I can hardly put into words what the Oil Creek 100 Trail Runs weekend means to me. Believe me, that won’t stop me from trying though. It seems like we plan all year for approximately 48 hours that seem magical… then it’s over as fast as it began, leaving all of us thinking about the fantastic memories from the weekend. Not to mention how we can improve this weekend for everyone involved.
The weekend began on Friday evening when we all arrived to set up the spaghetti dinner and packet pickup. For months, we had been planning on having an expo like set up in the gymnasium. And when I say plan, I mean we had a diagram of where to set everything up. So to say we were surprised when we arrived at the middle school to discover a girls basketball practice in the gym would be a slight understatement. Being the quick thinking, switch on a dime team that we are, we managed to set up our packet pickup in a different location with the vendors lining the hallway, which may have actually worked out better. People had the opportunity to visit the vendors either on the way to or way back from packet pickup.
The cafeteria was packed with people chatting with friends old and new, eating a fantastic spaghetti dinner cooked by the Friends of Oil Creek State Park, and anticipating the events that would transpire the following morning. There was a buzz in the air as people talked about their plans for the next day and scoped out the perfect camping location in the gymnasium.
My morning began at 2:30AM as I needed to get back to the middle school to help set up for the volunteers that would soon be arriving. The parking lot quickly filled up as the 100 milers and their supporters arrived to watch them take off at 5:00AM. We all cheered as we watched them take off on the freezing cold morning. 6:00AM saw the 100K participants start. Nearing 7:00AM, I knew it was almost my turn.
I did not know what to expect starting this race. My training wasn’t where it should have been, as I have been injured all year long. It feels constantly like I go through a cycle of being okay, being injured, recovering, training really hard, feeling only okay, then getting injured again. As I started, I knew I’d finish. I also knew that it wouldn’t be nearly as good as I had originally hoped for.
The crowd counted down and we were off. The bike trail section (approximately 5K) was my undoing last year. I had blisters and horrible foot pain by the time I reached the trail. This year, my plan was to jog the bike trail, doing no damage to myself, mainly so I still felt good once I hit the trail. The plan went perfectly. I ran strong through the first section. I ran with Autumn quite a bit, when I saw the sight I had worried most about seeing. Adam was limping up ahead of me. I continued running and caught up to him and he confirmed my fear – the IT band was giving him a lot of trouble. As hard as it was for me, I ran by, knowing I had to run my own race. And I knew that’s the way Adam would want it too.
I ran strong into the first aid station which was decorated with a Christmas theme. I took some Gatorade and half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I tried to eat my sandwich as I climbed the Wolfkiel switchbacks. Usually I hate the second section but this was where I felt the strongest. I ran the majority of this section with a huge smile on my face. I thought I would be a little skittish as I do not usually run trails by myself but I was all alone for the majority of the race, particularly this section. I kept getting more and more excited the closer I got to the Petroleum Center aid station. Running down the road and back to the pavilion, I heard the group of people screaming for me. It felt awesome.
The third section is my Achilles heel. No one really understands it because for the most part, it is flat and very runnable. In fact, I have a hard time understanding it, really. This year, I knew we had people at the Cow Run shelter about halfway through this third section. Then after that, I would be coming into my aid station. I was walking a little through this section and Autumn caught up to me again. Talking with her got me motivated again and I continued running. About a mile out from Miller Farm Road, we saw an EMT up on the trail that was actually looking for Autumn. They were concerned about her, so they hiked up to look out for her. She was doing awesome and we continued on running. She was really touched that they were so concerned that they would hike up on the trail to check on her. Soon after that, I saw Charlie the photographer. I tried really hard to not fall and look good, then realized that I could see flashing lights. That signaled Miller Farm Road. Never have I been so happy to see that road in my life.
I coasted on down Miller Farm Road, knowing I was entering THE BEST aid station of them all – MY aid station! The crew was awesome, getting exactly what I needed and the aid station was set up to perfection. Not to mention, they had the most delicious grilled cheese sandwiches that I’ve ever eaten. I hung out there a little longer than I did at the other aid stations, mainly because I enjoyed the crew there, but also because I knew cemetery hill was in my future.
As I climbed, I realized that my legs didn’t feel nearly as bad as I thought they would. Of course they weren’t great, but the climbs were okay. Autumn and I were joined by Dannielle during this section. We hiked a bit, as this section has some pretty gnarly sections of tree roots that I just knew I’d mangle my ankles on if I attempted to run. I told Autumn, when we reached the overlook bench, I’d feel incredibly happy as it is only about 5 miles from there. I decided to leave the girls at this point, as my family was at the middle school waiting to see me finish. I felt a little guilty as Autumn was having some pretty severe knee pain by this point, but I knew she was a tough girl and wouldn’t let anything stop her from finishing.
The remaining trail section flew by. I managed to get a text out to my family when I reached four miles to go, just letting them know I was coming. I ran the majority of the trail, passing about five people. I got to the end of the trail and had two road miles to go. That hurt really badly. I bargained with myself that I would run until the pain was unbearable and then I’d allow myself two minutes to walk to make my body recover. In that last two miles, I took four walking breaks of two minutes each. My run at that point probably looked like a slow motion run anyway, but it made me feel better to at least be making a running motion.
I got to the end of the Queen City bike path and knew I had almost made it. I ran down the road, across Brown Street bridge, and rounded the corner to the finish line. The crowd cheered and most yelled my name. This was in HUGE contrast to last year, where the only people there when I finished were Adam, Tom Jennings, and Becky. There was an actual crowd of people this year. It was awesome. I saw my friend Cristin and her family standing there cheering for me and standing back toward the finish line, I saw my family. I was near tears as I ran as fast as I could (or at least limped as quickly as I could) toward the finish. I was shocked that Adam was at the finish line as well. His IT band pain has been so bad that he had to DNF at Miller Farm Aid Station 3 and made it back within minutes of my finish.
There was nothing as emotional for me as seeing my family at the finish line. There were tears, hugs, and numerous photographs! Once all was said and done, I stood there by Tom, wondering when he’d hand me my buckle. He just stood there, so I remember looking at him and saying, “Make with the buckle, Jennings!”! He laughed, congratulated me, and gave me my buckle.
I then went inside to get the most fantastic massage/rolfing ever, which I know helped me recover faster. Next came the food that was donated by volunteers or made by Penny. It was absolutely delicious. We hung out at the middle school for awhile. We saw many of our friends finish; many of them finishing their first ultramarathon. I came home, showered, and hurried out to my aid station at Miller Farm to support the remaining 100K and 100 mile runners as they continued on through the night. My weekend concluded with cleaning up the aid station the next morning, returning to the middle school to watch the 100 mile wrap-up, then finishing clean up at the middle school.
I have to say, I was worried that the race would not live up to last year in my memory. I knew last year’s race would be hard to beat. It was the first Oil Creek 100. It was my first ultramarathon. The memories of the 2009 race will forever be some of the greatest I have, but this year seemed just as good. The race was organized and well thought out. We have such fantastic support from our community, which is another reason it is so special. Now, all I can do is think of and anticipate my 100K attempt at the Oil Creek 100 Trail Runs 2011!