Monday, October 12, 2009

Oil Creek 100 Race Report

Ever since before the spring of this year, I've been watching Tom Jennings, race director of the Oil Creek 100 Mile Trail Runs, organize, plan, and ask for feedback about his inaugural event. While my schedule was already full with 2 100-milers of my own, the organization and dedication he was putting forth made me want to participate in his event. Well, after my 2nd 100-mile finish at Burning River on August 2nd and a few days passed, I started thinking about going for 3 in 2009. The first order of business was to ask Marjie for "permission." Prior to Burning River, I already knew the answer: "No way!" Well, I guess that after volunteering for Burning River and being there with me at the finish line, she had a change of heart. One priority I have in these events is to always have 100% family support before I do anything. So this time, the answer was "Go ahead! Go for it!" Enough said.

The weekend started with a 110 mile pleasant drive to the small town of Titusville in northwest PA. Upon my arrival, I met up with a handful of other Ohio trail runners and a few who come into our area to run our trail races. We had a light dinner at the Blue Canoe Brewery in Titusville. If you ever find yourself passing through this town or anywhere close, stop on in. It was really good food. Afterwards, it was off to Titusville Middle School which would serve as race headquarters for the weekend, the race start/finish, and my home for the evening. After picking up my packet, I claimed my own personal rectangle of floor space on the gymnasium floor where I'd camp out for the night. I found a spot by an electrical outlet so I could plug in my phone and mobile espresso pot. Nothing like fresh brewed espresso on race morning. The pre-race meeting was really great, too. It was standing room only in the cafeteria which was really cool to see for an inaugural event. All 3 races (50K, 50 mile, and 100 mile) sold out weeks earlier. Thanks to the great sponsorship, great swag was given out to everyone like hydration packs, bottles, sweatshirts, trail running spikes for the winter, etc. After many thanks to the local support for the events and a pasta dinner, the crowd dispersed to make their final race preps and relax. I took my spot on the gym floor.

Saturday, I arose at 3:30am, brewed my espresso, took a shower, had a PB&J sandwich, listened to some Casting Crowns in my car, then made one last phone call to Marjie. I made my way back into the school cafeteria where Tom Jennings was giving last-minute instructions and at about 4:57am, we all migrated out the back door to the starting line. At precisely 5am, we were off. After a short stretch of road, we entered onto the asphalt bike path which is the connector between TMS (Titusville Middle School) and the Oil Creek State Park. This time, it'll be a 3.55mi stretch. Future trips will be 1.2mi each way. He made it longer the first time to allow the field of runners to thin out before we hit the trail in the pitch black of early morning. Once we entered the trail, we were immediately in Boughton Acid Works. Here back in the mid-1800s, they used acid to refine the oil and after the acid soaking into the soil, it was forever scorched. So today, the earth in this spot remains dark and free from life. There was a strong smell as well...smelled like a house had just burnt down. That's amazing 150 years later.

To help make my report make more sense regarding this course, it's easiest to think of it as one big oval (not really an oval but it'll make sense). Imagine the top of the oval being TMS (race headquarters/start/finish and Aid Station (AS) #4). Going counter-clockwise, AS #1 will be at the 9 o'clock position, AS #2 (Petroleum Center) will be at the 6 o'clock position and also a drop bag location, and AS #3 will be at the 3 o'clock position. 100 milers make 3 complete loops of this course plus one last "Heading Home" loop at the end to make up the entire 100 miles (100.3 to be exact). Most were between 6.75mi and 7.3mi apart with the exception of between AS #2 and AS #3 which was 9.75mi. The early goings in this race were pretty uneventful. I just kept trucking along at a healthy pace and meeting people along the way. We were in the dark until just after 7am when we could finally see the gorgeous landscape around us. I was fortunate enough that just after AS #1, I met up with Jenny Chow again. Jenny was running her 8th 100-miler of 2009 and her 10th 100-miler on the 10th day of the 10th month of the year! Cool, eh?! It was also her birthday on Saturday! If you read my Kettle Moraine 100 and Burning River 100 race reports, you should recognize her name. I met her at the Kettle where she won (and got one big motha of a kettle!) and was 2nd at Burning River. She's a machine....steady, strong, not fast, not slow...just so dang persistent. She always exhibits a smile, too. Anytime I can run with her is a pleasure.

At AS #2, ran by the local VFW chapter, I got rid of my headlamp and picked up my waist pack pre-loaded with Hammer's Perpetuem which I would drink for the remainder of the race. AS #2 falls about halfway through the 31 mile loop. Refueled, I headed back onto the trail en route 9.75 miles to AS #3. This is a long stretch and not so common in ultra-marathons. In my personal experience, I'm used to 5-6 miles between aid stations. I knew that loops #2 and #3 later in the run were going to be tough here. This time, though, it was great. Just as I left the aid station, Shaun Pope passed me (local trail runner). He was leading the 50 mile race which started one hour after we did. Although he wouldn't admit it, I knew he was gunning for the win. He is an extremely talented young guy and has great talent in trail running. He was barely 2nd place at the YUT-C 50K three weeks ago. There was a guy much older that chased him all day long but never caught him. Shaun won the 50 miler in under 8 hours!!! Simply amazing! A few miles later I ran into Bob "Gombu" Combs. Gombu is a veteran 100-mile runner and has his claim to fame at this past July's Hardrock 100, a race with a mere 48hr cutoff. He was struck by lightning after mile 90 but still got up and ran to the finish. He's also the YUT-C 50K race director. We ran together for awhile but around Mile 20, a little thing came back to visit me. Flashing back to Labor Day last month, I ran the Labor of Love 5-Miler in Akron. I ran it hard trying to break 35min. Ever since that day, I've felt a little "something" around my upper inner left thigh...the abductor muscle. I've used the foam roller on it a bit and in fact, I didn't even feel it at the Akron Marathon two weeks ago...and it didn't cause me any troubles at the YUT-C 50K a week before Akron. One thing I truly believe is that if you have any "issues," they will most likely rear their ugly head during a 100-miler. So here I am, at mile 20 in a 100 mile race and pain strikes. I don't use the term "pain" often...but this was pain. I wanted ibuprofen bad. I told Gombu I was having some issues and off he went as I slowed my pace. My stash of ibuprofen was in my drop bag at TMS, at Mile 31. Luckily, AS #3 had some so I grabbed 400mg, some food and got moving. I'm not a huge fan of ibuprofen. I prefer to take nothing if at all possible. To me, it's really a last resort. If I had a headache or some soreness, I wouldn't touch medicine. But this hurt and if I were to continue, I had to address it. Lots of chatter in ultra-running circles has talked a lot about taking ibuprofen during these endurance events and their possible harmful effects on the kidneys. I have not personally had any trouble but I was alert to it and the possibilities. I always limit myself to 400mg every 4 hours at the earliest. This first 400mg definitely took the edge off and I kept on truckin'. However, I felt that the rest of the event would be filled with regular deposits of ibuprofen into my body. :-(

Coming into AS #4 at TMS, I was feeling pretty good but quite sore. I quickly made up another multi-hour bottle of Perpetuem, grabbed my ibuprofen, ate some food and got moving. I'll admit that I glanced over at my car in the nearby parking lot...looking all lonely...wanting some company. Dang, the temptation! Heading 1.2mi to the trail again, it was daylight this time around so I was trying to look at everything I passed since the later Loop #3 would once again be in the dark. I was now mostly running alone which I preferred. I don't run with anything plugged in my ears, either. I just enjoy the woods, trails, trees, mud, and the sounds out there. Plus, at this point, time was just rolling by. Hour by hour by hour...just slipping away. This is also the area where I started my "trail pole-dancing routine." Give me a minute to explain, will ya?!: With a greatly shortened stride and my body doing what it can to hold my left abductor together, my quads were really getting tight. With ever-tightening quads, it made my stride tighter and tighter and harder to run...or walk. Well, the way I found to stretch them was to find a trail-side skinny (but strong) tree, grip it like you'd grip a pole, and ever-so-slowly lower down to the ground. Before doing it, I couldn't bend my legs greater than 90 degrees. Doing this restored some flexibility for awhile until they reverted back and I had to "trail pole dance" again. It hurt a lot going down but once down, it felt good. The first time I did it, a group of runners passed me...I can only imagine what they were thinking! Don't knock it until you try it! It worked and felt great! Many more pole dances to come later in the event, for sure!

As I came into AS #2 and Mile 45, I grabbed my first can of Starbucks Doubleshot, 1 of 3 I'd have for the rest of the event. That along with some ramen noodles and I was set and got moving once again. Once again, I embark on the 9.75 trek to AS #3. The trail is much quieter now with the 50 miler and 50K runners gone. Lots of time could pass before seeing someone else. Over on this side of the course was a section I most adored on the course. The section was appropriately named "Hemlock Run." Most of the OC100 course is narrow, single track, rooty, rocky trail. In a few sections on this side of the course were these hundreds and hundreds of Hemlocks. Imagine this: a wider trail free from hills (a rarity in this event), no rock, no roots, just a bed of pine needles to run on. To the right, a 45 degree upward slope and to the left, a 45 degree downward slope. Now place on both slopes hundreds of sky-reaching Hemlocks. Absolutely breathtaking. I remember saying verbally: "God, nice job on this one. You hit a home run." (note: I mean that literally, not taking His name in vain) There were a few times where I stopped and rotated 360 degrees just to see it was magical. It's running in places like this for hours on end that make it all worth it, by the way. While in Hemlock Run, a guy passed me wearing a black Akron Marathon finisher's hat from this year. I introduced myself and sure enough, he ran Akron two weeks ago. His name is Ernie and is from Toledo. It turns out that this 100-miler was his FIRST ultra-marathon. No 50Ks, no 50 milers...just straight to the grand-daddy itself, the 100-miler. The great news is that Ernie went on to finish...about 30min ahead of me. GREAT JOB, Ernie! After leaving the Hemlocks, I entered a really muddy section where trail shoe footprints were everywhere. That made an actual FOOTprint so easy to see. I looked down and without a doubt, a bare foot made the print, or was it a bear foot that made the print? There's been several sightings out here and we were advised to get a "bear bell" to wear, especially at night to alert the bears to our presence. I looked at it probably 3 or 4 times to make sure I wasn't hallucinating...which tends to happen to many of us who run 100-milers. It didn't have any claw marks, though but was probably about 6" long...perhaps a young cub? I got running again and was excited that I, number 75, was going to deliver the news to AS #3 in a bit. I also decided to grab my bear bell that was in my drop bag at AS #4. As I kept running, another person on the trail caught my attention...looked like a back-packer. He or she had a pack on, hiking poles, and....SHE was barefoot! Little feet, too! ARGH! That's my bear! Turns out she was hiking the 50 miler. She's from Florida and had never gone further than 15 miles. I can't imagine going barefoot with all the rocks out there. We shared a few words and I kept on going...a bit deflated, I must admit. But, I figured it would still be a good story for my race report. :-)

Dangerous. That's what it's called when you put a campfire at an aid station in front of a 100-mile runner, when it's cold out, over 54 miles have been covered, and an empty chair awaits. I did take a seat for about 3min, had a bowl of soup, something else I can't remember, then hit the trail. By this time, darkness set in and out here, it gets REALLY dark. Pitch black. There are very, very few clearings above us due to the tree coverage. Knowing a clear night was forecast, I froze in my tracks when I went through a grassy clearing. I turned off my lamp, let my eyes adjust, then stared upward at the sky. It looked like fairy dust had been spread across the sky. Stars everywhere and the main ones brighter than ever. Talk about having a "moment"...I didn't want to move a muscle...well, maybe lay down right there on the trail and let the stars put me to sleep atop the grassy trail...that I could do. But, the clock is ticking after all so I got moving. (this is yet another reason I run these "things") Another 7.3mi and I was back at TMS, the 100K point, or just over 62 miles. As soon as I arrived, "someone" grabbed a chair, put it under the light, my drop bag immediately appeared and I hear "Nick, it's me! Kim!" Kimba!!! I didn't even look up at who was taking care of me so I was pleasantly surprised when it was Kimba. She dropped from the 100 mile event at 22 miles because her flu symptoms came back. So, she was back to help out at the aid station...thanks, Kimba! "Moose," a NEO Trail member was my other helper. He took care of mixing up my Perpetuem, filling my Heed, and getting me some food. I downed it all along with another Starbucks Doubleshot, put on my Smartwool gloves and winter hat, ditched my Petzl lamp for my high-power Princeton Tec lamp, took my tech tee off and replaced with with my red Sugoi hoodie tech top which is perfect for cold running. The temps were projected to be down at 40F and clear. Being highly dehydrated, getting chilled with no recourse can be really dangerous in these events and hypothermia could set in. I had to keep my core body temp warm. Simple forward movement (and it's not so simple on this night!) can generate enough heat to make the technical fabric work. OK, I said my goodbyes and I was outta there...bound for AS #1.

I get back on the trail after my 1.2mi trek once again on the bike path, am enjoying the darkness and quiet, the WHOA!!! "What IS that?" OK, since hallucinating is perfectly acceptable at this point, I looked at least 3 times. A porcupine! He or she was right on the edge of a very narrow section of single-track trail. As soon as it heard me, those quills stood straight up! I know they don't shoot but still, I'm a big wimp. I turned on my spotlight and tried "talking" it off the trail and moving towards it. Honestly, it was pretty cool and had colors of white, black, and brown throughout. Eventually after about 30sec of coaxing, it scooted off the trail and I got moving. "Yes, it was real," I told myself. Mind in proper working condition = check! Shortly after my porcupine encounter, I went through a very slippery, shoe-sucking section. I hadn't fallen all day but out went my feet and fell hard right there in the nice warm, cozy black Smartwool gloves and handheld liquid carrier drenched in muck. ARGH!!! Kinda hard to swap out gloves right now! "Improvise!" I thought. I found a tree and rubbed the heck out of it to clean them off. As for the sipping part of my handheld bottle, spitting at it and shaking it will NOT clean it off, by the way. Luckily, there were jugs of water left out for us about a mile later and I cleaned it off. Around mile 69, I came into AS #1 again, Wolfkill Run. A cool thing this time around was lit pumpkins and signs preceding the AS welcoming us in and the pavilion was decorated with that fake web stuff and Halloween decor. I had a hot-off-the-grill grilled cheese sandwich, a cup of cold Coke, a couple of salt tabs, and just a few moments leaning up against the wall. I wanted a chair, knew that was a bad idea, so I compromised with the "lean." (A guy at the finish who was working there actually brought that up later on Sunday) I finished my sandwich by the fire and got moving. A nasty ascent followed immediately and was starting to get "loopy." I couldn't keep my footing. I kept slipping off the trail and wobbling around. I even thought I may have turned around on the trail and was heading back to the aid station. Ugh...gotta get a hold of myself! I decided I hadn't made a "U" turn and kept on going.

Shortly before AS #2 and mile 75-ish, I came upon the replica oil derricks again but this time they were fully illuminated. A man was standing watch over the generator that powered the halogen lights. The idea was that these derricks could be seen from the overlook on the other side of the park but the fog was super thick. Luckily, we got to run right through them. Arriving at AS #2, I had a piece of pizza, changed out my gloves, downed another Doubleshot, and was on my way to AS #3, a L O N G 9.75mi stretch in the dead of night. There was one solitary thing I was looking forward to at this point...that bench. That bench at the overlook that I'll get to around Mile 77. Since I first saw it, I told myself: "Before this race ends, I will lay down on that bench." Honestly, I couldn't wait to get there. There might of even been a bit of a zip in my stride. I finally arrived at the overlook and sure enough, no derricks could be seen due to the fog. I took off my waist-pack, turned off my lamp, and laid down. The stars were brilliant, the bench cold, and I was....happy. I heard total silence except for my own breathing. I started counting down from 100 and by 92, I was asleep. I think I did that twice and laid there maybe for 2 or 3 minutes tops. I knew I had to stand up or I might actually fall into deep sleep. I got moving...but thrilled with my brief stop. From here all the way to AS #3, all I could do in my mind was calculations in my head about my pace and if I could possibly get cut from the course. When I was at AS #2, I overheard them say that at AS #3, runners had to be out of there by 8am or they'd be pulled from the course due to the 32hr time limit. Not having mile markers on the course made it tough to figure what my status was but the thought of being pulled tugged at me hard. My left leg was becoming immune to the ibuprofen so it pretty much hurt bad all of the time. The race was purely mental now since obviously, my body had shot up countless flares into the sky telling me to "STOP!" I arrived at AS #3 and saw a familiar face, Michael Kazar, a very accomplished ultra-runner himself. He wanted to chat but all I kept saying was "I gotta get going...gotta get going." I left at 6:55am and figured if I could cover the next 7.3mi faster than normal, I would have some cushion for the "Final Trip Home" 7.75mi loop at the end. I thought that 9:25am was the drop-dead time to get back to TMS, AS #4. Later than that, I may have to drop out. I pushed it as hard as I could physically go. Power-walking everything, full-stride, running when I could. The pain increased but I blocked it out. It didn't matter. I kept listening for the oil pumps...a sure sign I was close to the bike path and Titusville. I got to the bike path around 8:45am...YES! I'll be back at TMS by 9am...plenty of cushion and essentially, guaranteeing a FINISH. I kept up the pace on the bike path, soaking up the 2nd morning sun since I started this event, and headed to mile 92 at TMS.

I didn't know how emotionally fragile I was until about 1/2 mile from TMS. I look up and in the distance I see someone, blond, in a blue windbreaker. It kind of looked like Marjie who as far as I knew, was home or at church with the girls waiting for my call after the finish. As I got closer, it WAS her. I shouted "You're going to make me cry!" I ran up to her and nearly toppled her with a huge hug and yes, crying. She was totally unexpected and to see her at this point after going through this event all alone just made me crumble. Happiness would be an understatement. Once the tears were wiped away, we got moving and she filled me in on the happenings of life over the last two days and how the webcast was down since around mile 50. Turns out that due to technical issues, they shut it down instead of putting out bad numbers. (this is very typical in 100 mile races, by the way...but I'm confident they'll fix it for next year) We ran and walked to TMS where the aid station was nearly shut down. Not too much to pick from but I didn't want much. I shed the headlamp, gloves, and hat, saw the "buckled" Maria and Amy who finished their first 50 miler the night before, and even took a phone call from my daughter who just happened to call while I was standing there. 7.75 to go! Alright, the last 7.75 are pretty much uneventful and was more of a celebration in my head before the actual celebration. It was partially on trail already run but included a trip back through the Boughton Acid Works and across the old suspension bridge that the workers used back in the 1800s to go to and from the Acid Works...thus the name of this final "Headed Home" loop. Cool way to end the race. After the bridge, the course goes up and up and up a series of switchbacks...this course never gives up! It eventually tapped back into the main trail I was on a few hours earlier..right before the bike path to TMS. The final stretch of asphalt was not easy. I was finding it difficult to simply walk and found it easier to walk backwards. I did a few more "trail pole dances" and kept on moving. I am sure that the stretch from AS #3 to TMS where I pushed it took it's toll on I was paying the price. Still, I was at mile 99 so let's go! As I approached TMS and the finish line, I broke into a nice stride, and had one momentary chill up my back and perhaps one tear that was quickly wiped away. I turned the last corner and it was over: 30hrs, 49min, 8sec. 1hr, 11min to spare! A volunteer handed me my buckle and a surprise, an oval OC100 sticker for my back window of my car. Turns out 48 finished the 100 miles and 84 started, I think. I was 40th so as usual, I am mid-pack in terms of those who started the event.

I just want to say how thankful I am to Marjie for her support of me this past year. Many non-running spouses do not support their running spouses in these endeavors but for me, I've been blessed with someone who has really supported me. The training for the Kettle Moraine started around Easter this year and since then, well...three 100s...complete. Thank you, Babe!

I also want to say that this event in particular was hands down, the hardest, most grueling test of my life. With a leg that was uncooperative, I had to mentally dig down deep to find the will to continue. I once again played Casting Crowns' "Praise You in the Storm" in my head all night and morning long. Keeping my attitude and outlook positive was key. I would NOT quit. I WOULD finish. (It also helped that knowing whatever the outcome was, I'd have to blog about it...and a DNF (did not finish) entry for the OC100 is not something I wanted to write!)

Thanks to the many of you for your support this year and for your countless messages through all 3 events. I appreciate it all more than you know! Thank you also to Race Director, Tom Jennings for orchestrating an event that was so extremely well done. We all expect hiccups the first year of an event but I saw very, very few. This event has a very bright future and given my close proximity, it'll be hard to not get involved. You did phenomenal, Tom!


Lloyd said...

Terrific report. Congrats on #3. You are more than ready for MMT.

Anonymous said...

Great race report Nick. Nice job; I knew short of a bear removing both of your legs, you'd finish it!

-Bobby Curtis

Paige said...

Go, Nick!! Wow, you are unstoppable this year, congratulations on another one! I almost lost it when I got to the part where Marjie showed up, lol :) Sounds like a great run...guess it'll be another 100 to add to my list of possible hundreds for next year!

Abby said...

I did my first ultra (50 miler) at this race. I am glad I stuck around to see you and a few others finish. Congrats and great blog!

Anonymous said...

well done...
an ultrarunner gone endurance riding!!


Laurie said...

What an awesome report! Trail pole dancing, huh? Nice job! I would never be able to remember all that! Congratulations! And big ups to your family for supporting you!

RetroMama said...

Awesome race report! I did the 50-mile distance (my first!) and was really impressed with how well put-together this race was too! Great job!

Anonymous said...

Nick, I am so very happy for you. While I know it was a literal pain for you to make it through this one, I am sure that struggle will serve you that much more in the future. Knowing that you make it through the worst of things.

I loved reading about your supportive wife and the gratitude you have for her. It is unique. And as someone who has a spouse who gets it, I appreciate it too.

Here we come Bobcat. Grrr.


Nick Billock said...

LT: thanks, Lloyd...and I was thinking about you and Andrea and your run through the woods on that Saturday post-wedding...congrats, again!

Bobby: thanks, as always!

Paige: Some day...we'll hit the trails together, I'm sure. That Glacial Trail 50K sounded fun...especially being up at the Kettle area that will always be close to my heart!

Abby: THANK YOU and great job to you, too!

Thanks, GP!

Laurie: Trail Pole-Dancing rocks! Try it sometime...just be sure to look both ways on the trail first. :-)

RetroMama: GREAT JOB and Congratulations to you for your first 50 Miler!! Yes, it was an awesome race and so well done and executed.

Beth: thanks, as always, Beth! I hope we're hittin' up the trails again, soon! Your objective #3 is less than 3 weeks away and it'll be lots of fun!