Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Huntsville Project

It has been a full week after Rocky Raccoon and this is my 2nd written race report.  The first one will never see the light of day, it contained nothing but facts and wouldn’t interest a slimemold.  Being a career scientist, I tend to write everything down as if I am writing a protocol for my next experiment.  Although, now that I think about it, racing 100’s is an experiment.  A very, very long experiment.  As we learned in elementary school biology, an experiment requires a objective, materials, methods, results, and discussion/conclusion.  After each experiment, our learning helps to mold the next experimental design.

Experiment #2

Title:                    Rocky Raccoon 100 Miler (04FEB2012)

Objective:           To run under 15 hours over a flat course in Huntsville State Park

Materials:            Strong legs
                           Strong mind
                           Strong will
                           116 mile peak week

Methods:        1)  Fly to Houston, Texas 
2)  Stop at Target for supplies
3)  Attend race brief
4)  Eat full dinner at The Homestead
5)  Get a crappy night sleep in my tent
6)  Wake up
                        7)  Run
                        8)  Fuel
                        9)  Repeat steps 2-3 until cross finish line
                      10)  Book hotel room for rest and recovery

If you want a fabulously organized 100 miler with the best volunteers in the world (sorry Patty, Kim, and Steve), then go to Rocky Raccoon 100.  I know I will be back.

My plane arrived into Houston at about 1:00pm on Friday.  The flight was quick, despite having to transfer planes in Atlanta.  After getting my rental car (Dodge Nitro SUV), I headed north on Route 45 toward Huntsville.  Target was my first stop, where I proceeded to obtain the following:  Ensure, Nutella, Bread, Pringles, Fig Newtons, Powerade, Pretzels, and many other necessities.  I tried to move quickly knowing that the trail brief started at 4pm.  After another 45 minutes of driving, I arrived at Huntsville State Park, checked-in, and quickly set up my campsite.  Realizing that I was already going to be late for the trail brief, I decided it was most important to put together my DamNation drop bag.  I made it to the trail brief at about 4:20 and realized I really didn’t miss much.  Seeing as it was getting late (i.e. 5:30ish), I headed into Huntsville for dinner at “The Homestead”.  As a pre=race meal, I would definitely recommend this very old, elegant, yet rustic, restaurant.  After dinner, I headed back to my tent and prepared my mind for what would come in the morning.

At 4am my alarm sounded and I popped quickly out of my bed/air mattress.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only time of the night/morning that I had awoken.  If I recall correctly, I awoke about every hour expecting to have missed the start of the race.  Thankfully, I did not.

Thunder and lightning could be heard in the distance.  I dressed, packed my Dogwood drop bag, and checked the radar and weather forecast.  A line of thunderstorms stretched over Huntsville.  It looked to be a quick storm, but one that when all said and done, drenched the course with almost 2 inches of rain.  I headed over to the start and waited in my car until 5:30.  The rain was pouring hard, so I improvised a poncho with a 38-gallon hefty trash bag.

The absurdity of it all.  I am in the black trash bag.  Courtesy of Steve Holehan

I lined up at the start with about 3 minutes to go.  Karl Meltzer, Ian Sharman, and Hal Koerner to my left; Liza Howard to my right.  This was it!  Racing the experienced, big kahunas!  I introduced myself to Karl as “Josh, the guy who posted on my predictions on his blog”.  You can see those posted below.
At 6am sharp, we headed into the abyss (not literally).  The 100 mile course is a 20 mile loop that is repeated 5 times having a total elevation gain of ~5300 feet.  The pack quickly separated with Ian, Oswaldo, Karl, Hal, Brooks, Josh K., Liza, and others heading out at about 7:00 pace.  I stayed somewhat conservative with an 8:02 mile and maintained that pace through the first loop.  Along the way, I met and chatted with Dan Vega from Colorado Springs, CO.  The rain had slowed to a drizzle at about 9-10 miles and I would shed my “hefty-poncho” at DamNation sort of how the Hulk would do it.  We plodded along together to end the 1st of 5 loops in 2:41.  This felt really easy!

After a quick potty break and refuel, I headed out onto loop 2 and caught Dan again by about mile 22-23.  Rather than staying back, I decided to pass and start making this my own race.  At DamNation, I caught Liza Howard.  After another quick fueling and after grabbing some tunes, I headed out chasing after Liza.  She didn’t put up much of a fight and would eventually drop around mile 80.  I completed loop 2 in 2:56 (5:37 for 40 miles) and had climbed into the top 10.

Loop 3 was where all things would change.  Over the next 3 miles, my energy levels started to drop, however, my legs felt extremely fresh.  At the mile 43 aid station, I decided to hang out awhile, 10 minutes in all.  Shoving whatever food I could into my mouth.  I really contemplated dropping out at this point.  Things weren’t going the way I had hoped, and I didn’t feel I could turn things around.  I stood at Park Road for another couple minutes and decided to start heading out on the course again.  Within minutes, my energy levels returned and I was off again.  At each aid station, I felt that it would be best if I stop for 2-3 minutes and eat.  And each aid station, I did just that.  Although I was losing precious time with these intermissions, I was able to keep each mile pace around 8:30.  Unfortunately, stopping for at each aid station, would push my average pace close to 9min/mile by the time I completed the 3rd loop (3:19 loop; 8:56 total), however, I climbed 2 more positions to 7th place.

At this point, I was joined by my first pacer of the night.  Ben Phenix volunteered to help out while I made my transition from lap 2 to lap 3.  His runner, Neal Lucas, decided to drop earlier in the day.  It was a relief having someone run with me, seeing as the last 40 miles I had spent on my own.  This lap went by without a hitch.  Although my overall pace slowed a bit, I managed the slowing extremely well and still maintained my position by the end of loop 4 (3:27 loop; 12:23 total).

Pigging out with my pacer Ben!  Photo courtesy of David Hanenburg

I thanked Ben for a job well-done and was joined by my 2nd pacer of the day, Nick Gault.  Our headlamps cut through the darkness and we made decent time to DamNation.  14 miles to go.  We headed around the backside of the loop, music pounding away in my ears.  My last visit at DamNation was great.  The volunteers there were the best.  I thanked them for all their hard work.  7.8 miles to go!  The next 7.8 miles were tough!  We pushed and pushed and pushed into the darkness, miles clicking by.  As we approached the final miles, I started to pick up the pace.  I just wanted to get this thing over.  My garmin had stopped at 80 miles, so I had no clue how close I would be to a sub-16 hr finish.  My goal of sub-15 had gone and went during my 4th loop.  As we approached the final straight, my legs got lighter and I moved with more ease.  I crossed the finish line in 6th with a decent time of 16:13. 

16:13 finish with my pacer, Nick Gault off to the left.  Courtesy of Enduro Photo.

A PR by over 5 hours.


Rocky 2012 was definitely a breakthrough race for me, even though I finished almost 3 hours after Hal Koerner.  I still have a lot to learn about racing 100’s.  My nutrition is all screwed up.  I spent nearly 75 minutes of my time in aid stations shoving my face with anything I could find.  My goto meal was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I wonder how easy it would be to make PBJ gels, using bread, peanut butter, jelly, and a blender.  Anyway, it is an unacceptable amount of time to be spent standing around, especially when my competition is getting farther and farther away.  

According to Karl Meltzer, “I [Karl] ate gel across the board. key is to use them like an IV drip, and to use enough, some folks eat one per hour. I eat 3, other than that,I drink water. you also have to stay ahead of the fuel, it's hard to come back once you fall behind because food acceptance becomes poor and you just don't want to eat.”

This is a great lesson to be learned by, hands-down, the best 100 mile runner in the history of the world.  

Stay tuned for Experiment #3 on June 9th, 2012 in San Diego, CA.


  1. Great race report. Amazing time. Figuring out food is always tough. Congrats on a great run!

  2. Great race and great commentary!

  3. Josh,

    Great to meet/talk with you. As for gels, that was my plan (along with Roctane drink). Here's how it went for me:

    Have fun in San Diego. I reckon you'll crush it.

    Josh K