Monday, February 8, 2010

Don't mess with Texas - Rocky Raccoon 100

Kevin Grabowski's Race Report:

It’s no fun to write a race report when things don’t go well… however, those are the reports I most enjoy reading.   The races where the wheels come off and bad decisions lead to dumb ones.  The gory details of a complete meltdown and disintegration are often more easy to identify with than the cheery recap of a race gone flawlessly.  I would like reading a report like this - if it weren’t mine…

 I thought signing up for a winter 100 would keep me motivated to retain my fitness and keep the momentum I felt at the end of 2009 – my own personal carrot on the end of the stick.   Unfortunately, even as the race approached and I knew I hadn’t been doing long runs, I still didn’t get out there and do the work. 

In the weeks leading up to the race I began to panic a little bit and even considered changing my entry to the 50 mile but I figured if I started slow and ran conservatively I could “fake” my way through it.

 I didn’t stick to the plan.  I didn’t have much of a plan since I was pretty unsure about my fitness level, but I all I knew was I had to go out slow. That plan didn’t last long as I completed the first 20 miles in 2:51.  It just felt so easy.  The course is really fast – five 20 mile loops - definitely some technical nature as there were some roots and ruts, but mostly just fast.  Very little elevation change made every step runnable and after logging most of my winter miles on the snow covered and hilly Ice-Age trail, this felt effortless. 

Naively, I started to think maybe I was secretly more fit than I had thought - Maybe my body was just resting during my lazy winter lay-off and I was going to rock this thing!  So I kept rolling.  I chugged through 40 miles in 6:01, 52 miles in 8:16, and 60 miles in 9:41.  I was slowing down on every loop but even with a 3:40 fourth loop, I still managed to get to 80 miles in 13:58. 

At this point I was thinking I had a legitimate shot at breaking 18 hours – or at worst I could hang on to an sub 19 if things went terribly wrong.   

It was now night and the temperature was dropping so I switched my short sleeve shirt out for a dry long sleeve.   I was actually looking forward to the colder temps a little – hoping they would revive my tiring legs and it didn’t occur to me to grab extra warm clothes out of my car parked near the start/finish area before heading off on the final loop. 

I should note - I didn’t have any drop bags – I wasn’t trying to macho out some solo effort – It was a matter of practicality as the pre-race instructions said drop bags wouldn’t be returned to the start/finish area until 1pm Sunday and my flight was leaving Houston (an hour and a half away) at 2:50pm.  So I packed whatever I thought was practical into my Camelbak and carried it the whole race.

I had a little more trouble getting started on this final loop and my legs just couldn’t keep a good cadence so I walked for the first time during the race and hoped they would spring back with some rest.   I knew I had a good cushion so I ran when I could and walked when I had to.  The first aid-station was 3.1 miles out and I hoped I would start being able to run more after that.  But things just got worse.  I drank a bunch of soup at that aid-station and shuffled back out. 

My whole body started to feel like one big cramp.  When something on my Camelbak was squeaking and annoying me, I reached back to tighten the strap on the flap over the cover and my shoulder and triceps spasmed.  Then I tried to take off my shoe to dump out some debris and had trouble getting back up.  Even my ever slowing walking pace was making me want to stop and rest.  Without running I was cooling down rapidly and starting to shiver and shake. 

It took me almost an hour and half to cover the next 3.1 miles to the second aid station.  By the time I got there I was a wreck - One big shivering cramping mess. The people working there were so nice to me – putting me in front of a propane heater, getting me soup and hot-chocolate, helping me change my socks – they even gave me some gloves.  I spent nearly 45 minutes there until I stopped shaking and knew I better get moving. 

I had a 6 mile loop to complete before I would be able to return to this same aid-station and face the last 8 miles.  So off into the dark and cold I stumbled.   I tried not to think about the time I was hemorrhaging.  With every step I was down-grading my finish goals until I settled into the death march of those who just want to finish.

I spent the better part of 3 miles trying to talk myself into continuing, but those thoughts started turning to more and more to justifications for quitting.  In those last miles on the course I practiced the conversations I would have with my friends – trying on the role of the DNF’er for the first time.  That role didn’t feel as bad as I did, and in the end I was just done.

 About half-way through that loop was a tent check point where I announced that I was dropping.   Ironically, I still had to walk another couple of miles through a short cut and back onto the course to get to the start/finish – but now I was walking among the runners as a DNF – not someone in the race.  

Unfortunately they don’t stamp a giant blinking DNF on you, so spectators and other runners kept wishing me well as I headed back.  “Keep going Man – You are almost there!!”  

Damn, I almost was.


  1. Welcome to the DNF club, Kevin; you learn a lot about yourself from the bad races. I'm working on making a giant blinking DNF sign out of old headlamps...

  2. Is the Jeff Grabowsky from Virginia who finished Rocky related?

  3. Now that you got your DNF out of the way, you can focus on training harder and smoking some races. Great effort, bro! Can't wait to see what you'll do this season. Just think, only 7 months until Sawtooth!!!

  4. Looks like you just wanted to finish as soon as possible and get out from there ha! I meant you went really fast thinking that you will be late for your fly. Paciencia man! and even more paciencie! fly can wait :)
    Enjoy the journey of any ultra run.
    Life still Great even with DNF

  5. Hey Kevin!! This is Mike Rutter...your old pal from Missoula and Snowbowl. Glad to see you overcame your running injuries and are back at it. Send me an email when you can and let's catch up!

  6. Best blog I've read in a long time Kevin. Thanks for sharing. I'm learning through your experience. See you soon. -Aaron