It has been quite some time since I’ve felt really strong and focused going into a race. I’ve put all of my attention in the early season into getting ready for the Rocky Raccoon 50 (RR50) Miler. I ran a 2:50 at the Brazos Bend 100 Marathon in mid December, then took some time off, came back to run the Bandera 25K and also the Horseshoe Trail Run 50K as training. These races gave me confidence in my overall fitness and ability heading into RR50.
Leading up to the race, I was able to get a couple of runs in on the course to ensure I was familiar with the trails. One of those runs was a 20 miler with fellow Team TROT runner Daniel Bucci who would be running Rocky Raccoon 50 as his first 50 miler! I was also at the Rocky Raccoon 100 event the weekend before RR50 where I ran a full loop of the 50 Mile course and two easy runs.
Before the race I put together two charts; one with splits for a 7:20 average pace (best case scenario) and one for a 7:45 average pace (needed to hit my goal of sub 6:30). I planned to run somewhere in between, hopefully closer to the quicker splits. Luckily, Team TROT and Altra Ambassador Marc Henn agreed to provide crew support on course so I could minimize the time I spent getting aid! Marc had bottles at the Damnation Aid Station which I would hit at mile 5.77 and 9.32 on each loop. I would start each loop with an 18 oz Nathan SpeedDraw bottle filled with Tailwind and water. When I got to him the first time he would hand me a 10 oz bottle and I would drop the 18 oz one. After completing the 3.55 mile out and back he would hand me the refilled 18 oz bottle and I would continue on my way.
Everything was in order on race morning. I set everything I planned to pick up after the completion of the first two loops inside of my Victory SportDesign Bear II Drop Bag, on my camping chair near the timing mat at the Start/Finish. This bag came in clutch and allowed me to neatly organize my bottles, sunglasses, bags of Tailwind, and many miscellaneous items so they were easy to grab and go. The race kicked off in pure darkness and I darted out to the front and before I knew it the closest headlamp I could see behind me through the forest was far off in the distance. Early on I already knew the race was going to be mine to lose and my main focus was on my goal of sub 6:30.
The RR50 not only had a 50 Mile, but a 50K race component as well that had started 15 minutes earlier. Those runners would run a modified loop of 14.34 miles and then the exact same loop the 50 milers ran (16.67 miles). This meant that I would be seeing not only the 50 Milers on the out and back sections of the course, but also catching up to the 50K runners throughout the day. Since I was running by myself, I was happy to see many other runners and give encouragement as I saw a lot of familiar faces.
Loop 1 went like clockwork. The miles clicked off and Marc got me new bottles at Damnation so I never had to stop. I cruised through to the Start/Finish in a time of 1:59:16 (7:09 average pace). I threw down my empty bottle and picked up my next pre-filled one along with my Julbo Dust Sunglasses and was out in under 5 seconds (thanks to my Victory SportDesign Bag). At this point I knew I was way ahead of my target, but things were working and I didn’t want to slow down so I made the decision to hold it for as long as I could.
Going out for Loop 2 I was still amped up at how well I was running. I got a little too excited and threw down my fastest mile of the day on mile 17 at 6:44. I locked into my pace and made my way through the course, eventually reaching Damnation where Marc was key again on both the out and back. I saw the next few runners on this section and was happy to see my friend EJ Gonzalez in second as well as Daniel Bucci in 5th and catching up to the next group. I calculated that I was roughly a mile and a half ahead when I passed through the marathon mark in around 3:08.
The only time during the entire 50 mile race that I actually ran with another person was between mile 27 and 28 where I caught up to the 6th place 50K runner and we had a nice conversation. He dropped back after a little while and I continued onward. The rest of Loop 2 went well and I was still holding a decent effort, although my pace had slowed to mid 7’s in the last 4 miles. I came into the Start/Finish at mile 33.34 in a total time of 4:01:05 with my Loop 2 time being 2:01:49 (7:18 per mile), very close to being an even split.
I tried to keep up my effort, but my legs wouldn’t have it as soon as I hit mile 36. My pace slowed drastically and I started walking some of the climbs. I was still able to run, but the hills that didn’t appear so hard on the first two loops now seemed like mountains. I pushed where I could and slowed down when needed. The last miles were a grind, but I was pleased with my ability to still move in the later stages of the race. All in all I was happy with my performance as I sprinted to the finish, knowing that I had achieved my time goal and that I have a lot of room for improvement! Loop 3 was a significant positive split for me with my time of 2:22:09 (8:31 per mile), but all that mattered to me was the finishing time of 6:23:14 for the overall win by 39 minutes.
In hindsight, I guess I could have approached the race more conservatively, and maintained a constant pace through the entire race, but where’s the fun in that? I love racing with everything I have and not holding back. As I focus on recovery in this next week, I will put together a new training block in hopes of improving my fitness and strength. I am beyond excited to see what 2016 has in store.
A HUGE thank you goes out to Marc Henn for taking the time out of his day to help me out. Without his assistance and encouragement I would have easily added a great deal to my overall time. I would also like to say congratulations to Daniel Bucci who came in 3rd overall in his 50 Mile Debut. The race was very well put on (I may have to come back next year to see if I can lower my time) and I had a blast seeing good friends along the course including Wayne Schlosser, Scott Tyner and Christopher McIntyre. Next up for me is the Trail Racing Over Texas San Felipe Shootout on March 12th. I’m also now eyeing the Hell’s Hills 50 Mile in early April, but i’m still undecided.
I hope to see you on the trails sometime soon!
Pre-Race Nutrition: Bearded Brothers Colossal Coconut Mango Energy Bar