Third Time’s a Charm – Oil Creek 100K
For four years, I have lusted after a 100K finish at my favorite race of the year, Oil Creek. This race has been my carrot for the last four years. I have done this race every year, except the first. I’ve done the 50K, three times and have had two DNFs on the 100K distance. I snuck a 50K in, two years ago when I had cancer and didn’t feel up to the 100K, hence the four year time period. The first year that I DNFed, I was having stomach issues that wouldn’t resolve themselves, early on, and dropped at Aid Station 3. Last year, I went into hypothermia and dropped at Aid Station 2 (about 45 miles), the second time around. That was heartbreaking!
This year, I hired an online coach in August. This turned out to be one of the smartest decisions that I’ve made in my 13 year running career. I knew that I wouldn’t have enough time to train, to knock it out of the park, but I knew that with the consistency in running, it would make the whole experience a whole lot easier. Well, easier is a relative term when you are talking about 62 miles. There was NOTHING easy about anything past Aid Station 2, the second time around!!
I arrived in Titusville at about 4pm and checked into the Comfort (Quality)Inn. I got a first floor room, SWEET!! I was waiting for Kristin Anderson because we wanted to get dinner together at Perkins, but without decent cell service, we were basically cut off. I went to the school at about 6pm. I always have a blast because I get to see my Oil Creek family. I ran from this person to that person, giving and receiving many hugs and words of encouragement. I also saw many members of my Ohio running family. You had to have your ID to get your packet. I didn’t really need mine because everyone knows me, but I brought it anyway.
I eventually hooked up with Kristin, got something to eat, lost my driver’s license (seriously??), met up with my running partner, Stephanie Bobby, and finally went to bed. I always take Benadryl before a race to help me sleep, but it wasn’t working. I tossed and turned ALL night long. Sleep eluded me and I knew it was going to be a LONG 24+ hours.
I dragged myself out of bed at 4:15, got ready, ate at the hotel, met up with Kristin and Steph, and off we went to the school. Once I was up, I was energized (as I knew I would be). I was ready for the task at hand. No one or nothing was going to keep me from that shiny, silver, 100K buckle this year!!
Icebreaker wool sports bra
SS Mohican 50/100 miler SS shirt
SmartWool arm sleeves
Altra Olympus trail shoes
At 6am, the horn goes off, and we go off. It’s chilly out, but not terrible. We all trot off, headlamps blazing. There is nervous/excited chatter. Kim Simon, who is normally a very fast runner and totally out of my league, decides that she wants to stick with us. She hadn’t been training and just wanted to finish. We fall into a nice rhythm. We don’t want to go too fast on the easy road section, only to be too far up when the conga line starts and have to move over for the faster runners. I’ve done this before and it’s fairly demoralizing.
It is still dark when we hit the Gerard Hiking Trail. We hike with purpose. Steph and I decided that we would hike while it was still dark to minimize falling. We are moving at a decent pace and there are people behind us. Soon, dawn breaks and it looks to be a beautiful and perfect running weather day!! Had it been the day before, not so much. It had rained on Friday but not so hard to make the trail sloppy. In fact, the rain had made the trail soft, which I pointed out, would probably treat our feet well during our journey; it did. We started running when the course justified it, hiking the hills and technical areas. Roger Niethe came trotting up behind us (still not sure where he came from) and asked me if I saw the bear. NO!! Dang, I’ve been up here countless times and have never seen one. Soon, we are at Aid Station 1. SWEET!! We use the porta potty, refill bottles, grab some food and start up Switchback Mountain, the wicked switchbacks that await you immediately after this aid station. I have been using trekking poles this year, and, Oh My God…. Do they make a HUGE difference on hills!! In fact, they are wonderful in so many ways. Not only do they make me scale hills like never before, they have dragged me though so much mud, this past rainy spring and early summer, they helped my wrecked quads on the downhills, and have helped me navigate streams and technical areas. They are a pain when you don’t need them, but a Godsend when you do!! Getting used to them is much like getting used to a handheld water bottle. Now, they are just a part of me.
We move pretty well through Section 2. There are hills and boulders. We run when we can, walk when we can’t. Then, about two miles from Aid Station 2, I feel someone grab my butt!! It’s Rick DeShields!! I haven’t seen him in quite a while. We start running together (something that I couldn’t have done, had it not been for my coach and training) and chatting. We catch up and those couple of miles flew by. We ran into Aid Station 2, something that I’ve never done before. I was running strong and feeling strong. Steph was keeping right up. We were feeling great! Kim, however was having problems with her toe.
We get into Aid Station 2 and I get my body (I mean drop) bag. I pack everything that I might need, which makes it virtually impossible to find what I do need. I fill my bottle, Kalie Gilbert gets me a couple of grilled cheese halves, I drink a Starbucks Double Espresso drink, go to the restroom, and am getting myself together. This is where I see my boyfriend, Ed, and it gives me a nice, mental boost. Pam Pickel is yelling at me to get the hell out of the aid station, while Mark Cangemi is being calm and nice. LOL!! I knew Pam had my best interests at heart.
Off we go to Heisman Trophy Hill; the wonderful climb out of Aid Station 2. We hit the cross country ski trails and start running again. This section is a double-edged sword. It is very long, 8.8 miles to be exact, the longest section of the course, but, there are a lot of runnable sections. Also, at Cow Run (about five miles in) a Boy Scout troop sets up camp and it is a great mental boost. They post funny signs before and after the camp, and as you approach, you can smell their wonderful camp fire. There is a water-only aid station here along with real pit toilets. Once you leave, though, those last almost four miles seem impossibly long!
Soon (not soon enough) we get to Aid Station 3. Ed walks up the trail and meets us with about a mile to go. God, this section is LONGGGGGG. We trot to the aid station and we smile for the photographer that actually catches us running!! We fill our bottles, eat some really delicious food, talk to friends/volunteers, use the porta potty and get the hell out of Dodge. We only have one section left until the half way point. Never mind that it’s the second longest section at 8.4 miles. It is mentally easier for me, though, because I have a countdown that I use for the last four miles that we are on the trail, and the last couple of miles are grass and road. We are pretty much just walking now, so once again, we hike with purpose. Kim’s toe is really bothering her and we figure that she will drop at the school. Even though we are hiking, our spirits are good because, we feel good, are not in pain, and will soon be half way done. Plus, there is a special treat awaiting us at the school.
We get to the sluice pipe…. Yippee!! Four miles left in the woods!! Next, the bench…. Three miles!! Soon, the sign…. Two miles (really 1.6 miles as these are “guidelines” and not actual mileage markers!! Boom, the sign in box!! One mile!! We get to the sharp turn where there is a set of very steep steps. Almost there……. In a few minutes we hit the little bridge and we are out of the woods!! Only a couple of miles to go. Our spirits are high as we are going to be at the school a bit faster than last year and we don’t anticipate staying as long as last year. I don’t have the time for our arrival as my first Garmin died, but I know we did it faster than last year, which means more daylight!!
Ed is not there. I figure we must have been faster or we would have seen him. We do see lots of other friends as it’s a good place for people to hang out, with the school being there and all. Kim does, indeed, decide to drop. She took her shoe off and her big toenail is barely attached. Steph and I grab our drop bags and run into the school to change into warmer clothes. We do it here for two reasons. One, there is a very nice, clean locker room to change in, and two, it will be dark and cold before we hit Aid Station 2 where our other drop bags are. I hurry up and change and run back outside because the surprise I’ve been waiting for is here. Steph’s husband, Derek brought us food from McDonalds! He got me a Big Mac and I ate it like it was the last supper, I literally pushed it into my face!! It was manna from heaven and a LOT of calories to take me far! Steph comes out and gets her Quarter Pounder. I am bummed because I want a picture of me eating my Big Mac, so a nice woman takes a picture with her phone and immediately emails it to me! Awesome sauce!! We do our last minute checks and off we go to do our last loop!
Wool sports bra
Icebreaker LS half-zip wool top
SkirtSports Tough Girl tights
Wool Buff (around neck)
The North Face light down jacket (tied at waist)
Icebreaker wool glove liners (in pocket)
Altra Olympus trail shoes
Our last loop!! We are going to do this!! We are walking now, but we are walking damned fast!! We start yo-yoing with Tambra Sabatini, Sally Smith, and a woman that paced them until Aid Station 1. All we can think about is getting further than last year in the daylight. Tambra thinks we can get to Aid Station 1, I don’t. Well, we didn’t, but we got a heck of a lot further than we did last year. There is a really long downhill to get to Aid Station 1. It’s one that I never notice as being that bad in the daylight, but I’m really struggling with it, now that it is dark. At one point, I slide down on my left side. It hurts a little, but I’m OK. Finally we see the lights approaching the aid station and we are so grateful. We haven’t eaten because we were full from the Mickey D’s treats. We get there and Tambra and Sally show up. We all sit for a bit. I didn’t really eat enough, but I did enjoy some chicken broth and coffee. As far as eating goes, while during the day, we did great! Once night fell, all bets were off. We stopped eating at our regular hour intervals. Everything went to heck.
Steph and I took off. It wasn’t real cold yet and I still wasn’t wearing my down coat. We hiked up Switchback Mountain. It’s never as bad in the dark. One of your senses (seeing) is not engaged and I think that helps a lot. We aren’t talking a lot anymore and all we can think about is getting to Aid Station 2, to our pacer, Steph’s friend Melissa. Melissa is a hiker and was worried she wouldn’t be able to keep up with us. Steph assured her that by that time, all we would be doing is hiking. Time seemed to stop. Section 2 is the shortest section at 6.8 miles, but in the dark, with us only hiking, and our mad desire to get to our pacer, it seemed endless. Now, our mantra had become “we never have to do this again”. After three attempts at the 100K, we assured each other that it would be “one and done”. This became the only real thought we could keep in our heads and it passed our lips many, many times. We knew we were getting close. I practically memorized this section because last year, when we were in hypothermia, we were convinced that we had somehow missed the aid station and that we were lost. I was not going to let fear creep in this year! WooHoo!!! The sign that directs us to Aid Station 2 was right ahead!!!!! Drop bags and pacer!! It still wasn’t that cold out and I hadn’t put my coat on yet. I kind of needed it but didn’t want to fiddle with it until we got to the aid station. I remember coming through here, last year. It was so cold that our headlamps showed the glistening frost on the grass coming into the aid station. None of that this year!! Yippee!!
We got into the aid station in pretty good spirits. We were tired, but nothing really hurt. Steph’s husband and our pacer were both there waiting for us. I got my drop bag and started fishing through it. I drank a Starbuck’s Double Espresso. I started perusing the tables for food to eat. We hadn’t really eaten much since the Big Mac and I knew I needed something (we had totally gotten off our nutrition schedule in the dark). I don’t really remember what I ate and I’m sure it wasn’t enough, but I got some calories into me. I felt kind of claustrophobic and confused. I’m sure it was the crush of friends and volunteers trying to help us. I’m also sure that it was just my foggy brain just trying to decipher what was going on.
I also knew that in a few minutes I was going to be further on this trail than I had ever been before. That was exciting, terrifying, and exhausting.
Off we went into the great unknown; me, Steph, and Melissa, along with Tambra. There may have been more with us. Like I said, I was a little foggy and it seemed like there was a herd of us going up Heisman Trophy Hill. We had a renewed sense of hope now. It was nice having a new person to chat with and time and miles were moving along. Soon we smelled the Boy Scout campfire!! WooHoo!! We had made it five miles! We kept moving along but this long section, even with the break with the Boy Scouts, was starting to really wear on us. We still had almost four miles to go. This was the first time I had ever done this section in the dark, and later I swore that I never realized just how long and grinding it can be. After about two miles, I started kind of losing it, getting whiny. Tambra suggested that we sit down for a few minutes. I didn’t see anywhere good to sit so I kept moving. Shortly thereafter I see a wonderful, mossy log and I unceremoniously plop down on it, without a word to my comrades. We sit, chat, and eat some candy. I suddenly start tearing up; just tears of frustration and exhaustion. It seemed like we still had such an impossibly long way to go. Sally and her husband (who met her at Aid Station 2 to pace her) showed up as we were getting ready to head back out. She looked as bad as we felt. Onward…..
Soon (not soon enough) we got to the dirt road leading to Aid Station 3. Glory be to Jesus Christ!! Happy days are here again!! The minute we get to the aid station, I drop into a chair next to the roaring fire. There are two women sitting in chairs, sleeping. Oh, how good that looked! I know I had some Ramen noodles (mainly drank the broth) and some coffee. I really think that’s all I had. I’m now in a HUGE calorie deficit, hence the tearing eyes and lack of energy or motivation. After the race, I told Tambra that had it not been for her being there, we may have dropped. Well, looking back, I don’t believe that’s true. I think Steph and I were determined enough that we would have gotten it done because the “drop” word never crossed anyone’s lips. I wasn’t really even thinking about it. I was, however, thinking about the LONG 8.4 miles we had to cover before we were finished. I reluctantly moved away from the warm fire to start my final trek to the finish line.
As we started to climb Cemetery Hill, someone asked if I wanted someone else to lead. I had lead the entire race and that can be very tiring, so I decided to let Tambra lead. Soon, she was so far ahead I could barely see her. Clearly, she had a lot more in the tank than the rest of us. Pretty soon, it was Tambra, way ahead, me right in the middle, and Steph and Melissa way back. I felt as if I were leading again. That’s ok, I don’t mind leading. Up the hills, down the hills, on and on. Dang it, where is the bloody hell was the sluice pipe? God, this section had gotten long once the dark settled in. I’m whining again. It’s getting really late (or is it really early)? Time stood still. I’m really hating life right now. I know I am going to finish but the end seems impossibly far away. We finally hit the sluice pipe and the countdown has officially started. I feel a little gleeful. That was short-lived. Are we ever going to get to the bench? And so it went. Soon, I look up at the sky and it’s starting to lighten. I haven’t known what time it was this entire race. What I do know is that if the sky is getting lighter, we are going to be out here longer than 24 hours. Frankly, I don’t care since I know I’m going to finish, but dang, this has been a very long outing! After the race, it occurs to me that for the first time in my running career, I saw the sun rise, twice, in the same race. WOW!! We eventually pass the sign and the hiker sign in box. One mile left until we get out of the woods, and God, what a long mile that was. We get to the sharp left where the stairs are. We know we are getting close. I get on the stairs and can feel myself losing my balance, so I just drop down on my butt so that I don’t pitch forward. We get to the little bridge and I find myself out on the road. I bury my face in my hands and just sob. It only lasted a few seconds, but the relief I felt was palpable.
Steph texted her husband and let him know we would be finishing in a couple of miles; he let Ed know. As we walked along the Drake Well Loop, John Delcazo and his pacer, Vagn Steen (from Cleveland) came trotting by. John was doing the 100 miler and Vagn was his pacer. We hugged and told each other how good we were all doing, and it gave us all a mental lift. Tambra told us that we had to jog it in. I’m like “hell no”! I didn’t think I had any jog left in me. We got to the turn that lead to the finish line. From somewhere deep within, we all started jogging. As I came up to the finish line, the tears started coming. I crossed the finish line that I had waited four years to cross. The next few minutes were a blur. People were hugging and congratulating us. I plopped down on a bench. I got my much coveted shiny, silver belt buckle. Lots of pictures were snapped. You could see how proud everyone was, of us. Tom Jennings (the race director) was beaming from ear to ear. Ed was all smiles. Perfect strangers were so happy for us! There weren’t a lot of people at the finish line, but that didn’t matter! Steph and I had finally accomplished the impossible!
Two weeks post-race I sit here, confused. The Oil Creek 100K had been my carrot for four years. I don’t know what my race goals for 2016 are. I feel lost. I know this will pass and I will find something exciting to strike my fancy, but for now I will bask in the glory that this year was really one fantastic running year for me.
On a side note, I found my driver’s license at Perkins, in their lost and found the morning that I finished the race! BONUS!