Rocky Racoon 100 (2003) Race Report

By Mike Broderick

More Pictures

Vasili, Mike, and MicheleI wanted to share with you an adventure I had this past weekend as I ran my first 100 mile race down in Huntsville Texas in the Rocky Racoon 100 mile trail run. I had set what I thought was a reasonable time goal of 24 hours to complete the race, and when I crossed the finish line at 4:11 AM Sunday morning I had bested that time goal by an hour and 49 minutes. What an incredible experience!

I went down to Texas Friday with two good friends, Vassili Triantos, a very experienced and very fast ultra runner, and Michele Burr who has been my training partner and inspiration for quite a while and who won this race 2 years ago and placed third last year. Vassili and I were to run the race, while Michele had kindly agreed to act as our support crew before the race and during the first several hours. The plan then was for Michele to be my "pacer" for the final 40 miles of the race. This was how Michele had finally twisted my arm into doing my first hundred; after all, if a past winner of the race is willing to give up her race to help you, how can you possibly decline?

We attended the pre race briefing and dinner Friday night at the main lodge in Huntsville State Park where the race is held. As we drove into the park that evening, we passed a sign warning of alligators in the park! And I thought that my legs were all I was going to have to worry about. Mickey Rollins, the race director, also warned us of other possible hazards, including "cane rattlers", coyotes, cougars and yellow jackets. We also has to step on a scale for an official weight check as they monitor your weight during the race to be sure that you are eating and drinking sufficiently and not becoming dehydrated. Then back to the hotel to try to get a bit of sleep before the 4AM wake up call.

Michele's crew duties began early Saturday as she went out and brought back coffee for us at 4:30 as we did our final gear check and got dressed. We had left our "drop bags" at the park the night before to be taken out to the aid stations. She then drove us to the start/finish area to check in and get ready to start at 6 AM. It was still dark as Mickey yelled out "GO" and 109 of us began our adventure, running along the trail system of the park with flashlights in hand to light our way.

The course is laid out as a loop of 20.15 miles which the runners must complete 5 times (yes the race is actually 100.75 miles!). Within that loop there are two different out and back sections of trail where the runners are going past each other, and it gives everyone a chance to see the other runners and the leaders of the race. About six miles of the course consist of dirt jeep roads, and the rest is mainly single track dirt trails in the woods with modest up and downhill climbs and some sections which are heavily strewn with roots. There are five aid stations in the race, including the one at the start/finish line, and these were well stocked with coke, PowerAde, water, sandwiches, boiled potatoes with dipping salt, various candies, potato chips, pretzels and the like. Most importantly, the aid stations were staffed by an incredible group of supportive and hard working volunteers who were a huge help.

The weather was great at the start with temperatures around 50 degrees. As the day progressed it got up into the low 70's which felt like mid-summer to my winter conditioned body. I was very conscious of taking plenty of fluids and electrolyte tablets throughout the race and never had any problems from dehydration. I carried a single bottle with me which was plenty as there was never more than about five miles between aid stations. In fact, my weight remained nearly constant through each loop as I had to step on the scale at the end of each one for a weight check.

My race was not a model of following a pre-race pacing plan. I knew that to make my 24 hour time goal (and to get the silver belt buckle instead of the copper buckle), I would need to average about 4:45 per 20.15 mile loop. I tried very hard to stay slow, take walk breaks, chat with aid station volunteers and similar things in my first loop with a goal of completing loop one in about 4:15. When I reached the end of that loop my watch registered 3:30 and I thought uh-oh. I felt very strong and fresh still, so I just took about 10 minutes there, changing into a short sleeved shirt, getting something to eat and getting set for lap two. I had anticipated seeing Michele at the end of this lap, but since I was 45 minutes ahead of my plan we missed each other. No big deal as things were going well and it was early in the race. Then it was off again.

The day was getting warmer and my legs were feeling good and loose. I tried to stay relaxed but focused and hoped to run a bit slower loop. There was also a 50 mile race which shared much of the course with the 100 miler, so we had lots of runners along the way during the day, and this made for lots of opportunities to share short conversations and words of encouragement. I was cruising right along as I hit the aid station 2.8 miles before the start finish area and saw Michele for the first time since the race has started nearly seven hours earlier. She was very cheerful (although she did ask with just a hint of concern what was up with my first lap pace) and asked what I might need at the start/finish area when I completed that loop.

Mike and MicheleWhen I got to the end of lap two, Michele was there and told me that she had hooked up with some other ultra runners she knew from the North Texas Trail Runners who had a large tent set up near the start finish line. They were a great bunch of people who adopted me as well, and their tent became my staging area as well. My time for this loop was still ahead of plan (3:40) although I had tried to run easy. It was now just after 1:30 PM as I was preparing to head out for loop #3, and the day was warm and sunny. I changed into a singlet after lathering on sunscreen, and decided to change shoes and socks to give my feet a fresh outlook on life. I drank another one of my chocolate Ensures to get some calories and protein, and then I was off for my last full loop of the course in daylight.

Lap #3 went well, although I could feel myself beginning to fatigue. I went through the 50 mile split at about my same time from last year's Bull Run 50 miler (just under 10 hours). I was taking a few more walk breaks, and I could feel my heart rate and respiration were becoming more easily elevated. I finished this loop in just about 4 hours, still ahead of pace, and glad to have gotten in three full loops before nightfall.

My transition between loops #3 and #4 was a bit longer. I was excited because Michele was now going to join me to run the last two laps as my pacer. It was also a time for some additional preparations as nightfall was approaching and the temperatures were dropping. I changed into a long sleeved shirt and had something to eat. I got out my main flashlight from my drop bag and checked to be sure that I had my small backup flashlight in my fanny pack. The North Texas Trail Runners were champs, filling my water bottle for me, giving me a quick back and shoulder massage and offering me some pizza which they had just brought in to their tent. Then Michele and I were off-40 miles to go and 12 hours to make the 24 hour time goal. We had about 25 minutes of light left before we had to turn on our flashlights. From that point we knew the rest of the race would be in the dark.

Michele was the perfect pacer. She made clear that we would walk when I wanted and run if I felt like it. She was telling stories and asking questions, all the time knowing that I might not respond or be very conversational myself. She would remind me periodically to drink from my water bottle and to take my Succeed tablets and would check with me as we got near each aid station about what I needed or wanted so she could be prepared to get it for me. At about the 71 mile point we encountered an area of clay like mud which had not given me any trouble in the first 3 loops (in daylight). As I went through this ahead of Michele, my foot went in and then came out, but the shoe didn't! Michele pulled the shoe out of the mud and got it back on my now muddy and wet foot. At the next aid station, Michele went over and got some dry socks from my drop back to make the change while I sat in a chair and ate some hot soup.

As we progressed through loop number four, the amount of walking increased, but I was still running most of the flat and downhill sections while walking up any inclines. My quadriceps muscles were becoming extremely fatigued and sore though. We kept looking and listening for the famed armadillos, but never saw one. We did see a large raccoon on our way into the start finish area though who ran part way up a tree and posed for us. Can’t say if it was “Rocky” himself. We finished the 4th loop at around 10:45 PM (a 4:45 split), and now it was gut check time-80 miles done and one more loop to go. The temperatures were now colder and I changed into another dry long sleeved shirt and added a vest. It was also time to add gloves to the outfit. I told Michele that I doubted I could run any more due to my quadriceps, but that I could still walk at a very brisk pace and thought we could finish the final loop in close to five hours. So off we went!

As it turned out, I couldn't run anymore but was able to power walk with success. Michele couldn't keep up with me walking, so she would gradually fall behind and then jog up to catch me again. We actually passed a large number of other runners during this final lap, and most of them were actually only on their 4th loop. It was very strange encountering these other people out in the woods in the dark, mostly just shuffling along and many complaining about how sleepy they were. We offered encouragement as we passed, but we were on a mission to finish this thing! Even though I am usually one to go to bed very early, I never did feel sleepy through this final loop. I’m sure that the adrenaline rush of knowing I was on the last lap of finishing a 100 played a big part. I also think that the Ensure I drank after each loop helped by keeping my protein intake up.

After having run 4 loops of the course, the fifth loop was a farewell tour. I made sure to thank again all of the volunteers at the aid stations who had worked so hard for so long. I said goodbye to all of the little landmarks along the course that I had come to know so well, glad to realize that I would not be seeing them again. Then we were at the final aid station before the finish-just 2.8 miles to go-and got a big round of applause and good wishes from the kind folks there (it was now around 3:30 AM). And then the push to the finish. As we were nearing the end of this loop, we passed a few runners coming out from the start area who were just beginning their 5th loop. I couldn't begin to imagine how it must feel to be just heading out for another loop at 4AM. Despite their fatigue, they all made sure to tell me “nice job” or “great going” when they heard I was on my way to finishing.

I have never been so happy to see a finish line! It was 4:11 AM as I came in and there may have been on or two people there besides the finish line crew and aid station workers. Those folks were great-cheering and congratulating me on my finish in 22:11. We had completed this final loop in 5:15. There were no other runners anywhere to be seen. My post race refreshment from the aid station crew was a cool cheeseburger on two slices of white bread, and boy did it taste good. Michele and I headed up to the tent where a propane heater was burning, and we got into some dry warmer clothes. While I sat in a chair in front of the heater, Michele went to the car to be sure Vassili was there-he was (sleeping in the back seat)-then came back to help me carry my things to the car for the ride back to the hotel to try to get a bit of sleep before the pancake breakfast and awards ceremony Sunday morning.

Vassili and I were both moving like a couple of cripples. He had a great race, finishing with a PR of 16:18 and a second place finish! Michele continued to be a wonderful source of support, carrying bags and generally doing whatever she could to help us around. After a couple of fitful hours turning over in bed and feeling aches in just about every part of my body, I finally just got up and showered, then it was back to the park for the post race festivities. As we drove in at about 10:00, we could see several runners spread out along a section of the trail near the access road who were just coming in to finish-unbelievable! (The race has a cutoff time of 30 hours). Back at the lodge we were treated to a breakfast of eggs, pancakes, bacon and toast, and had a chance to sit around a trade war stories with the other runners who we had shared the trail with over the weekend. Then Mickey handed out the awards to the top finishers and the belt buckles to all official finishers.

Rocky Racoon is a wonderful race and a great one to do as a first 100 miler. The people associated with the race were just great, and the participants were a lot of fun to hang with as well. I know this is Mickey’s last year, so I’m glad to have had a chance to run his race while he was still the director. I met Joe Prusaitis and his wife Joyce, who will be taking over the race next year, and it sure looks like this event is in good hands. If you are interested in reading some other accounts of people's experiences there, and seeing some pictures of the course, check out Peyton Robinson's website,


Mike Broderick

More Pictures

Mike and Michele

Photos contributed by Mike Broderick.

Virginia Happy Trails Running Club
Home | News | Events | Membership | Members Only | Photos
Bull Run Run 50 | Massanutten Mt. Trails 100 | Training Runs | Links