Friday, February 7, 2014

Rocky Racoon 2013

My experiences at the Rocky Raccoon 100 this year led me to write a race report much less about the race itself and more about the events around it.

Flash back to circa March 2013.  My good friend and weightlifting buddy, Ken Burnham, approached me about running a half-marathon. His brother-in-law from Atlanta was running the Disney marathon the following January. We hadn't been weightlifting as consistently recently, muscles were quickly turning to fat; this would be a good way to stop that.  I responded with an F-bomb. "Are you crazy? Who wants to run that far? Our weekly 3 mile jogs are plenty to stay in shape." It took him nearly a month to shame me into taking up the challenge. And soon after I began the journey into distance running.

Flash forward to 10 months later in Orlando. At mile 11 somewhere in the Magic Kingdom, Ken looked over at my labored breathing and decided to dust me then and there. I finished in 1:46, with Ken several minutes ahead. I was furious at losing and immediately asked for a rematch 2 weeks later at the Hops (now Gasparilla) Half. There, he pulled his calf around mile 4. Good-hearted friend that I am, I never broke stride, beating him by 10 minutes. And I was hooked (the running bug did not hold Ken as it did me).  4 weeks later I ran the Clearwater Marathon in 3:58 and an obsession was born.  While I give him grief about it occasionally; I owe Ken in a big way for pointing me down this path.  Without him I would not have had the amazing experiences of the last 10 years, nor meet the coterie of wonderful people.

Flash forward another 10 years later to the 2014 Rocky Raccoon 100. Never having attended an ultra before, Ken (he and wife Nancy now live in Dallas) agreed to be my crew. For a rookie crew, you could hardy ask for better support. I got repeated emails on the days leading up to the race as he checked and double-checked the packing list. The entire drive down to Huntsville Friday, he picked my brain on what to do and when. By the start of the race, he was comfortably set up at the finish with everything we needed.  He spent the day talking to other runner's families and rooting on his new friends.  While not currently an active runner, I knew the long time athlete and competitor in Ken would enjoy this environment and event.

I came to Huntsville trying to break 20 hours. I felt really good coming off Ancient Oaks and Croom Zoom, and had high hopes. Alas, the weather did not cooperate. The temperature started at 62 with high humidity, rose to 76, and never felt like it cooled off (until a cold front moved in an hour after I finished). I ran really well the first two 20 mile loops, completing them in 3:39 and 3:45 with quick turns after each. But the heat finally caught me in lap 3.

I fell hard twice (Andrea is right, it really should be called ROOTY Raccoon) early in lap 3; and then lost my head shortly after. I kept forcing salt, sugar, and fluids; but was bleeding time as I tried to pull it together.  Sweat poured off of me at every step, and my head felt like I had vertigo. At the end of third lap (4:05), I went straight into the aid tent and sat down. I just needed a few minutes to cool off and recover. But when the nurse heard me tell Ken I had only peed twice in nearly 12 hours of hot running; it was clear she was not letting me leave until she was sure I'd be OK.  I was served mashed potatoes and several cups of Pedialyte and asked to get them down before departing.  All the while, with Ken chirping in my ear, "Come on Andy, you have to get going."  Ken wanted 20 hours as much or more than I did.

I started lap 4 and got my stride back easier than I anticipated.  I re-gauged my goals and focused on beating 21 hours. I figured a 4:30 in lap 4 and a 4:45 in lap 5 would get me comfortably in.  Lap 4 came in right on plan at 4:29, and I felt really strong down the stretch with a final lap of 4:35 for a total time of 20:49:21. Ken and I celebrated with a couple post race beers and left quickly when the cold north wind finally started to blow. I wasn't disconsolate on not hitting 20 hours. As Andy Mathews texted me shortly before the start: "You can't control the weather, you can only control Andrew. " I feel good about my time.   I especially feel good about how I maintained in the conditions, moving up the leader board in each lap. After lap 1, I was in 144th place, and from there moved up to 92nd, 68th, and 54th in successive laps, finishing in 45th place. And the best was yet to come.

Flash forward to Monday morning.  After spending the Super Bowl with Ken and Nancy, I had to fly to New York City for work Monday morning. But prior to my departure, 8 inches of snow arrived in New York to further dampen departing Bronco fans' spirits. My flight out of Dallas was greatly delayed and I took up residence in the airport bar.  Ken had a later flight and joined me a little while later. We were recapping the race once again when he looked over at me and said "You know I watched everything at the race, and couldn't help thinking, I might be able to do that..."    Time will tell just how good this weekend turned out.

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