hip and knee. We went through three full rotations, which took about fifteen minutes. There was a considerable increase in the mobility of my right leg, so I thanked the staff and made another attempt to get back on course.

From the time I initially stopped till the next attempt at loop two was exactly 30-minutes. I told Andrea that I would re-evaluate everything in two miles and if it wasn’t any better I’d turn back.

Within minutes of starting the second loop I was joined by Kyle, the runner with me in medical. We held a respectable 17:40 walk pace while comparing the similarities of our injury. Together we agreed to make another attempt at running once we passed the first aid station. Kyle would later stop to urinate, never to be seen again.

Most of the discomfort in my leg was nearly gone once I reached the aid station. As intended I made the turn behind the station and took off jogging. It was a great feeling to be running again. It was a far cry from a graceful pain-free stride, but I was willing to accept anything at this point. Without any rhyme or reason I started a regimen of run ten-minutes followed by a five minute walk, which I continued for the majority of loop two.

Near mile 27 the pain was creeping back into my leg. I asked the Dam Road aid station volunteers if they had a roller, but I was out of luck. Trying to be helpful, they handed me an empty bottle of Heed. It was similar in size and shape to a foam roller. Hoping the container would work, I found an empty spot out of everyone’s way. Instantly the container failed. The weight of my body crushed the container. After a few stretches I thanked the volunteers for their help and I was back on the trail.

Loop two was interesting. It went by in a blur. I remember worrying about my time more than my leg. I was crunching numbers in my head and realized I was back on my target pace and this included the extended stop at medical. I also ran alone more during this loop. Everyone was spread out and those runners that passed me seemed to be in small pods.

I think I did well in the aid stations. At each aid station I grabbed a cup of Heed and Gatorade. With the one exception listed above, I never spent more than 30-seconds in an aid station. The third loop was the only loop where I ate food from the aid station. I tried a cheese quesada, which didn’t work for me. It tasted good, but the cheese stuck to the top of my mouth. I also tried M&M’s and Pringles chips. Pringles worked very well. They were easy to grab and walk away with and they helped with my salt craving. I also picked up a quarter PB&J, well I thought it was a PB&J. After putting it in my mouth I realized it was peanut butter and banana. For some reason I had one hell of a time trying to chew it. There were several runners around me and I didn’t want to seem rude by spitting the food out on the trail.

I finished loop two strong. Before the timing mat I saw Jon Walk on the course. Jon had told me earlier in the week he might be out there, but was unsure. In and around Houston, I generally know several people. At this race I didn’t see anyone I knew from my normal circle of runners. With that being said, it was a pleasant surprise to see Jon. He’s always a smiling face offering words of encouragement.

Once I crossed the timing mat Andrea was waiting for me once again. I exclaimed, “I feel good. I don’t know what we did that worked, so let’s repeat everything we did the first time”. While I was running the second loop, Andrea was in pursuit of S-caps, but wasn’t able to locate any. In addition to the gear I already had I donned a running cap with a bib light, handheld flash light, extra Gu’s, and I changed shoes and socks. I had several hot-spots, but nothing visible during the exchange. While Andrea changed out my socks and shoes I ate my PB&J’s as fast as I could. As before; I had my Payday candy bar, ibuprofen, and one muscle relaxer.

What would later turn out to be a bad idea, I asked Andrea to dump the water in my hydration back and fill it with the remaining green tea. I was hoping the caffeine would keep me alert since the sun was already setting. The tea tasted great, but left me with a thirsty feeling. Andrea took care filling my hydration back while I asked the medical personal to use the foam roller again. Not only were they willing to let me use the roller, they seemed overly excited to know I was still running.

Thanks to Andrea I felt like my time off the course went efficiently without any unnecessary loss of time. The off-course time between loop two and three was just under fifteen minutes. Once I got back on course Jon walked with me for a couple minutes. Jon stated, “If I can run a fifty, I know you can”. I did not know this, but Jon ran the RR50 two-years ago. He also said he would try to be here to see me finish. For many, many miles I thought about that last comment. To be frank, I have family that wouldn’t wait 4-5 hours to see me finish, yet Jon would. I can only hope to return such a gesture. Knowing Jon would unselfishly wait in the cold dark to see me finish gave me a huge burst of encouragement.

I wanted loop three to mirror loop two, but I got inpatient and started running well before the first aid station. On this loop I walked ten minutes and ran five minutes. The pattern yielded a 16:45 pace. Again, I was back on schedule, even with the extended time spent at medical. I noticed my leg felt better when I ran a faster pace, so obliged my legs with some impressive five minute burst. The pattern of fast running followed by a walk was embarrassing at times.

On that final loop I saw something I thought I would never see. Just ten feet ahead of me I watched an older man pull his shorts to the side and start urinating without ever losing his stride. I’ve read about people doing this in books and magazines, but it blew my mind to see it in person. If you’re wondering, it was quite messy. He pissed all over his leg and his shoes, but you got to love his dedication to conserve time.

I made it half way through the third loop before I needed a light. The small LED hat light I wear on the greenbelts did little good on the trails. Luckily I had my flashlight, although it wasn’t much brighter. In the near future I plan to invest in a better light. Some of those runners looked like a freight train coming down the track. The only problem arose when people tried to look at your face, because their light would temporarily blind you. For that reason I reduced the quantity of “Good Job” comments I threw out.

Once it turned dark I had a massive burst of energy. There are a number of reasons to account for this, but it boils down to my joy of running in the dark. I’ve acknowledged this several times while night trail training for this race. I ran for at least four miles continuous, including the less aggressive inclines. In the dark you don’t notice inclines till your legs start burning. I stayed less tuned to my watch on the last loop, yet I knew a sub 13-hour finish was possible.

There is always a point in every race when my legs get tired. During this race my legs felt ok till mile 43. Of course I’m not talking about the ITB issues mentioned earlier.Thi slets me know my base is solid. I know there was a lot of walking but 50 miles is 50 miles. With the right training, there is no telling what I might be able to run.

The running burst stopped a few miles short of the finish line. I wanted to run the remaining three miles, but I was out of gas. I tried returning to my run/walk pattern, but I couldn’t seem to find anything I was comfortable with. I walked 90% of those last three miles without any regrets. I conceded the sub 13-hour finish knowing I would finish faster than my goal of 13:30.

Once I saw the bright lights of the finish line I sprung back to life. I felt like I was running a 40-yards dash as I finished, although the spectators would probably tell a different story. As I crossed the timing pad they yelled for my number. I proudly returned “626”. During my scan of the crowd for Andrea and yelling my number I missed the time on the clock.

I came to a stop in front of Jon, who was the first person to congratulate me. In my peripheral vision I saw Andrea walking up from the side. True to her usual self, she had a smile from ear to ear. Her first words were, “I can’t believe you finished this soon!”. Once she said that I thought to myself, “On no! I forgot to look at the clock”. When we actually looked, the clock read 13:00:27.

There was a small piece of me that wished I would have tried harder for a few seconds, but I was happy to finish my first 50 mile trail run. Jon directed me to the finishers table. Unfortunately, I didn’t see Jon after that. I wanted to share with him my appreciation for his time and kind words.

In what I hoped was a joke, they told me they couldn’t find the finisher medals. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. This has been the most monumental thing I have ever done in my life. And yes, that silly little medal proves it to everyone. The volunteer took my bib number and told me they will mail it to me when they find them. I also thought we received a finisher’s shirt, but apparently we don’t. Sigh…

I sat down for awhile to rest my weary body. Next time I plan to walk to my truck before stopping. After I sat down and took my gear off, I couldn’t gather the strength to get out of the chair much less walk to the truck.

True with all my races, I learn from them and become a better athlete. The most valuable lesson today was how to run through pain. I was hurting for the majority of this race, but never stopped making forward progression. I’m a little closer to understanding the mental aspect of running.

Now for my general review of the race:

The overall damage wasn’t too bad with all things considered. Both legs are sore, which is typical of a long race. Other than the sore legs I have four blisters on my feet, both knees appear swollen and I have a chafed butt crack. Yeah, you read that right. That’s a first for me and it not comfortable!

The meeting was informative and the meal was GREAT, although a little on the expensive side ($15/person). Glad to see they offered a vegetarian option. The facility accommodated the runners comfortably.

The weather was beautiful today. I wish the camera hadn’t died so I could have caught the sun rising over Raven Lake with the sound of water flowing over the spillway. The view was breath taking. I don’t know the exact temperature, but I think we started around 38 and the high was mid 50’s.

As always, I like to see chip timed races.

Route/ Course:
This was a pleasant and interesting route through HSP. Not that I wanted any, but I was expecting more mud due to all the recent rain.

Race/RD/Aid stations:
I cherished the aid stations. The volunteers provided an upbeat environment. RD seemed to manage the large number of runners well. When deciding if I wanted to run RR50, I sent Joe two emails. Both messages returned with a single word response. Hard to explain, but it seemed very impersonal to me. As I mentioned, I’m bummed about walking away empty handed. Maybe I’m hard to please, but I really don’t like the cheap, ill fitting pull-over. I’d much rather a technical shirt. No swag in the packet, just a bare bones race. Those darn road races have spoiled me forever!

The only issues with my gear were in the light department. The hat light was not bright enough to see anything and the handheld light is cumbersome because you need to minimize arm swing to see well. Garmin forerunner held out the entire race. Dirty girl gaiters ROCK. I didn’t have any issues with rocks, dirt, or leaves in my shoes. Both the handheld Ultimate direction water bottle and Nathan Hydration vest worked as expected. I also ran the last loop with my iPod. It’s not my style to run with an iPod on the trails, but I was looking for energy anywhere and everywhere. My running cap was comfy. I wore my compression sleeves on the final loop as well. Not sure they yielded any results.

I needed my S-caps. This was the first time to run 15+ miles without them and also first time to have muscle issues. There might not be an association, but I don’t care to try again. I’m not sure if Gu is helping anymore. I use to notice a big improvement minutes after a gel shot. Now they merely make me hungry. Even though the PB&J sandwiches worked well, I learned to cut the crust off my bread. The crust is too dry. I’m also going to add Pringles chips to my list of foods. The Payday candy bars still work well.



June said...

shit. there is nothing i have to say. this is the single most tremendous thing that i have ever known someone to do in my circle of running peeps...completely shell shocked and amazed. you are incredible.

one of these days i want to do a 50K, but damn Bill, 50 MILES???? wow. just wow.

K said...

Amazing and inspiring, Bill. You. Are. The. Man. And the guys at the station should ALWAYS remember that! LOL

Derek said...

Great job finishing a tough race. You learn a lot about yourself on these days.

Anonymous said...

Bill...not sure if this is your daughter that raced in the 1 mile kids run...she smoked everyone...including the boys...I made a video of the weekend, she is halfway through the video, the link is

Smitty Smith

Pony and Petey said...

Fabulous race report! Amazing effort and finish! Thanks for sharing with inspiring... CONGRATS!!!

Steve Bezner said...

Awesome Bill (butt crack and all).

Congratulations on a nicely run race and for never giving up!

june said...

bill: saw allison in the video!! SO CUTE!!

saroy said...

Was just getting caught up on the blogs and wanted to say congrats! Wow, what an accomplishment!