I was hired at a full time job this summer, which while great for the amount of running gear and shoes I can buy, is not so good on the time flexibility for working out, at least in my mind. I've been tired, mentally and physically after learning a new routine, and though I got some running in, it was not enough.
So as the day of the Oil Creek 100k crept closer, I thought about pulling the plug. I'd done a few long runs, a couple of races, some bike rides, but I didn't feel 100k strong. But then my running mentor / ultra-buddy Roger (who took a bad spill during last year's race) signed up to run with me, and I thought, if I could run with him, get some of his trail confidence back, it would be worth some pain.
So I lined up a pacer, threw my stuff together, and was ready to go!
Saturday morning, as ready as I was going to get!
Saturday morning I woke up easy at 3 am, taped / lubed up, and drove the 35 minutes to the school. I saw some of the 100 milers off, hugged folks, high-fived folks and had a very low-key race start.
The 100k, for me, is a lot less stressful than the 100 miler, but more to bite off than the 50k. I knew, even out of shape, I could finish it in slow fashion. I knew the weather forecast, calling for high temps and rain, was not favorable for a fast finish, but I was hoping for under 24 hours, since in 2017 I had finished in 25 hours. I knew I hadn't put in the training, but I was hoping I had enough of a base, and enough stubbornness to keep going and finish.
Rog and I at the start of the 100k!
From the beginning, Roger and I ran with another runner that I had run with a bit with last year, Kasia (rhymes with Tasha - I had trouble pronouncing her poor name all day, so sorry Kasia). The three of us set an easy pace through the pre-dawn darkness. I was leading our group, and we had made it about 4 miles in and were on the trail, when I stopped. There was a black and white kitty laying right there in the middle of the trail. I was a little worried that she was sick or rabid, but she rubbed against our legs and purred and mewed at us. We kept going, but she ran along with us. She would run in front of us, and flop down on the trail. She stayed with us for a couple of miles at least. (I later heard someone carried her to the Aid Station, and that she found a great home!)
Trail kitty setting the pace.
It was super humid and already warm. Daylight broke before we got to the first aid station, and my glasses were fogging up on the uphills or when we paused for a rest. I was eating gels about every 45 minutes, drinking plenty. We went slow on the wooden bridges and boardwalks; they were all super slick from the humidity and rain over the last few weeks. We were running nice and easy, and being really careful on the slick downhills.
The trail was beautiful. This was right after the 50k leaders blew by us like we were standing still. Oh, I think we were standing still.
We came to aid station one, and we filled up our bottles, used the conveniently located porta potties, and I ate a few strawberries, had a cup of Dr. pepper, and grabbed a cup full of Swedish fish for the trip up the switchbacks.
I was huffing and puffing all the way up those steep switchbacks. I hate how terrible I am at uphills. I stubborned my way up, and I am determined to improve that bit about myself in the future. The lack of training was showing.
The time on the trail went fast. We were chatting and having a great time. I flew down some of my favorite down hills, and my legs and feet felt great. As we were crossing the final bridge to the Petroleum Center aid station, I heard a familiar "Woo!" My dad and step-mom had brought Eli down to cheer us on. I gave him a hug (he said I was gross), and he ran into the Aid Station with us. It was great to see my family down there, and we chatted with them while I changed shoes and we got some food. I ate a couple of grilled cheese quarters, ate some pickles, filled my bottles, and we were out of there pretty quickly. My 68-year old dad insisted I call him if I needed any help or a pacer(not in the rainstorms, dad), and we were on our way.
Kasia in section 3.
Kasia was having some knee issues, and our pace was slowing slightly, but we were seeing friends, chatting subjects from siblings to driving tickets, favorite vacation spots, droughts and floods. Aid station three captains and volunteers had painted all these beautiful little rocks with inspirational sayings or artwork on the, and they kept us exclaiming and hunting for our own special rock to take as a souvenir of our adventure.
Aid Station three was great. I had been mostly eating gels and drinking water or Gatorade all day, but aid station three had these rice/chicken/ bean/cheese quesadilla things that were awesome and hit the spot. We were taking our time in the aid stations - hugging friends, chatting, gathering what we needed, fixing problems, eating from the smorgasbord of options. Having run both the 100 miler and the 100k the last couple of years, not having to worry as much about meeting cutoffs for the 100k makes the experience much less stressful for a slower runner like myself.
We started into section 4, and Rog and I were still running a little, but Kasia had slowed even more because of her knees. She was urging us to go ahead, but we were having a great time hanging and chatting with her, so we went ahead slightly, but walked a bit slower and she would catch up on the flats and uphills.
Nothing quite like autumn in the woods.
We caught up with other friends, and about a mile from the end of the trail, we came across a rather young porcupine in the trail. He or she meandered off quite quickly though.
The three of us made it back to the school by 4:30 - a little later than we had hoped, but still pretty much on schedule (if we had a schedule). I took the time to change clothes and shoes. I was getting the the point where I wasn't wanting to eat at all. I had a few pickles, and a bite of a cheese quesadilla, some coke, and took a package of Swedish fish for the trail. I filled up my gels, grabbed my headlamp, and then checked to see if Rog and Kasia were ready to go.
Someone had given Kasia their trekking poles, so she was game to go back out on the trail. Rog gave her his bear-bell and she was ok with setting out on her own, knowing she was slowing down.
Rog and I headed out onto the trail. We were pretty much just hiking, but we were feeling good. The only part of me that was hurting at that point were my little toes. I had tried to wrap them, but that made them feel not only like they were going to fall off, but to explode, then fall off. So I set them free, and hoped for the best. In hindsight, I should have done a little more for my feet, but little did I know...
As we made our way down the bike trail, the skies were filling with big puffy thunderheads. We kept hearing rumbles. I could see that the storm was sort of forming right over us, so I knew our best bet was to just keep moving. As we neared the hiking trail start, we could smell a bear, and it was super super stinky. I was expecting the thing to run out in front of us, but we never saw him or her, but man, did we smell it.
The rumbling of the storm followed us, and right as we got to the trail split for the 5 mile / going home loop, the skies opened up. I had not brought my visor, so my glasses were soon spotted with water, and I just kept my head down, and was glad we were still in day-light. The rain was very refreshing, because we had been so hot all day - but my feet were soon soaked, we were squelching through mud and puddles and roaring streams. The little streams that earlier in the day had been trickling, were roaring. Miller run looked like a fountain of chocolate milk (we were thirsty and calorie deprived, ok?)
It only rained hard on us for probably a mile or so, and we only had one flash of lightning that made us jump out of our skin a little, but the trail was now a slop-fest. It hadn't exactly been dry all day, but now it was just it's own little body of water.
Muddy trail as the rain was sprinkling at sunset.
Steamy and damp trail runners. We're still smiling though!
Everything was still pretty good to aid station 1. They had potato soup and lasagna! I was actually hungry enough to eat both - and they had another pack of Swedish fish (I had devoured the first one before the rain hit). We visited with Heather Nelson and the folks down below Wolfkiel, and Rog fixed a foot issue, and then we were off.
By now it was full dark, but we were still in good spirits. I decided I would change my socks again at Petroleum center. My feet were squishing with every step, but there wasn't much I could do about the amount of water. It was a slow plod, but we made good time. We saw some salamanders, got passed by quite a few hundred milers (some of whom we knew). Kudos to those guys, in the conditions we were having. The only saving grace was the temperature. It was still warm, even in the dark.
I think it was around 10:30 when we rolled in to Petroleum Center. Kathy(my pacer) was super ready to pace! She was practically bouncy. We had slowed down, and I think, if I hadn't knew Kathy was ready and raring to pace, I may have dropped out there. But I changed my socks, ate a couple of pickles, grabbed gels and was ready. I swapped headlights, Rog changed batteries, and we were off (slowly).
Kathy filled us in on all the happenings of the day, entertaining us with stories of barfing runners, nasty feet issues, helpful boy scouts, impressed by our craziness, bear sightings, Sasquatch stories, and more. She was bubbly and energetic, and she led us on.
We saw a ton of spotted salamanders, mice, frogs, toads. Heard deer and maybe.. sasquatch, but we were getting slower, and more quiet. Heard a ton of peeper frogs. Saw bouncy mice. Heard coyotes once. My feet were killing me, Rog was going into continuous yawn mode, and Rog had also gone into the black-hole of time math and wanting to be off of the trail.
Rog was pretty sure he was going to drop at aid station 3. I told him we had tons of time, but he was pretty much done. He was also having vision issues relating to his fall from the year before, probably not helped by the exhaustion and fog and moisture. By the time we hit the road, he was ready to be done, and I couldn't blame him.
On the road leading down to aid station 3, Rog handed Kathy his trekking poles, telling her she would need them with all the slop mud. And it WAS slop mud. I had never seen the trails so muddy and torn up. Too much moisture and too many people. Kathy flourished the poles like a sasquatch fighting sword master, making Rog jump, and set us all laughing that last bit down the hill.
It was hard to think about going on without Rog. I wanted to drop so much, that I made myself not think about it at all, so that I couldn't do it. I stood there at aid station 3, and I tried to eat bacon. I had two cups of coffee. I picked up a gel, since I was almost out of my own, and the idea of most real food sounded awful.
I was super tired, and as I used the port-potty again before we left aid station 3, I briefly wonder what would happen if I fell asleep in it, and being wet and muddy and slick, it probably would be easy to fall in. I made sure I didn't. Ew.
I gave Rog a quick hug, and Kathy and I were off. I was much less talkative at this point. It was just the pain in my feet and the walking through the mud. The very slow walking. I'm not sure what time we left the station, but it had to be 3 am.
I had wanted to drop, and now I couldn't. Because I had kept going. I had not thought about dropping until I was past a point where I could. I wouldn't have let myself turn around at that point anyway, and neither would Kathy. I wanted my dad to see I did it, and Eli, and my work folks, who think I'm crazy, and all my wild running friends who do this crazy thing too. My feet were blistered, and I was tired, but everything else felt ok. I pushed forward.
I love section 4, which was a blessing. I know it very very well, and so even though I was going super slow, the plodding forward in the dark actually didn't seem too bad. One hill, then another. Down a hill, hear crashing in the bushes that you hope isn't a bear or a sasquatch and go a little faster...
The squishy mud and wet places were actually better for my feet then the solid roots or rocky parts of the trail, which set my feet screaming and burning with each step. So I squelched and squished as much as I could.
I asked Kathy to talk, to keep me awake, and she told stories and complained and stopped for my having to pee every other mile (I was well hydrated, at least). We had made it to the bench, about 3 miles before the end of the trail, and I was falling asleep while I was hiking. I was weaving and I felt like I was going to fall down. I was leading, because it made me feel more awake, but I found a rock, and told Kathy I had to stop. I just needed to close my eyes for a minute. I sat down, closed my eyes for maybe 2 minutes (maybe it was 2 hours and Kathy was too nice to say so), but man, did that 2 minutes help. Just that brief rest, and I stood up, and we kept going. The skies again opened up and drenched us for a good 10 minutes, but the sky was getting lighter, and dawn was breaking as we finally came off of the trail.
Kathy got me off the trail!!! Yay!
After that - we were giddy and goofy, and though the miles were slow, they were happy because we knew I would make it. I tried to run a couple of times, but my feet felt like shards of glass, so I shambled on.
Getting goofy on the Drake Well Loop.
I did run the last 15 feet to the finish line, then walked over the mat. I gave Tom Jennings a hug, and told him I had never seen the trail so bad, and it was probably harder to keep going in that mud and rain than it had been when I finished the 100 miler, because at least the weather had been better.
Tom handed me my buckle, and Kathy and I found my drop bag and boxes, and we wandered inside. I peeled off my shoes and socks, and Kathy was very very kind to move my car closer and help me get my stuff together.
Subtract an hour from this - one hour slower than last year, but I'll take it. 25:55:27.
Not eight minutes after I finished, the skies opened and it poured buckets again. The look on Kathy's face as she came in with my stuff, soaked, set me laughing again.
What a race, what a day and night of craziness and all the awesome experiences that I wanted. I showered and went home.
My feet are bad, but not as bad as they felt out there. I found an odd number of bruises on my hands, legs, feet, that I don't remember getting during the night. I'm not terribly sore, but do have some tremors from lack of enough of my calcium meds for the amount of exercise I did. My voice is still gone from all the wooing and cheering and talking.
Rog got home safe. Kasia dropped about 42 miles in, her knees too bad to go on. Other friends were forced to drop because of the terrible conditions, or exhaustion, or injury. I'm amazed by the folks that pressed on to finish the 100 miler in the rain and terrible trail conditions.
I have run trails for about seven years now. I've run with fast folk, and slower folk. With folks who I might not agree with across the dinner table, but would fight a bear to defend in the woods. With folks who make me laugh until I cry, and some who are not on this earth to run with any longer. Maybe I only get to see these folks on the trail once a year, for a handful of miles, or even for a brief hand grasp, hug, or high five, but this is my family and my tribe, and I will be on these trails until there is not enough life in me to make it there anymore.
My feet are a little better today, the third day after. I'm not very sore, and the bruises are fading. Maybe I'll just volunteer or pace next year. Maybe I'll drag my dad out and get him to hike 50k with me so he can see all this craziness that I have fallen in love with. Maybe I'll get the itch to conquer a different distance again. I just know I'll be back every year, because more than anything in my life, Oil Creek is family and home.