Gathering at the Dogwood start at 5:40a.m. the air was crisp and filled with excitement. I arrived with Keith Kohler, his first attempt at the 100M distance, and his wife Tara. As we were walking up to check in we were greeted by Paul Powell, my carpool partner from the race back to Bush Airport. Paul explained that he just met MaryAnn Rameriez, my carpool ride from the airport to my hotel in Huntsville. Wow the world of ultra running has one degree of separation it feels like sometimes. So we all set up our gear in group near the staging area. Starting off I had a Brooks Nitelight shirt, NF sleeveless, Moeben arm sleeves, NF summit shorts, cytomax visor and La Sportiva Wildcat trail shoes. The only thing that would change is during the second loop I would drop off my top and keep the rest of the outfit for the entire run. Most runners change throughout the race, I figured I could save time by sticking with the same outfit. Even sticking with the same pair of shoes and socks worked out for me; when I finished I had two toenails that had blackened, but no blisters. Also using body glide in all the right areas paid of too. No chafing anywhere on the body and I mean no areas. Each race I have learned from my mistakes and this was the first race that the culmination of preventive maintenance fully worked.
As we toed the line to start my nerves were surprising more relaxed and in mindset of kid being released off into recess during elementary school. I had a plan of running the 20 mile splits in 4 hour, 4 hour, 5 hour, 5 hour and whatever I had left in me to make sub 24 hours. Keith and I had joked prior to race that we would run the first 2 loops together as a warm-up (40 miles) then based on how each of felt break off at that point. The first 40 miles went by effortlessly. We jumped right into a nice 11 minute per mile pace for the first 5 miles then adjusted back slowly to get an even 12 minute pace for the remaining portion of the first loop. Conversation flowed along as we started learning the course to plan out the next 4 loops. This would set the stage for knowing when to go faster and when to back off based on the terrain. The course had a good variety of things to study: woodened bridges, mud sections, fire roads, rolling hills, some fast flat sections and tons of roots. Did I mention a lot of roots!! There was one area that especially brought a smile to my face. It was on the Dam Road out and back section. Part of the area had a huge amount of standing water (maybe 25 feet in length) and everyone was avoiding it by making a path around it to the right. As we passed it on the first loop I looked over at Keith and said, “you know I am going through that before the race the ends, I cant pass that up!” Keith laughed a bit at that. During this loop and throughout the day my plan was to drink a bottle of cytomax per hour. I ended up drinking 19 bottles of cytomax throughout the course. In addition, to eat a mixture of food totaling 300 calories per hour. With each aid station just about an hour apart it worked out great. All the aid stations had plenty of food and smiling faces. I ate everything from: quesadillas, cookies, bananas, oranges, Mac/cheese, chicken noodle soup, potatoes, pbj sandwiches, cold cut sandwiches, pretzels and animal crackers. An issue of Ultra Running magazine I had read sometime back broke down all those items by caloric count which I have know etched in my mind with some payoffs. The first split came in close to plan at 3 hours 54 minutes.
Now it was time for the next loop. Everything was moving along great. We were chatting with other runners really just enjoying the run. One guy who was right next to us said to Keith “I like those red (compression) socks.” I laughed and said, “he is happily married.” the runner responded back quickly, “that doesn’t mean anything and I just took some Viagra a few miles back.” we all started laughing out loud. This really shows that you have to be in a different place mentally to do these races, lol. Really though keeping your mind off the run helps make the race a lot easier. The first loop paid off for us learning the course so quickly. So the pace was right on schedule for hitting our splits. The temp was warming up and by now nearing 50F. As we finished the second loop in 4 hours 14 minutes, the time was 2:08pm.
Keith said he need to do some foot repair so we broke at this point and I head back out to start the third loop. I brought an ipod (with a built in speakerphone) to listen to at some point in the race. Since I was feeling good I thought why not start it now and see how the loop turns out. I had made a play list and in the mix of getting all my gear ready for the race had forgotten to load it on to the Ipod. Now the Ipod is actually my teenage daughter and I had no idea what was about to be playing. So I thought hey I am down south let’s just go with the country genre. The songs passed the time by quickly and before I noticed the sun that was above me had moved quickly across the sky. The sunset was at 5:50pm and with my pace I was scheduled to make it back to Dogwood (start/finish) before the darkness would set in for the night. In the final section of that loop the last aid station is Park Road aid station. I reached the aid station around 5:30pm. Jay Alvarez, my pacer for the last loop, was working this station from 12-6. It was great that I was far enough head of pace to met him there and touch base about what time to met up later. Originally, I figured that I would be there around midnight based on the split plan. So I gave him a wide range of 11pm to 12:30am. Which by now on this loop I was more comfortable with my forecast and said 1130 to midnight; be ready for me. Leaving the station I pushed on still feeling good and enjoying the music. I made it Dogwood with no problems of darkness. Closing out the third loop in 4 hours 24 minutes (now 6:32pm).
As I started to head out for loop four I realized I made one big mistake. In the morning, I dropped my headlamp at the Dam Road Aid Station into my other drop bag. Now I brought two headlamps and a small flashlight to the race. Well both headlamps were now at Dam Road by poor planning. So I grabbed the backup flashlight that seemed to give off barely any light. The Ipod had also died as I finished the third loop. This loop was started off s-l-o-w. I was barely moving with the little to no light from the flashlight. About a mile coming out of Dogwood Keith was on his way into Dogwood completing his third loop. As we passed I said please hurry and catch me I need you guide me to Dam Road to get my headlamp. Moving through the first aid station, Nature Center, I was struggling to get up to pace with all roots and mud. In addition, I could hear the bullfrogs croaking. The crazy thing was that it started to sound like human laughter to me and I started to worry. I would look around to see if I could see other runners around making the sounds. No one was to be seen in either direction. Soon I heard “Steve!”, it was Keith. I was so happy knowing that we could kick it up and make some time up to Dam Road. We had 4 more miles to cover before I could get my own headlamp in use. As we arrived at Dam Road Keith said I was looking strong and to take off. I was still feeling strong at this point and wished him the best as I took off. Now I was moving along at a good clip and heard splash, splash, splash and before I could stop I realized that I had started running through the big water area I saw on the first loop that we were all avoiding, but wanted so badly to go through. I thought hey I am already hear and the water feels refreshing so I kicked it up and keep tearing right on through it. I know if you would have put a light on my face you would have seen a huge smile. Everyone that runs with me knows I enjoy running through mud and mud puddles. I think this section brought some spark to the loop and forward I progressed. Now it was starting to cool down on this loop to the lower 40F. Passing back through the frog section again; this time I could swear they were talking to me this time. I just said “hey how cool is this my mind is someplace else for sure.“ As I pushed myself along I came into Dogwood in 5 hours 27 minutes (now 11:59pm). Good thing the previous loop I had banked 30 minutes. With the screw-up of the headlamp I was right on plan, within 1 minute of goal. Now that is some good forecast planning. Waiting in Dogwood ready to go was Jay. He was cheering me in as I closed out the fourth loop.
Now was the time to see what was left in the tank and finish the race and the final loop. I told Jay just run me hard until I cant take it. Jay did it perfect he would run me at a 14 minute per mile until periodically I would say 10 second walk break, please. Then sure enough we would just start running again and I would look up and be like ohhhh, but knew he had plan. As we pushed through the first aid station we picked up another runner, Andrew Readinger, he asked if he could join us because it looked like we were moving along at a good pace. Sure thing we said and now the three of us were chatting away the miles.
I informed Andrew that Jay was there to push us until we couldn’t take it basically. A friend of mine on twitter told me, “when the race gets tough remember HTFU, which stands for harden the f*** up, and get it done.” Periodically, when Jay would start to pull ahead of us; Andrew and I would turn to each other and say HTFU. Shortly after passing the second aid station we ran into Paul Powell, my ride home, he said hey Steve! I was shocked that we ran into him on the course. Paul asked if we minded that he join us too. No worries I thought and now the four of us pushed on to the third aid station. Half way through this loop (10 miles) about 2 hours and 40 minutes had passed. All of us knew that sub 24 hour was easily reachable. As we hit the next aid station Paul and Andrew said for us to go ahead without them, they were going to run the last sections together. Jay and I headed out. Now proper planning paid here at Dam Road. Heading out on this last loop I took only a water bottle and left my backpack at Dogwood. After completing the Dam Road loop I grabbed my other backpack that was here. This worked out great so that when I reached the finished I would have all my gear with me. I was so happy with that. Heading to the fourth aid station I started to slow the hills were starting to feel longer finally, but more of it was sleep depravation was setting in with the cold temp. It was now near freezing 34F. I had at Dam Road had a third top to stop the shivering. Running along the lake put a coldness in the air that sucked energy from the body. As I started to slow off a bit Jay stepped me up with his energy. “Steve walk with a purpose, you can do it, swing your arms, keep moving,” Jay would say. It made feel good to have him there pushing me along. Once we passed the fourth aid station we had 4.4 miles left to go. I kept pushing along fighting off the tiredness in my head. My body was just plain tired, I wanted to sleep. I would occasionally at this point stop to just shake my head and wake up. 5 hours had passed and just over 98 miles. Just then I found a cookie I had forgotten was in my pocket. Now we all know that in an ultra food always tastes better! Without no doubt in my mind I yelled to Jay, “I found a cookie and it was the best cookie I have ever eaten, ha ha.” A few moments later I felt good and said let’s push it to the end I am feeling awake again. Feeling amazingly good with that cookie in my system we picked it up to a 12 minute pace and ran it in to the finish. Closing out the last loop in 5 hours 34 minutes. Crossing the finish Joe and his wife greeted me after crossing the line. Joe shook my hand and gave me the belt buckle. I looked at him and said, :you realize you are the only thing holding me up.“ His wife removed my ankle timing chip and committed on all the mud on my shoes. I explained that I ran through the huge mud puddle on the Dam Road loop for fun. She chuckled at me in good humor. Jay walked me over to the food tent to grab something to eat. Fresh quesadillas were being served and hot coffee was on hand too. After chatting with some friends in that tent we headed next to the warming tent. We sat for while talking the run. Then Ken and Al, two runners from Michigan, arrived in the tent. Funny thing I flew all the way to Texas to met some locals I thought. Shortly after chatting I feel asleep in chair for a good 90 minute nap.
In total 23:33.02 to complete the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Endurance Run. I really feel that having a pacer for me is the only way for me to sub 24. Keith was instrumental in the first 40 miles and Jay for the last 20 miles. Talking to someone really helps me stay on pace. After the race the first week of recovery went great. The day after the race I jogged 2 miles, Wednesday ran 4 miles, Friday ran another 4 and Sat ran 3 miles. Most of those days I was able to get down to a 7 minute pace in the final mile. Pain never set in for me during the race; just sleep depravation was my shortcoming. The roots did leave a mark by claiming my left big toe and pinky toe.