Rocky Raccoon 50 Mile

On February 12, I ran my first ever 50 mile race, Rocky 50. A lot of second-guessing crossed my mind in the weeks leading up to the race – like why was I so quick to sign up for this one! After I ran the Dallas Marathon in December, it took me about 3 weeks until I felt like myself again on runs. And in January, for the two longest runs leading up to the 50, I never felt great. But the goal was to finish, ahead of the cutoff times, so I tried to keep that goal front and center in my mind when my brain would go haywire.

My husband and I drove down the day before the race, and a friend who was running the half followed us down. It was a beautiful day! We had reserved a camping spot in the park so we would be close to the start/finish. After running Tyler last year, I didn’t know if parking would be an issue (it wasn’t), and my husband enjoys that sort of thing. But knowing what I know now about the layout of the park, parking, and distance to nearby hotels, I’d go the hotel route if there’s a next time.

The first thing I saw when we pulled in to our spot was our view of the lake, and this turtle on the tree. It was my sign – and I smiled a little. All the way back to my first half Ironman, my motto in tough race situations has been to “be the tortoise.”

I will admit I was nervous about staying this close to the water knowing there were alligators in the park. My husband assured me it was too cold, but my fears aren’t always rational. I could write a whole post on my fear of alligators…

Start Line View from Packet Pickup

We picked up our race packets (he was doing the half marathon) and killed some time until the pre-race briefing. This calmed my nerves a little, and I was able to eat a light dinner before getting all my gear set out for the long day ahead.

Race morning I was up super early for coffee and calories. I ate a Picky Bar and then had a Honey Stinger waffle closer to start time. This works for me before a marathon too. The temperature was in the 50s, so I decided on shorts and a short sleeve top. It was supposed to cool down throughout the day, so I added some clothes to my drop bag that I would leave near the start/finish area.

My Race Plan:

The 50 miler consisted of 3 laps of about 16.7 miles each. I had 15 hours to do it in. So my goal (to finish) meant I had to come in under 5 hrs on each lap. I would also have to start the final lap by 4:40 pm to continue the last lap. My start time was 6::30 am.

I was pretty nervous in the hour before start time. I don’t know why – it’s running and I love to run! But the fact is, it is a really, really long way to be on foot. I think my nerves were a combination of not knowing how my body would respond to the distance (especially past 50k), and being on the trail in the dark.

Go Time!

Lap 1:

The first lap was in the dark for almost an hour, but it helped that there were others around. I could feel some humidity, and I almost wished I had brought a tank top. But once the sun came up, I didn’t notice it anymore. I enjoyed the trail. This lap was about noticing the layout of the course, aid stations, and condition of the trail. I was pleased with how runnable the trail was all the way through this lap. The first aid station was a little over 5 miles in, but I didn’t stop because I wanted to limit the stops as much as possible. Cutoff times were looming in my brain.

“Fairly flat” course

The 2nd aid station is another 5ish miles from the first one, and about 5 1/2 miles back to the start/finish area. I refilled my bottles, grabbed some pringles, and kept going. It had been rained on and off throughout the morning, but nothing too hard, and it didn’t seem to have an effect on the trail. I was feeling good and headed out on the dam. The wind had picked up, but I wasn’t cold. After going across the dam, you wind back down around the lake and then into the finish chute. When I completed my first lap, I was excited that I was faster than I had expected. I was well ahead of the cutoffs, and feeling good.

I grabbed a few things from my bag, stopped to use the restroom, and then went out on lap 2. My husband was still on the course with the half marathon, and I wouldn’t see him until I finished my second lap.

Pinecones Everywhere

Lap 2:

I limited my time at the aid stations, refilling bottles and quickly picking what foods I could carry with me. The hot foods in foam cups had to be consumed in the aid station – and I didn’t feel like I had time. In mile 21, my phone rang. It was a pay phone call from Illinois, so I answered it because I figured it was my son. He had left for Navy boot camp on January 12th, and even though we had received some letters, he hadn’t called yet. You better believe I answered it, and that chat lifted my mood enough to get me to the next aid station.

I was starting to feel the miles in my calves, but was still run/walking the rest of the way through the second lap. The temperature had been dropping, the wind had picked up, and my legs and hands were turning pink from the cold. I would need to add some clothes for the next one.

I finished the second lap a little slower than the first, but two hours ahead of the 4:40 cutoff. My husband was there, having finished his first half marathon, and he helped my with my layers. My fingers were so cold. I added a lightweight pullover to cover my arms, and some cheap cotton gloves I could tuck away if I warmed up. I told him I was slowing down, walking more. He said, “that’s okay” and I was reminded of my goal – just finish.

The Final Lap:

The third lap was a doozy and kicked my tail all over the place. I was in unchartered territory. When I started the lap, I was already hitting new mileage, going farther than I ever had. My calves weren’t bothering me as much at this point, but my quads were getting a bit annoying. along with my big toe. I was still run/walking but at one point I realized I could power walk faster than I could run. “Well that’s embarrassing,” I thought.

It was getting harder to navigate the rooty sections, and anything that felt downhill had me wincing with the pain in my quads. At one point, my Garmin locked up and the screen showed a blue triangle. Oh great, I thought, now I won’t know how far I have to go. But after a little while, it reconnected and picked back up where it left off. Most of the people I saw on the course were moving at a faster pace, but my mood was okay, and I knew at this point that I would finish. It also helped that I was seeing messages of encouragement from so many of my friends.

When I pulled into the last aid station (about 5 miles from the finish), the volunteer behind the table asked, “What do you need?” My response with a smile: “better decision-making skills.”

I have to keep my sense of humor – even in the low spots. I can be a bit hard on myself (surprise, surprise), but if I don’t have my sense of humor, then it’s time to find something else.

The aid station had some hot foods, and the cheese quesadillas were just what I needed to tote along with me as I tried to make it across the dam before dark. I made it past the dam, and then turned on my headlamp when I couldn’t see the tree roots clearly. I had avoided falls this far in, and wasn’t too sure I could get back up if I went down. I prayed my headlamp battery would make it to the finish, because I had it on the brightest setting. I wasn’t too confident I could work my fingers to change batteries at this point in the day.

This was the toughest part of my entire race, and I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It was dark; I was cold, and I was moving at a snail’s pace. And still in the back of my mind, was worried about where the dang alligators go when it’s cold! Especially as I got closer to the water. I tried different things to occupy my mind, but this was hard. I talked out loud, gave myself little pep talks, and even cried a little. I run in the dark all the time, but this was my first time on a trail in the dark, and solo to boot. So there was fear, along with the pain in my legs. But the course was marked really well with reflectors, and the alphabet signs gave me some distraction.

I remembered a scene from the movie French Kiss (aging myself here) where Meg Ryan’s character is terrified of flying. As she’s on the plane about to take off, she starts singing. So I tried that, which didn’t do much for my fear, but trying to remember the lines of that song did pass some time.

I could see my breath in my headlamp light from the cold, and I wasn’t moving fast enough to stay warm. I should’ve picked up my jacket for the last lap. It was getting harder to take in calories too, because of nausea.

After over an hour of seeing absolutely no one, I heard some people come up behind me. I was so happy I wasn’t alone, even if it was just for a few minutes before they were out of sight. It was nice to hear voices other than my own!

Somehow in the last mile, I was able to pick my feet up and run (really slowly) toward the finish line. I heard cowbells and cheers as I came into the finish chute. I don’t know what emotion was on my face, but I’m guessing a combination of relief and disbelief. Someone handed me a medal, and then had me step over where there was a heater to warm up. I declined the chair offered because I was pretty sure I couldn’t get back up if I sat down, but standing by the heater was lovely. The race director got me a Dr. Pepper, and I took a cup of Ramen. I wasn’t hungry at all, but so grateful to be done!

Long Day

I didn’t stay in the finish area for more than a couple of minutes. I was ready to get my shoes off and warm up. It was around 8 p.m. and I had made the cutoff by an hour and a half.

Thankfully, my husband had moved the car close so I didn’t have to hobble too far. My first text after I plugged my phone in (it had died somewhere in the last hour) was to my friend who ran the half earlier that day. It said: NEVER AGAIN! And at that moment, I meant it.

And this is my face within 30 minutes of finishing. I’ve always promised to be real here, and this is it. Relief mixed with a side of goal accomplishment.

Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. It was one of the toughest events I’ve done, but I finished and learned a lot about myself through the pain and fear.

Will I do it again? Maybe. But I have another big goal to tackle first that’s going to require all my focus.

Would I go farther? Only time will tell.

If you made it this far reading my short novel, bless you. This is the longest post I’ve written, but fitting because it’s the longest race I’ve ever done.

Possum’s Revenge

Sometimes I don’t make the smartest decisions when it comes to choosing races, but over the years I’ve learned that every race provides an opportunity for growth as a runner. That’s exactly what happened with Possum’s Revenge.

Humidity is my nemesis. I can deal with the Texas heat, I know to slow it down, but humidity is the sneaky villain that is kind of like “hitting the wall” in a marathon. I’m fine until I’m not. It will suck the life right out of my run and shoot my heart rate sky-high. So I know better than to expect my best results on humid race days, especially in April or May. Knowing this, I still chose to register for a super long race in our typical “humid season.” It was a trail race though, so it would be different.

The week leading up to the race was full of rain. Lots of rain – the flash flooding kind of rain. We’ve had so much rain in Texas that the grass in our yard couldn’t dry out enough to mow, and the trees leading into our driveway started to look like a jungle. Everything is so green! Thank goodness I was tapering for the race, and didn’t need to run much. But I was starting to worry about slipping and sliding on the trail Saturday. I really didn’t have a clear picture of what the trail was like.

My friend and I left Friday and drove down to stay in a hotel in Graham, about 30 minutes from the race site. We found a local Italian restaurant in a town along the way, and I had the best chicken parmesan. We made it to the hotel early in the evening, and I went through all my gear to make sure I didn’t forget anything. Newsflash: I always forget something. This time I forgot my charger for my Garmin and it was at 49%. I am so thankful my friend and I have the same Garmin, and that she brought her charger.

On race morning, I woke up about an hour before my alarm went off and couldn’t go back to sleep. My brain was wired with the logistics of running a long race. I finally just got out of bed and started my coffee. We checked out of the hotel and got to the race about an hour before my start. She was running a different distance, and her start was 30 minutes later than mine.

The skies were overcast with the threat of rain, and the temps were in the low 70s. I wore longer shorts that have saved my legs from chafing on several long runs and Cowtown, and I wore short sleeves. My running vest with a tank top doesn’t jive well. Learned that lesson the hard way.

My race distance consisted of two 17 mile laps. Each lap had a 4 mile loop, then a crossover and about 13 miles before coming back to the start. I would do this twice. The first loop had a lot of sand, and some rocky places. I didn’t remember the rocky places the first time through, but boy it got me the second time. More on that later. I felt decent going through this section. I don’t feel like I took off too fast and I walked the uphill portions. (That’s a tip I learned from another runner in my first long distance trail attempt.)

The next 13 miles had a few places where runners were passing in both directions. It would get a little crowded at times as the races that started later with shorter distances merged. It was tough to tell who was running what distance, but since I’m only competing with myself, I tried to get out of the way especially for those who bomb the downhills.

Then the big rocks showed up. There was at least one place to climb through, that required the use of my hands because of the height of the rocks. This may be really hard on round 2, I thought. (It was) I also found out that we got to come down through it on the way back to finish the loop. So I hit this place a total of 4 times (2 up, 2 down).

The humidity was starting to take its toll, but I stayed on top of my hydration, electrolytes, and fuel. I have a timer set to go off every 45 minutes to remind me to take a gel or eat something, and I took Endurolytes every hour. I tend to sweat a lot, and often have salt streaks on my clothes after a hot/humid race. I walked the tricky sections, and ran where I could. I apologized to a guy stuck behind me on a downhill section. “I’m sorry, I’m the world’s most cautious downhill runner.” He said ” Just tuck and roll.” Well, I still have kids at home who need me, and my bones are probably about 20 years older than yours, so nah. (All in good fun.)

I made it back to the start/aid station completing my first lap in about 4:15. At this rate, I would hope to finish around 8 and a half to 9 hours.

I started the second loop, and noticed all the cactus flowers that were closed up on the first lap had bloomed. Oh my gosh, how long have I been out here?!?

So Pretty

This was the toughest part of my day. That first 4 mile loop that I didn’t think was too bad the first time just about took me out. I started stumbling through the rocky sections. I probably displaced about a thousand rocks over the course of my day from kicking them around. Then all of a sudden I stumbled on a rock and went down, landing on my left backside. I looked down at my Garmin to make a mental note. 18.1 miles. There was no one around me, so I probably sat there for at least a minute trying to figure out how to get up. “If I fall in the woods and no ones sees me, did it really even happen?”

I finally got up and started walking. My butt was hurting, but as I walked I started to feel a little better. Thank goodness I went down on my butt and not face forward. It could’ve been a lot worse. As I stumbled and almost fell again, I decided I needed to walk for a bit. I was getting cranky and mad at myself. It was going to take me a lot longer than I expected. As I walked this area of the trail, a really tall guy caught up to me. We chatted for a minute while we walked- he was doing the 69 mile distance, which I cannot even wrap my brain around. His legs were so long, I couldn’t keep up with his walk for very long even when I was run/walking.

I made it to the next section of the trail, and I had about 13 miles to go in the race. I broke it up mentally by aid stations. At one point, I had about 30 minutes where I saw no other runners. It was mentally tough, and I may have cried a little when I came across more rocks.

Smile for the camera (through the pain)

I didn’t linger at the aid stations, because I was ready to be done. So I filled my bottles, grabbed ice when they had it, and took my snacks to go. Oranges at an aid station in a warm race are the absolute best, by the way. I also had some pringles and pretzels at a couple of the stops. The rest of my fuel through the race was from stuff I had brought: gels, shot bloks, and gummy bears. I went back down through the tough rocky section and had one of my slowest miles of the day. I can’t tell you how ready I was to be done.

I got behind a guy who had just seen a fox on the trail, and my friend saw a deer. The only wildlife I saw was a dead raccoon. Of course.

When I hit the last aid station, I had about 2.5 miles to go, so I texted my friend to let her know. One of these miles was a lot of sand and I’m sure I looked like a fool trying to get through it, but at that point I didn’t care. The last mile was mostly runnable, and then you come out of the trail onto the road for the last quarter of a mile or so. Running on asphalt after all the sand and rocks felt strange, but I sure felt like I was moving at a pretty good clip.

There were people lined along the road and they would cheer as someone came through to finish. I’m zoned in on the finish, trying not to ugly cry, and ready to stop moving.

Then, out of nowhere, a girl goes flying by me like I’m standing still. It’s kind of funny, because in the video my friend took, I look over at her, like “what was that?” She was sprinting! Now, good for her having that kind of energy to finish, but I sure as heck didn’t have any gas left in the tank.

I came across the finish mat (right behind her, by the way) and I was done. 54 km (33ish miles) in 9:27:37.

Proof I ran through the finish!

My initial reaction after the race was that was the hardest event I’ve ever done. It definitely took the place of Running the Rose, my first ultra, in my top 3 hardest endurance events. The trail was tougher and it was about 20 degrees warmer. But when I looked back at my pace/results from Tyler, I actually feel I was more prepared for Possum’s and ran it better even with the warmer weather and humidity.

But now, I’m going to take a break from the long stuff. I have some other (non-running) goals to work on through the summer. I’ll definitely enjoy the break.

Testing the Water

This has been a strange, quick summer of running. I have done a little more racing than I originally intended, but also have taken a few baby steps out of my comfort zone (more trail). To use a metaphor, I’ve been testing the deep end of the water with my toe, while safely maintaining my seat on dry land.

My original plan for summer was to drop some weight, gain some strength, and work on speed for a 5k. Here’s what has actually happened:

A couple of weeks after RNR San Diego, I ran a 15k trail race with two of my running friends. This was only my 2nd official trail race. A sharp contrast to the cool, low humidity weather in San Diego, the Frisco Trail Race was hot and sunny. There were a lot of open places on the trail, and the sun was draining my energy. I felt fine up until mile 8, then I was ready to be done. The deep ruts in some places on the trail were not good for my ankles, so I was happy to be finished. Lots of switchbacks too. The map and the drone footage from the race looked cool, but it wasn’t as fun to run the course, in my opinion. At least there were free pictures from it, and I did enjoy time with friends.

At the end of June, I went to run “Trails and Tacos” hosted by the McKinney Running Club with some other running friends. It was a free, 15k distance trail run at Erwin Park. The running club had breakfast tacos afterward. I enjoyed this trail more than the one in Frisco. More coverage, no deep ruts. There were still some places out in the open sun that made it tough, and so many mountain bikes! No time goals here either, so I just enjoyed my time on the trail.

In July, I ran the Too Hot to Handle half marathon in Dallas with a couple of my other friends. This was mostly for my friend who wanted a race to check her training progress. She likes to run in the heat. My goal was to finish without getting sick. I have set the bar high for summer racing. 😉 I am probably going to write a whole other post about responsibility on the road because of what I witnessed with the bikes and runners around White Rock Lake, but here I’m just going to focus on my race. I felt pretty good until about mile 9, then the heat got me so I ran/walked it in. My heart rate got a little too high and it’s not worth the risk. If I can’t keep my sense of humor or smile, then I don’t need to be out there. I want to be able to run for years, so I try to pay attention to my body. When it says slow down, I do.

 

I made sure to cool down after the race under the sprinkler with a popsicle and a cold towel on my skin.

This was pretty close to being one of my slowest half marathons and I am okay with that. I didn’t set out to run a time goal. I set out to complete a half marathon. I like being “half ready” year round. I’m back to the point where a 10 mile run feels normal, as it did several years ago. Everyone is different though. What’s good for me may not be what’s best for you! The nice thing about doing this race, is that I didn’t feel sore later or the next day. My recovery was good, it was just the heat that got me. That’s kind of an expectation of summer running.

A little over a week ago, we took some trail time out at Cross Timbers. The last time I ran there was in March. There were no monster horse flies then, or worries of snakes, or clearing spiderwebs. The flies are awful now! It didn’t matter how fast you ran in some places, you were still swatting and dodging the massive flies.

And Cross Timbers has a way of making you feel out of shape. We covered 4 miles that took well over an hour. There is some climbing! My quads were sore for two days after that run!

I’ve enjoyed my time on the trail these past months, but I can’t seem to make the jump to go farther yet. Officially.

 

As far as the rest of my summer goals:

On dropping weight, I’ve lost about .3 of a pound. I’ve had more trouble with this than anything. I don’t know how I can fit all my runs in but can’t turn down an ice cream cone. It’s about discipline, but my metabolism has slowed down which makes it hard. Oh, and I really really like peanut butter.

On building strength, I’ve started going to the gym with one of my friends on Sundays to lift. It’s not something I’ve ever done consistently or made a priority. So this is our fight against age and slow metabolisms. We’ve gone two weeks in a row, and it’s much easier to agree to meet a friend than go on my own. I also did some RIPPED classes at the gym earlier this summer with my daughter who was home from college. It’s good to change things up once in a while.

I’m winding down a bit this week to get ready for the 5k this weekend. I’ve been doing track workouts just about every week to get my speed back, because I need the speed in the shorter distances to get faster for the longer ones. Track work the past two months consisted of variations of 5k goal pace. 400s, 600s, 800s. Last week was 5 x 1000m. It was tough, and I hit the paces on all but the last one. These workouts have given me a specific focus for the majority of summer.

Saturday’s 5k will be my last race in my current age group. After this, it’s time to move to the longer, marathon focused work.

So there’s my summer running in a nutshell. Band has started for my high school junior, and football for my youngest. This is my gauge that summer is basically over in our house. Routines and schedules are back in place, and my running will be more structured.

It’s going to be a busy fall, but I really don’t know how to do it any other way.