Sunday, February 3, 2013

Rocky Raccoon 50 mile race report

Rocky Raccoon 50 mile race report

My first trail race and my first 50 mile race.

Race date: 2/2/13
Temperature: 50 at the start (perfect), low 70s as the day went on (a little warm). Humidity around 80% (high). Overall weather was good as generally the trees shade a portion of the sun, although my heart rate was higher than normal (and many people on the course were saying this also)

Time: 9 hours 45 minutes (pace 11:42 per mile). Average heart rate 154. Out of 375 runners in the 50 mile race (375 people were also running the 100 mile race at the same time), I came in 48th place overall (top 12%), 13th in my age group, and 36th among men. A great result for my first 50 mile trail run, something I am proud of.

Garmin file - click here

I signed up for this race last summer and was about 300 on the wait list. I cleared the wait list in early January and decided to do the race, despite the fact that I hadn't run more than 13 miles since mid November, when I ran the NYRR Knickerbocker 60k (37.2 miles), 9 middle loops of Central Park in 5 hours and 49 minutes (9:20 per mile pace). So, I ran 23 and 24 miles on two weekends at the end of December/early January to train. Then, I came down with a low fever (100.4) that turned out to be a bad sinus infection that required me to go on antibiotics (Levaquin). I took 5 days off from running and went out for an easy run the next day. By mile 3, my calves hurt so much I could barely walk, so I was forced to take another full week off (apparently in a very small percentage of people, this antibiotic can cause tendon damage and fatigue. I completed 2 ironman races in 3 weekends last year and wasn't sore at all, so this was strange). The weekend before my 50 miler, I decided to try running again and I ran the manhattan half marathon in Central Park. I went really easy (I must have been passed by a few thousand people), and my calves were only a little sore, so I decided to try the 50 miler. So I ran only 3 times in the 3 weeks leading up to the race. I figured that I would find out if complete rest (i.e., a forced taper) is better than running a lot before the race, something I normally do.

I felt very fresh the week before the race after resting, but I had a nagging pain in my right foot that had been there for about 6 weeks, so I saw my podiatrist to make sure it wasn't a stress fracture (since what I read on the Internet said it might be). The X-ray of my right foot luckily showed no stress fracture or reaction. Instead, my doctor said that it showed severe arthritis in the area of my pain and a bone spur on my heal. She said "you can't hurt it more by running, so you probably can run the race, but just realize that rest is the only cure".

The day before the race, I flew into Houston on Friday morning and drove directly to Huntsville State Park, the site of the race, which is a little more than an hour outside of Houston. I checked into the race and went to the race meeting, which was cool but not really needed if one read the 12 page list of rules that Joe (the race organizer) sent out. Frankly, In addition to getting my bib, the best part was knowing how to get into the park and where to park, which ended up being particularly helpful on race morning.

My plan was to get to the race by about 545am for a 7am race time start so I could watch the 100 mile race start at 6am and feel the vibe. I was staying at a hotel in Conroe, about 30 minutes away. I woke up and ate a lot (had a microwave and fridge so I was able to cook my food for dinner the night before too, having a huge plate of black beans, sweet potatoes, avocados, and red onions., water, and a naked juice green machine). For breakfast, I had a lot of oatmeal, flaxseed, bananas, grapes, water, a couple of peanut butter and jelly larabars, and hammer endurance salt caps. I went to bed about 945 and got up at 415am. Right before I was about to leave for the race, I couldn't find my wallet. I looked everywhere and moved everything around in a panic (they housekeeping staff can't have been happy with me). No luck, I couldn't find it. I even went to Kroger to see if it was there. It wasn't. So, all I could think about was "how am I going to get on a plane tomorrow to go home without an ID". Plus, I was supposed to pay $5 to get into the park just to race (for parking). So I pulled into the park at 645am and begged my way in for free. They were cool about it. Then, I found a parking spot about 0.75 miles away and walked to the start. When I got there, the announcer said "7 minutes to race time". Great timing.

Worrying about my wallet hung over me the entire race. I told myself "there is nothing you can do about it until after the race, so forget about it". I met my friend Claire from Houston and her two friends, all running the 50 too. Claire and I ran the first 2 miles together, which was really great and I enjoyed catching up with her.

After that, I felt good, so I went a little faster. After starting near the back, I think I passed a couple hundred people on the mainly single track (I.e., one lane) course. The course was much harder than I expected. There were tons of roots, rocks, and leaves everywhere so I always had to watch my step. I tripped and fell pretty hard on a root I didn't see around mile 13. No blood, just a lot of dirt on me an scratches, which persisted for the remainder of the race. The course, primarily dirt and sand, also had rolling hills the entire way. Not huge hills but not tiny ones either. Trail runners definition of flat is definitely not my definition of flat. I found myself running a 10-12 minute pace for the first of three 16.67 mile loops. I had to work hard to achieve a 12 minute pace for the second loop and even harder to maintain a 13 minute pace for the 3rd loop. The sand surface definitely slows you down a little in certain places. When I came into the race, I told myself to just enjoy it, walk when needed, stay hydrated, and just finish (which given my small amount of training I wasn't sure I could do). The farthest I'd run prior to that, EVER, was 37.2 miles, and that was on a road, not a trail. In May 2012, I ran 32 miles on a portion of the Western States course. That was brutal and even more rocky with 10,000 feet of gain, so I'd run on a trail one other time. I've finished 3 Ironman races but that is very different than running 50 miles. Running 50 miles is much more pounding on your body.

So, I found myself running 11-12 minute miles at the same effort level as running a 9:00 minute mile on the bridle path in Central Park. This wide time spread surprised me (I wrongfully assumed that I'd be able to hold a 10:00-10:30 pace), but this spread was consistent the entire race. I noticed that most people were not running any faster than me (most slower), so this served as a warning to me to slow down. While the rest off before the race helped, my heart rate was higher, also due to the humidity and warm weather.

I stopped at every aid station (3-4 miles apart), usually had bananas, water, ice, heed, salt tablets, and after 25 miles, coke and even a little Mountain Dew! Since I don't drink soda or caffeine anymore, this gave me a pick up, although I felt a little too jacked up and had a mild caffeine headache during the race. I listened to music, Rich Roll's book, and best of all, my brother John's music. Probably 1/3 of the time I had the iPod off and enjoyed the sounds of nature, as my kids would say, "in the deep dark forest". Lots of birds and a horse I think. Sometimes I would be near runners and other times I would be completely by myself, with absolutely nobody in sight. Next time, I'd like to run with a friend to kill the boredom.

The night before the race, I was able to read all the ingredients in all the food at the aid station. Everything had dairy and/or soy (allergic)! Bread, candy, pita wraps, potato chips (Pringles). Bummer. They were supposed to have potatoes but they were going to leave the skin on, which I am also allergic to. They ended up not having potatoes, which was surprising to many.

The 100 milers run five 20 mile loops, so everybody gets to see each other on various points of the course, which was super cool. "Nice work, great job, and looking good were regularly said as runners passed each other". I was very surprised at how many "Ironman" triathletes were on the course, easy to identify by their attire (I didn't sport any Ironman gear, instead I wore my Brooklyn half marathon t shirt and a Rev 3 Quassy head sweats visor). The race course was very well marked and hard to get lost (although I was running with a guy from Arkansas for a while who was doing the 100 and I missed one of my turns for about 100 feet). I saw him take a nasty spill during his 5th 100 mile race.

I saw people going fast, walking, and even falling. One guy had a tough time getting up and his speech was slurred. "I let myself get dehydrated" he said. A 74 year old man had hypothermia after walking 32 miles.
One 100 mile lady was double pumping breast milk manually while running and storing it in her backpack for her 4 month daughter!!! That's a whole new level of dedication, I love it!!

I was surprised at the vast ability differences of the race participants. Some were young men and women who were crushing the course (one guy told me that the 100 mile race was "easy", while some were older and walking the entire course. Super cool!

At about the 40 mile point, I saw that I might have a shot at going under 10 hours, so I pushed myself to run, even at a 13 per minute per mile pace (I did the math and knew that if I did 13 minute miles for the last 10 miles I would be under 10 hours. At this point, my legs were super sore, so every step was tender and going downhill around roots was challenging, even while walking.

But, I was able to do it and ran fast across the finish line in 9 hours and 45 minutes.

When I finished, like at the end of Ironman Canada in 2012, my calves were super sore and I couldn't sit down without getting massively painful Charlie horses. This was a big problem because I knew a had a 30 minute drive to my hotel that, when I finished, I was not physically capable of doing. I ingested more than enough salt, need to look into why this happens. I went to the medical rent, got some ice and ibuprofen, and kept eating. 3 hours later, I was better. During these 3 hours, I got to watch people finish and run with their headlamps. I talked to a lot of people. People running 50 or 100 miles! The culture is awesome and it truly is amazing what people can accomplish if they try.

As I was running, I thought a lot about my wallet. Did I drop it? How am I going to get home? I remembered that I couldn't find my hotel room key either. This, I thought, was a good sign, as I reasoned that I must have put it back in my wallet, which likely meant that I had my wallet in my room. Since I didn't leave my room once I got home, I figured that it had to be either in my room or my massive race drop bag that contained all of my race food. So, after the race, I rummaged through everything and found it in my kids' panda cooler (see picture attached)!! Whew!

Other: my eyes were fine, no dry eyes like I sometimes get that make things blurry. High humidity must have helped. The pinched nerve in my neck was only twinging a little during the race and a little more for the last 10 miles.

Overall, the race was very well run and I would recommend this race.

Some of my friends think I'm crazy for doing these long endurance races. I've always considered myself a sprinter and not a "distance runner", as I was a sprinter and hurdler in high school. I now realize that I am also an endurance athlete. I do these races for the challenge and accomplishment. I do them for myself, but also for my kids, so I can be around for them as they get older, as doing these races keeps me fit and happy. Accomplishing things is extremely rewarding to me personally. I'm lucky to say that I do these endurance races because I can, but I think that anybody that puts their mind to it can do it too. I love being fit and healthy and having a goal to strive for helps keep me on track. We all have a certain "science" in our body that dictates our ability, whether fast or slow.

I have included some pictures below.  It was just before 5pm when I finished so it was still light out, but I have included some pictures of people running the 100 mile race with their head lamps.

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