Monday, October 15, 2012

2012 Oil Creek 100k Race Report

It's been a full day since I've finished my first 100k race and I can only think of two words that completely summarize everything that has happened.

Horrifyingly beautiful.

Parts of this race were so beautiful that I wanted to stop and take a picture. In fact, I easily could have spent an extra hour or two on the course taking pictures. Thankfully I didn't have a camera with me.

Parts of this race were so horrifying, I just wanted to quit. To sit down on a rock and go to sleep. So rough and tumble, I wasn't sure if I'd fall down the mountain or fall up the mountain.

So in the end, it was horrifyingly beautiful.

And to that end, on with the details. I hope by now, I won't have to warn you that I'll go into explicit detail. About everything. So don't read if you don't want to know.

 For details on the course, you can go to the race website, But the course details don't give you the full story so I'll try to fill in some of the missing details. I'll break things down into sections from the start to the finish. I'll talk about the sections between each aid station as well as each aid station. I'm sure I'll miss some of the things that I thought of while on the course but I'll give you what I can.

The race starts at Titusville Middle School. Get there as early as you can or you'll need to park a ways away. Which isn't so bad at the start but will really suck when you finish and need to hobble to the car. I was lucky enough to park close, get my chip, then find a spot even closer. At the school, you'll walk in the front doors, get your chip to the right (near a set of bathrooms), and get dinner to the left. Drop bags for Aid Station 2 will be in front of the front entrance. Drop bags for Aid Station 4 can be left around the left corner of the building or you can walk through the cafeteria out the side door and leave it. The start of the race is out the back doors.

Loop 1, Leg 1 - 7.1 Miles
From the Start to Aid Station 1, you'll have an easy first mile or so on a paved bike path. Take the time to look at the stars if the sky is clear. And don't mind the glowing eyes to the sides of the trail. You'll see more later. You'll go under a train bridge, across a road, and onto the trail. Keep this intersection in mind since you'll see it again. When you make your return trip to Aid Station 4 or the Finish, you'll take the same route back. Once you get onto the trail itself, you'll be directly across from the Drake Well Museum. You may hear the piston popping in the distance. The first few times you hear it, it's annoying as all hell. But when you hear it as you near the finish line, it's like smelling the hay in the barn.

The start for this particular race was cold. Cold enough that I had to scrape my windows before I left. Cold enough that I got two small hand warmers and a large body warmer out. They helped a little but not enough. I was under-dressed but lucky enough to avoid hypothermia. One side note though for the men out there, don't put a hand warmer in your shorts to keep your giblets warm. All you'll do is create a chafe point in an area that you don't want one. Trust me.

On the trail in this first section, things are pretty easy. Yes, easy. In fact, the first half of the loop is easy. It may not feel that way at the time but when you do the second half of the loop, you'll understand what I'm talking about. The second half is tough as hell and longer than the first half. I'd say it's pretty close to being split into one third of your effort being spent on the first 14 miles and two thirds of your effort being spent on the last 17 miles.

In Leg 1, you'll come to the Coming Home split for the 100 mile runners pretty fast. There's water here but I never used it. I was able to keep running to the first aid station. Granted, I had a hydration pack but I think many people skipped it. Be prepared to be passed by 50k runners in this first section too.

Loop 1, Aid Station 1 - Wolfkiel Run
Don't be fooled by the signs. When you see them, you're not as close as you think. In fact, it feels like there's still a mile to run (likely only half a mile). The first time through, it got cold coming into the hollow (or holler for you red-neck folks). Easily a 10 degree drop in temperature. This kinda sucked because I was just starting to get warm. Little did I know what was coming. The volunteers here were a bit sleepy the first time through. They didn't quite know what to do when it came to helping me. Don't get me wrong, they did help me, they just didn't wait on me hand and foot.

Loop 1, Leg 2 - 6.8 Miles
Switchback Hill will beat you senseless as you come out of the aid station. But it isn't as bad as it looks. I know, you'll think otherwise on your first go, but trust me, there are worse ascents coming. You'll slog along and eventually come to an unmanned water station. Fill up if you need to. I know I did at least once here, maybe twice. My first time through I was getting low on fluids and it was starting to get to me so I pushed fluids and needed more by the time I got here. After a few more miles, you'll come to the big oil derricks. Shortly after this you'll cross a road. You're getting close to Petroleum Center Aid Station but don't let that road fool you. It's just teasing. You'll carry on a bit more and eventually come to a small foot bridge that spits you out onto a gravel road. Now you can get excited. That road crosses the railroad tracks and puts you onto pavement. From there you cross a single-lane open bridge. On the other side is the aid station. But be warned, you don't run straight to it, you need to run through the trees a bit before you're allowed to get some aid. It was somewhere in this section that I started to play leap-frog with another runner. He was wearing fuzzy bunny slippers. He was also sporting a mohawk.

Loop 1, Aid Station 2 - Petroleum Center
This was a welcome aid station. The volunteers were more helpful and you have access to your drop bag. I got what I needed and ditched some gear here. I had thought I'd warm up enough to run in arm sleeves but I wasn't so I just left them behind. This is the only section out on the course that your crew and family can come out to see you. There's one other place, Drake Well Museum, but I'm not sure how easy parking will be during the race (since the park, trail, and museum are all open to the public).

Loop 1, Leg 3 - 8.8 Miles
This is a brutal leg. But not the worst. It's long and rough but doable. After leaving the aid station, you'll cross the road and parking lots and go up yet another big hill. Things get rocky and muddy in this section. You'll also chuckle at the cross-country skiing signs that say "difficult" when you've just slogged your ass up something even steeper. But I guess it would be hard on skis. There's another water-only stop here and my advice is to use it. Like in Leg 2, you'll need some fluids. But unlike Leg 2, you've got a longer road ahead of you. You'll also come through the Cow Run area where the Boy Scouts will have a camp. Avoid their fire at all costs. Enjoy their signs, they're hilarious. Read them in the daylight as you'll probably miss some of them at night. They go on for a ways so you know you're getting close. But ignore the signs that say you're getting close to the next aid station. You're not that close. Put your head down and go. It will feel like you're going forever. Then you'll need to go some more. Just keep going. And if you see train tracks through the woods, ignore them. You're not close. When you see the dirt road that you make a left onto, then you're close. Continued to play leap-frog with the bunny slipper runner. We'd chat on and off when were close to each other. I also started walking somewhere in this section. I'd still have spurts of running, but not many.

Loop 1, Aid Station 3 - Miller Farm Road
The dirt road takes you to the aid station. It's downhill and around a curve. Again, the volunteers were helpful but didn't wait on me hand and foot. The usual assortment of food and drink were there. This was the first place I had caffeine for the day. Be prepared for a long uphill when you leave this aid station. And another one behind it.

Loop 1, Leg 4 - 8.4 Miles
The first hill you'll come to is Death March Hill. Quite fitting as you hike past a cemetery (one of two on the course that I saw). After this hill, things level out a bit. Then you have another, longer, hill called Rockefeller's Revenge. While Death March Hill is steeper, this one is longer. Things are even rockier and muddier in this section. This is probably the worst section out there. Although Leg 3 was pretty rough and even a little longer. This one was tough mostly because of the mental aspect. When you start to hear the piston popping, you're close to Drake Well Museum. Close, but not there yet. Your exit from the trail onto the Museum loop sneaks up on you. You get dumped out at a bridge but don't go across it yet. You need to make a sharp left go to the end of the parking lot, go through the picnic areas, then come back to the bridge along the river. You'll cross the bridge and then get back onto the paved bike trail that is only a mile from the Start/Finish area. I was in full-on walking mode here, but was feeling well enough to move at a decent clip. Almost like a power hike. The bunny slipper runner had dropped behind me at the last aid station but I knew he was close behind and keeping nearly the same pace. As you near the school, ignore the finish line. Run (or walk) by it and round to the aid station.

Aid Station 4 - Titusville Middle School
This was by far the best aid station of the event. I feel sad that the 50k runners don't get to see this one. I hate to sound like I'm putting down the other aid stations, but this one was awesome. I had access to my second drop bag which was nice but the service I got was the best ever. I asked for food and drink and got it. The lady was even nice enough to put food in little bags for me to take when I left. Awesome. The bunny slipper runner came in right behind me but was looking pretty tired. I think he eventually dropped after a loop and a half.

My mom and Steve were there to cheer and take photos. It was nice to have family there to cheer you on and check on you. There aren't very many places for fans out on the course and I think I only saw one or two hikers out on the trail during the race. Guess only crazy people were out. I had my mom call my wife to tell her I'm okay and was continuing to move forward.

If you're still reading, congratulations! But I figure this is only a long race report because it's a really long race. So keep reading for the second half. If you dare.

Loop 2 - All of it
Leaving the school was hard. But I knew ahead of time that I needed to get out of there as fast as I could. So I hoofed it out and got back to my race. Even though I wasn't racing as much as walking. I grabbed my vest from my drop bag at the school and made the mistake of assuming I had my rain jacket at Aid Station 2. Turns out I left it at the school. I did learn an awesome trick though. Stick your grilled cheese sandwich in your cup of beef broth. It cools the broth down and makes the sandwich soft enough to eat. Oh, and beef broth is very hard to say when you're not exactly coherent.

The first section was easy enough to continue my power hiking. I was still feeling good physically, just tired. I was super-happy to come in to Aid Station 1 faster than my planned time. I came into Aid Station 4 slower than I expected but made up the time by the time I got back to Aid Station 1. I made up even more time by Aid Station 2. As I cruised into Aid Station 1 the second time, they were much more helpful. I got what I needed and left. Same goes for Aid Station 2 on my second loop. I almost voted for these guys as the best aid station since they came in as a very close second. My second time through there they had some awesome 80s music playing and everyone was super positive and helpful. It was also nice to talk to some people as I was spending a lot of time out there by myself.

Oh, I forgot to mention that as I left Aid Station 1, it started to drizzle. Very lightly. It started to rain a little more heavily as I got into Aid Station 2 the second time. It was also getting dark. I had my headlamp ready as I left Aid Station 1 but it took some time before I broke it out to use it. Once I did, it helped a lot. My entire time coming into Aid Station 2, I repeated what I needed over and over. Sometimes in my head and sometimes out loud. I did a lot of talking to myself out there. Some runners were polite and announce themselves when they came up behind you. Others were not so polite and I had one or two sneak up on me and scare me a bit.

Anyway, back to Aid Station 2. I dropped more equipment and grabbed more to take out on the trail. I knew I was getting cold and I wanted to make sure I had something to keep warm. It was also here that I learned that my rain jacket was all the way back at the school. Good thing I was headed back that way. And that was probably the best part of this aid station; the knowledge that you were headed back to the finish. Every step you took was putting you closer to a warm bed.

As I slogged through the horrid second-half of the 50k loop, I fell into a bit of a trance. I don't know how to explain it. If you've ever run at night, you may have an idea of what I'm talking about. Running by headlamp puts you into a tunnel-vision just by the very nature of how much you can see. This was great at times because you couldn't see the nasty hill in front of you or see the rough patch of rocks in front. You could only focus on the few steps in front of you. But at the same time, the course was marked so well that your headlamp would catch the reflective tape of every marker (and there were markers EVERYWHERE). This meant that even though you couldn't see it, you could see the markers on the huge hill in front of you. Or the switchbacks on the hill on the other side of the stream next to you.

Anyway, my trance. I basically blocked everything out and focused on the very moment I was in. Only the next few steps would matter. I'd get depressed when I started to think about getting wet or getting cold or how long it was taking to get to the next aid station. But I'd eventually just get too tired to think about it. I'd just keep going and going. And keep in mind, I had been up since 4 am so by midnight, I was pooped.

Coming into Aid Station 3 the second time, I had already planned to take my time. I planned to take a solid 15 minutes there. I knew there were some solid hills ahead of me and I knew I needed to put pants on. I also knew I needed fuel. So I just planned to sit down and relax a bit while I took care of things. And that's exactly what I did. I got to the aid station, sat down, and put my pants on. I ate some food. I drank some fluids. I chilled out as much as I could. Then I left. I didn't want to hang around too much or I wouldn't leave.

And leave I did. The best part about leaving, and probably what helped me the most, was asking about the next section. As I was getting new batteries in my headlamp, I asked how far to the Drake Well Museum. I knew from there I'd have two miles to the Finish so how much trail was left was all that mattered. The lady said there was only 6 miles of trail left. That made me feel awesome. I knew I could do that. Then she told me the hill in front of me, Death March Hill, was only 10 minutes to climb. I laughed at her. I told her I was delirious but I knew she was fibbing. And she was. I only needed 7 minutes to hobble to the top. Granted, the longer hill was shortly after it, but by then I knew it was "6 miles to Drake Well." And that became my new mantra. 6. Miles. To. Drake. Well. And then when I saw the sign that said 1.6 miles to Drake Well, that became my new mantra. Most of the second loop, I used an older mantra that I modified a bit to fit the conditions. Dig deep, grind hard, just run. Well, the second loop was "Dig deeper, grind harder, just walk."

Oh, almost forgot. Back to Petroleum Center Aid Station on my second loop. I grabbed my bear bell because I felt like I needed it. I had seen and spooked a pair of deer and didn't feel like having any surprises out there while I was alone. It got a bit spooky at times. Well, turns out, I forgot it at the aid station. As I left the last aid station, I began using both headlamps. I'd recommend this if it's possible. You don't get the tunnel vision and you get more of a 3D view of the trail. Plus you can shine one of them off to the side if you hear something.

Like the porcupine I saw just before the Boy Scout camp site. He was a bit angry that I disturbed him but he was off the trail and heading away from me so I was able to safely pass him. There was a runner right behind me so I gave him a warning and he stopped, heard the part about the porcupine, but was more concerned about why I was where I was. I think he assumed I had run off the trail when in fact the trail took a hairpin turn. So I was on one side of the U and he was on the other side of the U and the porcupine was at the bottom of the U. Anyway, two headlamps are great. And since I knew I was pushing towards the finish and had spare batteries for one headlamp, I was fine with blazing both headlamps full power the rest of the way in.

As I got to the Drake Well Museum, I felt so relieved. In many ways. First, I knew I'd finish. Second, I knew I'd finish soon. Third, I could quit pissing so much. About the time I started my second 50k loop, I started peeing. A lot. I wasn't worried because the color was fine. I was a bit worried when I took Ibuprofen at Aid Station 2 and 3 but I kept urinating and the color was clear so I didn't worry. Plus the meds helped ease the pain just enough to keep going.

About a mile from the finish, just as I started the last leg on the bike path, I had a few 100 milers pass me. Amazing that they could still run. About half a mile from the finish, I tried to poop. Nothing happened. This had me more worried than anything else. I went twice before the race started and not once since then. A bit concerning (don't worry, things work, it just took some time and solid food).

As I got to the finish, I began looking over my shoulder. I didn't want to share my finish with anyone else, so when I saw a headlamp right behind me, I began to hobble. I hesitate to even call it a run. But I finished before the other runner, who happened to win an age group award for his 100 mile finish. Again, amazing.

Even more amazing was that I didn't cry. I wasn't emotional at all. The thought of crying crossed my mind but it never happened. I don't know if I was too tired, too amazed, or just too far gone to even think about it. The race director handed me some booties to keep the school's floor clean, handed me a finisher's sticker, and a belt buckle. I was done. On many, many levels.

So, that's the gist of the race report. On with the technical details.

Temps were about 30F when the race started. Slowly warmed up to about 55F or 60F by noontime. Stayed decent until the sun went down then it dropped to about 50F. Rain started around the time I got out of Aid Station 1 the second time. Heavy rain started around the time I got into Aid Station 2 the second time. Rain lightened up some later and the wind blew on and off the entire day. I did have some fog here and there which played havoc on me while trying to run with a headlamp.

Fluids and Fuel:
I had nothing for breakfast except a quarter of a bagel. I ran with plain water and Hammer Fizz the entire race. I supplemented my fluids with what I felt like at the aid stations. I had a Coke at Aid Station 3 on my first loop then more at Aid Stations 1, 2, and 3 on my second loop. I also drank food. Mostly Hammer Perpeteum in between aid stations but at aid stations I also had beef broth. I had about three grilled cheese sandwiches during the race, several fig newtons (these worked better than expected), several Oreos, several Pringles, and a cup of mashed potatoes. The biggest shock was the complete lack of perogies. I mean, there were none. Anywhere. Wow.

Aches and Pains:
Um, everything? Ha! I had some minor chafing on Loop 2. I think it started when I stuffed my shorts with a hand warmer on Loop 1. It wasn't too bad and I had Body Glide that took care of it. On Loop 1 I had to fix my right heel. It started to rub so when I got into Aid Station 2, I put some RockTape (KT Tape) on it. That helped a ton. Should have done the same on the left foot too. Turns out my left foot would slide a bit more and would eventually get a larger blister over time. But by the time it hurt enough that I wanted to fix it, I was past my drop bag on my last loop and just didn't care. I did fix the laces on my left shoe and that helped some. My left ankle was still gimpy from my cut but I could ignore it well enough.

Fitting to have this new section right here. My right knee is all sorts of stiff and sore. Nothing clicks or pops or binds but it feels like bone pain. Just sore from working so hard and taking a beating. This fits right in with my right calf and the back of my right knee. The muscles and tendons are insanely sore. Fully extending my leg hurts as does standing and sitting. Ibuprofen and massage helps but what I really need is just time. I also have a larger blister on my left heel. But it isn't too bad. The bottoms of my feet felt like I had blisters but upon further inspection had none. Just very tender and sore. I only had one bruised toenail (amazing!). It was my left toe next to the pinky toe. I had some minor chafing on my arms where they bumped into my hydration pack but not really worth mentioning. I also managed to score some rubbed skin on my right leg. Guess my left heel needed to whip it a bit.

My best and worst piece of gear was my Salomon hydration pack. I loved that I cold put my Amphipod bottle in the pocket but the damn thing just couldn't carry enough gear for what I needed.  It could carry enough water for me, which was good. But when it came to the pockets for fuel and equipment, it was annoying at best. My shoes were awesome. Altra Lone Peaks. Loved them. Plenty of room for my toes. Not quite enough protection for the sharp rocks but enough to make it through 50k+ before really hurting. I also saw at least two other pairs out there. Oh, and I rarely slipped despite running through mud, wet leaves, and mossy rocks. My clothing of choice was a thermal shirt under my Lumberjack singlet. I wore calf sleeves which I think helped but began to be irritating after 30 miles. I wore my custom T-Star Running shorts. While I didn't use the pockets as much as I could have, the chafe-less design is exactly what I needed. I had plenty of compliments from both men and women. I think any other short choice would have ended poorly for me. I did need to put pants on over top for the last 8-ish miles. I was wet and getting cold and walking wasn't keeping me warm enough. My headlamps worked well. I started with one through the first leg then stashed it in my pack for later. I wanted to keep one on me at all times just in case it took longer than expected to get to a drop bag.

Codename - Buckle Fever
I've long been concerned that I've caught buckle fever. I've thought about this race for some time and the single point that swayed me into doing this race was how "easy" it was to get a buckle. I put "easy" in quotes because I knew it would be hard but there would be plenty of time to suffer. When you think about 31 hours to go 62 miles, the math works in your favor. It's the course that makes you pay the price and makes this race a real race. This isn't just something you wander into and "do." The course was technical in many section but also easily runnable (or walkable) in other sections. But I didn't know a lot of that going into the race. I just saw what I saw on paper and had no perspective. So looking at the cutoff times and the buckle, I knew I had to take my chance at getting a buckle. And now that I have it, I'm happy. And in case you have the same question as my aunt, I know exactly what I'm doing with my buckle. Wearing it. It won't be a trailer queen stuck in a display case. It's going to show the wear and tear it deserves. Just like the wear and tear I got earning it.

I already posted these but I'm including them here along with some extra commentary. The splits aren't exact as I forgot to time them a few times. I guess 22 hours of work will do that to you. My original goal was to finish in 24 hours. My planned splits put me at a finish time of 23 hours. My secret goal was to finish in 20 hours. Overall, I'm extremely excited to come so close to my projected finish time, especially since I pretty much just guessed at my pace.

Loop 1
Start to Aid Station 1 - 01:48:54 (planned on 2 hours)
Aid Station 1 - 00:03:52 (I was in and out as fast as I could)
Aid Station 1 to Aid Station 2 - 01:50:07 (planned on 2 hours)
Aid Station 2 - 00:08:36 (took a little extra time to fix my right heel)
Aid Station 2 to Aid Station 3 - 02:37:56 (planned on 2 1/2 hours)
Aid Station 3 - unknown (forgot to time it but it was maybe 2 or 3 minutes)
Aid Station 3 to Aid Station 4 - 02:52:09 (planned on 2 1/2 hours - very disappointed that I missed my goal)
Aid Station 4 - 00:07:14 (a little slower here than I wanted but I wanted to make sure I had my gear and fuel in order before I left)

Loop 2
Aid Station 4 to Aid Station 1 - 02:39:20 (planned on 3 hours - very happy to make up time here)
Aid Station 1 - 00:02:43 (in and out as fast as I could again)
Aid Station 1 to Aid Station 2 - 02:51:04 (planned on 3 hours - again, very happy to make up time)
Aid Station 2 - 00:04:53 (this is pretty fast considering I dumped everything out of my drop bag and searched for different gear)
Aid Station 2 to Aid Station 3 - 03:32:28 (planned on 4 hours - never registered until now how much time I made up here)
Aid Station 3 - 00:14:18 (longer than my other aid stations but I planned on taking my time to fuel up and get my gear changed)
Aid Station 3 to Aid Station 4 - 03:48:15 (planned on 4 hours - amazing that I took only an hour longer than my first time through)

Finish - 22:41:53


Anonymous said...

As captain of aid station 3 I was disappointed to hear you weren't waited on hand and foot. Sadly, you are the only person I have EVER heard that from. We are known for catering to the runners. We strive for that. Kinda hurt.

Congrats on your finish. I did the 100K last year. It is a great experience.

Lauren said...

Amazing. I don't know how you did it. And then to have the energy to get it all down in writing. I so didn't want to do my race recap. I was too lazy. We don't have porcupines in our parts. How cool to see one. Congratulations on this AWESOME achievement. You are a crazier fool that I am!

Neil Richard said...

Anonymous AS3 Captain - Please don't be disappointed in what I said. Every aid station had great volunteers and the only thing I needed and never got was a nice long nap. But that's a good thing. My only advice, my only constructive criticism for all the aid stations was the one thing that AS4 did different. I wasn't asked "what do you need?" I was told what was available then asked what I wanted. That alone was what set them apart. It was great to have the service and help I needed but after 15 or 18 hours, I get a bit fuzzy in the brain. I will say my second time through AS3 was better than expected. Your crew changed the batteries in my headlamp, got me food, and best of all, told me 10 minutes to the top of the hill and only 6 miles to DWM.

Lauren - I thought about you when I was running (and walking). You inspire me to enjoy my runs more and amaze me with your training.