Rocky Raccoon: bigger, better, and almost indefensible

April 30, 2010

[This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of UltraRunning.]

Founded in 1993, the Rocky Raccoon 100 in Huntsville State Park, Texas, was once a relatively remote outpost of ultramarathoning. That was before the addition of a 50-mile race (in 2002), the reign of current race directors Joe and Joyce Prusaitis (since 2004), and the hosting of a USATF 100-mile trail championship (in 2006). Today, the event is one of the largest and most well-known in North America, with runners coming from near and far to enjoy the wide, gently rolling trails punctuated by frequent aid stations (one every four miles or so), along with weather that is usually mild and dry (as it was this year). There were 344 starters in the 100-mile race and another 296 in the 50-miler.

Rocky Raccoon’s growth in size and reputation has made it increasingly difficult to win. Meredith Terranova, the women’s 50-mile champ in 2008 (8:21) and 2009 (8:02), was back this year to defend her title and clocked a blistering 7:12, well under the old course record of 7:44 set by her coach, Amanda McIntosh, in 2002. Yet 7:12 was only good enough for 2nd place, as Terranova’s friend and fellow Texan Melanie Fryer ran 6:59:40.

Somewhat similarly, Jamie Donaldson (Littleton, CO) offered a strong defense of her 100-mile title, her 2010 time of 16:54 being just three minutes slower than her 2009 time. Yet she too was dethroned. Liza Howard ended the first 20-mile loop with a split time of 2:49 and a one-minute lead over Donaldson and Connie Gardner; she extended her lead to 13 minutes by the end of lap two (5:47) and was not challenged thereafter. Howard finished in 15:45:03, the second-fastest female time in race history, behind only Jenn Shelton’s course record of 14:57. Howard had also raced Rocky Raccoon in 2009 but was slowed by stops to nurse her then-one-year-old son, as well as a nap during the fourth lap. Her win thus came as a surprise to many, though not to those who witnessed her beat all men and women at the Cactus Rose 100 last October.

The times of the winning men were perhaps less impressive than those of the top women, though Andrew Bloom of Illinois registered a very quick opening 16.67-mile lap of 1:52 in the 50-miler. He was passed during lap two by fellow 23-year-old Dominic Grossman of California, who ultimately cruised to a 22-minute victory over Sean Lewis of Texas, finishing in 6:26:05.

Among the male 100-mile starters, six came through 20 miles in times between 2:38 and 2:41, including Greg Crowther (Seattle, WA) and Ian Sharman (Bend, OR). Crowther remained slightly ahead of Sharman at the 40-mile and 60-mile checkpoints (5:20 vs. 5:22 and 8:09 vs. 8:19, respectively). The fourth lap proved decisive, as Crowther kept running while Sharman slowed to a walk and was passed by Tony Clark of Kansas, who eventually became the second male finisher in 16:28, behind Crowther’s 14:58:32. This was Crowther’s second attempt at the 100-mile distance; he declared it to be an unpleasantly long way to run, but added that it was less unpleasant than DNFing at mile 62 of Western States in 2007. He enjoyed pacing help from John Reynolds and Paul Terranova, the same duo that paced Jamie Donaldson to her victory in 2009.

Among other notable performances, Jeff Holdaway of Virginia ran 20:13, his 10th Rocky Raccoon 100 finish in 11 years, to become the sixth member of the “1000-mile club.” Previously inducted members adding another 100 miles to their lifetime totals included 67-year-old Rolly Portelance of Canada (26:43) and 69-year-old Hans-Dieter Weisshaar of Germany (28:39).

Top performers were rewarded with locally produced trophies made out of rusted metal. At least one veteran of past Rocky Raccoons considered these prizes preferable to a previous year’s offering of “large tree segments.”

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