The Race: Rocky Raccoon 50
The Runner: Julie U
The Date: 2/11/17
The Location: Huntsville, TX
Results – 9:34:13
3 Bests – what aspects of the race did you like the most
- The Atmosphere – This is our 5th time at Rocky Raccoon (1st time for the 50 since it’s been on a separate weekend from the 100) and the atmosphere is why we keep coming back (it’s certainly not the weather!). The aid station people are great, the race director and coordinators are great, and it’s a really supportive atmosphere of runners and spectators
- The course – I like loop courses and out and back sections, so some people might hate this. I liked how I could see other runners ahead and behind me, how I could run the first loop and then strategize for the next two loops as to where I could go faster/slower, and it was so easy to remember aid stations and when I’d see my crew
- The aid stations adjusted well to the heat – they had tons of ice on hand (I had them put it down the front and back of my sports bra), lots of cold water, and they would pour the cold water over me any time I asked.
Not so much – aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you
- The heat – Out of the 5 times we’ve been at Rocky (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2017), one out of the 5 years has had great weather (last weekend for Matt’s 100), one had pretty good weather (Matt’s 16:26 in 2015), once was crazy humid (Matt’s DNF in 2014), one had crazy thunderstorms and rain and mud (both my and Matt’s redemption finish in 2012) and one was 19 degrees at night and not much warmer in the day (both my and Matt’s DNF in 2011). The weather is such a gamble that it’s a reason I’m not tempted to return for quite some time.
- 83 degrees with humidity
- Did I mention it was hot?
Weird factor – what’s the weirdest thing about this race
There are alligators in the park. When we ran the race in 2012 we visited the Nature Center and found out there were 40 adult alligators living in the park at the time, but we were assured that in the winter they hibernated and didn’t come out. Still, with it being 83 degrees outside, the thought crossed my mind that I might see one.
Highlights of your race – what did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular
I finished. At mile 20 I really, really, really wanted to pull the plug. I was already a big sweaty mess and it was only getting hotter and sunnier and I could feel my stomach starting to revolt what little nutrition I had put into it. When I mentioned it to Matt, he gave me this look that said he wouldn’t even consider it and said, “Nope, you’re not quitting. Get back out there. Walk out of here if you have to, but you’re going to finish.” Of course I did just that and let myself walk out of each aid station, drinking Ginger Ale and eating Pringles for about 5-7 minutes before I’d run (shuffle) again, and that’s what got me through.
Lessons for others – share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner
-Be ready for roots, for rollers, and any kind of weather and pick the right clothes and food to accommodate at the last minute
-It’s really helpful to have crew, as crew can be at miles 3, 12, and 16 of each loop, and they only have one road to walk/run/bike on a 2 mile stretch to see you (not supposed to drive because runners cross this road and there’s limited parking). It’s also easy to have drop bags but I love the support of crew and it really motivated me knowing I’d see Matt and Paavo so often
-If you do have crew, it’s nice for them to have at least some chairs to sit on at Dogwood (the start/finish) and Park Road, as there’s not seating (there are benches at Nature Center), and some crews set up pop-up tents at Dogwood (enclosed tents are not allowed), along with plenty of food for the day. It’s a long day for them too and it’s fairly inconvenient to leave the park and go to Huntsville for provisions like coffee and food, so having everything they need for the day is helpful.
Lessons you learned that will help you next time around
-Tailwind doesn’t work for me. I tried drinking it several times throughout the day and I just couldn’t stand the taste or smell.
-Still need to figure out nutrition. Tailwind didn’t work, only ate 5 blocks the whole time, along with a handful of Pringles and some Ginger Ale. And I puked out everything at mile 43. Had I been able to keep eating in the heat I think I would have been able to have a better time. Then again, the heat contributed to my stomach issues, so who knows.
-I think it’s time to close the chapter on Rocky for a while. We’ve been here 5 out of the last 7 years and as I was running it, I thought, “This is the last time I want to think about Damnation aid station for a long time.” It’s been good but it’s time to move on before coming back again.
Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race
-The course is quite rooty, so be ready to pay close attention and pick up your feet (especially with the first hour in the dark). That being said, there are some nice stretches of long forest roads that are smooth and easy to run on.
-The course was more sandy than I remembered, perhaps because it was so dry (it rained once the whole 2 weeks we were there)
–0-3 (Dogwood to Nature Center) – Tiny rollers, rooty sections of the course, run on wooden bridges along the water, some important turns to pay attention to
-3-5.7 (Nature Center to Damnation) – Starts with tiny rollers and rooty single track trails, then finishes with a rolling forest road to Damnation aid station (you can see runners ahead of you on this road coming from Damnation to Park Road)
-5.7-9.3 (Damnation to Damnation) – Out and back starting on a dirt forest road and then turning onto a wide single track with some roots that will definitely grab you if you’re not paying attention. Lots of out and back traffic here so I was glad it was wider, and this was a pretty exposed section that got very hot, not much elevation change
-9.3-12.3 (Damnation to Park Road) – Mainly rollers on the forest boundary road for the park. Feels like you can see for miles and sometimes feels never-ending. Turns into more of a single track path for the very last bit into Park Road aid station
-12.3-16.7 (Park Road to Dogwood) – Starts out with single track, not super rooty, then follows power lines for a bit as it rolls, then turns on the same trail as you went out on to Nature Center, along the water, along the wooden bridges, along some of the rooty trails, and up a little hill. The trail then parallels the road and you have two road crossings until the finish (which is the turnaround where you do 2 more loops). Once you actually reach the finish, which I call the “landing strip” you thank your stars that you don’t have to go out for another lap
Aesthetics – is it a pretty course
Not really, but I’ve also been to UTMB, a course that makes everything else look not as pretty. It is at least all in the park, it’s mostly shaded, nice weather can certainly help, and it’s all trail and/or dirt roads, so no pavement other than the road crossings.
Difficulty – is it a tough course
On paper, no. It’s minimal elevation gain, it’s not overly technical, and times are fast. In reality those rollers along the dirt roads can seem endless, the roots can seem downright diabolical, and the weather can really mess with things.
Organized and well run – did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?
Very well organized. The new RD (2nd year as RD) did a really great job, aid stations were great (I think Liza Howard was at Damnation and it made my day to have her pour ice in my sports bra because she’s such a badass), and though the RD changed, the supportive atmosphere did not.
Competition – is there a strong field?
Not like the 100 brings out. The winners were fast but there wasn’t a deep field (I placed 3rd female, which I’m certainly proud of, but had there been any depth to the field I would have been nowhere near 3rd).
Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.
Nope, just sign up online in time. The race used to be on the same day as the 100 but they split them up to accommodate more runners and I don’t believe they sell out anymore.
Full aid stations at 3.1, 5.7, 9.3, 12.3, 16.7 of each loop (3 loops)
Weather and typical race conditions –
All over the place. I believe typical weather is in the 60s for highs and 40s for lows, which is what it was the weekend before, but not our weekend.
Gear – did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next guy?
It is a cupless race, so I wore my Solomon vest with a flask and a collapsible cup, the flask for water and tailwind and the cup for Coke and Ginger Ale. Sadly, I dropped my cup somewhere on the third lap (RIP Green Cup) which makes me sad because Matt carried it on UTMB and it’s been one of Paavo’s favorite all-time toys, and it’s his travel bath cup (ok, ok Amazon can fix that)
Spectators – is this a friendly course for your friends
Yes, as they can see you at miles 3, 12, and 16 of each loop. They can see you at other spots, but it takes a little more work to get to them, so check the course map for other spots.
Top finishers and age groupers get locally made art. I got a huge metal butterfly, along with a $100 gift card for Altra Running gear. Score!
The Overall Score – how many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it
4 out of 5, with all the important stuff being 5 out of 5, and it’s the people and great atmosphere that have kept us coming back. I’d say the volatility in weather and the fact that I’ve been there so many times and am a bit tired of the course is what’s going to put me on a little Rocky hiatus for a while.