We set off on Thursday 29th January catching the 1.40 pm flight to Houston- it took just over 10 hours. We then drove from Houston to our motel which was an hour from the airport, in an area called Huntsville. One thing I noticed when driving down the motorway was all the big restaurants and flashing lights all the way down the sides of the motorway- you would never have that in the UK. The motel was pretty basic and about 15 mins from the race.
On Friday we woke up at 4am as in Huntsville (6 hours behind UK) and went to Wallmart to get a few supplies and breakfast. James then went back to sleep whereas I stayed up hoping that I'd be tired later as we had to be up at 3am on race day.
We then met up with Chris and John part of the UK contingent who James knew. We then went to the park and ran 2 miles through part of the course to keep the legs going and check out the trails, it was a nice a day and the trails looked great. We then had a pasta lunch and Ian Sharman joined us who ended up winning the race - he ran Rocky Raccoon in 12.44 in 2011 - unbelievable really. It was great to hear his views on the race and running as he is now a full time athlete who coaches people and has various sponsors. We then headed over to the park again, dropped off our drop bags and registered for the race. This then followed by the race briefing where all 400 entries gathered and listened to the race director and his team talk through the rules, aid stations, cut offs, how the race would run, etc. We then headed back towards the hotel had a subway and got into bed at 7pm (1am UK time) - my body clock was all over the place and I hadn't slept much at all.
The alarm went off at 3am on race day, I was awake at 2.50ish and then it hit home. I had a shower and got ready, the race park opened at 4am with a 6am race start. To ensure that we got a good place near the start line we headed off and got there just by 4am. It was then a waiting game, having a bit of breakfast and counting down until 6am. At 5.50ish we made our way to the start line, it was pretty chilly but knew it would warm up so had a hat and gloves on which I knew I would get rid of after 6 miles at the first drop bag point. We lined up on the start line and the count down started from 20 seconds and we were off.
My strategy for this race was to start off slow and conserve energy so started off with a few slower miles jogging through the trails in the dark with 400 other people all on their own little journeys. It's pretty amazing watching all the head lights go on. As we began running I noticed the roots through the trails, it only took me a couple of miles before I tripped and went head first over one, so had to be careful- especially when running in the dark. I heard later that Travis, a guy from the UK, broke his ribs and someone else broke their ankle on these roots.
This race was 5 x 20 mile loops, on the first loop I ran a few miles with a guy called Tim who was from Canada, this was his first time at Rocky so had a chat with him whilst running, also ran a couple of miles with a guy called Paul. I then took off and settled into my own pace. After around an hour it was light so the head torch had gone, I was feeling pretty good. I went through the first lap in 3.09 which I was happy with, I then made my way through the next 20 miles in 3.07 so slightly quicker which was great. After 40 miles still feeling good, miles passing by and the 3rd lap done in 3.27, I went through 60 miles in 9.46.
In a 100 miler I can't describe how mental it is. It was starting to get slightly hotter at this time and I was starting to feel slight fatigue, you always go through some bad times in a 100 miler where you think you're not going to finish or things aren't going to get better - you just need to ride it out. So I slowed up a bit through these few miles and then felt okayish again. I then came through mile 80 in 13.26 and I thought I am nearly there with 20 miles to go. I also started thinking I would love to have a time starting with 17.
The last lap was all in the dark. I must have gone over 5-6 times on the roots so had to be careful as didn't want to injure myself. Due to darkness and obviously fatigue this lap would take longer than the other laps. I managed to go through around 95 miles in 17 hours ish so I had an hour to get it done.
I crossed the line in 17.51.45 in 25th place, I was absolutely delighted with the result - really shows what good training can do and how much I have improved as a runner - I definitely think there is a lot more in the tank as well.
The thing I love about running is you can still improve as the years go on up to a certain age -whereas in most sports, athletes seem to go the other way. If you said to me pre race that i would finish in 17 something - I would have been over the moon.
Rocky Racoon is a great race, thanks to the race director and all the volunteers who gave up their time to make this possible.
So next for me I have the London Marathon where I'm going to have another bash at breaking 3 hours. I now also have automatic qualification for Spartathalon, which is 153 miles across Greece in September in 35 degree heat with cut offs at every check point - average around 130 people finish out of 450 and takes most people two attempts. I have until the 16th Feb to enter it, but at the moment not sure - I have a few people saying I should give it a go. If not, I will do another 100 this year hopefully as I've definitely got the taste again.
I would also like to say thanks to James Elson for mentioning to me about running this race and put in a stellar performance with a time of 14.50 which he is amazing and he finished in 8th place - shows how much improvement he has made as a runner. Great to meet Chris and John and see these guys finish as well so always good when you have 4 finishers.
I would also like to thank everyone for the good luck messages and all the well done messages! It really means a lot!