Last fall I decided pretty much on a whim that I would run my first 100 mile race at Rocky Raccoon in Huntsville Texas in February of this year. Up to that point I had run a handful of 50k, 65k, and a couple of 50 Mile races. 2016 wasn't a great year of running for me. For over a year I had been struggling with an irritation of my patellar tendon, so it seemed like I was always trying to find that fine balance between getting enough mileage and not re-injuring myself. By the fall of 2016 things seemed to be getting better- I ran well at the Haliburton Forest 50 Mile (10th overall I think, in 9:45) and then won the Batawa Fat Ass 6 Hour, with 8 loops (52km) in 5:30. I trained consistently through December and January. I wasn't running high mileage- most weeks were around 70-80km, and I maxed my long run at 40km. Fast forward to the race weekend..................
I managed to arrange my trip to Texas around a work trip, so step #1 (getting to Texas) was a home run. After that, the plans started to fall apart. When I signed up for this race I didn't realize that it was on Super Bowl weekend, and that the Super Bowl was in Houston this year, so when I went to book a rental car, prices were outrageous. Lesson #1- if you need a rental car at a decent price, don't try to do it on the same weekend as 50,000 other people coming into that city. Fortunately, trail runners are an amazing bunch of people, and Mark Gehringer, who is the president of the Houston Area Trail Runners, saw I post I'd put on Facebook about trying to find a ride from Houston to the race, and offered to pick me up at the airport. That was a lifesaver, and I'm so grateful for that.
We got up to the park just in time for the race briefing, and then Mark drove me over to my campsite. Lesson #2- when picking a campsite before a race, try to get one as close as possible to the start line. I had literally the furthest campsite from the start line- it was about 3km, which wouldn't be a big deal, except that the food truck that I had been planning on using for dinner that night was now a 40 minute walk (in each direction). And, in the morning, I would have to walk 3km with all my gear in a backpack to get to the start line. In hindsight, I should have just put on my running shoes and jogged over to the food truck for dinner, but I was feeling drowsy, so I figured I'd just eat what I had on hand (a stale bagel that I'd grabbed in my hotel lobby that morning, and a big bottle of Bolthouse Farms Green Goodness Smoothie that Melinda Howard was so kind to bring to the race for me (since I didn't have a car to go to a store and get it myself). Thank goodness I had that green drink- that stuff is my rocket fuel. After my "dinner" I crawled into my hammock, read my book for a few minutes, and then started to doze off. "This is perfect" I thought to myself- it's barely 8PM and I'm already falling asleep! But alas, the children from several campsites down started screaming like a pack of deranged monkeys, and my hopes for an early sleep were dashed. I started dozing off and on, and finally, when it seemed like I had finally drifted into a deeper sleep, something bumped my butt. No matter how used you are to sleeping out in the forest, when you are sleeping in a hammock, and an animal bumps you in the middle of the middle of the night, you wake up FREAKING OUT! My reaction was to slam the side of the hammock with my hand, hoping to scare off whatever creature was out there. I fell asleep again, and a few minutes later............... over and over again. After about 5 or 6 times I finally got up, got out of my hammock and looked around, and figured out what was happening. I could see a big jack rabbit sitting by the edge of my campsite, and when I turned back to my hammock, I realized what had been happening. I had left a banana (which was to have been my breakfast) in the pocket on the side of my hammock. The rabbit would come over, try to get the banana, would would then swing over and hit my butt. With all the times I had swatted at the side of my hammock, I had beaten the banana to a sticky, soggy pulp, so I threw what was left of it into the brush and hoped for the best for the rest of the night. Lesson #3- when you hang up your hammock, hang it high enough off the ground that any animals that can bump you are actually worth worrying about. Oh, and don't leave bananas in the pocket. At about 4am I work up, got dressed, ate come granola bars and green drink, then packed up my stuff and started walking to the start line (and the food truck, which thank goodness had coffee).
In the last few minutes before the start I was completely calm- no nerves at all, just a feeling of "might as well get going and run 100 miles." The plan was simple- run at an easy feeling pace, and keep well fueled, and I think I did a good job of that. This race is 5 x 20 mile loops. The first loop went really well. I ran the first while with Mark (the guy who picked me up at the airport) and then was on my own for most of the rest of it by myself. For loop 2 I met up with a couple of different folks, and had a great time- felt great, was having some interesting conversations, and was keeping a decent pace. About 1/2 way through the third loop though, I noticed that something wasn't right. I was very thirsty, was drinking a lot (a litre every 30-40 minutes) but I wasn't sweating at all, and as that loop went on, I was having to pee more and more frequently. By the time I hit 60 miles I was peeing about every 10 minutes. I went into the medical tent at the turn around and told them what was happening. They figured I was drinking too much electrolyte mix and not enough water, and my body was trying to flush out the electrolytes. They gave me some pedialyte to drink, told me to start doing 1 bottle of water to 1 bottle of sport drink (I was drinking Nuun) and that should get that things balanced out and I should be good to keep going. I headed out for loop 4 and made a decision that I would get to the Damnation Aid Station (about 67 miles into the race) and make a decision on whether or not to continue. One thing of significance to mention- during my flight on Friday morning I remembered that I had not signed up for out of country health insurance, and made a mental note to do that. Unfortunately I didn't remember that mental note until I was running on Saturday morning, so I knew that there was no was I wanted to end up in a hospital and get a bill for many thousands of dollars.
When I got to Damnation Aid Station, things were no better. I still wasn't absorbing any of the liquid I was drinking, so everything I drank got peed out a few minutes later. Lesson #4- I really need to get the hydration aspect figured out before my next long race. As I walked into the aid station I told them I was dropping out, They did a really good job of making sure that I wasn't just dropping out because I was being a wimp, and then when they finally accepted that there was no way I was going back out on the course, they dropped a bomb on me- there were no rides out from that aid station- I had to turn around walk right back to the previous aid station and then catch a ride from there. Good Lord. I sat for about an hour (why hurry at that point?), had some soup, and then started the walk of shame back. Lesson #5- if you're going to drop out of a race, try to do it at a spot where you can catch a ride.
I finally got back to the start area, handed in my timing chip, and then crawled into my sleeping bag (on the ground, under a table) and went to sleep. It was a bit discouraging to be lying there, hearing the cheers for the runners as they came across the finish line, and knowing that I had failed. But I knew it was the right decision. As much as I wanted to finish that race, putting myself at risk of kidney failure was way too high of a price.
A little before 6, Mark finished his race in just under 24 hours, and collapsed on the ground beside me. We slept for a couple of hours, then packed up all our stuff and headed for Houston. Thus began the next step of my adventure. Remember earlier on I'd mentioned about Super Bowl weekend in Houston? When I booked my flight I booked it for the Monday, figuring I'd head to my Brother In Law's place, watch the Super Bowl, eat some pizza and wings, and sleep on his sofa. Turned out that it didn't work for me to stay there, and because of the game hotel prices were insane ($800 for Holiday Inn?????) so I had 2 back up plans. Best case was that I managed to re-book for an earlier flight, and worst case was that I spend 30 hours in the Houston airport until my scheduled flight. Fortunately I was able to get on a flight later Sunday afternoon and not spend the night sleeping under a bench at the airport. Lesson #6? Not sure, but avoiding cities when the Super Bowl is on is definitely a good idea.
For the next couple of days after the race I was thinking that 100 miles is a stupid distance to try to run, and I was in no frame of mind to even think of wanting to ever try to run that far again. 2 weeks on I'm still not anxious to try another 100 miler, but I moved past completely ruling it out. All in all it was a good experience. I met some great people, ran on some nice trails, spent a load of time in airports (okay, that wasn't so good) and learned lots of lessons.