Rocky Raccoon 100 Race Report - My First 100 Miler

It was 5am, an hour before the start, as I was changing into my running gear at our campsite, when the heavens opened up and all hell broke loose.  Seeking shelter in the car with Ciara and Monte, we witnessed one of the most massive and intense thunderstorms our eyes had ever seen.  Thunder, sheets of lightning and driving rain coming down so hard, if you were out in it for five seconds it looked like you had jumped into Lake Raven.  They dropped me off at the start line and I huddled under the big tent with all the other runners awaiting the gun to go off.  Everyone chatted away as I kept to myself, riddled with nerves and nausea from the thought of what I was about to embark upon.  100 miles.  Five 20 mile loops through Texas’ Huntsville State Park.  Sounds epic enough.  Add a thunderstorm to the mix and you’ve got Frodo heading into Mordor (or by the looks of it one of the bearded dwarfs).   

Just before the start.  Photo: Monte Jenkins

At 6am we were all off and running the first loop (miles 1-20) through the rainy and muddy trails in the dark.  Soon enough the sun rose and you could see the forests which are much more what I’d expect to see in Louisiana or Florida than Texas.  Swamp country.  Gators exist here.  An armadillo had startled me yesterday by my tent.  I was out of my element and had no choice but to keep moving forward and focus on the present moment instead of the miles and mud ahead.  It was such a joy to be out of New York City and get the opportunity to do some trail running.  I briefly chatted with a few people as we wove our way through the trails and back to the end of the first loop.

Photo: Monte Jenkins

Photo: Monte Jenkins

Photo: Monte Jenkins

On the second loop (miles 20-40) the rain was letting off but it had done its damage to the trails.  I was traipsing through muddy filthy gutter muck hog slop puddles with soaked feet and clothes.  Overall I was in good spirits though.  Ciara and Monte would meet me in aid stations to give me various supplies and moral support.  They were an amazing crew and I respect them highly for all the oppressive smells from my clothing and shoes they were made to deal with.  The other runners were great too and always saying positive remarks as they would pass by like “good job” or “looking strong.”  The ultra community is full of such positivity, and you need all of it you can get because there are too many things that can happen over 100 miles to derail your race and cause a DNF (did not finish), especially with this weather. 

Photo: Monte Jenkins

Ciara with new supplies.  Photo: Monte Jenkins

The sun went down just before I started the third loop (miles 40-60) and there I was, out on the trails in the middle of the forest with just me, my thoughts and the span of illumination that my headlamp produced to keep me company.  Around the 45 mile mark, while on the most remote section of the course, my mind started getting the better of me and things turned dark.  I suddenly got really sad, inexplicably so, and began to let the sadness of the world consume my thoughts.  I would come across runners and get a glimpse of their strained faces saying positive words to me, and see how good their intentions all were, not only in this race but in life in general, and thought how such good people trying their best in life and helping others around them eventually have to die one day.  I began crying thinking about it.  Then thought of the people in my life that I care about that one day too will find death and I felt incredible sadness and loss thinking of it all.  I dwelled on it for quite some time out there in the middle of nowhere before eventually the thoughts dissipated and I was moving along fine again and mentally feeling back to normal.  In fact I got really happy and motivated and it was perhaps the best I felt all race.  Then shortly after, at mile 55, I got irrationally annoyed at everything around me and began charging along at a pretty good pace toward the 60 mile mark.  I ran pretty fast even though the effects of running the entire race with wet feet had taken its toll and by the time I finished the loop my feet were in really bad shape.  Large blisters had developed on the balls of both feet.  A couple of my toe nails felt as if they were dangling and about to fall off from stubbing my toes so much on the roots.  By the end of this loop I had renamed the race ROCKY ROOTCOON. 

The moment I started the 4th loop (miles 60-80) I found it hard to run again.  My feet were shot and shortly after my quads followed.  Thus began what turned out to be a 40 MILE DEATH MARCH.  Monte met me at mile 63 to pace me and the two of us disappeared into the night.  This turned out to be my toughest section of the race.  Monte said, “you are doing this and it will be completed.”  I wasn’t so sure.  My stomach was upset and I found it hard to eat food without almost puking.  At one point, while sitting on a log trying to change my socks I got an intense case of chills and started shivering, probably due to a lack of calories.  Monte gave me the coat off his back and I quickly put my shoes on as I knew I needed to start moving again if I wanted to get warm.  While we trudged on I started to think of how far I had yet to go - 30 plus miles still and began to panic wondering how I was going to go that far not being able to run at all and told Monte I was not doing well.  We had some great conversation to get my mind off of the physical and mental suffering.  He also read me some notes from a list of people that Ciara had contacted to write to me as a surprise during the run, which was wonderful.  In hind sight, if Monte wouldn’t have been there to talk to, I have no idea where my mind would have gone during that section, considering where it had gone on the previous loop.  Who knows, I could have easily rationalized a DNF.  It seemed like an eternity, but finally we finished the 4th loop.

The Death March.  Photo: Monte Jenkins

Ciara began pacing me for my 5th and last loop (miles 80-100).  At an aid station I sat down and instantly got the chills again.  I had been moving for over 20 hours now, sleep deprived and felt as if I could pass out at any moment.  They put a blanket over me and gave me some coffee and cheese quesadillas.  Ciara didn’t tell me at the time but let me know later that at that point she was really worried about me.  My pupils were dilated and I wasn’t all there when people were talking to me.  She forced me to keep moving.  And we did.  And it was the most painful 20 miles of my life.  I was moving around 3 miles an hour, trying to be patient but failing and convincing myself that I never wanted to run again.  I’ve never been so mentally and physically miserable for such a long time.  A true suffer-fest.  When I would stop to pee I'd look down at the ground and have intense visual hallucinations with the ground moving or transforming into different textures and knew that I couldn’t indulge in the visuals or else I would be passed out face first in the trail in no time.  I kept moving, following Ciara, hardly talking and by mile 90 my walk had developed into a struggled limp.   

More Death March.  Photo: Monte Jenkins

I had to swing my arms to keep forward momentum.  The sun came up as I saw my second sunrise of the race.  Ciara read to me more notes that people had written for me and I was very appreciative of all the people who took the time to do that and for Ciara for organizing it all.  After many miserable hours of mental and physical suffering we finally made it to mile 99.5 and mustered enough energy to run to the finish.  We made it across with a time of 27 hours 34 minutes 54 seconds. 

(Click here for complete results and stats)

It didn't sink in right away that I had just finished 100 miles, I was too tired to think about it and just glad to be done.  I got my buckle from the race director and chatted for a minute.  He put on a really great, well organized race.

Chatting at the finish.  Photo: Monte Jenkins

Chatting at the finish.  Photo: Monte Jenkins

I sat down in a chair under a tent which was the most pleasant sit I've ever taken.  After five minutes I went to get up and couldn’t take a single step without falling over.  My legs lasted as long as I made them and once they reached 100 miles they said “nope, no more.”  Monte had to pull the car up and I braced my arm around his shoulders and hobbled my way to the car.  I called my parents then took off my shoes and socks to assess the damage.  Not pretty.

The next morning I awoke with an extreme sense of optimism.  I felt so excited for the future, whatever it may hold.  Both feet swelled up really badly but I was walking again on my own after a day or so.  A big reason for originally wanting to run a 100 miler was to find out what it was like to put myself through the physical and mental wringer.  Mission accomplished.  Although a lot of the time it wasn't fun, there was a whole lot of life that happened out on those trails that I wouldn't have gotten to experience if I would have stayed at home.  If anything, it makes me want to take more risks in life and invest myself fully in whatever I'm doing.  I am so thankful for Ciara and Monte and am in awe of their generosity.  Without them, I'm not sure what would have happened.  To the next adventure!

With my new buckle!  Photo: Monte Jenkins