The Oil Creek 100, www.oilcreek100.org , is located in between Titusville and Oil City in northwestern PA. Most of it is run in the Oil Creek State Park. A lot of history is found in this location with it being the first location to drill and profit off of oil in the country.
I thought I would give 62.2 miles a try. After all, our PA Appalachian Trail runs were considered great training runs for an upcoming 100K or 100 miler, ranging from 16 miles to 36 miles for each run. I had heard a mixed bag of opinions on what the terrain is like at OC. Some said it is technical, with lots of roots and rocks. Others said most, if not all, is completely runnable, with minimal roots and rocks. You will hear all kinds of opinions on any type of run, whether it be road or trail, hilly or flat, short or long. Though I do listen to each ones’ opinions on these descriptions, I listen to my own opinion more. Of course, it is rather tough if you have never run an event before. These are the races I love the most, the uncertain ones!
The weekend started off good. My wife Caryn and I left early Friday afternoon for the 4 hour plus drive out to Oil City. The drive was similar to the one’s we’ve done in the past. I typically have a Nature Valley bar, Gatorade, and water with me on these race weekend drives. Caryn is normally crocheting something, a scarf, hat, gloves, etc. If any of that stuff sounds nice to you, and if you have Facebook, check out “Creations by C.M. Hand”. She is very talented and she loooves to do it. A crafty woman, she is! Once we hopped on Interstate 80, we made some good time. The northern part of our state is beautiful, especially in fall with all of the trees changing colors. The drive out Int. 80 reminded me of a marathon I ran a few years back, the God’s Country Marathon, which is a point-to-point marathon, starting in Galeton and ending in Coudersport. The race is run on Rt. 6, which traverses the entire northern part of the state. I recommend that race to anyone looking to enjoy some nice scenery and who is willing to run up a mountain at around mile 17. I’ll be running it next June!
We arrived at the Titusville Middle School to pick up my race packet and Oil Creek long sleeved shirt. Our trail friends, Anne(Dreamweaver) and Kristen(Trail bait) were sitting at one of the cafeteria tables as we walked in. If you don’t know, most trail runners and hikers are given trail names. I was given Minqua as a trail name. There is a nice story behind it, but we won’t dive into it now. All I know is that it fits me well. Dreamweaver, Anne, was planning on running her first 100 miler. Trail bait, Kristen, opted to help Dreamweaver through the last of 3 loops. Each loop is roughly 30 miles in length. I think it is pretty damn awesome for someone to “pace” another runner through an event. I had never heard of it before diving head first in to trails. I wonder if “pacing” would be allowed during a road marathon, or would that be “against the law” by the race director? Wow, are road and trail running differ!
We sat down and ate a great spaghetti dinner the OC volunteers made for us. It was free! Our friends Matt and Don also were there and they joined in on dinner. I don’t know if they have trail names or not. Both Matt and Don were also attempting their first 100 milers. Once we were done, we sat around, relaxing as much as possible and talking about the upcoming two days. Jen(Earth girl) and her husband Ryan then made an appearance. Both Earth Girl and Ryan were planning on doing the 100K with me. This duo is very knowledgeable when it comes to trail running. They’ve been doing it for years…and very successfully, too. Ryan was planning on competing for the overall winner’s spot in the 100K. Supposedly Ryan trained for this 100K by……biking? Yeah, and running “hear and there”. Ok, righto.
Friday night I slept similarly to other nights before a long race. I got up a few times to go to the bathroom and ended up getting about 5 or so hours of sleep. Early on, this amount of sleep would have been drastic. I would have been dragging through the race. But my body is now accustomed to it and 5 hours seemed to be enough.
We met up with Trail bait, Ryan, and Earth girl at the cafeteria for a quick picture around 5:30am. Dreamweaver, Matt, and Don had already started their 100 mile journey’s at 5:00am.
Trail bait, Ryan, Earth girl, Minqua, and Caryn
I had never run in the woods in the dark before. I had recently gotten a knew head lamp and had tested it out 2 day prior on the road. It seemed to do the trick in the dark and on the road, so I though it would do well for the first hour of running. The weather was to be ideal. High 30’s at the start and low 50’s in the afternoon, with sun! We started off slow, real slow, and on a paved walking path. Lots of trail runners cringe at the sight of any type of pavement. I don’t mind, especially with my heavily padded Hoka trail sneakers I’ve been wearing. They make it seem like I’m running on clouds. They are ideal for running over rocks and roots. And since I really didn’t truthfully know what type of terrain I’d be dealing with, the Hoka’s were the best choice to be safe.
Once we hit the single track trail and started heading up, I started to get a good feeling about the terrain. Though it was kind of muddy and rocky to start, it quickly became apparent that this trail had nothing on the sections of Appalachian Trail we encountered in the northeastern sections of PA. I was happy, it was going to be a “running” type of race. The aid stations are evenly sprawled throughout the almost exactly 31 mile loop. A good thing about their placements is that they are placed right before a climb. The first aid station was stocked with anything you wanted, bananas, oranges, chips, candy, noodle soup…heck, there could’ve been pizza there, but I didn’t want to stick around. I probably could’ve stayed there all day to veg out. I continued on for a few miles, weaving up and down beautiful scenery, crossing a stream here and there, then got to aid station 2, where I met T.B. and Caryn. After a brief chat, I was off, and doing fine. I felt good, I thought, but also knew that I would be passing through these sections for loop two.
At aid station 3, I was starting to feel a bit sluggish. I gobbled up a burrito?, and had my “go to” drink during these long trail runs, Coke. There is something about Coke that hits the spot. Well, maybe it’s multiple things…caffeine, sugar, carbonation, whatever it is, I love it. Leaving aid station 3, I knew there was a hill coming. It turned out there were two. Once at the top of the first hill, the trail evened out for a little bit, but then another hill showed itself. This one was kind of intimidating, because it went straight up. It wasn’t steep, but it was there and you could see all of it. It didn’t seem that bad at the time, but did I ever wonder how I was going to do it the second time around. I eventually hiked to the top and after 5 or so more miles, I started making my way back to the middle school. Right before, that, I recognized a familiar gait ahead of me. It was Dreamweaver’s gait! I was happy to see her and she said she was doing real well. She had met up with a different Matt, who had wanted to join us for a few of the PA A.T. runs this past summer, but wasn’t able to. After introductions, I wished them good luck. Once back at the start…or mile 31, at the middle school, I was greeted by Caryn and T.B. The other Matt …I’ll call him House, and Don were also there. House said he was doing ok, but was struggling a bit. He was diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease this past summer and said his training had gotten off track a bit. Don appeared to be doing very well. Here we are at aid station 4……
I was feeling pretty good, but started to have that dreaded, woozy feeling, the feeling I had during one of the PA A.T. runs where I had gotten sick. Great! Half way through and I’m starting to feel like crap already. Right before House and I headed back out, Anne and the other Matt came in. Here they are ……
I couldn’t imagine them going back out for two more loops. But here they are with smiles on their faces….just out for a morning stroll.
Don left the aid station first, followed by House, then me….slowly. Unfortunately, the woozy, crappy feeling stayed with me. I started the “run/walk thing”, running a few hundred yards, then walking. What the heck is going on, I thought?! This can’t be happening to me at mile 32 of a 62 mile event. There was a bright spot, however, when I looked up from that pavement to see Earth girl heading my way. We both asked how the other was feeling. She said she was feeling crappy. I acknowledged I felt the same. We wished each other luck in passing and continued on our ways. Here she is just a short time later approaching aid station 4. If she’s feeling crappy here, I wonder how she looks when she’s feeling happy?
Earth Girl feeling crappy
Notice there has been nothing said of her husband, Ryan. That’s because he was to fast for everyone to notice him. He bypassed T.B. and Caryn at aid station 2 without them even seeing him and apparently his average time at the aid stations is less than a minute. How does one have enough time to get the camera out, focus, and get a good picture? Well, Caryn managed to get a picture of him somewhere…
After doing the run/walk thing for the next 5 or so miles, I approached aid station 5. I remember thinking the first time around what a cool aid station it was and would love to just veg out there the whole day. Well my thoughts on that hadn’t changed, and actually contemplated just staying there. House was there also, and both of us were feeling like crap. I remember sitting down, putting my head down, and thinking I’ve never had a DNF before. This seems like the perfect day to have it. What a F$cked up feeling. I had gotten up to get some chips and to get some more Coke, and when doing so, I remember this herd of runners coming in…each one of them laughing and carrying on. Wow, I wish I’d feel that good, I thought. It turns out, Dreamweaver and the other Matt were part of that crew. Damn, they looked good. Not even tired! Like they were 2 miles into a 5 mile trail run or something. D.W. asked me how I felt and I pretty much just smirked and shook my head, NO. I really didn’t want to put my negative thoughts and feelings into this potential 100 mile finisher’s head. After saying good luck, I noticed someone had taken my seat that I had been sitting at. I really wanted to sit back down, but turns out, it was for the best that someone took it. After that, I said the hell with it, wished House luck, and continued the journey. By mile 40, all I could think of was how ugly a DNF would look on my resume. I never had one before. But I really didn’t care because I really felt horrible. No energy, blurred vision, really dark urine, you know, the normal stuff that happens when one is dehydrated. Wait, what?
Before the race started, I had spoken with a few of my trail friends about knowing that if one was to crash, hit a wall, or something similar, that there was plenty of time to gather one’s self. In ultras, you can sit down on a stump for 20 minutes and rest. Heck I even heard stories of people taking hour long naps during these things and eventually successfully finishing, with great times. So….I knew what was wrong with me. I was dehydrated. I had been walking the hills and flats and gradually trotting the down hills. I decided to take two S-caps(pills that help with electrolytes) and a salt tablet within a span of 5 minutes. I also started drinking water, lots of it. I also decided to completely walk for almost a mile. I then started the run/walk thing once again. By mile 42, I noticed a change. I’m not sure what was first, the mental side of it or the physical side of it. But by mile 43, both were moving on all cylinders. I was back, and I knew I was going to finish. It’s a great feeling when you get over a mental barrier. I’ve heard of people getting past multiple barriers during a race. Thank goodness, I only had to deal with one. I came into aid station 6, with a nice hop in my step. I was very glad to see Caryn. that only helped the cause even more! Once exchanging pleasantries and telling both Caryn and T.B. about my ups and downs, I ventured off. Up and down hills, through hollowed woods, I went.
At aid station 7, I was dying for a coffee. It was scalding, and I only took a few sips, but it tasted real good. Speaking of real good, this OC 100 is set up real good. All of it, aid stations, volunteers, the trail itself, a great set up. Anyhow, I knew what was ahead of me, the pesky back to back hills that I remember thinking “how will react to it the second time around”. I hiked up the first hill without hesitation and confidence. After leveling off, I came to the second hill…I debated whether or not to run up it or not. Yep, correct! I felt that good, that I wanted to run up it. But I thought I better not, I still had a long 6 or 7 miles left. Within those last 6 or 7 miles, it was to get dark, and that could be mentally heart breaking. As it gradually got dark, I couldn’t help but think of how lucky I was. So lucky that unless I’d fall and break a bone, I was going to complete a 62 mile event in one day. Not many people can say that. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to do something like that. About 30 minutes after turning my headlamp on, it started to dim. It got to a point where it was starting to effect my vision on the trail. I had thought I had more battery life than what I actually had. Thank goodness Earth girl recommended that I have a spare flashlight along just in case. Phew! At that moment, I crossed paths with Don. He seemed he was doing great! He asked about House and I told him the last time I saw him was at aid station 5. I wished him continued luck and went on my way. As I approached the final descend down to the Oil Creek Museum, about 2 miles from the finish, I started to hear voices. Almost home!
At the bottom, a gentleman asked if I was a 100K’er or a 100 miler. Thank goodness I was only doing the 100K, though I still did have a jump in my step. I’m sure if I had 1 more 30 + loop to do, that jump in my step would be more of a crawl. Anyways, I had a great pace circling around the museum. What a rush it was! As I got to within two blocks of the middle school and the finish, I almost had a tear come to my eye, but that quickly changed to a smile when I saw the finish line. A saw a few people just relaxing, doing their thing, while I approached the line. I was looking for Caryn, but didn’t see her. About 10 ft. from the line, someone must have recognized me because it seemed like the whole place exploded in cheers, even though there may have been a total of 10 people there. I crossed the line at 14:04:54. I had said to myself if I run the first loop in 6:30 and run the second loop 7:30, for a 14:00 finish, I would’ve been pleased. I was pleased, even with rough spot in between. My wife gave me a hug and kiss and it felt great! Of course she missed a finish line picture and the photographer that she is, had me crossing the line a few times more. The first picture is the “official” finish line picture. The second is my wife’s…..
Unfortunately, after leaving aid station 5, where I last saw him, House decided to call it a day. Though I’m sure he was pissed off about it, there was nothing to be disappointed about. I know he’ll be back at it and stronger than before.
I never felt so great, and 10 minutes later, feel so awful. I wanted warmth, so we went into the middle school gym. I sat down on a metal chair, and stayed there for about 30 minutes. I couldn’t move. The only movement in my body was of it shivering. Here’s my zombie like state in the gym with Caryn….
Eventually, after my wife served me hot soup, pizza, coffee, coke, and a banana, I hobbled across the gym floor and hit the showers. I stood motionless under the showerhead for it seemed like an eternity. Eventually, I thawed out and got into a change of clothes.
Apparently, Ryan had no issues finishing his 100K. He finished his in under 12 hrs. Pretty awesome. Here he is finishing in daylight. Must be nice!
E.G. finished after me. She cut almost an hour off of her time from last year’s OC 100K! We both agreed that the PA A.T. runs helped tremendously for all of us. E.G. has a bunch of potential, and I think she gets that, and is improving on each run these days. Dreamweaver eventually completed her second loop and both her and T.B. went out for the third and final loop…at 9:45pm. It’s just really hard for me to fathom going out for 30 + more miles in the dead cold of night after completing 62 miles.
We all got a good night sleep and in the morning we were back at the middle school, having some breakfast. Don had gone through the final 30 mile loop and he was completing the coming home route of about 8 miles. DW and T.B. then came through mid morning…here they are having a great time….
Trail bait and Dreamweaver
I had missed Don’s finish, but apparently he finished strong. What a great accomplishment for him! Caryn offered to run the final 7 + miles with D.W. Caryn was a little apprehensive knowing she was going to be running with someone who was on her 93’rd mile. We told her to try and keep spirits high and encourage a run/walk scenario, where possible. After two more cups of coffee for myself, I left the middle school and headed out in search of my wife and D.W. I found them with about a mile to go. D.W. seemed really good. I ran/walked with them the last mile with Dreamweaver finishing with a smile on her face….
I couldn’t have been more pleased with my first 100K experience. It was an enjoyable weekend spent with my wife and trail running friends. I can’t wait to run another one!
Caryn, Minqua, Ryan, Earth girl, Dreamweaver, and Trail bait
O.C. 100K finisher’s belt buckle