Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Jeff Gleason's Oil Creek 100 Race Report

This past weekend I ran the inaugural Oil Creek 100 mile trail run (better known as the Andy Karnavas “let’s sign up for this one it looks easy” trail run). First note to self, never listen to Andy’s pre-race analysis. Oil Creek is in Oil City Pa about 1 ½ hours north of Pittsburgh. Just for you history buffs, this part of the country was booming during the early years of oil production. They pumped oil into drums which then were loaded onto barges and pulled down the creek by horses. So much oil leaked into the creek that it became known as Oil Creek. Apparently the oil mixed with mud and created a paste that stuck to the horses’ legs causing all the hair to eventually fall out. I found that hard to believe but as I sit here writing my report and staring at my very smooth hairless legs, I figured they aren’t lying.

The weekend started out great. On Friday night, I had the opportunity to talk to the cross country team that Stacey helps coach. (What a great bunch of kids.) I showed some pictures from Badwater and talked about what it was like running across the desert. It is easy to convince a bunch of innocent 5th-8th graders that you are a good runner. Little did I know that not much more than 24 hours later, I would be laying in mud whimpering to myself about how I want to quit and go home and I will never run trails again.

The 100 mile race started at 5 am so we all gathered in the school cafeteria about 4:30. It was good to see all of the South Park runners and several other ultra guys I see at many of the races. Everyone wanted to talk to me and ask me the same question…..”Where is Val?” Once I explained that Val was running the 50 miler so she wouldn’t start until 6, none of them were interested in talking to me anymore. One little rumor about Val running with you and all of a sudden you are popular for at least a couple of minutes.

I will summarize my race for you folks that have attention disorder problems and can’t read long emails: I ran, I fell on my ass; I ran some more, I fell on my ass; I ran further, I fell on my ass. After a very long time I stopped running and falling on my ass. That is about it.

For those of you who have nothing better to do than read race reports, here is a little more detail:

The race course was a 31 mile loop that you ran three times and then you did a final 7 mile loop to get the 100 miles in. The course information claimed 17,000 feet of climb and I kept thinking that can’t be right. It still seems a bit high but my quads tell me there definitely was a lot of climbing. Most of the trail was single path and pretty technical; lots of rocks and roots. There were a few sections that were cross country ski paths so they were pretty runnable. Fortunately the weather cleared up Friday night but after a week of rain the course was muddy. It got worse with each loop. All three distances (50k, 50 mile, and 100 mile) ran the same course so by the third loop it was nothing but slop.

I learned very quickly that the wooden bridges get real slippery when wet. Early in the race when we were still a bit bunched up, everyone would yell out cautions when we came up on a bridge. The first time I crossed one I made a mental note to walk all the wet bridges. My mental notes don’t stick around too long. About mile 23, I was coming down this little slope and I see this little wooden bridge, one step on it and I can just catapult myself across the gap. The next thing I noticed was that I could see my mud covered shoes and the tops of all the pretty trees at the same time, without looking in different directions. My butt hit the bridge so hard, everything rattled. I really thought I did some serious damage because I felt all kinds of weird feelings that your body shouldn’t feel. I am glad I was running by myself because I let loose with the expletives that no one else should have to hear. After lying on the bridge for several minutes, I decided I better get up and see if anything would fall off my body…..nothing did so I had to continue. From that point on, I crawled across all the wooden bridges. I really thought I was going have a problem for the rest of the run because for the next several miles my lower back and hip ached with every step. Thanks to the aide stations and handfuls of ibuprofen the pain went away (or maybe other pain just over shadowed it).

After my bridge encounter, I did pretty well in the falling category. The trail was littered with rocks, roots, and guys’ broken hearts and crushed dreams (an obvious sign that Val had been through this part of the trail already). During the daylight, I think I had a few slips in the mud where I ended up on my butt but nothing real serious. Once the night came and I was on my third and fourth lap it got to be really slow going. The trails were beat up from all the runners on previous laps and it got very dark. The mud and rocks were not distinguishable in the light from the headlamp so I was constantly expecting mud and I would hit rock or vice versa. As you went up and down over the different mountains, you ran through areas of fog. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of running in fog, at night, in the mud, on a rocky trail, while you are crying, you just can’t appreciate how much fun it really is. The light just reflects off the fog and makes visibility almost nothing. I will say that the trails were marked extremely well, even when it was very dark, the reflective flags always seemed to be where you needed them. (I guess maybe Val would argue that the finish line wasn’t marked very well but that is one thing I don’t have any trouble finding when I am that close. I mean, after 50 miles, how do you run PAST the finish line??)

I could do another one of my Romper Room look through the magic wand and name all the people I saw out there (Andrew, Jason, Rich, and Dave), but once we hit the trails, I was pretty much on my own. I did hook up with Kent from North Carolina and we ran together for about 20 miles. A real nice guy who has run a bunch of 100 milers but they were for the most part different than the ones I have run. With his NC accent, he actually talked slower than I was running. Based on my pace, I didn’t think that was possible. When we headed out after the aide station at mile 62 he dropped off and I didn’t see him anymore but based on the posted time, he did finish pretty strong. I did see Val and Rick at the middle school, mile 62. I was sitting on a chair taking off a shoe to check a blister when they came out of the school. They both had already showered and looked like they had just cruised through a 10K; how did they just run 50 miles on those trails and look that good? Val said something like “you look good” and then gave Rick a look like “does he really think he has a chance or running another 40 miles?” As I headed out, I kept thinking why didn’t I sign up for the 50; I could be headed home instead of out into the mud again.

During the night, the temperatures dropped off pretty quickly. Fortunately I had heavier shirts, vests, and gloves stuffed in my drop bags. As I mentioned earlier, the footing was very tough at night. I think I fell more in the last lap and a half than I have in any other 100 miler. (I am sure some of that is due to tired feet in addition to the mud, rocks, and roots.) My handheld water bottle got covered with mud, funny how HEED tastes when it is mixed with mud. The final section was a 7 mile loop that had some incredibly steep climbs; when I finally got back to the last section of bike path my quads were just completely shot. I had a hard time running up the slight incline toward the school. The race director (Tom Jennings) was at the finish line to meet all the runners. His first comment was “how did you like the climbs on the last loop?” If I could have lifted my foot I would have kicked him. I finished in 24:57 which is the slowest time I have had in years. I was surprised when they said I was in 12th place and they think I won masters. Looking at the final results, 88 people started the 100 mile race, 48 finished and 28 of those were under the official 30 hour time limit. It was a challenging but really fun course.

Will I run it again? Only if Andy runs it with me and shows me the easy parts. Seriously, as much as I whine and complain, it was really a fun event.

For an inaugural race it was really well done. Very good aide stations, well marked trails, and good accommodations at the finish line. It is a great event if you are looking for a technical trail run close by.

Congratulations to all the finishers.

See you at the park. (I will be schuffling around it this weekend.)

Eric Grol's Race Report - His 1st hundred

Last weekend I ran my first hundred at the inaugural Oil Creek Trail Runs. Completing a hundred miler has been a goal of mine for some time now, and I figured I could really leverage my training I did for Laurel Highlands this past summer. Logistically, it would work well since Titusville was so close by, and once I saw the pictures of the autumn leaves on the race website, I was in. I'm a sucker for those fall colors.

The hundred consisted basically of three 50k loops and a little extra tacked on at the end to complete the 100 mile distance. My plan was to go out really slow on the first loop to learn the course, then listen to my Ipod on the second loop (I had my entire Parliament Funkadelic collection loaded and ready to go). As odd as it sounds, I was really kind of looking forward to doing the third loop in the dark. I had done night runs before, but never after already having run 62 miles, and never from dusk to dawn. So I was looking forward to experiencing something new.

The first loop for me was pretty uneventful from what I can remember. I just tried to go slow and enjoy the scenery. I had to laugh at that one rocky section with a sign that said "Welcome to Pioneer Trail -- The Birthplace of Rocks." There were some really pretty waterfalls along the way as well. I also got quite a kick out of one runner's musing on the use of the "bear bells" that some people wore: How do you tell the difference between black bear scat and grizzly bear scat? Black bear has berries in it, grizzly scat smells like pepper spray and has little bells in it.

From my perspective, the trail from the school to the first aid station at Wolfkill Run was pretty manageable. Even from the Wolfkill Run aid station to Egbert Farm (the turnaround point) wasn't all that bad. There were some pretty steep switchbacks right before and right after Wolfkill Run, but they were fairly short. For me, that 9.7 mile stretch from Egbert Farm to the aid station at Miller Farm Road bridge was tough. I don't know what it was about that section. Perhaps as I studied the course prior to the race, that was not a stretch that I had identified as presenting a significant challenge in terms of difficult climbs. I guess sometimes those elevation profiles you find on the race website can be deceiving. I was still feeling pretty good on this lap but the distance was becoming noticeable in my legs. I noticed that the climbs, while difficult, were not giving me any problems. The downhills were becoming increasingly hard for me to keep a steady pace on. By the time I finished the second loop it was dark, and as I got off the trail and began to cross the train tracks, I looked up and saw about a million stars. I turned off my headlamp for a few minutes and just stood there staring at the sky, admiring all the stars. I didn't care if it cost me time. That image of a million stars in the sky is forever etched in my brain and I will always have that memory of my first hundred.

The final loop in the dark was quite an experience for me. Your entire world is reduced to the little bit of trail illuminated in front of you by your headlamp. I found it very taxing to have to be so alert in the middle of the night, when I would otherwise be sleeping. However the penalty for taking your eyes off the trail even for a second could mean slipping on one of the wet rocks or tree roots and taking a nasty spill. Another revelation I had at night was that humans are social animals. By this point the 50k and 50 mile runners were done (except for a couple of 50 mile hikers) and the hundred miler pack had become very stretched out along the trail. I ran for hours without seeing another person and found myself kind of longing to see another soul out there on the trail. Hearing that faint generator sound off in the distance was the most comforting thing in the world to me because it meant there was an aid station somewhere ahead of me. I knew I might not hit it for an hour or more, but that sound meant there were people out there. Seeing the sun start to come back out on my final loop was a nice boost for a tired runner who was about to bonk, hard.

I still don't have the calorie intake thing down to a science yet like I would hope. Perhaps my body is still taking time to adjust from the 16 years of powerlifting I did before I decided I wanted to try running 2 and a half years ago. I seem to have to eat a lot more food, more frequently, than what the literature prescribes. For whatever reason, I must have gotten behind on my calories, because I was feeling horrible as I finished my third loop, and went out to complete the "Headed Home" portion of the course. That was the worst I ever felt in my life, and I recently had 4 wisdom teeth removed (two impacted). Even though I had nothing left, I did the math and knew I could still walk it in and finish under the cutoff. Somehow I made it through that last section of trail, and was joined on the pavement section by my two favorite girls, my wife Melissa and my dog Sophie. Crew member extroardinaire and new friend Danielle also joined in on this section. I managed to muster a run across the finish line, say some words I can't remember to the race director, and just like that, it was over. It was the fastest 30 hours, 23 minutes, and 13 seconds of my life.

I can honestly say I get a high from running ultras. Our bodies were designed to cover great distances on foot in search of food and safety, and ultramarathons are a great way to get back in touch with that. With all the conveniences modern life has to offer, it is important to me that I remind myself what we are really capable of. Now that I have completed my first hundred, I just want to do more (much to the chagrin of my wife). The group of runners in Western PA are some of the nicest people I've met and are always willing to share their knowledge and experience.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Val 's Oil Creek 50 Pre-Race and Race report

This past weekend I ran the Oil Creek 50 mile Trail Run in Titusville Pennsylvania. As you will see from both my pre-race and race reports – it sure was an interesting journey!

First of all, what was I thinking signing up for 50 mile trail run when I don’t even own trail shoes- let alone run trails! News Flash - Montour trail is not a real trail run! Anyway, dollar by dollar, mile by mile I proceeded to prepare for the OC 50 mile trail run on Saturday October 10th.

10/1/2009 THURSDAY (One week prior to Race Day)

Why did I have to check the weather? Yikes – 10 day forecast is not only “Wet” but “Very Wet”! Send email to Tom Jennings OC Race Director – Do you think I should buy these for the race $69.99??Product Details Meanwhile you know he is just shaking his head thinking “Who would sign up for a trail run and not want to get wet and muddy”?

10/5/2009 MONDAY (5 days til Race Day)

Begin Packing – lay out everything on my bedroom floor. Yikes! Family is concerned. I think it might be harder going to a race with drop bags – one pile for drop bag #1, another pile for drop bag #2, race day pile, hair net, rain machine and fluffy slippers pile, post race shower pile, drive home/hospital/casket pile- piles everywhere!

It is also Pine Richland homecoming weekend and my son and daughter will both be going to the PR homecoming dance as their crazy mother runs 50 miles. (I did not know that when I signed up for the race - lots of guilt.)

Note to Husband: Thank you Tom!

10/6/2009 TUESDAY (4 days til Race Day)

Started to review the course and prepare for the race. Send another email to race director – confused about add -on section for the 50 mile run. Race director replies nicely but puts a * by my name (loony bin – high maintenance!) More concerns reading the race website – elevation, bear sighting, porcupines and a last place finisher award – Yikes! This really caught my attention.

§ A helicopter and ambulance will be on hand as well as a rope rescue team, ATV "mules" for transporting injured runners, and an EMS worker at each staffed aid station in the park will be provided to assist you in an emergency. However, these are very remote locations that are difficult to get aid to in a short amount of time so please read the waiver on the race registration website very carefully.

Note to Self: Paint Toenails Hot Pink – Critical for rescue. Casted/casket legs look better with painted toenails!

10/8/2009 THURSDAY (2 days to Race Day)

Note to Self: Do Not- I repeat- Do Not send another email to the race director – relax, breathe and start getting excited. Add more items to drop bags.

10/9/2009 FRIDAY (1 day to Race Day)

Time to put on my game face and get the car packed. What to wear to packet pick-up? Hmmm “stilettos” were really not cool for Boston packet pick up. Yikes all my extra tennis shoes are in the drop bags! Better go with the low heal loafers and anything camouflaged -try to look like you are a real trail runner??

Note to Self: Wear sunglasses at packet pickup. Introduce yourself to race director as Jeff Gleason.

10/9/2009 FRIDAY (Packet Pick-up)

Arrive in Titusville. Attend pre-race dinner/meeting. Win an Ultra Fuel pack door prize! Say hello to Rick Freeman. He is running the 50 mile run. Get lost finding the Comfort Inn hotel. Stop at gas station and follow two local runners to hotel. They laugh because they are from Titusville and can’t see how anyone would get lost in Titusville! Check-in and obsessively begin watching the weather channel. Race outfit dilemma – should I wear shorts or long pants?

Race Outfit #1: Pants – safety pin race number on pants.

Note to Self: No rain machine tonight – plenty of rain outside already!

Finish laying out race items and early to bed!

10/10/2009 SATURDAY (Race Day!) 6 am Start Time

Wake up call 3:30 am. Turn on the weather channel. 47 degrees!

Race Outfit Change #2: Shorts – un- safety pin race number from pants and re-safety pin on shorts.

Get dressed and take 8 of 16 suitcases to the car. Walk out of the hotel- Yikes! It is cold, raining and dark, very dark! Get coffee and head back to the room.

Race Outfit Change #3: Pants - un- safety pin race number from shorts and re-safety pin on pants.

Take 8 more suitcases to the car and head over to the middle school (race start). Walk in and 100 milers run off into the dark. Check-in and drop off drop bags. Two women in the locker room ask – “are you wearing pants today? (5:30 am) Head to car for shorts. See Rick Freeman and he just smiles and says you have plenty of time. Out to the car, dig through 16 bags, find shorts.

Race Outfit Change #4: Shorts - un- safety pin race number from pants and re-safety pin on shorts.

(5:45 am) Pre- race meeting. Don’t really care what the race director thinks. Go right up to him with my laminated race map and ask him about the 50 mile course add-on section.

(5:55 am) Exhausted from changing outfits. Walk to the start line. Click on flashlight 20 times to make sure it is working.

(6:00 am) – Race Begins!

Race Start (Darkness 6:00 am – 7:23 am)

The OC 50 mile run starts on a bike path and I think to myself this is not too bad, I can do this. Then I see a line of runners and a set of wooden steps heading up into the trails. I click my light but it is already on (did I mention it was dark). One by one into the darkness and straight up we go. I have never run trails in the dark but I quickly learned to stay with the group because it is even darker without the group. My feet quickly became coated in mud and there were roots and rocks everywhere. However as I slowly became acclimated to the trail I realized the darkness was a blessing because it made me appreciate the trails in the daylight and I set my first race goal. Finish in the daylight!

Desert Hero Jeff

It was not until the sun came up did I realize that the blazes on the trees marking the trail were no longer yellow but were blazing red! Wow – then I saw the trail was lined with cheering people. Who was that masked man? Desert Hero Jeff was here an hour or two ago -blazing the trail. I never saw him on my run but when I touched the ground it was still warm from his footsteps! Jeff ran the OC 100 and finished first place masters and 12th overall.

Drop Bag #1 Egbert Farm 13 Miles

As time went on I got into my own rhythm and pace. I met and talked with many runners. Everyone was so friendly. The course was so well marked and the aid stations were wonderful. Even though I was wearing shorts, I was soaked from the rain, sweat and mud so I was so excited to have a drop bag with dry cloths. I quickly changed and regrouped then headed back to the trails.

50 Mile Add-On Section

This section was a little cumbersome but was marked very well. I had my laminated map just in case. As I was starting the add-on section – Rick Freeman was finishing! He ended up finishing 5th overall for the OC 50 mile run.

Drop Bage #2 Titusville Middle School 36 Miles

Nothing like coming into the finish line knowing you are not done! I was getting tired but grabbed some things from my second drop bag and decided not to take the head lamp. I was going to finish before dark if it killed me. I met a nice group of South Park runners and we all headed out with the same goal. Of course they knew Lou D Angelo so I was quickly included in the group.

The Finish Line !!

Finally I am near the finish line. Somehow I thought the finish was at Aid Station #4.” Isn’t this the finish? No – It is around the corner.”

Remember I was the one that got lost in Titusville. My watch time was 11:03. I still don’t know my official finish time.

As you can see from the bottom line – all the money I spent getting ready for this trail run…there is not a price for describing how I felt when I crossed the finish line. However more importantly my son and daughter made it to the PR Homecoming dance and had a wonderful time – now that is surely Priceless!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bob Fargo's Oil Creek Race Report

Well, the weather decided to cooperate just in time and, with the exception of a few minor details, the organizers put on a pretty nice event. I have to admit, leading up to the race and even while running, I just couldn’t figure out where they got 8,600’+ of elevation gain and loss for the 50-mile course. Sunday morning, my quads were starting to realize that there really might have been that much!

Even though I haven’t seen any results posted yet, I can say that Sarah and Dan both ran a fantastic 50k, the second for both of them, and both getting in under 8 hours. (And, I heard through the grapevine that Sarah has been offered a recording contract by an Oil City record label for her performance Friday night!)

Rick was methodical, his stride looking exactly the same at the end as it did at the start. He smoked me over the last 15 miles of the 50M to keep it under 10 hours (by 40 seconds).

As promised, Chuck kept it casual all day. If he had been doing the 100, he certainly would have been near the top by the end. As he often does, he was getting progressively stronger as the miles passed.

I got passed by the three top women in the last four miles. They had been running within just a few minutes of each other all day. I did manage to real in the third women on the bike path leading into town and ran with her up the school driveway, but then did the gallant thing and stopped before the finish so that she and her two competitors could finish in succession, the way they had run all day.

Jason and David appeared to be in good spirits at the end of their first loop of the 100M. David, did you keep that pulled pork sandwich down?

Peter looked strong heading out the bike path at the start of loop #2, and I never did come across Bob. Maybe he took a detour back to the brew pub.

Regardless of your individual outcome, congratulations on having what it takes to get to the starting line and at least enjoying what turned out to be a very nice fall weekend in the Penn’s Woods.

Oil Creek 50 Mile Race

So I am walking up the steep switchback after crossing a wooden bridge in the middle of the woods and I look back over the trail I had just traversed and catch a splash of yellow moving fast through the trees. With about five miles left to go I decide that I need to rally now if I am to hold this guy off. I stay ahead for another mile or so and finally hear him behind me. What a relief to find out it is Richard Cook, the leader of the one hundred mile race. I don’t know if relief is the correct word, as I am getting lapped by someone who has already run almost sixty miles, still has forty to go and is going by like I am standing still.

The wheels fell off a few miles back when I was catching up to Rich Vrboncic and another hundred miler on the descent to aid station #1. I still had my downhill legs and was moving well when I came upon them. As I leaped off a rock to go around them, my right calf decided to cramp upon impact. It was one of the most painful that I have had and it stopped me in my tracks. As I am trying to bend over and grab my toe, yelling in agony, Rich is telling me to walk it off. I like Rich, but if he was close enough to grab, I would have choked him, I was in that much pain.

The concern began back at the Middle School aid station at thirty-five miles. I cruised in feeling good, but beginning to feel the calf tightening up. After refueling my camelback I decided that I needed an extra bit of salt. The elixir of choice was chicken broth, but it was too hot to gulp down, and I did not want to waste too much time at the aid station, so I grabbed the closest cold item to cool it with. That cold item happened to be a cup of strawberry HEED. Strawberry HEED mixed with chicken broth, sounds like something they make you drink on one of those reality shows. But it worked. Too bad I did not have more of it midway through the last lap.

Overall, my race strategy worked well. As I had explained to no one in particular, I had run a few long training runs without eating, in order to force a bonk and work through it. I find this type of training works well. If I begin to feel lousy during a race, I know that I can work through it, even rally. I carried everything I needed for the race in my camelback, and did not stop at any of the aid stations for more than a few seconds, running straight through most of them. While I had a little extra weight to carry, I feel that I more than made up for it by not stopping.

I had the fifth place finisher in sight right before I cramped up, and he put too much trail between us by the time I was able to run again. When Richard came by, I decided to turn it up a notch, and to my surprise, did so without any cramping. So I got back on track and finished strong, coming in just a few seconds under the ten hour mark, but still four minutes behind the fifth place finisher. When I talked with him after the race, he stated that he had a similar predicament, as he was not able to run downhill. After he saw me approaching, a miracle occurred, and he was able to run downhill again. I guess I have that effect on people.

My sixth place finish was very rewarding. The course, race management, aid stations (even though I did not use them) and post race were all first rate. The free massage was especially good. The weather even cooperated, staying cool all day, with cloud cover for most of the day. The trail was beautiful, as the leaves were beginning to change color. If the race were held any later in the month, the leaves on the trail might be an issue.

There were many finishers from the Pittsburgh area in all three distances, 50k, 50 miles and 100 miles. Check out the Oil Creek 100 website to see a list of the finishers. Everyone I talked with had a great time, I think this race will be on many runners’ calendars next year, and no doubt it will fill up again.

Richard Cook ended up winning the 100 mile race. Check out the other finishers and drop them a note to congratulate them for a great effort. If any of you have a race report, please send it along, and let me know if you want me to post it on the blog.

See you on the trails,