The Rocky Raccoon 100 has long attracted runners for its flat, fast course—five 20-mile laps around Huntsville State Park, just north of Houston, Texas.
That’s one of the reasons Matt Laye, a 32-year-old researcher from Sausalito, California, chose the race for his first hundred-miler. “The looped nature of it made logistics easy; the course is relatively flat, which suits my road-running background; the timing worked with my racing plan for the rest of the year; and I have friends in the Houston area,” he says of the February 1 event. “Based on the result, I think it was the right decision.”
The result, as many of you know from tracking iRunFar’s live coverage last weekend, was a first-place finish in an impressive 13:17:42. Not only was Laye’s time the fourth-fastest in the race’s 22-year history, but he passed friend and course record holder Ian Sharman around mile 66 to continue on for the win.
“Matt Laye did a textbook pacing job, with only about five minutes between his fastest and slowest lap,” Sharman blogged after the race. “He dealt with the conditions, pacing, and inevitable difficulties later in the race as if he was a smart 100-mile veteran.”
This year’s edition of Rocky Raccoon was the USATF 100-Mile Trail Championship as well as a Montrail Ultra Cup event, which means (among other things) that the top three male and female finishers received an automatic entry into the Western States Endurance Run in June.
But before Laye starts training for the the world's most prestigious ultra, he took a few minutes to tell Outside about his 100-mile debut.
How are you feeling? Do you have all your toenails?
I'm doing pretty well all things considered. Walking is okay, sitting is excellent, but the transition from one to the other is difficult. I'm ten for ten on toenails...for now.
Can you walk us, briefly, through the race?
My "A" goal was 14 hours with the hope that I would net a top-three place and spot for Western States. My strategy was to run as relaxed as possible, to constantly repeat the mantra "all day," and to really let the pace settle in based on how I felt.
As I was running I would check my pace and was surprised at how fast I was going, but I felt extremely comfortable. I kept slowly moving up the field and while I was certainly getting more tired and sore, my effort felt within myself and remained respectful of the distance into the 90-plus mile mark. In the end it was one of those rare days when everything went right without a bad patch, which I will really savor.
What were your thoughts when you passed Ian and moved into first?
First off, Ian is a class act and without his advice and some of the training we did on Mount Diablo together, I know I would not have run as well as I did. When I passed him, I just continued to run my race and was not really worried if he passed me back because he was not eligible for the Western States spot (he has one already) or the USATF championship (he is British). That being said, going into the last 20-mile lap, I knew Ian is one of the best, if not the best, closer in 100-mile races, and that scared me all the way to finish.
You’re relatively unknown in the ultrarunning world; what were people’s reactions when you won?
During the race my crew kept overhearing people assume that Ian was still leading even when I had taken the lead. They were saying "Matt who? How do you spell that [Laye]?" However, I do have the privilege of training with some of the best ultrarunners in the country (Ian, Jorge Maravilla, Dylan Bowman, Gary Gellin, Alex Varner, Galen Burrell, etc.), and they all had confidence and had told others that I was a "dark horse" to watch, which gave me a lot of confidence.
What was your training leading up to this race?
In the fall I ran most the Pacific Association USATF cross-country and road races, which were between 5K and half marathon in distance. After USATF Club Nationals in Bend, I had six weeks to focus 100 percent on Rocky Raccoon running. In addition to my normal track workouts with my club, I did several hard downhill efforts to destroy my quads with Ian, a weekend of higher mileage back to backs, and a six-hour timed race where I comfortably ran 48 miles. In addition, I focused on my leg strength with plenty of lunges and squats.
Did you have good support along the course and/or from pacers?
I had my good friend and college teammate Steve Laurie and his fiancé Stephanie Weaver as my crew. They were amazingly efficient at taking care of my nutrition and gear needs. In the USATF competition, side-by-side pacers were not allowed, but safety pacers running behind were, which gave Steve a great view of me hitting the ground after tripping on a root. I needed both of them to practically carry me to the car after the race.
What’s next for you?
A lot actually. I will continue to race for my club, West Valley Track Club in the Pacific Association. We will be sending more than ten people race the Boston Marathon (myself included), and I will run Big Sur Marathon six days later. Then, come June 28, I will toe the line at Squaw Valley for the "Big Dance"—the Western States 100—which is guaranteed to be an amazing experience with so many other great runners and great friends.
Any advice for folks thinking about running Rocky Raccoon?
It is a great first hundred. Logistics, volunteers, course, are all top notch. In terms of training, for a 100 miler you can't overdo distance like you can for a marathon, so get creative in ways to beat up your legs without running a 100 miles. However, be prepared for all types of weather and although there are not many rocks on course, there are a lot of tree roots that can (and will) trip you up.
For folks who don’t know you, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I live in Sausalito in Marin County just north of San Francisco, California. I did my PhD in medical physiology at University of Missouri and after a few years abroad returned to California and now work as postdoctoral research fellow at The Buck Institute of Research on Aging, a private, non-profit research center that focuses on the basic biology of aging and age related diseases.
Any other thoughts?
I just want to thank my West Valley teammates, trail running bros in Marin, and the San Francisco Running Company for creating the best running community I've ever been a part of. What we have going on here is absolutely fantastic.