I came into Old Dominion right after a mentally devastating DNF three weeks earlier at the Zion 100. That race left me riddled with self doubt and I was completely discouraged. Leading up to the OD100, I was completely focused on nothing except finishing this race, while eliminating any possibility for failure.
In preparation, I completely reverted to all my old race strategies. I went back to the same shoes, same clothes, same fuel and same pre-race rituals, hoping to start again from square one and hopefully improve my results by doing so. Most importantly, I focused on only one thing...finishing!
My efforts paid off....
Jo and I arrived in Woodstock, VA. on Friday night and attended packet pickup, as well as the pre-race briefing. We listened to the race rules and details while we mingled with the other runners.
The race began promptly at 4:00 AM Saturday morning. We gathered at the fairgrounds before the race and made final preparations.
Waiting for the fun to begin.
After a few words and quick payer, we were sent on our way.
Into the night (or very early morning)
Like with all my long races, I had developed a detailed race plan that outlined my splits and anticipated arrival time for each crew access point. Jo uses this plan to keep tabs on where I am at any given time so she can be prepared to meet me along the course. My race plan for this event was very conservative because I planned to run at a safe and leisurely pace.
After our tour through Woodstock, we made the long and steep climb up Woodstock Gap. This is a painful climb that tops out at mile 7, then we have a nice downhill run to the valley floor. I was keeping an aggressive pace but it felt great so I stuck with it.
I ran with a small group of guys that I met along the way and the conversation was a great distraction. We all entered the first crew access point and drop bag area at mile 20 together.
My race plan showed I would arrive after 4.5 hours. I got there an hour early. Jo got me fed, refilled my bottle, and I was on my way.
Soon after, we were directed to some excellent single track. This trail is a mix of a lot of surfaces, but it really has some of the nicest single track around.
A few examples.
An example of the views that surrounded us.
After several miles, our little group of runners fell apart as we all settled into our own rhythm. But my new buddy Matt and I seemed to be doing a good job keeping pace together and the camaraderie was helping to pass the time.
Matt was running his first 100 miler. OD100 is a pretty brave choice for a beginner at that distance. I was impressed!
By mile 32, we were 1:15 ahead of the race schedule and we were feeling great. We were just beyond the 50K mark in 5:40.
We reached mile 48 in 8:50 and we were still rolling strong.
Coming to mile 48.
Jo's father lives nearby and came down to the race to see what all the fuss is about. He's never seen me run before, and quite frankly, I think he was a little suspicious about a person running 100 miles. He had to see for himself!
Best Father in law in the world.
Matt and I crossed the 50 mile mark at 9:25 and still felt strong. We started to make our plans for sustaining the best pace so we could have a good, sub 24 hour finish. There was a lot of race left and the worst was yet to come.
Between miles 56 and 75, we were maintaining a 2 hour lead on my race plan. But things were about to become challenging.
Coming to the aid station at mile 75. Before all the bad stuff.
The hardest part of the OD100 starts at mile 75 with a climb up Sherman's Gap. This is a long, technical, boulder laden suck fest. The trail goes straight up the face of the mountain. No switchbacks, no flat areas for walking and recovering, no reprieve whatsoever. It just goes up...forever. And it sucks.
Matt seemed to have an advantage on this climb because he had been working the stair master leading up the race. As I scratched and clawed my way behind him, I made a metal note to try that out for myself. He bounded up that mountain like a billy goat!
The descent on the other side is almost as bad. It was still daylight during the climb, but got dark on the way down, which made the technical trail...much more technical.
Once we reached the bottom, we had a short run on flat ground before we had to turn and head up Veach Gap. This trail is almost identical to Sherman's Gap, but was slightly shorter.
These two extreme climbs occurred over a 12 mile span. Due to the extreme conditions, my 2 hour advantage over my race plan and been shrunk by 45 minutes. And I was now totally exhausted.
I met Jo at mile 86 and she got me patched up and sent me back out onto the course.
From mile 86 to the finish, we were on paved or gravel roads. While that sounds appealing, I can attest to the fact that these are some of the steepest roads I've ever run on. There was very little flat ground to be found anywhere. But nonetheless, Matt and I were still running.
I met Jo again at mile 91. I had been drifting to sleep while I was running and I needed to fix that. She patched me up with some Mountain Dew, got a few calories in me, and we were off.
From mile 91, we had a long uphill climb to a ridge line, then a steep drop off on the other side. My hamstrings were screaming on the way up and my quads were dead on the way down.
I met Jo again near mile 97. I didn't eat or drink. I just handed her some of my gear that I wouldn't need for last 3 miles. Matt and I wrapped things up quickly and headed to the finish. We ran at a decent pace backtracking through downtown Woodstock.
We arrived at the fairgrounds and made another loop around the outside of the horse track and headed to the finish line!
Matt and I crossed side by side. My finish time was 22:07:56 and I came in 13th place.
Old Dominion is a very tough course, but having somebody to share it with for 80 miles made all the difference. Matt and I did a great job encouraging each other all day and night and I'm sure neither of us would have done as well if we had been alone.
A solid race is exactly what I needed and it's precisely what I got. I ran hard on a tough course and I feel very good about my finish. Now it will be much easier for me to erase my DNF and move on with confidence.
The race staff and volunteers were amazing. These were some of the most sincere people I have ever raced with. The course was very well marked and everything with the race was well organized and professional. These guys put on a world class race.
And as always, Jo performed perfectly. It takes a serious commitment to stay awake for so many hours and completely devote yourself to a runner the way she does. I simply couldn't do it without her. In all honesty, I wouldn't WANT to do it without her.
We'll be at Laurel Highlands next week running 70 miles of the most stunning and challenging trails in Pennsylvania. This race is the highlight of my year!