SHOWTIME: RACE MORNING
One of the nice things about camping at Huntsville State Park is
being able to sleep late on race morning.
One of the nice things about being in the 50-miler at
Rocky is being able to start sleep even longer -- an hour later than the 100-milers.
The 50 starts
at a more reasonable 7 AM, which is closer to sunrise (7:20
AM on Saturday).
What that meant is that Jim and I didn't have to get up until 5:30
AM. Some runners camping out in the park probably slept even later than that. We were
busy getting ready in the camper 3/4 mile away from the lodge
and didn't even see the 100-milers start at 6 AM. Sorry, guys!!
We didn't even consider driving the truck to the start because
of the number of vehicles that would be vying for spots in the
lodge area. We
walked over, just as we did at Rocky last year and at Sunmart in
December, carrying Jim's one drop box and a crewing chair.
there were so many drop bags crowded under the canopy (above) we
set up our chair and Jim's box on the approach to the timing
area at the turn-around at the main (Dogwood) aid station. That
was a popular place for crews to wait for runners:
Lots of the runners, especially 100-milers, put up their own
canopies or chairs on the approach (above) or past the aid station
I took those two photos after the race started.
It was still a little dark as we paced and waited for the
50-mile race to start. Most of the people we knew were in the
100-mler. They were already several miles away, which pretty
much eliminated the crowding on the single-track trail sections
that is common at Sunmart.
The inaugural Rocky Raccoon race was the 100-miler in 1993. This
was the 17th year for it. The 50-miler was added in 2002. If you
look at the
history of the race, you'll see
there have always been more runners in the 100 than the 50. This year 239 runners began the
100-miler, the third highest in the race's history (last year
was highest at 252). The 50-miler has grown faster, however.
Beginning with only 40 starters eight years ago, a record 198
runners, including Jim, began that race this year.
50-milers and crews wait for the start of
The 100-miler has a reasonable 30-hour cut-off. Fifty-milers
have a phenomenal 29 hours to complete their race! Race
management sees no reason to make it shorter, since the aid
stations are open for the 100-milers anyway.
I think that's very cool, especially as I age and get slower,
because it allows folks who are capable of run-walking (or just
walking) the distance the time to do it, unlike most 50-milers.
This year a whopping 40% of the runners in the 50-miler
finished in over 12 hours (another 23 runners DNF'd). Those
folks would have been SOL at Sunmart, with its 12-hour time
limit for 50 miles. Some might have run faster to beat that
cut-off but many probably wouldn't have even entered the event.
This race is the perfect opportunity for someone new to the
distance to give themselves a high probability of finishing a
50-miler. That might give them the courage to enter another, more
difficult, event the next time. (It's addictive, so there's a
high likelihood they'll do another one!)
One of our VHTRC acquaintances, Luanne Turrentine (who is my
age) took over 22 hours to finish the 50-miler this year. So
what if 39 of the 100-milers finished faster than she did? Each
time I saw her she had a huge smile on her face. I don't know if
it was her first 50-miler or her twenty-first, but I'm glad she
had the opportunity to challenge herself in this manner.
Another feature I like about Rocky is that there are no intermediate cut-offs until 6 AM Sunday
(24 hours into the 100-miler), when
all runners in both races must have begun their last loop of 16+
or 20 miles. Each aid station in the last six hours also has a cut-off
something goes wrong and a runner has a "rocky" start, (s)he has
a chance to catch up later in the race. Some races have rather
strict early cut-offs that eliminate potential finishers who
start off more slowly before they really get running well.
The RD was right in the opening quote to
this entry: it was a fast start to the 50-mile race! Of course,
when the photographer isn't using the right
setting, the runners look like they're going warp speed.
At Rocky the two races are mutually exclusive;
runners must enter either the 50- or 100-miler. They can't
choose to drop down to a shorter distance or move up to a longer
one during the race. Most races with multiple distances operate
this way. A few like the Mississippi 50, however, allow
switching races mid-stream. (I used that term intentionally,
since MS50 runners have had to swim across some flooded streams
in the past!)
Hundred-mile entrants at Rocky do not receive credit for the 50-miler if they don't
finish the entire 100 miles. A few 100-milers like Umstead,
Javelina, and HURT allow runners to get credit for their shorter
race (50 miles or 100K) if they reach that distance but can't
finish the whole 100 miles for some reason. If you don't do all
100 miles at Rocky, however, you get a DNF.
Rules differ widely in ultra races. Runners need to know the
full drill before entering any race. Rocky's website has
comprehensive and coherent information about all the rules and
regs, which is great.
THIS DOESN'T FEEL LIKE EARLY FEBRUARY!
Because the low temperature on Saturday was a comfortable 59°F.,
many of the runners were in shorts at the start of the race. Jim wore a LS shirt to keep
the sun off his arms but by mid-morning many runners were
down to singlets, running bras, or bare skin on top.
(Don't get excited. Only the men went shirtless!)
Jim was relaxed at the start and
throughout the race.
As mentioned at the beginning of
this entry, Saturday afternoon the thermometers hit 77°F. at the
park. The morning was sunny and rather dry but afternoon brought
clouds and high humidity. During the night a bit of rain fell on
the 100-milers but the temps remained high.
All this was great for the crews
and volunteers, but not so great for northern runners who were
unaccustomed to the heat. That might be why the 100-mile finish
rate was rather low (68%) for such an "easy" race. (Yes, I
realize that 100 miles is a long way to go and no 100-miler is
"easy." I'm talking in relative terms here. Of the 50-60 current
trail 100-milers in the western hemisphere, Rocky is near the
easy end of the Bell Curve.)
Trail over the dam on Lake Raven; lodge in
Otherwise, it was a great day or two for a race! There was no
rain, no bad wind, no mud, no rocks to trip over (just roots --
Jean-Jacques d'Aquin says it should be called the "Rooty
Raccoon"). Runners enjoyed a beautiful sunrise, morning
sunshine, afternoon clouds, a little cooling breeze, mostly
smooth trails, well-stocked aid stations with enthusiastic
volunteers, scenic lake vistas, green trees and palmettos,
herons and egrets in the wetlands, and maybe some armadillo
entertainment if they were paying attention on the lower Prairie
Branch Trail where the little critters are quite active.
Jim had a great day on the trail, sticking pretty close to the
middle of his split chart which predicted finishing times of
10hr50min to 12hr. We each had a laminated split chart. It
was fairly easy for me to figure out when he'd be coming into
the two aid stations where I crewed for him on each of his three
loops: Park Road (at 12.3, 29, and 45.6
miles) and at Dogwood, the main aid station/turn-around (16.7,
33.3 and 50 miles). You can see his loop splits at this
Jim (red shorts, center left) gets food and
drink at the Park Road aid station.
I knew I had over two hours to kill after Jim began the race at 7
AM. I hung around the start for just a bit to take some more
photos as the sun came up, forgetting to go down to the lake to
get nice sunrise pics behind the lodge like I did last year.
Rats! Then I walked back to the camper to take my shower, get
dressed, eat breakfast, feed and walk Cody, and get ready to
ride the bike out to the park entrance to the Park Road aid
Each time I carried extra gels, Heed powder, socks, a little
blister kit, lubricant, and other items I thought Jim might need
since he couldn't have a drop box at Park Road. If he had ever
needed an item that I didn't have, like another pair of shoes,
I'd have time to ride back to the camper (about three miles) and
get it before he came into the turn-around aid station -- but I
never had to do that.
Hundred-milers Ben Benjamin, Matt Watts,
and Hans-Dieter Weisshaar, the three runners on the left,
refuel at the Park Road aid station on
their first loop.
It's always fun to hang out at aid stations and watch the
runners come in before Jim. The first two times at Park Road I
saw Anne and Matt Watts, Hans-Dieter Weisshaar, Beth Simpson-Hall, Abi
Meadows, Dennis Drey, Bill Heldenbrand, Bobby Keough, Ben Benjamin,
as well as some other 100-milers whose faces I know but whose names I don't
(that darn CRS Syndrome!)..
As always happens (fortunately) the aid stations
get less and less crowded as the day wears on and the runners
and their crews
spread out along the course.
The shirts came off early on this warm,
It was quite busy the first time I was at Park Road, as you see
in the photo above as several runners head to the aid station at
was less hectic the next two times. Each time I asked the aid
station captain if he needed any help but he always had enough
volunteers when I was there. (Last year at the now-defunct
"Highway" aid station they needed more help when I asked.)
I liked this sign posted prominently at the Park Road AS:
Jim came into the aid station looking quite happy on his first
gave him a new bottle of Heed with ice as he browsed the AS
tables for other things to eat and drink. He used the Heed he
carried between aid stations as his
primary energy drink; he drank water, Cokes, and Sprite at
the aid stations. He carried Hammergel for quick enerby but also ate a
variety of solid foods at the aid stations -- pieces of ham and cheese roll-ups,
peanut butter roll-ups, and turkey sandwiches (note: the
thin bread in the roll-ups goes down better than regular bread
when your mouth is dry).
Ultras = running from one smorgasbord to
He also ate salty crackers and chips to supplement the
electrolyte capsules he was taking all day to combat the heat
and humidity. He had no stomach problems or nausea during or
after the race and took in enough calories, fluids, and
electrolytes to maintain his energy.
When he left Park Road, I hopped on the bike and rode back
to the main aid station (Dogwood) where we had our chair and
Jim's drop box.
Runners in both races come and go from the
main aid station on Saturday morning.
I also liked crewing there because I could see so
many runners coming and going on the trail approaching the aid
station. That's when I saw more of our friends in the 100-miler
that I missed seeing at Park Road: Larry
Hall, Jean-Jacques d'Aquin, Maurice Lee, Paul
Grimm, Bill Turrentine, Dan Brenden, Betsy Kapiloff, and others.
Bill Heldenbrand is happy to see a friend
at the end of his first loop
on Saturday morning. He won his age group
in the 100-miler.
Anne (above) and Matt Watts (below) enjoyed
a respite from Colorado's wintry weather.
Once again, Jim arrived about midway between his two
guesstimates. His intentionally ran the first loop faster
(3hr24min) than he planned for the next two loops (4hr4min and
4hr10min) in the heat of the afternoon.
Here comes Jim!! What a beautiful morning
He was in great shape. He quickly grazed at the aid station,
swapped an empty Heed bottle for a fresh, icy one, and was on
his way again. He honed the art of getting into and out of aid
stations quickly during this race. That's always easiest, of
course, when he's on top of his fluids and calories and has no
problems with his digestive system or feet. Tending to any of
those issues at an aid station can "eat up" a lot of time.
The second and third loops played out much the same: Jim
ran fairly consistently, I was able to guess pretty well when
he'd show up at those two aid stations, and I had adequate time to return
to the camper two more times to eat, walk Cody, get on the
computer, and get new supplies for Jim.
Jim nears the Park Road AS the second time
(about 29 miles into the race).
I got plenty of exercise walking around and on
the bike. I
had lots of fun talking to crews and runners all day, and
thoroughly enjoyed the summery weather. The temps were more
conducive to crewing and volunteering than running.
Ben Benjamin and crew are still smiling 35+
miles into the 100-miler!
A FINE FINISH
Jim ran across the timing mat at the end of his third lap at 6:38 PM
with a finish time of 11:38. He knew it'd be getting dark
by the time he got done so he picked up a light the last time at
Park Road. He's happy with any time
under 12 hours, considering
the distances he ran at ATY and Ghost Town recently. He was tired
but not in pain or distress.
As soon as Jim stopped running he began to get chilled. He was
also hungry. Two cups of hot chicken noodle soup at
the finish line helped solve both of those problems until we
could get back to the camper.
We completely missed the 50-mile awards ceremony, which began at
5 PM with the majority (71%) of the runners in that race still
out on the course. It wasn't
until the final results were posted on the race website that he
discovered he was second of seven in his age group. Even the
first M60-69 wasn't done in time to attend the ceremony.
Jim's feet and legs were sore but he didn't get any blisters. He
wore Injinji toe socks and kept on the same wide
pair of Asics 2130 road shoes the entire race. Since he doesn't
have as much trouble getting debris in his shoes as I do,
he never wears gaiters. He didn't have to empty out his shoes at
He had some trouble sleeping that night because his legs ached
and jerked uncontrollably a few times. Mine often do that after
long runs or races, too. The only time his legs cramped,
however, was when he tripped on a root and fell one time during
I had no trouble sleeping; I was tired enough from being
busy and on my feet all day that any wiggling Jim did in his
sleep didn't wake me up. Volunteering and/or crewing are
sometimes as strenuous for me as running an ultra! The
quote by Joe-the-RD at the end of this entry (next page) echoes that.
next page: post-race activities,
photos, and musings about the race
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil