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.)