Jo and I traveled to Titusville, Pennsylvania this weekend so I could run the Oil Creek 100 mile trail race. We were being joined by a large group of our local running friends, many of whom would be running their first 100 mile race. We were particularly happy to be spending this race weekend with our friends, because due to our upcoming move, it may be the last time to enjoy the company of these great people for a long time.
Packet pickup was held at the start area of the race. This race uses the local middle school to stage the event, which works out well because we have access to all the amenities. It's a rare treat to be able to use a warm, well lit bathroom right before a race starts.
Swag and Bib
The 100 mile race got underway at 5:00 AM on Saturday morning. It was a brisk 27 degrees at race time and nobody was anxious to be milling around at the start line any longer than necessary. So the entire field was huddled up in the school cafeteria, waiting until the last possible minute to go outside.
Me and Leon laughing about something before the race. Probably my race plan.
This is our group, proudly representing our running club, D.U.R.T. (Dumbass Ultra Running Team). Lou D'Onofrio, Bob Bodkin, Me, Leon Lutz, Ron Kappus and Austin Sedicum. (Gary Long somehow missed out on the TEAM photo)
Oil Creek has a pretty cool race format. It's essentially three 50k loops, with a fourth small loop at the end. There are four main aid stations along the loop and some unmanned water stops between the main aid stations. Our crews can access the Petroleum Center aid station in the middle of the course and again at the main aid station located back at the school. This format makes for a very easy race to manage for planning and logistics.
Oh yeah...before I forget, there's also a daunting 17,785 feet of elevation GAIN.
A few minutes before 5:00 AM, the race director began shoving us out the door to the start line. I had debated my clothing choices for hours and decided to wear my usual warm weather running gear, and a light windbreaker which I would shed early in the race. It was brutally cold outside but thankfully, we didn't have to wait long to get moving.
Everybody in our group had their own strategy, so we all slowly parted ways as the race started and I lost track of everybody. And evidently Leon lost track of time. After returning from a very last minute bathroom break, he came outside and realized the race started without him!
Leon piecing things together. "They left me!"
The race starts out on pavement for more than a mile, then transitions to single track trail. This is ideal for allowing the group to spread out before the conga line bogs us all down in the woods. As we ran, I began to warm up to a comfortable level and started to settle into a nice, easy pace.
Once we got to the trail, I realized I was behind a slower group of runners but decided to ride it out for a while. There was no need to be greedy this early in the race. But there were less patient runners behind me that started to make moves to work passed us "slower" runners. Suddenly, a runner flew in from my right and cut me off. I was instantly annoyed, especially because this runner was laughing about it. I was mightily pissed until I noticed long tufts of beard flowing over his shoulders and realized it was Leon. He had recovered from his earlier potty brake snafu and managed to weave his way up to me.
Leon and I carried on for several miles, telling jokes and making fun of ourselves. It was a genuinely fantastic time. We reached the first aid station at the 7 mile mark, grabbed a couple things and took off again.
Our next stop came at mile 14. This is where we would have access to our crew for the first time. About halfway to that aid station, it got light enough to turn the headlamps off. My pace quickened as the sun came up and gave me a better view of the trail.
Coming into the Petroleum Center aid station
I was in great spirits and was having a blast. I met Jo and she filled my bottles while I grabbed some food from the aid station table. I was slightly behind my anticipated split time for this stop, so I tried to make it quick.
Leon using the heater to thaw the ice off his beard
Me and Leon leaving Petroleum Center. If memory serves me correctly, Leon was letting loose with a battle cry in this picture. "Too infinity and beyond!!!!" At least that's what I think he was saying.
Leon and I ran together, and began to pass several runners as we went along. Like I said earlier, we all had our own strategies for this race and I was inadvertently sucking Leon into my race plan. As much as I wanted to run with him, we decided to part ways at the Miller Farm aid station at mile 22. This was his first 100 miler and he needed to be cautious in his approach and I agree with that decision. But I knew I was going to miss my buddy out on the trail.
After parting ways with Leon, I was heading to the end of the first 50k loop. The sun was finally warming me up and I was still feeling really strong and was in a great mood.
Finishing the first loop
Leon right on my tail
Gary running strong after 31 miles
I finished this first loop behind schedule so I wasted no time getting in and out of the aid station. I fueled up, got a quick kiss from my bride, then headed back to the trail.
The second loop got off to a better start because I didn't have to contend with the darkness in the early miles. With the sun up, it was a much faster trail and I was making up some of my time. By the time I got back to the Petroleum Center aid station, I had made up my lost time and was still feeling great.
Coming to the 45 mile aid station
I was in and out fast, carrying a handful of PB&J sandwiches
I had mentally broken this race down into it's natural segments, with my focus on getting to the 100k mark back at the school. I'm generally pretty strong up to this point in a 100 mile race and knew I would be picking up my pacer to help me get to the finish. I really believed if I could get to my pacer while I still felt strong, then I would be able to finish well. That remained my focus.
Coming to the 100k mark, being tracked by my pacer on the way in
My race plan called for me finishing the first 100k in 13 hours. I beat that time by 10 minutes and was still feeling great.
The sun would be setting before I had access to my crew again, so I prepared for night running. I slid my arm warmers on, traded my visor for a hat and grabbed my hydration pack. I had a light jacket packed along with my headlamp and extra batteries. Jo and I have done this so many times, it was all second nature.
Me and Jo before I headed out for my last 50k loop
Jason Howland was my pacer for this race. Jason did some pacing at this race last year and is a very capable runner. While we had never run together before, I was confident that it would be a good experience.
Me and Jason heading to the trail
It took Jason a few miles to settle into my slower pace. We immediately fell into conversation and the miles ticked by. I was walking all the hills at this stage of the race even though I still felt good. I just had no interest in ruining what had been a great race so far. My knees were getting sore and there was some fatigue in my legs, but things were holding together better than expected.
It slowly began to rain during this leg of the race. The rain gradually increased as we ran through the night, turning some sections of the trail into a muddy nightmare. Just a little salt in the wound...
Running in the night with an exhausted mind can be a tricky thing. Every sudden rush of sound in the trees can sometimes scare the crap out of you as it jolts your brain into reality. During our time together, Jason and I were almost attacked by a small group of deer, a bat tried to eat my face off, and Jason was charged by what he described as a "woodchuck". It was a perilous journey.
Jason did an amazing job helping me along my way. He was fun to talk to and very helpful at the aid stations. I can be a high maintenance runner, but he didn't seem to mind. He barely even bitched when I wanted to walk sections that were probably very runnable. All qualities I look for in a good pacer!
Jason and I finished the last 50k loop well ahead of my race plan. I was still in decent shape, but was very eager to get this race over with. We took in a bit of fuel and I left my hydration pack in favor of a handheld bottle, then we rolled out for the last 7+ mile loop.
Me and Jason at mile 93, getting ready to finish this thing
This last section begins and ends on trail that I had been running on all day, but there are about 4 miles in the middle that I had never seen. Initially, I was pleased at how nice the trail was. It was smooth and very runnable. Until the end. The final hill of the race was probably the steepest and most daunting hill I had been on all day. This monster was the last bit of misery that I had to deal with before the finish. We finally finished the climb and began the wet, muddy, rocky descent back to the finish.
After coming off the mountain, we had 1.2 miles of asphalt to the finish. We ran some of it and walked a lot of it. I was well ahead of my anticipated finish time, so I just wanted to walk for a while and relax a bit. I felt like I earned it.
As we got near the school, Jason says "Jo probably won't be at the finish line because we're getting in early". I scoffed at this because Jo has never missed me at the finish of any race. But as we rounded the last corner, I realized he was right. Not only was Jo NOT there...NOBODY was there! We crossed the finish line...and nothing. There wasn't a single person at the finish. Nobody...
Jo had been on her way to the finish when she saw us round the corner and head in, but she couldn't get there ahead of us. She asked us to run back through so she could get a picture, but I all I wanted was a beer and a chair.
Me and Jason at the finish
My final finish time was 22:34:39. My race plan had called for a 23 hour finish if all went well. And...it all went well.
The Oil Creek 100 is an amazing race with a great course and some of the best volunteers I have ever encountered. I was in awe of how well the race was managed and was impressed by everyone that was a part of it. I really believe this is my favorite 100 mile race and I definitely plan to run it again. I simply can't say enough about how excellent this event is and I hope some of you have a chance to find out for yourselves.
I can't thank Jason and Jo enough for all their help and support. They were both amazing and I could never have done any of it without them. Good pacers are really hard to find and having Jason with me made all the difference.
I was too tired to hang around the finish line, but later I learned that ALL of our friends made it to the finish. This race has a pretty high DNF rate, but every single runner in our group was able to complete it. This is exceptionally noteworthy because several of them had completed the R2R2R (Rim to Rim to Rim) run at the Grand Canyon the previous weekend. Hence the birth of the Dumbass Ultra Running Team!
Congratulations to all that finished this amazing race! I hope to see you all again next year!