By Larry Carroll
There’s a good reason why the image selected for the registration page of the Hoka One One Rocky Raccoon 50 Endurance Trail Run is a smiling athlete wearing a tutu. Rocky Raccoon has been growing exponentially over the last few years, driven by a culture that embraces the “no pressure” mindset, and runners are responding to that.
Wanna run a 50k? Prefer to run 50 miles? A half marathon, your first ultra, or a really fast 50? No pressure, the Texas-based event seems to say – you be you.
Wanna put on your game face? Prefer to take the course with a smile and a silly hat? Again, you be you.
Online registration is now open for the February 8th 50 miles/50k/half-marathon options, which will almost definitely sell out as more and more athletes use it as a solid option to begin their new year. Set in the city of Huntsville (population: 38,000), the course promises challenging elevation changes, beautiful pine trees, cool bridges and some Texas wildlife.
Founded in 2002, the Rocky Raccoon 50was amended to include the 50k option in 2016, but capped out at 500 runners max so it won’t lose its charm.
One interesting thing about the Rocky Raccoon 50 is that both the men’s and women’s categories seem ripe for a record reset. The fastest men’s race was run by Todd Braje (5:43:08) in 2011, and women’s champion Melanie Fryar (6:59:40) set her record way back in 2010. Another interesting factor is that race times seem to be trending in the wrong direction: There hasn’t been anything close to 7 hours for women in the near-decade since Fryar set the record, and the last 3 Rocky 50s have been over 8 hours. For men, two winners came within a half-hour of Braje since 2011, but the last two Rocky 50 winners have taken well over 7 hours.
Much of this fluctuation can be attributed to weather, trail changes and the occasional trail closing that requires adjustments. As the site says: “Please appreciate these records knowing they are not certified but are impressive.” Could this year’s Rocky start reversing the trend back down?
Another interesting note is that the Rocky Raccoon 50 often trends older than many races. Last year’s winners were 49 (Amy Ewing of Texas) and 46 (Chad Lasater, also of Texas); in 2018, Barb Delgado took the women’s title at age 50 – and in 2006, 51-year-old Larry Hall led the pack. Indeed, the 50 miler proudly maintains a database of the fastest runners per age – all the way from 14 (Matt Holdaway, 12:29:42 in 2011) to 79 (Grant Holdaway, 14:55:47 in 2011). An ultra-running family with grandfather/grandson record holders at both ends of the age spectrum – how cool is that?
Every finisher gets a cool commemorative medal, and as their website shows (TEJAS TRAILS AWARDS & FINISHER MEDALS), race organizer Tejas Trails takes great pride in creating unique, handmade medals for its races. Some can even double as bottle openers or wine stoppers. Also, in keeping with the “you be you” mentality surrounding Rocky Raccoon, Tejas loves giving special awards to standout performances – as the website explains: “Whether it be for someone who slowed down to help a straggler accomplish their goal, someone who we know went through the ringer to get their race done, whoever had the most crashes, or a mom who ran/picked flowers/caught bugs with their little daughter the whole 10km, who knows what…”
Helpers will often be greatly appreciated, as evidenced by this excellent blog ( Rocky Raccoon 50 Miler ) from 2018 runner “Iron Jill,” who chose Rocky Raccoon as the ideal trail run while she ramped up for bigger races. She dealt with a constant drizzle as the race began, followed by heavier rainshowers later in the day.
“The hardest part was all the mud from the rains. And the course was pretty mucky from the 100 mile race the weekend before,” she writes. “And oh the roots! It should be called Rooty Raccoon!”
After only 1 mile, Jill landed in a deep puddle and soaked herself – and her other foot hit a root, rolling her ankle. At mile 9, the “Damnation” aid station brought relief for her rapidly-developing blisters thanks to a helpful aid. Later, she earned herself the nickname “Mud Butt,” falling into a massive mud puddle. By the end of the race, Jill had a raw big toe, a taped-up ankle, and was soaked in mud – but finished the race with a smile and the mantra: “I CAN do hard things!”
Keep your eye on this year’s Rocky Raccoon 50 to see similar stories of pain, trials and triumph. Ultimately, everyone has their own race to run – and it’s fun to see one event that proudly affords its athletes the opportunity to blaze their own trails.