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Race Team Member John Brower Represents R/C in Huntsville, TX

Rock/Creek Race Team Member John Brower finishes 24th place out of 217 registered participants in this year’s Rocky Raccoon 100 mi & 50Mi Endurance Trail Run in Huntsville State Park- Huntsville, TX on February 6, 2010. Below is John’s race day recap on the gear and mental aspects he endured to achieve his finishing time of 19:12:35. Great work John! ~ R/C
“Come what may…I want to run.”
Pre-Dawn
With a starting time of 6am, and a stay in the Motel 6 about 10 miles from the start, my alarm began to chirp at 4am. I will say that I have never slept that good before a race…I probably managed about 5-6 hours, which is quite different from the tossing and turning-filled one to two hours I am accustomed to getting. I hopped out of bed and headed to the lobby, hoping that the sweet receptionist at the hotel was telling the truth about coffee being ready by 4. I went double-fisted back to the room and got dressed for the race: my Rock/Creek-emblazoned Patagonia race jersey, Brooks Infiniti shorts, Drymax Maximum Protection socks, CEP calf-compression sleeves and Inov-8 Roclite 295 shoes. I grabbed my Rock/Creek race team bag, which was to serve as my aid station at the start-finish area and filled with GU, Nuun, Bodyglide, Duct tape, and other necessities. Out the door by five and at the race check-in by 5:40. It was time.
Loop One
The course consists of five 20-mile loops on root covered single- and double-track trail, with very minimal elevation change. Aid stations were about 3-4 miles apart, with a longer 6-mile gap between mile 7 and 13. I set out in the dark with a hand-held flashlight to guide my way until the sun rose. With the record number of entrants, over 300, I wanted to insure I didn’t get bottled up early, so I took off at what I knew was a bit faster than I wanted, but with the knowledge that I would settle in once the sun came up. Good game plan in my head, but once light dawned on us, I was running comfortably and feeling good, so I just ran. I held steady in the second group of runners, with the leaders ahead of us, just out of sight. Looking around, I recognized no faces, so I figured I was in good company…no heavyweight in this group. We came through the Dam Road aid station at around mile 13, and I refilled my Ultimate Direction hand-held with water, and dropped a Nuun tablet in. This was to be my plan for the entire race as far as aid was concerned: Always have a GU open in my hand, refill my bottle with water and a Nuun tablet, and supplement with Heed, PBJ, Snickers, and chicken broth. As I continued to run what I thought was a comfortable pace, I noticed that another runner had joined our group: two-time defending Badwater 135 champion and the defending Rocky Raccoon champion Jamie Donaldson. Suddenly realizing that I was in elite company, I began to be a bit concerned with my pace, but still didn’t look at my watch…I continued to run comfortably through the first loop, enjoying the tidbits of knowledge I was gaining from my fellow runners, and came to the clock in 2:48…uh oh…
Loop Two
I refilled my Spibelt with GU and Nuun, topped off my water bottle and headed out with a roll of toilet paper for the inevitable pit stop that was lurking in my bowels. With my goal time for the first loop being between 3:10 and 3:20, I knew I was out waaaaay too fast. I dropped off the pace a bit, and ran with Jamie for a few miles, as I could tell she was also a bit uncomfortable with the initial pace. I figured that if I could run loop two in 3:20 I might be ok. By mile 23, the bowels rang, and I took the call. As I started back out, my quads felt unusually tight from the crouching position, but I paid no mind and pressed on. Around mile 25, Jamie took a devastating fall, and stayed down. Asking her if she was ok was pointless; it was obvious she was in pain. I offered my assistance in helping her up, but she simply encouraged me to press on, so off I went. I cruised fairly comfortably through the aid stations, and by the time mile 33 came around, was still feeling fairly confident in my pace. Then BAM! I soccer kicked a root. Now I didn’t clip it, making me trip and stumble…I freaking kicked the crap out of it. My big toe on my right foot screamed in agony, and I truly thought it was broken. “Oh well,” I thought, “lets see if you can run on a broken toe”…So without a pause I trucked on. As I came down the chute towards the clock, I was thinking that my first goal was still attainable. I had learned from other 100-milers to make three goals for myself. Goal one was sub-18 hours, goal two was sub-20, and goal three was to finish. I took a glance at the clock, and it showed me at 5:50-something…uh oh…
Loop Three
Reality began to set in. My speed was putting me in the top 5, but out of reality for the next 60 miles. I did the math, and if I kept this clip, I would finish in around 15 hours. Now that would have been great, but considering I am not Karl Meltzer, this was not going to happen. I HAD to slow down, and I had to recover. Though fatigue was not setting in quite yet, I knew that the inevitability lurked right around on of these trees, and when it came, I had to be physically ready. I headed out after refilling my bottle and pack, and created a game plan for the next two loops. I was going to run the flats and downhills, and anything that even resembled an incline I was going to power-walk. I began my plan and started to do work. My pace slowed down, but that was fine…I knew it was necessary. I ate snickers and pbj’s, and kept downing fluids, ensuring I was doing everything I could to prepare myself for the inevitable. At some point in this loop, Jamie came and passed me…it was good to see she was back on track and headed to a strong finish. I came to mile 53 feeling good, and feeling great about my new plan and how it was working. I rolled comfortably in to the chute and checked the clock. I had slowed considerably, and had gotten on track for a much more reasonable finish…goal one was still in reach. However, something strange was beginning to happen…the flat and fast course of the Rocky Raccoon was suddenly becoming a bit difficult…the inclines were beginning to resemble hills…was this the inevitable I had been waiting on? Not yet…
Loop four
I refilled as usual, grabbed my headlamp and a jacket, hooked up with my pacer, and out we went. It was good to finally be running with someone again. I told him of my new “plan”, and we began to do work. I was feeling good, rolling along and BAM! I kicked a root again…with the same foot…now the toe was numb already, but I really thought I felt the nail come through the nail bed…too late to do anything about it, so we continued to press on. Darkness came around mile 70, and with the darkness came cooler temps, and chicken soup! I took down a cup at mile 73, and we continued to press on, sticking to the plan. At mile 76(ish) there is an aid stop, the fourth on the loop. I took down some more soup, headed down the trail, and found what I had been waiting on for about 25-30 miles now…inevitability jumped out of a tree and landed on my back…and it was heavy…I pressed on with the plan and came through the chute at about 14:15…
Loop five
Goal one was out…goal two was still attainable, but at this point it was not a guarantee. I was tired, both physically and mentally. The speed of the first two loops was coming back to ruin me. I refilled all my supplies and headed out, knowing I could be out there for a while, but also knowing that I was going to finish. A DNF was not an option, but was not a reality either. I knew that, even if the wheels came off completely, I would get back to the clock. As we headed out, I told my pacer that we were going to walk for a bit…I had to reformulate a strategy that would work for the next 20 miles. So we walked…and walked…and walked. Now granted, it was a power-walk, it was still a walk. Through aid station one, we walked. Through aid station two, we walked. I got really cold, so I picked up a pair of gloves and some hand warmers, and downed some soup. “Just keep moving forward. John…keep moving forward…” I was very uncomfortable, and was growing weary. “Finish John…keep moving forward…” At around mile 88, I passed two women who were just chatting it up…obviously on their third or fourth loop. “How are those quads?” they asked. I thought about it for a moment…”Actually, not too bad…” Hmm…I really was feeling no muscular pain at all…my discomfort was from my tendons and ligaments tightening up. All of a sudden it hit me…if my muscles don’t hurt, and if I feel stiff, then running will loosen me up, and I should feel better! So at mile 90, I picked up my feet and ran. I suddenly was warm, and the discomfort, while still there, was not too bad. I realized that I had to become comfortable with the pain, and press on towards the goal…and so I did. I relished the radiating pain that extended from my toes up through my IT bands and ran. At this point, I told my pacer not to tell me the time. I wanted to run as hard and as fast as I could for the last 10 miles and see what happened, unhindered by any self-made expectations. I wanted to run free with my thoughts and with the discomfort, and press hard to the clock, safety be damned. The last ten miles was a lesson in self-control…controlling my God-given body within the constraints I have come to learn give me strength for every day. I meditated on verses, and found myself more thankful and grateful for the pain and the woods and the darkness and the experience than I had been for anything in a while. I was thinking of my wife who was running the race also, and offered up thanksgiving for her…I was thinking of the people who were at that moment thinking of me, and offered thanksgiving for them…I was suddenly humbled by all that was going on and the ability that was given to me to do this, to be there, and wept for a moment…but just for a moment. The finishing chute was upon me…one more turn and I was there. My pacer backed off and I came to the clock running faster than I ever have in my life. I glanced at the clock: 19:12.
Epilogue
I crossed the line as most 100-mile finishers do…spent. Joe Pruisaitis, the RD for the race, shook my hand, and I got my buckle. That was that. My pacer and I collapsed in our lawn chairs, and I proceeded to pass out immediately. I woke up a bit later and warmed up in a nearby heated van, and awaited the arrival of my wife. At 22:39 on the clock there came a runner with the most recognizable “whoo-hoo!” I have ever known. My wife came through the finish ecstatic, and I rejoiced with her on her success. After a few moments of taking it all in, we were in the car on the way back to the hotel, ready for a few hours of sleep before the awards ceremony and breakfast. As long as it took, through the months of training and the hundreds of miles of preparation, through the pre-dawn start and the nighttime finish, it was over.
I got my 100-mile finish. But I have more than that. I have a confirmation that we enjoy sport and creation as few people get to. We strip ourselves bare. We turn ourselves inside out. We suffer more willingly and intensely and more chronically than most ever do. We experience highs and lows within such a short span of time that most psychologists would diagnose us as bi-polar at the least. For what? For a buckle? For a place on a podium? For notoriety amongst our peers? No way…we do this to ourselves for way more than that. We do it for a passion that is instilled in us the first time we run on a trail…for a desire to see what is out there beyond the mental constructs of what most think is possible…to achieve a goal that we set before ourselves…to push our bodies harder and farther than the last time and see what lies beyond the breaking point. And for this runner, to finish knowing that I have given my best, unto the glory of God.
Thanks to all of my supporters, especially Rock/Creek and Fleet Feet Sports for the race gear, Nuun and Hammer for keeping me hydrated, GU for the supplemental energy, Ultimate Direction for making the best hand-held in the business, Spibelt, and Drymax socks (blister-free, of course!), and David Elkin, my pacer.
John Brower
Rock/Creek Race Team Member