Old Dominion 100 Mile Cross Country Run
A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 2; 9th Edition
257.7 miles raced in 2007
Race: Old Dominion 100 Mile Cross Country Run
Place: Woodstock, VA
Miles from home: 90
Course Difficulty: 10 out of 10
Course Enjoyability: 3 out of 10
Weather: Humid, stormy, 60-90s;
Finishers' Medal: N/A
It is difficult to write down the feelings for a race which one did not finish. I know the ending and it is not a happy one. But it was an ending I chose and I think I chose correctly.
To begin, before anything else is said, I must thank my crew of Christine and Katie. Lord knows how much further short of my goal I would have fallen if not for their efforts to get me on my feet and have everything else I needed. As I mentioned earlier (yes MUCH earlier, like page one of this recap), I feel the ultra community thrives on a lone wolf mentality and being able to do everything without help. This was no more evident than at the pit crew stations. As I copped a squat for a quick breather and one of my crew would give me a banana or fill my water bottle, other crew people for other runners, or loved ones who, I guess, showed up only to say “way to go” as their husband ran by as I never saw them do much of anything, seemed utterly shocked at how much I was being “pampered”. I do not think they were repulsed but surprised. Honestly, I do not see the point of having a crew if they are not going to do the things that the runner does not necessarily have to do. Luckily for me, I was quite adept at picking my crew and they saw it exactly the same way. So, whether it was retying my shoes for me or having the exact food ready for me as I wanted it when I came tumbling in, I knew no matter how tired I was, my crew would do everything they could short of throwing me on their shoulders and running the course for me. Thank you, ladies.
The race started early. 4AM. I now have a race which beats the Cayman Islands Marathon for earliest start ever (it previously held the record at 5 AM). Yet, in spite the relatively little lack of sleep I was raring to go. I had many grandiose thoughts coming into this race with oodles of goals, sub goals and must-haves, and after weeks of waiting it was finally time to run.
I knew I was under-trained for this race. That’s a fact. But I would not have started if I thought I was going to be doing something detrimental to my health. Looking over the field the night before, I only saw a few people that I thought would be problematic to me taking a top slot. One was Keith Knipling who I knew was going to be an issue. Keith is an absolutely amazing ultrarunner we was running his 3rd 100 mile race in 3 weeks. Please read that again. Just astounding. I could only hope he was extremely tired and I was extremely ready and I could be extremely close to him at the end to out-kick him.
But that is getting a little bit ahead of myself. Like 100 miles ahead. As we all milled around before the start, most of our minds were to the weather forecast. With a high predicted of 90 degrees, I knew we were all hoping something would blow in to take that away. Like the scattered thunderstorms predicted for early afternoon. Or snow.
After an impromptu prayer from the starter, the gun went off (I think it was a gun) and away we went. Almost immediately, three runners took off and began to separate themselves from the group. I fell back and saw that I was running with one guy pretty much stride for stride, so I struck up a conversation. Bob Oberkehr was his name and he was a 4-time finisher of this race. I decided to pick his brain for info I could not find elsewhere hoping to glean a tidbit here or there.
The miles ticked by and we passed the first aid station, which consisted of a water cooler. A week prior to the race, I had decided to purchase a Camelback water carrying system to wear on my back rather than rely on the one waist bottle I had worn previously. So instead of the 20oz of fluid the bottle carried, the Camelback had 50. As such, I did not see the need to stop here but continued on. Bob, only carrying a handheld water bottle grabbed a quick drink. While I continued, I did so slowly because I wanted Bob to catch up so I could have a pacer and guide. Sure enough, Bob did and we resumed our running.
Before long we began our gradual ascent of the first big hill of the race, Woodstock Gap. Climbing 1100 feet in under 4.2 miles, Bob mentioned that this portion of the race was where most would walk. Given that I was trying to stick to a solid, run the downhills and straight-aways and walk the uphills plan, I too thought about that. However, Bob continued to run. I found that my fast power walk kept up with him for the most part so we soldiered on together. Almost at the top, we passed an older gentleman named Jamshid who Bob seemed to know. Given his slow gait I was curious how he had gotten so far ahead of us so quickly but Bob said he was a great ultrarunner. We exchanged pleasantries and then passed him putting Bob and me in a tie for 4th place overall.
1st Pit Crew Station (Mile 19.64): Total time: 3:36
Together Bob and I stayed for the next 13 miles until the first time I got to see Christine and Katie at the aid station at mile 20. I felt pretty good here, ate a banana and promised to eat a Gu soon. I really didn’t feel that hungry or thirsty, so after 4 minutes I was out of the aid station and on my way. I guess people often spend about that much time or less at these stations but I did not mind the pause. I was already far ahead of my goal pace for the day so slowing down felt good.
As I kicked out of my chair and got on my way, I made a note to the girls that my trail shoes had started to give me a small blister. I was hoping it would not get worse. I noticed Bob had taken off before me but in a matter of seconds I caught him. He told me the next 13 miles were nothing but road and a strong road runner could make up some time right here. Soon thereafter, almost inadvertently, I began to peel away from Bob. Sad to say this is the last time I would see him as around mile 22 I left him for good and took over sole possession of 3rd place.
Much to my shock, about 2 miles later another runner came into focus. Already running and then walking on the straight-aways was a gentleman I met the day before, Andy Kumeda. We spoke for a bit before he said to go on ahead because he was already ahead of his pace. I obliged and by mile 25 or so was sitting in second place. At one aid station soon thereafter, a nice little family said hello and told me the leader was only about 26 minutes ahead of me. Somehow that sounded ok at the time.
As the sun came out and the temperature started to climb, the beautifully cool morning slipped away. I found myself no longer running tangents like I would in a marathon but rather running in the shade where I could. I did not wish to melt.
2nd Pit Crew Station (Mile 32.55): Total Time: 5:29
I rolled into here and told my crew I needed to change shoes. The trail shoes had started a blister I did not wish to deal with any longer. Staying a little longer than I hoped to, I was at this stop for a little over 12 minutes. But the change of shoes was necessary and as I pulled out to head up the first truly steep climb of the day, Andy came by saying: “What are you still doing here?” I couldn’t believe I had made up 12 minutes or more on him in 7 miles. This should have been a warning sign I was going too fast and should slow down. Fortunately, no one needed to tell me slow down as the first hill out of the aid station forced me to take a slower approach.
My first extended walk of the day had me feeling a little tired and hot. Only 1/3 of the way done I was hoping that this feeling wouldn’t continue. Hitting a trail section that had worse footing and was steeper than the road did not help much either but I trooped on knowing a downhill followed. Sure enough I hit the downhill, only to remember that soon I would be hitting the trail once again. Maybe if I knew the difficulty of the next section I would not have been so beaten down by it but one thing is for certain and that is this section got to me. Inwardly I was picturing others scaling this section as if I were frozen in time. However, as the horseflies buzzed around me incessantly and would simply not be discouraged no matter how much arm waving I did, unbeknownst to me, this was one of the hardest portions of the race and no one was making up any time.
With the sun blazing in the sky and a tough climb going on under my feet, this information would have helped me as I began to hit a mental low point. However, I knew if I could push on to the next pit crew station I would have been in 2nd place for 25 miles and that would make me feel good.
Hitting the first weigh-in station I found I had lost 6 lbs. However, I had weighed in the night before, only an hour after I had eaten, and here I was dying of thirst, so I did not feel too worried. I knew my pit crew had food and liquid for me in a few short miles. So, half to get rolling, half to get the one little kid at the aid station to quit talking to me, I scampered along. Sweet kid, though.
3rd Pit Crew Station (Mile 47.70): Total Time: 8:59
Unfortunately, I needed to have another shoe change here. Something was wrong with my blisters and I needed to reapply some moleskin the girls had put on my feet my first time through this aid station and change my socks, all of which added to my total sit down time of 16 minutes. I did not tell anyone that about 2 miles back I had done a little bit of vomiting. Having been so thirsty at the Super Happy Funtime Talking Aid Station, I had swallowed a few too many glasses of water and began my run down the long steep hill. Well the water didn’t sit right with me and some of it came back up. No biggie but I knew others would be worried so I kept it to myself. I took a quick glance at the thermometer that someone had sitting by the road (which, ironically, Christine, would not double as a compass) and saw it was 88 degrees. It was only 12:30 PM. Uh oh.
My legs were a little tight coming out of the aid station but everything else was pretty decent. I was peeing rather frequently and it was relatively clear which showed I was not dehydrated. I knew I had a big hill to climb coming up so I simply acquiesced that I would be walking once again. And walk I did. At the mile 50 mark, I thought it was really nice of the race directors to paint a big old “50” on the road and I passed it at exactly 9:33:03. I had 14.5 hours to do the next 50 miles and still get a Belt Buckle. No problem.
Before too long the skies darkened, the clouds rolled in and rain began to pour out of the sky. I suddenly felt invigorated. Unfortunately, I still had a great deal of hill climbing to go and could not run but felt my core had been cooled exponentially. I just hoped the rain would keep on because as soon as it stopped I knew the humidity was going to skyrocket. A few miles later, the rain stopped. The humidity skyrocketed. Damn, I really hate being right all the time. The only saving grace was I began to actually be able to run downhill again.
4th Pit Crew Station (Mile 56.57): Total time 10:55
As the miles ebbed away I came upon the next Pit Crew Station. The girls cheered for me like crazy which completely baffled two backpackers who had just popped out of the roads. As I passed them I heard: “Must be a race or something.” “Oh, they are cheering for him!” This gave me a little giggle.
Spending far less time here than at previous aid stations (just under 8 minutes) I was able to joke that my definition of “uphill” in my “walk all the uphills” plan was growing grayer as the day went on. Hearing that competitors were closer to me than I had hoped, I lingered no longer and began to tackle the ATV trail section of the course. When the girls told me to get my butt moving I did the only thing a reasonable adult should do at this point in the race. I mooned them. I hear the backpackers laughed.
Wishing to keep the lead on those closing in (one was last year’s woman winner, the other was the only other guy I had been worried about previously) I took the uphills slow through this section but knowing there was a big downhill coming up, used my strength in this portion of running to take off. After dodging the Flying Wallenda Brothers on their damn ATVs, I was able to pick up more and more time and before I knew it I was cruising into the next stop.
5th Pit Crew Station (Mile 64.25): Total Time 12:35
Eating a grilled cheese sandwich my girls prepared for me, I was delighted to learn I had opened up 10 more minutes on my competitors behind me. Unfortunately, I think I was beginning to pay the price for pushing so hard. Spending less than 8 minutes here, I was on my feet and out of the area as quickly as possible. I later learned that when my competitors rolled into this area, they had no idea I was in front of them. They only knew of Keith Knipling and knew they had no shot of catching him. Apparently, when some people told them I was only 10-15 minutes in front of them, they grabbed food by the fistful and sped out of the aid station spending no more than 2 minutes there. My girls were none too happy at all.
I, oblivious to this, was soldiering up another long hill. A few miles later the rain began to pour again. I was hoping it would energize me like previously but this time it just gave me soggy shoes. And with a long section coming up where any rain whatsoever turns the area into a river I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Apparently, those runners who were half an hour behind me never even experienced this torrent on the trail as when the rain stopped, so went the rivulets. Lucky bastards. I, on the other hand, was forced to walk in ankle deep water and I could feel the sloshing in my shoes contributing to my already tiring and blistered feet.
6th Pit Crew Station (Mile 74.95): Total Time 15:17
After lots of sloshing and trail running and sore and tired legs, the miles were finally getting to me. I was beginning to lose time to all of those around me but was happy to pull in to Elizabeth Furnace having been in 2nd place for 50 miles. I weighed in for the second time and was not surprised to see I had only lost one more pound. I had not been running hard enough in the past few miles to spend too many calories and was taking in liquid like a sponge. I just wanted to get off the scale and get moving. Unfortunately, as I had my socks and shoes removed in favor of drier shoes and clean socks, as well as surgery being done to the blisters on my feet, my competition rolled into the aid station behind me.
Without a doubt, while I continued on from here, this is the point where I lost the race. Knowing I was already tired and seeing how strong these other two runners looked, as well as knowing they knew what lie ahead having run the race before, left me without much heart. The woman took off before I did and soon thereafter, I in my bandaged feet, followed. This part of the course is the only place where a runner can have a “safety runner” otherwise known as a pacer. Katie volunteered and I accepted.
I will not dwell too much on the negative here but after the other man who came in behind me at the aid station passed me a minute or so later, I was feeling pretty low. I could not get my legs going and had more or less come to the realization that I was going to be walking a good part of this section of the course. Suffice it to say, the Sherman’s Gap portion of the course was absolutely brutal. Almost straight up and then straight down for a total of 6 miles left me spent like I have never been spent before. Yet in spite of this, and the lack of a sufficient aid station at the end of this stretch, I still had high hopes. But as the night wore on, another runner passed me and my mindset was wrecked even more. The road we ventured onto off of the trail seemed impossibly steep and I could barely get moving.
Katie and I pulled into the next aid station and found out there was more trail ahead. This is where my spirit was finally broken. I simply could not handle more trails. I was finally cajoled into continuing by one of the volunteers (who was trying to be helpful, and was a really nice guy but given my state was really getting on my nerves!). I told Katie I was going to rest for five minutes and then decide what I wanted to do. Unfortunately, this chap kept talking to me. So much for rest! So, on my feet again, Katie and I started to climb. And climb. And climb. Sweet fancy Moses did we climb. It got to the point that the climbing was so ridiculous that we started to laugh at its sheer absurdity. Before much longer I knew I was done. Even though I realized I probably could have finished under the 28 hours and was pretty sure I might have still been able to buckle (under 24 hours), the fact remained that I was absolutely shattered in my mind. The darkness that Katie and I had been trudging through was almost suffocating given my exhaustion. I was shuffling like Frankenstein’s monster. And I had other goals on the horizon.
With a marathon in China in less than two weeks, I had to decide what was more important. Should I press on, hope to get a buckle and be bitterly disappointed if I wasted all that energy and all I did was finish? Or should I wrap it up, call it a day, learn from my experience and save myself as much as possible for China. Well, the latter won. As hard as it was to take as huge shot to my pride and pull out, the decision was made to stop at the next pit crew station.
I wish I could adequately describe how long it felt like it took to reach that final aid station. Forever is not a word I can properly use because it felt double that long. I made the decision to quit but I still had to walk miles before I could do so. How is that for sucking to high heaven? It is like in the olden days when the dad would make the kid go cut the switch with which he was to be swatted!
Finally, 4 hours and 49 minutes after I left Elizabeth Furnace, I arrived at Veach West (7th Pit Crew Station (Mile 86.67): Total Time 20:04) where Christine was waiting for me with a towel. (One more runner, a nice guy named Stephen from Missouri, who I had met the day before, had passed me a little while back, and when he asked how I was doing I told him I was done. He apparently told Christine who was sympathetically waiting with the security blanket of sorts). I sat for a while trying to figure out if I made the right decision but when I finally tried to move to get up to go to the car and nothing worked, I knew I had. I have never before been so utterly bereft of any energy. It was very similar to when you continue to suck on a straw hoping to find that one last droplet of Coke in the cup, hidden among the cubes of ice, and finally realize there is no Coke left, I too realized I was empty. I gave it all I had on this particular day.
I apparently was not the only one who gave it their all and fell short. Of the 25 starters, 10 others were unable to finish and, if I heard correctly, only 6 people finished under 24 hours. Keith ended up winning the race to complete a quite impressive 3 week stint. Kudos to him.
Let’s be clear, though. I failed. I have no problem with that word or that result. I think it was James russell Loweel who said: "Not failure, but low aim is a crime." My goal was not to run as many miles as I possibly could and then be happy with that total. My goal was to run 100 miles in under 24 hours and I did not accomplish it. I am not happy with the result. But I am happy with my decision. My first marathon ever was an abject failure in my terms. Yet I got back on that horse twice more in spite of both of those results being far below what I had hoped as well. Will I run another 100 mile race? I cannot say for sure. I do now know however that I have what I takes to pull out of a race when it is right for me to do so. I cannot say I will ever willingly DNF a race again. Heck, if I did not have this race in China in two weeks, chances are I would have kept on going, even though the thought of continuing on in the dark still gives me shivers right now.
So, I failed. I embrace that. Not because I enjoy the loss but rather because I think we live in a world where we coddle too much. It, unequivocally, sucks to not have finished that race this past weekend. But I, in no way, want sympathy for that nor do I wish to have congratulations for how far I went. If anything, I want kudos for having the brains to know what my body could do on a certain day and not trying to go further than I could in some attempt to prove anything to anyone. I will take the failure to heart, will learn from it, accept it, move on and succeed. Hopefully. Because nothing is guaranteed. Just because you have done something once, does not mean you will do it again. And just because you have done one thing well does not mean you will do it better the next time. Or ever.
Life is a crapshoot. Much of it is really not fun. But what makes life worth living are the good parts which, while often outnumbered, far exceed in quality that mass of crap we experience throughout our small time on this planet.
So, I have another race in less than two weeks. Then one a few weeks after that, and even more this summer. I obviously hope to do well at them all. I might not. But I can guarantee you there is one thing you will never have to worry that I did, fail or succeed, and that is to get it my best. With every thing I have.
And that, never, is failure.
For a complete course description, page down!