I made a bet with myself that I could keep this short. And... go!
I signed up for Rocky as a Western States qualifier. I like the qualifying race list for WS, it's fun to try different events every year. I figured I'd get one out of the way early this time. Even though I swore I'd never run Rocky - every time I ran 50 miles here at Sunmart I couldn't imagine running those trails all night long. Daytime is great! Nighttime, not so much!
Then I couldn't help myself and signed up for Bandera, because I love Bandera. That race went really well, and as a side benefit I got my Western States qualifier even earlier.
So... what to do with Rocky? Try to set a PR, of course! My PR is as old as my 100-miler history, way back in 2003 at our first Vermont 100, running with Kip and surprising the heck out of ourselves. Ever since then, for various reasons I haven't come close to breaking that time of 22:41.
Run "fast," deal with the roots at night, try to set a PR - sure! OK, this could be a challenge.
Lining up for the start:
I probably should get my watch set up:
It was quite a mass of runners funneling onto the singletrack. Good for a fast walk and a nice warmup. I passed people when it was easy. Then all of a sudden I was alone in the dark, running by the lake and happy with the easy-feeling pace.
The weather was *perfect* all day and all night. 40's, 50's, maybe 60 degrees, overcast the whole time, slight sprinkles now and then to keep the dust down. I didn't change clothes the whole time, only flipped my cap around to wear the headlamp at night. Good for some time savings!
The course really is great, nice soft trails, very few rocks. Yes, plenty of roots. I knew that coming in, from the many Sunmart miles. But it was better than I had remembered, at least for the daytime hours. I counted the number of times I kicked a root during the day: twice in the first loop, 5x in loop 2, back to 2 times in loop 3. Nothing too substantial.
John walked my drop bag out to the Dam Nation aid station - huge thank you to John!! (We didn't get there until late on Friday, too late to send the bag with the race folks.) He caught a glimpse of the lead runners coming through:
I enjoyed the curving trails, the road sections where I could stop concentrating for a while, the short ups and downs, only a couple kinda-steep sections, the beautiful gentle downhill on the far side, the quick views of the lake, the variety, the pine trees, the pleasant day.
I stopped at the Dam aid station going out and coming back in, drank some Spiz and refilled the bottle. Each time through I got help from Tim, a super friendly and helpful volunteer. Thank you Tim!
I skipped the other two aid stations except to use the bathroom. The Park Road aid station had the cleanest porta-potties! With a little candle burning in the corner. Love it!
The long section of two-way traffic coming back to the start/finish and going out again was a bit of a pain, but most people understood that we all needed to work together and it was nice to greet people. Especially people I knew - Hi Bryan! Hi Joe! Hi Bing!
Back at the start/finish, John helped me with the water refill, SPIZ drink, and some knee gel a couple times. He also made sure I saw this sign, LOL:
I was really happy with my pacing and my effort during the day. The first lap felt easy, 20 miles in 3:53, excellent. My splits in the 2nd lap were mostly similar, with slightly more push on the pace for a 4:04 lap. That was promising. I upped the effort a bit more in lap 3, started passing people here and there (good bits of side motivation), endured a rather long 7-mile loop on the far end, but otherwise had excellent split times. I was really happy to see lap 3 at 4:17, not far over 12 hours for 60 miles in the daylight.
It was a good day!
I love my handheld Fenix light, but some roots are just invisible. I hit one of those invisible ones coming into the Dam aid station and fell hard enough that someone came over to see if I was OK. Yes, I'll be fine, the limping should quit in a couple minutes (it did). It's now a colorful reminder, the only visible artifact from last weekend. At least it was on my outer thigh, nothing that impeded forward progress (besides the brief pause for the actual spill).
One more time on the ground! In the middle of the 7-mile loop I ended up with sand in my mouth, my water bottle hiding in a bush, my legs covered in dirt. I spat out sand and obscenities for a few minutes after that one.
Nothing like a little adrenaline to get you moving again. Albeit a little more carefully.
My legs were still moving well - not easily or painlessly, but with plenty of forward momentum. My knees got sore but didn't slow me down. Uphills, downhills, running on the road to make up time, speed walking as fast as I could, it all continued to go well. It probably helped that I had the memory of last October's Big Dog Backyard as reference. This was work, but still way easier.
Lap 4 = 4:49, most excellent for a dark lap. Except I was worried that I would start giving away more time. John was optimistic. I was starting to wonder. Everything could fall apart at any moment, after all that work. It felt like I was getting close to the edge.
So I hurried back out onto the trail for one last lap. And indeed, I did hit a problem that jeopardized the whole PR effort. My stomach reached a limit in processing anything. This has happened before and I'm finally starting to figure out the cause (strong effort over many hours, made worse if it's hot, thankfully not the case here), the symptoms (full stomach and never hungry/not wanting to drink, opposite from earlier in the race), and the bad side effects (inability to push the pace or go uphill strongly). With better planning for situations when this might happen, I believe if I dial back the intake and maybe consider more simple sugars over the latter part of a hard-run race, I will hopefully reduce the effects next time.
For now - it was one more lap, I had to try to limit the damage. I quit drinking SPIZ, drank only a tiny bit of water to keep my throat from getting dry, and decided to test the soda theory. I drank a couple ounces of ginger ale and Coke at a couple aid stations, hoping to bring in just a little sugar to keep from bonking. Also the fizz made me burp which was a relief (apologies to those of you who had to hear it).
It seemed to be enough to keep me going (not sustainable, but it didn't have to be). With my stomach limiting my speed, I decided to start blaming my legs for being sore, although they probably weren't any worse than the prior lap. I was also being super careful over the roots. My obsession with my aid station splits grew. I was so relieved to finish the 7-mile Dam loop and be done with that challenging section with some leeway remaining on the clock.
Stay in control, keep moving forward, walk it fast, focus on posture... one quick stop at the Park Road for some soda sips (probably shouldn't touch the Fireball, but thanks for the offer!)... one last steep uphill... one more time greeting runners going the other way (I'm so tired of headlamps in my face, at least that's almost over!), then there's John running with Joe! Hi John!
He walked with me for the last half mile, I couldn't talk much with a dry/scratchy throat but it was wonderful to smile. I think I might make it!
I made it!
The clock reads 22:20, a PR by 21 minutes. That... was... a lot of work.
Chris helping me pick out a buckle. Normally I don't take finisher awards, but I was offered a buckle from a previous year with a runner's name etched in it, and that seems pretty special. Jean Cummings Perez, your buckle is going on our "trophy shelf" at the Beard farm, thank you!
Shower, sleep a couple hours, hobble back to the finish area. It was great fun hanging out and watching finishers in the morning. Happily John still had phone battery so he could get photos.
Nicely done, Joe! Always an honor to be in the same race as you.
Thank you for a wonderful, well-run race, Chris!
Another pause - I think I was still tired:
Yep, still tired! I can't quite believe John took this picture on the way home, but it makes me laugh so I guess I'll share it:
Was that short? I think that was short!