Sunday, October 16, 2011

Oil Creel 100 Trail Runs - 50k Race Report

Crossing the finish line at 7:15:20
Contemplating the race, after.
If you had told me two years ago I would be running 31 miles around my favorite hiking trail at that time, I would have laughed.

When I first heard about the Oil Creek 100 trail races in fall of 2009, I was overweight, and still recovering from a surgery to remove a bowling ball sized cyst from my uterus.  I had just recently been gifted a pair of the crazy vibram five fingers, and I was just getting into running.  I thought about volunteering, because I loved the trail, but I hadn’t even had one race yet.  I hadn’t even ran much more than a mile.

I loved trail running with my dog, and would get out whenever I could.  My running was sporadic, and sometimes half-hearted, but I decided to do the barefoot thing, and only run in the vibrams.  I didn’t start out quite as slow as I should have, but did ok.
Trail sign in Section 3.  My loyal hiking/running companion before I met the Warriors, Zoe.

I signed up for my first race in March of 2010, a 10k, the Leprechaun Leap in Erie, PA.  The first thing I realized is that running had a huge community, and that wearing only vibrams without socks in March in NWPA is crazy, and I’m surprised I still have all my toes.

I did well, and moreso, I liked it.  I spent the rest of the year, signing up for 5ks, making some PRs (after I knew what it stood for), talking a lot about my crazy shoes to people at the races, and running on trails whenever I could.  There weren’t many trails, so I was happy enough with back roads.  In September, I ran in my first official trail race, the One Tough Cookie in Warren, PA.  I did the best at that race than I had at any.  I knew I loved the trail running, but it just... clicked with that race.

After the new year I ran more.  2011 would be the year of the runner. And I decided I wanted to go back to the trail I had loved to hike so much, and add some speed to the love for it.  Registration for the 50k opened in March, and I knew I could train for it.

I ran.  I ran in the snow, I ran more races, I ran in the sleet.  I upped my mileage.  I still was running strictly in the five-fingers.  I was comfortable in them, and after I started wearing socks, I didn’t have any blister issues.
Train tracks near Aid Station #3.
In April, I drove down to run the bike trail in Oil Creek State Park.  I wanted to be down there, but I didn’t want to run the trail yet.  I wanted to make sure I could up my mileage before I started really to train on the trail.  I ran 13 miles that day, and met Thea Wheeling, as I was setting off, who told me about the Warrior group when she found out I was training for the OC100 50k. She told me to check it out on facebook, that they did training runs and had get togethers and things.  I said ok, and I did my run.  I pushed hard to get thirteen miles, but I felt good - it was as far as I had ever run.  

I got home, took my first ice bath, and tried to find The Warriors on facebook.  Do you KNOW how many groups are named the Warriors on facebook?  I was feeling a little lost about it, when I got a friend request from Thea!  And I found the group through her!  

In late May, I went for my first group run.  I was nervous.  Aside from dragging my husband on a few miles, I had never run with anyone, except alone in road races.  After some introductions, we set off on the trail.  I chatted with a few folk, but mostly ran my own pace.  I remember Rob and Thea - and I remember this crazy guy in a long sleeve red shirt (Tom Jennings) passing me.  I passed a bunch of people, who commented on my crazy shoes, and it was so muddy that spring, I left some very strange footprints on the bridges and through the Mud.  I ran 15 miles on the trail that day.  I bonked my toes, I fell down several times, but I had a great time!  My addiction was complete.

I joined the Wednesday Warrior running group, and faces and names gradually came together.  I knew who the people I would never catch up to were, I knew the people who i could run with if i pushed hard, and I found the people who were just my perfect pace.  I found out that you get very close to your trail friends very fast.  I found out that people who you hardly know can be the best people you ever meet in your life.  All because we all like to put one foot in front of the other and run like we were kids, or animals, through the woods and fields and streams and swamps.
Greeting Dad and Eli at aid station 2.
 Needless to say, I loved it.  My husband couldn’t keep me off the trails, and my training soared.  I still ran roads during the week and on some weekends.  My mileage went up.  I hit 17 miles, then 22.  Most times I ran with someone, or started out alone and ended up with people.  I now had a social outlet that combined something I loved to do, with people who loved to do it too.  And we talked about everything.  

Sometimes I just ran alone on the trail, but when I knew someone was out there behind me or in front of me. Finally I got up to 26 miles, the full loop of the park.  Everyone was telling me I was ready.

My family thought I was a little... odd.  My brother had started running road marathons a number of years ago, and I have to say (Sorry Drew), but half of the appeal of doing the 50k, was that it was longer than a marathon.  I would tell people how far I was running, and they didn’t get it.  My trail buddies understood.  I loved running with the different people on the trail.  Each person I ran with, gave parts of the trail new personality to me, more than hiking or walking alone ever could.  I heard stories and advice, was helped when I was low, and helped other people when they were.   How can you explain to friends and family that don’t run, how you get to be so close to people that you’re “only” running with.  People that you spend 6 or more hours with in nature, doing something you love.  There’s a closeness and intimacy that is like a sibling relationship.  They became family.

I was ready.  I had trained.  I got frustrated, I took days off, but I was there.  Race Day.
Overlook in Section 2 to the bike bridge.

I found myself in an interesting position the night before the race.  I drove down, expecting just to pick up my packet, then go home and hang out with my Dad and husband and son, who would all come down for the race the next day.  But I kind of... threw myself into it.  I had made myself available to volunteer.  Had been planning on volunteering for the race, but was never really assigned.  Being 45 minutes away from the trail on top of job and baby and house duties made it hard to get down for anything other than the weekly training run.  So I asked where I was needed, and helped out a bit the night before.  I took some pictures, helped some people out, and felt how good it was to be involved in this community of racers and supporters and volunteers.  I even volunteered to pace a 100k runner after I finished my race. (Boy what was I thinking).  

Race day, I woke up, drove myself down.  I had slept pretty well.  It was interesting.  I had been all nerves for my own race right up until I had volunteered to be a pacer.  All my nervousness evaporated, because I was more worried about being in shape to do a good job of co-pacing an 100k participant, than I was about my own race.  And I wasn’t worried about finishing.  I had trained and was ready.

I started out with two of my warrior friends.  We were shooting for 8 hour time frame, and by the time we had gotten a few miles in, I was warmed up, and chafing a little at the bottleneck we were in.  I... found it difficult, after running on the trail so much throughout the spring and summer and early fall to slow my pace down.  I knew the trail.  It was my trail.  So I started passing.  I figured Cristin and Jake would catch up.  I would just pass a few people, and they would pass them too, and they would catch up and we would run together more later.

I kept passing.  I would call out a please or thank you as I went.  I looked down at my pace and saw I was running under 10 minute miles on the flats and downhills.  I grimaced internally.  I knew I would wear myself out well before section four, but i felt so good, and I just wanted to run on my trail.
Section 1 - first mile in, right before the sign in box.

I had different running companions through the sections, and I kept playing trail guide.  I don’t know if it was helpful, but I wanted to help.  We made it to Aid station 1, and I had some gatorade, and moved on.  I was happy, because I saw a lot of my warrior friends who I had run with throughout the year during the course of the race.  I kept on top of my water and food, and I felt really really good.  

I flew through section two, pointing out “Magic Bus Hill” where the empty shell of an old bus sits.  Near the end of section two, where the long downhill starts, I just let myself go full out.  I pulled away from people and could feel aid station 2 getting closer.  I breathed in the woods and enjoyed the quiet and the beauty and the adrenaline.  My toes were starting to hurt a bit though.  Which was worrying me. The strike point on my toe and ball of my foot were feeling a little hot, so I planned to change socks and shoes and re-glide my feet.

I came out on the road near Petroleum Center, and just enjoyed the festiveness of the race.  I followed the flags to Aid Station 2, and was greeted enthusiastically by Tom Lane, dressed as Mayor of Funkytown.  I was laughing and grinning as people handed me my drop-bag, Tom Lane filled my hydration pack, and I gobbled down a grilled cheese and changed my shoes and was on my way.  I wish I had stayed a little longer, but I knew everyone had a job to do, and mine was to keep going.

I was heading out and across the road up to the trail, when I heard my name.  I turned around, and I saw my family waving me down.  My dad and husband and son had come down to surprise me.  I gave them quick hugs, thanked them for seeing me here and that I would see them at the finish!

I felt a bit ill climbing up that first hill on section three, but once I was at the top, I started running again, a little more slowly this time.  I had gained a few running companions and was pretty happy to have someone to talk to and run with through the long agony of section 3.  A few miles into section three I took a nasty tumble, landing on my right hip, but bouncing up and brushing off without really stopping.  The gentleman I was with asked me if i was ok, but also said I was up so fast I nearly bounced.  I felt ok, just a bit bruised on my hip, but I also felt a bit out of whack.
Pine tree path - section three - one of my favorite areas.

We got to the boy scout aid station at cow run, where I giggled at the signs that were set up, and had a gu and a gatorade and we headed back out.  I was struggling more to keep up with the guys I was running with, not on the downhills or the straight-aways, but walking the hills, and being vertically challenged were having their toll.  My right knee hurt, and my left hip ached, more when I walked than when I was running, so I tried to keep up as much running as I could.  I passed Katie and Lindsey, more friends who were working down their 100k first loop.  I hugged and cheered them on, told them how great they looked, then I kept moving.  I was worried if I really stopped, I would stiffen up, and not be able to get going again.

We burned down the last hill into aid station three, and I was hurting a bit more by that point.  I rushed through, grabbing some food, knowing there was a couple nasty hills ahead.  Section four is my favorite though (I kept telling myself that over and over, in case I forgot in the ire of the last few miles), and I knew it would go fast.  The pain in my hip and knee were worse, and I went alone for the first mile or two, then a few of the guys I had been leapfrogging with during the day caught me, and I stayed with them.  I had to stop and fill my pack at an unmanned water station, because I had forgot to at aid station three, but I knew there that we were only 4 or so miles from the end of the trail, 6 miles from the finish.  Two of the guys I was with took off, wanting to try for under 7 hours finish, and a very nice guy named Steve stuck with me the rest of the way.  It was his first Ultra too, and we kept each other going.  By the time we came off of the trail, I had to push myself to run, so we half ran, half shuffled around the dike loop, then onto the last mile of the bike trail, which went more slowly than the rest of the race.
Beautiful section of trail - I'm pretty sure this is section 1, but not positive.
We came off of the bike trail onto the road, and I could see someone waving at me.  Jason and my Dad and Eli had come up the last quarter mile to meet me.  I was so happy to see them...  My dad was carrying Eli, and I could hear him yelling “Go Mommy!  Go Mommy!” and Jason was trying to snag as many photos as he could while i was shuffling my way to the finish.  I picked up the pace and finished smiling, a little choked up by what I had done.  I finished in 7 hours and 15 minutes.  I was totally stunned by my time.  I had hoped to finish in 8 hours.  I had burned through the trail, and ended up finishing 43rd.

I found a bunch of my friends that had already finished, and a few that had dropped out of the 100k because of pain.  They amazed me that they could even try that distance.  I was finding it hard to imagine going back out on the trail after doing what I had just done, and going back out bravely and eagerly and doing it again.  My respect for my running friends increased.  I ate some food and socialized with my family for a little bit, then had a nice hot shower, and a massage to work the pain out of my hip and knee.  It worked to a point.  My feet, in the vibrams felt really good for holding up on rocks roots and mud for over 7 hours.  But I still had someone to pace through the night.

My family fled back home, and I said goodbye to my Dad, who would be leaving for Florida the next day.  I was so happy he had come up and saw me doing this crazy thing.  He had even managed to meet up briefly with Scott, who had gone to college with him.  Scott had looked great going back out on his second loop of his 100k as I was just finishing.  I visited more, then I went to try to find out when the woman I would be co-pacing with Thea had last checked in.
Slight uphill in Section 2.
When I found she had checked in last at AS3 at 2, I hung out, visited more, helped at Aid Station four, and just wandered back and forth, having an amazing time.  I saw people running through the gamut of emotion.  Some were radiant, glowing with accomplishment.  Some were down on themselves for not accomplishing what they had desired, even if they had accomplished so much to those around them.  Some were focused, like the runners coming through Aid Station 4 on their final loop of the 100k or 100 mile race.  Some were in pain, the edge of their agony cutting sharp angles to their words and expressions.

I was walking back and forth through the school when a friend told me the woman I was pacing had just come in.  I went down and found her, and she admitted she was considering dropping.  I told her I would support whatever she needed to do - that I was ready to pace her through part of the night if she needed me.  At 68, she was proud of the loop she had run, and not at all confident about her eye sight in the dark.  She decided to slip out and spend the next day with her children and grandchildren on the way home.

I have to say, though I would’ve pushed myself to pace for her, I was relieved.  I spent the rest of the night working at aid stations, helping runners, sitting in front of fires and being social.  I ended up driving home around 3 in the morning, and got to see my dad off.

Over the course of my training I dropped down to 145 pounds.  I feel athletic and strong.  I still have the edges of feeling overweight and slug-like at times, but if i get off my rear and go for a run, I really know I have changed myself.  

A week later, and I have to say, I’m really looking forward to the next race.  Maybe a 50 miler this summer.  Maybe the 100k next year?  I feel a little bit of let down for being done with something I worked on for six months.  But I’m ready for a new goal and new challenge.  Because isn’t that what life is about?  Challenging oneself?  Putting one foot in front of the other?  Being happy and social and feeling good?  I’m ready for the next trail.  I’m ready to explore.  I’m ready to run.
Crossing the finish line - happy.