I promised myself that I would actually write a race report for Rocky Raccoon 100. I always say “Maybe I will” and then usually, ill scribble down my post race thoughts, send them along to my coach and then keep them to myself. I just haven’t felt like my experiences have been particularly unique, and I really haven’t felt inspired to share. But, this race is different. For a variety of reasons. This is going to be long, but so was the race, so grab a cup of coffee and settle in.
I have been wanting to run 100 miles since I did the 50 miler at Rocky Raccoon four years ago. I made it a relatively quiet goal, since I didn’t really know when I would actually commit to it. Training for 100 miler obviously takes some focus away from triathlon training- and the first step to committing to the 100 miler was finding peace with that. Being ok with maybe the first part of my tri season being lack luster, and maybe pushing my season back later than usual. And to be honest, I had a tumultuous tri season in 2018. Lots of highs, but A LOT of lows, and some experiences that left a bad taste in my mouth. This was it. This was the year I was going to do it.
Before I get to the actual race report here are some big picture thoughts
1) I am going to miss 100 miler training, which means ill definitely be back. It was such a refreshing change of pace- figuratively, and literally
2) I have zero regrets about the race. As a first timer, there were obviously mistakes in execution. And I own those 100 percent. But I was also as prepared as I possibly could have been and I am proud of that
3) 100 miler training shows you how extensive your support system is. From people that shared night time miles with me, to the amazing crew that joined me for the race (lots more on them later), to folks that sent me regular messages of support and encouragement. It took a village, and I wouldn’t have made it without that support.
4) It’s nearly impossible to wrap your mind around what running 100 miles will feel like, until you are in the middle of it. And then there’s this moment that happens: “oh shit , so this is what this feels like”. So if you haven’t done one, erase any pre conceived notion of what this might have been like and get back to me when you’ve done it 😉
5) Jeff had an amazing race at his 100K but ill let him comment on his race because I can only really discuss my race from my perspective ( and most of that is blurry at best)
Ok on to the race. Before I get to the nitty gritty. I need to acknowledge the team Jeff and I had there.
· Alyssa: Those of you that know her know that she is an amazing and inspirational trail runner and I was honored to have her as a part of my crew. We spent MANY MANY miles running together leading into this race. When its time for her to do her first 100 I’ll be right there with her. She also paced me for miles 50-75 and I really am not sure I would have made it through this process without her. She patient, calm, focused and meticulous-and is an amazing friend.
· Sarah ( ABQ): Despite having hip surgery last year, Sarah has been crushing marathon training, AND training for her first 70.3 in Boulder. Jeff and I have lovingly adopted her as our adult daughter (even though she and I are the same age lol) and she paced Jeff for miles 50-63 of the 100K. she was master of the crew lists and has been a voice of encouragement through the entire training cycle
· Ed: Ed is a friend from Chicago, former Marine, and Leadman finisher and my obvious choice for miles 75-100 finisher. I knew that loop was going to be tough, and I was going to need tough love. Ed gained the name “Spandex Cowboy” on race day ( see picture below) and he GOT IT DONE on race day. Youll hear more on this later but I was a mess. He massaged my feet, told me to harden the fuck up, and kept me moving. His friend Kelley was also amazingly helpful and a great addition to the crew. We were so in awe of her willingness to jump right in, and help complete strangers achieve their goals
· Iggy and Sara (Houston). Our amazing Houston friends that really went out of their way to make sure we had the stuff we needed for race day ( our tent and chairs), kept spirits high and alive, cheered like crazy, tended to my feet and were just general crew rock stars.
· Other friends joined at various intervals and were just SO supportive. It as amazing to be surprised by so many friendly faces. We are so blessed and lucky.
Our crew was so epic we ended up on the race insta story
Jeff and I flew into Houston on Thursday evening, and headed to my parents house. After a somewhat stressful trip out of ABQ (apparently my spring energy gels, which are the equivalent of baby food, are a national security threat), arriving in Houston was stress free. Jeff and I along with Alyssa, Sarah and Zack had spent the weekend before the race pre packing and portioning race nutrition. Lap1, Lap 2, Lap 3, Lap4 – meticulously pre planned and set aside. I knew I wasn’t going to have enough time once we got into Houston to take care of this. Also, if you plan on having a crew for a 100 miler, YOU as the racer are responsible for their success as the crew. Sure, you can be like me and pick the most rock star, experienced crew in the world, and rely on them heavily. But ultimately, it was on me to let them know what I WANTED so they could set me up for success. So, I made extensive crew lists of each lap. Things I wanted them to ask me, things I needed them to hand me, things they needed to do. They looked like this
Packing party picture thrown in for good measure
Friday morning was spent shopping for race a crew food, and running some errands with Sarah and Alyssa before heading up to our bed and breakfast with Jeff around 1. Once we got up there we met up with Ed and his friend Kelley ( who was a brilliant addition to our crew) to head over to race check in, do a shake out run and set up our tent on what we termed as “crew row” . Our other friend Sara ( from Houston) provided us with the tent and camp chairs, and she and Iggy came up on Saturday afternoon to round out the village it took to get Jeff and I through our races.
Pre race shake out
Once we checked in, it was time to cook our usual pre race steak dinner ( steak, asparagus, mushrooms, roasted sweet potatoes and rice) and just relax with friends. We laughed, we chatted, we made a final sort through of gear. Honestly, it was the most relaxed I’ve ever been going into a race. Mostly because we were surrounded with amazing people but also, I had zero expectations about this race. I wanted to go out there, do the best I can, and hopefully cross the finish line.
Race morning came fast, after some hanging out at the tend and sorting through my stuff, it was almost time to get started
The 100 miler started at 6 am, so for the first hour we ran in the dark. I have 2 lighting sources so I was perfectly comfortable. It took about 5-6 miles to shake out from the crowds, and honestly I took those 6 miles really easy. Easier than I had wanted to, but I figured that was a good place to start. There were rumors that trail conditions later on in the loop weren’t great. And it did not take long to see what people were talking about. Ankle high water, deep mud covered about 20 percent of the loop.
To be honest, I wasn’t having an issue running through or running around these sections. My feet were not getting wet initially ( mostly because I was still able to run through it quickly enough that my feet weren’t getting completely soaked). But I do remember thinking “ huh, my quads are more tired than I would expect at this point” this was my first sign I should have taken it slower through these sections. This was my rookie mistake- these conditions are hard to run through and take a toll on your body. I was feeling good initially, but as the day went on, it became harder and harder to pull myself out of these mud pits. Lessons learned the hard way I guess.
Just a taste of what the trails looked like in sections
I came back to crew row after loop one (in about 4 hours and 10 minutes. Way too fast it turns out) and decided to keep my Hoka Stinsons on, but change my socks. I knew early on changing my socks was going to be necessary at least once a lap. It was a really quick in and out (Alyssa even wrote down my in and out times on our crew lists like a champ). I was having a blast and in great spirits.
Masterful crewing by Alyssa
Headed out of loop 2 with explicit plans to take it MUCH easier and this really worked great. I felt awesome, nutrition was ON POINT all day (combination of spring energy gels, uncrustables, coke and pretzels). Below is a map of the course. The out and back to the “farside” aid station was BY FAR the most challenging part of the course. It was a steady incline, really difficult to navigate because of the rootiness, and a really really long a desolate stretch. On my second loop, my climb out to farside got a little difficult. I kept clipping my toes on the roots, so I knew I was getting tired. By the time I got to that aid station, checked in with the volunteer (that was their way of keeping tabs on you) I knew that this section would be really really difficult the next two laps. Around mile 40 I was saying to myself TEN MORE MILES TO ALYSSA. I was ready for some company. My brother had come to spectate at one of the aid stations, which was really amazing, and a great surprise.
Came into crew row at the end of loop 2 and I was in great spirits. Ed was singing to the crowds, my parents were spectating, and I was about to pick up my first pacer for the day (YAY ALYSSA). I decided to change shoes and socks, and we decided to take the time to do some foot care. My feet were soaked, and starting to get sore and sensitive from running through all the water. Alyssa and Sara cleaned off my disgusting feet, applied some dougs miracle balm, Ed got me new socks ( THE PINK ONES ED, THE PINK ONES) while the rest of the crew handed me a freshly charged watches, more based salt and loaded my pack with all my nutrition.
This is what it looks like to crew 100 miles
I set off for loop 3 with Alyssa, and was on officially on the longest run I’ve ever done. Alyssa said she had chatted with our tent neighbor who was an experienced 100 mile runner, and he said to advise me to take the third loop extra easy. Its notoriously the hardest loop mentally, with it beginning to stretch into the night time hours it was likely to be harder to navigate especially that stupid stretch out to Farside. We set off walking to let me get my legs moving, and settled in initially on a 6 minute run, 2 minute walk pattern (with purposeful walks uphill and through the mud) this actually worked really great. There were some sections where the walking was longer because of terrain, and I think we switched to a 5/2 and even 4/3 run walk pattern. But, we were still running and still moving well ( I mean look its all relative at mile 60 or 70). We even picked up a friend along the way. He didn’t have much of a crew, and he was feeling really down about running alone at night. It was nice to team together to get both of us to mile 75.
The climb out to farside made me a little weepy, not going to lie. I told Alyssa to make sure Ed knew that my emotions might get the better of me on the last lap.
I was getting a little loopy, and at mile 75, I could tell then next 25 were going to be hard. But it was MY. LAST. LAP.
Came into crew row with the bottoms of my feet really hurting. I would later come to find that despite changing shoes and socks every lap, I had developed trench foot. My crew did an amazing job of taking care of my feet. But I was feeling it. My feet were pruney and raw. I was developing a large blister under my callous. This last loop was going to hurt.
I set off with Ed and told him I would like to try and keep the run/walk pattern going. And initially I was able to! Maybe I caught my 18th wind?? I mean, I wasn’t moving fast by any means, but I was still moving. I saw Jeff and Sarah on his final out and back which was great! I even was on track for a sub 24 hour finish- if I could just keep moving.
And then… things fell apart. In likely the most epic way possible. My legs were seizing. The blister on the side of my foot made each and every step painful. Getting through the mud took excruciating minutes, instead of seconds. My ability to move laterally, or balance myself was non-existent. Luckily my stomach was still doing well ( Miracle of the weekend- perfectly executed nutrition plan) so at least I was still taking calories in. I told Ed I wanted to quit. I told Ed that I I felt like I was letting people down. I told Ed that I felt bad that everyone was waiting for my at the finish line and I was taking too long. I told Ed I couldn’t do it.
Ed told me to suck it up, and keep moving. I wanted to be coddled, but ultimately he did exactly what I needed him to do which was walk ahead of me, not take any of my shit and laugh at me when I said something stupid. He even called Jeff for me, who was done at this point so I could get some much needed encouragement. I just wanted a hug. When I made it to the damnation aid station I told Ed I NEEDED to take of my shoes. My feet hurt so much. It was there that we realized how bad the situation with my feet actually was. I sat down briefly and Ed even massaged my disgusting tired feet ( Guys, that’s friendship right there).
Jeff on the phone with me
Just make it to the next aid station Stephanie. Just make it to Nature center. I came in to nature center in a really bad way. Nature Center is only 3.5 miles to the finish, but I honestly didn’t think I would make it. We sat down at the aid station, took my shoes off and the medic looked at my feet and got to work. We had to lance the blister that had formed on the side of my foot. Ed got yelled at for not having extra socks for me with him ( in his defense it didn’t occur to me to give socks to my pacers). They bandaged me up the best they could. We managed to relieve the pressure from the blister but now I basically had an open wound on my foot, and I still had wet trench feet that were hurting. And now, I had just sat down for 45 minutes, which means I was STIFF. In my delirious mind, I legitimately thought I wouldn’t make the cut off even though there were 5 hours left for me to go 3.5 miles
Time to pop a blister
The aid station volunteer had suggested a walking stick, and Ed found me one just outside the aid station. This is how I was going to make it the last little bit. I was determined to make this happen. I even tried “running” HAH it wasn’t a run, it was just a walk with a little hop in it. But it felt like an 800 meter sprint. We made it over the last couple hills and at the final turn Ed just stood there and looked at me. I scream “ IS THIS IT”. When Ed nodded yes, I started crying all over again. He told me to ditch the walking stick and run it in. I did the absolute best I could to gut it out. The entire crew was waiting at the finish for me and I was so so so happy to see them. I crossed the finish line to cheers from them, and complete strangers and I collapsed into Jeffs arms in tears. I Finished.
There was a little bit of disappointment with how things fell apart around mile 82. But then I had to remember, it was 100 miles. Even the first female finisher (pro) walked lots of the second half with her pacer. The male winner wrote in his blog about how much he slowed down the second half ( slow being a relative term here). This was my first 100. I finished under 27 hours. The race had a nearly 50% drop out rate. I have no regrets.
So where/ when will I run my next 100? TBD.