*I say this just because I don’t often curse, but I curse here. And I feel it’s appropriate for once.
I did it. I finished my second Oil Creek 100K. As always, it’s a great race. The course is beautiful and somewhat challenging, while not overly technical. The volunteers are absolutely amazing. The race director does a fantastic job.
Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the nitty gritty. I had 4 goals for this race:
- Don’t vomit
- Don’t shit myself (remember, you’re reading this because you’re not easily offended)
- Finish under 15 hours without doing vomiting or shitting myself.
To me, those were some lofty goals. I was worried going into the race because I had been dealing with bouts of nausea and lots of GI distress throughout the prior 10 days. It had not been pretty. Even before all of that started, I had been dealing with lots of fatigue issues, coupled with brief, very mild dizzy spells. I got some blood work done and everything checked out okay, so I went ahead with my plans to run. (As an aside, I have another, more thorough, exam scheduled for the end of October.)
We met at the Titusville Middle School after breakfast to wait for the start, and my stomach suddenly turned. Damn. I tried to tell myself it was going to be fine, since it almost always is. I have rarely had a run that ended better than it began. I almost always feel better once I get going. I decided that had to be the case that day. I told myself to suck it up and deal with it. To prove a point to myself, I made a bold move and lined up at the front of the pack.
Take that, GI tract.
We started promptly at 6am in humid darkness. It was gross then, and you could tell it was going to get a lot worse throughout the day. Relying on my headlamp, I navigated the first 1.5 miles of the course, which is on an asphalt bike trail. In the dark, it’s not too bad. We entered the single-track trail about 15 minutes later and slowed to a walk as we ascended. I decided to run my race this day, even if that meant I was running alone the whole time. As much as I love Jen and Anne, I really wanted to achieve a goal. I wasn’t sure if that meant I’d be alone or not, but I was prepared either way.
Around 7am, I realized I had run 4-ish miles. Another 58 miles seemed inconceivable. I had done it twice before, though, so I knew it was possible, somehow. I reached Aid Station (AS) #1 a bit after sunrise, and chose not to stop. I took no food or water, since I really hadn’t consumed anything yet. I felt pretty awful already, but trudged on up sWITCHback mountain (a rather large, steep hill with switchbacks). Climbing, which is normally my strength, was causing more nausea. This was unexpected and most unwelcome.
By the time I reached AS #2 (14 miles), which was accessible to crew, I was feeling just crappy. I couldn’t fathom running another 38 miles. My friend Ryan was crewing for his wife Jen, our friends Anne and Bill, and me. Seeing his face helped to boost my spirits. Plus, I couldn’t whine to him. He’s done a whole bunch of ultras, and I never feel like I can whine to someone who regularly vomits during a run and keeps going! I was honest and told him that I felt like shit. We checked my water and found that I had only drank about 20-25 ounces over 2:50. Bad Kristen, bad! He topped off my bladder while I grabbed a few chunks of boiled potatoes. (Seriously, those are magical). He gave me some encouraging remarks and reminded me that it was a great day to be in the woods before sending me on my way. Oh yeah, Anne came in just before I left and she gave me some Pepto Bismal tablets to take. I popped two of them pretty promptly.
The next two legs of the route totaled 17 miles, and seem to take forever. Section #3 is long (8.8 miles) and feels even longer. The initial climb out of AS #2 is pretty long and can suck parts of your soul out of your mismatched running outfit. Once I got to the top, I was able to run a bit more. Thank God for that. I felt better when I was running. The nausea lessened anytime I could get my feet moving more quickly. This is typically not the case, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I decided to capitalize upon it, and run harder during the flats and the downs. This proved to be more taxing on my knees (duh), but it was keeping my proverbial cookies from being tossed, so it was worth it.
Around mile #19 (5 miles after AS #2) we entered the Boy Scout territory. The troop hangs signs on the tree every year for a mile or so. They are wonderful, and I look forward to them on every loop. Sadly I have no pictures, and to recount them here would just make them sound dumb. But trust me, at that juncture, they are enough to put at least a little smile on your face.
I hit AS#3 feeling even worse. A volunteer pulled the bladder out of my pack to discover it was empty. Empty! In 7 miles I consumed nearly 70 ounces of water. Yikes! I lost a minute or two while they had some issues filling it back up. I passed on food since I felt pretty wretched, and headed out for yet another climb. Oh – and this one passed a cematary. Good times.
I finally found some mud on section 4, and made sure to traipse through that. I got some lovely mud streaks up my calves. How fabulous is that? After getting through the mud, though, my mind returned to the math. How far was left? 35 miles? Oh. Dear.
Then I noticed the frame of the person in front of me. It was Randy! Randy is an amazing local (Harrisburg) runner who inspires so many of us. He is in his 60s and hammers out 100’s each year as if it’s his job. He’s not the fastest runner, but he finishes pretty consistently and always has a great attitude. He was doing the OC100M option since Grindstone was postponed (due to the gov’t shutdown). (Amazingly, he thought to enter both races ages ago1) I chatted with him for a minute, which somehow gave me some extra energy. I hope I didn’t steal some of his?
I hit the asphalt path to return to the middle school at about 12:30pm. It was brutal. The sun was out and shining with all it had. It was humid. It was gross. Just about everyone slowed to a walk. I did some running and some walking, and got myself to the middle school by about 12:50pm. I saw Ryan again, and I am pretty sure I wasn’t speaking clearly. I just felt stupid. I still felt wretched. After the first 31 miles, I had eaten a few chunks of potato, 2 medjool dates, and energy gel (bleh!) and drank a bunch of water. My training runs were always accompanied by a date every hour for just a pop of sugar and potassium, so this was definitely not normal. I didn’t want food, but knew I needed something. He got me two saltines, which took forever to get down. I drank some flat Coke and then saw it: Ramen noodles. I cracked. My vegan self wanted to eat some fruit or some nuts, but my actual body recoiled at every thought. It was a crummy decision to make, but I made it. I asked for a little broth and noodles and sucked them down. Within minutes I felt slightly better. I’m so sorry, chickens!
I told Ryan I needed some ice. He got me a small cup of it and asked me what I wanted in it. Boy did he look at me funny when I said I didn’t want anything in it. I stuck my hand in that cup, grabbed some ice and shoved it down my sports bra. I grabbed more and shoved it down the back of my sports bra. The pressure of my hydration pack caused it to really push into my skin. It felt great. I had been starting to overheat, and needed to get my core temperature down. It helped a little. Ryan once again sent me on my way. I passed Jen, Anne and Randy as they were coming into the middle school and I set out to do it all over again.
The legs definitely took me longer this time, but legs 1 and 2 felt a little better. My stomach was still bothering me, but it was becoming slightly more tolerable. I decided to bite the bullet and try to eat some real food. I had eaten half a Clif bar (and a banana with almond butter) for breakfast and figured I’d try to eat the rest of it. I got 1/4 of it down and had to stop. But it was something. I also ate a Gin Gin chew (hooray for these gems) and took some Pepto Bismal. My stomach actually seemed a little better for a bit.
By the time I got to AS #2, I figured I could finish the race, but that my goal was shot. My goal was to break 15 hours. My stomach was a mess, my low back was killing me, my knees were terribly sore, and my head was cloudy. I didn’t think there was any way I could keep going at the pace I needed. I accepted that idea, and decided that if I could beat my prior time by even one minute, it would be a happy day. Ryan helped me get more water, Coke and potatoes and then sent me on my way up that mountain again. I broke out the remaining 1/4 of that Clif bar and started eating it at the base of the mountain. There was a course photographer there, and he took a picture of me stuffing my face. Awesome!
The 3rd leg of this loop seemed so ridiculously long. I was convinced the Boy Scout camp had moved. It took forever to find them. I had the den mother open my remaining Pepto Bismal packet with her trusty pocket knife and headed on my way. I think I got another date down around this time, but not much else. I was really looking forward to AS #3, but had my math all wrong and kept thinking it was closer than it was. I was running without a GPS and was strictly going by the clock, so I was having a little trouble calculating distance.
When I finally hit AS#3, I knew I would make it. There really wasn’t another option! I got some more water, some potatoes and copious amounts of sea salt, and another small cup of Ramen noodles. I did two cups of lemon-lime HEED and a little flat cola. It was way too much at one time (fluid wise). Within about 20 minutes I was burping like crazy. It sucked. And you know those burps where you kinda throw up a little? Yeah, super-duper-awesome. Part of me wanted to just throw up and be done with it, but the rest of me know what would result in me curled up in the fetal position, crying for my mommy. Let me say this: I was never, ever, so happy to have a few extra pounds and a few extra percentages of body fat. I think this was a huge help during this race. I had some spare fuel to burn since I wasn’t able to take in calories during the race. I’m not saying I want to keep them, but they came in handy.
I became my own pacer. I started telling myself what to do. I started coaching myself, and giving myself little pep talks. It was working, to a point. I had that song “Royals” (by Lorde) in my head for nearly the entire run. It was driving me batty, mostly because I only knew the tune and a couple of the lyrics – not the whole song. To distract myself from that song, I started reciting (mentally, not out loud) the book “A Mother for Choco“, which I read to Little Dude all the time. It was at this point (just past 54 miles) that it truly became a mental challenge.
I just kept moving. I kept running as much as possible. I was determined to get myself out of those woods. Rain came, but really didn’t reach me through the trees. Having run this loop 6 times before (twice during my 100K in 2011, 3 times during my 100M last year, and once earlier in the day), I thought I knew it inside and out. I knew how far I had to go to the finish once I saw the sign pointing us to the Drake Well Museum. But how far until that sign? It was forfreakingever. I swear someone stretched out those last 8 miles and made them 12. The bastard.
I finally hit that sign and nearly squealed. It was mostly downhill from there, and then the asphalt path. I was determined to run most, if not all, of that path. I wanted to be done. I started to run once I hit that asphalt, and I mean run. It wasn’t a jog. What the hell was I doing? I was going to crash and burn before the finish line! But I couldn’t really reel myself in; it was either walk or run. I talked myself into a slow jog, and then looked at my watch. I had 28 minutes to go 2.5 miles. It was totally do-able. But only if I was smart. I had to jog the whole thing in. So I slowed down, and made an extremely conscious effort to keep a smooth slow pace.
It worked. I saw the lights to the middle school and heard people. I rounded the corner to the school and ran with everything I had left. I crossed the finish line with a few choice words, and then finally stopped. I looked at the clock. 14:56.
I couldn’t believe I did it. It was so hard. It sucked. I really, really wanted to quit. Heck, I’m pretty sure I gave up running altogether somewhere on that second loop. I got a hug from a guy that ran near me for much of the second loop, and then chatted with Bill (who dropped due to injury). Then I realized the extent of my chafing. Ouch, ouch, ouch. If you’ve never had chafing, count yourself lucky. It sucks. And the one of the worst spots is on your backside. Oh mama is that painful. All of a sudden, showering sounded worse than getting stuck in the woods without water or a flashlight. Scary, scary stuff.
I grabbed a change of clothes and made a cup of black bean soup to eat while we waited for Anne and Jen. I still couldn’t eat, though. I got my protein shake down pretty easily, but really struggled with the soup. It took me a full hour to eat it. It wasn’t until about 4pm today (Sunday) that I could really truly eat.
So why do I do this? It sure beats the hell out of me. I want to say it’s fun, but it can straight up suck. It’s cool, though, to get to look deep down inside yourself and say “F### all this, I’m going to do finish this!” and then to actually go out and do it. When you finish something like this and then see how many people had to drop out (~40%) due to injury, or stomach issues, or simply because they felt they couldn’t go on, you can feel pretty badass. And stupid – you still feel kinda stupid. But it’s a good stupid, right?