Some days you go into a race feeling great, feeling ready. Like you’ve hit all the right buttons leading up to a good race. Only to DNF.
Then there are days you go into a race, training has sucked, mileage is down, injuries have piled and are setup perfectly to fail. Only to finish.
The odds were far from being in my favor as I made my return to Oil Creek.
You want the short story?
-After mile 40 I couldn’t run. I messed my knee so bad I could only hike. So I hiked for nearly 60 miles.
-It dropped to 28°
-I made it 1/2 mile from being lapped by the leader Daven
-You have to be stupid to want to do 100 miles
-Somehow I finished in 30:33
-Everything else past this point is boring.
You want the boring blow by blow?
After starting off the year with a DNF at Mt Tammany and then having a few subpar races, dropping out of Sehgahunda and DNS Laurel Highlands,…I was in a funk. I had no mojo. I signed up for Oil Creek 100 solely to keep me moving forward in hopes of re-qualifying for Western States next year. I managed to pull off a finish at Finger Lakes 50 before I went into another funk, but not without also finishing Devils Path finally. My bout of inconsistency and poor performance lead to some negativity and self doubt and me dropping my coach. I ran Dam Good only to fall apart. I then decided to not run for 2 full weeks. Clear my head.
During this time I really had no interest in running. Which was wierd. Should’ve been a lightbulb. I got cast in a show at Blackfriars and then put in a couple runs leading up to OC weekend. I ran a whole 52 miles in all of September. about 150 miles shy of what I was supposed to do. I was still down on myself, telling people I wasn’t ready, and that I was going to die out there.
Friday night I got a text:
You better have bones sticking out at odd angles if you even contemplate stopping before 93. Got it Partner?
I guess it never sunk in the level of commitment to the race from those around me, supporting me. This would play a huge factor in my day. I hate letting people down. One of my biggest regrets is having my friend Jamie come to pace me at Vermont only to have me drop at mile 53.
I HATE letting people down.
So after driving down Friday and camping on the lawn, we woke Sat morning in prep for the race. I actually slept pretty good, which was a surprise for once. Sitting at the table waiting the minutes out, we said hi to our friends Heather (who was running the 100K) and JD (her husband pacing her). JD had told me that I was the reason he ran the 100K last year. He stumbled on my blog and actually thought it was a good idea and followed my lead.
DISCLAIMER: PLEASE DON’T FOLLOW MY LEAD…I’M STUPID
Any how. Yeah. Oil Creek. This was my third year here. I like the course, the environment, the crew. Its pretty awesome. First Year I of course ran my first ultra in the 100K, last year I dropped out of the 100K at the 50K after a bout of not being able to eat. So if I finished this year, I would technically have done each distance. RD Tom likes to point out there is not credit for stopping short of your distance. Guess its a little added incentive if you want that belt buckle to show off. Right before we started I told my wife she would see me do something I’ve never done…walk off the line.
She looked stunned.
I figured today would be the day to do things differently. Improvise a little.
So I did.
(if you are looking for the blow by blow of the actual course, go check out my blog on the 100K, it has all the course details)
Loop 1 50K 7:36
Start to AS1 7.1
Time/Dist/Pace: 1:30:24 7.1
AS 1: 2:50
Do things differently #1: Walk The Line
The “gun” went off, and we raced out of the school and onto the pavement on our way to the trail. I however walked. I had set my watch to run walk 4:1, and decided I would walk through the first set and not get caught up in anything. This led to everyone in the field passing me by the time I hit the first run. I got into a rythmn couldn’t wait to get off trail and slowly started catching the tail end of the pack. When we hit the trail, I discovered the first flaw in walking out the first 5…the conga line. For roughly the next 3-4 miles I would be stuck in various stages of stop and go that threw me out of my rythmn. The course was slicker than I though it would be and I managed to slip on leaves and rocks and roots, rolling the ankles a couple times. No big deal, I do it all the time.
We hit some hills and I just powered up like I usually do, finally getting out of the group. Coming into Wolfkiel for the first time in the dark was odd, always used to seeing it with the breaking light. Grabbed some food and headed up the switchback
AS1 to AS2 13.9
Really the only thing I’ve always disliked about this course was after every aid station you had a hill. I guess it slows you down after eating. More rolling ,more slipping and finally some daylight. It was cold enough out that my eyes were watering and it was making it hard for me to see the trail and find a good line.
AS2 to AS3 22.7
The hardest section on the course. Heisman Trophy hill leads off into a very nice runnable section, but then it just feels like it goes forever before you run into the boy scouts and the long climb back up before the next AS. At the next aid station I was finding a good ryhtmn of Ramen Noodles, Coke and a hard boiled egg. Yep..egg. Do things differently #2
AS3 to AS4 31.1
Up to this point I still hadn’t gotten passed by 50K or 100K people who started after us, but that didn’t last long. Shortly after Rockfellers revenge they started to come by. I just kept doing my thing. Run 4, walk 1, hike the hills. It was working. I was going slower but more manageable. So far my stomach was behaving and Tailwind was working (albeit I had to supplement real food at aid stations). On the descent down to the Drake Well loop I took the stairs wrong and kind of slipped off them. Didn’t think much about that for a while. Coming into the school the sun was finally out but I was cold. I noticed I was shivering, so I changed pretty much everything and put another longsleeve on and head out for more. My pacers would arrive shortly, couldn’t let them down.
Loop 2 100K 9:24 (17:00:48 TTL)
Start to AS 38.2
AS 1: 10:22
Coming down into Woflkiel for the second time made me start to notice that downhills were starting to hurt, especially with my knee. It got me thinking about those stairs. I started spending a little more time at the aid stations to get warm and fuel.
AS1 to AS2 45
Um…well…uh yeah. So much for running. After coming up sWitchback Mountain, I started making the following descent in pain. I started walking thru a couple of my 4:1 to try and let the pain subside a little. The miles started getting slower. Couldn’t wait to see my wife and friends. Coming down to the road I saw Heather and told her what was going on with my knee and limped back to the aidstation. It was a boost to see everyone, I just told them I’m moving slow and going AS to AS.
AS2 to AS3 53.8
The last of the running. After climbing HTH I got to the nice runnable section, only to discover I was now running as slow as I could walk. Walking caused less pain. So I walked, with vigor. Kept a steady push and rhythm and surprisingly found myself out hiking people who were running. New plan, walk 3.5 miles per hour for as long as I can. My friend Jamie had told me “go for a long stroll” and planted the 3.1mph min to finish in the cutoff time. Well…ok. Do Things differently #3. This meant my plans of 24hr, and also getting back to the school in daylight were out the window. It was still light out when I came into AS3, but it was pitch black when I left.
AS3 to AS4 62.2
One of my outside goals was to not get lapped by the 100 mile leader OR the 100K winner by the time I finished 100K. I was constantly looking over my shoulder. It gave me something to do. At some point my headphones died, and it was dark with no music. I was still pushing pretty good though. Some dude called me Skittles because of my skittles container when I ran. I think we crossed paths a billion times. I had made it almost off the bike path when I see a light bearing down on me. a 1/2 mile away from the school and here come the 100 mile leader Daven. I got lapped. Here I was not even finished with 100K and he is finishing 93. (He would go on to win). Back to the school much later than anticipated, I decided to do a full change out and get really warm. The temp was dropping, I was really hungry. I even ate a cheesburger. Do Things Differently #4. Picked up my pacer Tim and headed off.
Loop 3 93miles 11:13 (28:13 TTL)
Start to AS1 69.3
AS 1: 6:57
Poor Tim. I warned him what was going on, and that I was just moving forward power hiking. I said something to the effect that I’ll be trying to finish this loop faster than you did your 50mi. Wolfkiel really sucked this time, the descent was unbearably hard. This loop began the “well that’s the last time I do that”. At least I could still climb. We were still managing a good pace, but it was getting really cold. And then my light started to die. Going about an hour on a dieing battery wasn’t fun. Luckily Tim remembered he had some extra batteries and I remembered that I could pull the usb battery out and use THEM! LIGHT!
AS1 to AS2 76.1
This section is always a nice section, but it was dark this time, and not very memorable. Coming down into the valley to the aid station stuck out to me. The fog was setting in and the aid station was eerily quite. I plopped myself by the fire while Elyse Tim and Miranda helped me refuel. It was 2am and I was starting to get sleepy. I’ve never been out so long to the point where sleep overwhelms you, but you have no decision except to keep moving forward. And that’s what we did. Forward. The miles starting to slow. The knee starting to ache.
AS2 to AS3 84.9
There comes a time when you are in a race, that you know you will finish, despite how you feel. We came into this next section and after making it thru HTH for “the last time” I started stumbling. At first I thought it was just my legs…nope…I was falling asleep while moving forward. I pushed myself to a point I have never been. By this time I knew all the spots to look for to help make the section shorter. We hit the road and I was stumbling like a drunk man. Somehow making it into the aid station. After about 8 mins, I told Tim, “I’m closing my eyes for 10 mins before we go back out” plopped next to the fire with some food in my belly, it seemed to be the answer I needed. Do things differently #5.
AS3 to AS4 93.3
The home stretch. The sleep energy lasted about an hour. I couldn’t wait for the sun to come up. When we crossed that point, I couldn’t believe I had been out for 24 hours, and still had 5+ hours to go. As we neared mile 90, I started to feel it. I grabbed a decent stick off the trail and used it to help keep me stable and upright. Once more around the dreaded Drake Well loop….NEVER AGAIN. BOOM..we were on the bike path. My brain was breaking things up into bite sized chunks. Get to this this, then that, then you are done. I made it to the school. grabbed some more food and picked up Heather. I drank about a half a Red Bull and couldn’t believe I was this close to being done. I had never wanted to be done with running so badly. Running..ha…yeah…that’s funny.
Going Home Loop 101mi 30:33 TTL
When we started we had 4+ hours to finish. I knew it was going to be a slog. After 11+ hours with Tim, I think we may have ran out of things to talk about, it was a nice fresh injection of energy to get the last loop in with Heather. We talked about anything and everything to distract the pain. Then we hit the first climb…I still had my climbing legs. Devils Path back in August resassured me that even when I can’t run, I can still climb the piss out a climb. And I did. I moved as fast as I could…probably slower than a snail on a turtles butt. I was back up to 3.5+mph and we were moving. Then we hit the Hill of Truth. Guess I never read about this one. Really REALLY sucky climb to have at this point in the race, but again…climbed the piss out of it and BAM we were back on the main trail.
For the first time in my life I couldn’t wait to get off the trail, get sure footing back under my feet. And not have to do the Drake Well Loop again. We made it down to the bike path, I chucked my stick and got ready to run. After a false start, we ran the last 1/4 mile or so, crossed the line and collapsed.
30:33 from the time I started Saturday morning, I was finished with my second attempt at 100 miles.
I was not a 100 mile finisher, I was a 100 mile survivor.
I had the best crew, with my wife leading the way instilling positive energy keeping me moving and Tim, Heather, and Miranda there to keep pushing me. (NOT TO MENTION THE SUPPORT FROM HOME) Seriously if they hadn’t committed to being there, I would’ve stopped at mile 31. People who run marathons talk about “the wall”. I hit the wall about 20 times and found a way over it, through it, around it, under it. I found a way to just keep moving.
So where do I go from here?
I don’t know. I’m no longer afraid of any distance. But I do know I don’t have the desire to run 100 miles as I type this. It was the most painful (not the hardest though) thing I’ve ever done. I got my qualifier in for Western States, I’ll be stupid and probably put in for that, but if I don’t get it in will I ever run once again? Probably not. It takes a lot to train for a 100, and it takes an exceptional amount to actually finish one. I didn’t know whether I had that something in me that could get me thru this despite the bad year I had. But somehow found a way.
This may be the single thing that sums up how I found my way:
Life is locomotion… if you’re not moving, you’re not living. But there comes a time when you’ve got to stop running away from things… and you’ve got to start running towards something, you’ve got to forge ahead. Keep moving. Even if your path isn’t lit… trust that you’ll find your way. -The Flash