The GRT will offer four events to provide participants a choice of distances to match their experience, early-season fitness, and season-long goals – the 30K Trail Run, the 50K and 50 Mile Ultra marathons and the 50-Mile 5-person relay. Except for a short stretch at the start and near the end, the 30K and 50K events will be entirely on an exceptional single-track trail. In addition to the single-track, the 50 Mile course also includes a section of very runnable, yet very hilly, double-track/fire roads through beautiful hardwood forests.
Sounds like a great time to me. And boy oh boy it was. But let me back up to the end of my last race. As you know it did not go well at all. After that race I had almost a month of sitting on the couch eating my depression away. I went to the doctors to get tested for Lyme’s disease. Well given my family history of heart disease I had to undergo a lot of testing. In the meantime the Doctor did not want me to do anything strenuous. All the testing I had done did come back negative. Extremely frustrated because I was still having the same symptoms I had at Tuscarora. I still tried to run but it was painful. While on a run I did some damage to the calf muscle on my right leg. On April 21st I felt pain in my groin, I was a dull pain but still something to I needed to check out. Low and behold I had a tick dug into my groin. By looking at it he was in there for a while. I notified my doctor and I was put on a 21 day antibiotic.
After the first few doses I started to feel better. No joint pain, no aching legs, and the other symptoms were going away. While I was down I rode my stationary bike at an easy pace just to keep the cardio up. I started to run again and it felt pretty good. My calf was holding up and my joints felt OK. I must say going into this race I had no idea how it was going to turn out.
Race morning was a cool dry Saturday in May. The week leading up to race day was very wet. So this could mean the trails were going to be a muddy mess. Ben and I drove separately to the race, I had to get to my boys baseball game after the race and Ben wanted to hang out. We both pulled in around 6am one behind the other. A DCNR employee guided us into the field by the start line. I started to get really nervous; will Toddzilla hold up or will he be stranded on the trail. After picking up our race packets we headed back to the cars to get things ready to go. We ran into Ralph who was also racing but he was doing the 30k. He too had personal things that he needed to do that Saturday.
Just before the start; the race Director gave us the rundown of the course and the conditions. As I was walking to the starting line I got to see some good friend that I have gotten to know thru Ultra running. Just before the gun went off I looked at Ben and said we are way up front if were being conservative. Let’s move back he said. Well let’s just stay here they can pass if they want to go around.
Start to Mt. Union Road Aid Station (Mile 4.7) The 50K trail race will start near Pavilion #7 at the McDaniel’s boat launch. Run west a short distance and turn right onto the crushed limestone bike path. Follow the crushed limestone bike path to the bike rental shop. Proceed along the right side of the parking area to the start of the asphalt paved bike path. Follow the bike path to where it crosses the blue-blazed North Country/Glacier Ridge Trail and turn left off of the pavement. After a few hundred yards, the trail crosses North Shore Drive. From North Shore Drive, continue to follow single-track to an unmanned fluids-only aid station at Mt. Union Road.
One mile in and I look at my watch; 8:50 average pace yikes!! Ben we better slow down I am going way to fast. I am too said Ben. As we made our way down the bike path we both noticed that the front runners are just up ahead and then there was us. But no one was in chase. Very odd we both agreed. After crossing North Shore Drive Ben had to stop and use a tree. I pressed on down the single track feeling fantastic. I was running well. I was running the climbs and feeling good on the flats. On the first big climb I passed (the second place Female) and was gaining ground on the next female runner (the overall female winner). As I got behind Tami I told her I think I am running a little too fast but wanted to see how long I could hold on. We both actually ended up running a lot of this section together. She would catch me on the downs and I would catch her on the climbs. We chatted about how the course is in great shape and baseball. Yeah baseball, both of our children were playing that day and we both needed to finish and get home. Time flew and next thing I knew it I crossed Mt. Union road, passed the water station and pressed on.
Mt. Union Road to Rt. 528 Aid Station (Mile 10.0) From Mt. Union Road, stay on single track around a small pond. Shortly after passing by the pond, bear left onto white blazed connector trail. Follow white trail uphill, across a flat ridge, and then a long downhill followed by turning left to re-join the blue GRT. Continue on blue 1.9 miles to a trail junction and sign for “Rt. 528 Bridge”. Go straight, toward the Rt. 528 Bridge, on white blazed trail. After about 0.7 mile on the white trail, the course turns abruptly left and begins a climb away from the lake. After the climb, a flat, but very rocky section leads to a junction with the blue blazed GRT. Bear right and follow the GRT to the Rt. 528 aid station.
As we were making our way down one of the descents I hear a familiar voice. One you left get out of my way….oh crap I must have run to fast that I caught you guys. Yep it was Ben. He was flying down the hill. Tami and I both got passed by Ben and another runner. They were flying. I told Tami she was going to lose me. Nature was calling and I needed to stop. I thought I could make it another 3 miles to the aid station but nope I had to stop. Not wanting to lose my place I did what I needed and took off. I was in chase mode. Man was the course beautiful. As I approached the climb I gave myself a once over and said let’s do this. Normally I would power hike this kind of hill but today I wanted it. I started running the hill. My heart started racing, my breathing got heavy, and I loved every minute of it. As I came to the top of the hill I was still all by myself. Those guys were gone. One nice thing about the section of trail that takes you into Rt. 528 aid station is its all downhill. I have been on top of my nutrition. I have been drinking Pickle juice sport and tailwind every 15 minutes and eating every 45. So I thought why stop; I have enough fluids and food to get me to the next aid station. The cheers of the Aid Station were a welcoming sound. I gave them my bib number and cruse right on thru.
Rt. 528 to Jennings Center Aid Station (Mile 15.2) Shortly after crossing Rt. 528, you will come to a trail intersection, GO TO THE LEFT and continue on blue-blazed trail. At the edge of Jennings Environmental Education Center area, turn right on the white-blazed Ridge Trail. Note: Runners leaving the trail within the Jennings Center will be subject to disqualification. There are many intersecting trails in this part of the course, pay attention to the blue race course markings. You will pass in front of the Jennings Environmental Center building and then cross Rt. 528. After crossing Rt. 528, go through the gate on your left, through a gravel parking lot and onto a short trail section to the Jennings Center aid station.
I crossed the road; saw the sign to go left and made my way up the hill to the single track. I look up ahead and see Tami. OK I thought; I am back on pace with the group. I stayed back for a while holding onto my 11:21 average pace. I eventually caught back up to her and asked how far ahead the other two were. She was uncertain she said she has been running by herself for quite some time. The 50 mile runners were starting to make their way back to the 528 aid station; boy did that bring back a lot of memories from when I did the 50 mile race. As we made our way into the Jennings Center Aid Station I notice the orange shirt standing in the pavilion. It was Ben. I caught back up to him. I drank some coke, I filled my water bottles and we all took off.
Jennings Center Aid Station to Rt. 528 (Mile 21.0) From the pavilion, turn right and follow the blue race course markings. There are many intersecting trails in this part of the course, pay attention to the blue race course markings. Once back on the blue-blazed GRT, trace your steps back to the Rt. 528 aid station.
This is where I planned on making my move for the day. I told Ben the night before at dinner that if I feel good I am taking off. Well I felt great and I took off. I left Tami and Ben behind. I was running as much as I could at an 11:00 minute average pace. On the way back to Route 528 aid station I passed runners of the 50k heading out to Jennings. I looked at my pace chart and figured If I can hold this I could run this 50k in a time around 6 hours even. The Sun was starting to shine and it was making the day even better. Honestly with all the issues I had leading up to this race it is truly amazing I was running as well as I was. When I arrived at the aid station I filled my water bottle and grabbed a banana and a quick drink of mt. dew; said thanks for everything and left.
Rt. 528 to Mount Union Road mile 26.3. then the finish. Once leaving the aid station proceed back to the finish at the McDaniel’s boat launch.
As I left 528, slower 30k runners were coming down the hill into the aid station. This was a good opportunity for me to eat and catch my breath; man that climb was longer than I remembered. I drank down a pickle juice shot and pushed on. I finally hit the top of the hill and picked up the pace. The trail was a bit muddier than before and it took a little more effort than going out. I run the hill back to the lake and notice a runner up ahead. I tried to pick up the pace but he was moving faster than I could go to catch up. My time was starting to go the wrong direction. I should have stopped and ate at the 528 aid station but too late now. I got into my pack and dug out my sport beans and the remaining cliff shots. I chewed them up and pressed on. Trudging along I was passed by Tami. I tried to stick with her to pull me along but once we hit the hills out of the last aid station on union road she was gone. I hit the wall climbing out of this aid station. I ate everything in my pack. I had my tailwind to give me calories but I like solid foods. I kept telling myself; almost done. Finally I end up back on the bike path that takes you to the finish. I try to run fast but my legs were not going to go any faster. I got passed by the second place female and the other runner that I caught. Funny thing is I did not care I was still going to finish in a good time. I was happy to run this race with everything that took place just weeks ago. As I make my way to the finish I look at my watch and cross the finish line in 6:33. Heck yeah I will take that any day of the week. I actually placed 17th out of 57 people and in second place in the 40-49 age group. Ben was not that far behind and finished 19th out of 57 people and took third in the 40-49 age group. Ralph who ran the 30k came in 22nd place out of 96. And a big shout out to personal friends who both won the 50k, and the 30k. Jeff Nelson won the 50k in 5:00 hours flat and Speedster Matt Lipsey won the 30k in a time of 2:31. I have to give a big congratulation to everybody who toed the line and finished. As for me I am happy with my race. I will use this positive energy for world’s end 50k in June.
Simple Rules to: RUNNING DON HALKE’S TUSCARORA 50K
If you agree to everything you read on this page, please send an email, with your name, address, e-mail address, and phone number.
PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF YOU NEED TO WITHDRAW!
No discussing Politics! (This is to be safety zone from the real world)
Be nice to our volunteers and others who you might see on the trail.
No hurting any snake, bear, deer, flower, tree, and most important, Race Director. (Oh, and you might want to hurt him.)
Easier request: This is a FREE event, but we do ask for donations of specific items for the aid stations. PLEASE let me know if you register and then need to withdraw. My wife prepares delicious refreshments for the finish line. We hope you will stay for a little and enjoy our cookout. We will send you a message in an e-mail, as well as on face book, of the items you will need to bring. We do this about a week before the event.
Don’s race takes you thru some pretty amazing places during his event. It is hard not to stop and check things out.
Big Round Top Highest Point on Course
Big Round Top is 2205 feet in elevation and is the highest point on our course. This leg of the run will offer you an opportunity to reflect on your love of running, and how appreciative you are for the race director and his helpers for selecting such a unique running route for you. And you will love what we have waiting for you on top! You reach this point on the course at approximately 18 miles. Your mountain climbing is now over. After you descend the mountain, the rest of the course is relatively flat or rolling hills.
The McCaskey Graves
McCaskey Grave Site rests on the very top of Big Round Top. It is the highest point in Perry County and you will get to make the climb! John and Clara spent a lot of time in these mountains and helped play an important role in having the hemlock chosen as the Official State Tree of Pennsylvania. Both fell in love with the Conococheague Mountain. Even though the mountain is the most extreme western part of the county, it is the spot in Perry County illuminated by the first rays of the morning sun. In 1933, a team 18 state foresters and Civilian Conservation Corpsmen carried Clara’s body and her vault to the top of Big Top Mountain, up Big Round Top. 40 people attended her funeral. John McCaskey was buried beside her in 1948. As you make the climb up the trail to the graves, you can think of those 18 men taking turns carrying her body and the kind words you wish to share with me to thank me for including this trail and opportunity to pay respect to the McCaskey’s and what they helped preserve.
The Railroad Tunnel
A lot of things happened on Big Round Top, and under it, too. The Iron Horse Trail follows two abandoned rail beds: the Path Valley Railroad and the Perry Lumber Company Railroad. Originally, the Path Valley Railroad was going to be an extension for the Newport and Shermans Valley Railroad and would have run through the town of Doylesburg and end in Fannettsburg. After the grade was constructed, it was determined that the planned 2600 feet tunnel under the Conococheague could not be built because of the difficulty tunneling through the rock. As you travel on these sections of the grade, consider how they were built and all the men that labored to move those rocks and dirt. Construction began in 1893 and ended by 1900. You will most certainly notice the grade as you approach the mouth of the tunnel, just after the 21 mile point of your running adventure. Be careful as you climb the steps. They may be slippery.
On Saturday Morning March 25th 2017, myself with a few of my running friends Ralph Smith, Ben Mazur, Elmo, Dave Endress, and Janice Hartkorn. Met at a local parking lot to car pool the hour and thirty five minute drive to the Big Spring Picnic Area, approximately 6 miles west of Blain PA.
While waiting for everyone to arrive a message goes out to all. (My van has a flat tire I need picked up!!) Janice woke up to everyone’s nightmare getting a flat tire the day you need to be somewhere. After a few messages Elmo being the hero made the trip to pick up Janice and by 5:30am we were on the road.
Once we arrived I got to see some fellow Trail runners (Danny Mowers, Jeff Nelson, Patrick Krott, Neil Barnaba.) that the only time we get to chat is at races. I have had a pretty good start to the year with training, and thought I would run this race as hard as I could. The week leading up to the race my son came down with the flu bug that was going around. Well by Wednesday I could feel it trying to take up residence in my chest. With tons of vitamin c and Zicam I was able to keep it at bay. The weather in PA has been extremely insane. One day it is in the mid-60s and the next its 10 degrees with 40 mph winds. Race morning turned out to be a warm muggy day. The race director gave us a pre- race speech and warned us about the many turns and that some of the ribbons could be removed. We were told that the course ribbons would be held on by clothes pins. With a few good laughs and hearty good luck to all we were off.
As the group of runners headed down the trail everyone was trying to dodge the wet areas just trying to keep from getting wet feet. The course was typical PA trails; rocks, roots, leaves and sloppy. As I got in the Congo line I was looking for a good place to pass when all of sudden Jared Hazen passed me and the rest of the train of runners. Jared is an elite Ultra runner who was just out for a training run. That man crushed the course with a time of 4:10. Congratulations to you my friend!!
I was able to pass a group of people who were just moving to slow for me at the time. I ended up running by myself and I was ok with it. Around mile three was the first aid station, I did not stop; I gave them my name and continued on. The trail was very runnable at this point and I was feeling ok. Working my way down the trail I realized I was starting to overheat. I ended up passing a small group of runners on a small incline but had to stop and undress. I had to remove layers of clothes to keep from overheating. I was passed by the group and just tagged along to the next aid station at mile seven.
I got some mountain dew drank a pickle juice shot and grabbed a few gummy bears and continued to move on. It was very runnable and I was enjoying the morning. As the trail made its way along the stream I went to jump over a log when my foot caught a branch and stopped my foot from going where I needed it to land. I was prepared to take a dunk in the stream. But fortunately I caught my balance and avoided the disaster. The trail started to climb and my heart rate started to climb as well; really high really fast. I was sweating a lot. Thinking that I was over doing it I started to power hike. This did not help either. What the heck is going on?
Shortly after the small group I passed caught up to me and I told them that I was going to be that guy that you do not know but hangs back and pretends we are all running together. They all got a good chuckle out of my comment and introduced themselves and welcomed me to the group. We were running all about the same pace. As we made the climb up out of the bottom my heart rate would not slow down. I slowed my pace a little more and got my heart down to where it should be. As we came out onto the forest road I was told do not turn back down this way when we return, As we were running down hill and moving at a fast pace. I was told this climb sucks on the last loop. I was thinking oh man this course has some pretty good climbs. As we turned left onto the single track I was told it was all downhill to the aid station.
I had a pretty good time with the group that adopted me and we were moving forward. Once we hit the bottom we ended back at the very first aid station. This time I refilled my water bottles, ate a ton of fruit. Had some more gummy bears and then left. I was told the next few miles were the worst on the course and be prepared for a big climb. I ran until I hit the base of the hill and started walking. I noticed I was extremely tired at this point in the race, I was almost half way and I started to think that I did not think I could finish. I stopped cleaned my feet off, rung out my socks and tried to refocus. I got up and started thinking one foot in front of the other. Shortly I hear a familiar voice, Hey Toddzilla how’s it going? I turn around to see my friends Elmo and Ben. Surprised to see them I said dam your moving fast! His reply or you are moving slow! HMM maybe it was me. We all walked together for a while. I asked where Ralph was, they replied he is right behind us.
From mile 12 to 14 the remains of a snow storm that we had the week prior was still present. Needless to say a snowball battle ended up taking place. The snow was a great way to keep the body temps down. As we turned and made the descent down the mountain I was passed by eight or nine people. What was wrong with me? Why am I running so slowly? Seems I did not fend off the virus, it was trying to take over. After coming to the realization that I am not 100 percent I thought I would drop out at mile 18 and call it a day. Funny thing was it was not just me all four of us were in a funk. We did have a blast making our way back to the mile 18 aid station. With a mile left to go I shouted out who wants to quit? Who wants to go back and relax? Deep down I knew I was not going to stop, I think they all knew that as well. We arrived at the Aid station to see our buddy Perry from Harrisburg. He was the course sweeper for that section of the race; we joked around and said we were all going to stop. I asked the question how many people are behind us. The Volunteer gave a quick response 28 or so. Well that’s too many we must continue on I yelled.
As we started the power hike back up the mountain Elmo decided that 20 miles was enough for him that day. His knee was starting to bother him and this was the first time he actual ran in a very long time. Ralph climbed like a machine. Seems he was the smart one who brought his trekking poles to the race. Ralph moved swift and effortless while Ben and I were struggling to keep up. Ben fell during a run a few weeks prior and hurt his quad pretty bad. The two of us looked like we both just got done running a 100 miles. We climbed and climbed Ralph was gone Ben was up ahead and I just could not muster any effort to climb at a brisk pace. Back out onto the forest road I ended up catching back up to Ben but Ralph and his buddy Craig were gone.
Ben and I both wished we felt better; we helped keep each other moving forward. The road seemed to never end. We finally got to the 24 mile aid station and all I could think was my day is almost over. It was not that my legs hurt it was the fact that I had zero energy to move or run for that matter. I wanted just to sit and take a nap. We both ate and thanked the volunteers for taking the time out of there day to help total strangers. It was hot, I was tired and the snow worked for both of us. I stuffed it in my shirt while ben used it on his quad. We looked like two guys that had no business being out on the trails. We both decided to put this puppy to bed and started to run. I led the charge down off the mountain until we hit another fire road. My kidneys were hurting with every step. I decided to stop and go to the bath room, it was the second time I went and man what a relief. Ben was about 60 yards ahead of me and was making the gap bigger. Feeling better I picked up my pace and finally caught back up as we made the climb back to the starting line.
We would run then walk run then walk. Seems we both had the same idea to finish. I thought this was going to be my slowest 50k to date until he reminded me that we started at 8am not 7am. I was in total shock. Geez, what the heck, am I out of it that much. As Ben points out the railroad tunnel I knew we were almost done. As we made our way to the finish I could hear all the runners that finished already and it was then I knew my day was about to be over. Ben and I both finished in 7 hours and 22 minutes. Not a bad time for two guys who were ready to call it quits at mile 18. Ralph finished 6 minutes ahead of us and Dave finished long before us with a time of 5:33. Janice came in behind Ben and me with a time of 8:39.
Things happen for a reason. Enjoying the day with my friends was much more rewarding than finishing this race with a good time. I think we all ended up together at that point in the race because we all needed each other to get to the finish line. It was just one foot in front of the other for all of us…
A 50 mile race just weeks from my first 100 mile finish.
Ralph Smith and I headed to Maryland to run The Stone Mill 50 Mile. It is a 50 mile trail run on the Seneca Green-way and Muddy Branch trails in Montgomery County Md. The course traverses forested, rolling terrain. The course is primarily on single track dirt. There are small stream crossings. Most of the course drains well, but parts can be muddy in wet weather. I have run this race before and for the price it is a good bargain.
We left Altoona at 2:30am and made the trip a one day event. Not sure that was such a good Idea or not but we made the best of it. We arrived just as the race director was starting to set up for the event. We asked if it was ok to park at the start finish line instead of out on Steadwick road. He gave us permission since we were the first ones to arrive. We pulled into a spot that was pretty dark and tried to take a quick power nap before registration opened.
As registration opened I told Ralph to hit the bathrooms early, single bathrooms with 200 plus runners is not a good thing. Once the line starts to form it never gets shorter. With all the pre race stuff out-of-the-way it was go time. The course started out on paved road that takes you to the trail head. It was a cold brisk morning. I wanted to be conservative in the beginning and pour it on as the day unfolded. With Ralph on my tail we made the miles disappear. We had a pretty good pace going and we both felt really good. We talked it up about previous years running Stone mill. I gave him a run down on what to expect and explained the entire course is very run able.
Disaster strikes. This year’s course was changed to include a loop around Clappers Lake. Well the train that Ralph and I were in ran right past the turn at or around mile 8. Now I have been running tails for a long time and this was the first time in my life that I missed a turn. We ended up at the aid station way before the leaders. The Aid Station volunteers told us to keep going and make the loop up on the way back thru. Now trial running rules stats that you must enter the trail where you went off course. Not wanting to start an argument with a volunteer the group of 15 or so kept moving forward. Not even a half a mile later the entire group was off the course again. The problem was its fall the leaves are RED orange brown. DO NOT USE red ribbon to mark the course, use a nice bright pink or a lime or even bright orange.
I was ready to quit. I had enough. Being a race director myself and one who marks the course for our races I was pissed that it was piss poorly done. But since this was my third time running I knew which way we had to go to get to the Penny Lock Aid Station. With Ralph on my heels we made up time on some of the course. Little by little the leaders started to catch us. Some were pissed some were ok with it. They all stated that it’s easy to get off course. Some areas had one flag every half mile and some had flags every 10 feet.
At one point I was talking to Ralph and did not get a response, I turned and found out Ralph had fallen back a little. He yelled to keep moving don’t wait for me I want to slow down a little. As we said our good-bye that is when I noticed I was running really well. At each aid station it was the honor system to tell them that you missed the lake loop. At The Stone mill aid station runners who did not make the loop needed to go thru a busted down building and come out the other side so your number could be recorded. This is where I saw some runners who I was with skip this and head straight to the aid station. Really are you kidding me? You’re going to cheat yourself.
My Sunnto watch beeps every 15 minutes to remind me to drink some tailwind or take a drink of my http://www.picklepower.com/ As I looked at my watch I noticed I was at mile 31.4 in 5:49. Thinking that my race was going to be even better than I thought I tried to push the pace a little harder. Not sure it was a good move or not but I was feeling good. Around mile 39 I started to cough badly. With ever deep breath I took I coughed. The cold air was starting to hurt. I pulled my Worldsend Buff over my face just leaving my eyes open to try to warm the air as I inhale.
Around Mile 41 I make the turn to go around the lake. I felt like a rookie trial runner. But hey I am an honest guy and need to do what was right. Funny thing is I never saw another runner on this section. As I am making my way wound the lake the ribbons were far and few between. At one point I got really nervous I was off course until a family told me ribbons were just ahead. I could not make up any time on this loop. I came out to a parking lot and I had no idea where to go. The flags were gone. Seems people like to remove flags to be funny. As I was wondering around I saw a runner approaching me. He asked which way do we go. I said I was looking for the main trail myself. He explained that he thought he had to go around the lake a second time. We both headed back where he came from and got back on the trail to head to the finish.
I was cold and very tired. I had zero energy left in the tank. Again I was ready for it to be over. My 100 mile race was still in my legs. They were heavy sore and my I T band really started to act up. I was moving very slow. My 9 minute miles were turning into 13 minutes miles. I knew where I was at on the trail and what I had to do to finish. I left the last Aid station just wanting to break dark. I was curious where Ralph might be. I am thinking he is going to pass me at the last-minute. As I came back out to the paved road and sidewalk I was done. I walked and walked and walked. As I approached the finish line I heard my name. Come on Toddzilla finish strong. As I looked up I could see Ralph and my friend Perry. What the hell. Did they not do the lake loop? Did I go that far off course? What was going on?
As I get passed by an older gentlemen I put my arms up in disbelief that ass just passed me in the last 10 feet. Not a true trail runner no doubt about it. Well I beat the dark and ran a 10:57:50 50 mile. If you told me that was going to be my time around mile 31 I would have laughed at you. I was congratulated by Ralph and Perry on my finish. Seem they did not have the kind of day they wanted. Shortly after Ralph and I split he took a hard fall and smacked his knee pretty bad. He made the right choice and dropped. This was his first DNF. As for Perry his day started out bad from the get go. He thought the race started later and while making up time he to fell. But Perry hit his head pretty hard and had to go get it checked.
I had an OK day I am sure I will run it again. Maybe just maybe they will take advice from people and mark the course a little better. The Aid stations are top-notch and the volunteers are amazing!
The Month of December is when my quad started to feel really good. I have been playing around with the thoughts of going for a run. I keep getting invites to go on long runs with my buddies. They keep throwing it in my face Hyner is only a few months away. I am so far behind everyone right now, seems I am the only one not running. I better get in shape OILCREEK will be here before I know it!!
January 5th I started running again, it was a short 6 mile run but it felt good. I was out of breath and all the extra weight I gained made it hard but, I had no pain in my quad what so ever. I took the next day off and went pretty conservative for the remainder of the week finishing just shy of 29 miles. Not sure why but I was nervous with my training already. Would I find a way to keep motivated thru the winter months? Would my quad hold up to my training I had planned on doing.
While online I came across a training program that I thought that I might like. It’s a program that consists of 25 weeks. I have never followed anything before. I just ran. So I said why not and set it up that I would train for Laurel highlands 70.5 in June and then start over and set it up for Oil Creek in October. So on January 26th my training program started. I was excited to see how this would unfold in the upcoming months.
While thinking of a way to market Pickle juice for running I stumbled across a website http://www.picklepower.com. They already had my idea rolling so I got in contact with them and they offered me an ambassador’s position. Man I really felt special being able to sponsor someone’s product doing something I love.
It was April and training was going very well for me I had 965 miles in by the time Hyner rolled around. Last year Hyner killed me I was hurting and was not in a good place. So this year I was feeling pretty confident going into this race. For me I was using it as a long run because that’s what my running program had me doing. Well I was very happy with my run; I ran a 6:55 50k with little effort this year. I Felt strong the entire race. It was great seeing and hanging out with all my trail family that cool day.
Next up was Worlds End 5ok, another training run that just happens to be a race. I was nervous about this one because of the terrain. It had lots of climbs and lots and lots of rock. But again I was not racing just running on how I felt during the day. It was a very cool day in May. That day my training really paid off. Like Hyner I was going into this as a training run and ended up with a time of 7:11 32nd place out of 132 that started. I was on cloud nine that day, but I knew I had lots of training to do to get ready for Laurel which was coming up fast.
The night before laurel I was uneasy. Erin my wife was having surgery. It was outpatient surgery so she insisted that I run. I could not stop thinking that I wanted to be with her instead of with my friends who were also running laurel this year. Well her surgery went very well and she was in no pain. Getting the news Erin was ok; it was off to bed I went.
Race day turned out to be the hottest day so far in 2016; it was 93 degrees and 88% humidity. My new focus was to just finish. I do not do well in that kind of heat. With all my training; 1057 miles to be exact I figured to finish in the 17 hour mark. I was on target until mile 37 when the heat took its toll on me. I went into survival mode and just went for a finish. I did finish with a time of 20:18 61st out of 137 people. I wanted to race this and finish in a good time but it turned out to be a good training run for my goal of finishing Oil creek in October
With laurel being over I reset my training plan for Oil creek. Felt pretty good coming off of my finish at laurel. I was back on schedule. I got to run the JP Saylor trail with my crew and pacer this year Ralph Smith. We talked about my previous Oil Creek tries and got me feeling pretty good about training again. Well it did not last long. Summer was in full swing and my mileage dropped. Like I said before I don’t run well in the heat. I was doing a long run on Saturdays; but the back to back long runs were not taking place. I needed to re-focus and get my mind back into it. So on July 9th Joel and I made a trek to Oil creek for a supported training run. For me it was to get me refocused on my goal of getting that buckle and for Joel it was training for his first 100 mile at Eastern States. Thanks Tom Jennings!!
The 2nd week in July I had 1274 miles in the books, but I seemed lost. I was 13 miles away from running further than I did in all of 2015. And like I said it’s only the second week in July, Seems all my running buddies had different plans for weekend runs. And after running into a bear 3 weeks before it made me a little nervous hitting those long runs by myself in the forest! I needed some advice so I contacted my running brother from South Williamsport Brian Newcomer. He was just the man I needed to talk to. I asked him for some advice and how he trained for his 100 miles. I was right on target with my training and I had nothing to worry about.
Sunday July 14th Joel and I decided to head up to Blue Knob and run the new course that Ben Mazur had come up with for this year’s Rockn the knob. I contacted Ben and he actually met us where the course changes routes. While running I was in a pretty bad funk, I drank 40oz of tailwind in only 10 miles. I was hurting. I told the guys that I was done and needed to get back to my jeep. Now it was 88 degrees and very muggy. They were both tired also from running the lost turkey trail the day before so it was a win, win for everyone. On the way back to our cars I told them that this run puts me over my mileage from 2015, Ben’s words (Jeez it’s only July). Joel gave me a hand shake with a smile and congratulated me.
Saturday July 30th I was signed up to run the lost Turkey 50 mile ultra. I have run the lost Turkey trail a bunch of times but never from Blue Knob to Windber. As expected it kicked my ass. This was a long run for me just to put miles on my feet. Weather was great at the 4:30 start, but by the time I reached the turnaround spot things changed. We got hammered with a pretty severe thunder shower that lasted pretty much the entire day. It was defiantly a fun day. I got to help my new trail buddy Neal finish his first 50 mile Ultra. Having company on this run sure made the trek back to Blue Knob go fast.I ended up in 22nd place out of 47. Unfortunately 20 runners did not make the tight cutoff that this race had. With the weather conditions the way they were I am very happy where I finished.
On August 20th my Crew slash pacer Ralph Smith and I made a trip back to Oil Creek for an evening of running on NO sleep. A sleep deprived run to try to simulate the third loop. Woke up for work Friday morning at 3:30am and stayed up the entire evening. Well we arrived at O.C. around 8:30pm and picked up Jeff Nelson at Petroleum Center. We used his Vehicle as an aid station since he was only going to run half of the course.
That evening went very well for Ralph and I, we discussed plans for the race and most important he got to run on the trails. It was his first time on the trail and he will be running it around the same time frame so it worked out good. We took about 8.5 hours to finish on that hot and muggy night.
Labor Day weekend I found myself making another training run out at oil creek. This time Renee, Debra, Adam and Ben joined in. Again Jeff helped me out setting up aid stations for us as we made our way around the park. My Hats off to Jeff for taking care of us every time we make the trek to O.C.! Trail family is the best. My run was just the boost I needed. I ran extremely well during the cooler temps and was able to run a good pace when the sun started to warm things back up.
Friday October 7th myself with my crew and pacer Ralph Smith met up with Adam McGinnis his wife Kelly and his pacer Coryn Snyder at the local running shop Brush Mountain Running and Outdoors. We left Altoona and made the trek North up route 36. The trip was pretty much non eventful as Ralph and I talked over my game plan to finish this race.
As we made the turn onto South Brown Street the parking lot was already full of runners staking their spot for the weekend. We were able to find a nice spot where we parked side by side. Like a kid going into a toy store I was excited to be there. We all made our way into the Middle school and went into the registration area. Registration was a breeze and having bib number 11 in hand It felt like this was happening way to fast. My year of training for this race seemed to fly by. And now I am here going to give it another shot.
I was able to chat with a good friend and great guy Brain Newcomer and his Girlfriend Mary Daubermen. Mary was signed up for the 100K and Brain was her crew and pacer for the day. After purchasing some race swag we ran into Jeff Nelson, Oil Creek legend. He is one bad ass trail runner who was doing the 50k. As we were heading out to go to the Blue Canoe to drink some carbs we ran into Danny and Mark. Danny Mowers was running the 100k while Mark was signed up to run his first 50k.
We dropped off our swag at the vehicles and walked the couple blocks over to the Blue Canoe. The place was packed. Unfortunately we were unable to get a table to fit all of us. So the 5 of us opted for a table and as we were heading to be seated I saw Jeff and Renee Calvert eating and relaxing at a table across the room. We chatted a bit and they told me they were just about done and were going to head back to the school and get Renee’s race swag and wait for Ben Mazur, he was on his way from an all day job fair. Ben was running the 100 also but we figured he would get their extremely late. So we never made any plans to meet up.
As we were eating our scalding hot pizza (yes the roof of my mouth still has blisters) I looked over and see ultra-man Perry Legion. Perry and I have run a ton of races together. And every damn time I pass him early in the race just to have his pass me later as the day unfolds. We joked around about this and I told him that Myself Adam and Ben were sticking together the first loop and going to go very conservative. I asked if he would like to join our group and with a big Perry smile he accepted. I told him he had to keep me in check and slow me down when my adrenaline would kick in. He laughed and said we had a deal.
I was getting tired and I knew what was lying ahead so we all finished up and headed back to our quarters for the night. As we were leaving we said our good buys to our friends who were already seated and headed towards the door. Crossing the street was like a scene from a cartoon. As we were headed across Ben, Renee and Jeff were going back in for some more. We made a scene in the walk way said our hello and good byes.
Ralph was set up in the gym. I was set up in my Jeep, and Adam and Kelly in his truck and Coryn in her tent, we all tried to get a good night’s rest. I feel asleep fast just to be woken up by a telemarketer at 10:03pm, really calling at that time of night give me a break. Well thank god I feel back asleep and was able to get some good rest that night.
My alarm was set to go off at 3:30am, my wife was also going to wake up and text me to make sure I am awake. God what a great wife I have. But at 3:17am I woke up from my slumber and shot out of my jeep and headed for the showers. A good shower before every ultra is a great way to relax, and get focused on the day.
I was showered, lubbed, used the rest room (3x) dam nerves, and had 35 minutes to go before the race started. Ralph stated that Ben needed some help he was all out of sorts. He forgot water, misplaced his water bottles and was running out of time to get ready. Ralph being the great guy that he is stepped in and aided Ben in getting ready. I was a bundle of nerves. I knew why, but I think everyone in that room felt the same as I did. I sat down drank a monster lemon tea and had 4 peanut butter cookies 2 apple oatmeal bars and just waited as time ticked away.
Start Loop 1:
We headed out like a bunch of cattle heading for slaughter; actually the race starts and finishes at the back entrance of the Middle school which is pretty cool. Waiting for the start Ben, Perry, Adam, and myself all grouped up and started the race off like we planned sticking together to keep each other company on the first of 3 loops.
The first mile is a mixture of road and a paved bike path; this is a great way to separate the slower runners from the fast runners. We all stayed together at a comfortable 9:30 pace as we made our way to the trail head. We talked and carried on like little kids. I was trying not to think about the past three years and always coming up short on this race. I have always run this first loop really fast and have paid for it later. We hit the trail head and the Congo line started. We talked and carried on for the first 6 miles. Boy did that time fly. Perry had the first fall of the day, someone pushed him from behind and he went down hard. He shot back up and continued forward and assured he was ok. As we were making our way down the decent to Aid station one, my stomach decided it needed to use the rest room again. Aid Station one was decorated with a Birthday theme this year. Jeff Nelson’s daughter made calendars with everyone that was running that day. Our names were written on the day our Birthdays fell on, a totally cool thing to see in the middle of the woods. We all decided we would get what we needed but wait for each other before heading up the switch backs for the first time of many. As we made our way up the switch back the field was spread out already. Coming down the other side I reminisced about the year Elmo said I hope my feet hit before my face.
As the train of runners were heading up the path a few of them all decided to stop and go to the bathroom. Well that left me in the lead. Well guess what I started to do? You guessed it I took off like a shot. Perry and Adam yell hey what are you doing? Realizing my stupidity I said oh just stretching my legs out a bit. The sky started to brighten. The use of headlamps and flash lights was coming to an end. At the Pioneer water stop Ben yells Bathroom break, don’t wait keep running without me I will see you sometime. We crossed the road and head back into woods and focused on getting to Petroleum Aid Station which was 3.5 miles away.
I look at my watch and say to Perry and Adam we should hit As2 about 8:15. Adam was like cool sounds good. But Perry told his wife that he would not arrive until 9am. I was worried that I just messed up his race. He was hoping his wife Janice would see that he was closer to the aid station than predicted and would be their waiting for him. Perry’s wife Janice is a Crew chief like no other, she has helped so many people including me when I was bonkking during the Laurel Highlands Ultra back in 2014. As we hit the drake wells a familiar voice yells out on you left, it was Danny he was in third place in the 100k. We yelled at him to get moving he had 23 minutes to make up on the leader. And like that he was gone. Danny ran his ass off and took second place honors with a time of 10:58. I was bragging to the gentlemen in front of me that I know that badass mofo!! He took third overall in last year’s 100 mile race the guy was like impressive, very impressive!!
As we came out onto the dirt road leading the Petroleum Center I moved over to the right hand side of the road to give my left knee a break. It might just be me but I am pretty sure that the entire trail has a contour to the left which can cause some serious it ban issues later in the race. I felt like a million bucks. Perry, Adam and I decided to get what we needed at the aid station and head out together again. It was muggy down in the Valley the cool temps that were supposed to be at the start never happened.
According to my pace chart I should have been at this aid station at 8:37am. I was ahead of schedule but not causing any physical issues in doing so. Perry slowed down coming down the road and I felt Adam leaving my side and heck, I had to pass some people to get to my crew and pacer Ralph. The man even made a banner for Ben and I. Ben, Ralph and I are race directors for the Allegheny Trailrunners Inc. So he said we had to represent.
Ralph had everything set up for me, all I had to do was refill my bottles dump my garbage and get new supplies. At this aid station I grabbed my trekking poles to help me with some of the bigger climbs that lay ahead, I was ready to go in less than 2 minutes.
I look for Adam and Perry and I could not find them. I started to panic a bit. Finally I see Adam being attended to by Kelly and Coryn. I saw Perry looking for his wife Janice. I yell at them to both to see if they are ready. Adam yells Jeez give me 2 minutes I need to eat. Perry looked at me and said I am ready Janice is going to be mad she missed me. I felt terrible. Adam was making his way over and Perry looked at me and said don’t wait for me I need to eat more. I need to replace more calories. We said our good byes and I told him I bet you catch me later in the day like you always do.
I thought wait what about Ben where is Ben? Adam said what are we doing? Who are we waiting for? I looked at him and said let’s go. We headed up out of the aid station sweating like pigs. The Humidity was thick and our bodies were paying the price. Once we hit the top of the hill it is very runable and you can really fly. I got myself into a good rhythm and Adam was right on my heels. As we were making our way across the mountain a swift breeze kicked in and the temps plummeted. Adam yells out thank you lord. Within minutes the wind picked up and the rains came. With this storm dumping down on us it actually felt amazing. I could not help think to myself that I am running strong!! My legs hand no tired in them, and my feet were feeling great. Adam yells out you’re not dropping me that easy. A turn around and look and yell back not the plan at all brother.
As we continued on I just kept thinking be smart, be smart you have a long day ahead of you. I made some conversation with a few runners who kept leap frogging me. I talked to a lot of great people during this race. I am just terrible with names. While making the nice long accent before Miller farm road, a familiar voice again yells out, on your right. It was Jeff Nelson. He was kicking ass in the 50k. Funny thing is he passed me in this exact same spot in 2014. He went onto win the 50k in 4:32. As I popped out on to Miller farm road about mile 22.7, I saw Janice Perry’s wife. I said high and she asked how Perry was I told her what happened at As2 and she wished me luck and said he was not far behind. In my mind I was like fantastic. As I was running down the road to the Aid station I did the same thing I ran on the right side of the road to give my left leg a break. Coming into the aid station I grabbed a few things and turned around and headed right back to the trail.
At this point I was all by myself, our group has split up. We were all running our own races. This was the slowest I have run this first loop and the best I have ever felt doing this race. I was staying on top of my hydration and fuel. The next 8 miles flew by I came out onto the drake well loop and took off. I could not believe how fresh my legs felt. I ran the entire drake well loop and ran the bike path back to the School. As I came into the school Ralph had my loop two container in hand ready for me to change, I yelled over and said am going to change at my Jeep I will meet you there.
I crossed the timing Mat at 12:24pm. Adam followed in at 12:27pm Perry at 12:42pm and Ben at 12:53pm.
I changed my entire wardrobe from head to toe; I rushed as fast as I could to get back onto the trail. Ralph again did what he came to do. He made sure I had everything I needed gave me encouraging words and sent me on my way.
I ran down the bike path and gave kudos to all the 100 mile runners 100k runners and the 50k runners coming back to the school. I saw Perry gave him kudos, Ben gave him fist pumps, I saw Renee Calvert and Jennifer Leigh as they were flying down the bike path, Mick Queen was moving, and Ryan Espulgar was in the mix also. I was having a great time. I have met so many good friends while running that it was so cool that they were all here. Once I hit the trail head I put my game face on, knowing that I have been injured every time while being out on the second loop, I studied the ground with each step to make sure my foot placement was perfect. Well it did not take long and with a slip of the foot in some pretty sloppy mud I was heading for a face plant, hell no not again I lunge forward and grab a group of small sapling and stop myself. Spun around ripping roots out of the ground I saved my fall. A new friend Mandy asked if I was ok. I told her yep I was not going to let this course beat me this year.
I explained my ordeal with this race and told her this was the year of redemption. As we pass the bridge that I slipped on last year that ended up tearing my quad, I stepped to the side went around and flipped it off. She yells keep on moving on!! My day was unfolding like I had planned; I was ahead of my schedule and I was feeling fantastic. Rolling into As1 again I got some soup and some strawberry’s and hit the switch backs like a goat going up the side of the Mountain. Hit the top and picked up the pace and headed for Petroleum center. I strolled in at 4:10pm 27 minutes ahead of schedule. Adam came in at 4:33pm Perry came in at 4:40pm and Ben at 5:20pm
As I approached Ralph he yells dude you are looking amazing. I grabbed some mashed potatoes from the wonderful aid station volunteers, I said thank you and headed for my crew, I thank him and ask how everyone else is doing. He gives me the rundown that Adam is not far behind and Perry looked good but, Ben was not having a good day. He said Ben was having some leg and chaffing issues. All day long I kept it to myself that it would be so cool to see all 4 of us leave with that buckle in hand. (Just like in 2013 when we all finished the Laurel Highlands 70.5 mile race). I said to Ralph; Ben is a tough runner he will fix what he needs and he will be ok. In the mean time I switch out the same as I did the first loop and headed for Heisman hill once again. I ran a good bit of these sections with new friend Mandy and another trail running buddy Jeremy Hand. This was Jeremy’s first attempt for the OC 100. He has done the 100k two years in a row and each time passing me while I was (trying to finish a 100). The time seemed to be just clicking away, but they lost me pretty quick. They both went on to finish! Jeremy in 28:25 and Mandy in 29:31. When I left to Boy Scout camp again I started to notice a pretty good headache starting to set in. I realized I was pushing the pace too hard and my heart rate was running pretty high. I backed it off a good bit and tried to enjoy the evening. I knew it would be getting dark on me and I was trying to not let that bother me.
As I hit Miller Farm road again it was quiet, did the race stop? Did everyone leave? I ran into the aid station and got to see a good friend Rob Kolo. Rob finished the 100 mile last year and knew what I was starting to go thru. I explained my headache, he went thru a list of questions and it seems I was missing caffeine. Who would have thought? I drank some coke ate some more strawberries and last but not least Rob had a piece of gum that really hit the spot. Looking at my watch I was right on schedule. But the cushion was gone. I did not think about it for too long I got right down to business and started climbing. I ended up catching a few runners that I kept leap frogging with threw out the day and we talked about how are days were going. With a quick on your left a few people passed us and they were gone. I was like dam 100k runners. We all got a chuckle out of it and again it was not long; I ended up by myself. I plug along and come out of the woods in a weird mood. I was thinking about all the years that I have made this dreaded loop just to have my race end a few miles later. I stop running and just start walking. I am all alone, no headlamps just me and the sound of the well. Until the sound of a runner coming up from behind, it brought me back to reality. It was Paul Encarnacio’n he was on his last loop of the 100k, He was moving fast I wished him luck, got out of his way and like that he was gone. I was in a slump walking back to the school. The dam bike path seemed to go on forever. It wasn’t till I saw other runners heading back out that holy crap I have another loop to get done.
As I was heading back it dawned on me my Family is waiting for me at the School. I looked at my watch and noticed I was only a few minutes behind my schedule; I picked up my pace and ran the rest of the way in. As I was making my way to the timing mat my crew and very soon to be pacer yells “you wife and family have you stuff in the school”. I crossed the mat at 9:14pm Adam came in at 10:10pm Perry at 11:32pm, Unfortunately Ben had stopped his 100 mile journey at Miller Farm as3, Ben’s day did not go well from the get go. But you got to give the man kudos for making it 53.6 miles. I headed towards the door; I took off my muddy shoes so I did not track mud all thru the school. Saw my family with a whole pizza pie of Dinos’ pizza just sitting there waiting for me. I said hello to everyone and told them that I was doing fine. I grabbed my 3rd loop bin and heading to the locker room with a slice of pizza in hand.
As I entered the locker room from the gymnasium I was like wow it is busy with lots of 100k finishers cleaning up after their race. One of those runners was Todd Valansky; He has done the 100 mile here before so he knew what to say. I told him about my headache and he assured me it would go away. He told me to not waste much time get back out on the course. So taking his advice I changed as fast as I could and got ready for the last loop. After I got changed I talked to my family again and my father in-laws words were just get to Petroleum Center and get out. As we made our way outside I was still thinking to myself what is going to happen to take me out of this race.
LOOP3: The last full loop
Ralph and I Left the school and started our journey thru the night. The bike path was very runable, we were giving kudos to other runners heading in and one of those runners were Adam, we yelled back and forth and I yell catch me Adam catch me. I picked up my pace a bit from the surge of adrenalin but once we hit the single track my pace really slowed. We talked and talked and solved all the world’s problems in the first few miles. As we were making our way down the trail Ralph said he sure was glad that he came out with me to do the night run. We came into As1 for the last time and lo and behold the man I was just waiting to see was standing there. Jeff Nelson asked me what I needed, well my head hurts, I cannot take the taste of tailwind anymore and my stomach is killing me. He grabs me soup broth gives me some endurolytes and tells me to try to relax its all symptoms from running for a long time. I ate a cup of strawberries again, drank the soup and asked Ralph if he was ready to go.
As we made the climb up the switch backs I got really tired, I asked Ralph if we could stop at the overlook bench for 30 seconds. He was like sure but just 30 seconds. Well I sat down closed my eyes and time seemed to just stop. I could hear faint cheers from the aid station the sound of darkness in full swing and then it was time to move. I got up and focused my eyes once again and we starting our trek to Petroleum center. We did not talk too much during the next few miles. I was starting to get really sick and did not want to alarm Ralph that something was wrong. I started to dry heave every time I would pick up the pace to run harder. This seems to last and last and last. As we were approaching the Drake wells I finally let out what wanted to come out. Pure liquid flew out of my mouth in such a manner I looked like one of those fountain statues in a park.
Please don’t tell my family buddy, I do not want them to worry. Ralph promised to keep quiet and we kept moving forward. This issue really started to mess with me. My legs were in great shape. I did not have one cramp all day long “Thanks to my Picklejuicesport”. My feet were sore but hell I have been on them all day. It was when I tried to run my stomach said no!! We have to stop and dry heave. As we crossed the road we passed a runner who I was playing leap-frog with all day, as I passed I asked how he was and he informed me his IT band was locking up on him and he was going to drop at the next aid station. I told him to keep moving that he would regret it in the morning. But I had to get to the Aid Station myself and get out.
I told my wife we should arrive around 2:30 when we left the school. In the meantime Ralph already sent her a message that I was not doing good to expect us around 3. Well we arrived at 2:49am. The fog was so thick you could not see two feet in front of your face. I went right thru the aid station and started looking for my family. With a bit of panic I searched and searched but the fog was so thick that I went right passed them the first time. I open up the tailgate to my Jeep and see my boy sleeping in my makeshift Bed. Man did Kenton look comfortable. Everyone rushes to my needs my family and Ralph were like a pit crew at a racing event. My wife grabbed me a big cup of noodles which tasted awesome. I made the decision to dump my hydration pack and just wear a single 20oz bottle waist pack. The extra weight from the pack was starting to get to me. My Father in law looks at me and says as soon as you get out of here, you got this!! With a smile on my face I asked Ralph if he was ready and we started heading towards Heisman hill.
As we were climbing all I could think is; I freaking made it out of Petroleum Center. I was climbing at a pretty good clip. Ralph told me to slow down a bit but I did not listen I wanted to get out of there and fast. Well my core temp was rising fast and that was something I did not want to happen. I began to sweat a lot. We hit the top of the hill and all I wanted to do is take a nap. I asked for a minute at the first bench. And Ralph held me to a minute. Let’s roll he said. So I got up and we started moving. We made it about a mile when I asked to sleep for two minutes. Before I hit the ground I was out. Snoring like a bear. Ralph watched over me making sure I was ok. He actually gave me a few extra minutes of rest before he saw headlamps coming so he wanted to get me up. I felt refreshed and exhausted at the same time. I have run the farthest ever in my life at this point and I was not sure what to expect. Funny thing is my legs felt the same at mile 40 as they did at mile 80.
Since I was not able to run fast my time started to slip further and further away. I had the taste of vomit in my mouth, my stomach was cramping, my eyes were heavy and I was not sure if I could actually finish. As we came into the Boy Scout camp I asked a gentleman if he had a stick of gum. All I wanted was gum. Sure enough the guy reached into his pocket and handed me his pack of Wrigley gum. To me it was heaven. With the taste of vomit out of my mouth my spirits picked up and I started running again. I went slow for a while but gradually picked up the pace. I passed Adam Peterson who was pacing someone in the 100k. He told me it was great to see me doing it. I told him my issues and without hesitation he responds it’s a 100 miles you’re going to have issues!! everything I was dealing with was normal to just keep moving forward. It was great words to hear.
As we came out onto Miller farm road for the last time, all I could think about was the horror stories from people who have finished this race. Don’t stop and get warm by the fire you will never leave. I looked at my watch and it was 6:05 am I said to Ralph we are not going to make back to the school by 10:30am for the cutoff. He looked at me like I had 3 heads. What; what are you talking about. It’s only a little after 6 and you have 4 hours to go the next 8 miles. Well math was not registering with me and I think Ralph knew it. So doing what a pacer does, he said to me if you can get to that group of trees in the next 30 seconds we will defiantly make the cutoff. I took off in a sprint and with a smile he said see you got lots of time now. To me it made all the sense in the world; sprint 15 yards and gain lots of time.
We climbed the first hill and then hit Rockefeller’s revenge with a full head of steam. I was getting my energy back. My stomach was not giving me issues and next thing I knew my pace really picked up. I started passing other runners. And I am not going to lie to you; it felt great. At one point I turned around to talk to Ralph and I could see his headlamp a ways back. I slowed my running down so he could catch back up and as soon as he did the words I will remember for ever came out. HOLY SHIT TODDZILLA IS BACK. We started to make one of the last climbs of this section and I could see headlamps up ahead I looked at Ralph and said let’s go get them. To my surprise it was Brian Newcomer and his Girl Friend Mary Daubermen. They both told me how happy they were to see me getting it done. I gave Mary the kudos she deserved and then hit the trail with a lot of energy.
Daylight has made its way back to Oil creek at this point of the race I had 1 mile to go before coming out of the trail and making my way around the drake well loop for the last time. I ran hard and swift. Ralph was right on my heels pushing me like I wanted. We came out onto the hard road to be greeted by the great volunteers telling me last well loop for number 11. At this point in time I realized that if nothing physically happens to me I am going to finish this race!! This race has plagued me for 3 straight years. The monkey held onto me for a very long time. The smiles started to show. Ralph lets out a big wahoo. We pushed as hard as one can push for having 91 miles on their legs. All I had to do is make it to the school change shoes and head back out. As I came in Danny ran with me and I explained the issues I had and he tells me forget about them that’s in the past put this bitch to bed. You have a lot of time to finish. I see Ben and asked dude what happened? His response was; this is your race right now we will talk about mine later. The encouraging words and the smiles I saw on my tired and worn out family’s faces was all I needed to build up some energy to finish this race once and for all.
LOOP 4: coming home
It was the best feeling knowing one tiny loop of a 7 miles and I will have that buckle in my hand. My family my friends were all there waiting for me, cheering for me. My heart was racing; I changed shoes quickly, and tell Ralph to catch up; I start running back out the road to the bike path; I heard Ralph say holy shit I was not ready for that. With a Monster in one hand a trekking pole in the other he caught up to me in time to run down the bike path. Half way down we see Adam and Coryn, we yell back and forth and wish each other luck. Lots of people were coming into finish, or coming into head back out like I was doing. We made it to the end of the bike path and ran into Mary and Brian again. We exchanged hugs and congratulated on another and then Ralph and I headed for the single track. This was slow going the trail was a mess. But we made it to the turn that takes you on the going home loop and it hits me I am almost done.
I have never been on this trail before; I always said I was going to wait till I was on my going home loop to run it. Well here I am running it, not very fast but I am running the final loop; the going home loop. As we were running I was not sure how fast to go because of what lied ahead was a hill; A pretty nasty hill. “THE HILL OF TRUTH” as we make are way across the swinging bridge I tell Ralph this is it the last climb of the day. He tells me to attack it let’s get this thing done. We start the climb; at first it was not bad but I knew we had to get the very top for it to be over. The hill consisted of switch backs that zig zag up the mountain. It was very tiring but in all honestly it was really not that bad. Once we finally hit the top I start running again. My pace was slow but we were moving. At this point my eyes start to water my heart was pounding and all I could think of was I am going to do this. I was running fast enough that I passed a few runners and their pacer’s. As we made the decent to the drake well Ralph yells out no drake loop this time!!
We were almost done; what was ahead was the dreaded bike path. I had one goal for this race and that was to finish, but deep down inside I wanted to break the 30 hour mark. If I would have stayed on pace, I should have finished at 10:10am. Well it was 10:49am and Ralph looked over at me and asked if I had anything in the tank. If you want to break 30 hours you need to move and move fast. I looked at him and said; Ralph we have so far to go I will never break it. Come on Toddzilla I know you!! I know you have it in you. Besides there is a surprise waiting for you at the end of the Bike Path. Ralph had arranged to have my son meet me and run with me in to the finish. Words cannot describe how he was one of the biggest reasons I finished this race.
I put my head up;straightened my back and got into my road running mindset. I was moving and moving fast the bike path was starting to become a blur. I could see that the end of the bike path was near. And once it hit the hard road I could see my Mother in law and Son standing on the curb. They were both cheering for me as I was passing. I heard Ralph say to Kenton it’s your turn to pace your dad! Kenton came running off the curb and grabbed my hand and said Dad you are going to finish!! I starting to cry; all my hard work and dedication was about to pay off. I have wanted this so bad for so many years and finally it was about to happen.
As we turned to make the right over the bridge Kenton tells me Dad I can’t keep up with you your running to fast; dad let go of me, I have to stop. As much as I wanted to pick him up and carry him across the finish line I let his hand go, made the left hand turn to the finish line to see the timing clock read 29:59:46. I could hear everyone cheering and screaming my name, so I dug a little deeper and deeper and deeper. I was in a full sprint to the finish.
As I step on the timing mat I heard the buzzer as my timing chip was being recorded. My heart was pounding; my legs wanted to keep running but I did not need to I Finished; holy hell I finished!! In 29:59:59. I broke the 30 hour mark!!
I collapsed on the sidewalk; I could not catch my breathe, Josh Vadney tells me to breath, you’re ok, relax you are done. Then I heard the most amazing voice of all “Todd, are you ok? What’s wrong? I opened my eyes to see my beautiful wife hovering over me. The only thing I could say is holy hell I did it!! I finished. She says yes you did!! You did it! I heard the race director tell me to stay there I’ll come down to you.
Tom Jennings is the Race director for this great event. He personally hands out your buckle and your car bling to each and every runner who finishes. I have been dreaming of this since 2013 and it finally happened. After getting up it was then I realized it was over. My day has ended my race was done. We all carried on and laughed about it taking me so many years to finish. It was the best feeling having my family there taking part in this achievement. My friends who were there stuck around just see me complete the task that I have trained and trained for a very long time. This has become a part of my life for the past 4 years, the countless hours of running in the cold; the snow; the heat; the wind. The time I missed being away from my family is the worst part of it all. Not once did my family give me a hard time about training. Yeah I am sure they were not happy but they both knew what it takes to finish a run of this distance.
Ralph my Pacer
My Wife Erin
My pacer and my crew Ralph Smith, This guy has no idea how much he helped me. And my number one supporter on the right, my wife Erin. A true fighter, she kicked breast cancer to the curb and showed it who the boss really was.
My wife, and Friends sharing the moment with me, Wish my pacer, son and In-laws were in the picture.
My journey to my first 100 mile has finally come to an end. It took a long time to get here and I really found out of what I am made of. What’s next you might ask…. Well going to take some time and spend it with my family and start to plan out the 2017 running schedule; I will be back at Oil Creek to run the 100k in 2017 you can be sure of that! As for Perry his day ended at mile 75, he pulled himself out of the race. And for Adam he finished a little after I did on that cold Sunday morning with a time of 30:47.
Four of us started the journey and two of us came thru the end. A lot can happen in a 100 mile race trust me I am the king of DNFs. But sometimes the running gods shine down on you and give you a race that you have been dreaming of. As for the numbers 154 runners started that Saturday morning. 98 Runners finished and I finished in 66th place.
What is it about this race that keeps me drawn to it? Is it the trail? Is it the Buckle? Or is it that it has beaten me two years in a row?
Once again I made the trip to Tittusville high school, this year it was all about finishing no matter what. In September I ran the RING a 71 mile trek thru the Massanutten trail. This race beat me up really bad. It took me 25 hours to complete. I knew if I finished this race Oil Creek was in the bag.
Once again my buddy John joined me on this Trip as he was going to pace me after Mile 62. My family was going to come out and crew for me while he joined me. I am a very lucky guy to have a friend and family to take their entire weekend and give it to me. A week away from the race I came down with a pretty nasty head cold. I had body aches and chills; could not breathe and just felt like crap. But me being me I was not going to let a little cold ruin my run.
We met up with a few good friends and ate dinner at a local pizza joint. The place is not much to look at but the food is fantastic. After two pizza pies it was time to get to bed. I slept in my jeep again for the second year in a row. It is very comfortable and I was out fast. Funny thing was I was not nervous this year; no need to be I know this course like the back of my hand. As my alarm goes off I get out of my jeep and head for the high school for a shower and some coffee. I love seeing this sign. Just gets your inner psych going.
Showered and all ready to go I double-check my hydration pack and then head for the cafeteria for the pre race debriefing. As I sat I got to see a lot of my running friends whom I only see at races. As we were all chatting it over Tom gave his race speech and we headed out the back of the high school again. I was sticking to the same game plan as my other two tries. I was going to keep the same pace as before.
As we heading down the Bike path I looked at my watch and realized I was running way to fast. I was being conservative for the first loop and get more aggressive as the day unfolded. I was able to purchase a Sunnto gps watch off of a really good friend of mine and I was going to use it to my advantage. I wanted to keep a 13 minute mile pace this year and finish strong. I always run to fast in the beginning and pay for it later.
I was in the Congo line which was fine by me. Last year I got up front and did not have to wait on people this year I was ok with it. We rolled into As1 and I went straight thru. I carried my nutrition with me this time. My thought was only use the aid stations for water to mix my Tailwind and if I really needed anything. Being that is was another cool morning I did not need much water.
Up and out I went. The Congo line was gone; the runners really get spread out after an aid station. I followed a few runners thru the dark and peaceful woods. No one was talking everyone was doing their thing. As daylight started I could not get over how beautiful it was. Sometimes the views Mother Nature gives you are well worth the early morning wake ups.
I arrived at Aid Station #2 20 minutes ahead of my schedule. I was in 41st place out of 120 runners. It’s funny how running conservative and steady in the beginning has big dividends. I refiled my pack, emptied my garbage and changed shirts. As always John was on top of things. See you at the school. This time I ran the hill out of the aid station got to the top put in my headphones and got lost on the trail. I had some issues with my newer Altras I was wearing; my feet seemed to slide ever so slightly on the camber of the trails so this started giving me hot spots. Way too early for this to be a problem; I sat down off the trail and tried to tighten my shoes up to where the sliding would go away. I was passed by 13 runners to be exact but I did not care I had my own mission and I was going to get it done. Coming into Aid station #3 I was moving really well.
As I finish the next section of the trail I cannot help thinking this is defiantly my year to buckle. I mean I am in great shape; I have prepped myself for this race for a long time. I am one my third attempt and they say third times a charm.
I ran the entire drake well loop; ran the bike path back to the school and come thru mile 31 in 61st place and in 7 hours and 3 minutes. 27 minutes ahead of schedule. John had all my stuff ready; even had a fresh pack of McDonald’s French fries. I sat down rubbed my legs out and gave my body a good once over. I resupplied and headed back out.
On my way out heading towards the bike path my other buddy Ben Mazur was on his way back in from his first loop of his 100k. Ben has had one heck of a year running strong and fast. We gave fist pumps and wished each other good luck. I ran the bike path back to the trail head and then started the climb with my hands on my knees pumping like a steam engine. As I come to a wooded bridge I plant my foot on the bridge and I went down. My body landed at an awkward position. I ended up stretching my left quad to the limits and felt a very hot burning sensation. FUCK….FUCK……FUCK…. are you kidding me. I start walking trying to see if it would loosen up. I remembered I had some little packets of BIO freeze in my hydration pack. I stop rub the bio freeze on and start running. My stride was not the same but I was moving forward. As I was walking up on of the hills I hear a familiar voice; “hey how’s it going” holy shit it was Ben. I told him I am ok and was just pressing on. Ben looked strong very strong. As I came into as#1 I got some Tylenol and Ibuprofen out of my pack and drank it down with some coke. I took a cup of soup and told them I will see you in a little while.
I managed the best I could with the pain in my quad. It hurt but it was making me more conservative; walking hills taking my time on the downs. I was still having a good race. Coming into as# 2 I was still in the 61st place out of 116. I was thirteen minutes ahead of schedule. I was having a good race even though I was dealing with my quad. I meet up with John refilled and unloaded garbage and took off for the high school. I walked the climb out of Petroleum Center and put my headphones in again. It worked the last time thru this section it will work again. I could not help think that something terrible was going to happen to me thru this section. For the past two-years this section of the race has chewed me up then spit me out.
I took my time watched where I was going and made sure each foot placement was spot on. I remember smelling the camp fire at the boy scouts camp. Boy did that send me back to my First laurel highlands finish.
From as#3 back to drake well loop I kind of got lost in my own little world. I got passed a few 100k runners who all were heading home. They will be done very shortly and I still have a long way to go. Wishing I had their energy I tried to run at a faster pace and was brought back to reality that I did something to my Quad. I started feeling sorry for myself again. Why is this happening to me why do I keep getting hurt? But I fight the demons off and keep telling myself one foot in front of the other.
As I come down to the drake well loop I keep telling myself just one more loop all you have is one more loop then you got the little loop in the bag. Once I get back to the school I pick up John to pace me. But the drake loop was so very slow for me. I was freezing and my feet were going south. My Altras were not living up to the standards of my older Altras. I did not have one blister with the first version of Altra Olympus but this version has given me blisters on both feet.
I shuffled back to the high school and crossed the mat in 15:48. It was 8:48pm and I was still 13 minutes ahead of my predicted time. And I am still in 61st place. I rushed over to my family (who were awesome by the way!!) changed clothes refilled and refueled and picked up my pacer John. We left the school and headed out on my third loop. We ran we walked and talked the entire bike path to the trail head.
We started the climb at a pretty brisk pace compared to my first year and we actually started to pass a few people. It was not long I got passed by the winner of the race while he was on his final 4th 8 mile loop. I was in pretty good spirits for a while but fatigue started to creep into the scene. My body was hurting. My feet were killing me; my quad hurt like someone was punching me with every step. I was on my third loop and I was not happy. I tried to run but it hurt badly. John was filling me in with the details of his day and I could not even respond. I was all over the place mentally. Physically I wanted to be fine but the down hills reminded me I was not!
Coming into as#1 I got to see a familiar face. Jeff Nelson who runs this aid station gave me lots of encouragement and helped me personally with my aid station needs. I bio freeze my quad again and John and I take off up the switch backs. Going up was not bad it was the coming down that kicked my ass. My walking was getting slower and slower. The night temps seemed to keep dropping as we went on. I have made it the furthest I have ever run and I could not pull any positive energy from it. I was doing it! I was on my last loop. The demons were heavy with me. I wanted John to shut up, I hoped the person that passed me would fall and would be in as much pain as me.
We finally made it to as#2 Petroleum Center for the third time. I saw a lot of familiar faces who all wished me the best of luck. They told me yeah it’s going to hurt it a 100 miles. Just keep moving. Don’t stop. Well I sat down and rubbed my thigh out and it made me half sick with pain; my wife tried to take my socks off so I could tape my feet and it sent me into a shivering convulsion. I was in so much pain. I hurt like I have never hurt before. I should have not stopped I should have made the best of it. Put on warmer clothes and took off. But I ended up sitting in my jeep with the heater on and started to fall asleep. I thought if I slept for five minutes I would wake up and my troubles would be gone. 5 minutes turned to 10 and next thing I knew I quit. My family did not want to see me go on in the state I was in. My wife knew that I was injured. I knew I was injured. Some people make this distance look so easy. For me it’s tough as hell! But that will not stop me from trying. I am going to recover from my injury and I will start training again for races when I am better. Now it’s time to rest and not have to worry about training. This injury is going to keep me sidelined for a while.
Oil Creek 100 2014 edition, the year I take this race by the balls. Once again I made the trek to Tittusville High School; for the Oil Creek 100 mile ultra. Last year I got caught by the course sweepers at mile 69. This year I was running pretty strong. I was able to put in some pretty long miles and even made the trek out to Oil creek for a few training runs.
This year I had a new crew; my wife and sister-in-law. I drove out by myself and decided to sleep in my jeep in the school parking lot. I meet up with my trail running buddies and chit chatted about all our races leading up to this year’s 100 mile run.
At 3:30 am my alarm sounds. I am up and ready to roll. This is my year to get that buckle. I kept the same game plan as last year. The only difference is my crew would drive out race morning and meet me at Petroleum center to start crewing.
Pre-race jitters were setting in again. Not sure why but I always get butterflies before any of my races, I have been this way since high school. This year it would be me and Elmo running the race from Blair County.
It was a pretty cool morning compared to last year’s hot and humid race. Once again Tom Jennings gave us the pre-race speech and we headed out to the back of the school for the Start. As the race started I felt pretty good about this year. I knew what to expect and I knew what I had to do. Sticking to my plan I jumped up towards the front so I did not get caught up in the conga line on the first climbs.
I knew I was running harder than I should but it felt good to stay ahead of the single file line. Before I knew it we were coming into As 1 Wolf kill run. 7.1 miles in and I was 10 minutes ahead of my schedule. I think to cooler temps played a big role in my running this morning. I love running in cooler temps. I seem to run very well when it 50 degrees or lower. I had to use the rest room bad!! Since I was ahead of schedule I thought now would be the best time. Here I run into Elmo who had the same idea. I filled my bottle on my orange mud hydration pack grabbed some goodies and starting the climb up the switch backs.
Elmo and I climbed together up out of the hollow. We were chatting as we started the decent down the long cut alongside of the mountain. Elmo started his laughing while running at a high rate of speed. “I Hope my feet hit before my face” and with that he was gone. That would be the last time I saw him for the day. He went on to finish a sub 24 hour 100. Way to go Elmo!!
I settled into my normal pace and kept thinking I get to see my wife and son; as the day begun to wake up the temps got a little warmer so I ditched my wind breaker which was holding in moisture and making me cold. I got to run with a few trail running buddies that I have run with at Laurel, Glacier, and Eastern States.
I came into Petroleum Center right on schedule. I was a few minutes ahead of my predicted time and feeling great. My Wife, Son, Father and Sister in law were waiting for my arrival. I told them I was feeling great and I really appreciated them coming out to help. I filled my bottles grabbed some food and hit the trails again.
The next section is a pretty good climb out of aid station number two so it’s a good time to walk and refuel. Once I got to the top I put in my head phones and drifted away in my own little world. I passed a few runners, got passed by a few runners but ended up running by myself for a good portion of this section. Coming into aid station three Miller Farm Road; I was in control.
I was enjoying the day and thinking how cool it would to be to have my wife and son see me finish this race. Coming out of the aid station you go up a set of wooden steps that lead you past a cemetery in the middle of know where. It’s a pretty cool sight to see. This section also has the toughest climb. I ran when I could and walked when I needed to. Again I was running by myself pretty much this entire race.
As I coming out of the woods to the Drake Well loop I decided I would run this entire section this time, last year I walked this mile loop every time. Once on the bike path I got to cheer on other runners as they were heading out on their second loop for the 100 or last loop for the 100k.
As I arrived at the school I wanted to change clothes socks and lube up. My family had everything out and waiting for me. I changed clothes which was a big deal because it got cooler as the day went on. I had some solid food and switched to my hand-held because I was not drinking 40 oz of water per section because of the cooler temps.
Loop number two:
As I headed out I noticed I was feeling really good for running 31 miles; I ran the entire bike path back to the trail head. Last year I meet up with a few newer runners and we ran a portion of this together until I could not hold back any longer and left them. This year though I was all by myself taking in the gorgeous day. I saw some wild life which was pretty cool to see. I got passed by a few people running the 100k; but I did not care I was on my own journey. Coming into aid station one for the second go around I loaded up my arms with solid foods, ate some strawberry’s and took some soup for the road.
As I was walking up the switch backs I got a text message from my sister. Mom and the girls are with me we wanted to come see you run. How awesome is this I thought I get to see almost my entire family while out running. I trudged along like I always do when I looked at my watch and noticed the time. How is this possible how can this be I was 28 minutes ahead of my schedule. Am I running faster? Am I running stronger? How can this be? But heck I was happy and went with it. Coming into Petroleum Center the temps really drop do to the river being so close. Man I was cold.
My father in law was impressed with the time I made from as 2 to as 4. He said you are doing great. Since I was ahead I decided to take a little extra time at the aid station and take it in being with my family on this cold October day. Actually the 28 minutes I was ahead was gone, I ended up being there a little longer then I should have. I started to stiffen up from sitting. I knew I had to get moving and soon.
I lubbed all the necessary part and told my family I would see them soon. As I headed out I was on top of the world. I was a little sore but doing well. I ran with Steve Swanger out of this aid station and we chatted on how things were going. Once we hit the top of the hill he said he was going to walk a little to take a break. I took off and ran by myself again. The miles were flying by the buckle is mine all mine.
Hit aid station three grabbed a banana a slice of pizza and was gone. I walked the hills and even walked a few of the downs. I started running again and them Uff, the ground came fast. My water bottle exploded I was in terrible pain. What the Hell just happened. What the hell; oh man what is going on. My body was in a full fledge cramp. As I stood up I had a terrible pain in my left knee. What did I just do; why did this happen. My left foot caught a root or a pipe sticking out of the ground and it sent me down hard. My left knee smacked off a rock my body turned into one big cramp. I tried to run and shake it off but I was in way to much pain. I tried to speed walk but I hurt! It hurt a lot.
I walked and walked and walked not covering any ground at all. I would try to run but it hurt oh did it hurt. I was passed by a lot of runners. I started to realize my race was over. I had about 7 miles to go and was walking at an 18 minute pace, it was getting dark and I was freezing. At one point I was so out of it I ended up off the trail and stumbling thru the woods. This is where I heard the voices of a few of my fellow running friends. That was such a good thing; they got me back on the trail. A runner who saw I was in a world of hurt asked if I needed anything. He gave me a few caffeine pills and wished me luck. I slowly started to run but it was painful. I suffered thru and finally came to the drake well loop. Just a few hours ago I was running this section and feeling great about my day. Now I was walking and walking slow. As I approached the bridge a familiar voice yells out how bad do you want it!! Come on Todd how important is that buckle. You know what you need to do. Dave Hunter was right how important is that buckle? To me it is something I have to do; but maybe not this year. I have more import things going on in my life right now. My wife was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and at this point we did not know what the outcome was going to be. How good would it be if I am in need of surgery because of my fall? My wife needs me to be strong. She needs me to be there for her. Hell she is here for me when she hates running. My family is here for me; I need to be there for them.
As I came across the bridge back to the high school my family was just on the other side waiting for me. My emotions are all over the place. I went thru the timing mat did not waste any time and headed to my crew. Erin asked what is wrong; I explained my fall and that I was in terrible pain. She got me some Tylenol and a mountain dew. I sat down in her warm car and debated on what I was going to do. They all urged me to drop. I did not look good and I could not run. With a hot flash I was out of the car and pukeing my guts out. What the hell another year and another drop. I walked over to the aid station captain and turned in my chip. I was done. But for some reason I was ok with the decision to drop. I will finish this race one year I know I will. Will it be in 2015? Not sure but I will be back again.
Back in June I finished the Laurel Highlands seventy mile ultra and said to my wife, son and father in law I will never run any further than what I just did. It was one of the most brutal things I have every done. Well 2 weeks later I got the confirmation from Tom Jennings the race director of the Oil Creek 100 that I was in.
My new goal was to get that prestige’s belt buckle home. I can honestly say my training went well. My Achilles issue I had last year never flared back up and other than sore muscles I was injury free. John Weaver and I made the trek 36 north to the town of Tittusville Friday afternoon. After picking up my race packet and John signing into be my pacer for the last 39 miles we made our way to find Elmo, Adam and Jim. They too were going after that buckle.
2:30 the alarm sounds. I am up raring to go. As we made our way to the car we noticed the humidity was very high. Things like this can be game changers. Last year at the start it was 27 degrees this year at the start it was a steaming 58 degrees. Before the start of the race my self, Elmo, Adam met up in the cafeteria of the Tittusville high school. Here is where the pre race briefing would take place. You could see the anticipation in every runner in that room.
I got to toe the line with some amazing people on that warm October morning. After the briefing we all made our way to the start line which was just outside the set of double doors. I was so excited but as nervous as to what the day had in store for me. After the 5 am start we found our way down the paved road and onto the paved bike path. It is so hard to hold back on your pace when you’re running on pure adrenaline. As we finally hit the trail head it was all single file line. Elmo, Adam, Jim and I were all together in the train of runners. I could only image what the view looked like from above. A single track with a 142 runners all with head lamps! A few weeks prior Elmo, John and I made the trek to Oil creek state park to run the 29 mile loop so what we knew what was in store.
I am a type of runner who likes to have a plan. I make a small maps that I carry that has the all the distances, location of aid stations and mile splits and cut off times.
Before every major race I fight with my self on where I want to be and how I want to run the race. I am not a fast runner but I do trudge along. The first 7.1 miles were a blast. Seems everyone had the same idea on having fun and enjoying each others company. As we reached Wolf kill run, the first aid station my water bottle was just about empty. I handed it off to one of the amazing volunteers to refill, grabbed some pb & j sandwiches and headed back out on the trail. What you have looking forward to is a huge climb on switch backs that gives you the opportunity to refuel and access how you’re feeling. I checked my watch and I was just about 6 minutes ahead of my schedule. I got behind a group of runners which took me some time to get around. Catching up with my posse we made the up coming miles just fly by.
As we arrived at mile 13.9 or the Petroleum Center Aid station, our little group scattered. We all had our own race plan and all knew what we needed to get us back to the trail. I check my watch and I was right on schedule, arriving at 7:58 am 1 minute ahead of time. My good friend and personally one of the best crews around, John Weaver got me everything I needed. We discussed earlier what I think I would need at this point in time and he had it ready and waiting.
As I look around to find all of my friends I saw Elmo and Jim heading into the forest about 200 yards ahead of me. I was able to catch up with Adam who was about 100 yards ahead. As we started to climb up the mountain I gave Adam the run down of the next 8.8 miles to the next Aid station. We ran together for a while but Adam is a stronger and faster runner than me so he took off ahead. For me I stuck with my game plan and it was working. Mile after mile seemed to go by I hit Miller Farm aid station at 10:04 am matching my predicted time.
As you can see the smile on my face I was enjoying the day. Refueled and taking in some ice-cold water I felt unstoppable. The next 8.4 miles were amazing. I got to talk it up with some cool runners. Hell I even meet a gentlemen who grew up at the end of the block I live on. It truly is a small world. While on the paved bike path on my way back to the High School Elmo and Jim passed me looking great! They are two fantastic runners that really know how to pick them up and put it down. I arrived back at the high School at 12:06 two minutes ahead of schedule.
While here I was able to get new shoes, a change of socks a new shirt and my own nutrition. John again took care of me like he was reading my mind. I have to say if anyone every needs or wants any advice about crewing they need to talk to Weaver. As I was heading back out John grabs my arm and tells me “Listen bro it’s heating up out there, back your time off and don’t let me see you at Petroleum Center Aid station until 4:15.” My time according to my paper was 3:56 pm. I agreed and left with a bag full of ice under my due rag and a whole new approach to the next 31.1 miles.
I walked the entire bike path back to the trail head and ended up running with a small group of newbies just like myself. The only problem was their pace was a little to slow for me and the trail was so run able. I left them and ran on my own. I really enjoyed that afternoon. There is something about running trails that is so peaceful. I ended back at Wolf kill Aid station 5 minutes behind my schedule time to arrive. Like the first time I grabbed lots of food and filled my ice bag with fresh ice and started my climb back out. Miles after miles were just clicking by. I started to even think I might do better than my game plan. But taking Johns advice I slowed my pace. Arriving back at Petroleum Center aid station (mile 44.8) I met John at 4:20 pm feeling unstoppable. I told John, I got this!! That buckle is mine.
As I left the Aid Station I could not stop thinking about how good I really felt. I was getting excited to see my Family who was making the trek out to see me. My Sister n law was coming with her family and they were Bringing my Son. I could not wait to see him. I wanted him to see his father doing something that seems impossible. While basking in my own glory I could not believe what I was feeling. This could not be happening. My feet actually really started hurting with ever step. I told myself push thru the pain push thru the pain. How can this be I was fine, I was not having any issues. I could not put any pressure on the front of my feet. I was thinking stress fractures. This was terrible. I tried to ignore the pain but it was too much to bear.
I changed my stride and tried to run on my heels but ended up causing other issues. So I ended up walking a great deal of the section of the trail. The down hills I ran on my heels but the up hills were almost a crawl. Strange how things happen! That put you in survival mode. When you’re in pain the words from loved ones really give you inspiration. Reading my wife’s text message knowing she was with me in spirit helped me on my Journey. Erin was unable to attend due to her work. But I knew she was thinking of me. I finally made it out of the trail and was headed back to the School. As I made the right hand turn to cross over the bride to the school I hear “HEY THAT LOOKS LIKE TODD LEWIS WALKING”. My sister n law was able to identify me in the pitch dark by the way I walk. I gave a hearty shout and my son was by my side in an instance. It felt so good to see family. They had no idea of my issues and I tried to keep it that way. Kenton ran with me the 150 yards to the aid station asking how I was I and if I was OK.
Well I have just run 62 miles and was 1 hour and 40 minutes behind my schedule. I had to get back to my jeep and change my shoes asap. I needed to inspect the damage.
I changed shoes, socks got a new shirt and was ready to roll. Well the decision I made on shoes was apparently the wrong one. I stood up took a few steps and next thing I knew it was lights out!! My sister n law caught me and set me in a chair. Elmo’s girlfriend Mikeale held a cold bottle of gator aid on my neck. I never in a million years would have thought I would pass out due to foot pain. I noticed my Son looked very scared and upset. My wife’s sister made it a point to make sure Kenton knew I was going to be OK. This is where I almost with drew my self from the race. My feet did not want to play any more.
So there I am fighting with the demons in my head about dropping out of the race. Thinking how can I ever make my Wife and Son proud of their Husband and father if I quit!! For all that know me I do not quit. Never have and never will. Looking at John who took time away from his family, who was there to help me finish, who knew i never quit. Who was waiting to run all day long. I noticed he was letting me fight it. He knew, he knew all along I was heading back out. As I stood up after changing shoes again I got super nauseated. After tossing my cookies I turned looked at John and said lets Go!! My son came to me gave me one of the best hugs a father could have. And wished me luck.
I thanked all my family and Mikeale for helping me and we were off. Well Kind of. I put on a good show for all to see leaving the High school. But as soon as I was out of sight my run became the slowest walk on earth. I spent way to long at my Jeep this put me really in a time crunch. John and I walked the bike path back to the trail head. As we started the first climb I was having all kinds of issues, my feet were gone, trashed. I was sleep walking. I could not stay on the trail. John grabbed me a few time just to keep me from falling down the side of the mountain. Funny thing is the first two loops this section seemed so easy and so run able. Now it felt like I was climbing Mount Everest. John kept warning me you need to pick up the pace, were not going to make the cut off. As we were making one of climbs we saw headlights from a vehicle. We flagged them down and they offered me a ride to the aid station. Boy oh boy did that sound good; I was almost ready to get in the vehicle when I realized I would be quitting. NO!! THANKS!! We will keep moving. John said are you sure and we pushed on. I knew I made the right decision. As we were making are way to AS#1 I saw head lamps coming from behind. I said to John oh no I am going to be swept. Nope that’s just other runners coming says John. But I knew it was almost over for this guy. As we were making the decent down into the hollow john says I am going to hide behind a tree and scare the crap out of these guys would that not be funny!! Chuckling I was like defiantly a moment to be caught on camera.
Well the headlamps that were coming behind me were in fact the course sweepers. They came up from behind and said good evening how we doing, I wanted to say how the hell does it look like I am doing! But with a smile I said not good you guys caught up to me. You have lots of time to get to the aid station, I had 10 minutes to go about 200 yards.
Coming into mile 69 As#1 I was cheered on by the greatest people at any race (the Volunteers). They asked me what I needed. And told me I had 3 minutes to get what I needed and move on. So it was crunch time for this guy. In my heart I truly wanted to push on and keep going. Maybe just maybe the pain would stop. I would be able to run with ease like I did earlier in race. As I sat listening to the voices all around me, he does not look good; I think he might make the next cut, guy looks wipe out. And then I heard the aid station captain say the words. AID STATION IS CLOSED! No runners can move on.
My heart raced I was almost ready to puke. I opened my eyes and saw John looking at me smiling nodding his head. He says you did not quit you just ran out of time!! Nice job Man! So there I sat with all the hustle and bustle of the aid station being cleaned up when a gentlemen says come with me I will take you back to the High school. My journey ended at mile 69, 31 miles short of my 100 mile buckle. I learned so much about myself that weekend at Oil creek. I will be back you can count on that!!