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Oil Creek 100 Mile Trail Ultramarathon – Race Report

October 19, 2010

Hello Everyone,

I’m really tired and REALLY sore!

First of all, thank you to everyone for your awesome support as I stepped into the “unknown” this weekend and took on the Oil Creek 100 trail run. All of your support has been really appreciated, and also thank you to those of you who provided technical assistance with my schedule, nutrition advice, etc. You know who you are! 🙂

Since so many of you wished me well and were wondering how it went, I created this race report, which is a recap of my experience. This includes what the Oil Creek series of races are; my summary of what it was to me, and a general recap.

Oil Creek 100 trail runs
The Oil Creek trail runs are a group of races that are held in Oil Creek State Park, located in Titusville, PA. The races held this past weekend were: 50k (31 miles); 100k (62 miles); and 100 miles.

The backbone of the race consists of a single 50k loop, that is repeated depending on the race run. I ran the loop 3 times. followed by a 7 mile “heading home” loop.

The races are in their second year of existence.

Summary of experience (followed by more detail; so if you want just a quickie bit of info and don’t want to read on, you can just read the following info).

The best way to describe the 100 mile run that I did is this:
1.) Imagine two towns or cities that you know of that are 100 miles apart. For me, I can use Utica to Albany, + 10 miles = 100 miles
2.) Now imagine a single track trail that goes the entire distance.
3.) Now make it the rockiest trail that you have hiked on.
4.) Add roots
5.) Cover 3 and 4 above with leaves
6.) Add random mud puddles
7.) Take 18,000 feet of elevation gain. Spread this out amongst the course.

Let there be no mistake: This course is EXTREMELY difficult and technical. In fact, a runner who ran the race this year mentioned that it may be more difficult than the Leadville 100, which is one of the 4 Grand Slams of Ultrarunning. The race forced me to dig deeper than I ever have, and to focus on my core skill: pacing.

My finishing time: 28 hours, 8 minutes (seconds…..who cares! 🙂

This was VERY challenging, and as a result, extremely rewarding.

That was the race! *** Put simply, this was the most technically demanding, advanced course I have ever run, and is also the most physically challenging thing I have ever done. I finished!!!! It basically became all about that. Here’s why….

General Overview:

As I mentioned to many of you, I’ve enjoyed taking on the challenge of a 100 mile run. One of the reasons is that it helps me to connect with my runners, particularly those who are training for a marathon or for their first fitness challenge. It basically helped to “keep me real”.

I found the Oil Creek races online about 5 months ago. I signed up for it in July; I had been training though for a 100 mile race since January.

My first goals were to finish the race within 24 hours. As my training progressed, I then thought that 18 hours was possible. So, I set my goals as:
1.) 18 hours; win the race (based upon my training pace and the winning time last year, which was 19:30.
2.) finish in 24 hours
3.) Finish!

As the race began Saturday morning at 5 am, I realized a couple of things right away. First. some of the runners went out like they were racing a street Marathon. I thought this was really odd considering we had 100 mles to go! So, as the race progressed a bit, I thought that maybe those people would come back to me. Some did, and some DEFINITELY did not. So my goal to win was not going to happen.

Moving through the first 15 miles, I felt really good. In fact I even picked up about 10 positions. I made it to aid station #2 in good spirits.

Then it happened.

The course basically introduced me to one of the most difficult-to-navigate and technical terrain I had ever encountered. The climb out of aid station #2 was so steep and unrelenting, I began to rethink everything. There would be no running for all of these steep inclines.

The general rule of ultramarathoning is to walk the uphills and run the straights and downhills. I was walking and hiking so much that I was welcoming the straight and level paths a lot!

Making it to aid station #3 seemed to take absolutely forever. This pattern would then be repeated throughout the race. (This is NOT road running!!!!). In fact this feeling of “forever” was exacerbated in the nighttime portions of the race. I also didn’t know the course, so the trails seemed to stretch on and on and I needed to get a feel for them, so the next time I came around, I would know what to do.

Near the end of the first 50-k loop, I tripped and fell right on my face. I laid there for several seconds, and was not really liking what was happening. In fact, at the end of the first 50-k loop, I was really demoralized. I even thought I would not finish. As I came into the race headquarters where my crew was (my Mom plus her friend, and April) I told them how demoralized I was.

The beginning of the Comeback!!!:

Rest of the race and readjustment:
I realized that I was putting immense pressure on myself. “I need to win”; “I need to do it in 18 hours.” “What will people think of me?” These thoughts I think are common among many runners, and, along with the tough terrain, were contributing to the race to become really rough.

As I neared 38 miles, suddenly I realized: The course was stripping me of all non-essential things; if I was going to get through this, I would have to buckle down, remove the non-essential thoughts in my head, and focus on my biggest single strength: my ability to bullishly pace myself for a long. long time. So, I cleared my head, and focused on running 10 minute miles for the next 6 miles. I credit this readjustment with helping me finish the race.

With trail running, a general suggestion to running downhills is to let the hill take you down. and just to follow gravity and have your hips over your feet. I took this suggestion and started to really fly down the trail at the downhill portions. I was super zoned in and was throwing abandon to the wind a bit. Definitely not a time to over think, or I would risk serious injury!

Coming down into aid Station #2 again, I felt awesome.

Leaving Aid station #2, I felt good and knew about the climb I had ahead of me.

From this point on, an injury that would stay with me for the rest of the race reared its ugly head: it turns out I tore a tendon in my right leg (behind my knee) and just thought that it was a strain. Where this happened, I don’t know. I also cramped up in my left knee and side of my left quad.

These forced me to walk about the next 10 miles to 15 miles; with some running in between. A fellow trail runner gave me some Excedrin which really helped a lot.

“On your left”:
One of the things I discovered about ultra runners is that for the most they’re all really polite and supportive. If you want to pass someone, you just say “on your left” and they’re let you pass, along with a “good job” comment. I was passed and I passed other people, and this happened almost every time. Really great! Very nice people indeed.

The Rest of the Race:
The remained of the race saw me running/shuffling/walking/hiking the next 50 miles. My right leg’s range of motion was pretty much gone. and when I did run on the small amount of pavement it was dragging on the ground. It was like my good leg (my left one which no longer hurt constantly) was leading my bad leg.

My goals had been stripped raw down to just finishing; and this became just fine with me! I thought I had a shot at 24 hours, but the sheer extreme difficulty of the course kept me at about 3.5-4 miles per hour. So, I saw 24 hours becoming not possible with about 20 miles to go.

Nightime running:
My headlamp saved me! The woods were pitch black. I thought that this would freak me out, but the woods were pretty quiet and peaceful with random small animals making sounds and the wind in the trees. Also, I was so tired I no longer really cared about being scared! Interestingly enough, I ran at night twice in this race, and also saw the sun come up twice. That’s when you know you’ve been out there a LONG time.

High points and low points:

I predicted before the race that with a race of this distance, I would probably have 4 really high points and 4 really low points. This prediction turned out to be pretty accurate. Case in point, when I came into the final aid station at mile 93, I had 7 more miles to go. I have to admit, I almost broke down and quit right there. The thought of taking on this behemoth of a course for 7 more miles was not too fun. But, 10 minutes later, after telling my crew for the 3rd time that “I’m going to finish this thing”, I walked outside and just started to walk, and then do my draggy-shuffle run. Safe to say, most of my running technique was cooked!

They saved the “best” for last!
At mile 97, I was confronted by a switch-back hill so steep and long, I found myself on the phone with April (there was spotty connection throughout the park) things like “who would design a course that would do this to someone?” It felt very masochistic to me. In effect, as I was just glorified-hiking this hill, I did think to myself “who could run this hill?”. I just had to get through it.

The last 2 miles were really long.

The last mile was the longest mile of my life.

As I started down the last mile (mile 99), the girls manning the checkpoint looked over at me curiously as I started one of the strangest shuffle gaits I have done. The tread on the bottle of my shoes make scuffing sounds as I could no longer really pick my feet up. It was indeed the “old man shuffle”!

As I approached 1/4 mile to go, I thought back on moments in my running life; I remembered the skinny kid who took up the mile in track because he like the speed of it; the 29 year old who was super-sedentary and had a wake up call to get back in shape; my training for this race; and the runners who I’ve coached and have enjoyed seeing them reach for their potential.

I began to bawl, and I did this right through the finish.

My Mom, her friend, and April were there to great me as I came in. They were there at every single Aid Station, and I credit my ability to keep going largely to them! The race director, Tom, came out to congratulate me.I had done it! I had completed 100 miles of super tough terrain. My dream had come true, and I was a better runner (and person, hopefully 🙂 ) for it!

– The Oil Creek 100 could quite possibly be one of the most difficult ultra-distance trail runs in the U.S.
– A runner must develop their core “go to” skill. For some, its pacing; for others, speed. The list could go on.
– For rookie ultra runners, the emphasis should be on just finishing, and not worry or be too upset about time goals. (unless of course there is a time limit before the race ends!!!!) Emphasis should be on enjoying the process.
– Ultra running can be a transendental experience
– The ultra running community is very cool and full of great people! And the volunteers at the Aid stations and throughout make  a HUGE difference.

I hope you enjoyed this, and I hope that my experience gets you to think about your own next adventure!


6 Comments leave one →
  1. James (jsarasota) permalink
    October 19, 2010 5:15 pm

    Just incredible! I enjoyed the candidness about your goals and thoughts. That makes it all so real. Obviously, you’ve accomplished something significant, and it wasn’t simply going 100 miles. It’s the personal triumph over the pain and doubt.

  2. Elaine permalink
    December 5, 2010 7:06 pm

    WOW!!! Jim, this is truly inspirational….I appreciate you wanting to keep it real..this too makes you the best coach!!!

    Thanks for sharing and congratulations…phenomenal!!

    • December 5, 2010 8:41 pm

      Thanks Elaine! I totally appreciate it, and I’m really happy that you find it inspirational. Thanks for the awesome compliments and comments! How was your race?

  3. LarryWatson II permalink
    December 11, 2010 12:02 pm

    Loved the RR!! I’ve been looking for my first 100m event and this one looks like it has it all!


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