Rocky Raccoon 100

“You can push the fast forward button if you want to get to the end, but this isn’t about finishing, it’s about the journey”
– Steve Speirs


I had the standard race report all ready to go, describing in great detail the highs, the lows, and all the miles in between and just leaving it at that.  This won’t be that exactly.  I finished JFK 50 Miler and was almost too emotional, I broke down in tears.  This time, I didn’t feel that way at all.

I’ve often heard that running 100 miler can change you.  That it can make you feel like a different person,  it can humble you yet make you feel unstoppable at the same time.  No person comes out from 100 miler the same, I’ve learned that as well.  I crossed the finish line at Rocky Raccoon elated, with more joy than I’ve experienced in a lifetime.  But yet, I was sad.

I realized that Steve was right, it’s not about the destination.  Just like life, it’s all about the journey.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”  – T.S. Eliot

People have asked me over and over again these last few days how my race went.  Mostly, I lead with, it’s been the most incredible journey I’ve been on.  And I believe that.  Life, like running, is about cherishing the  journey.

Steve, Ally, JP and I  geared up for the race and got to the park super early.  We sat in the car and chatted and had fun.  JP was doing some facebook live, while I entertained them with a headlamp whistle.  We found our buddy Andy before the race, I used the restroom like 20 times, mostly nerves getting to me.  When we walked to the starting line, I was trying to put in all in perspective, but trying not to think of the entirety of it all.  100 miles is too far to think of in one fell swoop.  You have to break it down, mile by mile, aid station to aid station.   I also broke it down, 40 miles, maybe 60 with Steve, then I’d watch as he did his thing, 20-40 miles alone, followed by the last 20 with JP.  We didn’t completely plan to run the whole thing together initially.  I had no qualms about letting him go, if I wasn’t going to have a good day.  I had planned to be out there 20-24 hours, maybe more.  I knew it was a gonna be a long day.  I also knew I couldn’t rush it.

So we set off.  I had my on my Direct Performance PT running shirt (can’t fathom how I would have made ever attempted this without Jake or Rachel keeping me healthy), with a long sleeve top underneath.  I planned on switching out at some point.  I also had on a good supply of Squirrel’s Nut Butter pretty much everywhere to prevent chafing.  For shorts, I’ve been turned on to Patagonia’s Strider Shorts.  The pockets on these shorts could hold almost anything.  Injinji Compression Socks were underneath my Hoka Speed Instinct’s.  I went with a Buff Headband, to keep a bit of the cool air off my ears, and to prevent my issues with my headlamp, Petzl Actik (really disappointed with this), digging into my head.  I started with the Ultimate Direction AK 2.0 vest with two 20 oz flexform bottles full of Tailwind.  And of course, lots of Honey Stinger waffles with sunflower seed butter on them.  Yum!

As long as you learn to ride the peaks and valleys, you learn you can survive almost anything.  For every moment you feel on top of the world, you will be hit with a low that makes you feel as you can’t crawl out of it.  The first 30-35 miles of RR100 I rode that high.  Steve and I just found our cruise control, settled into a good rhythm and set forth.  We didn’t look at our watches much, it was dark the first half of the loop, and anyway, we had too far to go to really worry.  We both set 5 mile intervals on our watches, as long as we were close to 45 min (9 min/mi pace) we were good.   The first (of 5) 20 mile loops we did in 2:54 I believe, nearly perfect timing for what we were looking for.  Seeing JP and Ally and getting refilled perked me right up.   We set off on the 2nd loop and it still hadn’t hit me yet.  We were really doing this.  Then, the falls began.  I am pretty sure I have to be close to the record holder for most falls ever in RR100 history.  I have the toes (toenails, still trying to hang on) to prove it.  If there is one thing I need to work on, it’s staying on my feet.  I told Steve somewhere on this 2nd loop that I may switch shoes.  We chatted about this before, and both agreed that while it may be good, it could set off a chain of events that could take me down.  If the Hoka’s were working, don’t change em.  Well, they were kind of working, but I need something with a toe guard on them, and something that can let my toes splay out.  They were too crunched in, but at this point they were still pretty comfy.

And then somewhere around mile 35, it all came crashing down.  I was in a funk. I was hurting bad, I was in the lowest of lows. I felt like I couldn’t escape.  It’s power came over me, and it literally sucked the life out of me. I was worried.  Did I have it in me to finish.  Did I do this for the right reasons. We chatted before I signed up to make sure I did this for me, not someone else, not because everyone else was doing it, etc.  So, when this crash happened, I questioned everything.  It wasn’t any worse than JFK, but, at least at that point in JFK, I “only” had 25 miles to run.  Here, I had 75.  As we made our way back to the end of the 2nd loop it got even worse.  I got pulled further and further down and the rain hit.  I questioned my sanity, I didn’t have it anymore.  60 miles of rainy weather, I was quitting.  Or at least that’s what I told myself.  It was nice having Steve out there, and I then thought about my chat with another buddy, Terry Koob.  He told me it would get this bad, but to keep going.  I was slow in the aid station at mile 40.  I got some food.  I took off my vest because I felt claustrophobic and it was getting too heavy.  I put on my waistband and grabbed a handheld.  I’d run the next 60 miles with this setup.  Much easier.   I secretly wanted Steve to go on without me to end the day.  I asked JP how the rain was going, “A passing shower” he replied.  That gave me a bit of hope.  Steve started his next loop, walking ahead a bit, I took off sprinting, realizing that if I was going to do this, I didn’t want to be alone yet.  We chatted for a bit, the rain came back, hard for a a brief spell.  I almost called it quits, again.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
– Haruki Murakami

This quote hit home for me.  Once that storm was over, that low was gone I wasn’t the same anymore.  I knew I couldn’t be defeated.  It stopped raining, it couldn’t rain forever, and now I was back to myself, only this time more determined than ever.  The next loop flew by, although my hatred of the Damnation loop started to get the best of me.  It’s just a short 7 mile loop.  I’ve run that well, everyday.  My easy days were longer than it.  But it kicked my butt every single time.  We started out on the 3rd pass of it and I took a tumble to end all tumbles.  “You almost kicked your friend in the face” yelled a woman as she passed me lying on the ground.  I fell pretty hard, basically feet went sideways and I rolled like something out a Matrix movie.  I laid there for a second.  Ugh.  The third loop of Damnation just seemed to go on forever and ever. And ever. I did hit my furthest run ever here, so that was nice.  My first time over 50 miles and I have to think about this loop. haha.  When we hit damnation on the way back out (You went by on the way in and the way out every loop) the jeep road never looked better.  That is, until it looked like a roller coaster off in the distance.  It’s just a long road, that was full of up and downs.  I enjoyed most of the passes here, we got to spread our legs out, and feel normal again.  Plus, the lack of roots was nice, less thinking and more running.  Steve commented on me several times that I looked like I was getting my mojo back more and more and how strong I was.  We came through the next loop, I felt amazing.  Steve took off walking ahead (this was our thing now) while I dillydallied a bit and got some chips and chatted.  I made sure to tell them to tell Heidi ( my sister) I was doing great.

We were in a groove.  Those times when you feel unstoppable.. well, be careful.  The best of times, when we take things for granted, is when it all comes crashing down again.  Of course, it would happen on the Damnation Loop.  I felt my world was literally ripped away from me.  I guess it was, I clipped a root with my shoe and my toenail got caught. 67 miles into the race.  I was feeling stronger than ever.  And this was how it was going to end.  My race ripped out from under me.  Because a toenail was ripped off my foot and digging into me.  Steve asked if I wanted to stop.  I didn’t want to.  He suggested we slowly make our way to Damnation, get my toenail looked at and taped up.  I didn’t wanna wait that long.  We both had taken a couple Tylenol out with us,  usually one per loop to help dull the pain. I took another one.  I pushed it back on, as hard as I could, and hoped for the best.  I had come out of one of the worse funks I’d ever been in, I wasn’t going to let this stop us.  I learned to embrace the pain.  I knew that sitting around feeling sorry for myself wasn’t gonna cut it either.  I’ve got to keep moving in the right direction, no matter how slow.  The pain can’t last forever, but it could help me forget about how tired I was and how much longer we had to go.  I told myself I’m not done yet, I’ve come too far to see it end.  So onward we went.  The jeep road followed, onto Park Road aid station and as we made our way past the lake, we got passed by the leaders.  James Stewart flew by us with about  4k to go on the loop. He, like Ally, was from Scotland.  It was cool to hear them talk together.  Just don’t ask what was said cause I have no frickin idea.  haaha.  He looked smooth as butter, like he was out for a training run.  Yea, he was pressing, but damn… He’s done 160+ miles in 24 hours once.  Wow.  Just beyond my imagination how he could do that.    We got back to the aid station and finished up the loop, where we grabbed our pacer and even better, friend,JP.

Kind of like life, when someone new entered it and provided newfound joy.  He provided the much needed entertainment and brought us back to life.  While Steve and I kept each other great company for 13 1/2 hours, struggling together, getting each other out of deep funks, we needed some fresh blood. Mistakenly, I forgot to change my batteries in my headlamp, or bring my spares.  JP’s was bright, Steve realized he needed to change his too.  They were supposed to last 60 hours full brightness, at least that’s what the box said.. yea, that didn’t happen.  Not even close.  Petzl, I am very disappointed in you.  Misleading us cost us a bit.  We had to slow down the last loop, as the trails became harder and harder to see.  True, I didn’t have a lot left in me, but I could run I think, but just when I would start, a root would pop up and BOOM, man down.  BOOM, man down.  Repeat.. and repeat.  So, the paced slowed.  When a sub 18 was out of reach, I was a bit sad.  Another day, better lights, etc, we had it.   When I told JP it was hilly, he laughed my a bit, I guess small hills seemed like mountains after 15-16 hours.  We got to Park Road aid station, JP did the Wobble, tried to score some Fireball shots, but they ignored him. thank god.  At this point, we knew we were gonna finish, but that 4.5 miles is a long frickin time.  We marched on. We got past the lake, saw the road and made the last left turn.  We could see the finish.  We picked up the pace and “ran” it in.  Maybe like a 15 min mile.  But hell.  We ran to the finish.

I got to chose my belt buckle.  I took the older one, with a dulled look to it.  It just felt classic to me.  I got my time etched in it, along with my name and year.

I learned many lessons this day.

Just as in in life, any time we weather a storm, our family and friends are the ones to pick us up.  My “Running Family” was there to pick me up.  I wish my parents and sister could have been there, but that was too much to ask them to pay.  Plus, I know they would struggle to send me back out on the course if I looked bad.  JP and Ally on the other hand, they’d kick me back out there if they had too.

Sometimes you just need to feed your mind and soul right when you are down.  Nutritionally i was not spot on.  When I messed up, the lows were painful and reminded me I needed to eat. When I was feeling down on the course, I had a good friend to pick me up in Steve.  My mind, soul and body had to be nourished correctly.  We all try to do too much at times, we fall out of balance.  Something gets left behind.  If we don’t take care of ourselves, we will fall.  But there will always be someone or something to right our ship.  Sometimes it comes in an unexpected form, but we had to choose to accept it.  The pain from my foot drove me on.  It could have stopped me dead in my tracks, but I learned to embrace the suck and let it motivate me.

The path of the journey won’t always be an easy one.  The lows are there to remind you of how much you need to enjoy the highs. They put things in perspective.  They allow the  highs to feel that much higher.  If you can get yourself through the toughest times, you know nothing can stop you.

The sadness you encounter at the end of the journey is real.  In so many ways, it teaches you that you have to appreciate what you have in the now.  To stop looking for the end.  If you aren’t present in this moment, and always look to the future, you can’t fully be enjoy where you are.  I learned that each and every moment has a point in my journey.  I have to respect what I am going through, as it was put there to teach me something.  Embrace it, cherish the times with those you care about as the journey will end.  Appreciate how far you’ve come, the trials and tribulations.  And when the end does come, you’ll be ready for another one. I can’t thank Steve enough for running this with me.  We trained together for it. Might as well finish it together too.  Epic day.  JP, thank you for agreeing to pace me.  You just got back from an epic Costa Rica trip, I know you were tired.  Ally, thanks for being there crewing for us, and making sure my crew got it right 🙂


8 Replies to “Rocky Raccoon 100”

  1. What a journey, Howie. Congratulations. I knew how hard you worked leading up to Rocky Raccoon, so had no doubts you were capable of earning the buckle. I also feel exceptionally fortunate to have been a part of the journey and to share the experience of your first 100 is something I’ll never forget. Thanks so much.

    See you at the next one!

    1. I feel the same way, what I learned from you was priceless. I am forever grateful to run and finish with you. Can’t wait for the next one!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It was great to be able to read all the ups and downs and what you learned from each of them. I’m so grateful for your honesty. It makes me hopeful as a runner that you struggle at times as well. Keep up the great work with your running as well as your blog. You are a true inspiration.

    1. Thank you Fred 🙂 I really appreciate it. We all struggle, just have to learn to push past it, easier said then done sometimes haha.

  3. Howie, This is an incredible post of your journey at this race! It speaks volumes to the mental and physical challenges you endured. What stands out is how you acknowledged those that helped encourage you along the way to finish and cross that finish line. This is so well written. Congratulations!

    1. Thank you Lisa! I couldn’t have done it without the friends I have. The Beatles said it best, “I get by with a little help from my friends!”

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