I’m proud of my accomplishments over the Oil Creek weekend. 76/100 miles. 24 hours. The furthest I’ve ever ran. That’s not my only accomplishment from the weekend. – I learned more about myself.
“Running 100 miles is stupid” came out of my mouth over the two days. 78 out of 168 runners crossed the finish line. One of the Oil Creek slogans is, “Unforgiving. Historic. Gnarly.” Another is, “Strike oil or move on!” You can read all about the race on the website.
This is my story and race report:
The race briefing was given by Race Director (RD) Tom Jennings in the Titusville Middle School (TMS) cafeteria. Our friend Mark, who we met while training on the Gerard Hiking Trail, came over and gave us hugs, encouragement and reminded us of important advice. – we saw and spoke with other Oil Creek friends, too. Directly afterwards, we went outside and stood for the next four minutes waiting for go time. My friend Ken, from Canada, picked me out of the crowd and said hello and wished me luck. That was cool to meet him, as we’ve never met before, only follow each other online. [Congrats to Ken because I heard he ran a really great race!! 22 hours!]. There was just enough time for two pre-race selfies with Stephen, and before I knew it, the moment I worked so hard for this year, began. 5 AM.
Headlamps and watches started dinging and lighting up (the first ten miles or so were completed in the dark) as we began running down the street towards a bike path. Spectators and volunteers lined the way taking videos and pictures. [Fun fact: this path travels all the way to Erie, PA.]. About two miles in, we hit the Gerard Hiking Trail and immediately hiked uphill. Mist surrounded our headlamps. We could hear wildlife around us, but couldn’t see it. We ascended up the rocky and root covered single track path. Everyone stopped because a large tree was down and we had to figure out the best way to move past. Stephen and I, being shorter people, walked up to the tree and crawled under it as others were trying to go over and around through brush.
Stephen and I had our race strategy in place: We would run the pace we trained at when possible. Run everything runnable. Fast hike what we couldn’t run. No running anything the first two loops that you won’t run the third loop. – We broke the last rule.
This trail has ups and downs (17,785 feet of elevation change), rocks, roots, foot bridges, small water crossings, mud, and random slippery sections. Mentally, I broke the course down into a few sections to help set goals: Section 1, section 2, section 3, section 4, were all Gerard Hiking Trail (GHT). 3 and 4, in my opinion, are THE WORST because of rocks and large hills. I mean… “Cemetery Hill”! After the 20-something mile trail is a road section, about a one mile loop around Drake Well Museum. – I thought this part was a nice break from running over and around rocks. Next, about two miles out and back on the bike path and streets around the TMS. This repeats three times total for the race and lastly, there was a special “Going Home” loop (7.7 miles total), which you can read about its history on the race website.
Our first loop went very well, slightly better than our training runs. As we now had daylight, the weather was in the 70’s and the sky was partly sunny, but also at times overcast. Absolutely perfect race weather. The trail was beautiful and well-groomed. There were too many chipmunk and caterpillars to count throughout the day. The chipmunks always sound larger than they are, like bears, as they dart through the fallen leaves all over the forest floor. Our running pace was good, we finished that first loop in eight hours.
At aid station 1, a kind volunteer asked me what I needed. He also complemented me on my fringe shorts and said that everyone liked them. He noticed that I had part of the race’s slogan written in Sharpe Marker on my leg, “Strike Oil.” I wrote it as a reminder of what I was there to accomplish. I was wearing all black clothing, he commented with some excitement in his voice that I looked like oil, ready to burst! We were wished good luck by the volunteers as we went on our way and we thanked them for their help.
My feet were beginning to feel pained from running on the rocks towards the end of the first loop (about 28 miles into the race). Back at the middle school, I felt tempted to drop from the race, just like Tom had previously warned us runners that we would be very tempted to do. I was thinking that what I was doing was absolutely crazy.
We were slow gathering what we needed to get back out for the second loop from our drop bags and the aid station. – This is something I want to fix. Move with a purpose. Follow a plan as you near the drop bag and aid station. Have what you need, 100% ready for grab and go (before race day)! Luckily, Oil Creek friends, Tony and Mark were there to support! Tony kindly changed out our headlamp batteries. The volunteers at the aid station were equally supportive with getting us what we needed. They made sure that we felt okay. And no body let us think about dropping out. Spectators cheered as we ran back out.
Here’s the jist of what happened on loop 2, as we repeated the course. I saw a really pretty tan with brown diamond shapes snake on the side of the trail. I stopped running to gaze at him and talk to him. Stephen and the runner hanging out with us at the time also checked it out. Stephen told me that the snake said he didn’t want bothered.
Mine and Stephen’s bodies were starting to grow a little tired and our pace slowed after entering section 2 or 3. I began having to use almost every porta potty or bathroom we came across because I was constipated, gassy, and eventually dealing with diarrhea. – I was eating and drinking well at the aid stations. I think I could have been better hydrated, though. Our runner friend who was currently tagging along went on ahead, we enjoyed his company. Going uphill was becoming more challenging, so I decided to look for a sturdy hiking stick. I didn’t have trekking poles. I found one and it was very helpful. I switched arms when one side began to feel a little sluggish. I eventually found a second stick to help myself propel my butt up the steep and long hills.At one point, somehow both feet seemed to trip over a rock at the same time and I fell to the ground, landing on more rocks, of course. I caught myself hard on my knuckles, as I was carrying food in one hand and my hiking stick in the other. I easily jumped back up and kept running. – Thank God for all of those burpees I do at the gym, they really came in handy with breaking my fall and getting back up! — don’t EVER complain about burpees! I only sacrificed three pieces of skin and blood to Mother Nature.
Runners ran with us and chit-chatted for a few miles and then we would go our separate ways. We made small talk and of course talked about running. Words of praise and encouragement were exchanged as we passed or were passed. Trail etiquette rules were followed. The ultra trail community is the greatest. And we’re all out there, putting in work, for whatever the various reasons may be for each individual, we support and respect one another. – No matter your level of performance.Section 3-ish again, it was dark. We hiked as fast as we could and slowly ran, it was challenging to see, even with headlamps. So. Many. Rocks. The number of critters heard at night was unreal, or at least something I’m not used to. Bugs communicating, leaves rustling about, branches and twigs cracking, acorns falling from trees, and of course, squeaking porcupines! A couple of porcupines every mile! I mainly kept my head pointing straight, only lighting up the trail, fear of what I’d see just off to my left or right. I eventually got brave enough to hunt for porcupine. I saw one on my left! Others were hard to spot, they blended in with the trees and shadows. A lady from behind heard me point one out, but she thought I saw a bear. Later she saw me again and asked what it was I saw because she was trying to spot it for herself.
I felt myself getting bone tired. I was practically sleeping while moving. Getting slightly dizzy. Stephen was reaching bad shape, himself. He shared his trekking poles with me for quite some time because I really slowed, especially going up those big hills in section 4. I did end up giving Stephen his poles back, as he appeared unsteady and wobbly on his feet. After more night trail running and hiking craziness, we arrived back at the TMS.
I changed my fueling plan, as I tried to refocus, because every time I had to refill a water bottle, I had to dig out more Tailwind from my pack to put in it. I decided to put the Tailwind in my bladder of water. This was helpful and I was taking in more calories. This plan also saved me from going number two a lot in the toilets because I was taking in more Tailwind (easy on my stomach) than solid food. I wanted to drop from the race. Stephen also secretly wanted to drop. Mark and Tony were still there. Mark was getting ready to pace a friend. Mark told me that I wasn’t allowed to drop and that I trained harder for this race than anyone he knew. Mark disappeared for just a few minutes and came back with a soft flask filled with a purple secret concoction. He asked me if I wanted to be “really awake” and I said “yes.” He told me, then “drink this, but you can’t ask what is in it.” I agreed and started to drink it. He told me to drink at least half of it. After being taken care of by everyone, I was handed a banana and we were sent on our way.[Picture from a training run, August 2017] Loop 3, the loop that things really came crashing down: The bike path and section 1 were okay, and I was wide awake. We should have ran more than we did, which I regret and would do differently the next time. – It wasn’t really sticking to our original race strategy. Stephen had one trekking pole and kindly gave me the other. The air was cold and damp, I ended up taking on and off a fleece pull-over a few times. Too hot, too cold. – The next time, I’ll be prepared with a more appropriate outer layer.
Next were cows, YES, COWS. Eerily mooing in the woods. It was scary. We thought they were bears, we thought they were frogs. – We found out when we reached aid station 1 again. Other runners were also frightened by them. The cows had escaped from a neighboring farm. People were afraid we would be trampled! The volunteer who approached me the first time at the aid station came back over to talk and see how I was doing. I told him about being tempted to drop back at the middle school. He replied to me saying, “We don’t allow drops here, either. Unless you REALLY need to.” He pointed at my “strike oil” again and said, “remember.” We thanked everyone and were wished well as we left.
During a section of running, I rolled my left ankle on a rock. I heard and felt it. It wasn’t the worst roll I’ve ever had. I kept going on it. It didn’t hurt too bad. I did curse that it did happen because it could mean trouble, and I did make it all they way to loop 3 without rolling an ankle. BOTH of my headlamps were failing and we were no where near aid stations. – I didn’t want to keep stopping. The headlamps grew dimmer and dimmer. I’m not sure how this happened with both!! And having brand new batteries! Stephen and I experimented with how to run so that I could see. This began to MURDER my already slow pace. He would go in front, I would go in front. He eventually had enough frustration and gave me his headlamp (which was working fine), taking my dim ones, and had me lead. We were left in the woods with only a handful of other runners. We crawled through the dark. Stephen’s leg muscles seized up and he could barely move. I had no idea because I was in the front, but he said his muscles were cramping. It sounded bad. My entire body was hurting. Mostly my legs. I was stiff and tight. My feet endured so much abuse due to the rocks. I didn’t want to run, though it was what needed to happen, I still didn’t do it.
What occurred next is fresh in my mind, yet a blur at the same time. Stephen spoke with a flat tone, “go on ahead, I will meet you at Petroleum Center (PC).” PC is the name of the aid station at the beginning of section 3. PC was also where the cut-off time was at. The cut-off time was 5 AM, exactly 24 hours after the race began. Without even thinking about it, though as I went on, I questioned my decision to go off by myself. Off I went, up through the woods alone, in the scary dark, by myself. I hiked as fast as I could. I was a little scared as I imagined all the bears and unknown creatures around me. I felt like everything was watching me.
My new strategy was to save the last bits of energy I had for running on sections 3, 4 and the “Going Home” loop, which would mostly be in the daylight. I didn’t know what time it was, I left my phone at the middle school due to space issues in my pack. My GPS watch died, which I didn’t know because I never thought to check it… My situation was intense. I wanted to make it to PC before the sky started getting light. – My body’s clock was way off. I continued to worry. As I trekked along, I worried about Stephen. I mostly worried about bears. My hiking was so fast that it was almost a run. I heard critters all around, they sounded like dinosaurs. I worried about getting trampled by a deer. At one point I was a little startled by a black snake that I had startled. He slithered rapidly through the leaves on the edge of the trail.
The miles felt longer than usual. This is one of the shorter stretches of trail between aid stations, 6.8 miles. I decided to sing a random made up tune to alert animals. I sung about wondering if I was almost to PC. I couldn’t tell where I was. I came up on the of the highlight of the race, the lit up oil derricks. There were 5 of them. I slowed down to look around. The moment became magical! It was BEAUTIFUL! My mind turned back to Stephen. I physically stopped and turned around, trying to see of he was close behind. I kept going. I reached a road where I did the same thing. Then back into the woods on the trail, still singing my tune.
Once I hit the road that led to PC, I took off running. A lady driving by in a pickup truck cheered me on. I continued towards PC, through a section of grass and onto the timing mat. The beeps went off. I was asked by a volunteer if I was okay. I said yeah, I’m fine, as I was observing my surroundings. The aid station was being packed up. My heart sank. I chose to ignore it. The man then said that I missed the cut-off time (by 7-10 minutes, I think). I was in disbelief. I barely acknowledged it. I almost began to cry as I looked out left of the aid station for Stephen to be coming in. The man asked about him and I told him what was going on. He flashed his headlamp over that way a few times to see if he could see him. Nothing. He removed my timing chip and DNF tab from my bib. I paced around and held back tears.
Stephen came not too much longer in from another direction with the sweeper person. He sat down. I stood there and cried. Someone kind talked with me about what was on my mind and about not finishing. I explained. He told me to take care of myself. We waited for Mark to come get us. As we waited, I ate cashews and we tried to keep warm. When Mark arrived, he took care of us and chatted. When we arrived back at TMS, we picked up our drop bags and put them in the car. Runners were wobbling all around the school. Stephen fell asleep in the car with the heater blasting. I used the restroom again and joined him.
Final thoughts and randomness:
My race day outfit: I received multiple compliments on my outfit, mostly my short, tight, fringe shorts that I asked my parents for for my birthday.
Foods and beverages I enjoyed at the well- stocked aid stations: grapes, watermelon, bananas, other fruits, Pringles, pickles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Ramen Noodles with broth, Coke, Ginger Ale, etc… Absolutely best aid stations and volunteers ever!
I was crushed that I didn’t finish the race, but my emotions and attitude changed the next day. I shed tears a few times for a number of reasons, including personal. My biggest regret was how I raced the third loop of the course right before missing the cut-off time at PC. Next year I will make another attempt to conquer OC100. I learned a list of things from drop bag preparation, to needs and speediness at aid stations, to improving pacing strategy. I learned my (current) limits. – Physically and mentally, wanting to quit twice. I’m glad I didn’t quit, I’d rather run out of time. There’s no shame in timing out. I’m thankful for all who kept me going. These people are the BEST!! I’m motivated to train harder and try again. I’m also ready to buy new runner toys.
I have a few running mottos and I’d like to share one of them, “you’re done when you’re done.”
78/168 runners completed the 100-miler. Mad props to those who finished the beast. Congrats to everyone who began.
Unforgiving rocks made every step painful the longer the race went on. I knew the race would be challenging from the training runs I’ve done on the course, but I did not know what the effects of the loops stacking on top of one another would be. And it is always uncharted territory when you push your body past what you have previously accomplished. We only had three sections of the entire race course left to conquer, but they were also the toughest. Having four 50-mile races under my belt, during this race, my body started wearing and slowing around mile 60 or so. You never know how far you can go UNTIL YOU TRY!
♡ When you do something, like attempting to run 100 miles, expect it to change you physically and mentally. ♡
My results:DNF due to missing the cut-off time.76 miles. The furthest I’ve ever ran. 24 hours. The longest.