February 10, 2018
Finish Time: 11:49:39
Preparation: Knob Hill (50k) race was my last long run in preparation for this 50-mile attempt. I gathered a couple inconvenient foot problems (blisters) coming out of the 50k with three weeks to go. Not optimal for my last long training/race, but that’s part of the game. Mentally, the 50k race was critical for preparation. Two loops, one drop bag and all of the race preparation. This “preparation” race my first ultra-trail race. A tough course. Now to the Rocky Raccoon 50:
Weather: 64-degree average with light rain throughout the day.
Race Conditions: Trails were sloppy turning to terrible in the second lap. Race map is at the bottom of the blog. Four fully stocked aid stations and one minimal aid station.
Goals: 1) Finish, As a first-time 50 miler, this was plenty.
Before the Race: Race week was filled with race preparations. Everything was stacked into three drop bags with shoes and foot repair in every bag. However, as it turned out, the drop bags were not used except to drop off a headlamp.
Morning of the Race: Arrived early to rain and cold. The RR admin crew is experience and everything was relaxed. Trail racing has a totally different mood at the start from road racing. Relaxed and easy conversation from the fast racers all the way down to first-time hopefuls.
Race started at a slow pace with a train of headlamps. The course was already slick and sloppy with a fog of rain. The sun coming up 45 minutes later was a great boost. Time to put away the headlamp and let the real race begin.
Nutrition: Course nutrition all the way! Rocky food is on point and aid station personnel are top-notch. The aid stations were well-stocked, and Tailwind/Water was readily available. The addition of my Nuun hydration rounded out my nutrition strategy.
Loop 1 of 2
The first five miles from the start to the Gate aid station flew by and with easy conversation and headlamps. Mile 5-8 was a long dirt road that gave me a lot of comfort as a road runner, but slick and muddy spots quickly brought me back to the trail – reentering the woods to Damnation was relaxing and an easy run….Oh, Damnation – a lovely aid station at 9.5/18.3 miles of the first loop that you didn’t want to leave. My body was feeling good and my squishy feet were doing fine.
The trail to Farside and back was endless and took its toll mentally and physically. I was lucky to attach to a couple of veterans traveling to Farside and my mind could relax into the miles. Following was good, but my pace slowed slightly – not a bad slow. The 4 ¼ miles seemed to take forever – the trail seemed to go on for twice the distance and the aid station kept getting further. Farside was minimal with fluids only, but again, the personnel were upbeat. I turned quickly and left my chosen pacers with a quicker pace to get off of this side of the course.
The course between mile 9.5 and 18.3 were really bad in places with slop, mud, roots and falling sides of trails. It put a beating on wet shoes and feet. Coming back to Damnation was fantastic and I hit my stride between miles 14 to 21 (Nature Center). I ran alone from the Farside to the end of the first loop. That’s a lot of trail time inside your own head. Team mates at the Nature Center gave me a fantastic (needed) boost and sent me toward the end of the first loop. The four miles between Nature Center and the end of the loop (Dogwood) were mentally tough and last two miles (mostly flat) hit me with my first true low point of the race. By the time I reached the end of the first lap I was exhausted.
The best advice, that I used (by Ben Drezek): Use the start/finish line as a restart/refresh. I ate everything that looked good, drank all the water and had noodles – the noodle hit the spot. I then stretched, loosed my body up a little and started back on the course with a new positive attitude and a partially refilled energy tank to start the second loop. The stoppage time was well worth it. I did not use my drop bag.
Miles 25 – 29 I started loop 2 directly into the face of the part of the trail that brought me to my low point – it wasn’t any better. But, I survived it. I only needed to run that same trail section ONE MORE TIME – at miles 46 – 50.
At the Nature Center, I let my crew chief know that I would need the mental support when I came back through and asked him to be prepared to run with me. It was hard to admit the need for support, but necessary.
Miles 29 – 34 were simply gutting out the pace I had banked lot of time and I was still well under a 17-hour finish … I started dreaming of not only finishing the race but finishing before it got dark. A 13-minute pace made is a possibility, but the race started at mile 35. Yep, I slowed in the next 10 miles.
Miles 35 – 43 Damnation to the Farside were tough the first time and I had prepared myself for this second fight. I didn’t settle in during this section. I fought the hills with a stiff, fast power hike and ran the flats and downhills. I knew what to expect this time and didn’t look at the miles. Farside was out there, I simply knew that I wanted to get there and back. I reached Farside WORN OUT.
20 miles of walking simply was out of the question. So, I went back to my fighting pace and headed back to the wonderful land of the Damnation aid station. Coming the last 400 yards to Damnation, my tank was empty. My feet were torn up and I could feel toe nails coming off and multiple blisters on both feet. My pace had started to slow, and I was eating into my banked pace.
A decisions had to be made as I came to Damnation. Do I pick up my headlamp? If I walked back to the finish, I needed my headlamp. If I pushed myself, I might make it by dark. I pushed all my chips to the center of the poker table and left my headlamp at Damnation. Sunset or bust.
Miles 43 My feet are trash, my body is exhausted – my but mind is refreshed when 5 KMF team mates’ paces came together at Damnation after 43.6 miles of racing. We then ran loosely together from Damnation to Nature Center. This was the first time not running alone since mile 5. At this point, I couldn’t really do math so my team mates made it simple. They knew the overall average pace was needed to make under 12 hours – this matched (closely) to sunset.
Miles 46 – 60 The sight of Nature Center required decisions. My decision was to finish hard. I didn’t pause at Nature Center with four miles to go. My pacer was ready, and we were off without an aid-station stop. I simply didn’t look back until the finish line. I would have never finished my race above a walk without the support of my team and my pacer. The mental support was needed, and the last four miles were TOUGH! It was a simple as two mode: Hard or stopped. I knew they would be terrible – I made them worse and better at the same time. But I finished the race strong.
Mile 50 reached. 100% done.
Veterans related that this course was different and tougher than prior years. This was my first year. I was difficult and satisfying – I’m looking forward to the next ultra-race.
Photos by Tim McCurry:
Finish Line Reached:
Race map: RR_2018_w-elev