It all began with Arizona. Otto and I were gonna go to Arizona and run Black Rock Canyon 100k. I don’t know exactly why Black Rock Canyon. I think it was a Western States qualifier and Otto needed another one or something. I’m not totally clear. But there were were, middle to late November 2015, ready to take on Black Canyon. Why not? Its “just” 100k. I talked to one of my silent voices, my ultra-fast, ultra-runner friend, Michael Daigeaun, who did Black Rock Canyon. He mentioned about the climbs and the heat. Yet, my mind was set. Somehow, too, however, Otto checked the prices for tickets to AZ. After all, that’s what he does when he’s at work: use the internet. As it turned out, airfare to AZ cost soooo much. He did the math. Too much $$$.
With all the discussion, the topic somehow turned to Rocky Racoon 100. I must have smirked. Seriously, I had no plans of running 100 miles soon. At the time, I was actively training for The North Face Bear Mountain 50-miler in San Francisco.
But because Otto is a Jedi, I said yes to doing Rocky. Much as I say yes to almost anything he tells me. Somehow he talked sense into the fact that because it is a loop, I will never feel like I am alone on the course. If you know me, I hate the torture of loops.
December 1, Otto booked the airfare. Considered Rocky a done deal. But I didn’t really sign up til late December or so. Before they said I’d likely run out of race shirts. (Hey, now. I am a sucker fo race shirts. If I’m to run a 100-miler, I might as well get a shirt).
So forward to December, I DNF’d San Francisco. Yeah, I am not mentally strong. I got those comments. Because there really was no reason to DNF San Francisco but I did at mile-22 plus.
One would think, however, that with a “100 mile race” in 2 months, training will happen soon enough. Umm, no. I waited 1 week. Got fat eating ramen and all. So technically, I didn’t start training for Rocky until December 14.
For those who know, I train under Michele Yates, Ultra Runner of the Year for 2013, owner of Rugged Running, based in Colorado. I’ve signed up with her since January 2015. Supposedly to train for Oil Creek in October 2015— which I “tried” to register but did not send in my payment for. Her training plan is time-based rather than distances. It involves a lot of running but not all of them are long runs and it does not call or demand for back-to-back long runs as most conventional ultra-running trainings do. Which makes more sense because for a fast runner, 10 miles can be over in 1 hour and for me, that takes almost 2 hours.
So I had been “training” since early this year and I’ve had shorter races here and there but have had some DNFs and drop-downs, too. So pretty much, besides the 22-plus miles I have in San Francisco, coming into Rocky, my longest run, distance-wise, was 12.1 miles and time-wise was for 2 and a half hours. And honestly, over 75% of my runs were on the treadmill (our treadmill goes up to 40%, though). But I consistently ran according to a rehashed training plan I had at hand from Michele, asking for some tips here and there from my good friend and Trail WhippAss president, Dylan, who also trains with her.
Fast-forward to February 4, I started to pack for the flight to Texas the next day. That included my drop bags and all race essentials. I learned my lesson from San Francisco to take care of my nutrition, so I hit Whole Foods that day. The next day, while New Jersey was snowing, we flew to Houston– Otto, me, and Paul Lee, a much faster runner but was also going for his first 100-mile buckle. We were going to meet my crew slash pacer aka “race bitch,” Sally, in Texas. Like me, Sally works in the health care field and on flex schedule, so she is one of the most easy-to-ask persons if you want company on a trip. She is that “fucker” that I know I can ask to come with me for an adventure.
(On a side note, let me mention I was going to ask Sally to pace me but could not afford to pay for her trip. Dylan jumped in and said he will pace me and pay for his trip and I gladly accepted because I am broke as hell. But still, Sally decided to come for fun and offered to help out and because she’s a Physician Assistant, who makes so much money, she also paid for her trip. But Dylan, apparently, broke his foot or maybe he just has a new girlfriend, so he couldn’t come. Or maybe he thought it was going to be a long ass walking he’d do if he paced.)
Anyway, when we got to Huntsville, Texas, Otto gave clear instructions against socializing. Even at dinner. “We want to eat and just stay at the hotel,” in his really scary, non-cursing voice. So that’s what we did. We picked our packets, took pictures, had Mexican dinner.
Somehow at dinner, I told Otto and Sally or asked “Why do I think I am going to finish this race?” I was almost 100% resolved on the fact that I will go home with a buckle.
Almost. That slight percentage happened when, Yoshiko, infront of Chris Solarz and some other runners asked me what other races I did before Rocky. I guess that’s the tradition— using shorter races as training runs. “Well, I DNF’d San Francisco at mile-22.” I felt the table go silent. Then the doubt came back for a brief second.
You see, Jun, the husband, had doubts about the fact that I did not have long runs or back-to-back long runs, either. So that question at the Mexican dinner? Yes, it brought some scare for a while.
But race day came, regardless. We woke at 4am D-day. No, I lied. We set our alarms at 4 but I woke so many times and finally got up at 3:45. It rained while I was getting ready, as was the forecast. I had a small bowl of my natto with rice (hey, I am Filipino! I eat rice in the morning!), half a bagel, and made sure I dumped. Unfortunately, gauging by the look of my stool, I had not emptied fully but I stopped, anyway. The rain stopped just as we left at about 4:45am. I said goodbye to Sally, who I was not meeting ‘til, I said, about 4 pm that day. Somehow, my goal was to finish each 20-mile loop in less than 5 hours. At least, while there was sun.
Race start was at the State Park in Huntsville, TX, which was close to the hotel. That gave us enough time to go back to the bathroom for one more shot at shitting. Which I did. Good riddance.
I made sure I sucked in that bottle of Carbo Pro drink 30 minutes before the race and popped 3 Carbo Pro Recovery and 3 VO2max.
We saw Ken and YoJo and took the obligatory photo-ops. And it was 6am and we were off.
It was dark and we had headlamps on. I had shorts but with a long sleeved shirt and jacket, given the forecast called for sun coming out. I had my Nathan vest, which my other good, fast-runner friend, Maggie Guterl, gave me (yeah, I have so many cool friends!). I had stashed a buff in there, too, as well as some VFuel gels, a Macro Bar, some TP, and a jacket.
Now Rocky Racoon is not rocky, at all. If any, it is “rooty.” Lots of roots that I found myself praying to God and the Holy Spirit for me not to fall. And it was not flat, either. And you do 5 loops of 20 miles with some sections that are quasi-out and back or lollipops or both.
As I mentioned, my goal in the first loops was to finish them in 5 hours or less.
By 7 am, the sun was out but it was still cold. From the start/finish, there was an Aid Station (AS) at a 5k distance (Nature Center) and then another after 2-something miles. It was called DamNation.
Now before the race, Otto kept bitching about how, after leaving DamNation at 5-ish miles, you go out on a loop and then a mini out-and-back back to DamNation. That loop is a 7-mile stretch. He kept bitching about it that, somehow, running it, it psyched me ready, making me thing it wasn’t a bad strech. As I had told Otto after the race, it may have also been the presence of a timing mat at the 9-mile mark of each loop that was after Dam, that, somehow, signified some sense of accomplishment for you and those tracking you.
Once you hit DamNation the second time, you are mile 13-ish and you go back to a course that sort of takes you back to the same road that took you to DamNation although instead of taking the trails back to Nature Center, you take an unpaved road with sections covered with lime stones (or so I think), on to I-45 back into the trails, and crossing a road that will take you to the final AS at Dogwood, which was 4.3 miles (or so they say. I think its more 4.5 miles) to the finish.
Now those 4.3 or 4.5 miles to the start/finish were really long and felt forever. I hated that more than the DamNation loop. That just took forever with all the non-stop winding trail and semi-switchbacks.
I hit my goal of finishing the first loop in less than 5 hours. I remembered the last-minute tip from Jun (the husband) to walk even the small uphills and go easy even with the downhills at the start, making sure my heart rate does not go up. I obliged and it really made sense. Keila Merino, another good friend I look up to because she is so smart and a really fast runner and CarboPro Ambassador, also gave me last-minute teaching on how to take my CarboPro pills. Her words were “… and snack through the race.” Those things stuck.
So much as I hate AS food, I ate bananas and PB&Js. But they key was being on point with my CarboPro. I took 3 Recovery and 3 VO2Max every hour since 7 am and started taking 1 Motivator pill since 11am. By 3pm, I had increased my intake of the Motivator to 2 and had 2 or 3 instances when I loaded 1 pill of each in between when I felt tired.
It was amazing. If you know me, too, my ass is always the first to hurt when I run. It did at the start of the race but I owe it to those pills because as the race progressed, I didn’t feel any muscle soreness. And I was sharp and awake without feeling jittery or antsy despite the fact that I only had about 4 hours of interrupted sleep.
Finished loop 2 also less than 5 hours. On target. My spirit was high for some reason. Not once did DNF cross my mind.
Starting Loop 3, I told Sally my goal was less than 6 hours because it will be dark. After shitting once on the woods and once on the porta-John, I did just that and came back past 9 pm for Loop 4. I decided to change into pants because it got really cold and was going into the 30s overnight. I didn’t waste time to go to the porta-John and because my shorts always have the built-in undies, I had to actually put on an underwear just to wear my pants so I did the most logical thing to do: I stripped my shorts right there in the middle of the crowd, underwear-less and butt-naked, put new undies on, and then my pants. I also changed into my Hoka road shoes because at this point, I still didn’t have any blisters and I figured I can suck up one loop, and go back to my Altras if I did end up having any.
I have to just say here, by the way, that between loops 1 to 3, Ian Sharman (who won the race), had passed me several times. Twice, we had a very short, 5-second conversation. He finished after only over 13 hours of running.
Going back. Loop 4 was also the point I picked up Sally as a pacer. So we threaded on, talking, at times quiet. But by god, Sally walks so fast, I realized. Like New Yorker-fast! And that helped a lot with the uphill. Sally was only going to pace me for this loop because she had not trained prior to this, she said. I also kinda figured that with the final loop, I can suck things up for 2 or 3 hours in the dark and the sun will be out.
But as the 4th loop started to come to an end, I kinda felt scared about the prospect but at the same time, relieved, that I will be on my final loop. My4th loop goal was to hit the star/finish before 5 am, so I will have, at least, 7 hours to play with and not rush against time. We reached that goal and I was in and out of the start/finish in no time.
But goodness, I had to poop again. I blame myself for eating the same potato soup at the first AS that gave me the runs earlier. Mind you, I was far from DamNation and I didn’t have TP! I thought of what to wipe my ass with and could not think of any. But a bulb light flashed and I remembered having a North Face buff around my neck, so I did the smartest thing I could think of at that point and went behind a tree. Goodbye, my buff.
I hit DamNation and had a pancake. This time, my friend, Sami, a runner who I met on Instagram, was no longer in DamNation volunteering so I didn’t have the boost I had in all the 4 loops prior. Still, the prospect of that timing mat felt good and I crossed it at close to 7 am, leaving me with 5 hours to complete the last 11.5 miles.
However, somehow those 5 hours seemed scary. Or those 11.5 miles. Those were trail miles and not road miles. Miles that needed to be done by tired feet. And somehow, too, I messed up something on my right ankle/Achilles from banging against my shoe that made it hurt to run. But I ran and finally hit DamNation the last and final time and went back to the road to the last AS. I hated that road, by the way, because there was so much dust and I had horrible wheezing episodes that necessitated taking albuterol.
Then it became a death march, an interval of runs and a lot of fast-walks. And the prospect of hitting that last AS that had annoying 4.3 or 4.5-mile stretch to the finish just started to kill me.
But from out of nowhere, I saw Otto!
Yes, 1 mile past Dam, I saw him and asked him to pace me. He had jeans on and no socks. But because he had a “moral obligation,” he surrendered and did so. That gave me back the boost from my moment of desolation. Between that time before saw Otto and when I saw the rest of my friends like Sally, Paul, and Ken waiting for me at the final AS, I was getting towards my low point. Even with some time on my hand, I wondered if I would end up not finishing because of the nagging ankle pain that kept me from running at a speed that will translate to a time within the 30-hour cut-off. I was not even sore on my muscles but the pain on the right ankle made it hurt to run at that point. I remember how I started thinking “This is really stupid! I don’t know why people do this shit.” And telling people at the final AS “This is really stupid! Don’t do this shit.”
But Otto, being the pro at pacing that he is, paced and coached me on the last 4.4 miles. I ran, walked, and passed many other runners. Otto told me to forget about the pain, concentrate on my breathing, and “stop crying!”
Finally, we hit 2 road crossings and the final road crossing that would take me to the view of the FINISH. It was only then that it sank in. I was really, definitely finishing my first 100-mile race!
And it was the greatest feeling ever. Seeing the finish line on a bright, sunny day when everyone is awake, felt great! It is, in fact, good to be a slower runner because everyone is up! I didn’t even care if another female runner passed me, who had a zealous husband who egged her on to rush ahead of me. I just know that that was the same finish and I am crossing it, no matter what! And I am not Dead Fucking Last!
And I crossed! 29 hours, 13 minutes, and 17 seconds.
When I hit that finish line, everything in my body just shut down. But I had little enough energy to pose for a buckle with the RD after hugging all my friends, who waited there to support me.
It was a lovely end to a long journey. Honestly, I used to believe that running is a solo sport. Okay, I changed my mind from hereon because I would not have finished without my awesome friends. Not just those who were at the race but including the silent voices, who always encourage me.
I have a lot of “take-aways” from this race. But among the most important is, you do not need to kill yourself with back-to-back long runs for ultras. All you need is a great coach like Michele.
Believe. I was once called a “slow runner” by someone. I am no way fast but I can run distance when I put my mind into it. So can anyone. John Fegyveresi has a word for that in the Barkley Marathons documentary.
As what Jun had said in a video everyone said he posted, I was hit by an SUV 6 years ago while crossing the street, had surgery for an injured knee from that a year after, was never a runner until 2012. And while I never did drugs, I smoked a lot.
But, by God, I crossed that finish line on to what they say as the Dark Side.