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Inspired Living

Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Ultramarathon Race Recap (Part 1)

Sarah Stanley

Race date: Feb. 4, 2012 Huntsville, Texas

Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Ultramarathon (I would not and did not quit)

My second 100 miler, 12th (?) ultra distance

Photos at very bottom

The day dawned bright and clear, not a cloud in the sky ... nope, that's the way a fairy tale starts, NOT the way a 100 mile ultramarathon race report starts. Let's get down to business.

The morning began at 3 a.m. Driving up to Huntsville, Texas, the rain started. Along with a very entertaining lightning and thunder show. It was dark and humid and wet. Upon arriving at the state park, the rain poured and I had to run over to the little house and pick up my race number. I was soaked. I was trying to find the house in the middle of the darkness and pouring rain. A big, white extended pickup truck was pulling up behind me and I motioned for him to roll down the window and I asked if I could hop in. He said sure. So I hopped in and perched on a kids car seat. We finally got to the race number pickup place and his wife and I jumped out and ran to get our numbers. Then I ran back to the shelter and got ready.

My first crew person, Jeremy, was driving from San Antonio and got caught in the bad weather, so I had to change plans last minute. Not what I was counting on. I left my nutrition bag and clothes bag in Devin's dad's car and took what I would need until I would see Jeremy.

5:50 a.m. Devin and I headed over to the race start. Here is a photo courtesy of Drymax Socks and Ian Sharman.

We all huddled together under the start/finish tents and were given the countdown. Then we all joined in 4, 3, 2, 1 and we were off down the trail! In the pouring rain, lightning, wind and thunder. Yep, ultras/ ultra runners don't let weather stop them!

The Rocky Raccoon 100 (RR100 or RR) course is considered an "easy" 100 compared to other 100s. But everything is relative. Today was no exception. Since RR started keeping track of the weather on race day 14 years ago, there has never been a drop of rain. Today we got 1.90 inches. In a matter of hours.

Most people go think of a muddy buddy where they pay someone to make the mud. Today's race course was a perfect muddy buddy FOR 100 FREAKING MILES. Writing this, I still can't believe I made it as far as I did.

Back to the race start.

Devin and I ran together for the first 20 miles. It was pitch black for about the first 90 minutes. Combined with the heavy rain, it made for an epic race start, to say the least. We came upon the DamNation Aid Station (AS) and was surprised they didn't have salt out. This was the beginning of the very long and lonely six mile loop. On the way back, they had salt out- praise the Lord- and I dipped an orange slice in it. Sugar+salt=perfect combo. It was funny because an AS volunteer gentleman came up to me and asked "do you know you just dipped that in salt?". I smiled and said yes. I think he thought I was losing it mile 155 :) But I wasn't. Just a little trick I've found that works for me. I don't eat dairy or grains or candy so I have to get the salt/sugar where/when I can. On to Park Road AS. Thank God Jeremy had arrived and I had some much needed Gen UCAN and some sweet potatoes. Then it was on to Dog Wood - the start/finish line.

Devin and I were still running together and we ran the first 20 miles in just over four hours. It was just after 10 a.m., I was trying to find Jeremy and he was nowhere to be find. I was shouting like a mad woman "Jeremy! Jeremy! Jeremy!" and then others joined in. It was funny and frustrating all at the same time. I couldn't linger much longer, so I left the AS and headed back out for loop 2.

I was still feeling fresh and great. So I kept saying "free high fives, free high fives, free high fives!" as the runners and I passed each other (the course was out & back here). Just that little bit of human connection is what I LOVE. The majority of the runners got a big grin on their face and joined in the high five party. I need to wear a shirt that says this!

I had my phone at this point as the rain had subsided and I called Jeremy. He was at the next aid station and I gave him instructions as to what food I needed. I caught back up with Devin and he was hurting. I trudged on ahead and got to the Nature Center AS and instead of Chia Seeds soaked in water, it was Sunflower Seeds. I downed them anyway. At this point I called Shannon and asked her if there was anyway she could come up earlier. She said yes. Praise the Lord. I re-caught back up with Devin and we made the trek to DamNation AS. This stretch was horrific. The mud was absolutely insane. Freaking insane. I've run in all different conditions and this was shoe - almost short - sucking mud. On the way to DamNation AS it was downhill, on the way back uphill. My right hip flexor has been having some issues, but has not really bothered me on my runs. Until today.

I would not quit.

Got to DamNation AS, had some vegan potato soup (which later I found wasn't vegan, just GF) and then started the six mile loop once again. This section sucked. SUCKED. They need at least one person out there cheering you on. As with all ultra races, crowd support is only at AS. You run with yourself and yourself alone. Minus the company of those other ultra runners & the trees and the mud...

I ran with Devin a little longer then he said he wasn't feeling well and held back to walk. I ran on. Made it through DamNation AS, up the muddy hill, to Park Road AS where I met Jeremy and he told me Shannon would be at Dog Wood AS. I couldn't wait. I would get to change shoes. And socks. And get some much needed duct tape!!

Made it to Dog Wood AS and did this loop in five hours. Still on track for a 24 hour finish. I sat down and we began to change out my socks. My feet were on FIRE and blister care was critical. Poor Shannon got inducted to the world of 100 mile crewing mighty fast. She pulled off my disgusting shoes and socks, poured baby powder in a bag, dipped my feet in the bag, removed feet, put vaseline on my blisters, then duct tape on that. It is a long process! Fresh socks, same shoes. I felt like a new woman. I ate some sweet potatoes w/ Hemp Hearts & Chia Seeds, some nuts, cashew "cheese" and date rolls (I made or brought the majority of all my food). Good to go.

I would not quit.

Back out for loop 3. I was in high spirits. There was a little section leaving Dogwood AS where family/friends were cheering. And they cheered for everyone else too. They (complete strangers to me) started cheering for me as I came through the clearing. I ran over and gave them some high fives. One guy gave me a hug. And there was a guy in a wheelchair. I gave him an high five, a hug and a kiss on the check. Yes, duct tape does wonders. See, some women like diamond rings, I like platinum duct tape. Half kidding, half true.

Soon I was at Nature Center AS, got what I needed for the next four hours (no crew access at Damnation AS) and headed off down the trail. The same people at the clearing above were also at this clearing and once again we all high fived each other and the wheelchair guy got a kiss on the other check. It made me smile to bring joy to someone!

It was Mile 43 at this point and I was iPod free up until then. I knew I would need some music to keep me going on this lonely stretch. I also had to get headlight and flashlight as darkness would be setting in. Once again, I ran down the muddy stretch, to DamNation AS and out on the lonely six mile loop which feels like a 100 mile loop. There is a reason why they call it DamNation, let me tell you. Man, is it dreadful out there. During this loop I saw elephants, heard voices, saw voices (really, just a runner and pacer running past me), and other creatures that don't live in Texas. It was dark, kind of cold. I had been running for about 12 hours at this point. It becomes less about your running and more about keeping your mind from running. If that makes sense. You're tired. Wet from all the rain (and sweat). Muddy, stinky ...

I had my iPod on shuffle and 2 of the songs that came on made me laugh. The first was Run in the Night by Jars of Clay (probably my favorite band) and part of the lyrics goes like this "for you I can run in the night". Pretty perfect. God will give you strength when you need it!! The second was Savior by Andrew Ripp. I practically sprinted up a few hills. I should have just listened to that song the rest of the night!! Go find it on iTunes and download. Such a great song!

During this entire loop, my feet were pretty much on fire. Although I had started out with clean, dry socks and precious duct tape, I couldn't keep them that way on the course. I ran through some executing pain. I have to be honest - the thought of quitting kept crossing my mind. There is no way to properly describe the pain. No words can do the pain justice, but I kept telling myself the pain of quitting is worse than the pain of not finishing. And so I hobbled on.

The other thing that made moving forward a challenge was benches. The race is on a state park so the trails have sporadic green benches all over the five 20 mile loops. So I saw the same beckoning green benches many, many times. As the day turned to evening to the middle of the night, it took just as much courage to put one foot in front of the other as it did to NOT sit down!!  I wanted so bad to just lay down and fall asleep and give my feet a break. But I never gave in to temptation.

I would not quit. 

I made small talk with other runners as we passed each other - either coming in or going out. Laz and I chatted for a bit then he took off. I love making friends in the middle of the might in the middle of the dark forest! At one point, this charging bullet ran past me. I was in such a daze I didn't realize it until later, but it was Hal. The winner of the 100 miler. Feels great to be lapped!

Finally made it back to DamNation AS. Had some potato soup. Then on to Park Road. I was in bad shape and as runners passed me going up a hill, I saw it was my friend David with his pacers. They stopped and talked with me. Gave me a hug. Told me to keep at it. He was on his last loop - (I think?) it's all so blurry to me. Soon enough, I hobbled into Park Road AS, collapsed on a chair and cried. Shannon asked me what was wrong and I kept saying "my feet, my feet, my feet." My goodness, my feet. They didn't hurt, they were on FIRE. It felt like I was running on hot coal. Not warm coal, HOT coal. I stripped and changed shorts and said I would love a pacer for the next loop. I put on a beanie and got some gloves. It was cold out. I stumbled into Dogwood and again collapsed on the chair. Devin, Alida, Shannon, Rick were all there supporting me and we got me back up and ready to run loop 4 - miles 60-80. Rick could see that I was struggling and he gave me some encouraging Bible verses to read. It was just what I need- my soul food as I like to call it.

By this time it was 10 p.m. Little did I know this was the end of the beginning. I put away my iPod and my pacer, Jeremy & I headed out for loop 4. I could barely run, but I could keep a fairly decent walk up at this point. So we walked. Much to my chagrin. I figured moving forward was better than moving backward!

I would not quit.

Remember it is pitch black and the only thing we have for light is our headlamps and a little flashlight in my hand. My biggest fear was tripping and falling. Not getting eaten by an alligator. The course has a lot of roots and if you aren't careful, you WILL trip and fall. I had several close calls all day and I kept catching myself. Talk about a long ab workout! Running in the dark only intensifies it. I carry a handheld water bottle, so if I went down, my water bottle and flashlight would go flying. Not something I wanted to add to running a 100 mile race. Also, somewhere in the middle of a night a tree had fallen on the trail. I wasn't sure if I was going deeper into the dark side or if it was for real. It seemed real to me, so I hopped over it.

We got to Nature Center AS, got food from Shannon and prepared yet once again for a long loop. At least I had company! We estimated it would be about 3:30 a.m. till we would see her again, so she went and washed my socks so I would have clean socks for the remainder of the race. So sweet. Jeremy and I left the AS and walked out. I was so exhausted. And the pain was a level 11. Or 13. It was high, I know that. Back through the really muddy section. It kept getting worse because each runner had to go through it twice. (There was also a 50 mile race at the same time). So, oh, 5,000 people kept trying to make a new path. The trail went from being a few feet wide to several feet wide. To no avail. And in the dark, you really can't see what you are running into. Oh, let me tell you, it was here I questioned why in the world we/I do this. 100 mile ultramarathons are freaking insane. While I was trying to avoid the worst of the mud, I got stabbed in the face by a sticker bush, whacked by another tree branch ... muddy buddy races? Those are for wimps.

Made it through and on to DamNation AS once again and out for ANOTHER six mile loop. There were some muddy, slippery sections here too. That just went on forever ... It was here that I started to lose it (again). I saw all kinds of things. I guess running and being up for hours on end will do it to you. My pace went from a death march to a death walk to a death hobble to a death crawl. I literally thought this loop would never end. The pain was fierce. Stabbing. Fire. I MADE myself keep moving forward but all I wanted to do was curl up in the trees and just sleep (maybe die). At this point runners & their pacers kept passing me and I was between stages of frustration and sleepwalking. Oh to be running like them!!

I kept calculating the time and the 24 hours finish time was LONG gone. I would be lucky to finish by 9 a.m. at this rate. Other runners kept running past me and they were on their fifth and final loop. Demoralizing. I still had one more long, lonely loop to go and I wasn't even done with this loop! I tried to stop thinking about it and told myself to give it my all. Everything I had and then some. And still some more. I told myself that a finish is a finish. Be it first place or last place. Never give up.

Jeremy and I finally made it back to DamNation AS, got some words of encouragement that I would make it and up the hill we went. We passed some of the AS volunteers cars and I would have given anything to sleep in them. Instead I was on my burning feet.

I would not quit.

I haven't mentioned this until now, but my nutrition and hydration were perfect. I usually don't pee and that is not a good thing for an ultra. Let's just say that the RR course has my DNA all over it. I was peeing up to two times per hour. I don't think I was drinking that much more than normal, but something was up in my system. I laughed to myself as the tree visits progressed throughout the day. From a full on squat in the first 20 miles to barely a squat during miles 60-80. Like I always say, we were born to pee natural :).

As we limped on, I kept thinking when this would end and how in the damned world I was going to make it another 20 miles. Only by the grace of God. As we were approaching Park Road AS and Shannon, my right foot became REALLY bad and my tears flowed. I knew I had to do something about it or I would never make it to Dogwood. Shannon was right there and kept asking me if I was OK. I think my face said it all.

I would not quit.

I went to the AS tent and sat down. My right hip flexor was in major pain (it felt like a bobcat clenched on to to it and wouldn't let go). So it was dreadful to sit/stand. We took my right shoe off, and survived the damage. This AS didn't have the medical supplies that Dog Wood did, so we all did the best we could. My blisters were showing through the duct tape from mile 40 - that's how bad they were. I had blisters on tops of my foot, the bottom of my foot, the ball of my foot - in fact it's probably best to name the areas I didn't have a blister. We used my race bib pin, cleaned it off with a shout wipe (said a prayer) and I started popping the blisters. As I did the first one, the AS lady was like "that was an impressive blister - I've never seen one that big!" At least I get a PR for that. Ha! We took care of my foot, re-duct taped, put my shoe back on as I screamed. And I thought to myself, child birth has to be easier.

I. WOULD. NOT. QUIT.

The AS lady (never got her name) told Jeremy to get me moving, that it would hurt a lot, but make it to Dogwood AS as I had to be there by 6 a.m. I hate, HATE cutoffs! I never even thought I would have to worry about a cutoff at RR. But was I wrong. I knew we had to hustle. I got help out of the chair (that hurt like a son-of-a-gun) and barely hobbled out of the tent. Oh. My. God. Help. Me.

We had 4.5 miles to cover in under an hour. Granted I had just run 74 miles by this point in some pretty terrible conditions. But SS does not give up. Nor quit even when the pain makes me curse. I knew I had to give it beyond the deepest layer. I started thinking about areas that didn't hurt - which weren't many! - like my ears, my nose, my pinky finger ... and started finding the gumption to run. More like a hobble to start with, but turned into a run. This section had an incline that kept getting more & more tricky to go up. It was like trying to catch a greased pig. While running (or walking). The traction was pathetic. But to my knowledge we all made it up :).

I tried to stress to Jeremy how important that cutoff was and I think he finally understood it. He is a 15 minute 5Ker, so he knows speed. Which was perfect. He started pushing the pace and I kept up. I kept catching myself as I tripped over stupid roots, but never once fell down. Score. We kept running. People heading back out for their fifth and final loop. I kept telling them I would join them. Jeremy kept pushing the pace and I kept following his lead. It was nice not to have to worry about running. Just follow him. We ran up hills. We ran down hills. We ran over the flat sections. I ran down the demons. As we neared the end of loop 4 and mile 80, we knew it would be close. I ran even harder. I crossed the line at 6:01 a.m. ONE FREAKING minute late. Joe (the RD) came over to get my chip and I asked him if I could please finish this race. I have never not finished anything I've started. He said he couldn't. I lost it. But I was so exhausted I had no energy to put up a fight. Shannon gave me a big hug and told me she was proud of everything I did. Running 80 miles is not exactly easy, kiddo. I fell into a chair and got wrapped in a wrap blanket. Devin and Alida came over and heard the news. We were all heartbroken I think. It took eight hours (including AS stops) to run loop 4 - the first loop took four hours. You can see that I was in major pain.

What makes it even harder to accept is that we ran those last two miles in 16 minutes. I have NO idea where I got the energy to fight through some pretty intense pain, but I did. To God be the Glory.

I would not and did not quit.

So there it was. The end of Rocky Raccoon 100 mile ultramarathon as an official DNF. BUT I want to make this part VERY CLEAR. I did not quit. I was forced to not finish. SS (Sarah Stanley) does not quit, will not quit. I even asked to go back out and run the fifth and final loop, but I was told no.

Am I bitter? I have to say no. I gave it my all and then some and still some more. I believe that God had me be a minute over the cutoff in order to protect me. Am I disappointed? Of course. It is not easy having a public DNF, but I believe that God has a reason for it and I will bounce back and become stronger then ever and use it as opportunity to show others God always knows what he is doing :).

I ran for 24 hours and completed 80 miles. 14.5 hours of running in the dark. I am proud of myself for fighting through some very painful times.

Shannon drove me over to the shelter where Alida gave me some warm PJ pants and a sweatshirt. I pulled off my shorts, put the pants on, threw the sweatshirt on over my clothes, and she helped me into the tent and onto the air mattress. I couldn't move my right leg, so I had to lift it with my hand like a pulley system. It hurt like hell. Rosie was in bed because she fell and hurt her knee and still ran 76 miles until she, too, was forced to drop. Alida took a photo of us in bed. Neither of us could move and we were both cold. I took some NyQuil and was out like a light. Apparently I got up in the next hour or so and went to pee outside with the help of someone. I'm not sure. Then I fell back into bed and was out for a few more hours before we left the camp site around noon. Man was it a long day.

When we got back to Devin's, I fell on to the bed and Alida covered me up with a blanket and put my feet up. They were SO swollen. I was out. It hurt to move, so I just stayed in one place for a very long time.

I'm sure I'll write more about RR100, but that is what I have for now. I'm still tired. I can move better. I finally ate my first meal in 48 hours. Washed my hair and my face. Changed out of my sweaty clothes. Walked down the hall. See, it's all about perspective :).

Some closing thoughts.

Each time you run a 100 miler, you attempt to run a 100 miler. A 100 miler is freaking insane (as I said on loop 4 to the trees). I ran & finished my first 100 miler Aug 22/23, 2009 and did really well. Placed eighth overall in the women and third in age.

Crew/pacers can make or break you. If you ever get the chance to crew or pace or volunteer for a 100 miler, do it. You won't have any regrets. I've been on both sides. From a runners perspective, we can't wait to see you. You are a huge piece of heaven to us.

I want to thank my crew that grew by the hour for being there for me. You have a hard job too and I don't underestimate that one bit.

I want to thank all the volunteers for giving many, many hours to help all of us runners.

My nutrition/hydration were PERECT. Never felt better. Plant-based food is the way to go, IMHO.

Each time you attempt to run a 100 miler you are doing something that 99.9 percent will NEVER do. And that is something to be proud of.

Ever want to be inspired? Go crew/pace/volunteer for a 100 miler. It will change your life.

If you wish to sponsor a child in Africa, like I do, you can go here to do make a difference for a little boy or girl.

Running 100 miles is freaking insane. And that's why I'll attempt to do it again.

In the meantime, I'm getting some sleep. And plotting my next 100 miler attempt.

PS: make sure you read this, some insight and perspective on ONE MINUTE.

peace, sweat, love: life