On last weekend's Rocky Raccoon Race in Huntsville, TX
What surprised you most about the race?
Truth be told, the most surprising thing about the race to me was that I won the thing. That was a trip. Other than that, the most surprising thing was the terrain of the course. All in all, I thought that the course was in exceptional condition. However, despite the warnings ("the course has lots of tree roots throughout"), I never imagined that there would be so many. It seemed that half of the course--or more--had massive amounts of tree roots. At times I felt as though I wasn't running, but rather, dancing in order to avoid them. Given how difficult they made it to run naturally and depend on a solid footing, I wasn't particularly surprised at the large number of people who fell during the run. I'm very glad, of course, that no one was seriously injured from those falls.
What advice helped you achieve your goal?
I'm not really sure. I did one heck of a lot better than I had imagined, and I'm not sure which variable played the critical role. But, I think that it was a balance of several factors. First, the new running technique that I learned at the Death Valley camp enabled me to glide consistently. Then, my nutrition was radically better than it had ever been (I consumed 300 calories per hour). Coupled with nutrition, I felt that my hydration balance was good: Sipping water consistently enabled me to avoid becoming dehydrated but also prevented me from having to use the bathroom (a good thing if one is looking to reduce time without dying). Finally, I think that Lisa's advice on race strategy was important (though I didn't follow her advice to-the-letter). She encouraged me not to worry about running the first 30-60% of the race too fast--that people perform their best when they can come through during the final 40% of the race. Lisa encouraged me to negative split, which I didn't do (each of my splits was 7-10 minutes slower than the previous one). However, I noticed that I slowed down considerably less than the other runners at the front of the pack. That showed me that the initial pace (the leaders ran the first loop at a 6:03 finishing pace!) was FAR too fast. I picked up five minutes on the leader during the second loop and twelve minutes more during the third loop. That's a powerful statement for running consistent splits. It showed me that the vast majority of runners will significantly deteriorate during a race and that, to do better than an equally fit competitor, one would be wise to consider conserving some energy earlier on in order to outperform later.
Did you meet any new friends on the course?
Not on the course. The entire trip was a great one, during which I met lots of Dreamchasers and other folks. However, I ran alone for 95% or more of the race. That was a function of my pace, no doubt. But, the post-race experience was great for meeting new people.
Is there something you learned that you'll use in future races (good, bad, or ugly!)
I learned lots of things that I'll use: 1) Hand straps on my water bottles are an outstanding idea (MUCH easier than just carrying the bottles), 2) Conserving energy earlier in the race can lead to a lower overall time, 3) I should consider taping my feet, 4) My body can get by just fine with 100% carbs during the running activity itself.
Any words of advice for others thinking about doing an ultra?
Training for an ultra isn't nearly as difficult as it sounds. It is significantly easier to make the leap to an ultra after having finished a marathon than it is to train for that first-ever marathon. I was shocked that I never ran more than 35 miles prior to the 50-mile race. And yet, despite thinking that I'd bonk sometime after mile 35, I felt great. So, training to 70% seems to work. There is something about the race atmosphere, the camaraderie developed on the course, and the morning's adrenaline than helps to bring you through. If you've run a half marathon or a marathon, you've already done the most difficult part of your training. To get to an ultra is comparatively easy.