A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

2015 Rocky Raccoon Race Report - Scattered Thoughts

Start of the Race - January 31

All revved up for the 2015 Rocky Raccoon 100! From left to right;  Otto, Sky (crewing only), Jackie, Kenneth (crewing only), Heather, and me.


Pre-Race

4:30AM - Alarm goes off, and I'm up. Tent is a bit cold as I yank on my clothes. What is it, around 40 degrees out? It's predicted to be around 60 as a high for today, so let's go with the shorts. How about the top? Go with long sleeve for at least the first lap of the race (20 miles), then maybe switch to a short sleeve shirt.

Oh crap, I forgot to put on the lube. Where's that damn Bag Balm? Of course, it's in the bottom of the backpack where it's hard to reach. Nice planning Pete!

No problem, let's get this on my feet, my crotch, and other problem areas so that I am golden for the race! Just make sure the Bag Balm is easily accessible in my drop bag, just in case I need it again. I'll place it on the top this time. Great!

4:45AM - All dressed up for the first lap. Place some tights on and a light jacket to keep covered until almost race time. The tent was actually easy to pack this time, thank God. I've had some difficulty in the past. Maybe this is a good sign!

5:00AM - An hour before race start, and I'm ready to walk the quarter mile or so to the start. I'm pretty much ahead of schedule here. Another good sign? Walk it very easy; I'm going to be on my feet all day, so try not to tire myself walking over there.

5:15AM - Lots of people gathering already. They're probably people coming in from outside the park looking for the closest parking space. I have no issues with that; I rented no car! OK, looking for a place to put my drop bag...oh this is great!!! I'm bib #220 and my designated space is right up front! Yet ANOTHER good sign? Shhh...don't think about it. Concentrate on the race.

The race...this is the flattest course that I've ever done. There's a danger there. Flat means it's easy to go out real hard. Flat also means it's easy to run continuously without breaks. Hilly courses are easy to take a break on...when you encounter an uphill section, walk it! Not so here. Must build in breaks for this race. How about 8 minutes of running and 2 minutes of walking? Sounds good. I'll do that.

5:30AM - Yeah, I'm having a bagel. I'm normally paleo, but race day is where any diet gets dropped. Easy strategy here is to go with what I crave. So I'm craving a bagel. I'm eating it!

5:45AM - One last chance to go to the bathroom. I pick the shortest line at the Porta-Johns...but nobody is coming out in my section. Uh, hello guys? Did you fall in? Ah, 1 guy got out. Get the business done with 8 minutes to go before race start. Get to the drop bag quickly! Doff the long tights and the jacket, pack them in quickly, and get to that start.

5:59AM - Where to place myself in this group of runners. It's 100 miles, I'm not going to the front. I honestly need to be held back on the first lap. I'll stay in the middle. Wish Otto, Jackie, Heather, Lauren luck before the start.

Gathering at the start!


First Lap (0-20 miles)

6:00AM - And GO!!! Head out with the pack in the middle of night. Headlamp is on, watching for roots. I remember somebody telling me that he turned his ankle about 2 years ago in this race in the first 5 miles of the race. I do NOT want that to happen to me. Just stay careful this first loop. Don't race it at all.

Wait, I feel cold somewhere...my hands! I forgot my gloves! Did I leave it in the Porta-John? I think I did. Oh well, forget them. My hands are cold but not critically so. I'll be fine.

Race time 00:35 - 35 minutes in. So far so good. I think! Wasn't I supposed to run 8 minutes and then walk 2 minutes? What happened to that strategy? Oh yeah, I'm just pinned in with a long group of runners but the pace is really, really easy, so I can wait until there is some open trail before I do that. Ah, first aid station. I'll stop here, get in a cup of water, then off I go. Don't race this lap, don't race this lap...

1:10 - First encounter with the Damnation station. Feeling very good. So there's a loop here before coming back to the same station. How long? More than 6 miles? Ah, I can already understand why people dread this loop in the latter parts of this race. OK, I'm good. Off I go into the loop.

2:20 - Damnation station again. Damnation loop done. Yeah, it's quite long. Picked up several friendly runners during the loop. Two funny guys! I'm pretty much having a great time talking ultras with these guys. They are slowing me down a bit, but that's fine! I'll stick with them **because** they are slowing me down.

3:30 - Almost finished with the first loop. This part is the same out-and-back section in the beginning of the race, and I'm seeing some of the "stallions" racing out on the second loop. Wait! Could it be? Otto?!!! He's more than 2 miles into the second loop, so that means he finished the 1st loop in...3 hours?!!! Oh man, pray you're not going too fast Otto. Oh boy!

3:57 - Finished the first loop. Get to the drop bag, drop out the headlamp and the long sleeve shirt. Put on the short sleeve shirt, and I feel great with it. Temps are in the 50s. A perfect day! Ask Ken who is crewing what Otto's time was for the first loop. 3:05!!! Oh boy. Starting out the second loop at exactly 4 hours. Purposely left the 2 runners I came in with behind; now it's down to business.

Pictures us after 20 miles. Yeah, we're still fresh. Wait until mile 80 though! Going clockwise, that's me, Heather is still smiling after 20, so is Jackie. On the bottom, Yoshiko with Sky as crew. This pic "stolen" from a friend on Facebook. :-)


First Loop Lap Time - 3:57. A decent start to the race.

Second Loop (20-40 miles)

4:30 - All alone on the second loop. Finally established the 8 minutes run, 2 minutes walk routine. Saw Heather and Lauren coming in on that first loop...they are only 2 miles behind me, so they're looking strong for their first 100! Goal here is to still keep the pace easy for the 2nd loop. 8 minutes run, 2 minutes walk. 8 minutes on, 2 minutes walk...

6:30 - Damnation loop done for the second time...damn that loop felt a bit longer, didn't it? Somehow I think that loop is really going to suck the last 2 loops. Starting to have a weird protein and fat craving, so I crack open my stash of cashews at the aid station and chase them down with water. Still feeling great though.

7:15. At the last aid station of the loop. Oh hey, there's Matt and Gene! Crewing for Heather and Lindsay no doubt. The way Lindsay was going, he'll probably finish the race before I complete my third lap. LOL! Take a picture with them, smile! OK, off to complete the second lap.

7:30 - Last 2 miles of the second loop. Oh hey!!! There's Otto again. He's not smiling this time. Didn't I see him at the same place a lap ago? Uh oh, that means...he's slowed somewhat. He's slowed to my pace. Looks like I'm finishing this loop around 4 hours again, so he must have done 4 hours for the 2nd loop.

8:00 - Second lap finished! Looks about the same pace as the first lap. That means I've established a good initial pace. Good! I'm not going to blow up spectacularly. But, as I told Ken, I am definitely not doing another 4 hour loop for loop #3, that is for sure!

Hmmm...will I need a headlamp for this third loop? Let me get my headlamp and pack it with me, just in case I need it.

Second Loop Lap Time - 4:03, Overall time - 8:00. Still holding strong!


Starting 3rd loop of the race, at 41 miles. I'm not smiling anymore.


Third Loop (40-60 miles)

8:05 - Going back out and feeling well, but the legs are starting to feel a bit heavy. It's time to play the rest of this race smartly. I'll probably be taking more time than usual at each aid station to make sure I get my nutrition in. Still doing the 8 minute run/2 minute walk routine. OK, 2 miles in, I see Heather and Lauren finishing their second lap. Great! They're still holding strong. I wonder where Otto is now? Probably finishing the Damnation Loop and ready to finish lap 3. I didn't like the look of him though, so I hope he's doing OK.

8:40 - Parked myself at the  first aid station with some food. Not much choice here, but the typical aid station faire should get me to Damnation where the food is a bit more varied. I really am craving protein. Although not here, I'm hoping that Damnation will be better.

9:15 - Get to Damnation. What? Kielbasa!!!  Gimme, gimme, gimme! Oh wow, that hit the spot! Now I'm super ready for the Damnation Loop again.

9:45 - This Damnation Loop is getting longer and longer. I swear it! Keep calm Pete, you'll eventually get to the end. Ah, there's the berm. OK, Damnation is only 5 minutes away from that. Another loop done.

10:00 - Finish the Damnation Loop, and arrive back at the Damnation station. Wait, who's calling my name? WTF? Otto, what are you doing sitting in a chair with a heavy blanket over you? Are you done? Aw crap Otto, you must have went out too hard. C'mon Otto, you can do this! I wish Otto well and head out. I hope Otto gets out of that chair and starts running again. Ken and Sky are going to need to be updated when I get back to the start and finish.

11:40 - Last aid station. Is it getting dark? Why it is. Wow, this day went quick! Will I get to the start/finish before nightfall? I don't know. I'm relieved that I placed my headlamp in my pack at the last moment before starting out on this loop. That little piece of mind goes a long way.

12:15 - Aw #$%^! Fell on a couple of roots at the end of the third loop. Bloodied my hand while hitting the ground. Make a fist to stop the bleeding. Keep moving, don't stop! Well, I'll need to stop and get my headlamp. I'm not going to complete this lap without nightfall. Good, the trail is well lit now. Patience Pete. Practice patience. I'm not feeling too well. Just finish this loop; a change of clothes will be waiting for me there.

12:27 -  Finished the loop. It's getting cool. The hand is not bleeding any more. Let's get to the drop bag and take some time to sort things out. I will need a long sleeve shirt. Is a jacket required? I don't think so, I'll do without it. Pack the second headlamp and some batteries. Take a wool cap with me in case my head gets cold. Change of shoes? No, but I'll change the socks. Get the Bag Balm out and relube the feet. Put on the same shoes I started with. OK, time to get up. Ouch that hurts! Aw crap, both my calves are extremely tight. I don't feel good at all. I'm experiencing a huge low point in my race. Luckily, Ken is there to motivate me me forward into the 4th loop. One step, ouch! Another step, ouch! Limp out into the 4th loop...

Third Loop Lap Time - 4:27, Overall Time 12:27 


Fourth Loop (60-80 miles)

12:40 - Limp, limp, limp. This run sucks. Now I have two night time loops on this course. But, I think my calves are starting to loosen up. Looks like I'm actually running a little more normally again. It's not going to look pretty on this lap, but at least I'm moving forward. Wait, are those the girls? I don't know...everyone has their headlamp on now and the light is shielding their faces. I did spend 15 minutes at the start/finish to prepare for the night so it might very well be the girls. Hope they're doing well in any case. The 8 minute/run and 2 minute walk is still holding, but I might have to abandon the strategy and start using the slight climbs for walking breaks instead. I initially placed my wool cap on my head, but it made me feel hot in the humid air, so I have it off and am carrying it in my hands.

13:40 - Damnation Aid Station at the start of the Damnation Loop. The quesadillas were great at the aid station. But I'm not looking forward to doing the Damnation Loop in the dark. Crap, I have to do this...I reluctantly leave the aid station to tackle the loop. It is here I stopped the 8 min/2 min routine in favor of the slight hills. The back end of the loop meanders forever in the dark. Patience Pete. It's not one of my strong points, but I have to practice it.

15:20 - Finally completed the 4th loop. I'm running slower, but I'm still running, and the food is still helping me out. In other words, I'm actually doing quite fine at this late stage of the race. Now, if only I can muster this for the last marathon, I might come away with a decent time in this race. Ah, don't worry about that last loop. Let's get this loop done first!

17:10 - A couple of miles from finishing the 4th loop. Whoa, I almost tripped on a root I didn't see. Whoops! Almost tripped on another invisible root. What's going on? Aw crap, my headlamp is dimming! I have to stop, take off my pack and fish out the other headlamp. Heck, while I'm stopped, I might as well take out the spare batteries and put them into the dimming headlamp too. Don't worry about time and make sure you do this correctly! OK, both lamps are set. The second lamp is brighter, so I might as well use it for the time being. The batteries don't last as long with this lamp than my primary one, but I'm fine knowing I have another headlamp at the ready.

17:42 - Done with the 4th loop. I'm OK. I'm determined this time to get back out on the last lap quickly. All I do is take in some food and drink at the aid station and off I go. I only spent about 4 minutes there. Atta boy! Let's get this crap...I mean lap done!

Fourth Loop Lap Time - 5:15, Overall Time 17:42


Fifth Loop (80-100 miles)


The sub-24 hour finisher's buckle was within my grasp...if I stay the course on the last lap.

17:50 - OK, my legs are heavy, but I'm still running quite decently at this point. My marbles are still there, I'm still sane. My stomach isn't upset, and I'm still peeing regularly. Hoping I can keep this together in the last 19 miles of this race and I'll finish well under 24 hours! One can hope...

18:30 - Arrive at the first aid station of the last loop. Volunteer asks me, "is this the home stretch for you?" "Yep, it is" with a tired smile on my face. I thanked the volunteers for their job before going off towards Damnation.

I figured I can break this loop down to 3 distinct sections...the run leading up to Damnation Loop, the Damnation Loop itself, and the 7.8 miles after the Damnation Loop. I was obviously focusing on the Damnation Loop, the biggest obstacle between me and the finish.

19:20 - OK, got to Damnation. I only stay for 3 minutes. Heck, the sooner I start this nightmare loop, the sooner I finish. So I set off tired, but determined to get this loop over with.

20:00 - OK, I've made the turn towards the back end of the loop. Keep patient here; eventually you'll come to the berm towards the end. It might feel like forever, but stay patient...stay patient...stay patient. The headlamp is starting to blink a little. Are these batteries dead too? OK, stop, fish out the other headlamp, and wrap it around the neck, just in case.

20:40 - I made it to Damnation Aid Station!!! No more Damnation Loop! There's only 7.8 miles between me and the finish, and those miles aren't half bad! The best part was that I did run most of the loop and am still running pretty well. Some calculations put my finish time at 22:30-22:45 if I do this last bit right!

21:15 - Meandering on the single-track trail with runners going back and forth here. The runners going the other way were going toward the Damnation Station to do their loop. Someone calling my name? Oh hey, it's Lauren!!! On her last loop!!! Kyle was pacing her and he was the one that shouted to me. Go guys! Wait, who's calling my name again. Ken! Pacing Jackie! Jackie was on her last loop also. Nice. Glad they will finish the race.

The headlamp was blinking very badly now. Ah, switch headlamps with the one around my neck and let's go! 

21:40 - Last aid station...I'm running quite well and will only need to run 4 more miles to the finish. One of the volunteers ask, you wrapping this up?" Oh yeah, you won't see me again!!! I thanks the volunteers there for staying up at the wee hours of the morning and off I went to claim my buckle.

22:00 - Running past another runner. "Hey, is this your last loop?", he said. Yep, it is. "I'm right behind you buddy, looks like you'll finish around 22:40." That's what I guessed also. But I'm motoring and I'm not walking at all. The legs are tired, but if I can still run on them, I'm running. No more walking breaks; I'll stop when I'm finished!

22:20 - Wait, do I see the paved road near the lodge? Yeah, I do! This is the last section! Forget about the 22:40, I might have a chance to get under 22:30! I'm running hard now, I turn and see the clock of the finish line. Pump that fist! You did it! Yell across the finish line! 22:28:34! Not a bad time at all. The scorers verify my time and hand me my buckle. Done!

Fifth Loop Lap Time - 4:49, Overall Time 22:28:34

(my last loop was a lot faster than my 4th loop. I was determined to finish the race, and that translated into a pretty fast loop!)

Post race - 5AM on February 1 (30 minutes after finishing)

OOOWWWW! This shower HURTS!!!!...