Saturday, February 9, 2013

2013 Rocky Raccoon 100 mile trail run

Until I read the book "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall last year, I had never even heard or conceived the idea of running 100 miles.  The challenge seemed daunting but I decided to look into it further.  Having completed two Ironman triathlons, I was familiar with endurance events and felt ready for a new challenge.  I heard about Rocky Raccoon on a podcast, where in 2011 Ian Sharman set the record for the fastest 100 mile trail run at 12:44.  It is considered a "fast" course with no mountains to climb like Leadville or extreme heat like Western States. It is thus considered by many to be an "easy" 100 mile race. The course is 20 mile loops that are run 5 times with a total of 5 aid stations.   With this in mind, I signed up in May of 2012 for this race which quickly filled up shortly thereafter.  I would like to share with you my training for this race and give you a race report.


As I had done for the 50 miler I did in July 2012,   The Silver Rush 50 mile run in Leadville, CO , I once again used the Ultraladies training plan.  It can be seen here:   I don't have a coach, but I felt this is a low mileage plan with Mon and Friday off running.  I did not achieve all the mileage goals, not even close, for lack of time.  My longest run on Saturday was a 30 miler where I ran towards Las Cruces on the levy road around New Years weekend.  On Sunday, I managed 15 miles at most, not the 20 they recommend.  The Wednesday runs were never as long as they recommend in their training plan. My total mileage thus ran 45-60 miles a week at the peak of my training before I started tapering.  My biggest limitation was time available to train and darkness/cold in the winter.   I mostly ran on roads and the irrigation canals with very little hill training except a couple of times went up Cristo Rey. In December, I ran a 50K outside of  Phoenix, The McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50 K  and considered it a B race with not much tapering before the event.  My nutrition was the Paleo diet that I have been on since last March.  I did not "carb load" before the event as I had done when I started doing Marathons and Ironman. The last week while I was tapering, I got a pretty bad cold and was not able to run at all.  I was very concerned whether I was going to make the race in shape enough but fortunately, with a Z-pack and lots of vitamin C from fruits, I was nearly recovered by race day.

Lety and I flew to Houston early Friday AM and we rented a car for our drive up to Huntsville, Texas and the Huntsville State Park. We  had reservations for a campsite which we set up Friday afternoon and picked up my bib and shirt at registration.  I also had to drop off my bag for the DamnNation aide station through which I would pass twice during each loop.  The race briefing was full of nervous first timers like me and after that we headed up to town.  I had a hotel reserved to spend the night before the race and get a good night sleep. The tent would be available Saturday night for Lety and for me to crash after the race. Had dinner and early to bed to try to sleep, but as usual, I could not sleep much.  I kept thinking about "What the hell was I thinking signing up and trying to do this thing?"

Race Morning
Woke up at 0400CST (0300MST) and had a bit of breakfast consisting of a Cliff Bar, Almond Chocolate milk, banana, and some Smoked Wild caught Salmon.  Drove down to the Park at 4:30 and arrived early to set up my other drop bag at the Start Finish point. (Dogwood Aide Station).  At 0500, I watched as about 20-25 people left early as the race director allows for people who expect to take the 30 hours, but want to watch the awards ceremony on Sunday AM.  After that, I met Alex who was traveling for work from Brazil and doing his first 100.  He had just participated on a Relay at the Brazil 135 mile race which is a sister race to Badwater 135 in Death Valley.  He told me all about the event which is hot (January, Summer in Brazil), with lots of climbing, and its 135 miles long.  Isn't 100 enough? Why did they have to make it 135? It is a point to point course on the Caminho Da Fe or Faith trail and there are many churches and points of religious significance along the way.  Went to porto potty and started lining up at the 0600 start.  Turned on my Garmin and Spot device few minutes before to conserve battery and chit chatted with fellow nervous runners.

The RACE- First Loop 20 mile (4:15    12:45 Avg Pace)
There were 340 people starting the 100 miler on a narrow single tract trail so it was crowded in the beginning. I was towards the front group and found myself going too fast and tried to slow down as much as I could.  After the first mile, I did a small walk break, as was my plan. It was dark, but I had a good headlamp, a Black Diamond with 100 lumen.  The roots which I had read about were certainly challeging, never having run on a course with roots having trained in the desert Southwest. Also, I quickly realized that this was not a "flat" course.  There were some inclines for a few hundred feet and then a decline.  The declines had roots and gaps in the ground where I stumbled several times, but never fell, thankfully.  The first aid station was Nature Center and I did not spend much time there, just  refilled my hand held water bottle.  I knew the day was going to get hot and so I was eating and drinking ealy on.  Took a Gu every 30-45 min. alternating with a Cliff bar, and a Salt tablet.  I arrived at DamnNation which is 6 miles out and put away my headlamp and a jacket/gloves in the drop bag.  Following this aid station, comes the 6 mile loop, the longest distance without an aide station. After the loop, I was back to DamnNation, got more water and the next stop was 3.1 miles, Park Road.  After Park Road, I passed by the guys from Northern Michigan University who were conducting a study of 100 mile racers at Rocky Raccoon.  They videotaped as I ran past them and asked me what my perceived exertion was at that point on a scale from 6-20.   They would be there for the entire race collecting data on us runners who agreed to participate.  As I approached the turn around several people were ahead of me going out on their second loop.  A few miles later I was back at the Start/Finish (Dogwood) Aid Station.  I took off my shirt and sprayed sunblock on my back and chest as it was getting pretty hot at 10 AM.  Got some more Gus and Cliff bars, refilled my water bottle, and I was off for loop 2.

Second Loop 20 mile in 4:54 (14:42 avg pace)  total time 9:06 for 40 miles
I had planned to run in less than 24 hours for the entire race which meant my pace had to be less than 14:23 average.  I had my Garmin set up to show me pace and avg. pace the whole time so I could try to stay in range of my target. The day started to heat up during this loop but I stayed ahead of my hydration and nutrition.   I pretty much had Gu, Cliff bars, and Salt tablets with water.  I stopped to pee at this point which gave me an indication that I was well hydrated.  At the aid stations, I grabbed bananas and orange slices plus endurolytes which they had as well. At DamNation, I put some ice under my cap and headed to next stop, Park Road.  Those 3 miles, I was looking forward to seeing Lety, who had dropped me off at 0500 and we had planned to meet there at 2 pm, by my calculation.  It was great to see her as I approached and she asked me how I felt. I remember telling her, "I think I bit more than I could chew! I told her how hard I felt this course was and that I had passed several low points along the way where I was ready to quit.   I had always heard on Podcasts of Trail and Ultrarunners that these low points are going to come and you just need to keep going, because they will pass.  I arrived at the Start/Finish around 3:00 pm, I filled my water bottle, got some more Gus and Cliff bars in my pocket, put on my Run El Paso shirt as the sun was starting to go down.  I also ditched the Spot device that worked so well in Leadville and which allowed my crew to tract me.  It didn't work here because there were too many trees and it could not get a good GPS signal.

Third Loop 20 miles in 5:57  (17:51 min/mile) total time 15:02 for 60 miles
 It was probably during this loop that I somehow injured my left quadriceps muscle, more precisely, the vastus medialis (tear drop muscle) above the knee.  I was a sharper pain as I took steps down the declines and made me have to slow down quite a bit.  As my pace slowed, I realized that I was not going to make less than 24 hours.  At this point, I got to see Mike Morton who would eventually win the race lap me and I was elated to see him.  Even more when he whispered "good job" as he passed by me. Mike is a super special  person that I had listened too on Podcasts and followed his great achievements.  He holds the US record for the 24 hours runs which he represented the USA in Poland last September. I saw him a total of  3 times and he was gracious every time.   I arrived at DamnNation and got my headlamp again as it was getting dark by then.  The 6 mile loop was hard and lonely.  The 50 milers were on the same course except for their loop was a lot shorter in this section, so there were fewer runners here.  I reached the 50 mile point in a little under 12 hours, but those miles had taken their toll and I knew I was not going to negative split this race.  I was no longer running, mostly walking and shuffling along for a few feet.  I would look at my watch and the fastest I could go was 15 min/miles.  As night approached, I started to take the Gu with caffeine (Chocolate outrage), I found during the day, the caffeine makes me pee too much so I had avoided caffeine until this point in time.   As I headed back to the Start/Finish, I saw people going out for their 4th loop.  Many had picked up a pacer, and they were talking and laughing excitedly.  I was bummed that I was not going to have a pacer, oh well.

Fourth Loop 20 miles in 7:05 (21:05 min/mile)  total time 22:07 for 80 miles
As I arrived at the Start/Finish, Lety was waiting for me at my drop bag.  It was 8 pm by now and area was getting crowded with fishers.  Lety  was awesome as usual with Leadville under her belt.  I sat down for the first time all day on a chair and Lety did everything for me.  Got me my food, drink, and salt tablets.  At this point, I put on a long sleeve shirt and underarmour because the temp was starting to drop.   I also put on my "fanny pack" which carried my new New Trent Mobile Power Pack which allowed me to charge my Garmin while I ran.  The battery of my Garmin on a single charge lasts for about 20 hours, but I wanted to be able to use it for the entire race.  While charging you can't tell pace or distance, so I had a regular watch with me.  I seriously considered quitting at this point.  I had done 60 miles and couldn't imagine how I could do  another 40.   Lety encouraged me to continue which was good to hear.  I knew she had been sick that week like me and the cold weather was not good for her either. I told her to meet me here at 0300 which would give me 6 hours for the loop.   I decided to press on and just take it 1 aid station at a time.  I think as when you drive or run long distances it is better to set small goals and not think about the whole.  Since I didn't have a pacer I got my Iphone and started listening to music which helped me a lot.  I'm glad I saved it for the end.  After 6 miles, I arrived at DamNation and put on a warmer wool cap and gloves plus a thicker jacket.  I also but my Garmin back on, fully charged, cool and put the battery in my drop bag.  I took some delicious chicken noodle soup at that aid station and sat for a few minutes.  The volunteers were very supportive and I specially liked this aid station.  They would talk to me and ask me questions in a way that I could tell they were checking if I was doing OK. In the tent were a few people that didn't look good, shivering and looking like zombies.   It was during the the 6 mile loop that I got to walk/run with Dat who I recognized from Facebook Tejas Trails Group.  He was having problems with a left knee IT band and was going pretty slow. He was determined to finish which helped me because all I could think of was quitting. He had spent some time in the tent with the people I had seen earlier and he said it was not a pretty sight. After a few miles, I told Dat that I could not keep his pace and he went on.  Back at DamnNation, I had some more chicken noodle soup (home made) and bananas.  I picked up some Hammer Gels and water.   As I was leaving, Bobby K was taking off and I asked if I could go with him. He is from New Mexico, is 63 years old.  He was great to walk with and he had a lot of good advice..   He had done Leadville 100 several times and this race like 10 times. He told me to take 100 steps running then 100 steps walking.  If I couldn't then do 50, if not possible, then do 10.  We did that for a while and talked for quite a while but I couldn't keep up, so he took off.   I arrived at the start/finish aid station at 0400 and Lety was waiting for me there.  I was a whole 1 hour late and since the Spot device was not working she had no way to know.

Fifth Loop 20 miles in 7:12 (21:36 min/mile) total time 29:19 for 100 miles
At the aide station, I decided not to sit because I was afraid I may not be able to get up.  Lety got my water bottle filled and I had a quesadilla. She also got me some fresh batteries for my headlamp which was getting dimmer on me.  I stayed in the warm tent and there were more Zombies walking around.   I couldn't tell if they DNF or had finished.  The place was surreal.  As I walked out to start again, Joe Prusaitis the race director asked me if I was going back out again.  It was 4:15 AM, after 0600 there was a cut off and he would not let any more runners go on Loop 5.  It bothered me after I took off that he had asked me.  I thought I probably looked so bad that he could tell with all his experience that I would not finish.  There were times when I wanted to quit and others where I thought, I don't quit.  Somehow, I started remembering or dreaming about Richard Gere (don't get wrong idea)  in "An Officer and a Gentleman" where he is going through flight raining with Louis Gossett, Jr. as his instructor and he is being tested and told to quit.  He yells, "I don't quit" see here : "Officer and a Gentleman" The sun came out as I was doing my last 6 mile loop after DamnNation. I tried to walk with a group that had a good pace but they eventually dropped me. I kept taking Gels every 30 minutes as I "death marched" to the finish. Once in a while trying to "run" but the pain in my left quad would get the best of me. I was worried about the cutoff at the last aid station at 1100 AM but I made it with plenty of time.  I also passed by the research station where they asked my what my RPE  was, and I told them from 6-20 it was a 20.  The last 3 miles there were  a lot of folks walking my pace which was nice to have the company. I arrived at the finish at 11:19 am and got a big hug from Lety.  They took my timing chip for me and I got my buckle. I had finished in 29:19:49.The Garmin connect profile can be seen here: 2013 Rocky Raccoon

Post Script
There were 340 people that started the 100 miles with me.  229 finished (67%) and I was the 214th finisher.  My friend Alex from Brazil did not finish,  unfortunately.  Dat finished in 28:31 and Bobby K finished in 28:19.  This was easily the hardest thing I have ever done in my life and amazes me to what is physically possible.  Looking back and dissecting my execution of the race, I was spot on with nutrition/hydration.  I never vomited or felt sick to my stomach. My left quad gave me a lot of trouble which is because I went too fast on the first and second loop.  I should never have had a time goal of less than 24 hours.  I should have gone into it just to finish and gone slower at the start. I should have trained more on hills the last 6 months instead of road, my quads were not used to the pounding descents any more.  Lastly, I would go with different shoes.  I ran with road shoes but instead I should have used trail shoes.  Everywhere, I read road shoes is what Ian Sharman ran his record, but I'm not Ian Sharman.  Mike Morton, incidentally won the race in 14:28 (a full 1 and half hour ahead of 2nd place finisher).  Oh yes, he did another 100 mile 1 week later in Florida.  Would I do another 100?  While running Rocky, I swore I would not run another Ultra again, maybe just stick to Marathons.  Now, I would like to do another 100 but would like to do a point to point race like Western States, which of course, I would have to get lucky in the lottery.  Another option would be Leadville 100 which would be a nice course as well.

I would like to thank Joe Prusaitis, the RD and all the great volunteer staff of Rocky Raccoon for you dedication to making this an excellent event.  A special thanks to the DamNation crew and specially to whoever made that chicken soup.  To the lady who helped me get my jacket and cap out of my drop bag when I could not bend down. Thank you.  Lety, coming out with me despite being sick in that cold weather, I appreciate all you did.
What am I smiling about? I'm on Loop 4
1 week later, I am pretty sore on my left quadriceps.  I have not been able to run at all and getting worried about my next race, the Ultramaraton Caballo Blanco in Urique, Chihuhua.  Its a 50 miler in the heat with 9,000 feet elevation gain.  My plan is to rest a full 2 weeks and then "run" the El Paso Half Marathon for which I signed up.


  1. Congratulations Juan. Way to hang in there and overcome those low spots. Glad you survived the Zombies.

  2. Nice work!! You stuck it out, despite yourself. ;) I saw you finish! Congratulations....I love that you're already looking for redemption and plotting your revenge on that damn 100 miles.