Rocky Raccoon 100-Mile Trail Run
February 4-5, 2012
By Mike Campbell
I have one word to describe the 20th running of the Rocky Raccoon 100 that I learned in Vietnam: monsoon. I think this is one of the first times this area had seen so much rain getting soaked the week up to, and for the first part of, race day. Today was payback. At 5 a.m. about 15-20 early start 100-mile runners took off and were out of sight within 15-20 yards. The sky opened up to a torrential downpour.
This year was my 6th attempt at Rocky - the modest course of five, 20-mile loops on jeep roads and dirt trails. The pine needles are always abundant, with just as many stumps and roots to go along with them. If there were any intentions of dry feet this race, they were dismissed after the first quarter of a mile navigating the streams formerly known as trails. I’m not talking the occasional puddle - this was the ankle-deep, shoe-sucking kind of mud. I did kept my gaiters on all day in hopes to keep trail debris from getting into my shoes. They worked great.
I also enjoy this race because I get to visit my son (Michael) and his family (my daughter-in-law Abby and my granddaughter Lauren) in Houston. On Friday Michael made his famous pre-race spaghetti feed that got me plenty ready for the next day run. After a good night’s rest, we woke up at 3 a.m. and drove to Huntsville for check-in and race start.
The gun start sent the crowd of ultra-runners off at 6 a.m., as the trail flashed pink from the thunder and lightning. The light actually aided our way - the strikes were never very close together and the booming thunder gradually got further away. It seemed to rain off and on all day with fluctuating temperatures that didn’t make for a pleasant time. I don’t think it ever got up to the 50-55 degree range, which would have been a little more typical for this time of year.
My first 20-mile lap was roughly 48 minutes slower than my time in 2009. I was around an 11-minute mile pace, so I knew I was already behind. There were three crewed aid stations per lap—at miles 3.1, 15.6 and 20—and Michael was my only full time crew member this year. The welcome look on his face each time we linked up was inspiration to keep me on the journey come hell or high water (and we were nearing the first it seemed).
Each aid station I had my Gatorade bottle filled and was on my way. I also alternated between V8 and Ensure at the stations where I met Michael. I know by now my serious limits on consuming food during the run, so besides the liquid I was only able to get in some gels and a piece of PowerBar or energy bite per lap.
I was greeted by less than desirable conditions coming back to Dam Road Aid, navigating across the canal pathway by Raven Lake with a dip down at the end by Prairie Branch Creek. It got very greasy - it was raining pretty steadily and I slide about five feet. For a bit I didn’t think I was going to stop, but caught myself just in time. I was surprised the trail got better on the second lap, probably because of all the feet passing over it.
I finished my second lap, 40 miles down, with a special crew welcome from my wife Aleka, Lauren (designated as my “crew chief” in the past) and Abby. It took me four hours to complete the last lap at about a 12-minute mile pace. To add insult to injury, this year’s winner lapped me at mile 38. Hal Koerner won with a time of 13:24, which is about an 8:05 minute-mile pace.
At the beginning of the third lap, mile 43.1, I was in and out of the rain and decided to change my shoes. This year I brought three pairs of Brooks Cascadia and found these work much better with my feet. (I wanted to prevent a rerun of last Grindstone when silver dollar-size blisters on the pad of each foot kept me from running beyond mile 66.) I rubbed some Icy Hot on my cramped legs, chugged another Ensure, took a full bottle of Gatorade, and I was good to go.
It seemed I wasn’t sweating as much on the third lap - maybe due to the chill or drop in temperature. Every mile my Garmin beeped as a reminder to take a few big gulps of Gatorade. The only problem was that since I wasn’t sweating it out, I ended up peeing two and even three times per mile (note: this was for at least the last 50 miles). With the dodging of potholes, bushwhacking, forging the mudded ways and keeping your shoes from being sucked off, my legs were exhausted after three laps. With the mindset switch from PR to survival mode, I knew I had to keep moving forward to not lose sight of the finish.
Next time I saw Michael I took my mini-charger for my Garmin 310xt, since I realized I’d be out more than 20 hours today. It fit in my nylon jacket pocket and I ran the cord down my sleeve to the watch. I was full charged within one lap - so I continued clocking without a hitch.
After two more laps it was time again to change shoes. I only had 20 miles left and figured it wouldn’t do any harm to put on fresh socks/shoes even though I was surprisingly still sans blisters.
My final two laps were well after sunset where the darkness was inevitable. I realized the overall pace in these conditions suffered not only for me, but also for many of my fellow runners. As I came in to each aid station, I found a handful of runners chilling, drinking some hot soup, and not talking much. They had no intentions of furthering the punishment and were waiting for a ride back home. I did manage to pass about a dozen people moving much slower and to my surprise, no one passed me during the last 20-mile endeavor (lap).
Since I’m now in the 60-year-old and up category, I was allowed a pacer for the entire 100 miles. But, as luck would have it, (or no luck rather) we were unable to muster up anyone to pace. Of course I can’t blame anyone for not wanting to participate in this weather.
As I approached the finish and the quarter mile sprint to the end, I was never happier to call it quits.
The race director, Joe Prusaitis, congratulated me and checked with the timer at the computer to see how I faired. Quick results were thanks to the timing chip we had this year in a Velcro ankle wrap. I was shocked to learn no one in the Senior Master division had finished ahead of me (as it turned out, it would be more than an hour before the next 60-69 year old finished). Joe gave me a finisher’s buckle, my 500-mile finisher fleece jacket, and the lizard/gecko age division winner award.
About 450 people were registered for the 100 and of that, 376 started. Only 218 finished the race for the lowest all time Rocky Raccoon 100 finishing rate of 58 percent.
- 21 bottles of Gatorade (420 oz)
- 9 bottles of Ensure
- One, 16oz bottle of V8
- 16 E-Caps (electrolytes),
- 4 cups of Coke (no ginger ale this time) and some soup
- 4 gels, a piece of Oatmeal PowerBar, and 4 energy bites
Official time: 24:37:36 and 95th place overall
Average pace: 14:58
The trails were marked well and I never had concern of being off course. The aid stations were very well stocked and even though I couldn’t indulge in most of the solid foods, I did enjoy a few cups of potato and noodle soup.
I never would have accomplished this task without the great support of my family. This was a crew nightmare of a race as well. Michael put up with the conditions and has been there rain or shine for most of my 100’s. He knows exactly what, why, when and how much to get to me, let alone his ability to navigate to each aid station.
Thanks to Aleka, my partner for nearly 40 of the best years of my life, and to Abby and Lauren who gave me a reason to keep going with their bright and smiling faces. And last, but by far not the least, is my mom. She has always supported me and is one of the most influence heroes throughout my life with the candles she keeps burning in the church, God Bless!
Hope to see you all on the trails soon ….thks Mike