Indeed, it was warm -- even warmer than last year's "Pineapple Express"
According to the race
website the thermometer hit 77°
F. on Saturday, the highest temperature on race day since ten years ago.
Add in a good dose of humidity and you can see why it felt like instant summertime
to the runners, even those who live in southern Texas.
Despite our little winter getaway to warmer
climes the past three months, I don't think Jim and I have experienced any days
quite this warm either. I encouraged (nagged, perhaps!) him to drink plenty
of fluids and take adequate electrolytes during the 50-miler.
It certainly looks tropical along the
course in early February. Note red flagging for race.
Jim apparently did
everything right because he ran well, had no problems for fifty miles, and finished in a time
midway between the two estimated times he projected in his split chart.
He's pleased with his time (11:38:51) and place (99th of 174 finishers
and 198 starters, and 2nd of 7 in the men's 60-69 age group).
That was my "executive summary." Continue on if
you're interested in more race information, stories, and photos. This entry is
exceedingly long and there are about fifty photos so I've divided it into three
parts. Just click on "next" at the bottom of each page to continue reading
about the race. I did not put three separate links on the topics page.
NEW COURSES FOR 2009
We got to watch course marking and the set up of aid stations, the
start-finish line, and portable toilets for at least five days before the
Sunmart race in December. It's a professional production by a major oil
conglomerate with paid crews doing
that work. [Addendum in mid-March: apparently that was the last time the
race will be run. I'm just guessing that it's a victim of the world-wide
economic meltdown we're currently experiencing.]
Not so the Rocky Raccoon race. It's more like the majority of ultras we
run. Even though the event has drawn 400-500
runners in recent years, it is much more of a volunteer effort with RDs Joe and
Joyce Prusaitis supported by four Texas running clubs: the Hill
Country Trail Runners (HCTR), the Houston Trail Runners EXtreme (H-T-Rex or
HTREX), the North Texas Trail Runners (NTTR), and the Seven Hills Running Club from
The Rocky timeline is different from Sunmart, but everything was
in place by the start of the races on Saturday morning. The
course was mostly marked on Thursday. I took these pictures
during a run on part of the course on Friday morning:
Signs and orange and pink flagging direct
runners through this intersection on the Chinquipin
Flagging directs runners to the right at this
intersection of the Chinquipin and CCC Trails.
The turns and intersections I saw were clearly marked but during
the race some runners apparently went off course on the "dam
loop." The course was modified this year and some folks weren't
paying adequate attention. Jim and the vast majority of the
other runners found their way just fine. Jim
studied the course maps closely and had the advantage of running
the loops prior to the race.
Both the 50- and 100-mile courses were changed this year. Most
runners apparently favored the new course because it included
more single-track trail and less out-and-back to the old "Far
Side" and "Highway" aid stations. Jim also
preferred the new course to the one he ran last year. Even
it's fun to see other runners on multiple out-and-back
sections, we both prefer doing loops. Somehow it's less tedious
and we feel like we're making more progress.
course (in red, below) still consisted of five
identical 20-mile loops, just in a different configuration from
last year. I realize you can't read this map that I copied from
the website because it is so small. I'm putting it here so you
can get an idea of the various loops in the race this year. The pdf.
map on the website is larger and more clear but it may not be there next
year if the course changes again.
The new 50-mile
course was three 16.67-mile
loops, identical to the 100-mile course except in the dam area
-- the 100-milers had a longer loop on the far side of the lake
(upper left part of map).
Again, there's a larger pdf. map at the link but it may change in the future.
Marking and aid station station (AS) set-up at three of the four
stations were complete on Friday.
Unfortunately, moderate winds caused some problems with
the canopies and tents at the start/finish area (the
Dogwood AS); they
were close to the lake and more susceptible to the stiff breezes:
I offered to help the guy who was dealing with the tents but he
said he'd have to wait until the winds died down before starting
Everything was fully set up by the start of the races the next
Start/finish area (Dogwood AS) two minutes
after the 50-milers began running. Note the red chip timing mat.
AID STATIONS, DROP BAGS, CREWING
With the course changes came changes in all of the aid station
locations and three of their names. This part will probably make
sense only to folks who've run Rocky previously but it might
also be instructive to runners considering it in the future.
- The main aid station at the start/finish (where runners finished
each loop and began another) was moved form the lodge area to a more
open, grassy area at the end of the Dogwood Trail to minimize running
on pavement and reduce the impact around the nearby lodge (believe me,
over a thousand people trampling that area during the Sunmart race in
December must have had an impact). This busy AS was renamed "Dogwood."
Crews hung out here. Drop bags were allowed here in both races (it was
the only drop bag location for the 50-milers).
- The Dam Road AS retained its name but moved from the spillway
service road to the southern corner of the CCC Trail 3/4 mile away.
Crews were not allowed here. Drop bags were allowed in the 100-mile
race but not the 50-mile race. Runners in both races hit this AS twice
per loop, so it stayed busy (~ six and twelve miles into the 100-mile
loop and ~ six and nine miles into the 50-mile loop).
The Nature Center AS on Friday morning,
before it was stocked for the race.
- The "Far Side" AS was eliminated; I believe volunteers manned
the north end of that loop to record 100-milers' numbers, however.
- The previous "Highway" AS near the park entrance (right side of
map above) was moved a quarter
of a mile away, on the other side of the road, and renamed "Park Road"
AS. It was very accessible for crewing but not a drop bag location.
Runners came through this station once per loop a little over four
miles from the end of each loop.
- The "Site 174" aid station near our campsite was eliminated
this year. A new AS was placed at the Nature Center on the main park
road, making it very accessible to crews. Runners could not leave drop
bags here. They hit the "Nature" AS once per loop, about
three miles into each loop.
We were almost late to the pre-race briefing at 5 PM on Friday
because we spent too much time with a small group of runners in
the parking area. (Hans-Dieter Weisshaar and his wife Susi were
trying very hard to find a new owner for a dog they rescued in
Mexico, and I wanted Jim to see it. We decided it's so much
easier to travel with only one dog and not two that we passed on
Part of the crowd at the pre-race briefing
at Raven Lodge
By the time we made our way over to the lodge for packet pick-up
and the briefing,
it was almost time for Joe to begin. We didn't have much time to talk
with other friends there. Most of the people we know were in the
100-miler. Many of them skipped the briefing: been there,
done that, I guess. We were already familiar with the drill from
last year's race and the very
complete website but we wanted to
be sure we had all the latest information about the weather,
course changes, chip timing, etc.
One of the things Joe emphasized during the
briefing was that the park police would be actively patrolling
the park road for speeders during race weekend. All three times
I went out to the Park Road aid station near the entrance I saw people pulled over
by the police between the lodge and nature center, where the
speed limit is only 20 MPH. (From the nature center to the
entrance it's 35 MPH and compliance is easier.)
RD Joe Prusaitis at the briefing
I had no trouble with the 20 MPH speed limit the first two times
I went out to the entrance (about three miles one way) to crew
for Jim because I rode our bike, but the third time in the truck
it was hard for me to drive the speed limit. The entire rest of the
month we stayed in the park, however, we saw very few people
pulled over for speeding. I guess the park has had trouble previously
with race crews speeding too much. Beware of this if you have a crew
By the way, it was fun crewing on the bike all day Saturday! I
don't like crewing in our truck. It's noisy and so big that it's a
problem finding parking places at many aid stations. This is the
first time I've had access to a bike during a race or had aid
stations so convenient for crewing with a bike.
I could have easily crewed Jim at the Nature Center AS each time
I went out to the Park Road AS; I never stopped at Nature
because it was too soon after seeing him at the
start/finish/turn-around (Dogwood AS).
supposed to park right at the Park Road AS but I could take the
bike very close to the tent, as you can see in the photo below. I carried Jim's supplies in my Camelbak
back-pack and fluids in the bike's bottle racks.
The ideal crew vehicle at Rocky Raccoon
I kept riding back and forth between the camper, main aid
station, and Park Road station during the day, racking up a good
number of cycling miles on the hilly roads. I drove the truck
out the third loop, however, because it would be dark when Jim
finished up. We don't have a light on the bike and I knew
Jim would want to ride back to the camper in the truck when he was done.
Back to the briefing . . .
It was hard for us to sit still because we were waiting
anxiously for the transmission shop to call about our truck.
They finally called to say they'd be delivering it to us soon.
By then the briefing was winding down so we left to walk back to
the camper. We regretted not being able to hang around to talk
to some folks we knew. Turns out, we would have had plenty of
time for chit chat with friends Anne and Matt Watts (in purple
and black jackets, seated toward the right below), Beth
Simpson-Hall and her daughter (in blue and navy jackets in
center below) and husband Larry (not shown), and others.
I wasn't the only one taking photos! Note
the guy in the center back and the woman below left.
The truck wasn't delivered until after we ate supper (story in
last entry). Jim drove it
around the park a little while to see how it behaved: not real
well. We didn't learn until the repair shop opened on Monday
that the sluggish shifting Jim noticed was considered "normal"
for a few days, so of course we worried about it the rest of the
Rocky has a pre-race dinner but it and the post-race brunch both
cost extra ($18 and $15 per person, respectively). We passed on both, as we did last year. Unless
meals are included in our race entry we usually prefer to
prepare our own food. We do
like having the option to pay for meals, shirts, and other
amenities separately so we can choose which we want and which we
don't. Jim essentially paid for the entrants' sweatshirt at Rocky but since he
registered a couple days after the shirt deadline, he didn't receive
this time. He knew the risk and didn't whine or complain. Last
year he also registered past the shirt date, lucked out, and got
an extra shirt.
next page: race day
stories and photos
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil