Repairable: Rocky Raccoon 2012
Rocky Raccoon went downhill for me after this auspicious trash-bag-wearing start. (PS. If you’re going to wear a trashbag during a race, buy those kitchen ones with the tie flaps. Makes for a fashionable skirt.)
Well, let’s be honest, surrounded by good friends and family, it was a lot more like this:
The rain challenged the windshield wipers when Howard and I left the Motel 6 at 4:30am and headed to the park. Howard had come down for the race and was kind enough to ferry me (almost literally) to the race start, so no one would call CPS on Eliot and me for having a four year-old out before dawn in a torrential downpour and lightning storm. Howard and I passed the drive time speculating about the park’s lightning safety rules. There was a huge crack of thunder as we went through the front gate and we figured Joe would have to postpone the start a bit — until we saw a long line of headlamps jogging by on a trail to our right. The 5am starters were off. Lightning smightning.
And so we come to Number 10 of my Race Highlights: Sitting in the passenger seat of a small car wearing a tall white kitchen trash bag, applying Vaseline to my hat brim and myself, next to Howard Nippert, an extraordinary runner and coach, whom I’d just met in person the night before. It was his Vaseline.
HN: “Use as much as you want.”
Me: “I’ve never used Vaseline.”
HN: “You could put some on your shoes.”
I slid out of the car around 5:30 and headed over to the start line. Runners were crowded under a tent wearing a wide array of rain gear and plastic bags. Everyone seemed to be in pretty high spirits. That kind of rain doesn’t leave any other option really. Either you embrace it, or you stay in bed at the Motel 6.
The first 20 mile loop was pretty fun, really. I almost had heatstroke before I got to the first aid station and ripped my garbage bag off Incredible Hulk style (Race Highlight Number 9), but otherwise the running felt great, the course wasn’t too sloppy, and I got to chat with some great folks.
And then my PF reared its ugly head. It’d been giving me some trouble since Bandera, but nothing a little time with a Lacrosse ball hasn’t been able to fix. Suddenly it felt like my foot had been beaten with a hammer. The pain wasn’t excruciating, just really really unpleasant. I changed into more cushioned shoes at mile 20 and headed back out. Loop 2 turned out to be my worst and best time out on the course. It hurt to run, I wasn’t hitting my splits, and I felt my goal slipping out of reach. I pushed as hard as I could and I still came up short. I wanted to take my ball and go home. But running ultras is not about how fast you can run. They’re about how hard you can work. I hung onto the hope that if I could keep plugging along, things might turn around. I thought of some nice sentences for a “back from the dead” race report. At mile 44ish, a Team Red, White & Blue member came up beside me carrying the flag and said he’d run with me a while. I told him I wasn’t allowed to have pacers and left it at that. He yelled encouragement at everyone we passed, something I couldn’t muster anymore. You could see people’s spirits lift as we ran along. Mine lifted, the pain abated a bit, and I started to run better. The thought crossed my mind about how I’d have to tell Joe to disqualify me if I did manage to rally and hit my goal because of this early pacer. But when it comes down to it, running with a man carrying the American flag to support returning veterans trumps DQing. (Race Highlights Numbers 6, 7 and 8.) He ran with me for six miles and then headed back to volunteer at the Nature Aid Station. Wearing the Team RWB shirt helped keep me honest and giving 100% throughout the race. Get yourself one and see. Perspective and personal bests guaranteed. But the Shirt, even with the cool 80′s half-shirt tailoring I did to it, couldn’t prevent my left shin from flaring up as I compensated for my foot pain. (Cue screaching train brakes.) I couldn’t run by mile 64ish. So my good friend and (legal) pacer, Kelli, and I hiked. Highlight Number 5: Being passed by a man at least 20 years my senior using trekking poles.
Highlight Number 4: Telling Kelli Hal Koerner’s UTMB story and having Hal come flying past us just as I got to the Ziploc bag crescendo.
I fully intended to hike the last 40 miles to the finish. I was not excited about spending another ten hours on the course, but contrary to popular belief, running 100 mile races isn’t all glamor and paparazzi. And I believe I’ve mentioned my belt buckle addiction. I was looking forward to spending time talking with Brian and Chris the last loop. They’ve been with me every Rocky I’ve run. Race Highlight Number 3: My San Antonio running family at the start/finish.
And then at mile 76ish the train left the tracks completely. My right knee was tired of doing whatever strange move I’d been asking it to do for the last five hours and it hit me with a sharp “you’re about to do some nice long-term damage” pain. There are lots of great reasons to push through pain in an ultra, but long-term injury isn’t one of them. Sometimes it’s a struggle to know what kind of pain you’re dealing with, but that wasn’t the case for me. If I’d dropped any earlier, I would have always regretted it. It wasn’t necessary until mile 76. I told Kelli to run ahead and ask Eliot to come out and help me in. I limped along the line between pride and pridefulness, threw myself a small pity party (the RWB Shirt prevents too much of that nonsense too), and waited to see Eliot’s headlamp. Race Highlight Number 2: Walking the final miles with Eliot holding Eliot’s hand. I handed my timing chip over and walked over to hug my dad. Highlight Number 1.
Thank you to all the volunteers! Rosie and Mario… Wow!! I look forward to being able to take such good care of you all in a race someday.
Thanks so much to GU for their support too. My stomach and intestines didn’t make a peep all race. And to New Balance!! Their shoes have sped me along for a while now, but this time it was their mud sloughing capabilities that I appreciated most. And thank you to Drymax for making socks that perform in deluges and muck for hours and hours and hours.
And thanks especially to everyone who wrote such kind words after the race. You all are gold. I’m going to get healed up, reevaluate the year, and get working. Time to pull out the poster board, markers and gold stars.
But right now, I have to get off my bottom and get some groceries.
I’m talking tonight at Austin Java with Ian Sharman (fielding some different questions than we’d planned I’m sure.) Let me know if you’re in town and want to ride with me. I’m leaving at 4ish.
Extra Highlight Footage:
-Eliot’s cleaned-up impression of Joe’s reaction to my drop: “Well, shooooot! Well, you tell her… Well, shoooot. Gall-darn-it!! Shoooot!”
-Seeing my good friend and coach-ee Amanda finish her first 100 mile race. “Shine that buckle for me!!! I’m coming in!!!”
-And Tom and Michelle coming in arm in arm.
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