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.