I would have to say that the slogan for the Oil Creek 100 Trail Runs says it all. "Gnarly, Historic, and Unforgiving." The race definately meets all three of those words.
We got to the Titusville Middle School at around 4:15 am on Saturday, October 8, 2011. I left the family in the car and got my Aid station drop bags delivered and then we all went into the cafeteria of the middle school. At 4:45 am, the Race Director, Tom Jennings, gave us our pre race briefing and pep talk. He once again emphasized that you will not receive a time or an award for finishing a lesser distance. You only get credit for the distance that you signed up for. "Strike Oil and move on!!!"
At 4:57am, we left the cafeteria and went to the start line. This was a beautiful thing. It was only about 45 degrees out. As soon as everyone for the 100 miler was outside, we were off at 5am.
At 5am, in October, in Pennsylvania, it is rather cold and DARK. The group of 100 milers set out on their journey looked like a freight train coming down the tracks. From the school, it is 1.5 miles on a paved bike path to the Gerard Hiking Trail trailhead. Once you hit the woods, it is single file up a very long climb. Runners were bunched together and there wasn't much talking going on at this poing. The trail is about 24 inches wide with a nice drop off to your left. There were also a lot of slick rocks and roots along the trail. Yes, this is where I took my first fall. I stepped on one of the slick rocks and it was like trying to walk on ice on a ski slope. Down I went, but got up injury free and kept on running. This trail winds up and down through Oil Creek State Park until you come to Aid Station #1. This aid station is located at Wolfkiel Run. It is approximately 6.4 miles from the start to this aid station.
As you come into AS #1, you start to see signs that look like they are stars from the walk of fame in Hollywood. As I read later in the daylight, these signs are names of runners who have finished the different distances over the past three years. After you follow these signs and the stream for awhile, you can see lights up ahead. This is AS#1, or Hollywood. The staff at this AS was great and very helpful. Whatever you needed, they got for you. Lots of good food and drink.
After getting refueled and water filled up at AS #1, it is off to running again. We are still in the dark at this point. Immediately, you get to climb "sWITCHback Mountain." This is a set of switchbacks that go from the stream to the top of the mountain. A great chance to keep eating and keep moving. Once at the top, there is of course, a downhill section several hundred yards away. The race director advised that if you see an "Unforgiving" sign along the course, be careful, this is a tough section. Well, the downhill switchbacks were tough and fast. Good running through here.
Over the next several miles, it is up and down and up and down. The highlight of this section is "Ray Gerard's Neverending Climb." And yes, it lives up to its name. On this climb, you climb for awhile and then you get a section that looks like you can get in a good section of running. Well, wrong. After a few feet, it goes back up. Climb, run, climb, run. It was neverending.
After finishing the climb, it is slowly down to AS #2 at Petroleum Center. During this section, there are old oil pipe lines crossing the trail. Yes, this was the birthplace of the oil industry. The oil lines are painted yellow. Nice and easy to pick out on a trail. Well, then there was this old cable that was just sticking up enough to catch a toe on. Guess who caught a toe on it and went down hard? Yes, you were right, it was me. I went down hard and got back up in pain, but didn't see any bones sticking out. Good to go. This fall would haunt me later.
I brushed off my fall and got to AS #2. This was "Funkytown." The service was great and we had drop bags at this aid station. As you checked into the AS, the staff got your drop bags and handed them to you. We all ate and took off again.
When you leave AS #2, there is another good climb. Thisclimb is called "Heisman Trophy Hill." If you weren't aware, John Heisman was born in Titusville, PA. This is a good climb, but not too bad. The sections after AS #2 is where the course gets tough. As you continue through the woods and the single track you get to another climb called "Ida Turnbull's Wrath." Not sure of the history behind this one yet. The boy scouts of Troop 97 had an aid station during this section. They had some very humorous signs hung on trees to lighten the mood. One of the signs even said "Don't hang signs on the trees." Eventually, you get to AS #3 which is at Miller Farm Road. The theme here was pink flamingos. This is also the aid station where the black bears liked to hang out. Seems like everyone except me got to see a black bear.
Once getting some more food and water at AS#3, it is off to the trails again and more climbing. Immediately you get to go up "Death March Hill." This climb is past an old cemetary. How refreshing. Will I be in this cemetary before tomorrow?
The next major climb is "Rockefellers Revenge." This is named after the oil tycoon Rockefeller. This is a long and straight up climb. After the climb, it is more and more single track to the Drake Well Museum. This is a one mile loop around the Drake Well. For 100 milers, you get to do this loop 3 times. The 100k runners do it twice and the 50k runners do it once. It is a great site, to see once.
After completing the Drake Well loop, it is back to the middle school and more loops. The bad part here, you are back on the asphalt bike path. This bike path gets very gruelling after so many miles on it. It seems like it is the longest 1.5 miles on the planet each time you have to run it.
I completed my first 50k loop in 6 hours and 23 minutes. This was a 14 minute PR for me for a trail 50K. Things were going great.
I started out for my second loop and still had almost 8 hours of daylight left. This was a great feeling. I was running about 40 minutes ahead of schedule. This would definately benefit me in loop #3.
I ran my second loop and finished 100k distance in 14 hours and 55 minutes. I was very happy with this time, but......
With about 9 miles left in the second loop, I started to get very dizzy. I made the mistake of grabbing and oatmeal cream pie and shoving it down. Well, needless to say, I am hypoglycemic. This oatmeal pie put me in a tailspin. There were several sections with steep drop offs that I was really concerned about falling off of. Stupid me for not thinking before eating.
As I finished my last mile on the bike path, I ran into Rachelle and Morgan. I told Rachelle what my issues were and she was concerned. She knew that I didn't have a pacer for my first half of my third lap and she volunteered to pace me. I love her enthusiasim to help, but I was concerned about the weather conditions, the darkness, and the difficulty of the trail for her. Well, then we got a welcome blessing as we got back to the aid station at the middle school. One of my pacers, Adam McGinnis, called and said he was there. When he heard the news about me, he volunteered to pace me for the entire 50k loop. Adam and I got ready and away we went. We ran pretty good until we hit the trail head and then the climbing began. On this climb, my right foot really started to bother me from the fall around mile 10. Not a good sign. We continued to run and hike the trails. At some point between AS #1 and AS #2, I was running and falling asleep. Adam had to keep checking on me to make sure that I was awake. Pretty wild feeling of sleeping while running. Guess it really does happen.
We made it to AS #2 and were greeted by my parents. Oh what a great sight. I wanted coffee and a bench to take a nap on. They had a heated car with blankets and pillows. Even better yet. Adam and I both crashed in the car for 30 minutes and then took off again. Well, that was after eating a handfull of advil to take away the foot pain.
We continued through the night and made it to AS #3. During this time, we got to see 3 deer and 2 not so friendly porcupines. At AS #3, I took my shoe off of my right foot and new I was in trouble. There was some swelling, lots of tenderness, and stuff moving that isn't supposed to move. I put my shoe back on, ate some Tylenol, and off we went.
We finally made it back to the middle school after meeting up with my mom, Morgan, and my next pacer, Bill Harshman, about 1/2 mile out from the school on the bike path. They talked to us and checked to make sure that I was doing good. I had a renewed confidence and some smiles knowing that I was only about 8 miles from finishing my first 100 miler. Plus, the sun was up again.
At the school, I wrapped my right foot with some duct tape and Bill and I took off. Well, not really. The running was out of the question at this point. I was in horrific pain and it became more of a fast death march. Bill talked me through and we made it to the "Hill of Truth." This is the last climb before finishing the 100 miler. Only 100 milers get to do this climb. From the top of the climb it is then 2.5 miles to the finish.
Bill and I made it through the last 2.5 miles and I wanted to run through the finish line, but running was not possible at all. When I ran, it sent even more pain up my leg and foot from the injured right foot. I was able to cross the finish line with the kids and a big smile. I proudly accepted my 100 mile finishers buckle and bumper sticker. Got some photos taken and got a shower. It was off for home. The goal was met, but not as fast as I had hoped. I wanted to finish in under 28 hours, but finished in 30 hours, 37 minutes, and 29 seconds. But the big thing is, I was able to push through the pain and finish. I am now a 100 mile finisher.
THE DAY AFTER: It is the day after and I am still overly excited and amazed about finishing a 100 mile race. I don't know what to do next.
Unfortunately, this morning led to an emergency room visit. Remember that fall around mile 10? I woke up with a severely bruised and swollen right foot. Emergency room here I come. Fortunately there was not a break, but I did tear a ligament/tendon in my foot and have a severe bone bruise. It is not torn the whole way through, but I need to take a few weeks off. Maybe 2. The doctor advised me that if I would have stopped at 10 miles when I got hurt, I would not have the damage I have today. She couldn't believe that I ran another 90 miles with this damage to my foot.
I have plenty of more stories and fun things to tell about this adventure, their are the hallucinations, the trails, and the friends I made. It is just too much to type and think about right now. It is all still coming back to me.
I do give the Oil Creek 100 Trail runs an A++++++. Great organization, great staff, great aid stations, and great awards. I highly recommend this to anyone looking to do a trail 50K, 100K, or 100 miler. But remember, it lives up to its slogan "Gnarly, Historic, Unforgiving."