Last year, I got to 69.3 miles before I tapped out due to pain in my IT band on my left leg that reduced my pace to 40 minutes per mile. The sweepers were on my tail and there was no way I could get to AS #2 on the 3rd loop before the cutoff. Painful as it was, I had to drop at AS #1.
This year, I came in to the race physically fit, with no injuries handicapping me. Two weeks prior, I picked up a cold on my final days on a business trip to our offices in Reading, UK, so the only thing I was dealing with was some lingering cough from the cold. But otherwise, I was feeling fit, well-tapered and eager to spend the weekend in the beautiful mountains around Oil Creek.
My plan for this year was to execute the same plan that I had prepared for 2014. One thing that changed was my nutrition. Last year I had been using UCAN. However, I learned that UCAN was not really working well with my stomach. It would invariably cause stomach upset after a while. In late 2014, I switched to Tailwind, and had significantly better success with this. So I primarily subsist on Tailwind, a few gels and whatever looks good at aid stations, but generally avoiding cheese, as I also found that when I consumed quesadillas or grilled cheese sandwiches, although they look and taste good, they too would tend to cause some digestive problems for me later in the race.
As far as time plans go, the plan was to do 7.5 hours for the first 50K lap; 8.5 hours on the next 50k lap; and then 9.5 hours for the third lap. The final 7+ mile coming home loop was planned to be around 2 hours or so. This would give me an overall finishing target time of approximately 27.5 hours.
We drove up to Titusville on Friday morning in a convoy of 3 cars from Brunswick, MD, Harpers Ferry and Kearneysville, WV. A group of friends from the Harpers Ferry Ultra Running Team (H.U.R.T.), Jeff Fiolek with son, Jackson, Jim and Cheryl Hennigan, Chris Gorham, and me and my wife Telly. Jeff’s wife, Sheri Fiolek, and Chris’s wife Diana Gorham were to arrive later that night with the Gorham’s daughters Beth and Emily. Also, Mark Peyton and wife Betina, and their kids Alex and Lucy, drove separately and joined us at the hotel later that evening.
We arrived in Titusville at mid-afternoon, checked into the Quality Inn, and headed to the Middle School to sign in and pick up our packets. As soon as we got there, I spotted U.S. National 24 Hour Running Team member, Maggie Guterl and Ryan Schannauer pitching their tent in the field beside the parking lot. We stopped to say hello and then proceeded to the school to get our packets. Maggie said she had already completed her packet pickup.
Packet pickup was orderly and efficient. We must have gotten there at 5:30 p.m. and already by then most of the freebie give-aways were already gone. I was able to pick up a HAMMER hand towel, which is always useful for a drop bag or running kit item.
After getting our packets, we went over to the pasta dinner in the cafeteria and saw some of our other friends there. Francesco and Aaryn McInnes Riccadonna from Ontario, Canada were there. We also saw Bryan Slotterbach, and met Casey Fisher, whom I had seen several times before but never knew his name. I remember seeing him run and finish at the C&O Canal 100 in 2014 when I was volunteering at the Dargan Bend and Keep Tryst aid stations. We also ran into Jim Treece, Lisa and Ralph Johnston, and Siobhan Leonardis, all runners from our area in Frederick county, MD and Jefferson county, WV. It was great to see so many familiar faces, knowing that all of us were going to have a great time running in the mountains over the weekend.
After the pasta dinner we headed back to the hotel to get to bed early for an early start in the morning.
Jeff Fiolek drove Jim Hennigan and me to the middle school at around 4:20 a.m. for the check-in and 5 a.m. start of the 100 Miler. My wife Telly, who was going to do the 50K, her first ultramarathon, stayed in bed a bit longer for her 7 a.m. start.
After checking in at the middle school, we saw some additional friends, like Dylan Armajani, from the Trail WhippAss (TWA) group, who was crewing and pacing for Maggie Guterl later that day.
I also had a pacer lined up to join me at mile 62. Alex Papadopoulos offered to pace me and was driving up Saturday afternoon and planning to be in place and ready to run by 6 p.m. Saturday evening. Alex is the Race Director of the Athletic Equation, Inc. races, and an 8-time finisher of the HURT 100 Mile Trail Run. He helped me train for the HURT 100 in January 2015 and I fortunately finished that race.
Hanging out in the Middle School cafeteria before the race start is so convenient. There is water and coffee, bathrooms available, chairs and tables to hang around and get your gear in order. Just before the start of each race, Tom Jennings, the RD, calls for the runners to step outside and within a couple of minutes, will set them off on the course.
Loop 1 (50K)
And so it was, at about 4:55 a.m., Tom Jennings called for us to step outside for the 100 mile start, and as the digital timing clock showed 5:00 the race was on. I positioned myself to start at about the top 20% of the field and set off at a comfortable pace on the road and bike path, to get a reasonably good position when entering the climb at the single track trail onto the Gerard Hiking Trail. As I entered the single track trail, i found myself behind Jim Treece. I followed Jim for a while, who was tailing another runner. After a while, there was quite a gap between the runner in front of Jim and the next runner ahead. Since my legs were fresh at this point I was feeling a little impatient and wanted to quicken the pace a bit.
Just then, I could hear quick footsteps coming up behind me so I stepped aside to let the runner by. As I did so, she seemed surprised that I stepped aside, and said “Oh, thank you”, and ran on. I followed behind her and as she passed Jim, I followed suit. I wound up following her for a bit, and admired her light-footed dance over the rocks and roots on the trail. She said her name was Lauren (Pearch) from Ohio. She said she had done this race the previous year and that she had finished it, doing the “coming home” loop in 1 hour and 20 minutes, as she wanted to get it over with! We were doing a good pace, but it was probably a bit fast for my pace estimate, and when I stopped off the trail to pee at one point, she took off. It turns out it’s a good thing I didn’t try to keep up with her as she wound up taking 3rd place woman in a little over 24 hours.
When I got to aid station 2 at the Petroleum Center, I was 30 minutes ahead of my schedule. This was a confidence booster as I was still feeling light and fluid, and moving along well. At the aid station, I removed my long sleeved shirt and just kept on a short sleeved one.
After going through Aid Station #3 at Miller Farm Road, I proceeded up the climb on Cemetery Hill, and caught sight of a creepy scene off the right side of the trail. Sitting back against a tree was a skeleton of a runner that didn’t quite make it up the hill. The thing that caught my attention though, was that this skeleton was wearing MY bib number! #66! So, of course, I had to stop and take a photo and post it on facebook, indicating “This is not a good sign!”
Later, when my wife came by this spot on her 50K run, she saw the skeleton, and remembered my race number, and said, “Oh no, is that my honey?!” LOL.
One interesting aspect of this race is that there are 3 concurrent races going on, on the same course. The 50K, the 100K and the 100 Mile. The 50K is one loop, 100K does two loops, and 100 Milers do three loops and a 7+ mile mini loop. The start time between the 3 races is staggered by an hour. The 100 miler starts at 5 a.m., followed by the 100K at 6 a.m., and the 50K kicks off at 7 a.m. What’s interesting is that for the 100 milers, on the tail end of the first loop and throughout the second loop, there is a likelihood that runners of the shorter distances will pass you at a quicker pace. What’s rattling about it is that unless you can spot their race bib and know the numbering scheme, you don’t know if these are runners in the shorter races or if they are also hundred milers now whooping your ass. The thing is, you are probably okay with the short race runners passing you, but you don’t want the hundred milers to do so!
Amidst the anxiety of race positioning going on, I was enjoying the beauty of the course on the first loop. As the sun came up and shone through the canopy, there were misty scenes with the golden leaves and the nippy air providing an invigorating sense of happiness to be on the trail.
I got back to middle school at 11:45 a.m., 45 minutes ahead of schedule. I was feeling good and didn’t spend much time at the aid station. I filled up my bottle with Tailwind syrup, topped it off with water, grabbed a pierogi at the aid station, and went out for the second loop.
Loop 2 (100K)
Being ahead of schedule, I felt confident, but at the same time, perhaps a little cautious as I didn’t want to blow up later on. So I consciously tried to ease up a little bit to conserve for the third loop.
During the second loop I was more solitary as the field had thinned out by now. I noticed lots of chipmunks on the course, scurrying about.
At one point I encountered a runner, running towards me, wearing a bib number. I told him “uh, you’re going the wrong way”. He said he must’ve gotten turned around when he stopped at one point to pee. I told him to turn around and continue on in the direction I was running. He was very appreciative that I had saved his race – although inevitably, he would have encountered many more runners behind me that would have told him the same thing … “you’re going the wrong way!”
Late in the second loop, I passed a lady that was hiking, and wearing a bib number. I found out the next day that her name was Beth Gilbert. I asked her if she was doing 50k hike, and mentioned my wife Telly was also hiking the 50K. I got a little excited as I imagined I might be able to encounter Telly on the trail. So I moved ahead and passed Beth. Just beyond her, I encountered another woman doing the 50K, who said she was the oldest woman, so she had a pacer, and she was jesting that her pacer was leaving her behind 😉 I ran up to where the pacer and another runner was, as they were observing something off the trail. I asked what it was, and they said “a porcupine”. It was starting to get dark so I shone my headlamp into the woods, and sure enough, a porcupine, probably a foot and a half long, was ambling away into the woods. It was very cool to see it.
I got back to the middle school at 7:53 p.m. This was more than an hour ahead of my planned arrival time here of 9:00 p.m. Luckily my pacer Alex was already there and ready to go. As I crossed the timing mat, my H.U.R.T. team mate, Jeff Fiolek called out to me that Telly had “buckled up”. Wow, I was overjoyed to hear that she had completed the 50K course. That was her longest distance! I couldn’t be happier for her. She emerged from the cafeteria and came out to AS#4 and I gave her a big hug and kiss. At this point, I knew I just had to finish my own race so we could both buckle up this weekend.
Loop 3 (150K)
There were a number of things I had to do at this aid station on the start of the third loop. I had a checklist in the drop bag and started going through the list. I had to get the spare headlamp battery, grab the portable USB charger and the charging cable for my Garmin 910XT to charge it on the run. I went through the various items and then told Alex I was ready to go.
As we headed out and hit the road section, I started running, and Alex seemed excited that I was still in running mode. I did caution him that we were probably going to go pretty slow though. At this point, although I was ahead of schedule, I was starting to get some pain in my glutes. I must have been engaging the glutes pretty aggressively when power hiking the hills, to the point that they were now complaining that they’d had enough.
I was trying to convince Alex that since I was ahead of schedule it would be okay for me to slow down a bit now as I was beginning to hurt, but it was okay. I would still finish. All of a sudden I realized I had forgotten something at AS#4. I did not replenish my gel supply. I was generally taking one gel between aid stations. It was no big deal since I was consuming Tailwind from my water bottle, and I was able to grab food from the aid stations anyway, so it was no big deal breaker. Nevertheless I was peeved that despite having a checklist in the drop bag, I still missed something.
As we were making our way between AS#4 and AS#1, there were points where I was starting to get a little wobbly and luckily I was using my trekking poles and they were useful at keeping me upright. When we got to AS#1, I grabbed a bunch of m&ms and some chocolate covered espresso beans and put them in a little sandwich bag to munch on later. I filled my bottle with the Tailwind syrup and water and we started hiking up the hill from AS#1. As we were climbing, I told Alex that there would be a bench at the top of the hill and I would like to sit there for few minutes to rest and eat my snacks. I couldn’t really eat them while climbing because I was breathing too hard.
So we got to the top and I headed over to the bench to sit down for a little bit. Alex came up and whipped out his cell phone. I thought to myself, “Oh cool, he’s going to take a photo of me having a snack on this bench by the hilltop. That might be nice to go into my race report.” But he typed something into his phone and just set it down on the bench. I said, “what was that all about?”
Alex explained that he was just setting the timer. I had a minute and a half to enjoy my snack before we had to move along. Okaaaaay. I then realized that my pacer was not here to just hang out with me. Oh no, he was on a mission to get me to the finish line in the quickest time possible. LOL.
But hey, this was fine – I was all for getting the best time possible. And with the progress I made on the first two laps, it would be really cool to beat my arbitrary estimate anyway. But man, my glutes were really beginning to hurt bad! I kept massaging them with my hands and even “rolling” one of my trekking poles over them like I would a foam roller.
Whenever we got to a runnable section, if I didn’t start running on my own, Alex would gently prod me, “What do you think – do a little Papa Ninja shuffle here”? I had recently become a grandfather when my daughter Maya and husband Jun had a daughter around 6 weeks prior to the race. My trail name is Ninja and rather than being called Grandpa or Lolo, I had said that I wanted my granddaughter to call me “Papa”. So “Papa Ninja” became what my granddaughter would call me. So Alex would periodically coax me to do the “Papa Ninja shuffle” when there was a runnable or downhill section. He would exclaim approval whenever I started running on my own.
At 2 a.m. in the morning, Alex pulled out a ziplock bag from his pack and said it was time for my special treat. He had gotten some pulled pork for me! I took a bit from the bag and a little more. It was nice and tasty, but my salivary glands were not working very well at 2 in the morning and after having spent the whole day eating sweet stuff and swigging on the sweet Tailwind the whole day. So that, and trying to eat the pork while on the walk/run was a bit of a challenge. Nevertheless I consumed a fair amount and was touched by the thoughtful gesture from Alex.
Shortly, we came upon Lisa Johnston with another runner. She was walking and looked like she was at a low point. We walked along with her for a while and I was happy to relax for a bit. Not that we were going very fast, but any push was quite a challenge, with the pain I was experiencing in my glutes.
After a little bit, I decided to move ahead, so I told Alex I was ready to move and we ran on ahead. As we were nearing the end of loop 3, I saw some reflecting eyes from under a log. I stood there for a few seconds just staring at it, as it seemed almost comical. I saw the outline of little mouse ears, eyes staring back at me. Alex asked me what was wrong, and I just said “Nothing, I’m just looking at a mouse under the log”.
Alex and I spent a lot of time joking around, and just being silly. It was a good way to pass the time.
We finally made it back to AS#4 at Titusville Middle School and prepared to set out on the final “coming home” loop. It was approaching dawn and getting very cold. I went into the school to use the bathroom, and then came out and put on my goosedown jacket. I figured that I would not be running very fast, if at all, so it would be difficult to keep warm without some extra layers.
As it happened, I pretty much was reduced to walking the whole coming home loop, so it took a while. We spend almost 3 hours on that small loop. It felt good though to get to the split in the trail where all runners are told to turn right, except for the 100 milers on the coming home loop who, at last, can take the left fork. However, after this left turn, it seemed to take forever (at my walking pace that is), to get to the hanging bridge, and then longer yet to ascend back onto the Gerard Hiking Trail, along the never ending long switch backs to get up there.
Eventually, we did emerge onto the GHT and shortly after that, descended onto the road, bypassing the one mile Drake Well Museum loop and heading back to the bike path to the school.
Along the bike path, I was finally able to manage a run, and I slowly increased my pace in anticipation of the finish, and passed a couple of runners along the way to the finish line. Alex unfurled an American Flag from his pack and we ran it in to the finish line.
Projected and Actual Loop Times
|Loop||Target Pace||Actual Pace|
|Loop 1||7:30 hours||6:44 hours|
|Loop 2||8:30 hours||7:29 hours|
|Loop 3||9:30 hours||10:29 hours|
|Coming Home||2:00 hours||2:55 hours|
I was so happy that this return trip to Titusville had concluded in a successful finish of this wonderful Oil Creek 100 Mile Run. Upon crossing the finish line, I gave Race Director Tom Jennings a hug and thanked him for the great experience and all the work put in by him and the volunteers to make it happen. He handed me the finisher’s buckle and a bumper sticker for finishing the 100 miler. My H.U.R.T. buddies were there at the finish line along with Telly and our two friends Francesco, who passed me late in the third loop, and Aaryn who passed me on the coming home loop. In each case, I could not muster any energy to mount any response to their challenge. They both ran really smart races and have proven to be really strong runners.
My finish time was 28 hours 9 minutes and 23 seconds. I was pretty happy to finish and was actually pretty happy with my finish time, despite all the butt pain! LOL. Thanks to Alex for putting up with my whining and for keeping me moving as quickly as possible, and to the H.U.R.T. crew for all the support during the race weekend, and to Telly, for making me so proud and for giving me the inspiration to give it all for the finish.
Here’s a short video with some finish line footage!