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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.

Since 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 (below):

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 race

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 time. If 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.


Because the low temperature on Saturday was a comfortable 59F., 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 77F. 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 the distance

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 link.

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 station.

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, humid day.

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 once. It 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 loop:

I quickly 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 the next!

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 to run.

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!


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 Rocky.

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 the race.

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.

Continued on next page: post-race activities, photos, and musings about the race

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil