My Oil Creek 100k Journey
October 13, 2012
Titusville, PA 2-50k loops totaling 63.2miles
Wow, I actually let my friends talk me into running 100k? What in the world was I thinking!!! We registered for this race back in March, so I had plenty of time to train and think about a running plan. While I was scared to try 100k I knew that I had trained well and prepared my mind in the months leading up the big day. The lessons I learned running 50miles at Mohican was sure to NOT repeat themselves at this race.
The months passed and finally it was race week. I tried my best all week not let myself freak out, but I freaked out a bit. How can you not? Its two 50k loops…. 31+ miles each loop for a total of 63.2 miles. Yikes!!!!! My friends and I chatted and joked on facebook leading up to the day, but I can admit I was petrified of failing, I had barely survived Mohican. On Thursday night I packed and unpacked my bags and drop bags several times trying to make sure I had everything I thought I might need. Thanks some good advice from my friend and nutritionist Mark Lopresto, I was confident not eating right was NOT going to happen at OC as it had at Mohican (really…who forgets to eat right?). I had seen on a posting that the temperatures in Pennsylvania were going to reach a low of 25 and only a high of 47 so at the last second I threw some winter running gear in my pack and drop bags. Turns out it was a smart move as later you will see.
On Thursday night I put myself to bed still a nervous wreck but determined to get good sleep. When I woke up Friday morning I rolled out of bed and puked, hhhmm… not a good sign right?! The plan was to meet my pacer Charlie Bolek around 2pm in Cleveland and ride together to Pennsylvania. Charlie and I had run together before and we worked well as a team, I even had the pleasure of being his pacer at Burning River 100mile so he was kind enough to pace me at OC. Knowing that Charlie was going to be there made my nerves settle and gave me a big confidence boost.
The drive up I was still pretty nervous so Charlie and talked and talked and talked (poor guy having to listen to me for 2 1/2 hours!). We reached race headquarters around 5pm and headed to packet pickup. We were not there long when we ran into fellow runners Zack Johnson and Pam Rickard, two of the most amazing ultra runners I know. Dave Morl was there as well pacing Zack who was running the 100mile race. We decided after pickup it was time for some food so we headed to the famous Blue Canoe and filled our bellies. After dinner it was time to head to the gym to prepare for bed and the morning race. Surprisingly I slept great!!! Thanks to my sister Tracy I had the most comfortable air mattress and with lights out at 9pm I was out too. I woke up at 3:20am to the alarms of the 100milers. To my surprise I felt well rested and I was not nervous at all, all the stress and anxiety had left me and I felt relaxed and ready. The day had finally come and it was show time.
The day was here, the 100milers had already gone out on the course and at 6a.m. it was our turn to join them in this wonderful journey. Throughout the night the temperatures dropped as forecast and the morning temps were somewhere in the low 20’s, so I pulled out the winter gear I had packed last minute. After washing up and bundling up I headed to the timing chip table to make it official and get my chip number. The cafeteria was buzzing with everyone fueling up and enjoying breakfast. Joe Jurcyk, Mark Pancake, Pam Pickle, Wild Bill Wagner, Kali Price, Gale Connor, Lee Shane, Gabe Bures and Zach McCardel were all there and it really made me realize that this was it, it was time and this was really happening. My nerves started to act up so instead I focused on getting my nutrition in me to start the race off right. After filling our bellies and enjoying some fun photos opportunities it was time to head to the starting line. I admit, I was jumping up and down and man was I ever nervous! We all filed out to the line and for the first time I felt the cold temperatures and wondered what running at night would be like for us. With our head lamps on the gun went off and we were on our way.
The original plan was to run with Zach and Gale, but Gale had been having some issues in training and wanted to walk the first 2.2 miles of road to the trail. Me, I just wanted to get the race over as quickly as possible so I apologized for not wanting to walk and trotted off to the trail head. The 2.2 miles up to the trail was nice, it was early morning and pitch black out so I got in behind Bill and Kali and focused on the reflection of their shoes as it was about all I could see. Hitting the trail was exciting, it’s the point where you go “here we go” and start climbing hoping nothing happens on the way up. At Mohican one of the major mistakes I had made was running the climb up too fast and on my tip toes, which lead to some devastating blisters on the balls of my feet that plagued me the entire race forcing me to walk most of it. I was determined NOT to let that happen at this race so I slowed my pace and kept my form and trudged my way up to the first aid station Wolfkill Run1. I was 7.1 miles in and feeling great. I took advantage of the port a potty and in the process lost Bill and Kali, so I headed back out alone for the climb back up. Wolfkill Run was one of my favorite aid stations, they had decorated for Halloween with signs and spooky figures lining the trail up to the top, which made the switchbacks not seem as awful as they actually were.
As I got to the top I heard a voice say “I have been on your heals trying to catch you”. I stopped to see who it was and that is when I met my new found running soul mate/twin Melissa Huggins. As we started running Melissa and I discovered that not only were we on the same nutrition plan (baby food of all things) we were also on the same exact pace schedule. Her pacer had cancelled on her so I offered up mine to her if we stayed together (sorry Charlie, I was pimping you out left and right out there). We made a pack to stick together and no matter what help each finish this race, it was her first 100k as well.
Going from Wolfkill Run to Petroleum Center 1 Melissa and chatted a ton and soaked in every amazing moment of our race. The view was incredible; we both kept wondering why more people did not come out and enjoy the beauty of the trails. As we climbed and descended we goofed around a ton too, yeah yeah I know it was a race but how could you not have a little fun on such a great day. We had heard that there were bears, Melissa even had a bear bell, and wondered if we would see one. At one point along the flat part heading to the downhill we heard some type of crazy loud noise pouncing alongside of us to our right and Melissa swore it was a bear. Our reaction: RUN FAST!!!!!! For some reason Melissa was obsessed with looking at it and trying to see it, my reaction was “don’t make eye contact it will get us”. We had a good laugh and ran a bit faster after that little experience. The run to Petroleum Center really was just breathtaking. Melissa and I had fallen into a good pace pattern with her leading us up the hills and me taking over to fly us down the hills. Despite running in the woods, the roots and rocks were not nearly as bad as I had thought they would be, but it was till day light and I wondered how we would fare at night.
We rolled in to Petroleum Center 1, 13.9 miles, a half hour ahead of our running plan and we could not have been happier. Charlie was there to greet us and excited that we were half way to the half way were he would join us. After some introduction and telling (yes, I said telling not asking) Charlie that Melissa would be joining us and he now had two girls to pace we ate up, filled our bottles and headed back out. The hill up to Miller Farm 1 was brutal to say the least. It went on, and on, and on and on. I remember thinking this is not good, we are still fresh and walking this thing at a slow pace what did that mean for the second loop later in the night. On the way to Miller Farm 1 the Boy Scouts of America had set up a water station and had left little treats for us in the form of signs leading up to it. The signs were great; Melissa and I read every one of them and laughed harder at each one we passed. What a boost and energy pick up seeing those signs. We trudged up yet another killer hill and found our way finally to Miller Farm 1 marking 22.7 miles of our journey. We were supper excited about this aid station because it meant we only had one more to pass through to reach the half way point.
Going from Miller Farm 1 back to the middle school and half way point was challenging. The hills started to wear on us big time and we had to start thinking about a revised running plan. It seemed that we went up way more than we went down. At the first two stations we were able to make up some great time on the downhills, but this stretch was way more up than down. We had decided at this point that we may not make our goal time of 18hours, or even our extended goal of 20 hours and we were OK with that. We were having the time of our lives and really just wanted to have a great race and finish. Thus far, we were both injury free, staying on our nutrition plan and running great. I remember thinking “this is what a good race plan results in, why could I have not done this at Mohican”.
As we made our way off the trail and to the 3.2 mile road to the school we were super excited with our time and our run. We walked a bit of it, deciding that it was better to conserve energy because we had to do what we had just done all over again. The beauty of a looping course, you know what you have to do for the second loop. The down side of a looping course, you KNOW what you have to do for the second loop and what we had to do was pretty tough during the day, let alone at night. We ran into the school for the half way, 31.1 miles, smiling and jumping up and down like giddy little school girls.
Charlie was there again waiting to join us and so were some of my other running mates. Jason Howland, another great ultra runner, had come out to pace one of the 100milers. He was laughing at me and commented about how great I looked. Amazingly I felt wonderful at the half way point. Nothing hurt and we were still OK on our run schedule so I had a lot to be excited and grateful for. It was at this point that we started asking about all of our friends who had been out running the course as well. Gale and Zach were both there, as it turned out Gale had dropped from the race due to illness and Zach was on the fence about dropping as well due to an IT injury. The thought of them not being out there was heartbreaking and made me really question if I had what it took to finish if they couldn’t. It was also here that I learned that Kali had dropped as well. Despite the sadness of knowing that their race had ended it was time for Charlie, Melissa and myself to move on and get the second loop done. We filled our bottles and bellies and off we went.
Here we were back out on the long road to the trail, but it was a good time for Charlie to get to know Melissa and see how we interacted together (I think we scared him to be honest). We also filled Charlie in on our plan to walk the hills and run whatever we could, but that we were nervous of running the downhill’s come nightfall. Charlie agreed and liked our plan, he was there to help us reach our goal and wanted us to stick to whatever plan we felt would get us there. The climb up the trail to the top was not what it had seemed 10hours earlier. Nether Melissa and I remembered it being so gosh darn steep, then we realized that when you run at night you don’t notice the inclines of the hills. We complained a bit, but trudged on once again making our way to Wolfkill Run 2, 38.1miles.
We were excited for Charlie to see this station because of all the decorations and fun spooky signs. We reached the station and quickly ate and headed out knowing that we had to do those nasty switchbacks again while going uphill. I have to say, the first time was fun but the second time… well…it sucked. It was getting dark and the temperature was dropping. Melissa and I had talked a lot the first loop about the weather, neither of us were experience night runners and with the cold front coming in we really weren’t sure how the night would go. Our plan was to get to Petroleum 2 and put on warm dry clothes for the last quarter of the race. Despite night falling and our pace slowing a bit more than we wanted, we embraced the course and joked and laughed with Charlie. At some point as we were going along the flat portion we were attacked by the biggest winged creature ever. Just kidding, but there was something out there and we had no idea what it was. We were walking and all of the sudden we just heard the loudest “whooshing” noise and trees moving. Melissa and I both ducked behind Charlie and then we all burst into laughter. We took the “winged monster” incident as our queue to lighten the mood and get some good trail laughs in. Melissa even made a video “how to run tails and avoid animals”. Charlie and Melissa then offered for me to lead, but in reality I knew they were offering me up since I was the smallest! We all know that animals pick the smallest because they are the easiest to carry off!!!!!! My only request was that they please please grab my feet if anything grabbed me and pull me back to earth and safety. Man, did we have some wild imaginations at this point. We laughed about it all the way to Petroleum, marking three quarters of our race behind us!!!!!! The creepy part about night running is two things: 1. you cannot see anything except what is directly in front of you and 2. You hear everything. It is so quiet you can hear sounds from miles away that seem to be right next to you. Man did we hear some pretty funky scary sounds. At one point we heard coyotes screaming and the sound kept getting closer and closer. Melissa gave me a bit of a nudge forward and said “uhm, yeah can we get moving before they catch us”. I laughed, then commented that there were runners behind us and I had a feeling the coyotes would get them first! (Sorry guys)
The plan at Petroleum 2, 44.9 miles, was to fuel up and change into dry clothes. Yep, you guessed it; I made the first fatal mistake of the race at this point (not bad for the girl who made more than a dozen fatal mistakes at Mohican). I did not change clothes. I had on only a tank top and light jacket. Don’t ask me why I didn’t change, I had planned to but then got distracted (squirrel). It was at this station that we met and picked up the fourth member of our running pack Sally Miller. Sally had been running the race with her husband, who had dropped earlier in the race. She was tired and it was getting so dark she was thinking of dropping herself. We started talking to her and convinced her that if she joined us we would get her to the finish line. She agreed and off we went. Did you notice something missing? Yep, still didn’t change my clothes. I think I was so distracted eating, filling bottles and worrying about time and everyone else that I just completely forgot. So off we went for that dreadful climb up to Miller Farm 2.
On our way up to Miller Farm 2 it started to rain. It had rained lightly earlier, but nothing that would make us want to stop or even be concerned, but about half way up that nasty climb mother nature let loose and the rain was just downright pouring. The course seemed to go from beautiful to impossible. Running at night has many challenges, one of which is you can only see what is right in front of you as far as your light will shine. As a non experienced night runner, and I say this because while I do run at night, it’s never for that long and in the deep woods like we were, I found myself getting pretty disoriented. All around you is complete darkness. You can’t see rocks, trees, stumps, roots or sometimes even where the clear trail is. This worried me for many reasons, one of which the drop offs. Race director Tom Jennings had sent us a pre race email warning us about bears, porcupines, hunters and drop offs (or sheer cliffs I think is the way he put it). We had seen the drop offs during the day and to be honest I got vertigo every time I tried to look over the edge. Instead we just kept chanting “fall to the right, fall to the right” as we ascended and descended. At night, the scary part was that you knew the drop offs were there, but you couldn’t see them. It was raining so hard and the trails had become pretty much mud pits and mud slides under our feet. All I could think was one small slip and over the side I go. I think this was the point that my delirium started to kick in as well as my descent into disaster.
It was so gosh darn cold heading into our last station before the finish. The rain made it feel even colder and my tank top and jacket were offering no amount of warmth. All I wanted to do at this point was get off the hill and get to Miller Farm 2 to get warm and get a rain jacket. It was also at this point that I realized that I had not eaten or drank anything (sorry Mark, I know we talked about how important nutrition is) since leaving Petroleum 2. Not good. Not good at all. Not eating at Mohican was the second biggest mistake I had made and I had promised myself I would not let that happen at OC. I was just too cold to eat or drink. We reached Miller Farm 2, 53.6 miles and I tell you I was almost close to saying I quit. The aid station volunteers were amazing, as they were at all the stations. They got some warm food into me and even gave me a poncho to help protect me from the rain. Sadly, at this point it really was too late, a cup of warm noodles wasn’t going to make up for all the lost calories and I was soaked to the bone. I actually almost considered dropping, but knew we only had 8plus miles to get to the finish line. How bad could 8miles be right?
Leaving Miller Farm 2 and heading to the finish should have been a joyous occasion, but I cried all the way up the climb. I was tired, hungry, nauseas and starting to feel like something was wrong. While we were on a high from having past the 50 mile mark, knowing that each step was the farthest we had ever run, I knew that I was starting to not feel well and that finishing was for the first time possibly not going to happen. It bothered me that at Mohican I had made so many mistakes and finished, yet here I had only made one… just one mistake and now possibly was faced with not finishing. Charlie, Sally and Melissa were great. We kept moving forward and pushing each other to move faster and hang in. I swear every time I asked how far we had the numbers were going up not down. Each step was starting to be painful. I had hit my toe pretty hard earlier in the day, that I would later learn I split open, and I kept hitting that stupid toe over and over. Running was out of the question at this point. The trail was a huge mud bath and it was just too dark to see anything. Even if we could have ran, it would have been impossible not to fall with all the rocks and roots. We had been walking for hours and had only gone 3 miles; we still had 2 to go to get to the road and then another 3.2 to the finish line. I cried a ton, because I really did not think I was going to make it even another mile. I was nauseas at even the thought of food or water and I was shaking uncontrollably. I just remember I could not believe how cold I was. Charlie and Melissa were walking ahead and Sally and I were bringing up the rear. I don’t remember much during the 2miles to road except for Sally summoning Charlie that something was wrong. It was almost like being in a fog. You can see, and you can hear, but I didn’t really comprehend things. That and I kept just randomly falling down, maybe from being disoriented but likely from dehydration and not eating.
Charlie, being the good pacer he was, made the decision to send Sally and Melissa up ahead to get a medic to check me out. It was so extremely weird being there, walking, trying to understand what was going on but really not understanding what was going on. I tried drinking a little, but got even more nauseas with each swallow. I just wanted off that darn hill!!!! I kept telling myself “if I could get to the road I know I could finish”. As we made our way down to the switchback leading to the road Charlie mentioned for the first time the possibility that I was not going to finish and needed medical attention. I just remember crying and saying no, there was no way I was not going to finish. I had not run this far to quit. We were both pretty quiet going down, me trying to think of a plan to escape the medics and run to the finish with a big smile on face and Charlie with the right plan that it was probably time to quit. Quitting had never been an option for me. Maybe it’s my personality, maybe it’s my passion or my drive, but I like doing things most people can’t so quitting is never an option. I think at this point I still had it in my head that I was fine and I was going to finish come hell or high water. The medics had another idea.
I saw them coming up the path and burst into tears, I knew what was coming. In my heart I knew I was in really bad shape, but in my head I was NOT and I was certainly NOT ready to give up. They tried talking to me and asking me questions, but I just kept saying I am almost there please let me finish. They asked me my name, at which point I said “uhm… Charlie knows it”. Then they tried to let me stand on my own and … well… that didn’t go so well either. Still, I really thought that maybe they would help me down, give me some hot cocoa and let me go about my way down the road to the finish. I even said to the medics that if I could just get to the road it would be OK, then he said the worst words I could hear “I am sorry, but your race ends here”. I cried, like a baby. The reality that I was not going to finish hit me and I lost it. How could I not finish? How could I run 60miles and not go 3.2 more? Never give up, that was my motto. But I was giving up, not of my own will but because the medics told me I had too. That was hard. Smart, because as it turns out I was pretty sick.
When we got to the road the medics handed me off to other personnel who then put me on a stretcher. The whole time I just kept begging them to let me try and finish. I swear they were ignoring me at that point! I cried the entire way to the hospital, I really could not believe I had gotten that close and my race was done. Lucky for them I was too weak and sick to fight because I was planning in my head how to get out of the ambulance and take off running. Boy was I delusional. At the hospital the medical staff was amazing. They were fascinated that I had willingly gone out and ran 100k, in the woods, in the rain, through the day and night. Normally I would have felt proud to be an ultra runner and hear people speak in awe of what we do, but I had failed and did not feel like a true ultra runner, just a girl who got to 60miles and quit. While there I learned that not only was I severely dehydrated but that I also had a mild case of hypothermia. Those damn thin wet clothes. As the IV went in and the warming blankets went on I really started to feel how sick I was. I found myself drifting in and out and still completely unable to focus. If it hadn’t have been for the muddy clothes and running shoes you would have thought I was a drunk that stumbled into the ER. I have no idea how long I was there, I had lost track of time well before the medics got to me, but I was feeling better and given the OK to be released later that morning.
When we got back to the school I was overwhelmed with emotions. I was going to have to go face my running mates as a DNF, instead of as a finisher. As I walked in I saw Lee Shane and Gabe Bures who came straight over and hugged me. I was trying not to cry, but I couldn’t help it. Then Gale and everyone saw me and I was overwhelmed how worried my friends had been. Runners truly are the most amazing caring people I know. It meant a lot to me that instead of looking at me as a non finisher they were concerned about me. I really still at that point didn’t truly realize just how sick I had been and how dangerous what I did by continuing was. We all hugged, we all laughed a bit and then it was time to head home. Without the buckle.
The first 24 hours post race were just one big blur of sleeping and vomiting. The warmer my body got the worse I felt. Walking? Forget about it. It always amazes me that we can run miles and miles and miles but the moment we stop our legs no longer bend or work? By Monday I was feeling much better, walking without crying but still not eating solid foods. It was a good sign of the recovery process as this is what happens every race. The only difference this time too was that I had not finished. I have never DNF’d at a race at this was a huge mental issue for me. I mean who runs 60miles and quits just 3 miles from the finish line? Granted, I did not voluntarily quit, but still I did not finish.
Thoughts of anguish would run through my mind daily and every time I tried to talk about the race I would break down and cry. Why could I not have finished? I would dream at night that as the medics approached me I turned into super ninja women with cat like reflexes and got past them… laughing hysterically to the road and to the finish line “you can’t stop me… I am super ninja runner girl”. Then I would wake up to the reality that I had really not finished and get depressed.
By Tuesday I could take stairs normally and walked almost like a normal person, gosh you forget how great walking normal is. I was also starting to get my appetite back which is a big plus because I felt like I was starving. I did notice though that I was retaining water like a huge balloon. I was 8lbs over my normal weight and my lower body looked like someone had filled it full of air or water. Ankles? What were those? It seemed the longer I stood on my feet the bigger they got so I broke down and made a doctor’s appointment.
By Wednesday I was pretty much all healed up except for the swelling still. Blisters had all popped and were drying out (except the toe I split open, yeah that is still pretty gross) and I could even run. Oh happy day. I did find out on Wednesday though that I had a bacterial infection likely caused from my body not processing all the fluids, so I was started on antibiotics and water pills to help reduce the swelling.
To my surprise I woke up Thursday looking and feeling like a new person. No swelling what so ever, yay me!!!!!!! I had ankles and feet once again. I could walk, I could run and I felt like a million bucks. 4 day recovery, my longest yet but also the sickest I had ever gotten from an ultra (I know I know, you guys are thinking I pushed myself too hard so what did I expect).
Today, one week post OC I am 95% back to normal. I have even come to terms with my DNF and accepted that it was just not meant to be. I gave that race everything I had and more. There is nothing I could have done differently with the exception of two fatal errors: 1. not wearing warm dry clothes at the split and 2. Not eating and drinking after the rain and freezing temps started. Compared to all the many many mistakes I had made at Mohican and finished I was still having a hard time believing that one mistake at OC had cost me the finish.
The beauty of what we do is that we learn. Each race we have amazing moments and not so amazing moments, but at the end of the day the amazing moments out weight the mistakes and we learn. People ask me often why I do what I do. I can’t really explain it other than you have to come out and run one with me to understand. It’s the sense of being out in the middle of the woods, making it, on your own with your own two feet. The bonus, you get to see such amazing sights that others never will or never do get to see. For that I am blessed and hope that I continue to learn from every race and never stop pushing my limits.