Having a full day to recount all of the experiences, emotions, and pain experienced in my 1st attempt to complete any foot race over the marathon distance of 26.2 miles, I have decided to give a VERY extensive account of my journey to complete the 100 mile Rocky Raccoon Trail Run. I want to be extremely detailed in this race report for a couple of reasons... 1) Because this is, BY FAR, the most challenging thing I have EVER set out to do, and 2) Because I never want to forget the extreme highs, and extreme lows and everything in between. With that being said, I hope you will be able to visualize this epic day through my eyes.
Before I dive into the day's events, let me put the "Givens" out on the table. We were to complete 5 x 20 mile loops on this course that wound through the beautiful forest in Huntsville, TX. What there were plenty of, were these:
ROOTS!!!! Miles and Miles and Miles of ROOTS!!! Aside from the roots, we were starting in 40 degree weather, would warm to low 50's during the daylight, and drop to below freezing on Saturday night! We were praying that the rain would hold off for the race, which it did, however, the days leading up to the race were a different story. It pounded down rain for several days prior to the race start and in spots along the trail left big pools of mud that could not be navigated around. Let's dive into the day...
My brother Jeff, and nephew Tristan flew in from Gilbert, AZ to be there to help support me during the race, along with my wonderful wife Christie. We headed down to Huntsville on Friday afternoon and arrived there in enough time to pick up my race packet, go to the last few minutes of the race briefing, check into our hotel, and grab some pizza and pasta for dinner. After returning back to the hotel, nerves began setting in, more like excitement, but we will call them nerves because it is still up for debate. I began going over my race plan over and over in my head, and probably only slept about 2 hours worth, which is nowhere near enough. At 2am, the alarm rings, and the rituals begin. 2 peanut butter sandwiches with banana chips were on the menu for breakfast, along with a Cliff Bar and plenty of fluids, which included a couple of FRS's. Everything is checked, and rechecked, and we head down to the race site at 4:15am. Once we arrive, we stand in line to get checked in, and after I was checked in, I see my buddy Derek in line...
As the Race Director yells out "5 Minutes 'Til Race Start"... The excitement is overwhelming and everyone starts making their way to the start line. There were roughly 350 people who were setting out to run the 100 mile race, and about 275 to attempt the 50 miler. As the minutes go by, I tell my wife how much I love her, how much she means to me, and we exchange some "Warm Thoughts" and a tight hug and kiss and she says, "You Can Do This".
As time eeks down to the wire, I hear people at the front of the pack start howling like wolves, and there was a primitive, yet incredibly awesome spirit in the air... The type of spirit that can only be felt by the few people who would dare to embark on such a daunting task. All the emotions are on the table now, the race starts... PEOPLE ARE GOING NUTS, the line starts moving, and there we were, an army of fools running down a single track into the dark cold forest with headlamps and flashlights in tow...
The first loop started off a little slow. Since we were all on a single track, we were kind of forced to do what the people in front of us were doing, which is fine, because everyone has 30 hours to finish the race. I learned quickly that my pre race plan of running 30 minutes and walking for 5 would not do the trick here on this course, mainly for a few reasons. 1) The uphills would absolutely shatter your legs 2) the uphills came pretty quickly 3) The roots made it very challenging to descend the hills without putting a VERY big injury risk factor into play. So I went with the flow. The first aid station is at mile 3.1 at The Nature Center. I stop VERY briefly to drink a few cups of water, grab a couple slices of oranges, and hit the road again. The next aid station at Dam Road, would come at 6.19 miles into the loop (3.09 mile from the previous station). It was going great, the sun had risen by this time and the beauty that surrounded me was awe inspiring. From that point, there is a 6.01 mile loop around the far side of the park, that can be pretty lonely, as the 50 milers peel off from this portion and cut it short. 6 miles is a long way to go without support, and in the darkness later on in the evening, would prove to be brutal! In this 6 mile stretch, you run for a good bit along side the lake, which was absolutely gorgeous, especially with the sun rising up through the trees on the first loop. I make my way back around to the Dam Road aid station at mile 12.20 and refuel, top off the Camelbak and hit it again. 3.41 miles down the road would be Park Road aid station, and from there another 4.39 miles back to "Home Base" at the Dog Wood Aid Station. I finished the first loop in a little over 4 hours, which was awesome! I felt great, took about 20 minutes changing into dry clothes, taking off my little jacket, drink some Cliff Recovery drink, another FRS and refuel with some salty and sweet snacks at the aid station, along with a pocketful of Banana chips! One sidenote I will mention is that 5 weeks prior to this race, I got slapped with Plantar Faciatis, and boy did it hurt. My massage Therapist, Tim Tarpley, did the best he could with it, but I was doomed to have pain, and exactly 2 miles into the race, the pain reared its ugly head and would plague me for the rest of the day! Also, the mud previously mentioned, found its way into my shoe and began the pleasant start to what would lead to some pretty good blisters later.
I headed back out onto the course feeling AMAZING!!! I was so full of life, so happy to be doing what I was doing, was well nourished, well hydrated, and enjoying the warm glow of the gorgeous sun on my face. A couple interesting things happened on this loop. 1) I saw a man in front of me trip on a root and crack a rib as he landed sideways on another root. He was probably in his 50s and as I approached him and asked if he was ok... He looks at me and says, it's no big deal, the pain is getting better, I asked if I could help him up or run ahead to send back help, he grabbed my arm, I helped him up, and said the he felt fine... That right there is what ULTRA's are all about... Gutting it out and always moving forward. I am not sure what happened with him, but he earned a silver star in my book. 2) I found that walking up the inclines would be the smart thing to do, and payed very close attention to save my legs for later in the day. I came into the Park Road aid station to see my family waiting for me, and I felt incredible, and so alive :
I give my wife a kiss and tell her "I'll see ya in a few miles back at Dog Wood, she said "OK, YOU ARE LOOKING AWESOME" and I was off again...
As I made it back to Dog Wood, sure enough, the whole gang was there to tend to my needs. My feet were so very tender, and a little massage from Christie felt like a little piece of Heaven... I refueled, changed clothes again, knowing that sun would set on me during this loop and made sure to have my headlamp, flashlight, and spare batteries packed. I was feeling great and was back on to the road for loop 3 in around 10 hours!!!
If I were to assign a title to this section of my report, it would be titled: "The story of a Trash Bag and Chicken Noodle Soup". As I head out for the 3rd loop, there was no doubt in my mind that I had things under control. Perhaps the course had a few lessons in store to humble me... I keep to the plan, hydration was ok, nutrition ok, sun was beginning to set, and it was starting to get cold. In the picture above this paragraph, I was wearing nothing more than some compression and that dry fit Addidas top, that really isn't that warm. My feet were really hurting at this point, I was certain I had a good blister on the outside of my right ankle, and fatigue was setting in. I hit the Dam Road aid station to top off the fuel and Camelbak and then embark on that dreary 6 mile trek. In the first 4.5 miles of this stretch, the sun had set, and there was not a single headlamp behind me or in front of me... It was a bit creepy as I had not ran this section in the dark until now. This section has some pretty steep downhills with LARGE gnarly roots and is very technical. I decided to walk a lot of it as I did not want to hurt myself. I felt myself starting to fade, and did not have my iPOD on me to keep my mind busy. Thoughts started running rampidly in my head... Doubt, fear, uncertainty, and a feeling like what in the world was I thinking doing this race!!! As I turned onto the road that would lead to the Dam Road aid station at mile 52, I was in so much pain, I was light-headed, was absolutely freezing as the temps dropped into the low 40s and had resigned myself to the reality that I may not finish. I arrive at the aid station to find chairs in a circle around a heater in the tent... These were folks who dropped out of the race. I thought about how nice it would be to sit in a chair and huddle around the fire! As I got into the tent to where the food is, I felt like I was going to pass out! I was shivering so bad to the point of almost convulsing and my teeth were chattering so hard, I do not know how I did not chip a tooth.
An aid station worker came up to me and said can I get you anything. I said yes please... Whatever you think will do the trick. He brought me some homemade chicken noodle soup. Man was that good! I pounded the cup and then saw them set out a fresh batch of Mac and cheese... YES!!!! I took a cup of that too. As I sat there enjoying my food, I realized that I was beginning to get delirious and found that I was drooling on myself. My spirit was absolutely shattered. I asked the same guy who gave me the soup, with my slurred speach, "If I drop out of the race, can I get a ride back to the start?"... He said, "See that group of folks over by the heater?" I said "Yeah", he said "They have been waiting for that same ride for 2 hours+. So, you can wait like them, or you can try to walk to the aid station at Park Road 3 ish miles up the road". I had to think long and hard about that decision. In doing so, I made my way over to a seperate group of workers from the station who had a small fire going in a hibachi type contraption, it felt like Heaven! I sat there shivering and all-in-all, I believe I had been in the aid station for 40 minutes or so. It did not look good. I kept hearing over and over about the incredible healing power and magic "JUJU" that was in that soup, so after listening to the giberish for a while I yelled, can I get some of that Damn soup! The guy brought me a cup, I said I need 3 more please. He laughed and said, "you betcha!" I then began feeling my "Whitts" coming back to me, amidst the encircling freezing temps, trying to figure out how I was even going to be able to stand up from this chair, let alone walk 3 miles while freezing, literally. I looked next to me in the chair along the fenceline and saw trashbags full of rubbish. A thought came to me; "Hey bro", I yelled to Linn (Spelling??) who was running the aid station manned by North Texas Trail Runners (NTTR) Do you have an extra trash bag? He informs me that they had put a call into the race director that they needed more because they were all out and trash was starting to pile up, and they had not been delivered. Then from another worker, I hear the words, "No, I think we have one more under some boxes, I saw it a few minutes ago". Out comes Linn with a trash bag!!!! YES!!!! I said listen, if I can, I will bring it back to you, he said that sounds good, we will just tie the hole in a knot to make it work. I ripped a hole in the bag, poked my head through, began to warm up, and quietly headed down the long dark road to the Park Road aid station.
As I pass people, they kind of chuckle at me because of the loudness of my bag, and I got many comments on my interesting appearel! I caught up to my buddy Monty, who also heard me coming, and said, "Nice Jacket". I proceeded to tell him I did not have a jacket at the Dam Road aid station, and this was a last resort. We chatted for a bit, then I began running again. About 1.5 miles from the Aid Station, I see a couple lights running towards me, and I'll be darned if it isn't my brother, Jeff. He tells me how worried He and Christie were about me, since this loop took almost double the time of my previous laps, and he walks to the Park Road station with me, trying to keep me talking and coherent. When I arrived at the station, I could see the worry in my wife's eyes, and I knew I was in a bad way. I don't remember what I said, but I do know I was slurring really bad, and was not in a very good place. I began eating a ton of food at the aid station, taking in a bunch of fluids and electrolytes, and began feeling better. My goal was to get to this station so I could drop out of the race and go home! But, I felt OK, and decided that Dog Wood was only 4 miles away, so I kept on plugging away. I struggled really bad here, was in a very dark and lonely place, but my Chicken Noodle Soup, and trash bag saved me on this loop! I Finally reached Dog Wood. HALLELUJAH!!!
Once I get to the Aid Station, my family starts working on me like Rocky Balboa's corner does when he has been taking abuse for 11 rounds. My brother starts rubbing my shoulders, Christie is dressed in warm running gear with a headlamp on and tells me she is running this loop with me, my nephew Tristan is bringing me cups of warm soup and hot cocoa and I was literally getting "New LIfe" breathed back into me. I took an hour at this stop, I got my legs rubbed, refueled, spirits lifted, and was deeply moved with my wife's willingness to take on a piece of this journey with me. They allow pacers after 60 miles, so it was all good... She signed her waiver and met me at the tent to help me re Body-Glide myself, change in to fresh warm clothes, and tend to whatever I needed. Before we headed out, I sent my brother to ask the folkks at the Dog Wood aid station for a bunch of trash bags. He brought a handful back, and I tucked them into my Camelbak.
So, we snap a quick picture and head out into the deep dark abyss together...
The 4th loop starts off with my wife getting acclamated to running in the dark with a headlamp, and then learns quickly that she needs to pick her feet up off the ground higher than normal because the roots will reach up and grab you out of nowhere. We stick to the plan of walking up the inclines and running on the downhills and flats. She, in a loving way, asks me if it was easier for me to be doing a quick little shuffle, or if it would be easier to do a faster-type walk, LIKE WHAT SHE WAS DOING!!! It was funny to me, but I just kept doing my thing. I was moving pretty good, but my feet were complete hamburger, and my legs were spent. I knew when I would stop to walk, I would get tight and cold, so I tried to keep running as much as possible. I was peeing every 20 minutes or so, so I knew I was hydrated, and suprisingly, I was feeling pretty good. We get to the first aid station, get some goodies, and head out. A few miles up the road, I see the lights for the Dam Road aid station, and ask Christie to get the trash bags out of my bag. I carry them in my hand, and make it a point to find in the crowd of freezing runners, aid station workers, and those same folks who dropped and were still waiting for a ride to the race start, Lin, who gave me his last trash bag. As I approached him, he looked at me not really remembering who I was, but I certainly remembered who was, and I held out my hand and handed him the bags and said "We're even my friend". He then said something like "I love this guy", and I grabbed some food, topped off the pack, and headed out for the dreaded 6 mile loop around the far side of the park. This is where things got as bad as things could get!
It seemed like the whole section was uphill, more rooty than I remembered, and had mud soaked into my freshly changed out shoes, exacerbating my blister and feet problems! we got 3 miles into the loop and I began halucinating. As we were walking / running through the trail, I saw three black cats jump at me and run down the trail! Unfortunately, my wife who was running right behind me, saw no such thing. A few moments later, along the same stretch, I saw a Venus Fly Trap pop out of the bushes and try to bite me!!! Christie didn't see this either, and I was really beginning to worry. I slowed to a walk, and thought it was a nutrition or electrolyte problem. Certainly not hydration because I was peeing clear liquid very often, which is a good sign of hydration. I pop some Enduralytes, and eat a Cliff Bar... I feel a little better, but still not good. We finally hit the road that leads back up to the Dam Road aid station. I told Christie that the only thing I can attribute this condition to is severe exhaustion. I only had 2 hours of sleep the night before, and since everything else was in check that is all it could be. I asked her to run ahead to see if the had a cot they could set up for me to take a 20 minute power nap in. She said there was no way she was leaving me alone on this road and assured me they would take care of me once I got there. Completely shattered, in pain, freezing cold, and extremely exhausted, I told Christie I was done, I was going to drop out of the race at the Dam Road aid station. She told me I needed to do whatever I thought was the right thing to do, and encouraged me to do whatever I could and assured me I had done an incredible job. We finally made it back to the aid station and I collapsed in a chair... The same chair I sat in, next to the same fire I sat next to, many hours before, when I was ready to drop out on the 3rd loop.
I asked Christie to bring me a little food, and I fell asleep for about 1 minute when she got back to me with some Ramen noodles and a slice of quesadilla. It tasted good, but I was shivering and convulsing again, and was completely done. I asked an aid station worker, who I am sure was a seasoned trail runner, when I could get a ride back to the start, he said it might be a couple hours, he told me the best thing to do would be to try to walk up the road to the next aid station 3 miles away. Hmmmmmmmm, this sounds familiar! I told him there was no way! He asked, "Are you hydrated?", I said yes, he asked,"Did you eat?", I said yeah. Then I said, I have done everything I can, what should I do. He said you should get up and start walking! I told Christie to get me more food. She brings back some quesadilla pieces, I said no, get me a BUNCH of food!!! She brings back a handful of quesadillas and I eat them all... I stand up, and could barely put one foot in front of the other, and was shivering uncontrolably. The most amazing experience of my life occured here... Christie put my arm between her arms, and began pulling me, like a pack mule, up the hill that leads back onto the trail, I tried to choke back my tears, and I don't think Christie even knew I was crying, but pulses of love passed through my body that I have never experienced before, and my life was literally changed in an instant. As soon as we hit the trail, I BEGAN TO RUN! I felt INCREDIBLE!!! Better than I had felt in 13 hours! I stopped to pee and looked my wife in the eye, and began putting time into perspective. Time not until we got to that aid station, but time I would have to FINISH the race!!! We walked a few ver steep uphills, but we ran that entire section in 44 minutes and we reached the Park Road Station at 5:24am Sunday morning. I had a little over 4 miles to go to get back to Dog Wood, and the rules state that you have to start your last loop by 6am... There is no way I can run 4 miles on this trail in 35 minutes, so I have the aid station worker call the race director and ask if it was a firm 6am "Hard Stop" or if he would let me keep going! There was an 8am cut-off to be at Dam Road, which is 6.2 miles in. That would give me 2 hours to run 9 miles, which I believed I could do...
After waiting a couple of long minutes, the aid station worker looks at me and says, unfortunately, it is a 6am hard stop. As I began to process that I was not going to finish, many thoughts went through my mind, but here is a picture os me as I recieved my news:
I must state that I am NOT dissapointed with my result. I am PROUD of what I accomplished. To run 75.5 miles in 23.5 hours, is no small task or feat. The main reason why I am walking away from this DNF (Did Not Finish) with my head held high, is because of the FACT that I RAN the entire last 3+ miles with the determination to continue on! Yes, there was not enough time to do so, but I hit the absolute pinnacle of endurance sports. The point in which your body is telling you it is time to quit, but your fighting spirit overcomes that pain, and compels you to push farther, faster, longer than you ever have, or ever thought was possible. I experienced it, I lived it, and I WILL have my vengence in 1 year and counting on this course. Of all the life lessons I have learned in this amazing experience, it is the fact that life is about LOVE! I loved being out there pushing myself, I did not love the pain, but the love I have for excelling out-weighed that pain. The love that my brother and nephew showed to me in tending to my every need, especially to have Jeff come running after me on my 3rd loop out of sheer concern for his brother, made me want to push on without quiting. Most of all, the love of my sweet wife Christie. When she took me by the hand and led me down that dark road that would lead to more pain, but indefinite victory opened the windows of Heaven and showed me how truly blessed I am to have her as my Eternal Companion! I am a happy man. I am so richly blessed, and going into this race, I knew that this experience would change my life forever, and it certainly has, in so many more ways than I ever could have imagined. 2 years ago when I was sitting on an operating table to have Gastric Bypass Surgery weighing in at 400 pounds, I remember clasping my wife's hand praying that what I was about to do for my health, would prolong my life with her and would allow me to be around to see my kids grow up. As I consider the past weekend's transpirings, I have come to the realization that I may have added more years to my life, but what I really have done is added life to my years, and I am incredibly grateful to have you all around to help share and participate in that with me. My feet are pretty blistered, I am finding it hard to walk, and I wish my feet would fit into my shoes, but I have NEVER felt more alive, and have never felt like such a winner. Winning IS an attitude, and does not always come in the form of a medal. In closing, I will say the best part of this past week, was coming home and seeing the warm smiles of my angel children. Ayden, Ava, Austin, and Christie, Daddy gave his best for you!!!