I ran the Oil Creek 100 mile race in 2012 after a very successful first attempt at the 100K version of the race. About 10 miles into the 100 miler I stepped in a hole and twisted my ankle pretty badly. It held up okay until the 100K (62 mile) mark of the race. At that point, my stomach became a problem and I began to walk a good bit. The slower I went (including a 20 minute stint at an aid station), the more my ankle began to swell. By the time my stomach settled, my ankle was very, very swollen. I didn’t realize it, though, and kept telling my pacer that there was something in my shoe. There was: a lot of extra fluid!
I decided to get revenge on that course, because I knew that I could have done better. My second 100K there was in 2013 and I took an hour off of my time. I felt pretty sure that I could take 90 minutes off the 100 miler distance. But 100 miles . . . that’s a long way. So many things can go wrong. So many things can cost a minute here and a minute there. Those minutes can quickly add up to much more then one expects.
I went into the race on Saturday morning knowing that I was fairly well-trained. I had been getting in some good runs and was pretty darned devoted to my gym schedule. I knew I could have been in much better shape, but I also knew that there was nothing that could be done at that point, so I needed to just do my best. The weather sounded perfect, so there was one worry off the list!
The route consists of three 31-mile loops, plus a 7.7 “coming home loop”. The 31 miles involves 2+ miles on an asphalt bike path. I swear, that’s the worst part of the whole race. It’s pretty flat and BORING. You run it in to the middle school (race headquarters and aid station 4), do your thing and then run back out. If you are a 100 mile runner, you have to do that thing 4 times, once on each loop. Ugh.
Since I’ve done this race 3 times before, and paced Anne through the final loop of her 100 mile race last year, I know the route pretty well. That has it’s pros and cons. I knew when to run and when to walk, but I also knew about all the crappy parts of the run. There are several small sections that I really do hate, and knowing that I have to run them 3 or 4 times just messes with me.
Loop 1 was surprisingly difficult. I thought it would be pretty easy, and that loop 3 would be the hardest, but I was wrong. The problem with loop 1 was that I kept doing the math. “When I get through aid station 1 I’ll have 93 miles left. When I get through aid station 3 I’ll have 78 left. When I get through aid station 4, I’ll have completed 50k! But I’ll have the equivalent of the Laurel 70 left.” I couldn’t turn those calculations off. It was driving me nuts. Thankfully I fell into step behind a couple of guys after mile 14 who kept me laughing. Billy and Mike were trading trivia and talking politics and let me join in the fun for a while. Billy was running the 100 miler too, but Mike was bailing after 50K due to a commitment back home (an 8 hour drive).
I was pretty surprised to finish my first loop under 7 hours. I was shooting for 7.5 hours, and was worried that I was going out too fast. If I went too fast, I wouldn’t have enough left in the later hours. My plan had been to take in my calories through Tailwind mixed in my bladder during my first loop, with little to not supplementation at the aid stations. I’m not sure how I made such a miscalculation, but as I started loop 2, I realized that I had run 31 miles on only 600 calories. I was eating the only Clif bar I brought for that loop. I would have another 600 calories of Tailwind on that loop. At mile 62 that would get me to roughly 1500 calories. It was not enough. I was basing my calculations on training runs of much shorter distances where such a deficit wouldn’t cause much of an issue. This was another story. I pulled out my phone and texted Anne to buy me 3 more Clif bars. My plan was to eat 2 per 50K loop, which, when combined with the Tailwind would get me to about 3000 calories. I made a rule that I also needed to grab at least 100 calories per aid station per loop. With 4 of those, that would add another 800. It sounded like a plan.
Loop 2 went much better than loop 1, and I can’t figure out why. It may have been the extra 500 calories, but I’m not so sure. Something just felt different. I really fell into a rhythm. I was alone for all but about 5 minutes of the loop, and I really didn’t care too much. I was totally fine being alone. I prayed a lot. I cursed a lot. I prayed about the cursing. I talked to my mom (who passed away from breast cancer). I talked to myself a lot – sort of like a pacer would. I told myself, out loud, when to run. When things felt rough, I talked to myself about Erica, Vanessa and the girls of Aguacate (more on that later). While I was okay with the idea of not running with the other runners, I really wanted to get to aid station 4 to pick up Anne. I wanted to get out of the woods before dark. I almost made it. I had to turn on my light with about 15 minutes left until I came out of the trees. I got to the 100K (62 mile) mark just before 8pm. I realized that I had beat my 100K PR by about 2 or 3 minutes. That was a shock. And again I was worried I was moving too fast.
Anne and i hit the trail again pretty quickly. We’ve run so many hours together over the years that I think we’ve covered every subject. We rode up to the race and stayed together, so we had already chatted quite a bit. We didn’t have much to talk about, but just having her there made things better. She helped me remember what to get at the aid stations, and kept me from making a couple of stupid mistakes. She listened to me whine. She patiently listened to me say, repeatedly, “It’s mile xx and I’m still able to run!” I was so happy with that part. I managed to keep “running” through the entire race. (By that point, though, I am not sure we can call what I was doing “running”, but I was moving faster than a hike, so I’ll take it.)
I came back to the middle school once again and got ready for my “coming home loop”. I was back on the trail before 6am. I set a goal of finishing by 8am. When I started the race I simply wanted to finish in less than 29.5 hours, which was my 2012 time. I was really hoping for 28 hours. I realized I could hit or break 27 hours, and I became focused on it.
Those final 7.7 miles were rough. We did the first 3 and the last 2 miles three times already. The middle miles were new and I couldn’t remember anything about them. I had blissfully forgotten about the “hill of truth”. It was awful. But it was short. Thank God.
I got to the finish line and I was still running. I knew I missed breaking 27 hours, but I thought it was by a good while. I was shocked and bummed to see that I was finishing only 2 minutes over! I knew exactly where those 2 minutes went. While I was bummed to finish that close to my newly set goal, I knew it didn’t matter. Those minutes didn’t cost me a win. They didn’t even cost me a single place in the finishing order. All that mattered was that I was done. I did it. I didn’t let myself down, and I didn’t let anyone else down.
You see, I made this particular race very public. Everyone knew I was doing it. I didn’t really want to broadcast it to the world because I was afraid of failing, but I was using the race to raise money to build a school in Guatemala for impoverished village girls. I started a GoFundMe campaign and begged everyone I knew to donate. By the end of race weekend I had raised $1833. My original goal was only $500, so this was huge. But going into the race, I knew all of these folks donated because they thought I could do it. I couldn’t let them down. I couldn’t let the girls like Erica and Vanessa down. During those dark times when I thought about quitting, I thought about all of this. It got me through the race. It really motivated me to push hard and do well.
I realized something during this race: I’m not half bad at this ultra stuff. I’ll never win anything, and I’ll likely never even win my age group, but I’m consistently finishing, and finishing strong. I can’t decide what’s next, but I know I’ll keep up with this hobby. I won’t be cranking out 100s every year, but I’ll keep doing the longer stuff for a while, for sure.