Sunday, February 9, 2014

Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile -- An Honest Look Back

It's been a week since the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile race, and I think I'm finally ready to reflect back on it. It was a tough race for me, both physically and mentally -- especially mentally.  But I learned some valuable lessons, and I'm taking away a lot from the race.

For one thing, I am so appreciative of all my wonderful trail running friends.  Rich, Jeannie, Fumi, and Jean were so welcoming, inviting me to eat dinner with them in their hotel room the night before the race.  And after dinner, Liza came to the hotel with her baby to massage my calves, which had been sore the week leading up to the race.  It was probably 8pm, and she still had to drive back to Houston that night to get a few hours of sleep before leaving again at 3:00 the next morning.  Everyone has a story about what an incredibly generous and kind person Liza is; I think this one takes the cake.

Rich and Jeannie, as always, packed and organized anything and everything you could possibly want or need during an ultra, making a home away from home for us, right at the start/finish line.  It was great to gather together in their tent before the race, snapping photos and readying our gear.

The first three loops (60 miles) went well.  My legs felt really tired from the beginning, but I was on pace for a 22-hour finish at that point.  I was pretty used to running on tired legs -- since giving my all during the Bandera 100K three weeks prior, I had been feeling tired even during short 5-mile runs.  But my nutrition was working for me; my stomach wasn't upset at all, which is a huge deal.  And I managed not to trip over any roots, although I did stub my toes several times.  Kerri, Elizabeth, Jeannie, Asma, and Ed helped me by finding a safety pin so I could pop a couple nasty blisters on my toes after a loop or two.  That's the first time I've ever done that during a race.

During loop 3, I decided I'd really like to listen to music, so I "took myself out" of the USATF National Championships by removing my back bib and taking out my iPod.  I knew I wasn't going to place anyways, so I didn't care.  The music did help me continue at a good pace and ignore the pain I was starting to feel in my foot.  (By the way, my calves felt fine.  Liza is an excellent massage therapist.)  :)

By the fourth loop, when I picked up my pacer, Emmett, I was worried I was developing a stress fracture in my right foot.  To distract me, he suggested we play a game.  What a great friend!  We played several rounds of "Categories."  The best was when we played the category "people we both know in common."  We named a couple people, and then one of us said "Fumi."  At that point, we heard a voice ahead of us in the darkness say, "Yeah?"  It was Fumi, right in front of us.  What are the odds? :)  Having Emmett with me during that loop was such a blessing.  I'm so grateful to him and his girlfriend, Asma, for driving four hours out to Huntsville, sleeping in their car, and blessing me with their companionship and care.  During that fourth loop, Emmett kept me running a little, and power-walking a lot.

Emmett had been hoping to run the final loop with me, but he had to drop with plantar fasciitis pain.  So I headed out into the darkness alone, after about 18 and a half hours of running, for miles 80-100.  At the aid station, I thought I could do sub-24 still, but as I started off down the trail, I just didn't feel it in me.  I didn't have any energy for running, and not only did my right foot hurt even worse than it did on the previous loop, but my plantar fasciitis was hurting pretty badly in my left foot.  So, thus began a 20-mile death march in the dark, as the temperature dropped and it started to drizzle . . . and then rain.  I abandoned my nutrition plan at this point, and began eating anything hot I could find at aid stations -- quesadillas, a sausage wrapped in a tortilla, ramen noodles.  That's the first time I've ever eaten aid station food during a race.

During the first half of the loop, I occasionally ran into other Rockhoppers running the race, along with their pacers, and I stole some much-needed hugs from them.  In the second half of the loop, though, it was very rare for me to run into anyone.  I went 5 miles on the "Damnation Loop" without seeing a single soul.

Here's my big lesson learned from that last loop: I like to think I have a positive attitude and am generally happy, but under the test of that last 20 miles, coming to the realization that I wasn't going to make my time goal of a sub-24 hour race, I was pretty negative.  Really, I had a rotten attitude.  When I ran into Jason Espalin, around mile 86, my comment was, "Is it just me, or does this race really suck?"  What a terrible attitude!  I wish I would have had the presence of mind to say something like, "Look at us, Jason!  We're doing it!  We're completing the Tejas 300!  What a wonderful thing, that we're healthy and fit enough to take on this accomplishment, and that our friends and families support us in this!"  Okay, that's way too long a conversation to have mid-race, but you get the idea.  I was in a bad place, and I hadn't expected to find myself there.

Volunteering this weekend at the Rocky 50 Mile race, I was able to see many finishers come in.  Every single finisher I saw, including the very last finisher, was so happy at that finish line.  I had been happy at the finish line last weekend, too, but I was also disappointed in myself -- disappointed that I missed my time goal.  After watching the runners this weekend, I am more disappointed in how I let myself focus on the negatives, instead of keeping a positive attitude.  I shouldn't say I was entirely positive -- I cracked a joke to the first guys I saw on that final Damnation Loop, and I tried to give encouraging words to other runners, things like "You're looking strong," etc.  But beneath the words, in reality, I was focused inward, on my own personal pain.

In the future, I want to be more like Michelle, who gives of herself so generously -- whatever she can give. In this case, it was a hug and a shoulder massage when I ran into her and Jason on the fifth loop.  I want to be more like Elizabeth, who was so positive when I ran into her and Larry K during the race.  And like Jean, who is one of the most consistently positive people I've ever known, and who is always thinking of others rather than herself.  And I want to be like Fumi, who shows more determination and perseverance than anyone else I can think of.  I'm so thankful for all these people who I can learn from, to be a better person.

At Mass the day after the race, this verse was in the readings: "Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested" (Heb 2:18).  Aside from the obvious meaning of this verse, that Jesus suffered greatly as a human and so can help us in our sufferings, which is an incredible truth, I also took this as a reminder that the trials I face during these ultra-distance races can make me a better person.  Enduring them can help me be more empathetic, more generous, more positive -- more like the amazing people I run with.  I hope that in the future I will strive to practice these traits in the midst of my own pain during long runs and races.
Rockhoppers before the race.  Every person pictured is amazing! :)

I'll conclude this post with benefits of having to wear a boot, since that's my fate for another 7-10 days (hoping that's it!).

  • It's forcing me to take a little break from running, which I wouldn't otherwise.  I can fully rest and recover from the Tejas 300 and come back re-focused and re-energized.
  • I get encouraging words from strangers. For example, when riding a bike today with my boot on, I got a "You go, girl!"  :)
  • People are more likely to open the door for me, allow me to go first, etc. 
  • It's pushing me toward cross-training and strength training activities, which I wouldn't otherwise partake in.
  • It will help me appreciate being able to run, once I'm able to run again, and remind me not to take that for granted.
  • It's a good excuse to wear a comfy sneaker (on my other foot), instead of a dress shoe.
  • It makes me look taller.  

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