Rocky Raccoon 100 Race Report -- A First Time 100 Mile Story
by Coach Billy Satterwhite
2015 was a great year of running with some really big runs and new milestones. On somewhat of a whim I decided I was ready to go after my dream of running 100 miles. It was mid-December 2015 and Rocky Raccoon 100 was coming up on February 6, 2016. I had a solid base in my legs and I had a few good weeks left to train and put in some big back-to-back long runs. The training went great, my body felt great, and when the race came around I was excited and ready to go. The day went as follows….
I woke up Saturday morning to a heavy but short-lived thunderstorm. It invigorated me and added a feeling of toughness to my pre-race morning routine and had the added bonus of packing the dusty trails down. I went through my usual pre-race routine. First a cup of coffee, then a Larabar, a banana or 2, and whatever else will digest easy. I feel pretty good if I can get about 500-600 calories in.
After walking a mile from our campsite, I arrived at the starting line with my parents and my wife, Kat, around 5:50am. The energy and excitement was amazing! There were a few hundred runners, which is quite large for a 100 mile race. I went to set down my drop bag when Kat asked me about the timing chip that goes around my ankle, and I realized I left it in my tent… a mile away! My first hundred miler, I wanted to savor the start and the atmosphere before setting out, but instead I would have to run an extremely fast two miles if I wanted to catch the start…. not the way you want to start off a very long slow paced race. Without thinking much, I dashed off heading back towards our campsite. To my luck a car pulled up beside me after about 1 minute of hard running. The driver saw a runner with bib and full race kit sprinting away from the starting line, so she knew I needed help. This amazing woman drove me to the campsite and back and I arrived as the crowd counted down from 10 seconds. I kissed my wife and hugged my parents and jumped into the pack. It had begun!
Rocky Raccoon 100 is comprised of five 20 mile loops that are all run in the same direction. The course is more or less flat, though consistently undulating with small inclines and declines. About half of the course is root covered single track, and the other half is wide jeep road with a mix of rocks and packed dirt. It is very runnable but it can be mentally fatiguing to see the same trail 5 times. Somewhere in those first few miles I wasn’t paying attention to my feet and rolled an ankle on a root. It felt fine and didn’t hurt, but later in the race I would have some major ankle problems, and that initial roll could have been the impetus. Within the first few miles I got into a great easy rhythm. I completed the first loop in 3:26. For nutrition I just ate Vfuel gels on the first loop. I really enjoyed the out and back sections of the course because it gave me a chance to see a lot of awesome people, including Austin based ultrarunner, Paul Terranova, course record holder Ian Sharman, and a Trail Roots training partner and fellow bass player, Bobby Daniel.
(cruising into the Damnation aid station)
The second loop was smooth. The weather was perfect all day. Sunny with the highs in the mid to high 50’s. I dropped my pace back just a tad bit, anticipating I would be forced to slow down on later laps if I didn’t conserve energy early. I kept eating VFuel gels along with adding in some Vfuel Drink Mix into my water bottles. My stomach was starting to crave solid food so I mixed in handfuls of banana chips from my drop bag. Towards the end of this loop, I began to sense the hint of some discomfort and sharp pain in my right ankle, and that was the start to what would become the metaphorical thorn in my side for the rest of the race. I finished the 2nd loop in 7:21 and felt quite fatigued.
(Kat helping out at Damnation with drop bag goodies)
I grabbed what I needed and headed out as quickly as possible. This time it was harder to get running again. I picked up an easy jog and my ankle pain became significantly worse in just a couple of miles. At this point my strategy was to just keep jogging and walk if my ankle became too painful. Over that span of 6 miles, my spirit went from quite high to quite low. Things had started off so great and quickly became quite painful. Kat was at mile 46, Damnation aid station, and she would be able to cheer me up, so I continued on. When I saw her, she could tell that the idea of quitting was already in my mind. She told me to have fun and walk if I needed to, and reminded me that I had all day and night and the next morning to finish the race. She was right, I had a very optimistic goal of finishing around 20 hours on a somewhat small block of training. I was being a little unrealistic and dreaming big, and my ultimate goal was just to finish and get that Western States Lottery ticket for 2017. I grabbed what I needed and headed out on the 7 mile out and back between the Damnation stops.
I began to dread this 7 mile loop... It wasn’t technically difficult, but with a bad ankle it was a long 7 miles. Kat expected to see me back in about 90 minutes but it took me a little over 2 hours. In that stretch from mile 46-53 my ankle went from bad to worse. I couldn’t run more than a few minutes before sharp pain began to shoot through it. I began walking more than running, and even walking was starting to hurt. The next time I saw Kat she could see that it was turning into a battle. The nice thing about that damnation loop is that after you finish it, you only have 7 miles left of the loop. I would get to see my friends and my parents at mile 60, and Joe Cooper would be heading out to pace me for the toughest part of race. I told Kat that I wasn’t sure if I could continue and once again she did a stellar job of keeping me focused on moving forward. She reminded me that they would be able to take a look at my ankle at mile 60 and give it some treatment. I got to mile 60 in 12:50 and went into problem solving mode. All time goals were out the window at this point and that was okay. My focus was to get through the next 20 miles. My parents grabbed the aid station nurse as I found my drop bag. My ankle was sprained, but nothing was broken or torn. She cleaned it up and gave it a quick massage to work some knots out of the tendons. It was painful but pain felt pretty normal to me at that point. She then did a hell of a job taping both ankles to give them some extra stability. I got up, did a gear check, and headed out with Joe Cooper. Running with Joe was a welcomed change to my solo battle. Joe had finished a tough 100 mile race the previous summer and knew exactly what I was going through.
The next few miles thing began to unravel. We were at mile 65, I was moving slow, and it was getting really cold really fast. Joe was well aware of my condition and mental state at this point, and that my slow pace was not going to keep me very warm. He did the best he could to keep my mind off of the cold and my ankle pain. We talked about music, about Star Wars, Paul Rudd movies, and a ton of random stuff. Everything was going okay until about mile 71 when the cold hit me like a ton of bricks. I came into the 2nd damnation aid station and all I could think about was hot food. As I walked up to the tent I began violently shivering. I could hardly breathe, talk, or stand up. My body was going to into shock from the cold. Joe grabbed me and walked me to the back of the aid station tent. An aid station volunteer saw me and knew what was happening. I was not the first runner there who was showing signs of hypothermia. I sat in front of a heater and wrapped up in a wool blanket. It was cold like I have never felt before, and I had no warm clothes to change into. This was my biggest mistake of the race. Joe borrowed someone’s phone to text Kat and tell her to have my warm clothes for me at the next aid station. I felt stuck, and I honestly thought I would have to quit and get ride back to the start. Everyone there was focused on just getting me warm. I had plenty of time left to finish, so I wrapped up in wool blankets with hand warmers and laid down on a cot to take a warm power nap. What was supposed to be a 20 minute nap turned into an hour, but it worked and I was warm.
Joe spurred me along to get ready as quickly as possible. It was still getting colder and I needed to keep moving. My muscles had stiffened up but my mind felt better. I was cracking jokes and smiling as I sat up on the cot and put my shoes back on. The aid station medics new that I did not have the proper clothing to stay warm and with some ingenuity they fashioned a suit for me out of garbage bags and duct tape. It wasn’t high tech or fashionable but it kept me warm enough for the next 3 miles. As I headed out, the great folks in Damnation made me promise I would come see them again on my final lap. At mile 76, Park Road aid station, my buddy Tres Binkley took over pacing duties. Tres was the perfect guy to take over at that point. He’s one of the most positive and fun people I know, and immediately got my stoke level back up. Kat had given him a big puffy insulated jacket for me, which I immediately put on and basked in the warmth of primaloft insulation. I normally would never wear a thick insulated jacket on a run but this wasn’t a normal “run”. We headed back into the night with 4 miles to go until mile 80. I finished loop 4 in 21:18.
(Ty Reagan keeping my spirits up during my final lap)
My ankle was screaming at me whenever I tried to run, but I was warm and I was having a good time with my friends on the trail in the wee small hours of the morning. In transition from my 4th to 5th loop I did not allow myself to take any down time. I added some warmer layers of clothing to my legs and headed back out with Tres, chatting and having fun, running when I could and walking for the most part. I picked up my final pacer, Ty Reagan, at mile 83. This last loop was all about putting one foot in front of the other and staying focused on the finish line. In my last Ultra I came up with the mantra “Run if you can, walk if you have to, just keep moving forward.” I kept repeating this to myself during the last 20 miles.
When the sun came up that morning I felt for the first time that I was actually going to make it! At mile 50 I honestly did not think I could grind out another 50 miles. 100 miles is a long way, but I am stubborn, strong willed, and with some humility and patience I moved myself around the course to finish in 28:18. The last 4 miles were agonizing. I told Ty to just keep motivating me and distract me from the pain that did not ever let up in my right ankle. I pushed hard to hold a slow jog until it became unbearable, would walk for a minute, and push again. When I finished it was pure magic and emotion. The previous 28 hours felt like a dream. The emotions were overwhelming, and I held my wife for a few moments and cried. I was so happy to be done and so happy that I didn’t quit.
If it were not for the 28 hours of support from my amazing wife, my parents, and friends, I likely would not have finished. When I say that I could not have done it without them, I really mean it. Thank you to Tejas Trails for always putting on world-class events, race director Chris McWatters, all of the volunteers, and an extra big thank you to the good folks at Damnation aid station for keeping me warm at mile 73. I envisioned my first 100 mile race going much better… but that was a bit naive. It’s impossible to know what’s going to happen your first time. Problems are always going to pop up, but now I will be better prepared for them. I will continue to train and get stronger, I will make my ankle bulletproof, and you can bet that I will be back at this race next year.