Over the past few years the Rocky Raccoon 100, under the extraordinary leadership of Race Director Joe Prusaitis, has enjoyed consistent growth and become recognized as an extremely well-organized, logistically simple 100 mile trail run.
Known as one the “easier” 100’s, Rocky Raccoon draws veterans and newbies to Huntsville State Park 60 miles north of Houston every February to run five 20-mile loops through the park. This year Joe made significant changes to the course and, while the general terrain was still the same as in the past, the course contained far fewer dirt road sections and far more rooted, winding, sandy, single-track trail sections. From my perspective and for a runner of my ability I felt this added about 10-15 minutes per loop over the previous course.
My day started pretty well as I fell into a lead group with Scott Jaime and Jonathan Gunderson. During the first 20-mile circuit we chatted about our summer running plans (Jonathan – Badwater, Scott – Hardrock, and me – the WS/HRH double) and got a sense of the day. By the time we came around to the start/finish (in a new location from past year’s which cut out ¼ mile of pavement) we had settled into a nice pace and began to feel the heat coming on (temperatures ultimately reached the low-80’s). I took a bit longer in the Aid Station than Scott and Jonathan took a bit longer than me so we left for Loop 2 in that order.
I pushed a bit for the first 10 minutes of Loop 2 thinking I could catch back up to Scott but he appeared to be making a move so I let him go. By the time I got to Dam Road (Mile 26) he had a 90 second lead on me that he built to about five minutes by the end of Loop 2. He looked steady and strong on each of the out and back sections and it was shaping up to be a pretty good race. In addition, Jamie Donaldson, one of the strongest female 100-mile runners in the country, was cruising along about 10 minutes behind me and I knew she would be close all day.
Loop 3 went well. The temperatures were starting to rise but a nice breeze was keeping it manageable. My nutrition plan of eating all solid foods and sports drink for the first 60 miles seemed to be working and my legs felt strong. By the time I approached the turnaround at Mile 60 Scott’s lead was a bout five minutes and I thought I might have a chance to make up some ground on Loop 4. I also spent a bit of time at this turnaround talking with Joe and Kevin Sullivan (the 50 mile race winner and my crew for the last two loops) and Joe said he had a pacer for me for Loop 5 if I wanted one.
I left the 60 Mile mark at 8:55 on the clock and was thinking 15:30-16:00 might be enough to win. I pushed pretty hard up to Dam Road at Mile 66 and as I was leaving the aid station I saw Scott about two minutes up the trail. It was a long, straightaway section so I was able to keep him in my sights. After about two miles I met up with him, we chatted a bit, and I ran on. He seemed pretty tired but I wasn’t sure if I’d seen the last of him. Not only is Scott tough but he’s fast and his experiences at Hardrock and other mountainous 100’s suggested to me that he would be patient and smart. By the time I got back to the start/finish at Mile 80 I had a five minute lead and was in and out by 12:15 on the clock. The race was on!
I quickly filled up my bottles and grabbed seven gels (my plan had been to switch over to all gels and sports drink for the last 40 miles as my stored glycogen was clearly tapped out by this time! Needless to say, I’d be eating one gel every 25 minutes for the last loop). I also was joined on this loop by Larry King, Olga Varlamova’s boyfriend, who, even though we had never met, seemed to know exactly what I’d need to do to finish strong. At about Mile 94 he told me that there was light behind us and it was gaining. He said, “I’d bet money that it’s Scott.” We put the hammer down and ran hard for the next hour. I came across the line in 15:58 and Scott came in about 12 minutes later. However, we came to learn that he was with 2 minutes of me with four miles to go. It was good reminder for me of how a pacer can help late in the race.
After finishing we had a blast hanging out and seeing Jamie finish (3rd overall, first place woman) was a thrill. After an hour or so of smack talking and generally being my usual obnoxious post-race self Kevin and I left for the hotel and a quick night’s sleep before my 9AM flight on Sunday.
One final note: I had always wanted to try running every step of a 100 miler and in this race I did it. With the exception of a few walking strides on my way out of the aid stations I ran the entire race. I am not sure if my time was better than it would have been had I walked but it was fun to try and was good mental training for Western States (where I certainly won’t run every step!)