My nemesis is a rodent. My archenemy, my greatest competition, the driving force behind my current training cycle. That’s right, a rodent.
His name is Rocky Raccoon.
I’m not sure how he and I first met, when this all started. I know it was sometime last year, not more than a year ago. It wasn’t until December of 2011 that I signed up for last year’s Rocky Raccoon 100, and at some point, the rodent challenged me to a competition. He’s a raccoon to be sure, but depending on my mood, I imagine him a hamster, a squirrel, something small, furry and menacing.
He haunts my dreams, and like Rocky and Apollo Creed, I am determined to beat him.
Well, there’s a bit more to this story that most Salty readers know. We launched Salty Running last year in April, and a couple of months before, I had run my first Rocky Raccoon 100 in February. We had an epic battle, the raccoon and I; one so fierce, so devastating, and yet so inspiring that I almost immediately called for a rematch. That rematch is now upon us, less than two weeks away, and my relationship with the raccoon has only deepened over time.
It all started as a joke, I guess. It was a cold mid-December night, and I had just gotten home from some Christmas shopping that took longer than anticipated. It was dark with one of those freezing cold drizzles of rain, and I needed to get another six miles in to hit mileage for the day. I was waffling and whining and complaining, and DB joked that that was exactly what the raccoon wanted me to do. A very antagonistic relationship was born that night, one that has included mock phone calls from the rodent: “Hello? This is Rocky Raccoon. I’m calling to follow-up on Star’s mileage this week?” as well as many imaginary encounters. He has been blamed for ice, illness, foul weather and even menstrual cramps. If it gets in the way of my training, it is raccoon sabotage at its best, an obstacle placed in my way simply to give a foul rodent his kicks.
On hard workouts, I imagine him spying on me or running in tandem. Driving home from a social obligation at which we had been pigeon-holed “the runners” not too long ago, I asked DB what people would say if I answered the old “but what on earth do you think about when you run for so long” question honestly. I said, “what if I told them that sometimes, when I get really bored on the mid-week 21’s, I count the number of squirrels I see and pretend that they’re the raccoon’s informants, and they’re running back to their trees to confirm they saw me at each checkpoint on my route?”
Better yet, maybe I should tell them that when I’m forced by ice and weather onto the treadmill for speed ladders or 800 workouts, I imagine the raccoon on a hamster’s wheel, spinning out of control with sweat flying off him, begging me to stop so he can get a breath?
Me and Rocky Raccoon.
My training cycle went flawlessly last year; in truth, my training for the 2012 Rocky Raccoon was my best 100-mile training cycle to date. I had only minor complaints, completed each training week flawlessly, and had never felt so strong and ready. Neither had the raccoon. Race morning brought 50 degree temperatures but an epic, straight out of the movies torrential downpour. I ran my first lap far too fast, too caught up in the conversation around me. I adjusted my pace but struggled mightily with an angry right IT band throughout the race, which was doubly frustrating as I never have IT issues. But like magic, I hit my stride in the late 50’s and early 60’s. I felt strong, the pain abated, and I was gliding over the course. Due to the poor weather and course conditions along with some nagging injuries, several of the male and female frontrunners had dropped early, and by mile 80, I had moved into second place. Yes, young Clove was running second, and she had it by over an hour. She was going to break 19 hours in second place; all she had to do was just. Hold. On.
Until she made a wrong turn at 98.5 (98.5!!!) and ended up back at a prior aid station with 104 miles in the books.
The truth of the matter is this: the turn was poorly marked, and several runners had missed this same turn earlier in the day – in the daylight no less – so making it in the dark, with a bit of fuzzy brain from hyponatremia and that whole running 98 miles thing – was devastating, but not tragic. I mean, at least I wasn’t the only one. And because the course was a loop with a couple of lollipops, even the wrong turn put me back on course pretty quickly, which meant I was following course markings and flourescent flags – which meant I thought I was on course.
An epic, tragic disappointment that never actually hit. I mean really, is this the level the raccoon had to stoop to?
Well, forewarned is forearmed, and when we teamed up again, the raccoon and I, it was with a much better understanding of each other. Maybe it’s my own little way of combatting the loneliness of the long-distance runner. Maybe, like the girl you hated all through grade-school and suddenly became best friends with, we’ll learn to bury our differences and work together. Maybe he’s just a figment of an over-active imagination, a grown-up ultrarunner’s imaginary friend (foe?) driving her to run harder, concentrate more, dream bigger.
Maybe he’s just a nasty little rodent whose time has come.
Me and Rocky Raccoon.
Thanks for the miles, my friend.