C&O Canal 100 Mile 2013 Race Report

The inaugural run of the C&O Canal 100 Mile Run was held on April 27-28, 2013.  After many months of preparation and training, race morning was finally here. We arrived at Camp Manidokan, in Knoxville, Maryland a little after 6 am.

We brought some tents and folding chairs so that we would have a “camp” to hang out at in case anyone wanted to stay here overnight on Saturday night while I was running.  Some runners actually slept over on Friday night, but I felt like I’d rather be in the comfort of my own bed on the night before the race, and just leave early to get to the starting line on time.  We live about an hour away from Knoxville, MD, so we left home at 5 am.

For those that wanted to camp, you could drive your car up to the top of the hill, near the covered shelter that was acting as race headquarters.Those just parking were lined up by parking volunteers down by the road (Harpers Ferry Road).

As soon as we arrived, I went over to the race HQ to sign my waiver and pick up my race bib (number).
In the meantime, Paolo and Telly started setting up the tents.

My supporter’s campsite on the morning of the second day,
awaiting my return to the finish area.


This was going to be my first 100 mile run, only having done 50 miles before, at the JFK 50-miler in 1998 and 1999.  So I was a bit apprehensive about being able to conquer this distance, but if there were any race to dip your toes into for a 100 miler, this was it.  It was close to home, pancake flat (except for the climb up and down the hill to the start/finish area), had no qualifying race requirements, and had a generous cut-off time of 30 hours.
The miles of towpath to cover.
The race info sent out by Race Director (RD) Lance Dockery indicated that the race was 101.4 miles, and pacers were allowed in the final 50.7 miles of the run.  Initially, I wasn’t really planning to have a pacer, as I wasn’t even sure what a pacer does, other than some things I had read in Scott Jurek’s “Eat and Run” and his collaboration with his pacer, Dusty Olsen.
I had also read from Jonnifer Lacanlale’s race report, finishing the Western States 100, that his pacer Rick Gaston, was crucially important to his ability to complete the WS-100.  I sent a note to Jon asking him how important it would be for me to engage a pacer for my first 100 miler.  He unequivocally advised that I should find a pacer if at all possible.
Last November, I ran with my brother John, in his first marathon, at the Seattle Marathon.  I asked him if he would be willing to act as my pacer if I bought him a ticket to visit and accompany me in this race.  After having completed his first marathon and being very stoked about long distance running, he heartily agreed.  However, he later informed me that work schedules wouldn’t allow him to do it.  He was going to be with one of his Geology classes on a field trip in Wisconsin. So I was out of a pacer.
My inaanak (God son) Pavel Miranda, son of my high school classmates and good friends, Rene and Tess Miranda, suggested that he could solicit a volunteer from the Philippine Ultramarathoners Group (PUMAG) on Facebook.  I appreciated the concern and assistance, but I didn’t imagine anything would come of it.  Afterall, most of those members are in the Philippines.  However, as luck would have it, Retired General Jovenal “Jovie” “Bald Runner” Narcise read the post and looked up the race on www.ultrasignup.com and said “That race is in Maryland.  Gilbert Gray is in Maryland.  Reach out to him, he is a great guy!”.
So, being the friendly and desperate guy that I am, I reached out to “Gil” and amazingly, he agreed to pace me for 50.7 miles.  He said he felt it was such a coincidence when he heard from me because he had seen a video that I had posted on youtube with one of my training runs – 26.2 mile run Tour of Washington, D.C. and he thought it was pretty cool.  We met up one Saturday morning for a short 10 mile getting-acquainted run, and we hit it off.  He is a great guy, married to a filipina, and has done several ultras in the Philippines, along with many here in the U.S.  He has 11 100-milers to his name, so he came with a lot more qualifications than my brother John 😉

On to the Race

Gil shows up at the start.
After I picked up my race bib and got my race vest ready, Gil showed up.  We went over a few things – he indicated which Aid Stations (AS) he may try to see me at before he would join me for the second half.  The route is 2 loops of a 50.7 mile course up and down the canal towpath between Antietam Creek and Nolands Ferry.
We later found that the distance was actually 52 miles per loop, resulting in a total distance of 104 miles.
Drop bags are provided for at the Brunswick and Nolands Ferry AS, so I got my drop bags ready and set them in place for delivery to those locations.
At 6:45am exactly on schedule, Race Director (RD) Lance Dockery conducted the pre-race briefing.  There wasn’t much more to add to the info that he had already published in a well organized “C&O Canal 100 Mile Information Packet” that was sent to all registered runners.  He advised the runners about following the trail markings to get down to the canal towpath from the hill on which Camp Manidokan was situated, about 600 feet above the canal.
Right before 7 am, RD Lance lead a prayer for the runners and at 7 am., waved us off to begin the 100 mile journey.
Heading down to the canal from the hill at Manidokan.

The trail down the hill was steep and somewhat muddy, and I was thinking how hard that would be to get back up, after running 50 miles, and even more difficult after 100 miles!  Once on the canal, I settled into an easy 12 minute per mile pace with a pack of others running a similar pace – Jim, Diego, Marathon Maniac John, Dani and Dustin are the names I recall.  We kept together until I decided I should take a walk break, paying heed to some advice that my wife Telly had gotten from a co-worker, Rick, to take walking breaks early and regularly.

Since I hadn’t done a 100 mile distance before, I wanted to make sure that I could feel as comfortable as possible, in terms of effort, for as long as I could, as long as I was still doing a reasonable average pace. So I set the countdown timer on my watch to chime every half an hour, so I could trigger my walk breaks.  I started out doing 5 minute walks every half hour, and later moved to 10 minute walks later in the day.
At the Antietam AS turnaround point at 5.3 miles, I saw Kevin Sayers (Catoctin 50k and MMT 100 Race Director)  and we ran together for a couple of miles.  One thing he told me during this section was to “run your own race”.  He cautioned me against getting pulled into someone else’s pace or routine.  It was useful advice that I tapped a few times later in the race.
My supplies for the various drop bags
The aid stations were well stocked and the volunteers were all very helpful and on their toes.  They would take your water bottles and fill them to your specifications.  I had two 20 oz. bottles and was topping off one with water and one with Hammer HEED electrolyte and energy drink.  I was also taking an S!Cap sodium and potassium capsule every hour or so, and some PowerGel energy gels a little less than one per hour. I was availing of some of the food on the “buffet” at the aid stations, plus I was using Vespa amino acid supplement to help tap my fat reserves for energy, so I reduced my reliance on the energy gels.  Despite that, I still probably consumed about 18 of those Gels over the course of the run!
Entering the Brunswick Aid Station the first time at 19.6 mi.
All throughout the first 50 mile loop, foremost in my mind was to conserve energy and keep my body in working order.  I was wearing CEP compression socks, and 2XU compression shorts, and I had no chaffing or cramping.  It started warming over the course of the day, and I realized I didn’t put any suntan lotion on, so I was getting sunburned on my face and arms.  Earlier in the day, I had stashed my Brooks jacket into the ultra vest once it started warming up.  The temperature went from 40  degrees F in the morning to about 70 degrees F at the mid afternoon.  The first 50 miles was rather uneventful, and I got back to the start/finish area at around 6 pm. after about 11 hours.
At the halfway point, taking a protein drink and
replenishing my energy supplies before heading
back out.
When I got there, Gil was ready and waiting, and I sat down to replenish the supplies in my ultra vest and had a protein drink.
We then set out on the second loop, continuing the walk-run strategy.  At this point, the field was very strung out.  A lot of runners did not have pacers, but I felt quite fortunate and smart to have Gil to accompany me.  As the night set in, there were long stretches on the towpath where it was nothing but darkness ahead and nothing but darkness behind.  It was quite reassuring to just have someone there to run alongside me to talk to and get my mind off the drudgery of slogging on for miles upon miles on the desolate path.  Every 3 to 7 miles, an aid station would break the monotony, and invariably, the AS volunteers and running crews would erupt in cheers and shouts of encouragement when they see a headlamp approaching the station.
Telly and my kids were planning to be at the Brunswick AS around midnight to see me, so I was checking my pace and calculations to ensure I didn’t miss them.  I think I also used that as an excuse to tell Gil that we should do a little more walking, to delay our arrival at Brunswick so we don’t miss my “crew”.
Church of God Cheering Squad
As it happened, I think we got there around 11:45 pm and all the crew was there – Telly, Paolo, Maya, Jun, Leo, Yvonne, Lakan and Bendi. I was really so happy to see them all, especially Paolo, who I didn’t know was planning to spend the night in Brunswick at the camp at Manidokan.  Maya, her husband Jun, and his brother Leo, (the Church of God cheering squad) came all the way from Glen Burnie, and had literally just gotten there when we ran up to the aid station, as they were delayed by a passing train to get to the aid station beyond the MARC train commuter parking lot.
Midnight at Brunswick AS
After a few minutes of rest and restocking at the aid station, we set out for the remainder of the journey, with 70 miles down and 30 miles to go.  At this point I still felt pretty good, other than general fatigue.
When we got to the next aid station at Lander Rd., I mentioned to Gil, “Yay! We only have 1 more marathon to go!”  It’s funny how these distances seem less significant in the context of the 100 miler.
We got down to the Nolands Ferry AS without much incident.  There wasn’t anything I had prepared in my drop bag for this final visit to Nolands Ferry, but Gil grabbed a drink that he had stashed there for himself.  After leaving Nolands Ferry, heading back north to the finish, my left knee started feeling sore.  Walking was fine, but running was a bit painful at this point.  We started walking more – 15 minute walking and as much running as I could manage.
The stretch between Brunswick and Nolands Ferry is pretty tough, especially at night, as it all looks the same and is like an endless tunnel in the darkness.  There’s a brief respite at Lander Rd., but it doesn’t help much.  It was on this stretch that I was particularly grateful to have a pacer, and to have Gil specifically, being such a pleasant person to be with.  There was a comfort level between us that made it so easy.  We could be silent for a spell and it would be fine.  If I felt like talking, he was there to converse.  He seemed to defer totally to my schedule.  If I needed to pee, he would too, or just wait if he didn’t need to.  He never once held me back or pushed me further than I wanted to go.  But he was there.
We got to the Lander Rd. AS, but didn’t stay long there.  This AS didn’t have much stuff, so I just topped off my water here.  At this point, there was only a half-marathon to go.
Shortly after leaving Lander Rd., I inspected my left knee and noticed it looked bruised and quite swollen.  “No wonder it was hurting”, I thought to myself.  I considered maybe putting some ice on it, at the next AS at Brunswick, or the following one at Keep Tryst Rd.  But I realized that I’d need to spend 15-18 minutes there to ice it properly.  Gil cautioned me to do what I felt I needed to do, which I appreciated.  I decided to just stick it out and ice it back at the finish.
At the Keep Tryst AS, the sign reads “If the word Quit is part of your vocab. then the word Finish is likely Not!”
As we came through the Keep Tryst AS for the last time, the dawn had broken, and I put my headlamp away.  I asked for bacon and eggs at this AS, but they could not accommodate me 😉 so I had another helping of Scottish Eggs (1/4 egg).
Passing Harpers Ferry for the final time on the way back.
When we got across from Harpers Ferry, I realized we were almost done – with less than 4 miles to go to the finish.  These final 4 miles or so were the hardest, with running becoming quite painful, but I didn’t want to take the time to walk it in, so we hobbled it in.  There was a point a bit earlier when it was still dark, when I felt I was actually managing a pretty good clip, and I asked Gil what pace we were running, on his Garmin 910XT – he said “…the last mile was a 13 minute per mile pace.” — which was a tad disappointing, as it felt like at least a 10 minute mile to me 😉
Finally, after seeming to run forever northward from Harpers Ferry, we spotted the ribbons marking the turnoff to head up the mountain to the finish at Camp Manidokan.  Because of the muddy steep trail, race management had placed a rope to help runners get up the initial embankment. That was painful with a busted knee and 103+ miles on my legs.
Laughing all the way to the finish.
Photo Courtesy of Hai Nguyen

When we got to the bottom of the last hill up to the finish line, I was elated to see my sister-in-law Lienne, and Bret waiting to cheer me on, and then looking up the hill saw the rest of the “crew” – Telly, Yvonne, Paolo and Lakan.  They had the large poster (on canvas) that Yvonne had made to cheer me on.

The final few steps at the end of the 104 mile run, heading for RD Lance Dockery’s congratulatory shake.
Race Director Lance Dockery and the coveted
belt buckle.  It’s mine.
RD Lance Dockery was waiting at the finish log, to congratulate me and hand me the buckle that I wanted so much.
Lance put on a great race, and all the race volunteers were awesome.  Thanks to them all.  Well done.
C&O Canal 100 Buckle
Photo Courtesy of Mary Jones Vish

Photo Gallery

My son, Paolo with me after signing in at Race HQ.
Here are some additional photos from this great experience at a well-organized event.
Preparing Drop Bags for Brunswick AS and Nolands Ferry AS
Race Director Lance Dockery doing the Pre-Race Briefing
Stocking up at an Aid Station during the night portion.

Yvonne and Lakan with the sign Yvonne made for me
My left knee bruised and swollen.
Winding down
Gil insisted he share his chocolate milk with me, so we have a toast 🙂
Relaxing after it was all over
Icing my busted knee
Paolo congratulating me on my finish
The black toenail was already there, but the
blister around it was new. I didn’t even notice
this though, until I took my socks off.
A C&O Canal Companion guidebook for my
C&O Canal companion!  A little token of my
The crew’s campsite


Race Website:  http://cocanal100.com/

Finish Time:  25:44

Overall Place: 

Gender Place: 

Age Group Place: 

GPS Activity:  https://www.strava.com/activities/126623518

Contributor's Personal Blog:  http://paultra.blogspot.com