Monday, February 7, 2011

Rocky Raccoon 100

Trying to use words to express what happened this weekend is close to impossible, so I ask for your forgiveness ahead of time if this post seems disjointed, rambling, or otherwise poorly written.

I began running in September of 2006 as a challenge to myself.  If I could run consistently for three months, I would indulge myself to a new bicycle that I could ride outside as an alternative to my spin classes.  Five weeks later I ran my first 5K in honor of Hans Weberling, and I was hooked.

I ran my first (and strangely, my only) marathon in Jan of 2007 and with little thought, turned around and ran Hog's Hunt 50K a few weeks later.  I fell in love with trail running and decided at that point that I wanted to run a 100.

In 2009, I ran my first 50 miler and had a wonderful time!  In April of 2010, my second 50 miler at OT 50 in Arkansas.  What a beautiful course!  Yesterday, I was able to reach my goal set in 2007 by finishing the Rocky Raccoon 100 in 26:04!  103rd place, 16th female, 6th in my age group. 

So that's the short version.  Now for the details...

Rocky Raccoon 100
Going into the weekend of Rocky, there was great excitement in the air as we were told that several of the elite ultra runners would be running Rocky as well.  Also, a predicted snow fall of 1-3 inches for Houston was creating quite a stir among everyone in the area and a traveling nightmare for those trying to get to Houston.  Several runners were not able to make it to the race because of the closed airports, icy roads, and snowy conditions on the way to Houston.
Mark and I had reservations to stay in the park in a "winterized" shelter.  I can assure you, winterized was a very liberal term.  It was freezing out there!  23 degrees Friday night left me cold and sleepless in Huntsville, Texas.
I always have a fear pre-race that I will not hear my alarm or that it will malfunction and not go off.  Saturday morning, I began to hear cars and realized that my fear had come true.  I had dropped off to sleep for a few minutes only to be awoken, thank goodness, by those attending the race.  I jumped out of the sleeping bag and had 35 mins to eat, dress, and get to the start line.  Looking back, this worked out well because it didn't allow me much time to worry or second guess my sanity.
It was pretty cold at the start so I was looking forward to running just to warm up.  I kissed Mark goodbye and headed out into the cold, dark woods.  The energy was electrifying!  I immediately forgot that I couldn't feel my toes and started moving forward.  Ben and Sophia were next to me and we were able to run together for a good bit.  It was great talking with them and more importantly laughing with them.  They are wonderful people with great hearts for running.
One of the only mishaps of the race was discovered at this point.  My hydration pack was frozen and I could not drink.  Some of the volunteers at DamNation tried to help me out, but as soon as they were able to defrost the tubing, it would refreeze.  I knew I should have blown the water back into the bladder, I just simply forgot.  Lesson learned.  This caused me to not drink nearly enough which may have played into my later issues with stomach upset and dizziness.
I spoke with a couple of other runners, one of whom asked me how I prepared for the race.  I, doubting up till the finish that I had adequately trained, was hesitant to share that my longest run had only been 42 miles.  I know other runners who run much higher mileage than I did.  This runner shared with me that his longest run had been a 15 miler.  I don't know if he finished or not.  Some other ladies overheard us and shared that their longest run had been a few 20 milers.  Not sure how they fared either.
Soon I was running with a very nice guy from Oklahoma, Bill.  We ran most of the first loop together and had an opportunity to share about our faith and how it motivates our running.  Truly a blessing to experience that on the first loop out.
Park Road Aid station was rockin' the Jimmy Buffet themed Margaritaville and the H-trexer's proved  what true heroes are.  Hanging out, on a freezing cold day, listening to runners whine and serving up anything we desired, including GLUTEN-FREE options!  Are you kidding me???  Love that!  Miles was cooking up something yummy and promised to let me know if I started looking bad...  
I ended the first loop feeling great, warming up, and ready to go onto the second loop. Coming into Dogwood, I noticed Jon Walk taking pictures.  I tried to hug Jon as I came in, but it looked more like a bodyslam!  In spite of my efforts to take him down, he was a gentleman and sent me on my way.  Seeing Jon at races doing what he does to support running always lifts my spirits.   Mark grabbed me as I crossed the timing mat and played crew.  He did a great job getting me out of the aid station and back to the trail.  Predicted time for loop 1 was 4.5 hours.  I came in ahead of pace at 4:02. 

Loop 2 felt great as well.  I ran by myself most of the time, listening to the music only on the portion of the trail that looped between the two stops at DamNation.  While the volunteers at DamNation were truly a godsend, I came to loathe that portion of the trail.  It was a beautiful section, and though it was only 6 miles around, it seemed to go on forever.  The music on loops 2 and 3 during those times was very helpful.
It was during loop 2 that I had my first glimpse of Anton, Hal, Scott, and Karl.  I only saw Ian on my third loop as he was heading in on his 5th with his pacer...flying, so what I saw was an amazing blur!
I noticed at DamNation that Scott was talking  and taking pictures with the volunteers and the runners.  I passed him at the aid station and chuckled to myself..."I just passed Scott Jurek!"  Of course, shortly thereafter, he passed me again.
As I reached Park Road, Mark was there to cheer me on.  I noticed Lynnor, Maryann, and others gathered around Scott.  They encouraged me to meet my inspiration to run and maintain a plant-based diet.  This picture makes me look like a crazed fan, but truly, I was just so excited to get to meet him!
Before heading out of Park Road Aid Station, Scott asked how I was doing and if I was running the 100.  I shared with him how much I admired him and that I was thrilled to not only be running my first 100, but to be running on the same dirt that he was and to have the added blessing of meeting him!  A true gentleman who even remembered me when he saw me on the next loop and continued to encourage me.

As I came into Dogwood, Jon, Bill, and Adrienne, as well as other local runners, had gathered to greet the  runners as they were finishing their loops.    Seeing the group of them standing there brought back memories of my first 50 miler when they came out in the dark of night and surprised me in the middle of nowhere out on the trail.  My eyes welled with tears, the first of many times this day.
                                                           Photo courtesy of Jon Walk

I finished up loop 2 in 4:36, 24 mins ahead of pace.  Pete was there to encourage me and Stacy and Mik had arrived to get ready for Stacy to pace me for loops 4 and 5.  They worked fast and furious to get me in and out of the aid station and before I knew it I was off on the third loop.

After giving a few more hugs to Bill, Jon, and Adrienne, Adrienne surprised me by running a few steps with me!  This moment of the day will always be remembered as something special.  Adrienne is a remarkable runner and she has become a great friend. 
                                                           Photo courtesy of Jon Walk

Loop 3 was fairly uneventful with one exception.  I hit a root and landed on one of the wooden bridges along the lake trail just two miles from the end of the loop.  I took a very quick assessment of any injuries and didn't feel like I had done any damage, so I continued on my way.  I was getting very excited to be at the end of my 60 miles.  Turns out I had landed on my knee pretty hard, bruising it, but it wasn't a concern until later in the race.  The only other issue I had was that the sun had set and the temps started dropping rapidly.  Stacy had Mark meet me at Park Road to give me my jacket.  Thank goodness.  It was really cold and I was having some trouble regulating my body temp.

As I had shared in my previous post, I felt pretty sure that I would be able to complete 60 miles, but the remaining 40 were sure to be a tremendous challenge both physically and mentally.  I had, for months, been trying to figure out how to "toughen up", and not show any weakness.  Then I heard a voice whisper to me, "in your weakness, I am made strong."  After spending some time meditating on this verse from scripture, 2Cor 12:10, I felt compelled to embrace my weakness so that He could show His strength.  This is not something that I thought others would see, but I knew I would.  I knew, because I knew I wasn't strong enough to finish Rocky and if I did, it was only because He worked through others to get me to the finish line.  I ran as well as I could, finishing up my three loops in 13:29.  31 minutes under my predicted 14 hour time.  When I reached the 60 mile mark, I knew that my physical strength had been exhausted and I was going to be placing myself completely into the hands of God, who worked through Stacy, Mark, and Mik. 

Stacy made sure that I changed every stitch of clothing, right there in front of everyone, and I never objected.  I was under her command at that time.  I ate a bit and then she and I headed out into the cold and dark.   Stacy kept a good pace and I happily followed right behind her.  I had no desire to "go out to fast" or argue with anything she told me to do.  The next two loops are pretty much a blur.  I know that pretty early into the fourth loop, my right knee felt like the quad was tight and pulling on it.  The more I ran, the more it seemed to hurt, so we began walking more and more.  I am so thankful that Mariela introduced the walk/run method to me in a real way this summer.  I had used this before, but always felt as though I was somehow "cheating" by using it.  She explained that most of us who run ultras will walk some so we should train those muscles as well.  And she was absolutely correct.  I've been able to recover faster from my long runs this year and run further as a result.  As well, my pace has actually become faster, which I really can't explain!

I began to notice some deterioration of my cognitive status.  I couldn't add simple numbers.  I couldn't remember my kids birthday's.  I felt my eyes closing and had no control over them.  I was pretty certain I was going to fall asleep while walking.  I didn't even know that was a possibility.  I was horribly sick to my stomach and wished I could throw up, but didn't because any further loss of calories could have ended my run.  I told Stacy what was going on and she continued to encourage me.  She suggested I take my 5 hour energy which I had tried in training and worked well.  I took it, but it didn't seem to help much.  She then gave me some chocolate covered espresso beans and within minutes I was ready to go again.  I think I might have even run some more!

Mark and Mik met us at Park Road.  My face was so cold and we tried eating more broth and coffee.  It wouldn't go down.  I was extremely nauseous and could barely drink water by this time.  I knew I needed calories, but I could not take any in.  I was burning something other than fat stores by this time.  Instead of focusing on how lousy I felt, I decided to not say very much, which if you know me, you know I am not one to keep quiet about these types of things, and just trust in Stacy, trust in God, say my prayers coupled with the intentions that went with them, and continue with the forward motion.  We came into Dogwood at 1:26 am,  a 5:53 loop, on a predicted 6 - 7 hour loop. 

I don't remember much about the end of loop 4.  Pete was there again which completely astounds me.  I have the best friends in the world!  To see a friendly face in the crowd always brings me joy, but this time, it helped me to survive.  Seeing Pete, Mark, Mik, and others I knew, kept me out of my head and back in the game.

Stacy was having head lamp issues and being the good girl that I am, (HA!) I actually listened to her command to head out and she would catch me.  She did and we proceeded to shuffle our way through the last loop.

This loop was the darkest both figuratively and literally for me.  I never told Stacy or anyone how much I didn't care if we stopped.  If someone asked me if I wanted to quit at mile 92, I would have said yes.  Thankfully, no one asked.  The infamous 6 mile loop at DamNation was the worst of all.  I was so sick to my stomach.  I've never felt that bad.  My eyes began closing again.  5 hour energy did nothing.  Stacy started hand feeding me, two at a time, skittles.  If that isn't someone being Christ to me, I don't know what is.  She talked to me the whole time.  Even when I didn't answer.  She didn't lie to me.  She didn't try to make everything ok.  She told me we would finish.  She told me that I was strong enough.  She told me that when the sun came up, things would get better.  And they did.  Right before dawn, my eyes could no longer focus.  All I could see were her shoes.  And I followed them.  We were both freezing and could not keep warm.  I can't explain how primal my sense of life became in these pre-dawn hours.  I could envision myself laying on the ground to sleep and probably dying of hypothermia.  I didn't care if I finished or not.  I didn't speak unless Stacy asked me a question and I'm not even sure I uttered a response most of the time.  She instinctively knew what to do and when to do it.  I trusted her completely.
I could feel my body shutting itself down to preserve the core.  Weirdest feeling ever.  It was definitely below 32 degrees and we could no longer maintain our body temps.  Thankfully, Stacy had her cell phone with her and called Mark and Mik telling them to bring our heavier coats.  They met us at Park Road.  Again, I saw many of the same volunteers that had been there most of the day before still there serving us.  I took everything off, watch, hydration vest (couldn't drink anyway), spi belt, etc. and donned my big winter jacket.  Stacy grabbed her sweatshirt and we both restocked our gloves with hand warmers.  I truly don't remember anything more than praying I would not look so bad that Mark would be worried.  Mark told me later that he waited outside the port-a-potty to be sure I didn't fall asleep inside or be so confused that I couldn't figure out how to open the door.  Guess I fooled him!  Not.

We headed out of the aid station, leaving even our head lamps with the guys as the sun was beginning to rise.  And just as Stacy promised, I had a renewed sense of strength.  We even attempted to run a few downhills, but by this time, my knee was in real pain and I think my walking pace was faster than my running pace.

The finish.

As we approached the 98 mile mark, I started to become overwhelmed with the prospect of finishing.  I didn't have the energy to cry, but I could feel it in my throat.  I wasn't sure what I was going to do or say at the finish as I really never thought about what would happen as I crossed the finish line, only what I would go through to get to it!

By some miracle, we were able to jog the last stretch in to the finish line.  Joe, the RD, was there to personally hand out the finisher's belt buckles.  I hugged him and thanked him from the bottom of my heart.  I was surprised that I didn't cry.  I wanted to, but I couldn't.  Maybe I had nothing left to even cry.

I hugged Stacy, Mark, and Mik.  I thanked, and thanked, and thanked them and then thanked them all again.  They were the perfect people to help me reach my goal.

Stacy tweaked her ankle right at the finish and thankfully she is ok, but that speaks to the passion she has to running and helping others.  She risked her own training and race goals to help me get to the finish line.  I know she is hurting today too.  Yet she went to work, while I sat around the house enjoying the feel of victory.  I know she says that I could have done this without her, but I highly doubt it.  She was Christ to me out there.  And I loved every minute of following Him on that trail.

Running ultras is an experiment of one, or so it is said.  I can attest to you that it is not.  Maybe as far as training, nutrition, and hydration go it is, but getting through a race of this level, even if you run alone, is not something that is done solo. We all need some assistance, be it through pacers, aid stations, a crew, whatever. 

To everyone who has ever offered me any word of encouragement or advice, experience, or prayer.  Thank you.  To anyone who has run along side me, thank you.  To those who watched my children, picked up the slack in my other obligations in life, thank you.   To those who allowed me to offer my prayers for each mile I have run, thank you.  To my husband and my children, you mean the world to me and I can never find the words to tell you how very much I love each and every one of you.

And finally, I thank the Author of My Life, for He knows my heart, my strengths, and my weaknesses, and His grace is sufficient for me. 


  1. Thanks so much for sharing your heart with all of us! What a great race report. Again, congratulations!

  2. Outstanding, so happy for you. A brilliant run and inspiring report. Way to set a goal and really go for it.

  3. Congratulations!!!

    Watching you out there powering through the miles was so impressive. You looked strong, happy and definitely were savoring the journey.

    I look forward to the next time our paths cross.

  4. Whoa. Definitely too compelling to break up to read!

  5. Can't help crying. Beautiful!

  6. Your report is awesome, inspiring and from the heart. I almost felt like I was there with you. Congratulations on achieving your long held goals!

  7. Wow, great details. I am amazed at how spiritual this is for you. Congrats on reaching your goal.

  8. You never looked bad, so it was a promise I didn't have to keep! Good work out there - proud of you.


    Oh Karen, you said everything so beautifully.

    You are a gift. A true gift.

    Now. About those 2 people you mentioned early on, that 1 had only done 15 miles for their longest and the other a couple of 20's? First off, I honestly cant stand people like that; why even show up; why even SIGN up? and 2nd, I bet the 1st one made it to 25 or so, if that, and the other, maybe made it past 40 miles. That part actually angered me reading. Disrespectful in my opinion!

  10. wow. congrats!
    what a wonderful and rare accomplishment

  11. I was following your progress during the race and kept cheering you on in my head! You are amazing...I'm in AWE!

    To God be the glory, great things He has done! I'm proud to say I know you = )

  12. I am humbled at your faith... Proud to know you. I love the family atmosphere of these runs that you do - not at all surprised that you can do this. You are my hero!


  13. You are an inspiration Karen! Congratulations!