I came into Rocky Raccoon feeling like I had unfinished business. My first trip to Rocky, in 2017, was both an encouraging attempt and a total disaster. I entered the race hoping to run 15:00-15:30, executed a near-perfect race plan over the opening 60 miles (9:12), and was still in position for a strong sub-16:00, 6th place finish with 20 miles to go before being reduced to a walk by a scary breathing issue that I had not experienced previously nor since then. I came away 12th in 17:46, disappointed by the final result but convinced that I had been ready to run close to 15:30, and that I fell short of that goal only due to back luck, not anything I had done wrong in terms of preparation, strategy, or nutrition. After a solid showing at Leadville in August I once again had my sights set on a "fast" time and a top-10 finish in one of the more competitive hundreds in the country.
My buildup, though not quite as ideal as it had been in 2017, was still solid. I was able to clock some good miles and solid workouts, though weather conditions usually forced us into surges on the roads and trails as opposed to the unflinching environment of the track, where I had spent much of my quality time two years earlier. I knew, objectively, that my workouts were not as good as they had been the first time around. My long runs, too, were not as plentiful as I had hoped, though I had two or three efforts over 30 miles; I topped out at about 5 hours for a single run, and things were not quite as effortless as they've been in the past. After my Alumni XC race over Thanksgiving weekend--which, again, went well enough, but not up to the standards I'd run the previous couple of years--I wasn't able to get in either of my two favorite winter prep races, the Viking Run (for which I was traveling overseas with my family) or the Recover From the Holidays 50K (which was rescheduled for a different weekend than usual, preventing me from being able to attend). Missing them wasn't a huge deal, but it meant that in terms of racing, I had a single 5K to my name since Leadville--not great. But I had done enough solid training and felt strong enough in the weeks leading up to the race that I thought 16 hours was a possibility. For the first time in a decade, the race would not serve as the US 100mi trail championships, but the field was still solid. Ian Sharman, the course record holder (12:44!) and a nine-time top-10 finisher at Western States, would be back for the first time in five years. Dave Laney, the 2015 Ultrarunner of the Year, would be there, as well as two-time Badwater champ Harvey Lewis and sub-15:00 runner Catlow Shipek. As usual, I would have to run my own race, hope for good things to happen, and see if I could work my way up the field in the late stages for a top-10 finish.
|At the start|
Lap 1: Searching for flow
|Course map and elevation profile|
|Nearing the end of lap 1, finally in rhythm.|
Photo: No Sleep Media
It was way too early to start thinking about places, but again, the feedback was omnipresent, and you couldn't help but notice where you stood and what the gaps were. And over the first half of lap two, those gaps were dropping steadily. The top five runners were continuing to pull away, but I had pegged many of the next ten, including Harvey, and women's leader Amy Hamilton, who had blown by me at the 6.5-mile aid station of lap 1 and proceeded to put over ten minutes on me in the next 19 miles. I was keeping the effort level steady, trying not to get caught up in racing, but I was hitting splits well and rolling up on people. I had been dreading the out-and-back from Damnation, remembering the toll those trails had taken on me in 2017; but at this early stage, on the way out to the turnaround of lap two, I was mowing people down, and by the time we reached the minimalist Far Side Aid Station, about 39 miles in (just over 6 hours), I had moved all the way up to tenth place. Less than a mile later I had passed Amy and was running in ninth, feeling great.
|Power line section of lap 2|
Photo: No Sleep Media
Lap 3: Suffering
|100K champ James McCowan|
Photo: Kevin Borden
I don't remember a ton from that point forward. We had sections where I moved really well and sections where I struggled badly, the latter seeming to outnumber the former. I don't recall specific issues, just not feeling great for long stretches. But the conditions were taking their toll on lots of folks, and despite my struggles, we actually picked up several spots over that stretch. Kevin pushed me back to the Nature Center, where I left him to make his way back to Damnation for our final lap, and I headed toward the finish. I reached the end of lap 3 in full suffer mode, legs feeling generally OK but severely lacking in motivation. It was now dark, and I wasn't sure where I stood in terms of place, though I was pretty sure I was near the top 10. I sat in my folding chair, trying to force myself to get back up and keep moving, wanting nothing more than to just stop. James was there, having secured a dominating and redemptive win, and he shepherded me through my third t-shirt change and second sock change. He also stuffed my raincoat in my pack, as the forecast called for some light rain. and convinced me to take a Buff with me for the final lap. I didn't want to, but finally relented and put it on as a wristband--thank god.
Lap 4: Despair and deliverance
The first ten miles of the lap were a slog. I walked most of the uphills, picked my way around mud pits, and basically just tried to cover ground, not caring about time, place, or anything else. I had come through 75 miles in about 13 hours--an hour slower than my goal--and had basically given up on even beating my disappointing time of two years earlier. Now I just needed to finish. Seeing Kevin at Damnation lifted my spirits, though, as did the realization that we were now only fifteen miles away from the end. The mud was really messing with my head as well as my feet, but when we hit the dry patches, I started to move a little bit better. About a mile out of Damnation I started feeling some tightness in my left calf, but I was able to adjust my stride slightly to lessen the discomfort. I couldn't really push off my toes, making running uphill very difficult, but fortunately the uphills over the next few miles were pretty short and I simply power hiked them, running a solid 10-11 minute pace on the flats and downhills. Kevin kept up a steady stream of positive chatter and reminders to eat, and we made pretty decent time on the out-and-back section. Despite the dark and a bit of a drizzle, I felt incredibly hot, so Kevin filled my bottle with mostly ice and a little water at Far Side, which seemed to help a little.
About a mile out from Damnation on the return, disaster struck. My calf suddenly grabbed and my leg nearly gave way; I stumbled and caught myself, but couldn't recover a running stride. I limped into Damnation and sat. Kevin found a Stick from one of the volunteers and we spent a couple of minutes trying to roll out the calf, which seemed like it helped a little. I was still hot, so I pulled my Buff onto my neck and stuffed it with ice, which I think was the single best decision I made all day.
Photo: James McCowan
|Reunited at the finish.|
Salomon Sense Ultra and Agile shirt
Injinji Ultra No-show socks
Patagonia Stride Pro shorts
Orange Mud Single Barrel Hydraquiver
GU Roctane and gels
Orange Mud trucker cap
Petzl Reactik + headlamp
And an off-brand Buff I got at Cayuga Trails a few years ago