Monday Morning Musings for October Eighteenth, Twenty Ten. A smattering of thoughts that alone don't constitute a blog post but together end up here on Monday morning.
Well, not exactly. Today will not be a smattering of thoughts. In fact, they are focused, on point, and have one general theme. Together, they do constitute a blog post and really trump everything else from the past week. Oil Creek deserves no less!!!
I left on Friday afternoon for the Oil Creek State Park...about 2.5 hours east of my home in Ohio. It's an easy, comfortable drive consisting of about 75% interstate and the rest, country driving through the fall foliage. I've said it before, the Oil Creek Trail Runs hold their place at the top of every event I've ever been a part of. 25 marathons, 3-hundred milers, and several ultras...Oil Creek is #1. It's not just the course, the race itself, the people, or the perfect organization...it's a combination of them all.
While I await race reports from many of my friends who tackled the distance (some not covering it all and some capturing their finisher's buckle), I will just give you a snapshot of what I observed and how it impacted me. I didn't run it this year but instead crewed Shaun (which means leap-frogging the course and being there at different aid stations, waiting for him to give him whatever he needs as he covers 100 miles), parked cars on Friday night, and helped out at the aid stations.
From the initial drive in to Titusville, the small town of where the oil industry was born, it felt like I was home again. I arrived at Titusville Middle School a bit early and school was still in session. As I sat outside, I imagined how different this place, soon to be dubbed "Race Headquarters" would change over the next 48 hours. As school let out, other volunteers started showing up and before it got too busy, I headed over to the Perk Place Cafe to meet up with some of my NEO Trail friends to share some late lunch and pre-race chatter then headed back to TMS to park cars. As night started to fall, the skies cleared and temperatures dropped and I headed on in to the pre-race briefing where Tom Jennings had just finished giving away door prizes. Not just any door prizes, either. Nathan and Montrail were two big sponsors and he gave away items surpassing the $50 mark...several of them. In fact, he had a free-for-all at the end of many miscellaneous items because he had so much stuff. After a great briefing and recognition of the 2009 winners who were back again, the school quickly emptied except for those sleeping in the gym...like me. I learned my lesson from 2009 and brought a new inflatable mattress. It was the bomb! Before I knew it, it was 9pm and the gym went dark and quiet. The 100-miler would start at 5am, the 100K at 6am, and the 50K at 7am. Luckily, I inflated my mattress earlier with my loud pump so I was good-to-go. I chit-chatted with friends a little more then hit the sack.
As I normally do, I woke up without an alarm at 3:30am and people were already wandering around in their socks...wandering aimlessly and often in a fog. I'm sure thoughts like "What in the world have I gotten myself into?" were among the thoughts or "Where's the coffee?" were others. In fine Oil Creek style, volunteers were already standing by in the cafeteria to check in runners and the coffee was brewed. Soon, the parking lot was filling back up and some who pitched their tent out in the front lawn were coming out of their shell to greet the stars, moon, and 40F morning. I (of course) had my portable espresso pot and brewed a double batch on the gymnasium floor...and filled the room with the aroma of fresh, Italian espresso. I just knew someone would want half of it...and someone did. Mark Anson, who was running the 100K and already up, took me up on a fine portion of espresso and loved it. That did the trick and I have a feeling that I'll be brewing it for him again in the future.
I don't know where to insert in this post today about the intangible part of the weekend. I haven't mentioned it yet, so I suppose this is as good a spot as any. It's the people. It's the relationships. I cannot adequately explain to you without you experiencing it firsthand how good it "felt" to be back at Oil Creek. I have made countless new friends out of this event in 2009 and seeing them again (off of Facebook!!!) was simply priceless. There is an extra special touch of humanness at ultra-marathons and especially at 100-milers that is 2nd to none. Time after time after time again, I was getting pulled aside by those people who I'd been wanting to see again and they spotted me first. I talked and smiled more than I have in a very, very long time all weekend long which made it very sad to finally leave on Sunday. It was getting quite humorous as I hung out at Aid Station #2 at Petroleum Center which was at miles 14, 45, and 72. No less than 5 people knew me via this blog whom I never met before. "Aren't you Nick?" they'd ask. "Yea." I'd respond. "I know who you are," they'd say back. Now if I had never been to Oil Creek and didn't have a blog, this would freak me out!!! But, I was flattered and it was great to meet more people yet again. I had the opportunity, as well, to hang out with Kathleen much of the weekend who I was supposed to pace at Burning River this year (remember that?) and catch up with her. She was there to pace Mark (who I brewed espresso for).
A few highlights and then I'm off to tackle Monday:
- Shaun Pope: Shaun was in first place through the 50K mark and was looking as good as ever. However, he was starting to have intestinal issues and when he arrived at mile 45, it was bad enough that his day had to end. Myself and his girlfriend did all we could for him and prodded him to get back on the trail, but he knew it was time. Several hours later when I arrived back at Race HQ at the middle school, Tom (race director) informed me that Shaun requested to re-start where he dropped out and finished what he started. FYI: this is unheard of! Especially from someone as talented as Shaun who wins many races. Clearly, he was determined to finish what he started, not caring about the clock. At this point, I wasn't crewing him as I had no idea where he was, when he re-started, or where his gear was. It appears (via the online results) that his day still ended short of the finish line (about 31.2 miles further than he'd previously gone) but still, his example to us all cannot and should not be ignored. "Shaun, you have a huge fan base out here and you proved yet again why we all hold you in such high esteem. You define what it is to be a great ultra-runner and person. My hat is off to you. Recover well, get well, and I'll see you again on the trails."
- I am sorry I didn't see many more of my friends on the course. When I did see you, I hope I gave you what you needed and a swift kick in the tail-end down the trail. I loved seeing the determination in so many of your eyes and the pure determination to get the job done. There was no other place I would have rather been than at those aid stations.
- To all you first-timers (100-mile, 100K, and 50K), JOB WELL DONE!!! To get your "first" at Oil Creek is no small feat. Oil Creek is no joke...it is tough, gnarly, and unforgiving. It will humble the cockiest of runners and gain the respect of all. And while still being tough, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I am so proud of so many of you and wish I could have split myself in multiple pieces and crewed each one of you the whole way. You, simply by your determination, inspire me to be better, do better, and press on. Recover well and wear that buckle proudly!
- To all you veterans of the distance, it was good to see you again and especially those who were new to Oil Creek State Park. I didn't talk to a single one of you who hadn't fallen in love with it. Great job at conquering the distance and giving it all. Pebble...you had 20 minutes left. You were on that trail for 31hrs, 40min and still finished. True grit...period. NICE JOB! Slim...you were an inspiration each time I saw you...smiling, cruising through aid stations, moving quick...always a pleasure to see you. Gombu, I nearly gave you a kick in the rear out of the aid station a few times that you do so well to others at other races. I am very happy to see you got your "Sweet 16"....your 16th 100-mile finish. You continue to amaze me. Bill Losey...nice job at yet another finish! You, too, were consistently positive and charging forward. There are others I am not mentioning that I just didn't see but I know you were there! Well done!!!
Oil Creek...forever close to my heart and a place I hope to challenge in the future again someday. Not in 2011 (will be on travel during that time) but perhaps in 2012. Thanks to all involved with Oil Creek. There are so, so many that make it all work seamlessly.
Have a great week, everyone, and Happy Trails!