Friday, October 26, 2012

Oil Creek 100- the long DNF

 Everything I stated about the upcoming race in my preview turned out to be right. Beautiful area, great trail, wonderful aid stations and volunteers and flawless directing. The weather was just as predicted although there was more rain than I had hoped for (more on that later) but unfortunately I didn't quite make it to the finish line.

  We started in the cold and darkness at 5am. It was about 27 to 28F but calm and it didn't feel bad. I knew I would be warming up quickly so I was just wearing shorts and a jacket. The first 1.5 miles of each loop was on pavement along streets and a bike path so we were able to get in a little smooth running to warm up before making a sharp turn and up the hill onto the single track Gerard hiking trail.

  It was slow going for those first miles in the dark but I was in no hurry so I wasn't trying to pass anyone for awhile but after about three miles I was stuck behind a very slow group so I finally made my way around. I was already noticing that the trail was very narrow in a lot of places so there was no going around the rocks or roots. you just had to go over all of them. Tripping and falling would not be recommended on a big part of this trail so I was still taking my time and only running in the safest spots.

  The first aid station has a long descent that begins as a sweet runnable downhill but then hits a pretty treacherously steep   and rocky section. I eased my way through that part and then the trail flattens out along Wolfkiel Run, past some spooks and into the aid station. I was in and out quickly and once leaving, the course begins the steepest, nastiest climb, Switchback Mountain. It's so steep that I was on my toes nearly the whole climb but the good thing is that it is not very long taking only about 10 minutes to climb. It's just as steep going down the backside making it a little tricky and rough on the quads.

  The next several miles had a lot of runnable sections and the sun was beginning to rise revealing some lovely views of Oil Creek down in the valley. It was nice to be able to turn out the light and enjoy the beautiful trail. Even in the daytime I had to be careful because there were a  lot of leaves covering the ground.  This section of the course was one of the more interesting with a neat rocky area to go through and a lot of evidence of the historic oil industry. Lots of pipes still running along the ground as well as old pumps and falling down buildings and other structures. About a mile from aid station two at Petroleum Center we ran by and under the replica derricks at the Benninghoff Farm and then had a sweet downhill to a road into the aid station. Everything was still covered in frost as we ran through the valley but I was feeling nice and warm and running well.

  Quickly in and out of the aids station again and like all the others the next section began with a climb out of the valley and back into the hills. After climbing for awhile the trail expanded for awhile with some nice double track that was nice and runnable for a couple for miles before narrowing down to some more single track. This was the longest section and about halfway through we passed through a Boy Scout Camp and the smell of their breakfast over open fires brought back memories of Autumn camping trips of my youth. Some nice running leaving there but further along was a tricky section. Some mud and rocks and narrow. Seems like this was one of those places that is a drainage and probably stays wet just about all the time. After a mile though is another long climb followed by a sweet downhill to aid station 3.

  Happy to see some candy corn there and once again I was out quickly and up yet another climb. The first short steep climb was followed by another longer climb, Rockefeller's Revenge. Several more miles of rolling single track and finally we dropped down to the valley once again for a one mile loop around the Drake Oil Well Museum. This was very flat on the road and then a grassy path on the backside along the creek. I was running and feeling great here and after the loop we got back on the bike path for a 1.2 mile return to the school.  I had hoped to finish the first 50k lap in 7:30 to 8:00 and I was right about 7:35 and feeling great. I sent off a quick text to some family and friends that I was on pace, feeling good and the trail was awesome. I was really enjoying myself as the race was proving to be everything I had hoped for.

  I was looking forward to seeing the next section for the first time in daylight and ran all of the greenway back to the trail. Once I got there I could see why it felt so slow in the dark. It is rocky, rooty and very narrow on the side of the hill. I was hoping to be a little faster since I could actually see where I was going but I still had to be careful and although I was feeling good I still had just completed a tough 50k and was a little bit slower. As I came down the Wolfkiel descent the second time I was trying to pick a good line through the rocky section knowing I would have to come back through one more time in the dark. It didn't look quite as hairy in the light but still not a place to let your concentration slip.

  I was out quickly again and began the 2nd ascent of Switchback Mountain and this time my quads were starting to talk to me. My energy level was fine but I was already becoming aware of the beating this course was giving my legs.  The remainder of the this second loop passed without much incidence other than a tumble along of course one of the smoothest sections. No harm but it did temporarily knock the wind out of me so I got up slowly and walked it off and was soon back to normal with only a few tiny scratches.

  My pace through aid station 2 and 3 were pretty good but as I started section 4 my quads were beginning to scream at me. The sun was beginning to get low in the sky and I knew I would be running the last half of this section in the dark. And then I heard some raindrops. It was only 8pm and the forecast I had seen said it was only suppose to start around 11 and then only a slight chance. It was in the 50's now and had been gorgeous afternoon but now the night wasn't looking so good.

  I was lucky that it just sprinkled and a little light rain off and on and I wasn't even getting wet and as I hit the valley floor for the next loop around the museum the rain had stopped. Maybe I would get lucky and that was all the rain we would get. I looked up into the early night sky hoping to see some stars but no luck and then just as I was about 1/2 mile from the school it started raining hard.  I was hoping to have made it to the school to get a jacket but now I was soaking wet so I had to go inside and change into a dry shirt. I sent out another text that I was on pace (actually dead on 17:00 for 100k which was my plan) but my quads were trashed and it was raining. Going to be a long night.

  I took a little more time before heading out into the night once again but luckily it had stopped raining as I headed out onto the streets and bike path back to the trail. My legs were very stiff and sore and the stride was not very pretty I'm sure as I plodded along.  Things were a bit trickier on the trail now with the rain making the leaves , rocks and roots very slick so I was having to be extra careful. I was now having a lot of trouble going down the hills as I had used up all the muscles I needed to absorb the shock plus having to be careful and not fall with the slickness. I found I was actually preferring going uphill now and I was truly dreading the Wolfkeil descent this last time.

   As I approached the steep rocky section I was creeping along very gingerly and just as I thought  I had made it safely through my feet slipped out from under me on a dining room table sized rock as if I was on ice. I landed hard on my upper back and let out a yelp and then lay there stunned for a moment while I tried to collect myself. Luckily my head had snapped back off the edge of the rock so I didn't bust my skull open. I very slowly got up and made my way into the aid station where I sat down for a few minutes and ate some potato soup.

  The last climb up Switchback Mountain was slow and painful as my back was now very tight and sore from the fall. Breathing was hurting it so I was trying to walk and massage it the best I could to try and loosen it up. The trip down the backside was very slick and and I was barely creeping down and my quads were screaming at me. Needless to say my mood was not quite as bright as it has been earlier in the race. And then the rain started again. And it was raining pretty hard. And it would continue for the next 2.5 hours. Fortunately the back finally loosened up  after about an  hour and would not be an issue again but now I was getting drenched and with the slower pace it was hard to stay warm.

  I tried to run as much as possible but by now my quads were so trashed I could only run for about 30 seconds which was frustrating because otherwise I was  still feeling pretty good. My energy level was ok and my stomach was happy so that I  could eat and drink as needed. Luckily the temperature was staying in the 50's or I would have really been struggling to stay warm as the rain was going down the collar of my vest and soaking me. It was a welcome sight as I passed through the Benninghoff Farm again knowing it was downhill for a mile and a warm aid station and dry clothes awaited me. More frustrating that I could not run much once I hit the road down in the valley.

  I made it to the aid station and immediately removed the wet vest and shirt and while I was getting into a dry shirt and jacket I asked the volunteer for some noodles and a trash bag. I changed batteries in my light and then sat down to eat the noodles and things begin to turn ugly. My legs were throbbing  and I begin to shake uncontrollably, hardly able to get the spoon to my mouth to eat. The EMT on hand was keeping a close eye on me and my body was trying to tell my mind that I could just stop here and that made me mad.  Although I was moving slow, I still felt I had plenty of time to finish if I just kept moving so before any more doubts could creep in, I slowly stood up, grabbed my water belt and headed back out into the darkness.

  Yay ! The rain had stopped !  Now if would just stay stopped the rest of the night would be very comfortable.  I made the next long climb and reached the usually nice runnable doubletrack section but even though I was now warm and the energy was good I just couldn't run more than 5 or 6 halting steps on the dead stumps that used to be my quads. Well not really dead because they hurt too much to be dead. So I tried to powerwalk as much and as fast as I could, run a few steps and repeat.

  I made it through the sleeping Boy Scout camp just before dawn and was thinking I was close to the sign that said it was about 2.7 miles to the next aid station. I was slow but still under the cut-off. I continued on for a long time and never saw the sign so I thought I must have missed it and I   should probably be about a mile away since I was about 2:50:00ish since leaving aid station 2. And then there it was. Another climb up Ida Tarbells Wrath  and the sign. My heart just sunk at that point. I could not believe I had actually been moving that slow. 30 minute miles since leaving the last checkpoint? I knew then my race was over but I still tried to move as quickly as my legs would go.

   Three runners went by me but I had nothing  left to try and stay with them. ( Only one of them would finish and he was the last finisher but he was running well when he went by me) About a mile to go I heard some folks coming up quickly behind me and sure enough it was the Grim Reapers, aka the trail sweeps. One stayed with me while the others went ahead and we had a nice conversation as we walked it in to aid station 3 dead on the cut-off.

  I sat down and the terrific volunteers there started tending to me, covering me in blankets, moving a gas heater nearby and bringing me pancakes and coffee while others began packing things up. I can't say enough about how wonderful the running community is in this area. Very much like our Umstead and MTC family here in NC.

  So that's how it went. Being a DNf and missing my buckle is disappointing but in this case I don't feel too bad about it. I gave it 100% effort, I didn't do anything stupid to screw up my race and there is nothing I could have done that day to change the outcome so I am satisfied with the 84.5 miles I was able to cover.

  As I look back now the only thing that might have given me a chance on finishing would have been to alter my training a bit in the 6 weeks leading up to the race. Normally before a big event I try to do more race specific training which for this would have been a lot of single track training on steep hills but I didn't do that.
 Most of my races and training this year have been for road events and most of my mileage has been on the greenways. I have put in a lot of solid miles of training and was hoping just my fitness would get me to my goal but I was wrong. And looking ahead I really don't have any trail races on the schedule until a least April so I guess I'll stick to my current training.

 This is an awesome event and trail and I would encourage anyone to give it a shot. Even if you aren't up to 100 miles, the 100k has a very generous cut-off or the 50k gives you a chance to check out the whole loop.

 here is a link to the pics
 I took along the trail

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Strike Oil or Move On ! Oil Creek 100 mile preview

  Back in 2000 or 2001, I took my younger son Jeremy with me on a vacation to Watkins Glen and Niagara Falls and on the return trip we spent a few days touring several sites in Pennsylvania to do some train-watching. Our first stop was to Titusville PA, to ride the Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad.  We had a great time riding through the valley and enjoying the beautiful views of the rolling hills and the river. I noticed a few trails and a greenway and thought it would be a nice place to run. At that time I had not yet run an ultra and was doing more mountain biking, whitewater kayaking and triathlons. The thought that I would ever return to run a 100 mile trail race was about as likely that I would someday walk on the moon.

 The train stops at the Drake Oil Well Museum Park where the world's first oil well was drilled and we took the tour there and enjoyed learning the history of the beginning of the oil industry in the USA. 

 So, when I heard that they had begin holding the Oil Creel 100 back in 2009 I was hoping that I would someday be able to fit into my schedule and finally this year the time has come. Although this is not the toughest 100 I have done, this is not one to be taken lightly. The course  is 87% trail and 13% asphalt with a total elevation gain of about 17,700 ft. There are no long climbs like most of the true mountain ultras but countless ups and downs with some of the climbs about a mile long.There is a great course map on the website with the sections broken down with elevation charts.

  The course is 3 loops of 31.1 miles with a 7.7 mile coming home loop that saves a nasty 1/2 mile climb for about mile 97. The finishing rate has only been 60%, 55% and last year 50% with a 32 hour cut-off so that should give you an idea that it really is a tough course. I've have been feeling very good recently,  and seem to have recovered completely from the summer dog attack . It took about 6 weeks to get back to normal but the training has been going great since then. My #1 priority is to finish but as always I want to do my best so there will be no loly-gagging out there. I do hope to be able to come in under 30 hours. The weather looks like it is going to be very good. It is going to be really cold at the start, around 28F but by Noon it's suppose to warm up to the 50s and stay there the remainder of the weekend. There is a 20% chance of some rain late Saturday night but hopefully it won't and even if it does it isn't suppose to rain very much for very long.

 This is the race website. There is a link on the home page that will take you to a live webcast so you can track my progress if you like.  Last year they didn't start until aid station 3, around the 22.7 mile mark so don;t worry about getting up at the crack of dawn (;

  My number is 12

From all I've been able to gather the race is very well directed and gets great support from the local community and I am eager to get there and get this thing started !

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Il Grande Esperimento-October update

  Recovery from the Badgerland 24 hr seems to be complete. Over the past couple of weeks I have been able to continue putting in good mileage weeks. I ended up the month of September with 274 which is a new personal best for miles run in a month. This included a couple of 20 milers with Karla, THE Marathon Princess. The first one was a bit tough and I faded badly trying to keep up with her on a warm muggy morning. Two weeks later (last weekend) I was able to run stronger on a bit cooler but still humid morning and we averaged 30 seconds a mile faster. I followed that up with walking 4.5 miles with Jenn and Amy at Hinson Lake and then ran another 9 miles so in a roundabout way I did 33.5.

  In addition, Amy and I have been able to stay on track with a couple of 10 milers and another tough session of max effort hill repeats.  She did 41.5 miles at Hinson Lake, so with her in recovery mode and me beginning my taper for Oil Creek 100 this week there won't be much in the way of "training" going on.  But after all , that's what the Grand Experiment is all about. Trying to get fast enough for a marathon pr while maintaining my ultra schedule at least through January. I still got in some tempo intervals this week and the mileage will end up being about 70% of what I had been doing. Next week I'll cut it down to about 50% before the race. Hopefully if things go well by the time I recover Amy will be ready to go back on schedule.

 Karla's comeback race is at OBX in 6 weeks and she is running strong. We have a couple of more runs planned before I head to Pennsylvania and she still has  a few weeks before she will begin her taper. I look forward to running that one with her.

 Stay Tuned for further updates.