Monday, October 10, 2011
Oil Tycoon in the Making
The Oil Creek course is decidedly tough. It’s rated a 4,4 by UltraRunning Magazine for the ‘substantial rocks, roots, and ruts’ and the total elevation gain of 11,010 feet for the 100k. The course for this race is two loops from the Titusville Middle School onto 1.5 miles of pavement and then onto the trail. The trail was too wet to use the grass trail instead of the paved bike trail so all runners were forced to use the bike trail coming and going into the school, which also served as AS#4.
The first aid station is at the bottom of Wolfkiel Run which the race director kindly marked with a sign stating ‘unforgiving’. This turned out to be extremely true. The steep descent took a toll on many runners this year including my reGen teammate, Tom, who was making a second attempt at 100 miles. He took a nasty fall on Wolfkiel on his second 50k loop and hurt his knee knocking him out of the race. Thankfully I made it down Wolfkiel without incident both times. AS#2 is at Petroleum Center and runners pass the oil derricks which give the race its name. Aid station 2 was my favorite. It had a ‘Funky Town’ theme and volunteers were dressed in leisure suits and bell bottoms and wearing afro wigs. The food was absolutely to die for and the support was incredible! Aid station 3 is on Miller Farm Rd. Runners cross train tracks at the bottom of a hill to reach this aid station before turning around and heading back up the hill to a set of stairs which lead to guess what, more hills! This aid station had a flamingo theme and lots of great signs leading runners in. Some examples I remember are: “Bigfoot hates noisy runners”, “Who needs toenails anyways”, “Because 26.2 miles just isn’t enough”, etc. Each sign made me smile and kept my spirits up.
To start at the beginning I worked a half day Friday. I had just started my new job on Monday so I had been too overwhelmed to pack properly. I threw together what I thought I would need Friday afternoon before dropping my girls off at my mothers and making the 2.5 hour drive to Titusville. I arrived right after 8PM and managed to check in and get my packet before I dropped my gear in the school gymnasium and prepped for bed. My running BFF, her husband, and I all slept on the gymnasium floor along with about 20 other runners. Lights out was at 9:15 PM and it didn’t take long for me to fall asleep even though I was uncomfortable on the hardwood floor.
In the morning I woke up early and wished a few hundred milers good luck as they headed out for their 5 AM start. I got ready in plenty of time for the 100k start and spent some time chatting with other runners in the cafeteria where there were tons of bagels and plenty of coffee. I started to regret not packing a drop bag but I had everything I thought I would need in my Nathan vest so I shook it off.
I couldn’t get a signal on my Garmin from the cafeteria so I stepped outside as runners started to line up. The RD started us exactly at 6 AM and I still didn’t have a signal so I missed the first mile or two of splits. I ran with a woman named Donna up the bike path and she told me it was her birthday and she’d flown in from out of state to run OC. I thought that was pretty awesome! Finally we turned onto the trail and my Garmin found a satellite just in time.
I flipped on my flashlight and moved slowly being careful not to trip on the rocks and roots in the dark. There are several wooden bridges with no sides throughout the course and they were slick with morning dew. I let several people pass so I could pick my way carefully around the obstacles. When the sun came up I was ready to run. I caught several people on Wolfkiel and coming into AS#1 and I moved out quickly. (Too quickly I guess because they didn’t get a split for me here.) I started to ascend Switchback Mountain while eating my PB&J. A runner from the Baker 50 mile named Scott recognized me and we started chatting. The next 7 miles flew by quickly and soon we were in AS #2. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the course was with fall leaves and old oil derricks/barrels/buildings all around. There was an old school bus off to one side that I never would have noticed if Scott hadn’t pointed it out.
Right around AS#2 I caught Dannielle, my running buddy, and I could tell she wasn’t in a positive state of mind right away. A couple miles after the aid station we were officially a quarter of the way done. I practically cheered for joy while she began cursing the day she decided to run 100k (it was her first too). We talked jobs, people, and races for awhile but I was itching to push myself while it seemed Dannielle’s mood was getting darker. I felt horrible about it but I finally decided I needed to run my own race and left her behind after AS#3. I caught back up to Scott after the big hills from the aid station and we ran together for a few miles before I decided to take a walk break.
As I approached the middle school I saw runners headed back out for their next loop. Most looked pretty good and we were all encouraging each other. I even had a guy try to hit on me as we passed! About 50 yards from the AS Scott passed going the other way. I told him I would try to catch him again if I could but I doubted I would. He looked really strong! I ran into the gymnasium at the school and grabbed my phone so I could take some pictures and call my husband and kids from the second loop. I also grabbed some pizza and chips before I headed back out. I had been depending mainly on PB&J, gels, and candy until this point. I finished the first 50k in 7:58 which is pretty awesome considering my best 50k time on a ROAD is 7:05.
I ran the pavement portion back to the trail and then walked for awhile as I reentered the trail. I began to plan my paces and decided adding 2 hours to the first 50k loop was a good goal and would give me an overall time of 18 hours or less. On the descent from Wolfkiel I caught another 100k woman and passed her. I left the aid station quickly and decided I was going to put as much distance as I could between her and I. It must have worked because I never saw her again. On the way to AS#2, Petroleum Center, I took pictures and listened to music. I was still upbeat and extremely pleased with my time. I had set a goal of reaching the aid station by the 4 hour mark so I could have 6 hours to do the second half of the loop in the dark. I reached the aid station in just under 4:15 so I was happy with that. I was eating salt and vinegar chips and chasing them with coke when I realized there was another 100k woman in the aid station. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to move up another spot so I hustled out of there at a run hoping to psych her out a little and make her think I was a stronger runner than I really am.
I made it to the top of the hill and called my hubby and girls to let them know I had finished the first loop and was halfway done with the second. Then it was back to jamming to my iPod and trying to make up as much mileage as I could before sunset. About 15 minutes before the sunset I popped my headlamp on and pulled my arm warmers on. I was ready to face the dark, alone. I’ve never run alone at night and I was scared of getting hurt which got me down and slowed my pace a lot. If I do this again I will definitely have a pacer for night. I was passed by 5 men and 1 woman during the night and they all had pacers.
The longest stretch without aid is between AS#2 and #3 and it really wore on me. My stomach was growling and even though I could see the flags that marked the trail ever couple hundred feet I started to think I had missed it somehow. I called my husband extremely upset and talked to him every time I reached the top of a hill (phone service is spotty out there!) until I reached the aid station. Once there I knew I could finish, only 8.4 more miles to go! A 50k runner that is friends with Dannielle told me she had left AS#2 about an hour behind me so I was thrilled to hear she was still going. It had taken me 7:25 to get to AS#3 so I was already going to have a hard time making my goal of 10 hours for the second loop. Of course, that’s where things went downhill. I asked the volunteers to change my headlamp batteries. They got the old ones out but couldn’t get new ones in. They messed with it for half an hour before they finally found me another headlamp and sent me on my way. After not moving for that long I was frozen and stiff. I couldn’t seem to get running again and my mental state had gone from good to pissed off/depressed/etc. I warmed up once I walked a few hills at a fast clip but I was too stiff to get back to truly running. I called my husband again and whined about my predicament for a bit and then put on my big girl panties and forged ahead.
A 100 mile runner who was just barely ahead of cut-off caught up to me. We ran together for awhile but he was falling behind pace so he took off after a mile or two. My Garmin had died at the 13:30 mark so I have no idea how far or how long anything really was at this point. I just kept telling myself I would come to the road soon and then it was easy from there. At the last minute I heard voices behind me and it was the only woman who passed me on the second loop and her pacer. I put up a good fight for about a mile but I couldn’t keep up the pace and finally had to stop and let them pass. I popped out onto the road and I could see the woman’s headlamp bobbing through the darkness as she rounded the Drake Well Museum. I chased her as best I could but lost her at the bridge. I looked back and saw only darkness so I knew no one else was going to catch me before the finish line. I checked my phone and I still had 26 minutes to finish under 19 hours and only about 2 miles to go. I knew I wanted to run through the finish line so I decided to walk the next mile or so at the fastest pace I could manage (I’m estimating 16 mm pace). I couldn’t believe there were still volunteers at the corners of the roads cheering people in but they put on big smiles and encouraged me to keep it up.
I round the last bend and the finish line was in sight. I picked it up to a run, which probably more closely resembled a waddle, and saw the clock said 18:59:25. There was no way I was going 19+ so I hustled through the cones and finished with an official time of 18:59:31. The volunteer there asked my number and then I turned around to see Scott! He had managed an incredible 17:48 and was already showered and in comfy clothes but he still gave me a big hug and helped me into the school.
I enthusiastically collected my buckle and finishers sticker from the R.D. before I dropped my gear in the gym next to my sleeping bag and headed for the showers.
I took off my shoes to find a bloody, nasty mess. My smartwool socks are toast as far as I can tell. It was really hard to peel them off and when I finally did I found ground meat instead of feet. I jumped in the shower to wash away the mud and evaluate the damage. I have three bloody holes from blisters that popped and then rubbed down more, at least 6 more blisters on each foot, 4 black toenails, and an array of dead and peeling skin edges. I carefully dressed in as many layers as I could and then headed for the medical area. The EMT’s kindly bandaged up my feet and sent me off to my sleeping bag.
I tried to sleep for about an hour but everything hurt too much and the gym floor wasn’t helping. I finally collected all my gear and headed into the cafeteria where I stuffed my face with soup and brownies. I said my goodbyes to some of the runners I had met along the way and then I went outside again and cheered in a few more people. I finally decided to leave at about 3AM. I drove about an hour before I decided I was too sleepy to continue. I slept in my car at a truck stop for 2 very uncomfortable hours before I finally drove home and practically dove into my own bed armed with Advil, water, and a Trail Runner magazine from my goody bag.
All in all, this was the best organized and best supplied race I’ve ever done. I loved every minute of it for over ¾ of the race and that’s something that I don’t think has ever happened before. I am stiff, sore, and my left knee (the one that caused me to DNF YUTC 50k) is a mess but I’ve never been happier. My first official 100k is in the books and now I feel much more confident about Umstead in the spring!And I think next year there's a chance I might try for that elusive 100M buckle at Oil Creek!