Huntsville State Park – Huntsville, TX
February 3, 2018
It was apparent within 6 hours of finishing Brazos Bend back in December that I at some point would run 100 miles again. There was something about the distance that is like a cheesy 80’s song that’s stuck in your head. You hate the song quite a bit, but you find yourself singing it out loud anyways. And that’s the best way I can lay down the description of the hundo…it’s the race that you hate to love, or is it love to hate? Hell, it’s a little of both.
After a finish at Brazos Bend I found myself with a friend with a strong case of the FOMO and not so begrudgingly found a classic race down in Texas for us to go run. Rocky Raccoon has been around for a quarter century and has turned itself into a pretty popular race given its relatively fast course and the fact that it gets you a coveted lottery entry to the WSER by completing the distance. So within days after Brazos Bend hundo number 2 was booked and it was off to Rocky Raccoon.
The race takes place in Huntsville State Park in Huntsville, TX about an hour north of Houston. Huntsville is a bustling burgh primarily know for the gigantic statue of Texas hero Sam Houston right off I-45 and the Huntsville State Penitentiary (not-so fact, with 582 executions it is the most active death penalty prison in the US since 1982). Exciting town for sure. We arrived in Huntsville the day before the race and took our drop bag prep very seriously (put them together in the back of the car minutes before dropping it off). We skipped the pre-race briefing because I had run races at Huntsville a number of times before and knew the location of every dumb root on the course, and Super really didn’t care much to listen for more than a few minutes. So with that we took our asses back to the hotel to get some rest and then stayed up until 10:30 talking and being generally distracted.
Race day dawned to waking up before my alarm, because why would I sleep through the night? It wasn’t nerves, it’s just I don’t sleep well in hotels in Huntsville because I’m worried about a prison break causing a ruckus. So off to the park it was, and at 6AM it was off to run 100 miles. 4 loops, 25 miles each, 1.6 million roots…easy enough!
The race went off right at 6AM. You would have thought we were competing in a 10k with the speed which people jumped off that line but I knew better and kept back in the middle of the group. The goal was to run something that resembled 10 minute miles and finish around 17 hours (maybe ambitious). Not long after the race started the rain that was forecast began to fall. I actually kind of like running in the rain so this didn’t bother me. It did however remind me that I left exposed drop bags because I kinda forgot it was going to rain (or didn’t take it too seriously). Ooops, the mistakes I’ve made. I shrugged this off to idiocy and decided I didn’t really need to change clothes anyways. I also forget half of my premixed nutrition drink in the fridge at the hotel so I guess I was drinking Tailwind today despite not training with it. Ooops, the mistakes I’ve made.
Despite my general bone headedness, loop 1 went pretty decent. I felt tired but my legs didn’t feel heavy and I was moving well. I began to gain position on many runners that were already starting to struggle and slow down only 20 miles in. I finished Loop 1 in 3:55. While my legs did not feel heavy my breathing did and so did my digestive system. This was quickly corrected as I dashed from the start line aid station to the potties and finished up some unfinished business that wasn’t quite ready at 6AM. It’s amazing how much easier you breathe when your intestines aren’t full. Feeling like a much lighter version of myself I went out onto Loop 2 with a new optimism and a much emptier digestive system and I felt like a million bucks. At this point the field had separated enough where I got to do some good “alone” running which is generally where I like to be. I actually run these races for the time in my head and to enjoy myself for 17-20 hours so I appreciate the moments when I’m not with other runners. I don’t listen to music either, rather I tend to repeat the same song over and over again in my head for a large portion of the race. At Brazos Bend it was Anyone Who Knows What Love Is by Irma Thomas (I was on a Black Mirror Binge) and for Rocky it was Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding in My Hands by Sir Elton John. Why these songs? I don’t know…it’s just what popped in. At least it wasn’t a bad 80’s tune. Maybe it’s because Sir Elton just announced his final farewell tour and I’d love to go see him one more time. Anyways, Loop 2 was fueled by an endless play of a 10 minute long song. I ate some things, I drank some things, and I hoped over a couple hundred roots. Par for the course. While my pace kinda still felt easy it was becoming apparent that I wouldn’t hold onto it the whole race…but you gotta make hay while the sun shines so I stuck with it.
Loop 2 was done in 4:15 and I was sitting around 8:10 for the 50 miler which is a pretty solid day. I briefly thought about calling it quits then but I knew people were tracking me and I had posted that I was running 100 miles on Facebook so that pretty much means you can’t give up. I took 5 minutes to recharge and refuel and went back out to Loop 3. Loop 3 pretty much went like Loop 2 except a little slower and that I ate some bacon at an aid station. The rain had also picked up quite a bit on Loop 2 and the mud became real on jeep road section of the course and made things a little more fun but a little less enjoyable at the same time. It also got dark about half way through and this by default starts to slow you down when you get tired. Loop 3 is also where I decided that eating was hard and switched over to drinking broth and tailwind as my exclusive source of not enough calories. This is probably why I ended up on the big bonk train on Loop 4 (see Loop 4 later). It got dark and the roots started to get annoying. But, I pushed on through and kept running albeit at a slower 11 minute pace. It’s amazing how an 11 minute mile feels like you are an Olympic track star after 70 miles…I mean you actually feel like you are running hard and flying. Kinda cool.
I finished Loop 3 with 75 miles checked off. I had 2 headlamps on my body ready for a long dark night ahead. I ran into Christina Pierce at the start line who was there to pace someone and told her I didn’t want to run anymore. She told me I was fine and to just get going. I actually started crying to myself and whining once she left and once no one was there to witness my stupidity. My crying and whiny voice did not convince me to stop and I took a few steps to the start line and then stood staring into the distance. Just move your butt and go.
So I went, into the dark, rainy, damp, drizzling, muddy night. Loop 4 proved to be grind fest 2018. I was able to run for about 12 miles but the tired and the general lack of calorie intake started to catch up with me. My running got really sloppy. My breathing was heavy. I started to trip on every other root on the hellish out and back section that seemed to get worse every lap. After tripping for the 30th time and breathing like I was running wind sprints I decided it was time to phone it in and call it a night. With 13 miles left I started to walk that town. Walking proved to not be the most effective mode of transportation as a distance I could normally complete in 2.5 hours ended up taking me 4.5 hours. That’s how you go from 17:42 to 19:52. So with my best power walking form I grinded through the final 12 miles of mud and muck and roots and sauntered my way in to a sexy finish just shy of 2AM. I had been on my feet for about 20 hours and was ready to pass out. I told the finish line volunteer “I’m done” and she interpreted that “I’m done,” as in I’m DNFing. After a few minutes of confusing talk she realized that I had actually finished the race and gave me my belt buckle. Apparently at this point in the night people were dropping like flies and she just thought I was another one biting the dust.
I promptly went and sat down near some warm heaters and was happy to see some old HATR friends hanging out. They asked me what I needed and I got my drop bag and checked my phone. Super was coming in on her 3rd loop and was adamant she was dropping after 75 miles. She came in and was cold and told me she was done. In my sleep deprived “fuck this shit” state I kind wasn’t the most encouraging friend and agreed with her assessment. Luckily she had some good people pull her ass back out onto the course and she went on to her own Loop 4 slug fest.
The best trail nurse in the world (shout out to Becky Spaulding) was kind enough to let me warm up and let me take a nap in the medical tent which had a space heater, cots and warm sleeping bags. I got into the cot stinking to high heaven and covered with mud and passed out for 30 minutes. I laid there for another few hours and then managed to shuffle back to the car, get to the hotel, shower and take another 30 minute power nap. I grabbed some 8AM Whattaburger and headed back to the park to watch others finish. A few hours later I got to see my sarcastic friend shuffle her ass through the final aid station and then make her way to her first (triumphant?) hundred mile finish. It’s true what they say, running is always better with friends. Mission accomplished for both of us…Rocky was in the books. The rest of everything is kind of a blur…the tired set in and somehow we made it back to Seattle. Wake-up time was 4:15 AM Saturday, arrived back to my house at 12:00 AM Monday (2AM Texas) with about 2 hours of sleep under my belt…that’s why it’s all a blur.
The one thing I noticed this time around is I never had that truly emotional moment, I never really had a silly high, but I never really had dark lows either. This was a pretty even keel 100 miler and I felt like I just did my job and got it done. Maybe I could have pushed a little harder in the 4th loop, but honestly I was tired and just wanted to walk it in and not feel like death. So there ya go.
So let’s end this with a few lessons, because that what we get out of this:
- The Texas Trail Running Community! I still loved coming back to Texas to run races because of the people. It was so great to see old friends running, crewing, volunteering and supporting the race. Texas, you truly have the best trail running community out there…hands down!
- My legs felt good, like most of the race. I’m strong right now and they never let me down.
- I never hit a dark spot and never “seriously” considered quitting. I consider that a win.
- I ate pretty well for 2.5 loops, my stomach never bothered me.
- I kept a good attitude the whole race and I grinded through.
- I didn’t prepare well, I was forgetful and literally forgot to bring stuff (like nutrition)
- I got tired and stopped fueling out of laziness and lack of desire to eat. I could have eaten in reality but I kinda was not into it. Gotta force it a little bit.
- At some point I may have peeed on myself in my tiredness and smelled like pee for hours after I finished. I was too lazy to take off my pee smelling clothes and slept in them. The hundred mile brain logic is not exactly functioning.
And that’s the story of Rocky Raccoon. I know one thing for sure, there will be another hundo. The bug is real. And next time I’m going to be more careful when I pee.
Career Marathon/Ultra #112 (Hundo #2)
Place: 15th OA, 13th Male