Friday, October 20, 2017

2017 Oil Creek 100k Race Report

Another year at Oil Creek is in the books. And another 100k finish!

Many of my race reports get a little graphic so if you don't want to read about bodily fluids, you may want to read something else.

This year's race started several months ago when registration for the Oil Creek (OC100) races opened. Due to massive popularity, the race director, Tom Jennings, has tried to make it as fair as possible by having registration open at random times for random durations for random races. In other words, instead of everyone logging in at the same time when registration opens and crashing the site and having the race sell out in minutes, he tries to spread out the load. But that means you don't know when registration for your race will be open. Or how long it will be open. Which means you could register for a race a week later just because that's when it opened and when you snagged a spot. It's confusing, it's quirky, it's nerve-wracking. But it's about as fair as you can make it.

All of this leads up to my adventure in registering. I was watching the site, waiting for that magic button to appear that says I can register. I had 100% planned on signing up for the 50k. I had no desire to swim in the hell that is the 100k because I knew I wasn't (and wouldn't be) trained to that level. And with a focus on shorter races (like under 10k) and faster times in 2017, a 50k was about all I could stand.

But then, magically, I saw the registration button for the 100k appear. And in a moment of panic, I signed up. Yes, panic. I know how popular this race is. I know it takes a lot of effort and a lot of luck to get signed up. This was the first registration button I had seen and I pulled the trigger. It took a few minutes, but then the real panic set in that I was registered for the 100k. I was in, but in the longer distance that I didn't want. And I wasn't about to give up my spot in the hopes of getting into the 50k so I just grunted a little and rolled with the punches.

Fast forward several months and my training was okay. But it was focused on the shorter races. I was trying to methodically make my way through all the distances to get new PRs. In other words, I was going short and fast. And I was fairly successful with new records in the 5k (30:28), 4 mile (40:42), and 8k (53:28). But I wasn't trained to go 62 miles. Not even if I hiked it all.

Somehow I managed to not panic until the last minute when I hurriedly tossed clothes and gear around trying to plan for various scenarios. I forgot stuff, didn't pack right, messed up my drop bags, but still, somehow, managed to make it to the finish line.

Race Days:
Yes, race days. As in plural. As in it took more than 24 hours to finish. But that's okay, I planned on it taking that long. I got up at 0326, just a few minutes before my 0330 alarm went off. Guess my body knew what was coming. I took a quick shower and was on the road by 0400. I made it to Titusville Middle School before 0500 only seeing a few deer and one fox along the way.

Once on site, the parking lot was crazy full, so I parked on the football field next to the main lot. It was a short walk into the school and I managed to film the start of the 100 mile race. I snagged my timing chip, then started to prep my pack. I don't know why, but it seemed to take me longer than normal to get my gear in order. I had only a few minutes to sit down before it was our turn to head out into the woods.

And once again, I was the last 100k runner (ha! more like walker) to start. And I totally planned to stay in last place. Just like last year, I didn't plan on moving up and was just fine with getting the Wildcatter award (last place). Wouldn't be the first time I was the caboose in a race.

Loop 1:
Anyway, I moved along nice and slow with the large group of hikers slowing moving away from me. At first, I was a little nervous that I wasn't keeping pace and that they knew what they were doing but then I settled down and went at my own pace in my own race.

Once onto the trail, things were a bit of a blur so I'll try to keep my memories sequential. The first section had a massive tree down and it looked too hard to go around either way so I squeezed under it. I barely made it. Not too far down the trail I got warm and took off my wool long sleeve under shirt.

The runners in front of me were far enough ahead that I could hear them but not see them. I caught up to them a little bit by the time we came to the first water stop but then they totally dropped me going up the hill. The road crossing just before the aid station had a little Snoopy house. At least that's what I thought it was. Until I saw the sign on the other side of the road for the Wizard of Oz. So I knew what the theme would be but it was clear, even this early, that Aid Station #1 (Wolfkiel) put some effort into their decorations. I knew the hill going down into AS1 was killer and I almost lost it in the past so I stayed low and slow and made it safely to the creek bed. Once I crossed the creek, they had wonderful Oz decorations up. My favorite, and what I would guess most people missed, was the corn kernels on the trail.

One of the volunteers at AS1 asked about my GoPro gimbal so we chatted a bit about that as I got some food and water and reorganized my gear. Then it was up the giant mountain. Okay, really it's a hill but it feels like a mountain. Once things leveled out up top, it was back to hiking. Before AS1, I had passed two ladies, Tab (or Tap or ??) and Sally? I'm horrible with names and I had no coffee in my system so I didn't quite catch them. Anyway, I passed them before AS1, they caught at AS1, then I think they left me behind after AS1. Or maybe I left them? Either way, we separated again.

I made it to the next water table then passed by the oil derricks and crossed the road that lead to Aid Station #2 (Petroleum Centre). I knew the derricks were a false alarm as they always make me think I'm close to AS2 but I'm not really. People had been passing me all morning long and it wouldn't be until I was into the next section when that would slow down some. Oh, and the giant rocks in this section always creep me out. Like it always feels like somebody (or something) is watching me.

Once at AS2, I swapped some gear, reloaded fluids and fuel, and headed back out on my way into the next section of trail. As I was cruising along section 3, I suddenly realized this was my favorite section of the course. It's actually flatter than I remembered it and the trail was smoother than I expected. Yes, it's long and hard to traverse but it was like a switch was flipped and it was now my best buddy. Anyway, the Boy Scouts had their signs out again, but this year there was some new reading material which made things a little more fun. Passing through their camp and topping off with water, I cruised along feeling pretty good.

It was in here that I hit a really low point mentally. I don't know why I was struggling but my mind was just deep in the funk cave. It couldn't have been a half mile later and suddenly I saw a sparkly rock on the side of the trail. Then another. And another. The whole trail had painted rocks on both sides with words of motivation and inspiration and it couldn't have come at a better time. I loved it. After reading a few, it suddenly dawned on me that these were clues that I was close to the next aud station.

And sure enough, it wasn't much longer and I was at Aid Station #3 (Miller Farm). Again, I topped off with what I needed and slogged up Cemetery Hill. The hill no longer scared me because I knew it would only take a few minutes to get to the top. Sure enough, I was at the top before I knew it and moving on my way. I was still feeling decent at this point with only some soreness creeping in, mostly in the soles of my feet.

Section 4 is both the best and worst section of the route. It's great because it's only about six miles of trail. But it's the worst because it seems like it takes forever to go those six miles and then you have another two or more to get back to the school. But I toughed it out and made it to the water table, which helped me realize I was getting close. Once out of the woods, I slowly made my way around Drake Well Museum and back towards Aid Station #4 (Titusville Middle School).

Once I was at AS4, I took my time. Changed, swapped, topped off, ate, even laid down and put my feet up for a bit. I knew I was there longer than I needed or even wanted to be but I knew I needed a break. I was getting tired and I was feeling it. Mostly physical at this point but also the lack of sleep and caffeine was hitting me hard. I had half a cup of flat Coke at AS3 and it helped a bit but the coffee at AS4 really helped perk me up. And it killed the headache I had been fighting all morning.

So even though I knew I was taking a huge risk in dropping at AS4 because I spent so much time there, I was still motivated to head back out into the woods.

Loop 2:
I headed back out into the woods just as the sun was going down. I didn't really factor in how much it would slow my pace but it dawned on me pretty quick once I hit the trail. But I had lights and my phone now so I was good to go. I started a podcast, kept hiking, and tried not to think about what creature might be alongside the trail.

In the past I've seen a porcupine, bears, and deer but this year I only heard a porcupine. The chipmunks are pretty insane, both in how many there are and how vocal they can be. There were also a ton of fuzzy caterpillars out but thankfully not many other critters to freak out over. People were still passing me but not as many now. It was just the 100 milers now and their pacers. They all asked how I was doing which I greatly appreciated but by the end of the night I just wanted to be done and didn't want to waste time talking. I also didn't want to acknowledge how much pain I was in and their asking made me think about it. But I still love that there are so many runners out there that care about their fellow runners.

Which brings me to my biggest gripe about the race this year. One guy, a 50k runner, muttered to somebody he was running with how "ridiculous" it was that some of us were walking the whole 100k. Well sir, you pissed me off. I almost called you out on it but was so shocked I couldn't think of anything to say. The further I made my way down the trail though, the more I realized I wasn't the one that had a problem. I realized that if you were having such a bad day or such a bad life that you had to complain about me working harder than you, then I didn't need to give you any more attention in my life.

This is about when I realized that the voices of hate in our world are so few but so loud that they can drown out the voices of love. Even though there are more nice people in the world, more people speaking in positive terms, they don't speak loud enough to be heard sometimes. Maybe they don't yell because they're being polite?

Anyway, as I started my second loop, I suddenly realized the massive tree was gone. Or was it? I wasn't sure if I was hallucinating already (it happens but never this early in a race). Turns out I wasn't. The trail volunteers had the tree removed in no time so it really was all gone by the time I went through again.

And the second loop would follow along those lines. Constant self-doubt about where I was, when I was, would I make it, how I felt, and just overall confusion. I'd have moments of clarity and strength but sometimes things would swing wildly. I'd be able to do math on the fly figuring out pace and distance and then suddenly not be able to add two small numbers or remember what section of the trail I was in.

This all got worse and worse until I hit my second major low point of the race. At least this time I saw it coming. When I came into AS2 the second time, I knew I was homeward bound but also knew I needed a nap bad. So I ate, organized, then laid down for a nap. It wasn't a good one but it felt good to lay down and close my eyes. The low point I thought I had turned out to be nothing as I hit an even lower point just before AS3. I knew from past races that this was the worst part of the race. Deep into the night. Deep into the woods. Deep into the pain cave. The trail was deceivingly longer than you think. Those train tracks next to the trail don't mean you're a mile away, they mean you're hours away. It was also somewhere in here that it dawned on me my headlamp batteries were slowly dying. Things improved a little when I switched headlamps just because I could see better but I was still way, way, way in the back of that sleep deprived pain cave.

Once I made it to AS3, I ate a little food, then curled up in a chair and passed out for a solid 15 minutes. My body woke itself up and there was a lady in pink in the 100k race in another chair. She must have caught me either while I napped or was there before me but I never noticed. She left while I crammed in more food and fluids. Around this time the sun was coming back up and some of the 100 milers coming through on their third loop were talking about trying to beat their cutoff time.

And that's when I started wondering about my own cutoff time. Even though I read the sign at AS3, five minutes down the trail I couldn't remember the time it listed for the 100k cutoff. Every time I could think of just felt wrong. I continued down the trail, waiting for the sun to come up and warm me up a little, and just kept plodding along. Shortly after cresting the last major hill, I realized that the Finish line would close at noon and if I did my math right, I'd have 30 minutes to spare if I kept moving at my current pace.

So somewhere, deep down, I found the strength to speed up. Not much, but enough that I caught up to and passed that lady in pink. Around the same time, a 100 mile runner passed us with a pacer. Except he said he wasn't a pacer, he was a sweep. And another one was coming. And I really began to panic that I'd miss my Finish line cut-off. The lady in pink said we had plenty of time and that the Finish line wouldn't close until 1300 (1pm). I couldn't believe her. Every time I thought about it, I thought it was noon. So I kept pushing. Hard. Moving.

My legs hurt. My back hurt. My feet hurt. I just wanted to sit but everytime I stopped moving, things hurt more.

And then, right there in the middle of the trail, just a few miles from where we come out of the woods, I gave birth to a blister. The birth was so sudden, I stopped for a heartbeat or two. And when I started moving again, I was suddenly at half my speed. Not that I was moving fast to begin with but I was much slower now. That noon deadline was looming even larger now and this bouncing baby blister just wouldn't quit crying every time I put my left foot down. Cry. Right. Cry. Right. Cry. Right. And I had hours to go.

Getting out of the woods was all I could focus on. And once I was out of the woods, all I could do was ignore the cries from my growing baby blister and shuffle to the Finish. And shuffle I did. The crying didn't stop. Didn't lessen. It was just there. Constant. Along the paved section going back to the school and my Finish line, I saw a handful of 100 mile runners headed back out for their last short loop. They had made the cutoff. Maybe I would too? Maybe the lady in pink was right and it really wasn't noon?

As I moved along, I checked behind me just to see if the way was clear to walk the tangents on the paved path. Most of the time it was but when it wasn't, I'd shuffle out of the way so the faster runners had plenty of room. When I made it to the street, just a block or so from the Finish, I looked back and saw the lady in pink. Crap. She had caught me. But wait, if she passed me, would I win the Wildcatter Award for last place? In half a second I thought about stopping to pretend to tie my shoes and just as quickly dismissed it. It would have been cheating in my eyes to go slow just to take an award. Plus I had no idea if there was another 100k runner behind her. So waiting might have wasted time just for nothing.

After half a second of thinking about doing the wrong thing, I kept moving forward. I didn't go faster or slower, I just kept going. I was sleepy, sore, and really sick of hearing that damn blister cry. I wanted this adventure to be over.

With maybe twenty feet left to the Finish line, I found the strength to amble slightly faster across line. I was done. I sat down. Chatted a few minutes with the Race Director Tom (and fellow Edinboro alumni) and watched the lady in pink finish just two minutes behind me. If the course were half a mile longer, she would have caught me. She ended up taking home the Wildcatter Award and I'm totally okay with that. She earned it. I may have wanted it but this is my second time coming in one place before last and I'm okay with not being the caboose. It's a lot of hard work. Harder than you would think. I would even argue that it's harder than coming in first.

Post Race:
Once the race was over, I almost forgot my drop bags. Once I picked them up, I thought about taking a shower (I had paid for one already) but decided that it would be better to get back to my mom's house, clean up there, then take care of that bitchy baby blister. I didn't have my blister care stuff with me and I didn't want it to barf all over things between the school and my mom's house so I just grabbed a burger, fries, and iced tea and headed home.

Once home, I showered, lanced my blister, then napped. Here's an extra TMI warning about my blister. It was a snow globe. As in, when I went to lance it the first time, I could see stuff moving around inside of it. Like floating snowflakes. Gross.

After napping, I napped some more. And put my feet up. And napped more. And used the foam roller a little. And tried not to fall over when I stood up. And napped. And finally I had dinner. After that, I felt a little more human. I lanced my blister again and it looked much better. Other than being stiff and sore, nothing really hurt too bad to worry about.

The next day I felt much better but was still moving with care. And with a limp. My mother has MS and recently had it flair up. She's doing better but is going to physical therapy three times a week. So I joined her on Monday, less than a day after finishing. It was kind of fun to compare myself to her in the various exercises. Some things I could do better than her while other things she was miles ahead of me.

And that was it. Tuesday I drove home and was hobbling even less when I took breaks along the way. After my first 100k finish, I could barely walk a week later. Now I'm walking better than that after just a day or two. Maybe going slow has it's benefits?

My buckle and my crybaby blister.


Temps at the start of the race were probably about 65F but they felt cooler. It didn't take long to warm up and by midday Saturday, it was in the mid to upper 70s. It wasn't until around 0200 Sunday morning that I felt the need to put my wool shirt back on with temps dropping into the 50s. By Sunday morning after sunrise, temps were back into the 60s and warm. Monday was cold and Tuesday even colder with frost. The sky was clear Saturday with some clouds coming in Sunday. Humidity was moderate after a few days of rain before the race. Going down into the creek beds, especially at night, brought higher humidity and some fog. Winds were warm and light to moderate, mostly coming out of the south and south-west.

Fluids and Fuel:
On the way to the race, I drank a GenUCAN (cranberry-raspberry) and had an oatmeal cookie. I was worried about drinking coffee too early so I skipped it (big mistake). During the race I drank GenUCAN Hydrate (lemon and berry) about every 3 to 4 miles. I would add some pickle juice when I felt like I needed some due to the heat and humidity. I would also drink plain water but it wasn't my first choice of fluids. I had one half cup of flat Coke at AS3 in the first loop, then coffee at each aid station after that. I should have had caffeine sooner. For food during the race, I had a hard boiled egg and a boiled potato at AS1 in the first loop. At AS2 I had grilled cheese. AS3 I had pizza I think and bacon. At AS4 I had pierogies. After that I think I had more hardboiled eggs, grilled cheese, bacon, and pizza. I know at AS3 on the last loop I had pizza and it was great. I also know that two hard boiled eggs is okay but three made me gassy so I stopped after that. The grilled cheese is always my go-to food at Oil Creek but I just wasn't in the mood this year. The pickle juice at every aid station was a pleasant surprise, especially considering the heat. For recovery, it was Burger King (cringe).

Aches and Pains:
Ha! Everything? Seriously though, the worst was my left foot. The blister is on the ball of the foot and had begun to creep up between my big toe and the toe next to it. Other than that, everything from the waist down, except my glutes, hurt. The day after, my arms (like my biceps and triceps) and my lower back hurt a little. Nothing was really over a 5 on the pain scale except the blister and maybe my right calf which was cramping up a little here and there. After the race both calves were so tight I couldn't do calf raises at PT. After a few days, the only major pain left that's lingering is the left hamstring.

From head to toe I wore a BUFF, KR Endurance team shirt (by Under Armour), Smartwool long sleeve top, KR Endurance team shorts (by Zoot), Smartwool socks, and Altra Zero Drop Lone Peaks. I also wore my Nathan HPL 020 Hydration pack that carried my GoPro cameras, Amphipod bottle, and my GenUCAN. Shortly after starting my first loop, I took off the long sleeve shirt. When I started my second loop, I took my Oil Creek jacket to stay warm but ended up not needing it. Once I got into AS2 on the second loop, I swapped it out with my Smartwool long sleeve shirt and would eventually wear that through to the Finish. I did change socks once, at AS4, when I reapplied AD Ointment to my feet (and other areas). After the first loop I also ditched my GoPro Grip gimbal for my smaller Hero 5 Session. I'd also pick up my cell phone here and use that to listen to podcasts instead of wearing an annoying bear bell through the middle of the night.

Naughty Neil:
I know I should have skipped the Burger King but I also know I needed something in me to make it home.

Splits are going to be broken down by Loops (there were two), Aid Stations (AS1 through AS3), and water tables (WT). For water tables, there was one in Section 2, two in Section 3, and one in Section 4. These were all unmanned tables with just water, a trash can, and a toilet. All times are listed as HH:MM:SS (hours, minutes, and seconds).

Loop 1:
Start to WT - 01:05:48
WT to AS1 - 01:27:30
AS1 - 00:06:13
AS1 to WT - 01:20:15
WT to AS2 - 01:18:31
AS2 - 00:10:34
AS2 to WT - 01:11:04
WT to WT - 00:38:41
WT to AS3 - 01:34:41
AS3 - 00:08:09
AS3 to WT - 01:20:21
WT to AS4 - 02:12:33
AS4 - 00:27:25

Loop 2:
AS4 to WT - 01:20:28
WT to AS1 - 01:41:58
AS1 - 00:10:19
AS1 to WT - 01:39:52
WT to AS2 - 01:47:42
AS2 - 00:34:17 (20 minute nap)
AS2 to WT - 01:36:49
WT to WT - 00:55:07
WT to AS3 - 02:07:51
AS3 - 00:29:57 (15 minute nap)
AS3 to WT - 01:16:44
WT to Finish - 02:40:09

Finish - 29:23:13

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