Oil Creek 100 mi Race Report (10/6-7/2018)

Location:
Titusville, PA
Oil Creek State Park.

Weather:
65° F – 76° F sunny and humid in the morning and early afternoon. Thunderstorms and downpours the rest of the race.

The Course:
100.60 miles total. 87.10 miles trail.
1.50 mile bike path connecting the Titusville Middle School and Gerard Hiking Trail trailhead.
Three, 26-ish mile loops on the Gerard Hiking Trail. Mostly single track and technical. A few miles of double track. A tiny bit of paved road. – broken down into four sections.
1 mile grass and pavement Drake Well loop.
1.50 mile bike path to Titusville Middle School.
7.70 mile “Going home” loop. 971 ft G/967 ft L. Single track trail.
6 large climbs per loop.
Total elevation gain: 17,785 ft.

Photo source: Oil Creek 100 race website

My Stats:
DNF due to missing the cutoff time at mile 85.
Missed by 6-8 minutes.
About 27 hours into the race.

Race Stats:
44% finisher rate.

My Gear:
MS Force headlamp and Black Diamond headlamp; back up batteries; buff; hat; Black Diamond trekking poles; Epson RunSense GPS watch; Altra KingMT shoes and gators; UD pack.

My cat, Melody

The Race:
The race start was 5 am. My husband Stephen and I stood in the crowd of 100 mi participants as RD, Tom Jennings, said some final things. I was figuring out when I might turn on my headlamp in order to conserve battery life. I was still sleepy and when Tom sent us off, it didn’t fully feel like it was race day. Stephen and I had a good pace on the local streets and bike path. Orange cones with reflective tape guided us the first mile. Runners and early rising animals, like porcupines, were chatty. Everyone’s pace settled as feet pitterpattered along. We crossed under the Titusville railroad bridge and were soon to the hill by the Jersey Bridge parking lot. Up the hill we ran and then walked. The race plan was to run everything runable, power hike everything else. Just move as fast as possible. The race time limit was 32 hours total. There are 3 cutoffs to make. We ran again until we approached the Gerard Hiking Trail (GHT).

Pre-race briefing
Who was 66? Photo from the race’s Facebook group page.

Section 1. Everyone hiked up the steps that lead part way up the first climb. My headlamp was on for the technical, single track, as the mountain mist surrounded the light. The trail was windy with small drops and climbs. Rocks and roots of all sizes. A long drop-off on the left. We all ran in a conga line fashion, occasionally passing one another. I was strong on the downhills and passed about 6 people. Rocks were slick, I was thankful for my Altra Running shoes, which are grippy. As I was passing a lady, who seemed my age, we briefly exchanged words about being careful on the downhills with the rocks, especially a small section quickly nearing. She mentioned being overly cautious on downhills because she took a bad spill once. Thankfully, I’ve never fallen on a downhill, I imagine it would be very painful. I don’t blame her. I left Stephen slightly behind. 7.10 miles and we were at aid station (AS) 1. I knew ahead of time what I needed.

I ran into the AS and the volunteers clapped and cheered. I was in a pleasant mood. I quickly grabbed food and began to put my trekking poles together. One pole went together, the other didn’t. Volunteers were asking me if I needed water or anything. I told them that I was good, but pointed out what was going on with my one pole. The button wasn’t coming out to hold my pole taught. Four volunteers tried to fix it. I was beginning to be in a hurry to leave. I wanted to spend less than 3 minutes at the AS, it felt more like 4 or 5. I saw Stephen grabbing food, he got some to go. He was ready to leave when I was. I thanked the volunteers for trying and told them I had to get moving. I used my working pole and placed the other back on my pack. I was angry about my pole.

Section 2. Daylight was coming. Immediately leaving AS 1, we climb up Switchback Mountain (SM) and Ray Gerard’s Neverending Hill (RGNH). Using one pole made my body lopsided, I switched hands a few times. Even just using the one pole would help save my legs for later miles. RGNH sucks, but as we reached the top I mentioned to Stephen that that was the best I’ve ever felt on that climb. The rest of section 2 was smooth sailing. Single track, downhills. I couldn’t recall passing by some dilapidated structures left from the oil boom that I knew were there. It was almost daylight, and pace-wise, I was content. I don’t look at my GPS watch when I run, I run by feel. We reached the oil derrick replicas! They are so cool!! 4 of them perched in a flat, open grassy area that overlooks the creek, way below. 3 on the left and you run under the 4th one as you hit more single track. It’s fun to look up as you go under the 4th. It was a beautiful morning and the sun was out. Everyone spread out and Stephen and I were still together.

Photo credit: Miriam (ultrarunning friend)
Photo credit: Miriam
Photo credit: Miriam

As I was running daintily along, or what I thought was dainty, one of my feet tripped. I tried 2 to 3 times to catch myself on my feet, but hit the dirt hard and slid 6 inches on teensy rocks and packed dirt. My right forearm and hand took the majority of the damage. Dripping a little bit of blood, dirt clotted the wound. Then my knees, but no blood. The fall hurt, but I got right back up. I very briefly assessed the demand, looked to see what I tripped on, and checked to see who saw. I didn’t see what I tripped on, it appeared to be the flattest section of trail. A runner passing asked if I was alright and said, “I hate falling.” I told him that I was fine and thanks for asking. I was running again by now and Stephen was still by my side. We had good conversations. My arm hurt for the rest of the race [and the entire next week], but falling made me feel stronger. We came to paved road and followed it across an old iron bridge and over to AS 2, Petroleum Center.


Ouch

We ran through a small playground and picnic area, people were clapping for us. We crossed the race timing mat and yelled out our bib numbers. At AS 2, which was under a large pavilion, we tried to quickly tackle what we needed for the 8.8 mile section 3. We grabbed food, water and other beverages. I saw my local Oil Creek friend, Mark. I was very happy to see him, he’s helpful to everyone. I showed him my trekking pole and he decided to work on it. He grabbed a tool and was able to fix the button while I ate. I decided that I would use the poles the rest of the race. Mark made us aware of our timing and pace. We were well ahead of our 2017 race timing. I told Mark that we ran some hills… one of Mark’s rules and words of wisdom is to never run anything on the first loop that you wouldn’t on the last. Mark knows what he’s talking about, he is an AWESOME ultrarunner, but we were feeling ambitious that morning and decided to run a few small hills… Mark said, “bad girl!” I was like, “I know.” He fist bumped us and we started out to section 3.

Stephen coming into the Petroleum Center aid station.
Me

Section 3. Before Heisman Trophy Hill (HTH), there is another oil derrick replica, it was a beautiful spot for a professional photographer to take our pictures [I purchased them]. Stephen had food in his hand, typical for him to always be nomming on something during an ultramarathon. When we reached the trail, we climbed HTH. The rocky single track was very windy and would flatten and climb. Not my favorite section, Stephen likes it. Eventually, it turns into a double track of packed and muddy dirt. Very runable. This part of the state park is for cross country skiing. The trail had a drop-off on the left and was full of large trees. I love seeing that! There is one tree that I named “Lumpy” last year during training. It has very large bulges on its trunk towards the top, which gives it a lot of character. I smiled as we passed Lumpy and pointed him out. I have another good memory from the first time on this trail section, it was my first porcupine sighting and I was impressed by it’s size. With good memories in tow, Stephen and I continued running. We made it up Ida Tarman’s Wrath (ITW). I was still feeling good and moving with a purpose.

Killer professional photos

Section 3 feels very long and wears on you mentally. Towards the end of the section, there are beautifully painted river stones with motivational quotes and some with pictures on them. A lady takes on this fun project every year! There are probably a couple hundred stones! They’re placed along the trail, some on the ground, rocks, roots, logs, and up in small trees. They’re fun to hunt for and read along the way. When you find one that speaks to you, you can pick it up and take it. My rock made me tear up a little. It was pink with white letters that read, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” I stuck the rock in my front pouch, close to my heart. I forged on with hope and love. Stephen was leading, he also found a rock that he liked.

Photo credit: Miriam
Photo credit: Miriam

We were relieved when we exited the trail for the paved road that led down a hill to aid station 3. We used the port-a-potties and grabbed what we needed. I was hungry, so I put part of a PB&J in with my rock for later. We grabbed food for the hike up Cemetery Hill. The weather was blah. We thanked the volunteers and ran back to the trailhead.

Section 4. It starts off with Cemetery Hill (CH). Another large hill and a cemetery. Eating, using my poles and breathing all at the same time was challenging. The trail was muddy, but not too bad. We passed the little cemetery, which was on our right. I wondered how many people joke about dying on the hill from physical exertion? In my opinion, the cemetery is a little creepy. As we were coming down CH, we were able to run, though the rocks were pointy and great for tripping and ankle rolling. I hate the rocks in section 4, but all is forgotten when we reached the sludge pipe. Excitement filled us as we reached the magical water pipe!!! Refreshing, drinkable (?) water. Usually, this is a place to stop for a photo opportunity, but not on race day!

Next was Rockefeller’s Revenge (RR), which is way worse than CH. A slow grind. I look forward to perfecting this relentless forward progress in the future. We were around mile 25. All this work and it’s only mile 25, but I chose to not think about that. The rest of the trail was gradually rolling hills. And more rocks. It felt like forever getting through this 26 mile loop (7.5 – 8 hours depending on weather and trail conditions). We ran down off the GHT and onto the paved bike path. It felt great to get off the trail, so many joints and muscles were beginning to hurt. My feet could feel every rock. However, pavement didn’t feel that great, either.

1 mile grass and pavement loop past the Drake Well Museum. A least favorite part of the course for me because the well is loud and kind of scary as you pass it. It makes me think that there is an angry, wild beast inside and it is trying to escape. 1.50 miles back on the bike path and town roads to Titusville Middle School. It was fun to see and interact with the runners heading out on their second loop. People came out of their homes to cheer the trickling parade of silly runners. Families and crews were scattered about the lawn at the school. We ran across the timing mat and gave our numbers. At the AS, we ate and refilled on drinks. This was “home base” and some runners appeared as if they had enough fun already. I overheard a crew member convincing his runner to go back out, as he sat in a lawn chair. Our crew was still on their way from out of state. Stephen sent them a quick text that we were heading out for loop 2 and would expect to be back at the school in about 8 hours.

Loop 2, sections 1 and 2. We left the school AS. Every time I begin a new loop, it feels like an eye rolling fest of “here we go again, let’s get it done.” That’s one of the things that makes Oil Creek special, in a cruel way. Being back on the GHT, things were going smoothly. AS 1 and 2 went smoothly. Stephen was beginning to feel a little ill. – Five days before the race our cat was very stressed out and upset which is unlike her, but we literally just finished moving from VA (to PA). She bit Stephen severely on the hand, which almost hospitalized him by the next morning. He was on medication for a cat bite infection. He physically appeared okay, but said that he could tell he wasn’t feeling well. We said hello again to Mark and the stand-out volunteers. Stephen informed Mark that he might drop when we reach the school again. I was feeling the race wear on my body little by little, especially when I stopped moving. Mark asked what was the number one thing that I needed, and my response was “caffeine.” I was tired and the daylight would fade in a few hours. Mark gave me coffee beans and gels that contained caffeine.


Photo credit: unknown. Great pictures!

Section 3. We could tell that it was going to rain soon and the wind picked up. The sky was heavy and grey as we left the AS. Soon we couldn’t see the sky very much due to being back on the GHT. We climbed HTH for the second time. As we were coming down, we could feel a difference in the weather and knew that we had to pull out the rain jackets.

Grabbed this gem off of the race’s Facebook group page. Thank you to whoever took the photo, it’s insane!

We thought that we might have been able to make it further down the trail before the rain, but a storm was quickly approaching. We got out our North Face Gor-Tex (water and windproof) jackets from our packs and scarfed down any food that needed to be eaten before it became soggy. We were just in time, it began to pour! Running in the rain is fun. We were hammered by rain in areas with less tree coverage. When it rains at Oil Creek, the trail turns into streams and everything is magically muddy as if it had rained for days. It rained for hours. The rain eventually stopped or slowed, it was hard to tell. We finished section 3 and enjoyed the AS.

Photo credit: unknown

Section 4. CH and RR were streams and mud from the storm. At times, mud and puddles were 3-5 inches deep, enough to suction your shoe and seep in. Slosh, slosh, slosh, slosh, splash, theeeerp. I wasn’t sure if it was still raining because of the thick tree coverage. As a few more hours of this was passing, Stephen and I wondered if our crew made it and would be able to find us when we reached the school. With the rain and no cell phone service on the course, we wouldn’t know until reaching the school. The final mile of section 4 felt like forever. It was difficult to speed up the pace though we desperately wanted to get off the trail. We finally made it! A wet, grassy 1 mile loop past the noisey well-monster awaited us. The rain let up and the air was dank. There were less runners and spectators as we made our way to the school. We turned towards the school and there was Josh and his girlfriend Davina!!! They were sitting strategically on the road curbside, they knew that they would see us come past. They were bundled up. Stephen and I pointed to where we would meet them at in the AS as we had to take another sidewalk to get there.

In the AS, we updated them with stories and things that happened. They aided us along with the race volunteers. Stephen, who now appeared pale, decided to drop from the race. He sat in a chair and scarfed down food. After I would leave for loop 3, he planned on getting cleaned up and changing his clothes.

I had Josh’s full attention since he was going to be my pacer. This was Davina’s first experience being at an ultramarathon event. I’m sure there was a lot to take in. She had uplifting energy. She took pictures of me looking like Hell and taking Tylenol pills. We spared a tiny bit of extra time and I sat. One giant loop to go and a 7.70 mile loop. It was evening and the dark was on our heels, so we made sure our headlamps, back up headlamps and extra batteries were handy. I stood up and painfully tried to loosen up as muscles struggled to function properly. This is part of the fun of ultrarunning.

Loop 3. Stephen and Davina wished us luck as we left the school. I was somewhat pumped to be on loop 3 and have Josh with me. Josh has the best stories of anyone I know. He’s a police officer, ultramarathon runner, and was working on completing a marathon in all 50 states (in under 4 hours). We’ve had running adventures and plenty of shenanigans over the past four years that we’ve known each other. One year we hope to complete Badwater Salton Sea together (Josh, Stephen and myself). Josh is crazy and one of my favorite people to be around.

We swapped stories and I warned him of the trail condition. I also shared that we could look forward to seeing the oil derricks being lit up on section 2 and that it is quite magical. The weather was still wet, cloudy and chilly. When we reached the GHT, we hiked up the climb and needed to switch on our headlamps. Section 1 was dark, just like when we started the race 16 hours ago. My stomach was bloated and gassy. I realized that I would have to use the porta potty at AS 1. I told Josh how I was feeling and that my stomach had been good to me all race. I was getting tired, though.

Photo credit: unknown

I began looking for a place to stop to go number two in the woods as we ran. It was hard to tell what a good spot was and brush is thick… and don’t forget the porcupines and black bears. Gargle, gargle, my stomach would go. I’d pass a little gas every minute. I kept telling Josh that I didn’t see a good place to go and I think there were runners behind us. All of a sudden, going became an emergency!! We passed over a bridge and I knew the AS was about 100 yards away, but it felt like it was never getting closer! I could see the tent lights and decorations through the trees in the dark. I was full out sprinting! Then I felt myself going, so I stopped and was freaking out and saying that I didn’t think I’d make it to the porta potty. For a split second, I was then okay to continue sprinting, it had stopped. Before I knew it, I dropped a load in my shorts.

I don’t remember what Josh said, but I told him that my goal at the AS was to clean up in the porta potty and just to have him get my electrolytes squared away. We ran into the AS and I smiled at all the volunteers and darted into the porta potty, no words exchanged. As I was in the porta potty, I tried to be as clean and organized as possible, having only my headlamp to see by. As I was taking care of business, I realized how real the chafing was. Pretty much everything. I don’t know how long I took to clean up, but when I came out, I was set to continue.

Josh had been chatting with three runners sitting on a bench in the AS. They all decided that they were dropping, even though it was not a place you were allowed to drop from. They told the volunteers that they would just walk back using a short cut. They gathered their poles and walked off. Josh and I continued on the GHT, section 2. SM and RGNH. Josh commented on the length of RGNH (it’s called Neverending Hill for a reason). He cheered me on as I crawled my way up. Relentless forward progress was serious. All I wanted to do was see the oil derricks lit up at this point. Small goals had been set in my mind. I ticked down the miles with Josh to the oil derricks. We reached the dilapidated structures and buildings left behind from the oil boom and I pointed them out to Josh since it was his first time seeing them. The structures were a sign that we were close to the oil derricks.

We did it! Coming out of the woods and into the opening where the oil derricks were. They were lit up and I was full of joy! Josh thought they were cool. We ran past them through the grass and back onto single track. I told Josh that my plan was to focus on eating at AS 2, Petroleum Center. I was excited for Josh to meet Mark. As we finished the trail and were on road, my pace had slowed. Everything was burning and my feet were killing me from rocks (my shoes have rock plates) and from constantly being wet. No real problems with blisters! We ran into AS 2 and I struggled to keep my eyes open as I grabbed food. I introduced Josh and Mark. Mark was also tired, he had been there working hard all day, as with most volunteers. Josh told Mark that I seemed to be pacing myself pretty well. I needed more caffeine. More coffee beans and gels with caffeine.

I was reaching a state of pure exhaustion, though I was still ahead of the cutoff time, I needed to be past AS 3 by 8 am. It was still dark and I had a few hours to go 8 to 9 miles and battle HTH and ITW. If I could just hang in there until daylight, I knew I’d become refreshed enough to rally and finish the race.

Section 3. The first part of HTH is all grass and mud. Most steps I took slid backwards. My breathing was heavy. Josh was my manly cheerleader and kept me company. After the hill switched to rolling single track, Josh busted out some music on his phone. He played a Breaking Benjamin song or two and then a Five Finger Deathpunch song, which were band requests that I made prior to race day. After the music, I don’t know if I was even running anymore, but I thought I was. I pretended I was. I continually told Josh how tired I was and that I didn’t think the caffeine was helping. I used my trekking poles to practically hold up my own weight with every step. The mud was terrible. Every step taken was in a deep and slick layer of mud. There was lots of sliding.

On top of complaining about how tired I was and literally falling asleep on my feet, I spoke of having hope of finishing the race. Josh agreed with me and tried to get me to go faster. I tried to run in short spurts. I wasn’t doing too well and became frustrated with it and continually tried to fight the exhaustion. I grunted and huffed and puffed. I realized that I didn’t know where I was anymore and informed Josh. We hadn’t seen any other runners for several miles, either, but that’s normal for an ultra. For the next… who knows how long, I sounded like a broken record and told Josh that I was falling asleep on my feet, that the trail was moving and that I didn’t recognize where I was. I kept explaining that it was insane not knowing where I was because I knew I’d already been here twice today and run the trail frequently in the summer. He assured me that we were going in the right direction as he kept watching time tick by on his watch.

We were on ITW and my state of crazy person continued. The mud was so bad trying to go uphill that I had to take steps within steps, as my feet would go backwards. [At the time, I didn’t know I was on ITW hill, I just thought things were unusually terrible and that I couldn’t give up.]

When I thought things couldn’t get worse. The water had gotten to my headlamp and it became increasingly more difficult to see. My light was dying. We had a backup and chose to use that instead of replacing batteries. Maybe we should have replaced the batteries because not long after using the replacement, that light also went. Possibly the water again because it was the same brand of headlamp, though it claims to be waterproof. I’ve never had issues with them AND used it during a night race where we received a severe thunderstorm! Ugh! So Josh gave me his headlamp and we struggled to get it to my head size. He took my almost dead one. This used up a lot if time. The struggle was real. Since we had stopped anyways, we both decided to pee in the woods.

I felt like death as we continued on. The sky was getting lighter. I don’t think I moved any faster, even though I moved with all my heart. We conquered ITW and Josh had some choice words for that climb. He couldn’t believe that that was my third time doing that hill, especially after all the other ones we did. Josh admitted to struggling himself. The trail flattened out and I became concerned with time. We had difficulty figuring out how long until AS 3 and how close to the cutoff time we were getting. We figured we still had a few miles left and hardly enough time to get there. My run was slow, painfully slow. Josh might have been walking because I was so slow, I don’t know. I told him that I was going into panic mode because I was pretty sure I remembered that 8 am cutoff time. We had maybe 10 minutes to go about 2 miles to get there in time. Josh was thinking the cut off time might have been 9 am.

Once we got off the trail, we turned and ran down the road into the AS. 8:06 am. An awkward and sad moment. Some younger (kids) volunteers were helping us with getting food. We wanted to check-in with the other volunteers, but they seemed inattentive. We were confused from being pushed beyond exhaustion. We wanted someone’s attention to know about the cutoff time. A kid got someone’s attention and asked for us. We were informed that we missed it. I dazed off and couldn’t comprehend, my mind was numb. Josh seemed upset and asked if I could continue on since we just missed it. The volunteers looked at us in doubt. As Josh kept trying to convince them, I told him that they are really strict at this race and aren’t going to let me. I honestly didn’t know how much fight I had left in me. I began to cry. I felt pissed because I was so close to making the time. Josh explained that I battled hard and said that he believes that I’m tougher than he is. He thought the course was brutal. In my moment, I exclaimed, “I fucking HATE this race!” – Which isn’t actually true… I love to hate Oil Creek.

As I stopped crying, all I could do was look at Josh and nod my head at what he was saying. He went on about the race and my performance. He asked if I thought I could have gone any faster and my answer was “no.” I left it all out there. The rain was coming down harder. I wanted to stand there, as a broken, muddy, soaked and sad mess, but a volunteer made us come under the tent. I stretched next to some runners who were also finished and were sitting in chairs waiting for a ride and tending to their feet.

Josh had to go on a short walk in the rain to find cell phone reception to call Stephen to pick us up. While Josh was away, one of the other runners who DNF’d got my attention by saying, “hey, 100.” He then tried to make me feel better by telling me about how many 100 mile attempts he had to have before succeeding and lastly suggested that I find an easier 100 miler. I didn’t really respond, I just nodded my head. I don’t need an easier 100 miler, in my opinion. I know that I can complete 100 miles. The difficult races with hard cutoff times speak more to me.

Other runners arrived to the AS. When the lady and her pacer found out the tough news, they embraced and the racer cried on her pacer’s shoulder. Josh returned and said that Stephen was on his way. We waited and when he arrived, I sat down in the warm car. Seconds after my butt hit the seat, I went into a deep sleep.

Final thoughts:
Big thanks to my friends and family who support me, especially in my epic ultramarathon journeys!

Signs of a battle.
Beautiful! Could have applied more Squirrel’s Nut Butter?
Popped open an aged bottle from Hardywood.

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