Oil Creek 100K- ’15

I wasn’t as nervous or excited for this year’s Oil Creek 100K compared to my first ever 100K race(Oil Creek 100K- ’14) last year. I knew what to expect coming in to this one. I now have confidence in being able to run 62 miles. I know what it takes.

The weather was spectacular this year. It was foggy and cool in the morning hours and sunny and comfortable in the afternoon hours. I don’t know if the high temperature even reached 60 degrees.

The night before, my heart rate was tested. While unpacking at the hotel we were staying in, I realized I had forgotten my hydration pack. I sat motionless on the bed for about 3 minutes letting all the panic set into my body. When my wife came back into the room, I explained what happened. Luckily, my close trail running family was also at Oil Creek this weekend. Luckily, one of my trail running family friends, Anne, offered me her  brand new hydration pack. She wouldn’t need to use it until later on to pace our friend Kristen in her 100 miler. It would end up that another trail running friend, Jen, would loan her hydration pack to Anne!

Anne is a small lady. After about 10 minutes of adjusting straps, I was good to go. I also needed a water bottle for the Perpetuem I was planning to use. Luckily another trail running friend Danny, who appeared 10 times as prepared as I, loaned me a bottle. Danny also ended up coming in 3rd place in the 100 miler. I was now set.  I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for my running buddies being so generous, I wouldn’t have been able to complete and/or enjoy the day. Many thanks to them!

The next morning, we gathered inside the Titusville Middle School for a briefing from the race director. Here is a picture of my wife Caryn and I….

Oil Creek 1

The race began at 6:00am. The course is a 50K loop around Oil Creek State Park. I would run two loops around it. With headlamps on, we hit the paved trail for about a mile and a half before climbing our first of four main climbs(per loop). It was a foggy morning. With the headlamp on, mist was making it kind of hard to follow the trail at first. I was also in no hurry, so I settled behind a few people and took my time. Once at the top of the hill, I started to get into a good easy running rhythm. I also realized that the hydration pack Anne loaned me, fit like a glove…even better than my own!

Oil Creek 2

After meeting Caryn and Anne at the second aid station 14 miles in, odd thoughts started creeping into my mind. I had a goal of finishing this race before nightfall. That would be equal to a 13 hr and 30 minute finish, or faster. At about mile 20, I did some calculations with my Garmin and it appeared I was starting to get behind on that goal. Negative thoughts started creeping in. After AS 3 around mile 23, I kind of eased back and told myself that just finishing would be sufficient enough and to enjoy the day. And it was beautiful out there!

It was also around that time that a couple asked me what time of day it was. I told them it was 10:45am. She mentioned something to the runner she was with that she would hope that they would be beyond AS 3 the following morning by that time. They were obviously 100 milers. I wished them good luck on their journey and I continued on up the two climbs leading out of the AS. I then realized that my Garmin watch was a little off, and that I was still on pace for a nice finish. I knew finishing before nightfall was a stretch, so I told myself to try to finish under the 14 hour mark.

I felt good coming in to the middle school after the first 31 miles. Last year the first loop took me 6 hrs, 22 mins…this year I came in at 6 hrs, 30 mins. I felt 100% better than last year. I felt sluggish after the first 31 miles last year, and hesitated going out for the second loop. This year I rushed to get back out there! My legs felt great throughout the day. I ran the Blues Cruise 50K- ’15 the weekend before and I think it helped flush all the lactic acid out of my legs. At least, that’s what I think.

I had been told previously by Ryan, another running friend who ended up finishing 10th this year in the 100K, and Danny, to try to get in and out of aid stations as fast as possible. I was definitely doing that. I was probably averaging less than 2 minutes per station. Last year at the 38 mile AS, I remember struggling and sitting down for a good 10 minutes before forcing myself to keep going. This year I approached the same AS knowing it would be different. As I was there, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself knowing what had happened last year. After about a minute of grabbing bits of food, and filling up on fluid, I did another circle around, pondering what else I needed. The fact was, I needed nothing else. I mumbled “F*** this place”, and off I went. I wasn’t putting the aid stations down. Oil Creek’s aid stations are the best I’ve seen, with friendly volunteers. But I was hungry, hungry for revenge.

I felt so strong throughout the second loop. Caryn told me afterwards that it was night and day looking at me from last year’s race to this year’s race…other than my massive beard I had last year. She said I looked and seemed great. And I did. While out there, I thought of all the tough runs and races I did this year leading up to the OC 100K. Specifically, I thought of a weekend on the New York A.T.- ’15. It’s tough training runs like these, where the trail consisted of jagged rocks and steep inclines/declines, that made running Oil Creek so easy.

Oil Creek

I still had some work to do to complete the 100K. Approaching Petroleum Center around mile 45, Caryn and Anne were there to greet me. Anne filled up HER hydration pack again for me, and Caryn gave me more S-caps(salt capsules) for the final 17 miles. Caryn followed me for a tenth of a mile and gave me the encouragement I needed to finish strong. I told her I felt like I’d be able to finish stronger than I did the first lap.

At mile 47 or so, I started to get a sharp feeling in my left knee. My IT band, it turns out, wasn’t liking what I was doing to it. Each time I would run downhill, no matter how slight the incline was, I would feel it. It caused me to hike more than I wanted. It would feel fine after hiking for a period of time, but then it would re-appear after running on it. At the last AS, I had remembered something from earlier in the day. I remembered giving that couple the time of day…10:45am. I had finished the loop at 12:30pm. That was exactly 1 hr and 45 minutes it took me to complete that last 8 miles of the first loop.

If I were to finish in under 14 hours, I’d have to run the last 8 miles in 2 hours. I continued on, still feeling good, other than my IT band issue. I continued to follow my Garmin watch and estimate the time I would arrive at the finish. I heard the familiar sound of the drill at the Drake Well Museum. It’s a notification for all of us that we are approaching town/middle school. As soon as I started hearing it, it seemed my IT band issue disappeared. This is something I’ve often pondered about. Was my mind just blocking the pain? Was my adrenaline flowing that much that I couldn’t feel my knee anymore? At any rate, I felt fine coming down that last hill. At the bottom, I thought I heard my name being called. I heard it again. It was Kristen ahead of me. How she knew I was behind her, I have no clue. Maybe it was my smell?! I wished her good luck and told her she was kicking a**. She had about 40 more miles to go when I saw her. She ended up cutting more than 2 hours off of her previous 100 mile time! She earned it with all the training she put in!

I still felt good as I hit the pavement for the final mile. I ran that final mile with confidence in 9:46. As I made the final turn and into the straight away to the finish, I turned off my headlamp and appreciated the lit up finish line. I crossed the line at 13:43. I had run the last 8 miles in 1 hr and 47 minutes….2 minutes slower than the first final 8 miles of the loop.

I gave my wife a kiss and she congratulated me. I received my buckle from the race organizer and thanked him on another great experience. Next year I may challenge myself to a new distance.

Blues Cruise 50K- 2015

I had been told by one too many people who said the Blues Cruise 50K ultra was a fun and runnable race and that I should do it. The event was 6 days prior to the Oil Creek 100K I was signed up for, but I knew I wouldn’t have an issue with 5 days of rest in between. I decided to sign up for it.

Blues Cruise is located west of Reading. It is put on by the running group Pagoda Pacers, a known running group who put on fun and challenging races. The race is a loop around Blue Marsh Lake. For the past few years, they have reversed direction of the course. The even years are clockwise, odd years are counterclockwise. I was told the counterclockwise is a little tougher with more hills located towards the finish.

Fellow running friends Mary Lou, Gary, Matt, Jay, Rick, and Ethan were also running the event. It would be Ethan’s first ultra race. My trail running friend Kristen was there to cheer on Ethan. She would be running her second OC 100 mile race the following weekend.

The weather was to be sunny and nice. There had been rain a day or two before the event and there was questions as to how muddy the course would be. No worries for me, I like getting dirty.

The start was your basic “on your mark, get set, go” type of start. Here I am on the left, shortly thereafter….

blues cruise 2

I knew there would be lots of running and minimal hiking with this race. With the OC 100K the following weekend, I knew it would be somewhat tricky to conserve energy for it.

The aid stations were spread out every 4 miles or so. They were often and plentiful and there were multiple food options with each. It is known that the Blues Cruise is a great “first timer” race. If you are struggling, aid is usually a close proximity away. Here’s a picture of one of their buffets with one of their friendly volunteers….

blues cruise 5

I bypassed the first aid station. That was the first time I passed through an aid station in an ultra event. I will at least stop to eat a pringle or get a piece of a banana.

There were some muddy spots on the trail, but overall, it wasn’t that bad. Here I am in the first 10 miles or so of the race….

blues cruise

I really enjoyed the diversity of this race. One minute we were running in the woods, the next we were running in an open field, the next we were on a wooden bridge, viewing the lake, the next on a side of a road.

Supposedly, the toughest hill was around mile 15, but for some reason I don’t remember it. I do remember that it was starting to get warm outside, warmer than I was expecting. I hadn’t been taking many salt tablets, so I decided at that point to start taking more.

blues cruise 3

Trying to conserve for the following week, I found out, was trickier than expected. I was definitely exerting more energy than I would have hoped. How dumb of me to look past a 50K ultra without giving it proper attention. In the back of my mind, I knew I could run a little harder, but not much.

The last 10 miles or so included some ascents and descents. I decided to be passive and hike each one of those hills. I was also taking full advantage of each aid station.

blues cruise 4

The last couple miles included a view of the dam leading to the Blue Marsh Lake, a climb up a road, some rolling fields, and a finish back at the park. Here I am at the finish. I still had enough energy to express my feelings for this race….. with a high-five to the sign….

blues cruise 1

Rick finished a few minutes before me and said he shaved minutes off of his time from the previous year. Matt and Jay finished a few minutes after me, and they were also pleased with their strong finishes. Gary finished a little later on. He likes to climb more and wasn’t sure how he’d do with this flatter type of ultra. Afterwards, he was pleased with himself. Mary Lou finished her second ultra. She said it was her toughest event to date, but still managed to beat her only other 50K time.

Ethan finished soon after Mary Lou. He told me he ran the last few miles, not stopping to hike once. That is impressive considering the hills that were included. I think he’s a hook, line, and sinker for another ultra in the future.

As for me, it was an ultra that I really enjoyed, one that I will definitely go back to in the future. Speaking of future, onward to the Oil Creek 100k….

Virginia A.T., Shenandoah’s- ’15

Last month my wife, Caryn, and I were given the opportunity to camp in the Shenadoah’s during Labor Day weekend with a few trail running friends and their family. We rarely camp, but since we like our friends John and Anne’s company, we enjoy the outdoors, and I love the Appalachian Trail, we decided to do it.

We camped at Lewis Campground, and the A.T. literally went right by it. The weekend was beautiful. It did rain one evening/morning, but overall the weather turned out great. Our A.T. run started at the campground and went north about 27 miles to Route 211(Thornton Gap). I have heard so much about Skyline Drive. We were about to witness it first hand.

Friday morning, myself, Anne, John, and one of their daughters, Rhea, started the trek north. Here we are at the start…

VA A.T. 1

We got started after 8:00 am. The first mile, I tripped over a root that was one inch off the ground and barely noticeable with the naked eye. I went flying. I don’t recall too many times falling like that. I got a good little chuckle out of it. The first 5 miles or so was great trail running. Not technical with minimal climbing.

I don’t recall around what mile it was, but the gentlemen of the group saw a bear. I first saw it off to the left side of the trail. It scurried down off the edge of a hill. Ironically enough, the trail made an abrupt turn off to the left and wrapped around in the same direction as the bear! We could hear it as we were getting closer, then both John and I noticed it again. Throughout the entire 27 miles, we would see scat along the trail. The Shenandoah’s are known for bears, and judging by the their droppings, they are very plentiful.

At some point we started climbing. These climbs weren’t steep, but gradual and long. I know Anne thrives on climbs, and judging by our adventure this Friday, her daughter Rhea, also does. John and I were proper gentlemen and allowed them to go in front (Haha). They would end up ahead of us the rest of the run. Here’s one of the views of John and Anne early on…

VA A.T. 2

I’ll be posting more pictures and less words from here on out on this post. After all, the sights were the headlines of the day…and the weekend.

The deer were very tame in the park. Rhea came within feet of a deer and it didn’t move. We saw them on a couple of occasions. Here is a picture of one with a tracking device on. Though I hate to see these devices around their necks, it’s a good way to learn more about their habitat and the way they travel….

VA A.T. 6

The day ended up being humid. And if you’ve read any of my previous running posts, humid is part of my 2H horror’s…Hills, Humidity. We stopped at Big Meadow Campground, to fill our bladders. Later on, we came to a small park that had a water pump and filled up and cooled off there as well. Anne and Rhea didn’t seem effected at all.

Here’s an awesome picture. I can only image what it looks like on a sunny, blue sky’d day….

VA A.T. 4

The 27 miles that we ran in the park were centrally located. We only crossed over Skyline Drive I believe once, maybe twice. The northern part of the park, the A.T. crosses over S.D. I believe more that two dozen times. My wife and I would take that route to it’s northern beginning at Front Royal on our way home. There were multiple vistas throughout. Here is a picture of Skyline Drive, heading north from the trail….

VA A.T. 5

The trail in the park is marked differently than most of the A.T. It still has the white blazes on the trees, but the mile/location signs are much different then I’m used to. See here…

VA A.T. 3

Our crew of four met up and then separated again for roughly the last 6 or so miles to Thornton Gap. Though I was somewhat dehydrated(may have had something to do with beverages the day/night before 😉 ), I trekked on, enjoying as much as I could.

Here’s another picture just off the A.T. roughly 22 miles into our run…

VA A.T. 7

With about 2 miles to go, the decent into Thornton Gap/Rt. 211 started. Throughout our entire run, we would hear thunder. It would not rain!! Hard to believe. It was following us, but would never let loose. At one point it did rain on us for about 10 minutes or so, then stopped. Well, after 7 hours and running through the following “tree shoot”, it let loose for me….

VA A.T. 8

A nice, but Humid, day ended with a downpour to the parking lot. Caryn and Rhea’s boyfriend, who by the way are loved by our crew of 4 (they waited for us for hours in that parking lot!!), were patiently waiting. Another 27 miles completed.

We ended up having a great time camping with John, Anne and their daughters/boyfriends. We saw some great sights and had some good times and memories. We look forward to more such experiences in the future.