[Editor’s Note: Matt Laye ran his first 100 miler at the 2014 Rocky Raccoon 100. In doing so, he won the race in a blazing-saddles time of 13:17:42. Below is his story. For more, you can check out our post-race interview with Matt and our 2014 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile result article.]
I hadn’t planned on signing up for the Rocky Raccoon 100, but I was in a bad mood. Unlike so called ‘normal’ people that may eat or shop when they get in a bad mood, I have the habit of signing up for races. Considering that I’d never run more than 57 miles, I began to question my strategy for dealing with bad days.
However, in the back of my head, I knew Rocky Raccoon was the right first 100 miler for me. It played to my strengths and gave me control of many of the variables I’d encounter; it was flat, competitive, had easy logistics, and was close to friends (or crew as I saw them). With only six weeks to transition from cross-country 10k training to 100-mile training, I didn’t have time to overtrain or over-think it, only to train efficiently. Luckily, I’ve been privileged to hang around an experienced ultra community in northern California with plenty of experience. I was soaking up advice from my Mount Tam[alpais] summit bros, alternating between feeling ready and being frightened out of my mind. In addition to these guys with their national titles, top-10 finishes at Western States, and shoe contracts that any runner would be jealous of, the course-record holder of Rocky also lives in the area.
I knew that what Ian Sharman has accomplished in his running career is nothing short of amazing, from his recent Grand Slam record with Leadville win to his 100-mile trail record of 12:44 at Rocky Raccoon. I managed to invite myself for a tour up Mount Diablo (about 3,600 vertical feet) with the goal of picking his brain about all things Rocky Raccoon. The up was seriously easy, but then I got to witness first hand Ian’s sick downhilling skills in which we hit a few ‘relaxed,’ five-flat miles down the trail. My quads were in hell for a week and not nearly as strong as I thought. Repeating this twice more with Ian resulted in new 5k and 10k PRs, quads of steel, and all the advice I needed to get to the starting line confident I could put together my race and excited to see Ian attempt to better his 12:44 CR. After six weeks of so-called 100-mile training complete with a 16 x 400 meter session, I tapered the only way I knew, like it was a marathon.
The taper was just kicking in when I arrived in Houston the Thursday before the race and things were going in the right direction. Caffeine taper (apologizes to all that had to interact me during the prior week), check, spring coming back in the legs, check, massage, check. Looking for that extra 1%, I put together a scientifically-thought-out nutrition plan with the right amount and mix of glucose/fructose, caffeine, amino acids, and hydration that would hopefully keep me going all day, fully knowing that I would in all likelihood have to abandon it out on the course at some point and be forced to take in whatever mixture of Coke, salt tabs, and candy I could stomach.
I was excited about the 4:15 a.m. wake up because that first cup of coffee after a caffeine taper is glorious! Arriving at 5:15 a.m. to the entrance to Huntsville State Park about 45 minutes away from my friends’ house in The Woodlands, I thought I had plenty of time to park, pick up my number, get my drop bag ready for the first three loops without support, and stand on the line nervously for way too long. Traffic into the park thought otherwise and I picked up my number with 12 minutes to start, arriving on the line about 90 seconds before the start, and a little shaken about almost missing a warm up, until I realized I did not need a warm up. This was not a 10k.
As the time hit 6:00 a.m., Dave James was off the front employing some sort of suicide/martyr strategy with Ian and Peter Hogg chasing. I settled in somewhere in the top 10 and just thought about running relaxed, not based on heart rate, not based on pace, but based on feel repeating the mantra I would come back to throughout the race, ‘all day.’ Settling in, I chatted mainly with Ryan Ghelfi who was also making his 100-mile debut and the first lap was done quickly in about 2:36. Soon into the second lap, I needed a serious pit stop (those waist packs get me every time) and a couple minutes later and pound lighter I found myself down a few minutes from the group I was running with, allowing me to focus on my pace again. I would essentially run the next 77 miles alone. Settling back into all-day pace, I moved up steadily and found myself in the top five by the end of Loop #2, and I cautiously allowed myself to think that this was going well. Loop #3 went just as smoothly and I was into new territory beyond the 57-mile mark, trying not to think that I still had a distance would amount to my fifth-longest run yet to cover. I knew that because the weather was warm and humid, it would be difficult for Ian to break his previous course record, but I was still surprised to find that Ian was only a couple minutes ahead of me as I entered the start/finish area. I was catching him? After a quick shoe change, I proceeded to run a low seven minute-mile, quickly calling myself an idiot for trying to make up all the time to Ian in one of the remaining 40 miles. So I backed off, but still managed to catch and pass Ian at mile 66, exiting the Dam Nation Aid Station.
While you certainly feel like you have a target on your back when you move into the lead, I was focused on running my race. I never felt like I was racing Ian, since we were not competing for a Western spot or the USATF title. What scared me more than Ian was blowing up and letting down all of my NorCal ultra friends, not being able to talk about how I have a faster PR than them in my first 100, and not being privy to the 100-mile club discussions at the top of Mount Tam. My mantra was shifting from ‘all-day’ to ‘don’t f this up.’ After a short stop at the start/finish area, I picked up my safety runner (who would safely watch me take a digger in the last two miles) and college roommate Steve Laurie who had come out from Baltimore to help crew, pace, and serve as chauffeur and cook post-race. If things were not going well, he would have been my straight-up pacer, but due to USATF rules he was relegated to follow by 20 feet and not talk to me. It was okay, though, I was in the zone and focused on staying there. Heading out to for my final loop, I was confident I had a spot at Western and top three at USATF secured. But in the final 20 miles at the end of a 100, a lot can happen, so I stayed patient in ‘don’t f this up’ mode for the first 12 miles of the loop. While Ian is a notoriously good closer, a time gap of seven minutes heading out of Dam Nation for home (about eight miles to go) meant anything under nine-minute pace would make it extremely difficult for him to catch me. However, I had to be sure and employed a surge hard on the downs and wide-open fire road and a relax on the singletrack in the dark strategy. Also in my head I had the time sub-13:20, or eight minute-mile pace, but mainly I just wanted to be done.
I hardly ever win races, finish first in workouts, or win USATF national titles (okay I never do that), so in crossing the finish line first in 13:17:42 I was a little confused about how to act. Hands in the air or by my side, do a Jorge [Maravilla] jump kick or stay on the ground, yell or not, or some weird combination of all of those? What surprised me the most was not the place I finished, as that is entirely dependent upon how others people’s races go and if Ian and/or Peter felt better, then I may have finished lower in the standings, but I still accomplished all my goals. What really surprised me was how consistent I ran. It’s just not supposed to happen in your first 100 miler unless you are superhuman like Rob Krar, and if you saw my goatee you know that I am no Rob Krar. I was steady throughout the day, with the only few miles over nine minutes being ones with aid-station stops and less than 10 minutes of non-running time according to my GPS watch. My stomach was never an issue; the heat and humidity I hardly noticed; and my feet where fine. All of that had been my undoing at Matterhorn Ultraks last August. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it and find words for the feelings of exceeding my own limits in every way. Days like this are rare, so I will savor this one and try to bottle up a little of the magic for Western States.
Some of that magic is due to my crew looking after my needs. Thanks Steve and Stephanie for crewing me, updating the rest of my ‘virtual crew’ and support team online, carrying my broken down body to the car post-race, and being able to quickly find my Body Glide when it was most needed. The race organizers, volunteers at the aid stations, and all the other runners on the course that said ‘hi’ even though I had a death stare for much of the race, were all fantastic and make this an easy choice for first 100 miler. Lastly, without Ian I would not have run as well; his willingness to share his time, knowledge, and the trails of Diablo does not go unappreciated. (Yes you have several beers coming your way, Ian.) If you are looking for a coach I can highly recommend him. I mean, he practically coached me to victory over himself, although I think that may cost extra now.
There is something special going on in NorCal trail running right now that I am so excited to be a part of. We have the guys; Alex Varner (50k USATF champ), Jorge Maravilla (100k USATF champ), Dylan Bowman (Montrail Ultra Cup Sean O’Brien champ), Ian Sharman, Gary Gellin, Galen Burrell, Chikara Omine, and plenty of guys just waiting to burst onto the scene. We have the trails (#tamtuesday with bros on a mountain). We have one of the best trail running communities in the country, and when anchored around the San Francisco Running Company, you have a recipe for success. It’s a magical time for sure, and we will see you in Squaw.
- Scott Kinabalus (first 60 miles)
- Montrail FluidFlex (last 40 miles)
- North Face Better Than Naked Split Short
- Pearl Izumi Infinity In-R-Cool Singlet
- Tailwind (eight scoops)
- Gu Roctane Drink Mix (one packet)
- PowerGels (13)
- Honey Stinger Energy Bars (two)
- 2nd Surge Energy Gels (seven)
- Random aid-station things: Succeed Electrolytes, Hammer Gel (one)