My first major race of 2013 is a trail 100, Rocky Raccoon, which this year is being held on February 2nd. As always, the course is formed of 5 x 20 mile loops consisting of woodland trails and sandy ATV tracks around Huntsville State Park, a great spot around an hours drive north of Houston, Texas.
This will be my fourth go around at Rocky. They changed the course in 2009, to what is (unbelievably) a marginally slower course in the estimations of those who've run both versions. My first year at Rocky was 2009, my first ever 100 miler in fact. That year, Andy Jones Wilkins fended off a stiff challenge from Scott Jaime (multiple hardrock 100 winner) for the win in 15:54. The great thing about Rocky Raccoon is that whilst it's a looped course, it also contains a number of sections that are run in different directions making it possible for runners wherever they are, to follow the race at the front, middle and back.
The following year, 2010, I took a miss as I had qualified for Badwater and wanted to focus all my energy on 6 months of consistent training leading up to it. That year was Ian Sharmans' first (which some people probably didn't realise was also his first 100) and he ran 2nd for much of the race to Greg Crowther, a very accomplished 50 mile runner who was somewhat unproven at the 100 mile distance. Ian ended up suffering a knee problem and wisely dropped at mile 80, with Greg going on to win in 14:58, by almost 2 hours over second place.
The course record up until this point had been on the old course, held by Eric Clifton in 13:16 set way back in the mid 90's. A few years afterwards, Jorge Pacheco turned up and missed out on the record, staggeringly, by under a minute. Nobody knew if the new course could yield as quick a time, but according to AJW the 2009 winner, the new course was definitely slower.
Well, in 2011 I went back and so did Ian. There was an ice storm the morning prior to the race and temps were much lower than usual, but it was largely dry. This led to superb conditions. Zach Gingerich whom I'd met at Badwater the previous year where he won, went off of the startline at an insane pace. The course travels about 500 metres out before turning right along the road for a short way. He was out of sight well before that turn. Ian bide his time, let Zach blow himself up and held steady with the late entries of Anton Krupicka, Hal Koerner, Scott Jurek, Karl Meltzer and Mike Wolfe all running in a pack together just slightly behind of him. Lap 2, 3 and 4 came and went, everyone expecting Ian to fumble and hand the lead to the 'elites' behind, in fact most of the people actually running the race didn't realise that Ian was leading. Every time I saw him flying around the course he looked comfortable and totally in control, it was kind of electrifying to see him go and gave me a massive boost. Ian went on to absolutely obliterate the record and set the American trail 100 mile record in the process with a 12:44, a story most people are aware of and rightly so. He had the perfect day. Scott Jurek dropped at 60, Anton pulled away from Hal slightly and ran a 13:18 to his 13:26 and Mike Wolfe eventually faded to a 16:53, Karl Meltzer instead picking up 4th in 14:27. Obviously this new course was fast....
Last year, 2012, I went back for round 3 and watched Ian brawl it out with Oswaldo Lopez up front for the first 3 laps. Unfortunately he picked up a niggle and pulled out, Oswaldo faded and Hal Koerner ran super strong once again in what I felt were much harder conditions to win in 13:24. In my opinion, and Hal apparently felt that this wasn't the case so there you go, but I think on a dry day that would have been worth a significant chunk off his time.
All of these times make it seem like Rocky Raccoon is a walk in the park. In terms of a trail 100, it is pretty darn fast. It isn't, however, quite as simple as it sounds. There are some climbs, the type of which you don't notice on lap 1 but by lap 5 have turned in to slugfests. Sure they are short although there are a few grinders on the sandy ATV trail between miles 14 and 16, but it still amounts to 5500ft of gain in the race, which is very definitely not flat when you compare that to a track or towpath. There are also a lot of roots littering the ground and you really have to watch your step during some sections. There is almost no doubt at some point you will crash. Ian's run is therefore all the more remarkable. Trail running is trail running, not road running and to run a 7:32 mile pace with 5500ft of gain on a twisty root littered course should leave anyone in disbelief. Whatever Karl Meltzer may say, 100 miles is quite far.....
For me personally, I am yet to have a good race there. In fact I feel as if I am yet to have a really good day at a 100 miler in 10 goes.
At RR100 In 2009, my first 100, I simply wanted a sub 24 hour time. I went out with that explicit goal in mind and ran the following loop splits:
In 2011, I wanted a huge PB. I had proved myself at much harder, longer races and I was in good shape, or so I thought. I pulled at mile 76 injured and consequently out for about 5 months until June of that year:
In 2012 (blog post here), I again had a PB in mind but was putting less pressure on myself after spending the remainder of 2011 on the sidelines with pretty serious injuries (double stress fracture of the left tibia and a smashed up knee in a bike crash late in the year). I wasn't in great shape, but i was in better shape than i'd predicted so I thought a sub 20 would be comfortable. It poured down the entire night before and during the race turning areas of the course in to total quagmires which got pretty hard to negotiate in the dark. I felt dreadful the final lap too, so having got in to a great position I found myself death marching it out with a really tight chest that had me somewhat worried. Disappointing but then a PB is a PB.
I took 5 hours and 25 minutes to cover the final 20 miles. I practically could have crawled in for sub 20 and instead lost the plot and went even slower than I had believed possible.
What happens this year will depend on my training and of course, conditions on the day. I don't keep training logs at any other time of the year, but I always have for Rocky which gives me some grounds for comparison.
This past 6 weeks I've logged regular 70 - 100 mile weeks with one significantly lower week around Christmas. This is the top end of the mileage range that I ever reach, but I have had more quality in there than usual. More importantly, I dropped in some longer 'tempo' style work outs in order to edge my body in to running quicker, more comfortably, which I find is critical in running faster ultras/ 100s. The intention is always to put in up to 85% to 90%, saving something to be able to train consistently through the next week and ensure niggles/ injuries are kept at bay with regular foam rolling and massage sessions. December included a 9:40 trail 100km and three marathons including a 3:14 and a 3:01. Coming in to January my final big training week settled around 2 road marathons on the 5th and 6th at 3:17 and 3:28 with Country to Capital 45 miler at 6:25 this past Saturday the 12th.
In comparison, last year I left myself little margin for recovery with a 6:01 at Country to Capital, preceeded by 3:38 and 3:46 marathons. That balance was wrong, and I blame in part going too fast at C2C 2012 for fatigue during the last 40 of 2012 RR100. This year the plan was to run a 6:30 easing back significantly during the last 20 on the canal. Everything went just to plan as we hit the towpath with a similar split to last year, and took a minute per mile off of the pace during that final run in. Consequently I feel totally different to how I did during this week, last year.
The most important phase has just started however. It's now about actively rebuilding to absorb all of that hard work and tapering in to the event to go in not 10% overtrained or even 5%, but spot on the money. Decent conditions allowing, I know this year will be a faster one for me and perhaps I'll say goodbye to the event for a little while finally happy that I did it justice....
Paul Navesey, one of the brightest up and coming runners on the UK ultra scene and part of our Centurion Racing Team will also be running RR100. By the looks of his form (evident in some of the footage) he is set for a super race there.
Here's a few videos from Country to Capital. A great fun day out with the gang.
Pre-race interview race for the gate (Paul Navesey won by miles):
5 miles in running the field paths:
Paul Navesey shares a difficulty rating of the course: