By Mike Campbell
This year Rocky Raccoon was a come back for me as my first 100 after having Neuroma surgery last May. My main focus was to finish the race and then hopefully to do a little better than last year.
Racing in Houston was another chance to see our granddaughter Lauren, my son (Michael), and his wife (Abby). So of course my wife (Aleka) responded immediately with “I’ll get the tickets” when I asked if she wanted to go. My oldest daughter (Andrea) also came and would be my pacer (she’s getting pretty good at this).
We stayed at the same hotel as last year, Econo-Lodge in Huntsville, which was good as we got the first floor and the senior rate…wohoo! Michael Jr. and I got a pretty good rest and the rest of my crew planned to meet us during the day.
Race morning Michael had to scrape ice from his car at the hotel before we leave. Note: weather was not as advertised in the 30’s! It was actually around 27 degrees, but hey…I thought we were in Texas? We had to layer up for the first lap with tights, hat, jacket and gloves. About 242 runners began the hundred mile journey and we actually had to watch our step across the wooden bridges because they had frosted over and were very slippery.
There were six aid stations (very well stocked) including the start and finish, placed around 3 to 4 miles apart. With all these frequent stops there was no need to carry more than one bottle. This course is flat and very run-able, but the only problem is that you are constantly using the same muscles without many hills, so it’s hard to convince your body that the end will come.
It took me 3 hours to finish my first lap and I felt good even though I was on pace a little slower than last year. Began to peal away my layers since it was starting to warm up and I put on the coolmax race shirt from the packet, I know, a big no-no...but it was dry and really comfortable.
My 2nd lap was about an hour slower and I was beginning to cramp up. That was Ok because the rest of my family met me there at the end of mile 40 and to my surprise, little Lauren had a “Team Campbell, Go Granpa” t-shirt on. (No worry about the spelling…she’s only 14 months old!) Above her shirt pocket was “Crew Chief” which made me teary and I went over to give her a kiss.
I had a full bottle of Gatorade, drank my Ensure, and off I go on lap 3. As time wore on getting closer to 60 miles seemed like it would never come. One concern was that I seemed to stop sweating. My fluid levels must have been up because every time I took a drink, ten steps later I had to pee. My muscles tightened up with half-strides that would not stretch out, and everyone was passing me on the trail. You would think I’d be pumped up since I passed the halfway point, but as I came around this lap, I was at my race low point. The only hope I had now is that Andrea will be pacing with me once I hit mile 60. I just prayed that none of my crew would comment that it had been a long day and how great a warm shower would feel back at the hotel because I would have stopped right there…had to think positive for Lauren and it was a good thing she didn’t change that t-shirt yet.
As we started mile 60, I was having trouble keeping up with Andrea. She was bouncing and high stepping the roots as to say “Is that all you got?” Remembering Wasatch last year! As we approached the aid station, she would let me go on my own. Here I took my trusty Pentz headlamp and flashlight and before I left the station, Andrea found my NoDoz pills I took hoping to clear my head.
After about half a mile, I found a tree stand looking thing on the side of the road and stretched for a minute which seemed to help. The weather was pretty good at this point because even though it was dark, we had a full moon to help us out with no wind and temps around 40. This is the 15th year for Rocky Raccoon and the race director said they have never had rain…maybe the day before or after, but none on race day.
I came up to mile 77 in full steam and actually beat my crew there because I was about an hour faster than my last lap. Andrea met me at mile 80 and we were off much faster than the last lap, eating up the trials and pounding out the miles. During the race I drank an Ensure or V-8 at the aid stations were I saw my crew, had a few pieces of Powerbar, gels and banana pieces to get me through the day with my Gatorade.
At about mile 90 my headlamp started to fade. It was supposed to last 9 hours and I had been using it for about 7 at this point. Hmmm…? At the next aid station I topped of my Gatorade and asked the volunteers if they had any C or double A’s for my lights. They were out but before I left, a helper said “wait, I can help you” and took apart his flashlight to give me two of his batteries. He saved me…I thanked him immensely and was off into the dark woods with some light!
About five miles out my darn light was dimming again. What was going on here? I got to the next aid station and once again asked if they had any of the batteries that I needed. Another volunteer said he had some “used” AA’s in his pack and dug out about 6 of them for me. By the time I got out a mile or so, my headlamp was gone so now I was solely running from my handheld light. Across the bridges it was pretty clear from the moon and open areas, so I cut off my light to save what I could.
Then my handheld flashlight went out and I was able to change the batteries by using my headlamp on regular light (off halogen) This took forever to change one at a time and when I put it back together it still didn’t work. Boy I wasted too much time, so I left depending on the regular headlamp. I was not having good luck with lights because after another mile or so that died too. Thought maybe I had the battery unit in the flashlight wrong, took it out and flipped it, and it worked. I put it all back together and ran along figuring I only had a few miles to go.
Crossed the last bridge, turned right and followed the water to the last aid station to pick up Andrea for the last three miles. My light was fading as I ran into the station but thank god I met my crew and took a new flashlight and LED headlamp. Once again running like a deer, Andrea was pulling me along, like we were on a 5k stint/ I don’t believe I was passed by anyone this last 20 mile lap. No one was happier than the both of us as we crossed the finish line in 22 hours and 3 minutes.
We will give this one to my crew, hitting the lowest of lows and pulling it out in the end. I just wished my high would come in the daylight, because catching up at night is a bit stressful. I actually finished about ½ an hour ahead of my last year’s time.
My appreciation and love go out to all of my crew and family, because it would not happen if it wasn’t for their support, training during the year and for my mom lighting the candles in the church. Also to my special pacer and daughter, Andrea, who is even thinking about doing a 50 mile run in the future!!
Enjoy and see you on the trails ….thks Mike