I was able to join the fun for the 2018 edition of the Rocky Raccoon 50 event. They offer both the 50 miler and 50k distances. I have run both, but this year felt the 50k would best fit my fitness level. They even have a 100 miler that is the week prior. I don’t really have any reason to run 100 miles, but I commend those that due.
I have obtained a new love for trail races over the last few years. I happen to live in an area of Austin that has trails and me and my dog Miles run them frequently. The serenity and beauty of trail racing is my new high. I cannot recommend it enough.
Due to fact that Hurricane Harvey did significant large amount of damage to the Huntsville State Park, the Tejas Trails crew had to rework the course to make it work. The previous years have had a 17-mile ish course, but this year there was a new 25-mile loop. As a creature of habit, I was a little unsure of the change, but what could I do? Huntsville State park is located just south of Huntsville Texas, which is approximately 90 minutes north of Houston. The park primarily consists of heavy wooded pine trees. There is also Lake Raven that sits right in the middle.
In previous years, I have stayed at a nearby hotel, but this year I chose to bring my camper. I felt the ability to stay in the park; maybe mountain bike a little would even make the experience better. I was right. The park is absolutely beautiful in so many aspects. We arrived late Thursday night and set up.
On Friday we got up had some coffee and enjoyed the park. After lunch I headed to packet pickup. Packet pickup was conveniently located in the park. I checked in and got my bib and timing chip. I also got a sweet beanie. I opted for the beanie over a dry fit hat, as I have many of those. I was able to shoot the breeze with race director, Chris, and discuss the course as well as life. Congrats to Chris and his wife on a new addition to their family 4 weeks ago. After that I headed back to the site and talked my wife, Andi, into a ride into the park. We rode a short ways into a trail and the trails appeared in great shape. There were a little signs of dampness, but overall they appeared pretty dry. I was pretty stoked about the race and was ready to go. We cooked dinner around the campsite that evening and I took it to bed pretty early.
The weather had shown off and on signs of rain. It indicated that we might get a tenth to a quarter of an inch of rain. Well as it turned out, it rained most of the night. I don’t know how much hit the ground, but it was enough to soak the place.
Race morning: I woke up at 5:45 am (pretty late huh?). The new course change the times as well. I was doing the 50k that usually started at 5:45am and the 50 miler went at 6am. This year the 50 miler started at normal time, but the 50k did a 6-mile out and back before a 25-mile loop. I ate, drank a little coffee and had Andi dropped me off at 6:50am. One the way there we saw the 50 miler headlamps making their way through the trail. I literally got out of the car, walked to the start line, heard Chris give the announcements and off we went.
We all seemed to run at a nice pace headed out. The sun was just starting to come up and I’m pretty sure I was the only one with a headlamp ready to use. We quickly noticed the ground was super soaked in a few areas. This made for muddy and sometimes super slick areas. At some point, I slipped around pretty good. As a trail runner, who normally runs in road shoes, I was wishing I had a pair of trail shoes on. I needed the traction. We went out about 3 miles and headed back to the start. At the start line we turned back around for the real loop. At about mile 9.5 I hit the second aid station (The first was at the start line that we hit 6 miles in) and grabbed some nutrition. Then across the road we went. I was determined to give Andi a text every 10 miles to give her an idea of how I was tracking. So I did this at mile 10. Somewhere past this the conditions got a little worse. The ground must have been saturated prior to the nights rain and it was muddy. During the beginning I was tiptoeing around the mud and water trying to avoid soaked shoes. It didn’t really help much. With one wrong step my shoe was immersed in water, but hey this is trail racing right? Check in number 1 was done at the first out and back. Then we headed towards the Damnation aid station. It was during this pass that I gave up on clean shoes. We hit a spot where water was coming across the road and you had no choice but to tread ahead. We also got to run a new trail here. It was a nice little single track that must have avoided more treacherous water and mud conditions.
I made it to Damnation and I always love this station. Actually I always love all the aid stations here. If you have not experienced an all out Tejas Trail aid station, you must. These are generally stocked with volunteers who love trail racing/running, the people and the outdoors. They stock more food than a Luby’s buffet and it’s all included with your entry fee 😉 I kid you not, the volunteers make the races. To all of them, I say thank you. I again refilled my nutrition and headed for the last check in at far side. The course was muddy throughout this region. It’s beautiful except where you can see the wreckage on some of the hiking bridges that Harvey destroyed. That was painful to see and it was a reminder of how that storm tore up so much of Houston and the surrounding areas.
I made it to the far side, checked in and headed back. I always love these points in the race, I was done going out and it was straight back to the finish line. I decided heading back to Damnation that I would ditch my nutrition vest and carry a bottle the remainder of the way in. I was able to call Andi and do just that around mile 25. Around mile 22, the rain came back and it really felt great. As much of a mess I already was, I enjoyed getting soaked all over. After losing the vest I felt a weight lifted and was able to return to more running after I had been mostly walking for the last 5 of so miles. I really enjoyed the last 6 miles of the race. Man, did I like the site of the finish line. Again, they had the Luby’s style buffet and people to check on you. I traded my timing chip for a medal and headed off for Andi to take me home.
I will say that the temps really dropped right after I finished and I felt sorry for the tough folks finishing out the 50 miles. They had another level of difficulty, because being soaked and cold don’t go well together. Good job 50 miler runners.
All in all, I had a great time. All of the Tejas Trails are fun, well supported and have the best volunteers. I would highly recommend Rocky Raccoon as a first ultra distance or if you are want a new PR. The course is about as flat as you can run off road.
If you don’t want to run the course, just go check out this great state park. It’s great to run, hike, mountain bike, fish and camp.