Saturday, January 31, 2015

Rocky Racoon 100-mile trail Nationals: respect that distance!

Rocky Racoon is a race put by the Tejas Trails organization, in winter, 2 weeks after their other popular race, and also a USATF Nationals event, Bandera 100K. I had heard that it was a flat and fast course but, with that name, I was fearing a few rocky sections. Well, you may consider a few blocks of broken asphalt at the corner of the Park at mile 14 of the 20-mile loop, but that's basically it. So, apart form the fact that this isn't a word in the dictionary, I wonder why this wasn't called... Rooty Racoon instead! ;-) Indeed, as the short description of the course in the manuals says, it is "covered" with roots. Which makes it tricky at night, otherwise very runnable in daylight.

Beyond my focus on our North California Ultra and Mountain Running Grand Prix for the 9th consecutive year, I wanted to spice this year's schedule up with a few additional US Nationals (I did two last year, 50K road and 24-hour road). It was a bit aggressive, or others would say inconsiderate, but, liking speed, I was drawn by this fast course and registed mid January. The other reason is that it was in Texas and Max was available to host and drive me from Austin (the race is in Huntsville, TX, 60 miles North of Houston and 160 miles East of Austin).

With that, we drove on Friday evening and I got my bib on race morning, before the start at 6 am. I ran a 100-miler just under 15 hours, on asphalt, 3 years ago (Run d'Amore 2012, 14:54) and, based on other performances, I was hoping, or planning actually, to do it again, on a trail course this time. Again, without knowing much about the course since I never ran in this area before. And I was of course hoping to win our M50-54 age group, a small 5-runner contingent.

Before leaving Austin, I realized that I had forgotten to bring my headlamp which looked like a big rookie mistake for a race in the middle of winter! We stopped by REI in Red Rock and I chose a Black Diamond once again, despite not being satisfied with the one I bought last year (Storm), so I picked the most expensive model (Revolt) hoping that will do it this time (and I'm still not convinced at all unfortunately, need to find a better one, welcome any suggestion if you can leave a comment).
Indeed, with a start at 6am and all the roots on the trails, I was surely glad to have some light, that's really mandatory.
Most of the 20-mile loop, and certainly all the single track sections, are covered by either pine needles or dead leaves, like all the ground under the trees, it was hard to even see where the trail was in the dark. Daylight came around 7 am and, in the first hour, I twisted/rolled my ankles more than a dozen times, including 3 really bad ones. Fortunately I have very flexible and resilient ankles but, the third big twist, I swore and thought it was the end of my run. The fact is that I wasn't even trying to keep up with the leaders, but stuck in a group of runners which I don't like, preferring to go at my own pace. The pace was around 8:15 which was about what I was looking for. Once the light came up, we collectively picked the pace as we could now see all the roots much better. As usual, it seemed easy, so much that, although I knew that wasn't reasonable and sustainable, my average pace went down to 8:01 min/mile at which time I decided to slow down to not go under 8. Well, so much for a good decision because the mileage of my GPS was off by 0.7 mile at the end of the first loop which I completed in 2:37, that is a 7:51 min/mile pace, ouch, way too much excitement and impatience already!

Well, despite being too fast for me for a trail 100-miler, I wasn't even in the top 10! 23-year old David Kilgore, from Florida, was leading with a blazing pace. Before I had even finished the first loop, I pointed him in the out-and-back, 3.3 miles ahead of me! And, course record holder, Ian Sharman, wasn't even in the top 5. Assuredly, I wasn't the only one to have aggressive aspirations or needles in the legs this Saturday morning... ;-)

I was back on the course, and about 0.4 miles from the start when I crossed Scott (Dunlap) who took a GoPro video of our encounter (with all the runners we were either passing or crossing on this convoluted loop, he must have gotten a lot of footage!). I was still feeling good but took the time to stop more at the aid stations to refuel a little, and complement my taking of Vespa (2 before the start and one every 3 hours or so, that is at each lap here). But I wasn't much inspired by the buffet selection, I was carving for potato chips, rather than the artificial gold fish, on the salty side. Took a few Oreo cookies which don't seem more natural/organic to me... And I used my GU gels too of course (one every hour).

The second loop was basically the same, pace wise, especially as it was all ran in daylight this time. Around mile 27 miles I caught up with Matt whom I passed after a quick chat. I completed the 2nd loop in a more reasonable 2:45 (8:15 min/mile pace), still feeling good albeit some signs of short breath/asthma. On the third loop, my stops were longer at the aid stations and my average pace got down (or up) to 8:16 by mile 50, right on 7 hours. But, by that time, I had already started walking the uphills and was loosing ground and time. Matt was the first to pass me and, after checking on how I felt, left me in the dust. And I got passed by two other runners before the Dam Road aid station at mile 52. These last 10 miles of this third loop were really a struggle, alternating walking and jogging and that's when I decided that... I had enough of it, there was no way I would rebound fast enough to meet my goals, especially on the short breath side.

It took me 3 hour and 30 minutes to complete the third loop, now talking of a 10:30 pace, even including a good portion of running in the first 10 miles of that loop. I didn't want to spend the night crawling at 15 min/mile, that wasn't the intent. I stopped my watch after crossing the finish line, explained how I felt to my Bay Area ultra buddies, Victor and Noe, and returned my timing chip.
I even went on (UltraSportsLive) TV with today's host, Victor, my drop/DNF got quite some publicity! Well, likely not tomorrow's Super Bowl audience, but it's really cool to have such races getting this air coverage for those who can't be present.
Scott arrived a few minutes later and took a short break to refuel before getting on his 4th loop, quite excited about it and in good spirits. As I write this blog, back in Austin, I see he even finished the 4th lap in 12:39. He may not break the 15 hours, running the 5th lap at night and, I assume, in the rain, but he should be close!
At the top of the race, it wasn't pretty either. I first passed David James who dropped in the second loop, on major back issues. As I was struggling in my third loop, I also passed David Kilgore around mile 54. He was walking but had the guts to finish the third loop in 9:14. I'm sure he'll rebound quickly and, with such a speed, we'll see his back again! Marco Bonfiglio from Italy took the lead and finished the 4th lap in 10:37, followed by Ian Sharman 4 minutes later, Sam Skills 6 minutes behind and Paul Terranova, first Master (M40), 2 minutes after! I don't think anyone will break Ian's record this time, but there is going to be quite some action in the 5th loop for sure!

Wow, a new refresh of the page and here you are: Ian won in 13:32. (Post scriptum and correction: writing this post at the end of a very long day, I had initially thought he had improved his previous record of 13:44, but it was actually 12:44. Hard to comprehend with all these roots!) What a smart race from him, letting others go out too fast and closing with a 5th lap in 2:51 despite running in the night. Marco took second place in 13:57, Paul 3rd in 14:05, Sam Skeels 4th in 14:11, then Ronnie Delzer 4 minutes behind, then in 6th overall, Nicole Studer who also shattered Traci Falbo's course record by 23 minutes (14:22). What amazing performances at the front! By the way, Ian and Marco not being US citizens (from UK and Italy respectively), Paul not only won the Masters title but also the overall Championship/open division (I assume he will double dip the awards, respectively $200 and $1,000). Quite another coup!

Regarding our M50-54 age group championship, the jury is still out, no runner has completed his 4th lap yet as I type this blog post.

For one thing, the weather was perfect, not too cold, some sun but mostly overcast. Actually, some complained that it was hot, probably those used to train in freezing temperatures in January. The course was also in perfect conditions, and there was good competition, maybe too much for those who got caught into too fast pace in the first loop (yes, that would start with me...). As for me, as I just mentioned, my main mistake was to go out too fast. I also didn't drink as much water as usual, very little in the first lap actually, and slightly less GU2O than usual too. And I didn't quite adapt to the type of food at the aid stations, my bad for the lack of flexibility. I also didn't have a strong reason to finish just for sake of it, having run a dozen of 100s and even longer distances in 24-hour events last year. That certainly counted a lot in my decision. Plus too much bad stress at work...

I would also add that arriving just before the start and leaving before the race ended, didn't allow me to connect much with the local ultra community, I'll have to come back... But in the meantime, let me thank Joe and Joyce Prusaitis and all their team for putting up such a professional and popular event! And all the very helpful volunteers at the 4 aid stations, in particular Damnation which sees 400 runners for potentially up to 10 times (yes, not counting the DNFs, that would be 4,000 customers to attend to!!). I certainly highly recommend this race, for itself but also because it provides qualifying criteria and points for Western States and UTMB, while not being as challenging as a mountain hundred.

I will be running Jed Smith 50K next week, that should be much easier! Indeed, I still have the speed, and certainly some endurance, but I'm struggling at the 100-mile distance. And, to circle back with the title of this post, I would admit that I didn't pay enough respect to that distance, it's still quite a beast. Like people commented on Facebook, there will be other opportunities. To apply the lessons hopefully, and to learn others. Ultra running is a big and life-long experiment...


runstephane said...

Hej hej Jean,
En effet, there will be others.
Côté frontales : j'aime beaucoup ma Petzl RXP (parce qu'elle me fait une nuit généralement et parce que je peux utiliser des piles rechargeables #sustainability!).
Sinon, il y a :
Pas testée personnellement, mais j'ai lu plusieurs retours enchantés : puissance, température de couleur... il faut s'y prendre à l'avance parce que le délai de fabrication est artisanal.

Côté RR100, le record était à 12:44, je pense que Ian est reparti sans le bonus de +$1000.

Et une question rapport aux classements : sais-tu pourquoi Ian n'était pas en catégorie open ? En France, on est soit licencié (donc possible champion de France), soit open (impossible de devenir champion). Ian n'est pas USATF dans le classement, mais pas non plus dans celui open, il y a une astuce ?

Keep going, amuse-toi bien samedi,

Jean Pommier said...

Merci pour les infos, Stéphane! Actually, I fixed the post, it was actually a Black Diamond model I bought. I didn't even notice that it states 90 lumens for the rechargeable NiMH batteries, the ones I used, versus 130 for Alkaline batteries. I bought the Storm last year, which gives 160 lumens although I can barely see the difference. Now, 900 lumens for the Stoots Focus2, that got my attention! 2.5 x the price, and the 900 lumens only last for an hour, so that's not the perfect option either. I've seen runners with much brighter and wider beams at the start of RR, I need to check what they use next time.

As for the rankings. Here, Open is the category between Junior and Masters, typically 18-39. At RR they call Masters 50+. In USATF Track Masters starts with M35-39. As opposed to France, fewer people actually get a USATF license/membership, which you need to compete in championships (in addition to citizenship).

runstephane said...

Merci pour les éclaircissements des rankings, I'm pretty much in the US bath now!
Pour les frontales, ce sont les 250 lumens pendant 5--6h qui sont intéressants : ça suffit largement en descente. C'est ce que j'utilise avec ma Myo RXP et avec un peu de modulation (moins en montée par exemple), elle dure une nuit complète. Les 900 lumens (ou 370 max. de ma ne sont là que pour vérifier les balises aux croisements... ou agacer le coureur juste devant toi pour qu'il te laisse passer :)

David said...

I have a Petzl NAO with a spare battery. It's reactive - it will adjust to the lighting conditions and reduce brightness if there's enough light - and you can connect it to your PC with USB and adjust the lighting profiles. I run with three lighting profiles, so for shorter runs I have max light but on an event like a hundred I have a profile that lasts a bit longer.

At Rocky Raccoon this year my first NAO battery lasted for a loop and a bit, probably about five and a half to six hours, and then the second made it to the finish.

The adaptive lighting tech would actually see the reflections from the course markers and dim itself momentarily; when it was a rooty section I'd actually move my head to stop this, but overall I think it works well.

I also have a LED Lenser H7 which I used for the first few miles in the dark. This is usually a reliable lamp but when I started the fourth loop it went out after a few miles and had to run with someone else from Nature Center to Dam Nation.