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"To practice for the Steck-Salathé, crawl across asphalt parking lots in the summer, on your knees and elbows."

- Dingus Milktoast

Monday, February 4th, 2008

Searching lucidity

So here I am, back home and in one piece (well, sort of). Really happy of the awesome experience from the weekend. I managed to finish my 1st 100 mile run and I’m really proud of that. It was a great opportunity to celebrate my 30th birthday (which is today), putting myself to the test and trying to find my limits, oh yeah…

The Rocky Raccoon 100 mile course consists of a 20-mile loop (mostly) around Huntsville State Park, done 5 times. It features a beautiful forest & wetland landscapes with very few slightly uphill sections. Here’s a brief lap-by-lap report of the whole thing.

Luis, Chalita, Toño and myself arrived to Huntsville, Texas by Friday afternoon and immediately went to the Park for picking up our race packages, setup our “aid” camp, and enjoy the pre-race briefing & dinner. We were the only Mexicans into the race, so it was a good opportunity to meet some veterans of the ultrarunning world as well as to psyche up ourselves before the race.

After dinner, we went to the hotel and prepared our stuff for leaving the room very early on Saturday morning. Contrary to the usual fact before a race, I was able to get some quality sleep all night long. It seemed like my mind was ready for the upcoming challenge and was aware that my body needed a good rest before it.

The alarm ticked at 4:30 a.m. We jumped out of bed and into our running clothes, double-checked our packs and put everything inside the rented car. We drove all the way back to the Park, left the packs inside our tent and headed to the start line. By 6 a.m., race director Joe Prusaitis “rang the bell” and the race began, 252 runners started a very long voyage.

1st Lap (6:00 a.m. – 9:50 a.m.): It went really smooth, despite darkness and the pack of runners being a little bit tight during the first single tracks. Once we got to the dirt road that goes to the Highway aid station we were able to run more freely. Luis and Chalita headed on with the front runners while I remained in the middle of the pack as well as Toño. We wanted to run at a more conservative pace and also wanted to get to know the course first.

Dawn came around 6:50 a.m. and the sun started to heat up the place, which was kind of chilly during the night (~6°C). The trail surface was really soft and enjoyable for the whole course, the landscape was also beautiful, with a lot of vivid morning colors. I got back to Raven Lodge, registered my lap time and changed clothes for something more fresh, anticipating higher temperatures for the day. Everything was going great and I was in excellent mood.

2nd Lap (10:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.): I got away from Raven Lodge in a couple of minutes, re-entering the first single tracks after a mile or so. Once I approached the dirt road I came after Luis who had stopped at one side of the trail, he was dropping out of the race. He got sick of influenza at the beginning of the week and despite his efforts to follow doctor’s orders, he wasn’t able to recover completely. He was coughing a lot and had his nose extremely constipated, he was having a really bad time. I encouraged him to continue running and try to at least finish that lap with me. He denied the offer, wishing me good luck and assuring that he will assist me in the camp for the rest of the race. We shaked hands and I continued my journey.

We had a nice but warm weather at noon, but nothing to complain really (maximum temperature got around 22°C). Miles continued to went by and I was taking lots of care about hydrating and eating properly. Stopping for a couple of minutes in every aid station was like every child’s dream: they had all sorts of candies, chips, sandwiches, fruits and drinks; an all-you-can-eat fest! After some hours in the trails, I got back to the Lodge, checked my lap time, ate some pasta and went to the camp to do some preventive self-maintenance in my legs. Once done, I grabbed my lamp and camel bag, foreseeing that night could catch me by the end of the following lap.

3rd Lap (2:40 p.m. – 8:10 p.m.): I started the lap at a little bit more conservative pace, trying to power-walk most of the uphill sections and running gently for the rest of the way. I was really happy because I was approaching the 50-mile mark and was still feeling very well. It was my first time going that far in a single push and I was doing a lot better than in my tortuous training runs. Seemed like my mind and body were completely up to the task.

Seeing all those friendly faces over and over again along the out-and-back sections of the trail was an energizing way to continue doing the job: move one foot in front of the other. All sorts of cheerings and words of encouragement could be sometimes heard through the quietness of the forest: “Good job!”, “You look great!”, were some of the favorites among the runners. The sun came down at around 6:30 p.m., I had just passed by the lake shore and was on my way to the Site 174 aid station.

The first signs of fatigue started to appear but, being able to witness how all the wild creatures slowly switched into “night life” mode helped me to distract myself from the pain and to focus on the experience I was living. I arrived once again to the Lodge to check my lap time and eat some of the delicious food they were serving for dinner.

While I enjoyed a cup of salty potato soup, Jorge Pacheco got to the finish line. He was finishing his last lap and winning the race with a very impressive time of 14 hours 12 minutes; man, he certainly is fast! I congratulated Jorge then went out to the camp for another change of clothes and to get some encouragement from Luis. Chalita had arrived there only half hour before me, he wasn’t going out for another lap. He developed a bunch of painful blisters in his feet and felt like he was walking on needles, he decided to drop out of the race at the end of this lap (mile 60).

4th Lap (8:20 p.m. – 3:30 a.m.): After putting myself together and psyching up for another lap in the woods, I got out of the camp and headed out to the trail. At the same moment, Toño was arriving to the Lodge to register his time for the 3rd lap, we exchanged some words of encouragement and I continued my run.

On my way to the Highway aid station I started to feel a hot spot under my left foot, an obvious sign that a nasty blister had developed. I made a stop at the aid station and while the folks there refilled my water bottle, a very kind girl helped me repair the blister. After draining and cleaning with alcohol the darn thing, she duct taped my foot to prevent the skin from getting rubbed against the shoe again. These guys at the aid stations are so incredible, they work all day and night long to support runners and alleviate any trouble they might encounter. My most sincere respect for them.

After a couple of miles, I got used to the duct tape around my foot and was able to concentrate on the trail’s features. By the time I got to the Dam Road aid station, I was power-walking most of the trail, I started to experience a mental battle in which I searched for reasons to keep moving. I started to feel tired and sleepy too, it seemed like my mind was conspiring
against me. It was around 11:00 p.m. and all I could see along the trails were images of runners moving at a death march pace, a depressing spectacle for any outside spectator.

Fortunately, I catched up with Toño at Dam Road aid station; he passed me while I made that previous “blister repair” stop, we both didn’t noticed until then. We cheered ourselves and arranged to run together for the rest of the lap; we knew that the most difficult hours of the race were ahead and being together would help us maintain the pace as well as a positive mind. It worked. We had a great time jogging and power-walking for the rest of the lap. I think that at some point we were so delirious due of exhaustion that we laughed at any stupid word that came out of our mouths. After a very long lap, we reached the Lodge again.

Final Lap: (3:40 a.m. – 10:46 a.m.) I tried not to spend too much time thinking about going for the 5th lap, deep down inside I knew I could do it if I just kept moving. I changed lamp batteries, repacked my stuff and took a deep breath while I stood up from the camp chair. Toño, on the other side, was dropping out of the race; he told us that he was extremely tired from the 4th lap, that he had no energy and that everything hurt a lot. No matter the words of encouragement we told him, he resolved to stay. My 3 friends wished me luck and promised to be there whenever I crossed the finish line, they were happy for me and very positive that I was going to do it. I silently departed with a huge feeling of hope and uncertainty, every step I made was a new frontier that I was crossing.

I managed to jog and power-walk most of the course from the Lodge till the Far Side aid station, making sure that I thanked all the nice volunteers that helped us during the race. It was around 6:50 a.m. and the sun started to rise again by that time; I felt confident that once daylight hit the trails I could speed up my pace and finish a little bit before 9 a.m. Wrong thought…

While I ran my way back from Far Side to Dam Road, an unexpected (but preventable) little accident happened: I made a bad step over some roots and awfully twisted my left ankle and knee. A sudden strike of pain got all over my leg and I was forced to stop at one side of the trail. It hurt so bad that I needed a couple of deep breaths to put myself together. There were only 10 more miles to go and I was stuck with an injury in the middle of the course.

I felt sad and angry at the same time, but also was determined to finish the race; I didn’t came so far just to be stopped by a little mistake. I took it just like another challenge in my journey and continued. My progression became a pathetic crawl through which I sadly witnessed a bunch of runners passing me by. “Keep moving!”, “One more step!”, “Don’t stop!” were my thoughts.

After passing for the fifth time along the lake shore and entering the forest that goes to Site 174 aid station, I came up to Marie Lewis who had passed me shortly after twisting my leg. She developed a leg problem too and started to walk for the rest of the course. We hiked together and exchanged some words during the way. Soon before arriving Site 174, another female runner approached us at a steady pace. Sherry Meador was her name, and she happened to be a very enthusiastic and funny person. We exchanged words with her till getting to the aid station.

Fortunately our last stop was no longer than a minute, we sipped some cups of water and grabbed some food for the last 3 miles. Sherry took the lead and I followed her, I knew that if I got slower than I already was, getting to the finish line would become an eternal task. We continued our funny talk all the way up until we reached the Interpretive Center and Dogwood Trail turn, then she ran out of sight. There was only 1 more mile to go…

I got to the finish line 28 hours 46 minutes after the race begun; 2 hours more than my estimated time but I really didn’t care, all that mattered to me was that I accomplished my goal. My feelings were very different than when I had finished any regular marathon; I was extremely happy but not into a rush of joy. Oddly enough, all I felt was peace; I felt very alive and lucid. It was a wonderful and very different sensation!

Luis, Chalita and Toño came to the finish line to welcome me. We exchanged greetings, hugs and shot a couple of pictures; every member of the team was very happy (and not only because of my finish). We went for the post-race breakfast and spent some extra great time chatting with fellow runners.

The rest of the trip was an experience by itself. My legs were so sore and my ankle & knee hurt so much that I required my friends to help me walk at every place we visited after the race; once at the airport, they used a wheelchair to move me around the place while we waited for our flight to Mexico City.

We arrived here at 11:15 p.m. and quickly went through the immigration process (being sit in a wheelchair has some advantages after all); we had people waiting for us outside of the airport. I wished luck to my friends while they got into their pick up ride; I waited a couple of more minutes for Beto, who had just arrived to pick me up and transport my corpse back home. The rest of the night was spent talking about the wonderful experience and in jokes about my inability to move, hehe…

All the pictures can be seen here.

3 Comments:

  • Pretty cool report. Hope to see you at the next race. Great job!

    By Rob "Buckeye" Powell , at February 14th, 2008 7:25 PM

  • A belated huge congratulations on such a big accomplishment!!! Thanks for putting those pictures up too. It’s great to finally visualize what Rocky Raccoon is like. It sounds like you had a wonderful support network cheering you on and that, overall, you had an amazing race (depite the twisted ankle/knee)

    Hope your leg is feeling better :) Hopefully we’ll meet at some race someday!

    By Addy , at February 16th, 2008 12:06 PM

  • [...] a triple chocolate and vanilla ice cream. My body hurts today but nothing spectacular as it was in my first 100 miler a couple of years ago, there is no need for a wheelchair this [...]

    By A little run in the Alps « www.arareko.net , at March 7th, 2011 11:48 AM

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