Race Report: 2017 Rocky Raccoon 100

  • The 2017 Rocky Raccoon 100 was the perfect 25th anniversary of an classic Texas 100-miler
  • If you’re thinking about running RR – either as your first 100 or as a nice excuse to visit warmer climates in early Feb – you won’t be disappointed
  • Although Rocky is generally flat, there are some course peculiarities you should be aware of that may impact your race
  • This was my first “fat adapted” ultra – and almost everything went just as planned

Rocky Raccoon is a really nice 100-miler: flat, fast course, predictably mild, winter weather, and a top-notch support staff. Nestled into Huntsville State Park, the course provides pretty lakeside views, winding forest trails, and some interesting wooden bridges. The trail is well marked so there’s a very low probability of getting lost. And let’s be real – by the 5th loop you’ll be able make most of the turns in your sleep.

Every ultra has it’s little quirks, and Rocky Raccoon is no exception. Here are a few “insider” tips you should keep in mind if you’re planning to run it:

Late Registration: For being such an amazing race, you don’t have to worry about RR selling out or hoping to get a lottery pick or any of that silliness you have to navigate with some other 100-milers. Procrastinate until the last minute, send them your cash and show up on race day. You can even pick up your packet that morning. I signed up two weeks prior, no muss no fuss – nice!

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Day before race brief: registration was easy+breezy

Rockstar Parking:  Unfortunately there is fairly limited parking near the course start. Although there is plenty of overflow parking just down the road, who really wants to shlep their stuff any further than necessary at the end of the run? I got there at 5AM – an hour before the start and there were still probably thirty or so prime spots still open, right near the starting line. Plan to arrive early, but not crazy early. Oh, and don’t forget your $5 for the ranger station entrance.

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Tiny lot, filling up an hour before the start

Short Stretches Between Aid Stations (Except 1): There are only 3-4 miles between each aid station, making for easy legs all day long. With one exception: runners leaving Damnation head out on a loop that rolls right back to the Damnation AS seven miles later. Besides it being a bit of a mindf*ck pulling into that same aid station a million times over the duration of the race, there’s really only one reason this setup is an issue – hydration. Sometimes Texas is hot in February. And if you like to stay fully hydrated and not worry about your bottles going dry, seven miles might be a long time without a opportunity to top off. Plan on having enough water every time you leave.

Loops:  Speaking of which, the loops can be a bit…mentally challenging? On one hand, it’s nice that Rocky has its main staging area where you can leave one drop bag and know you’ll be able to reach it nice, even increments. The downside to that predictability is that loops get boring. And adding to the mental weirdness is the dizzying collection of two-way sections of the course. So get ready to see parts of the trail many, many, many, many times.

  • Loop 1: “This is so fun – Huntsville State Park is really pretty!”
  • Loop 2: “Finish this loop and then three more loops to go. I’ll just look at the course scenery. Again.”
  • Loop 3: “It’s getting dark already? Maybe it’ll actually be better to have the last two loops in total darkness.”
  • Loop 4: “If necessary I could recreate an exact replica of this course map with mashed potatoes and gravy.”
  • Loop 5: “OMG – I’ve now passed that same bench ten times. The only explanation is that I’m dead and this is my personal version of Groundhog Day hell.”
roots
ouch

Roots:  The roots, my friends, are real. Sure, you’ll tell yourself that you’ll be careful. Sure, you’ll be vigilant about watching your footing and lifting your feet. The truth is that you’ll undoubtedly kick a root full force with your tender toes approximately 38 times during the run and you’ll fall down awkwardly another five. The first time I tripped on a root (Loop 1), I managed to stay upright, quickly advising to those around me “Watch your step, folks!” Then, thoughtfully making an example of myself, I stumbled on another root, diving arms and face-first into the dirt. Of course this whole process gets much easier once you’re in pitch blackness.

My Personal RR100 Strategy and Experience

Low-carb Success.  I’ve been experimenting with a ketogenic diet for the past month and decided to see if my new “fat adapted” chemistry would hold up over the rigors of ultra trail race. So, sticking true to keto form, I had a pre-race dinner of mixed greens salad with a ton of olive oil dressing, a few eggs, some hard salami, and half an avocado. For breakfast on race day I had another couple of eggs and a Babybel cheese. Not exactly my usual system of pre-race carbo-loading!

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What happened to my pasta dinner?

Out on the course I continued to keep the carbs low, alternating between Justin’s Almond Butter and Probar Nut Butter packets, every ten miles. I took a Vespa every other ten miles, starting at mile fifteen. After the 40, 60, and 80-mile markers I opened up a Picky Bar that I would nibble on throughout the first half of that loop. And I ate a few pieces of sausage at the aid stations.

In all, I had about 2,500 calories for the entire run, or just over 100 calories an hour – an amazing 60% drop from the 250 calories an hour I would try to maintain while fueling with carbs. No more carrying a handful of gels. No filling my water bottles with sugary sports drinks. No scarfing down bananas, PBJs and gummy bears at the aid stations. In addition to the limited food, I used water and Nuun tablets to maintain a good sodium and electrolyte balance.

Overall I felt great – no highs or lows – just wonderful, solid, sustained energy throughout the race. Mentally I felt pretty sharp as well, buoyant with optimism and positivity from the minute we first left Dogwood until I pulled into the finish area a day later.

Sore Parts:  My physical durability, however, needs to catch up with my chemistry. Although I ran a lot of miles during training, I never seemed to squeeze in enough power walking – and the lack of specificity came back to haunt me. Around the halfway mark I could feel my hips getting sore from all of the heel striking during the walks (especially in zero-drop shoes). A few times I even had to slow down my walk pace or even pick it up to a run to give my hips a break. I managed to power through, but who would’ve though walking would be the weak link in my system?

Critical Error:  They say that a million things can go wrong during a 100-miler, most of them out of the blue. For me, the critical failure had to do with making a game-time decision to change my socks at mile 60. I don’t wear gators – so I tend to get small sticks and dirt in my shoes from time to time. As I was preparing to go out for Lap 4, taping a big toe that felt a little hot, I figured that since I had taken off my old, debris-filled socks to fix the toe, I’d just put on a clean pair. Sounds good, right? In my haste to get out of the AS, however, I forgot to lube up my feet with Body Glide before pulling on the new socks. Oops.

By the mid 80s I could feel the balls of my feet getting hot and by the early 90s, I knew I had a full-blown, Cat 5 blister all of the way across the landing pad of my right foot – and the start of one on my left. Sharp, darting pain on each step slowed my pace down to a shuffle and then ultimately down to a walk. Stymied, I realized I was just going to have to walk in the last 7 miles. Although I managed to “run” as much as I could in the final 30 minutes, just to finish sub-24, with each painful step I couldn’t stop thinking about how a dumb mistake like getting blisters early in a race could easily equal a DNF. You can’t think of everything, folks – but you gotta minimize the risks.

In all, it was an amazing day and I hope to run that course again sometime. Thanks to Tejas Trails for putting on an incredible 100-miler!

Author: troy figgins

Ultra-runner, ketogenic enthusiast, experiment of one. Like you, I'm just an ordinary person trying to figure out how to do extraordinary things.

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