When you bite off more than you can chew, the polite thing isn't to spit it out, it's to do whatever you can do swallow. And let me tell you, I choked down a bite about 38 miles too big for me to even fit in my mouth.
The 2015 Oil Creek Trail runs. I knew I was running 100 miles this year. Nothing was going to stop me. See, I had this (not so) little surgery back in January, and I was determined, from that hospital bed that I would recover and run 100 miles on my favorite trail in October. On October 10th and 11th of 2015, to be exact.
So back in March, mostly healed up, I signed up for my "home" 100 miler. And I trained. I ran some races. Some pretty challenging races, and I ran on the trails almost every weekend that I didn't have races. I biked, I hiked and roller bladed when I wasn't running. And I felt good.
So last Friday, October 9th, I had all my bags packed, my lists made. I went out and marked a section of the race that I had volunteered to mark, and went to the family reunion that is the normal Oil Creek pre-race dinner. It was a great time, but I escaped early so I could go home and sleep.
Drop bags ready!
Check list checked!
Myself, Dave and Paula (Dave's wife) at the start line. (Kim is grinning at us from the left) It wasn't too cold at 4:58am, and I knew I would warm up quickly (Photo by Roger N.)
So for those unfamiliar with the Oil Creek Trail races, the runner starts at a middle school, runs about 1.5 miles down a paved bike trail before reaching a trail head, and continuing on mostly single track through Oil Creek State Park. For the 50k race, you do one loop as such. For the 100k, two loops. And us lucky and crazy 100 milers do the same thing three times, plus an extra little 7 mile loop that is about 5 mile of the trail. A runner of the 100 miler has 32 hours to finish.(Remember this for future reference.)
Now this is my home trail. Most of the time I love it. Some days, we have little fights, and I fall down or am stuck in my own head and it takes a toll on me. But this summer was like the honeymoon with the Oil Creek trail. We had nothing but good days! We had gotten close! I knew this trail so well. I knew where to walk, I knew where to run, I knew where to do a nice lope and let gravity do it's thing. It had been great! So I set out to tramp along my old friend for as long as it would take us to get this 100 miles done.
And I took some real (people) friends with me too. My friend Dave had signed up to stick the run out with me. He was crazy, and had signed up only two weeks before hand, but we vowed not to hold each other to one another's pace if we weren't feeling so good anymore.
So we ran. We ran easy, but not too easy. And not wanting to bog this post with 100 miles of stuff, I'll give some of the highlights.
First of all, it was an exceptionally beautiful day, both in temperatures and scenery. The leaves were amazing, and the air was cool, but not frigid. Perfect running weather.
Heather B. on gorgeous trails!
Dave and I chattered about pace, about friends, about life, teased each other, made sure we were both eating/drinking enough. We didn't linger too long in the first Aid station. I said hi to all my trail family working there, but I didn't eat much - I drank some coke, and had a peanut butter sandwich, filled my bottles, and we kept going.
We chased and were chased by friends most of the first loop. Rob and Pat were leading, and being close to them worried me that we were going too fast, but I felt good, but not like I was pushing hard and I don't like second guessing myself when it comes to running. I just end up thinking myself into spirals. A friend of mine, Bill, was right behind us, and we gave each other a quick hug of encouragement, and we were back out of the Aid Station.
Dave admiring the scenery.
Dave and I took turns leading, and we walked all hills, and did an easy gait going downhill. I had a slight catch in my left ankle and a little bit of chafing issue, but I told myself I would fix those at the second Aid Station, and it would be fine.
Aid Station 2 check point!
Again greeted by the friendly faces of Aid Station 2, I had my bottles filled, I addressed my chafing, took a little ibuprofen to try to figure out my ankle, ate another pb sandwich, had a little coffee, and we took off pretty quickly again. Dave asked if our crew had brought him a egg mcmuffin, and was a little sad that they hadn't.
The first loop pretty much continued like that. We ran comfortably, we chatted, we ran with other runners sometimes, and I know I'm forgetting a lot, but I think you probably kill brain cells when you run that long and don't sleep.
We came to Aid Station 3, where I once again tried to address severe chafing on my thighs with some vaseline. I knew at this point, it was going to be necessary to push through the discomfort until we at least got back to the Aid Station at the middle school, where I could change. I had worn the capri running pants before, but not for anything over 12 miles. A very stupid mistake on my part, mostly because I should have known better.
Wait up, I just want to take a quick picture! You know, for my blog!
So I sucked up the pain, hoped my ankle would feel better when I changed shoes at the school, and kept eating gels, and drinking plenty of water. We were coming down the last section of trail before we did the Drake Well loop and the bike trail, when I took a pretty good fall on my knees and elbows. I was back up quickly, and wasn't hurt, so we kept going. There was a scrape on my elbow, and I felt a bit bruised, but nothing for it but to keep going!
Dave and I coming in from finish the first loop! Only 68 more miles to go!
I came into the Aid Station and grabbed my shoes and clothes. I asked my crew to get me some potatoes and a grilled cheese, and felt a little queasy about food. Hungry, but it didn't sound very appealing. I ran to the bathroom and changed my pants, made sure I had my chip and bib number still on, addressed my chafing to the best of my ability, then went back out to my crew. My husband, Jason, and my son were there. My dad was there too! It was a speedy reunion, as I ate some grilled cheese, drank some Dr. Pepper and Coke, and then Dave and I were out. We knew we didn't want to linger too long, and I just wanted to make sure I was eating and getting some caffeine. I picked up my hiking poles to save my legs on the ups and downs. After the second loop, I would be picking up my friend Roger to pace me.
The second loop went as well as the first. The chafing had become tolerable. I forgot about my ankle, and my feet felt refreshed after a shoe change. We were still running quite a bit.
We hadn't seen too much wildlife through the day. A turkey, a lot of chipmunks, I remember thinking how quiet the woods were. About a mile and a half from Aid Station 1, something bounced, like a bouncy ball, across the trail in front of me. I have never seen a mouse or chipmunk jump like that. It looked like a fuzzy ball, and I have no idea what it was. It was pretty cool though!
When we got to Aid Station 1 again, no food sounded good. I was still eating gels like clockwork, because I knew I needed calories, but my mouth felt coated and gross. I drank ginger ale, I had a couple of pierogis, and got out of there. We were still ahead of my rough pace plan, but I knew night would be slower.
View from the top of the Wolfkiel switchbacks, right after Aid Station 1.
We were still running quite a bit, but we had gotten quieter. I took a superman dive and landed right on my knees and stomach. I got up pretty quick, the ground had been pretty soft there, but my knees were bleeding a little. I shook it off, and we made it to the road leading to Aid Station 2. Rog and his daughter, Melissa were there to meet us!
He chatted with us as we made our way down the road. We had to wait a few moments as the train went by, but it was a nice little break. We got to the Aid Station, and found that Kris and Paula had brought egg mcmuffins, but I didn't want anything. I ate a little pizza, and they brought me potato soup, but nothing appealed to me. I drank the pop and ate half the pizza. I used the bathroom, tried once again to relieve the chafing a little more, and we moved on.
My friend Bill and a very nice Canadian, Amanda, had left right before us, and Dave and I tried to catch up a bit. I took the next hill pretty slow, but I was still doing an ok lope on the flats and downs. Bill still looked as fresh as when he started. I got the opportunity to run with him and our new friend, Amanda from Canada, for a little bit, and they both cheered me up. Dave had gotten pretty quiet and had stretched his lead in front of me a bit. I hung out with Bill and Amanda for a little while longer, but then I caught back up to Dave when Bill had to answer a call of nature.
The sun was starting to get low, and we dug our headlamps out and began to use them. I had enjoyed my time running with Bill and Manda, but Bill had his timing down very well, and thinking about time and cutoffs made me nervous. I knew as long as I kept moving forward, even if I had to walk, I could make it.
Night settled in, and we weren't running as much, but still running. I was being very careful in the dark with my step, doing a lot of hop-leaps, using my poles a lot, but still moving quite quick on the downs. We made it out of the endless seeming section 3, to the Aid Station, where I got to see more friends. I choked down some gels, a little pickle juice, and some broth, then we left.
This is when my race gets a little foggy. I know Dave and I still ran a lot on section in the dark. We did the Drake's Well loop for the second time, and jogged off and on to the school. One thing Dave and I did to help each other was as we'd get tired, we'd say "Run to that cone. Run to that flag" And I made him laugh by saying "Run to that tree." "Which tree?" He knew which one I meant!
We did that on the way back to the school, and got cheered in. We went in and changed. I changed socks, bra and realized I had forgotten a shirt. Addressed the chafing again. I had a sharp pain in my back that had started a while back, I got some bio freeze that Paula was nice enough to rub in. I walked out of the bathroom in my sports bra, for once, to tired and knowing that all the people were my friends and I didn't need to be that self conscious. I put on a short sleeve shirt. Kris said I should probably put a long sleeve shirt on, so I did. My brain was pretty muzzy. My friends Alisha and her husband Rich were there, and my friend Kim. They were telling me I looked good.
Rog was ready to pace me to at least Aid Station 2, where Alisha was going to pick me up. Rog had run the 50k, and his legs were a bit tired, and he worried he wouldn't keep up with me(ha!).
I don't remember what time we left the school - though I remember looking at the clock. I remember petting some dogs as we left the school, and Dave catching up with us and staying with us a bit, but I was mostly walking, and I think he was in a bad head space, and left us behind pretty quickly. Rog was up-beat, telling me I was moving at a good pace, and just having someone new to talk to and to tell me about his day and his race was great for me. It woke me up a little. Rog had seen a bear, while running with his friend Eva, and not long after he told me this, we came into Aid Station 1, and there she was. I sat down and drank a cup of broth and a little coffee. Nothing else sounded good at all. Eva helped me roll out my quads with my hiking sticks to help them feel a little better, and we got out of there pretty quickly. The young ladies at the Aid Station were great. They got me in and out very fast.
It was near 1 am. My biggest problems were I couldn't move very fast, not only because my quads were shot, and the chafing was just going to be a constant pain that I knew I had to just take, but I was muzzy with being tired. I can't for the life of me remember what I talked about with Rog, but I know he was rooting me on and upbeat and told me I would do it! (Though I did note, as we got close to Aid Station 2, he was checking his watch a lot). We hiked down the road and across the bridge to the Aid Station. He told me I'd have to get in and out pretty quickly and keep moving. I agreed, I think.
I think it was around 3:30-3:45 am when we came into the Aid Station. Alisha was waiting for me, and they sat me down and got me broth and coffee. I tried to drink, I didn't want to eat at all. My friend Allison took my headlamp and she and Alisha changed batteries. My friend Mark came over with heating pads, and put one on my neck and shoulders and that was awesome. Someone said I should eat, and I said I didn't think I could eat and Mark told them I didn't have to eat, I was awesome and tough. I was shivering a little and I someone draped my jacket around me. I got my arms in the sleeves somehow, and got my gloves on that Alisha had found for me, and I got up and said, "Lets go." I gave Rog a hug (I think, I may have hugged him in my head), and we set off. I knew Alisha would give me the tough truth if I would make it or not. I knew I was getting shorter on time, and I knew it was going to be close.
Poor Alisha. The one good thing is I never stopped moving forward. Sometimes, especially uphills, I was slow, but I kept going. Alisha and I talked, she told me about how she had run the 50k with Kim, and they had a really good time. She talked about her work, she asked about how I was doing. I told her I didn't think I was going to make it. She said it would be close. She said I had to keep moving, and she didn't know what time it was. I told her I would keep going until they pulled me.
I was head down and grinding it out. I have to say I remember having to pull over to go to the bathroom, and when I was finished, we walked 10 steps and there was the port-a-potty, which I laughed about then. I kept thinking I saw bears, but they were just shadows, and I barely blinked at when passing through the boy scout camp, just called out my number and kept moving. I kept drinking and eating gels, and the cold didn't bother me, not with gloves, long sleeves and a jacket, and I was warm when we went up a hill.
I just kept following Alisha's purple Hokas, and she kept hiking briskly. I would tell myself in my head where we were as we went, as we came down to the near the rail road in the dark, and as we came up to plum dungeon before the descent back to Miller farm Aid Station 3, I could see the sky starting to brighten.
Dave and Paula were still there at Aid Station 3. Dave looked about as good as I felt. I used the bathroom, and asked for coffee. Larry, one of the regulars at the Aid Station, asked me how I wanted it, and I asked for cream and sugar. He dumped ice in it for me too, and I guzzled it down, and I started whining that I wasn't going to make it. He and Robin said I had tons of time until the cut-off, and I should just keep moving. Larry said something to me that lit a little fire under me, back beyond the film of tired. "You've never DNFed anything before. Don't start now." Or something similar. I followed Alisha out of the Aid Station, and the sunrise was brilliant pink at the top of Cemetery Hill.
There was not really any more running on the trail at that point. One foot, then another, step over root, over rock, into soft spot on mud, click-clack of hiking poles, this step down will hurt, ok done, move forward. Uphill is good, hurts less, slower but hurts less, downhill, suck it up, go down quick, bite that lip a bit, down a bit more, ok. flat bits are great, go quicker, good. It's ok if you don't finish. Go until they pull you. What if they pull me and I can't go out with my Dad on the coming home loop? Will he be disappointed he came all this way up from Florida and not get to do that 7 miles? Will my friends be disappointed in me? I should've trained harder.
We made it down to the final Drake Well loop. It was earlier than I thought. 9:45. You can make it! My shuffle became a little faster. As Alisha and I got closer to the school, I think I perked up a bit. I really really had to pee though. And yes, I had missed the convenient port-a-potty right at the Drake Well loop. We passed a bunch of runners heading into the finish, and some heading out for their coming home loop. We were almost to the end of the bike path, and I knew I'd have to pretty much grab Dad and go when we go to the school, so I got off the bike path into some bushes while Alisha made sure no one was coming, then I started my hobbling shuffle to the school.
I don't think anyone thought I would make the cut-off, but we swung in, I asked for coffee, and my friend Rob G. was there. I asked for an apple, Alisha handed pacing off to my dad, and we were off. We trotted out of the school area, but I was pretty much back to walking. I asked Dad how they had been doing, and told him now that I was out on the 7 mile loop with him, I was glad. I knew I could finish the 100 miles, maybe not officially, depending on my time, but my goal had been to get out here, on this last bit, with him.
He loved the trail. He walked about 15 paces ahead of me, and warned me if there was a rock, or if were were heading up or down or if it was flat. He said he can see why we run here, and he never liked the idea of running on the road, but he would like this. I suggest next time he comes up we could come hiking. As tired as I was, I had to chuckle at him a couple times, especially on the Hill of Truth, when he kept saying "I think it's the top - it's leveling off" because, I already knew.
We had no idea of the time. We met a couple hiking and we asked the time, and it was 11:15. We were about 2 miles in at that point. I had an hour and 45 minutes. I kept moving. A couple other groups of runners passed me. I kept moving. Dad and I kept moving and I kept declaring it was ok, I would finish no matter what, and Dad agreed and encouraged. I kept looking back, and finally I heard voices, and the sweepers were there. They were very nice when I asked if they were sweepers, and I thought - ok, sweepers - the race must be over. I'm not going to hurry, they're not pushing me, I'm going to keep going, get off the trail and finish this thing.
We came off the trail, and they were tearing down the tent for the course marshals, and Jane, a friend and volunteer, called out "Do you want to quit, or keep going? You have 15 minutes to make it 1.5 miles. That's a 12 minute mile. Tom Jennings said it's embarrassing to finish once the clock is stopped."
Now. I love my trail family. But 31 hours and 45 minutes on a trail, plus being awake for over 34 hours made me slightly... reactionary. "I'm going to finish. I don't care if I'm embarrassed!"
And I started running. Dad ran with me. We ran to the train bridge and I walked a bit.
"Embarrass this!" I said, running 30 feet then shuffling again!
The Sweepers (Cyndi, Kathy and Sherry) ran behind me, cheering me on, telling me I had time if I kept moving. I whined something, then I saw Jason coming down the trail ahead, with Eli. He was waving his hand in a negating motion, that I wasn't going to make it. I started to slow down, but then Rich came up behind him and said something like. "You can make it! You have to RUN though. You can't stop."
So I ran.
The sweepers told me to take off my waist pack, I did and gave it to them. I think Jason took my hiking poles, and we RAN. Rich was in front of me, Jason to my right, Dad to my left, and the sweepers right behind me. They kept encouraging and telling me to take nice deep breaths and keep moving. We passed Alisha and Kim, who cheered me on. Eli ran way up ahead, and I knew there was no way I was catching that boy.
I don't know how fast I was going, I just know the bike trail seemed a lot shorter than it had the previous times I had run down it in the last nearly 32 hours. There was a slight slope up to the road, I kind of stopped running right there, power walked for a moment, then boosted back up into a run. Then I saw Rog and Kris, and I saw Thea, and people in cars stopped and beeped and cheered, and I was almost to the bridge, and I'm thinking, How am I going to make it, am I going to make it. Then another trail mentor of mine, Jeff, is there saying, "You have three minutes! You're going to make it!" And that was all I needed to know.
I did it. 31:58:10 Almost 2 minutes to spare...
I... there's nothing like that finish was. I find it hard to express how the wave of some of the people I care most about in the world carried me across that line and I was so happy and touched that so many people were there for me. I will never, ever EVER forget it. Dave finished the 100, after having some similarly poor moments that I did. Bill finished the 100 miler with Amanda, our new Canadian friend - redemption for him for the previous year (I gave him a hug a little later). My friend Heather finished, paced in by another friend, Adam. My friends Rob and Pat finished.
There were many times I wanted to give up. I wanted to quit. I wanted them to pull me. I wanted the buckle, then I didn't care about the buckle. I just kept moving forward, which seems to be the biggest theme of this entire chapter of my life. Keep moving forward. Things do change, things do get better. You meet these amazing people, you do things for them, they do things for you, not for any reason except you are cared for.
And this is why I trail run. Because I am loved, and I love these crazy, awesome, amazing real people. Thank you. And don't ask me for a while if I'm doing this again...
Family and Crew
Post race meal fortune cookie fortune.
The collection is complete.