Thursday, February 14, 2013


Huntsville, Texas
February 2, 2013

Who would have thought that I would have been back in Texas for a second time this year?  It used to be that I would go out West to ski in the winter.  Now I’m traveling to the warmer climates to go run.  Just three weeks ago I was in Bandera running 100K in the Texas Hill Country.  Now I was returning to Huntsville, located about an hour north of Houston to run the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Endurance Trail Run.  It seemed so long ago when I signed up for this with any knowledge of what I was getting into.  Back in May a number of us from the Thursday night running group in Vermont decided a road trip was in order so we signed up for Rocky.  Later I found out this was a loop course, not one or two but five loops around a park on mostly flat terrain which attracts many of the speed runners.   Not my favorite as I prefer mountains and steeps.  Flat terrain is a huge mental challenge for me.  I need variety and change.  In 2010 I ran the Burning River 100 Mile in Ohio which had a lot of Tow Path running.  That drove me crazy with flat, straight stretches for long periods that after a while I would run backwards and sideways and skip along to keep motivated.  And it finally broke me a number of times where I had to walk on totally flat terrain.  So the thought of Rocky scared me but I looked at it as a fun time away to run with friends.  We had the crew of Bob Ayers Jr, Kristin Lundy, Jen Sorrell, John Lacroix, Serena Wilcox, Shari Bashaw and myself running the hundred and Sherry Ricker running the 50 mile.

The flight down was uneventful which was great based on my flying nightmares of 2012.  I flew down solo on United while a larger group flew together on Jet Blue.  Leaving Vermont it was 50 degrees and rain after a week of subzero temps.  Arriving in Texas it was 70’s and dry.  Another fear of mine was the heat.  Three weeks earlier at Bandera the heat hurt me and I cramped bad on the second half of the course as happens all too frequent.  Even the bikram yoga training twice a week in 105 degrees didn't acclimate me enough.  I was hoping that my body was better prepared this time.  And my training leading up to Rocky seemed sufficient but the race frame of mind just wasn't there.   But I was on vacation with friends so it was all a good thing no matter how the race turned out.  We all arrived in Huntsville later in the day.  After we all checked in, Kristin and I got in an easy 3 miler pre-dinner to stretch out the legs a bit.  Then we all met for dinner at Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant.  If you ever go there, order the large frozen margarita!  Just make sure you have someone to drive you home.

The VT Crew (missing is Sherry Ricker)

Friday we decided to all play tourists for the morning and went to visit with local hero Sam Houston, a huge 77 foot statue.  I felt inclined to do some climbing to get a better view.

Jack with Sam
Sam Houston

Driving back to the motel we drove by the Texas Prison Museum but passed on that visit.   We headed into town for lunch and I ate way too much pizza.  Then it was back to the rooms to prepare drop bags before heading over to race central to drop off the bags.

The race was being held at Huntsville State Park.  Before the trail briefing we went for a short run to check out the trails.  And I had a new shoe to try out.  Typically for a 100 miler I wear a supportive trail shoe such as the Pearl Izumi Trail II’s but I heard many runners would be wearing a road shoe based on the non-technical terrain of the race.   I just received a new pair of the latest Pearl Izumi Kissaki 2.0 road shoes.  They were light and quick and comfortable but also totally neutral and not very supportive.    They felt good on the short loop we did but would they be enough for 100 miles?  With a roll of the dice I decided to give them a try on race day.   Then it was off to the trail briefing but I still was stuffed and uncomfortable from lunch so I decided to head back out on the trails.  When I got back the trail briefing was over but there still was time to chat with the research project folks who would be doing research during the race based on perceived effort and performance.  I’m always up for experiments so I signed up to participate.   Afterwards dinner was light, still working off the lunch menu and then to bed sort of early as we had to be up around 4:00 AM.

Race Day:  We arrived at the Huntsville State Park around 4:30 am trying to avoid any long line up of cars getting into the park.  We dropped off the last of the drop bags for the start/finish area and rested up until the 6:00 am start.  It was still dark so headlamps would be necessary for the first hour or so and then again for later on in the race after sunset so some planning was necessary to time having the headlamps when needed.  I figured on dropping my starting headlamp off at the Damnation Aid Station which was at mile 6 and then 12, or later in the race at mile 66 and 72 but also had one at the start/finish which would be mile 80.  Not having run this race before I didn't want to get caught in the dark, been there before like 3 weeks ago at Bandera.  The temps were in the 50’s and were supposed to be in the 70’s later so all I had on was a singlet for the top layer, anticipating that it would be off fairly soon as the temps rose.  We all made to the start line on time and were ready to go.

Jen, Jack, Bob, Serena, John, Shari, Kristin

On the front line were Mike Morton, Josh Finger and some other local Texans.  I grabbed Bob Ayers to run with me just behind the front line.  And we were off.  Right from the get go, Josh took off along with another runner and Mike Morton just behind.  Bob and I were running along in the next pack behind a couple of other runners.  We seemed to be running at a comfortable pace, getting the body and lungs to warm up.   The terrain was mostly flat but there were some annoying roots, especially in the dark that seemed to jump up now and then.  The front pack seemed to be long gone which was fine with me as we had 100 miles to go and I didn't see a need to be sprinting out at this point.  My strong point is usually the endurance at the end and after mile 80 when the temps cool off I tend to pick it up a bit.  It wasn't long before the runner in front of us tripped and went down and again.  By the third time or so, he was down and out for a bit and Bob and I took the lead for the second pack. I took my share of falls as well.  Not long into the run, I went down hard and bashed my knee into a root.  It hurt and I could smell a cut along with a bruise but refused to look down at it.  What I don’t see can’t hurt as much, right?  After a while the pain went away but down I went again, tuck and roll and back up.  And about the midway point I went down again this time hitting my face on the dirt.  Bob gave me grief for my skillful footing.  At the Damnation aid station I dropped off my headlamp to have for later on if needed.  Bob and I enjoyed the rest of the first 20 mile loop mostly to ourselves, occasionally grabbing some food at an aid station.  At the 20 mile mark or end of the first loop we did some quick refueling and any necessary changes and off we went again, out onto loop 2.  Our running time was about 2:39.  On loop 2 it wasn't long before Bob went down.  He did a nice downhill sliding crash embedding some Texas soil into his forearm.  I seemed to be running fine now with full daylight to see the ground below.  And then Bob went down again.  Now it was time for me to give Bob grief and then he hit again for a third time.  We were now 3 for 3, tied for crashes but I wouldn't let that stop me as on the rest of lap 2, I fell 3 more times, luckily nothing serious.  About half way through lap 2 it was starting to heat up as the sun was up and the temps were rising.  You just knew mid day was not going to be fun.  But Bob and I were having a great time running along, chatting about everything and lap 2 was turning out to be faster than lap 1.

Bob and Jack in total sync cruising along the RR 100 trails.
It’s amazing what how much faster you can run in daylight.  Then out on the 6 mile Damnation Loop I looked back and Bob was gone.  I figured he must have had a quick trip to the woods and he’d be back shortly as I slowed it down a bit to wait but no Bob.  I continued on at my own pace.  As I came upon the last aid station for lap 2, I saw Josh standing there ready to run and off we went.  Apparently he wasn't feeling great anymore and had slowed down.  We ran for only a short time before he slowed up even more and I was on my own again.  So I kept moving, feeling good and made it back to the start/finish, end of lap 2, refueling and out in a time of about 2:47.  The average pace for my first 40 miles was just under 8 minutes/mile.  I was informed that I was in third place at this point but there was still 60 miles to go and anything can happen.  As I made it out on loop 3 you can see who’s behind and a few minutes out there was Bob.  I guess Bob had a case of the pukes but was back and running again.

Lap 3 was really starting to heat up and I knew this was my weakness.  Three weeks ago at Bandera I cramped so bad mid race that I had to walk a good part of the last lap to survive.  So far on this day, I was well hydrated and keeping down my electrolytes so no cramping yet.  The big test would be getting by mile 50 where it seems I tend to get the pukes as has been the case in the past 3-4 races.  I was trying to eat but the heat was making it difficult.  I was ingesting GU’s ok for a while but was getting tired of those too.  My drink had extra calories so I wasn't eating much solid food but knew I had to make an effort to eat or it would catch up to me later on.  So I tried to nibble at the aid stations on mostly pretzels and some kind of trail mix.  I made it through mile 50 without the pukes but was feeling somewhat nauseous, probably from the heat but I didn't puke which was big :)  The rest of lap 3 was slow but steady pouring water on my head whenever I could to cool the core.  I finally finished lap 3, refueled and out I went in a time of 3:34 which I was totally fine with.  I knew I had to back off mid day.  Lap 4 was downright hot, I was nauseous but holding it together and trying to drink and eat.  Still no cramping which was huge.  I had pre-mixed a number of my drink bottles with electrolyte pills so I wouldn't have to attempt to swallow them which usually results in the gag reflex and puking.  So far so good.  Then somewhere along the Damnation 6 mile loop I starting to feel some odd pains in my left knee.  What the heck?  When I would back off it was fine but when I ran it was starting to be like a knife jabbing the outside of my knee.  Bad memories suddenly came to mind.  The IT band!  I had issues with the IT many years ago and never ran because I thought I had bad knees.  But then I discovered a PT that had me strengthening instead of just stretching and that fixed the old IT.  And back in 2010 I had a mild re-occurrence of the IT band but that was a result of tweaking an ankle from skydiving and changing my gait to accommodate it.  So why an issue now at mile 70?  I knew why.  My decision to wear a flexible neutral shoe when I hadn't allowed the body enough time to adapt to that kind of running caught up to me.  I’m often a running experiment and guinea pig but I should know better than to experiment during a 100 mile race.  The rest of lap 4 was painful doing the run/walk.   Somewhere near the second half of lap 4 Bob came cruising by.  We chatted a bit and off he went looking strong.  Go Bob!!

I stopped at the last aid station and had a cheese quesadillas trying to get some food in me and continued on.  Soon after that, pain hurt my belly too and by mile 78 I had a case of the pukes.  But it really wasn't all that bad as I was able to drink and eat afterwards.  But the wheels had fallen off.  I was wishing it was a 100K at that point but finished up lap 4, refueled, grabbed my night gear and was out in a time of 4:17.  Lap 5 was not going to be fun but I was determined to keep going.  I had plenty of time to finish and the temps were cooling down.  I had no choice but to resort to the walk/run.  I would run until the knee pain got so bad, then back it down to a fast walk/power hike.  I continued like this for hours.  The night air was cooling and as long as you were moving it was fine but if you stopped at all at the aid stations, you would quickly lose the heat.  With my walk/run mode I knew I was in for a long night and decided to enjoy some of the night time food.  The  selection of soup was great and mashed potatoes too.  I was counting down the aid stations and kept moving forward, slowly.  I made it through the first Damnation Aid station and was not looking forward to the 6 mile loop.  There were some gradual hills involved and I knew that would cause additional knee pain so I just took it slow.  At the top of the first hill I thought I heard a crowd of people cheering and it was getting louder.  But there weren't any people around.  Just coyotes howling up a storm in a large pack.  I was hoping they were similar to the Vermont coyotes and harmless to people.  It seemed like forever but I finally came out of the Damnation Loop, now at mile 92.  I stopped to quickly grab some food and there were Kristin and Jen.  They were on lap 4 or mile 72 at that point.  Jen was sitting on the log ready to eat some food when she went into puke mode.  Apparently this lap had taken her down with the pukes.  She wasn't looking so good but she’s strong and not a quitter.  She had her pacer now too for help.  With a bit more hurling Kristin had enough and took off before she started to puke, dragging me behind.  This was good as I needed someone to pull me along at this point and on we went.  Kristin was running a good solid pace, not too fast or slow.  Me, I would surge ahead until the knee hurt too much then power hike until she caught up and got too far ahead and then surge again. This went on for a long time.  We arrived at the last aid station and enjoyed pancakes rolled up with blueberries for a late night snack and some other treats and off we went again.  Somewhere along the way we spotted an armadillo!  Finally I got to see one of those critters.  When we got to within a mile or so to the finish Kristin heard there was another 100 mile runner who just passed us on their last lap.  She was not to have them finish ahead of me so off she went with me in pain and in tow trying to keep up.  We were successful in staying ahead and I finally crossed the finish line with the last lap crawling with a time of 5:15 and with a final finishing time of 18:33.  I was glad to be done!!  Kristin’s pacer John was waiting patiently for her and off they went out into the darkness for her final lap.

Kristin with pacer John

In the end, Bob had a great final lap and placed 5th overall!!  He won the overall top 5 alligator award.  He was running scared thinking I was coming, glad I could motivate him :)  Serena ended up 5th overall for the women after some questionable training tactics in Vermont and won the top 5 alligator award.  John finished the 100 miler setting a new PR for himself.

Pacer Terry with John at the finish line.
Somehow Jen came back to life and caught up to Kristin as her wheels were falling off and the two motivated each other to a strong finish, crossing the finish line together.

Kristin and Jen at the Finish Line

Kristin set a new 100 mile PR for herself and for Jen it was her second fastest 100 miler.

Jen with pacer relaxing at the finish tent.

Shari finished as top master woman bringing home the alligator award after some time off from 100 milers.  And Sherry finished her first ever 50 mile trail race.  As for me, I ended up as the top men’s master winning the alligator award.  So our Vermont contingency had a 100% finish rate for the 100 miler yet only 67% of the overall field of 100 milers even finished the 100 miles.  Go VT!!
Full Results can be found HERE.

The Gator Award

The Gear:  The Pearl Izumi Kissaki 2.0, even though it caught up to me at mile 70 is really an amazing shoe.  My foot was in total comfort.  But next time I think I'll train on it before taking it for such a long trail run.  Also the Drymax socks again, no blisters at all.  Headsweats ultra race cap kept the sun off my head and the sweat out of my eyes.  I used the GU Brew Roctane for extra calories and electrolytes along with GU gels throughout.

Kristin with the 100 Mile Buckle

Thanks to Joe and Joyce Prusaitis and Tejas Trails for putting on a fabulous event and to all the volunteers who spent countless hours helping out. And thanks Liza for helping at Dogwoods each time I came through.  We'll be back!

Don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs 
but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.