Although this race was in October; a frustrating DNF has kept me from formally putting down all my thoughts until now.  Its a long post, but I plan on reading it over and over to remind myself that things can turn at any time in an Ultra Race.

Oil Creek Trail Runs Race Report, October 16, 2010- A DNF Story

To get perspective on how far I came in 2010; I can say that my workout on 1/1/2010 consisted of a 25 minute walk on a treadmill at 20 minutes per mile.  That wasn’t an aberration, it wasn’t until February 16 that I had walked 60 minutes (with 800 feet of elevation gain) and didn’t run a step until a 15 minute run on 2/15.  With that, my goal for the year was to participate in and complete the Oil Creek Trail Races 100k (62 miles).

A quick synopsis of the year- injuries, work, son’s Bar Mitzvah, work, family health issues, injuries- on paper it didn’t look great but I had managed to complete a 30k and 50k race during the year (slowly) so as I lined up for the Oil Creek race there was total doubt but hope.  The Oil Creek 100k is a great race in that it allows 31 hours to finish; but along with that comes over 11,000 feet of elevation gain.  My original goal was just to finish, but right before the race I ultimately hoped to finish in 22 hours.  I created a pace card for this to check my race progress. The course was a 2 loop course shaped like a football-  going out and back. Lots of single track, some double track and a few miles of road.

Fast forward to the start- we jogged out and I felt great and ran till we hit the trails.  The first section went easily as the hills were not too prominent yet.  I was running the downs and flats and hiking the ups.  I separated from a pack and caught another as we reached aid station 1 (Wolfkill Run) around 7.1 miles.  I was way ahead of pace but knew I would be so early.  I went into the routine I would keep doing- refilled my fluids with water and nuun tablets, stuffed my pack with portable snacks and downed a quick drink and snack at the table.  This station was decorated with a Christmas theme.

I picked up two runners and we headed up a steep hill with switchbacks, which looked worse than it was.  We wound our way up and down hills- none too long or hard.  Eventually I needed a pit stop so I lost the group and headed on alone.  From this point I was alone the rest of the day, though I saw a lot of people on the trails.  The trail turned into great easy double track and I was able to run towards Aid Station 2 (Petroleum Center) at 13.9 miles.  Eventually the trail dumped out to a road and then I hit the station.  This place was run by the local VFW, so it had a trail of American flags leading you in and out.  Very cool.  I felt good, went into my routine and moved on.

The next section was long and had a lot of hills and more technical trail than before.  It was a little wet in spots as well so there as a little slipping and mud.  The course sneaks up on you-  no real “hills” per se, but the constant up and down was a drain on the legs.  I reached the last drop onto the road to Aid station 3 (Miller Farm Rd) at 22.7 miles and my right knee was throbbing.  It went bad quickly- thankfully the aid station was ¼ mile away and down a hill.  I was on 17 hour pace at this point but wasn’t too excited with so much to go.  I went through my routine and felt really good and headed out.

The trail immediately went up some stairs past a cemetery and then a steep hill.  My knee felt better after the rest but my energy levels were down as the tough hills on the section were tiring me.  It felt like a long time but finally the course let out on a road near a park that required a 1 mile loop.  I partially walked this and then it was another mile or so into aid station 4 which was at the starting location, Titusville Middle School- 31 miles.  I was at the ½ way point at 17 hour pace.  I was excited and worried- I knew for true Ultra runners this was slow but with my training I was pretty happy.  There was pizza at the aid station so I ate as much as I could and went through the rest of my routine.  I also restocked supplies (gels, gloves, hat).  I went out on my second loop- the weather was great-  clear, slight breeze and around 55 degrees.  It was a great day- to this point.

I decided to walk a lot to make sure I wasn’t overdoing it.  I hit the trail again after 2.5 miles and found that I was pushing the hills pretty well.  I let my head get to me- and started to think if I pushed maybe I could break 20 hours.  I ran a bit more and let out the reserves.  I didn’t see anybody for a long time and came into aid the aid station at 38.1 miles near 17.5 hour pace. I was losing control- a sub 18 hour finish was racing in my head.  I tried to fight it but the thought was overwhelming.  I felt good- no stomach issues and my legs were in good shape.  I spent a lot of time joking with the aid station volunteers here, sort of a delay tactic to rest up.  Then I headed hard up the next steep hill.

Instead of holding back I pushed on the hills hard and kept calculating finishing times under different scenarios.  I had planned on going easy till the turnaround point but the excitement got to me and I ran as much as I could. I wanted to hit the turnaround before dark too.  I passed a couple of guys having trouble who I had run with earlier, which even fueled me more.  Finally, the trail hit the road and I ran into the next aid station at mile 44.9 around 18 hour finishing pace.  It was now dark and I could feel a significant cooling once I stopped.  I drank two cups of soup and had some pizza.  I grabbed a headlamp but didn’t change any other gear.  I was happy with my sneakers and thought with all the hills coming up the effort would generate heat and I would stay warm.  I saw a person I had run with for several miles earlier get ready to leave the aid station and I picked up the preparation pace.  I was hoping for company to help pull me through.  I left the aid station around 200 yards behind with the intent on catching up.

It was now pitch black as we hit the woods, but they did a great job of marking the trail with reflective tape so it was easy to find the way.  I chased the headlamps in front of me but as we weaved around the trail I stopped seeing any.  I finally gave up and moved up the hills on my own.  I don’t know when I noticed it, but I started to feel VERY tired and weak and moved slowly up the hills.  Then I noticed how cold I was getting.  I had been sweating and the temps dropped into the low 40’s and I started to shiver.  I thought about food but my lack of clarity had me thinking I had eaten plenty at the last station so I didn’t eat (or drink) any more.  Finally; I was more trudging than walking/running and down some technical parts I felt like I was staggering.  It was a very bad spot- I had been told nighttime in these races could do that so I tried to ignore it.  I kept feeling worse- ice cold and plain exhausted.  I finally hit the road to the next aid station and felt myself drifting side to side as I headed in at 53.6 miles.  The volunteers made a big fuss at my arrival, but I could only put my hands on my thighs and lean over.  The aid station EMT walked me to the fire and draped a sleeping bag over me to get warmth back.  He did a quick assessment and said I looked to be in stage 2 hypothermia and would likely get worse if I kept going.  To tell how badly I hit the wall, I slowed overall to 20 hour finish pace over the last 9 miles.  I should have been thinking that there was only 9 miles to go, that the limit to finish was still 13.5 hours away and that I had plenty of time to rest, hydrate and eat and move on.  Instead I focused on my chills, the EMT’s concerns and the deep down thought that another 9 miles feeling like thus would be miserable and a bad idea if I didn’t recover.  The question was asked- “ do you want to drop?”-  And I dropped my head and said yes.  Who knows how it would have turned if I kept going but in retrospect I should have not answered the question then-  I could have waited hours to make that decision.  I was warned about the mind going to a dark place- and yet I didn’t answer the bell when it happened.  I also should not have rushed out of the last aid station and should have taken another jacket to carry knowing it was supposed to get really cold (nighttime temps dropped below freezing).

I got a ride back to the start and went to my hotel.  Although I was originally resigned to the fact that in a short year I went from walking 25 minutes to covering over 53 miles and that was a good thing- it’s obvious that stopping so close to the finish is painful and has me rethinking the day over and over.  I am going to go back in 2011, in better shape and with the experience to hopefully get me to the end.  Although I put together a quick report for friends to read right after the race, this is the first time I have thought again about the whole experience and been able to put it down in writing.

Special thanks to Wayne Kurtz of for the coaching help- including training, nutrition, strategy, etc.  Nothing I encountered was a surprise; I just didn’t react as I should have.

As far as Oil Creek Trail runs, they are well run.  Great course, great volunteers, well stocked aid station and great town support.  Highly recommended.

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