After successfully completing the Oil Creek 100 50K two times, I ridiculously thought the next step would obviously be to bump up to the 100K. The moment registration opened up, I was the first to sign up for the 100K. Immediately, I began to wonder about my sanity.
Fast forward to race morning. I knew that my training hadn’t been what it should have. Life got in the way, injuries happen, etc. Race preparation had taken over my life for about a month before the race. I knew it wasn’t ideal conditions, so I decided to take the race for what it was – an attempt to complete something I never thought I could do.
My running partner Lindsey Green and I stood outside the doors of Titusville Middle School at 5:58AM waiting for the blow horn that would signal our start. At 6:00AM on the nose, we were off. We decided to take the first bit easy as we were in the dark and didn’t want to risk a stupid injury before we even got going. The first three miles were fairly uneventful until we got to the bridge right after the split to go to Boughton. A guy was running across the bridge and took a nasty fall. He was teetering on the edge of the bridge, about to fall headfirst into the creek bed below. A quick thinking runner behind him grabbed ahold of him and pulled him back up. He was limping, but continued on.
Lindsey and I continued talking as it got lighter out. A runner ahead of us thanked us for keeping her mind entertained as she didn’t really enjoy being in the woods in the dark. Little did we know, this would become an issue for us later as well.
We went down the nasty downhill into Wolfkiel, thinking about how much worse it was going to feel the second time. Then we started seeing the signs honoring the past winners of the Oil Creek races. I wanted to stop and see them, but I wanted to get to the first checkpoint worse.
After a quick restroom break and some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to go, Lindsey and I started the climb out of Wolfkiel. The entirety of section two was very enjoyable the first time. We were sticking to our plan and the 50K runners were starting to catch us, which was actually a lot of fun as we got to see familiar faces! We were feeling great as we hit the road to head into the Petroleum Center aid station 2.
Not much could have prepared me for the sight of Tom Lane, the mayor of Funkytown. Dressed in his white suit and blaring the disco music, he welcomed us to the aid station. We still didn’t need much here, so I got my drop box mainly to chug a Boost and move along.
Section three is my nemesis. It certainly didn’t help when I started feeling a little brain fog in this section. I decided to start using some of my Perpetuem solids on a more regular basis. After a few minutes, it was like the fog had lifted and I was back to normal.
We knew we were getting close to the Cow Run shelters where the Boy Scouts were hanging out when we saw the signs on the trees. Many of them were warnings about how “Bigfoot hates loud runners” and “Low flying UFO area”. All I knew was that I could not be held responsible for how I reacted if someone came jumping out at me in a costume!
Once we reached the Boy Scouts, we said our hellos and were eager to move on because my aid station, aid station 3 was ahead. We did a pink flamingo theme and all the flamingos had signs on them that were supposed to be like motivational signs that you may find at a marathon, but tweaked for the ultra event. They looked amazing! I spent some quality time thanking my volunteers and moved on to section 4, my least favorite.
We climbed up the first hill and there was Charlie taking pictures. Lindsey and I posed for a few and then decided to move on. This section went well and we were feeling pretty good until we got off the trail and had to do the Drake Well loop. All we could think the entire time was, “Do we really want to do this again?” We made our way to the middle school still unsure of the answer to that question.
I should have known better, because Heather Schmader, my aid station 4 captain and queen of the luau, would never have let me stay there. I did take my time to call my family, let them know I was among the living, visit with friends who had completed the 50K, and get some items from my drop bag.
As we were leaving, Jeff Nelson came in to aid station 4 neck in neck for second and third place. On the bike path, we saw Gale Connor and said our hellos and congratulations. A few minutes later, we saw Cristin Leahy and Jake Weiland, the park ranger! They were so close, so we talked for just a bit and then kept going. Jeff Nelson passed us by shortly after we entered the trail again. The rest of the entire first section, we didn’t see another person. We were feeling a little lonely when we got to the first aid station again, so we were so glad to be around people. Unfortunately, our extended stop at aid station 4 put us quite a bit behind schedule, so we decided to put our lights on while we were stopped. Turned out to be a solid move on our part.
We climbed up the switchbacks again, went down the super steep and quad killing switchbacks, and started on our way. Not long after, we had a 100 miler come up on us. He asked us if we saw the big bear that was hanging around right beside the trail. Fortunately for us, the bear, and anyone within ear shot, we had not. We continued on, with the goal of getting to Petroleum Center aid station 2 as quickly as possible because we could pick up our pacer Mark there.
My goal was to not have to turn on the lights until we got to the big rocks in section two, but this did not happen. That section in the dark scares me quite a bit, but by this time, Lindsey was thoroughly freaked out so I had to be the one that held it together. I think I did a fairly good job of this until we got within a mile or so of Pioneer Road. I smelled the overwhelming stench of body odor. Once I made sure it wasn’t me, I was sure I knew what it was. I told Lindsey that while I wouldn’t tell her why right now, all she needed to know was that it was important to talk loudly to each other and get moving much quicker. After we got to the next aid station, I told her that a bear had been nearby and that’s why it smelled so badly there.
We only saw one other person in that entire section and neither of us had ever been so glad to see the dirt road that would lead us into Petroleum Center aid station 2 for the second time. It led us to Mark who would pace me for the last 17 miles and Cristin who had just completed her first ultramarathon earlier in the day.
I spent some time in this aid station preparing for the final 17 or so miles. I wanted to make sure I had my extra batteries, a fresh supply of Perpetuem solids, and enough water to get me four miles to the Boy Scouts aid station again. While I was getting ready, Lindsey decided to drop. The nighttime really got to her. Fortunately for me, I had an experience in a race at night, which helped me mentally prepare for the lows you can feel when the sun goes down. Mark and I said our goodbyes to Cristin and Lindsey and headed out into one of the loneliest sections of trail.
It was so nice to be with someone who was fresh and ready to get going. Lindsey had been an amazing partner for the first 45 miles, but we were both so tired that having someone new, who hadn’t already been out on the trail for 14 hours was really refreshing. I was actually really excited to get going into this section because I knew the derrick replicas were lit up. We looked across the valley and saw them, plain as day. It was one of the most beautiful things I had seen during the entire race. I only wished I had my camera with me, because on that clear night, it would have made a beautiful picture.
I continued to surprise myself because I had a fantastic attitude, even going on 50 miles into the race. My longest outing before then had been 38 miles, so I was in uncharted territory. Mark did an amazing job of pumping me up, telling me how awesome I was and how we were going to do this, even if I had to get in his backpack and have him carry me to the finish. I kept looking for Bull Run because I knew not long after that, we would be at Cow Run. I’m not sure how I missed it, other than it was night, I was really tired, and my headlamp was starting to get really dim. I saw the sign for Cow Run and knew this race was mine.
Again, I spent quite a bit of time with the Boy Scouts while Mark switched the batteries in my headlamp for me and ate some of my Swedish Fish. I visited with Randy Daley, who was one of the Boy Scout leaders, who had completed the 50K earlier in the day. He was pretty blistered up, but in great spirits and pretty proud of his accomplishment. This is also where I realized I was about 4 miles from seeing Adam and finding out how his race went, and seeing my dad who was helping out at the aid station overnight.
Surprisingly, I continued to know pretty much exactly where I was. I told Mark what “landmarks” we would be coming up on, how we would cross over a bit of water, go a little farther, cross over a dry creek bed, then go down a really rocky descent, then we’d be on Miller Farm Road. Knowing exactly where I was at all times was such a boost for me, and we got to Miller Farm Road before I knew it.
I vaguely remember swearing an awful lot, saying goodbye to section 3, telling it I owned it, but not in any kind of language I can repeat here. Mark and I went down Miller Farm Road, and as I rounded the corner I saw the lights of my aid station. They all started applauding and yelling, “Hey, runner!” I yelled back, “You better be clapping for me!” Then they realized it was me coming. I got lots of hugs and congratulations. Everyone was surprised by how well I looked for having already gone 54 miles at that point. I had some delicious mashed potatoes, ramen noodles, and lots of visiting to tide me over before I headed out for the last 8.4 miles of the race.
I left the aid station around 2AM, and my dad and brother wanted to come to see me finish. Mark told them that it would be probably 6AM or even 6:30 because he knew how section 4 was. I was just convinced that I was going to get there, no matter how long it took me!
I had been in pretty sound mind all the time I was out there, but I felt myself starting to lose it just a little in this section. I took a drink out of the pack Mark had on his back and told him it felt like he was breastfeeding me. At least I was good for a laugh. I knew in this section, if I made it to the sluice pipe, I’d be home free. I have landmarks in that section and the sluice pipe is the first of them. In all honesty, we got there faster than I ever remember getting there before. My next landmark was the overlook bench. Then the top of the hill of truth. Then the last sign in box. Then I was out of the trail! I stood on the bridge under the sign marking the Gerard Hiking Trail. I couldn’t believe in about 2.25 miles, this race was over. I asked Mark for a congratulatory hug, which I got, and continued to the bridge.
At the bridge, I was greeted by a super excited Rob Giannamore and Frank Combopiano. Rob gave me a big hug and told me how happy he was for me. I was so excited too and wanted to continue on, but Mark was tying his shoe. I gave him a “good game” slap on the behind and told him to get moving!! I had a race to finish!!
After an uneventful trip around Drake Well and on the paved bike path behind the recreation complex we reached the road. I told Mark I wanted to run. He asked if I could. I told him I wasn’t really sure, but I was damn ready to be done running. So I ran. I wanted to stop, but then the school came into sight. I felt like I was sprinting. In reality, it was probably more of a sad tripping lurch, but I felt like I was flying. Came up to the finish line and it was over. And I was all alone! Everyone was trying to stay warm so they were camping out inside. I walked inside and got a huge hug from Tom Jennings. Then he handed me the reason for the run. My beautiful, silver 100K buckle and sticker. What a sweet moment.
Sadly, or happily, depending how you look at it, I exceeded Mark’s expectations of my ability to complete section 4. I finished a few minutes after 5:00AM, so my dad and brother missed my finish. I was so excited to sit down though, so I went into the cafeteria, visited with the Ripper’s, and had some food.
What am I proud of? I finished. I finished RUNNING. I finished feeling GOOD! But above all, I had the most fun I’ve ever had at an ultra. I think it is because I took my time and really got into it. Aside from that, I’ve never had such a clear head at an ultra. I usually get fuzzy brain for a significant portion of the races I’ve done but that NEVER happened at this one. I really attribute that to my Perpetuem solids. People also kept commenting on how good I looked and how positive my attitude was. It was awesome. And finally, I am so proud that I didn’t let the night get to me this time. I did when I did the Beast of Burden, but I knew what to expect this time and didn’t allow it to happen.
What would I do differently? Not one damn thing. There is not one thing that I regret from this race. Could I have gone faster? Absolutely. Would I have had fun? Probably not as much. And I certainly wouldn’t be walking down the steps one at a time right now.
Will I do it again? YUP! 2012 will be the year that I try to really go for it. This year’s goal was to have fun. Done. Next year’s goal will be to have just as much fun, but in less than 20 hours. I know I can do it.
To all of you who supported me and believed in me, you have no idea how much I appreciate you. To those of you who didn’t think I could do it, guess what? I DID IT!!! And I can’t wait to do it again.