Oil Creek 100 Mile Race Report
From the race website: "Unforgiving. Historic. Gnarly. Do you have what it takes?"
I had signed up for this race shortly after running the Georgia Death Race and finishing but not meeting the qualifying time for Western States. I picked this race for a number of reasons - I had heard of it, it wasn't far from Rochester - so maybe I could get my brother to crew/pace me, weather should be good, and the 32 hour time limit seemed reasonable.
The course consists of a 31.1 (50K) loop run 3 times with an extra 7.7 mile loop at the end (seems to add up to 101 miles). Each loop is divided into four sections.
Heading south from Titusville Middle school the course starts on paved streets then onto a paved bike path for a little under 1.5 miles then turns off the pavement onto a single track trail going up a hill and then heading south to a place called "Petroleum Center" at the south end of Oil Creek State Park. There is an aid station about halfway to Petroleum Center at a place called "Wolfkill". There is a steep descent (which I slipped and fell a few times on) down to the Wolfkill aid station (AS #1).
Leaving AS#1 begins the start of section 2 of the course and begins with the first of several named hills called "Switchback mountain". Shortly after Switchback Mountain is "Ray Gerard's Neverending Hill" - although there are many more smaller unnamed climbs and descents. Section 2 runs past some old abandoned buildings and wooded oil derricks
until finally reaching Petroleum Center which has several park amenities and a playground which I had to run past watching kids on swings enjoying the day because they had not signed up to run 100 miles for fun. This was aid station #2 , a timing checkpoint, and a place to meet up with crew/pacers. It is about 14 miles from the start to AS#2.
Section 3 heads out north from Petroleum Center along the east bank of Oil Creek and up the next named hill "Heisman Trophy Hill" - which I think was the single highest climb (only about 350 feet). About halfway through section 3 of the course was a boy scout encampent which had water set up and nearby building with "pit toilets". Boy scouts were recording bib numbers although this was not an official checkpoint but it was nice to see them each time and know that this would reduce the search area in case I got lost (they also had a ham radio there).
Section 4 begins at aid station #3 on Miller Farm Road near a bridge crossing Oil Creek to aid station #1. Starting out onto section 4 is "Cemetary Hill" (yes, actual cemetary off to the side along the hill), and then a little while later is the last named hill - "Rockefeller's Revenge". Eventually the trail exits at the Drake Well museum where we would run about a mile loop on the road and along the top of a berm along the creek, then across a bridge to the west side of the creek and onto the bike path back to the middle school which was also aid station #4 and a crew/pacer access point.
Here's the basic timeline:
5:00 am - Start to AS#2, 3:48:43, 13.9 miles, 16:27 average pace
Race starts and it is dark, with a light rain falling and easy running until onto the trail. Mud here and there but not too bad. Almost fall a few times going down the Wolfkill descent to AS#1. Was feeling slow but actually not running to badly (compared to later paces). Leaving Wolfkill, it got light out and despite the hills I started picking it up and then made it to AS#2 where I saw Jim and Cynthia for the first time.
9:48 am - AS#2 back to start, 4:33:16, 17.2 miles, 15:53 average pace
arrive at Petroleum Center AS#2 stop there quickly and head north. It's still raining lightly but it is such a light rain that I can hear it hitting the trees but I hardly feel any of it. Rain ends a little bit after 10:00. I'm able to pick up the pace and cover the next 17 miles
1:22 pm - start to AS#2, 4:07:11, 13.9 miles, 17:46 average pace
Starting out onto the second loop I feel really good and I'm glad to run this section of the course in the light and no rain and I feel like I'm running faster and this time don't fall down during the Wolfkill Descent. However, heading out of aid station #1 the named (and unnamed) hills seem a little taller and more numerous and I end up running sections 1 and 2 of the second loop a little slower than these sections on the first loop.
5:29 pm - AS#2 back to start, 5:56:48, 17.2 miles, 20:44 average pace
So, this is the section where things got ugly. Aid station visit was good and I hooked up the portable USB battery to my garmin to recharge it as planned. Heisman Trophy hill was slower this time and I put on my arm warmers as it started to get cooler. Made it past the boyscout camp while it was still light out and then switched on my headlamp and soon turned on my hand held flashlight as well. It wasn't the best headlamp for trail running and without the handheld it would have been difficult. So, I started worrying about the batteries in the flashlight. Fortunately they held out and when I arrived at AS#3 I was able to grab some fresh AAA batteries just in case they died before reaching the middle school. As I was coming into the aid station, another runner was ahead of me but was sort of hobbling along and when he arrived told the volunteers he wouldn't be able to make it to the end, so he sat down, waiting until he could get a ride. Another runner was on a mat being helped through some stretches. It sounded like he was also trying to figure out whether or not to continue. I was already thinking about quitting but upon taking stock of myself didn't really have a legitimate reason to quit - nothing torn or pulled, no giant blisters - I didn't even have any chaffing.
Had some ramen noodles which were delicious and then headed onto section 4 - up "Cemetary Hill".
I was getting tired and stumbling more on the roots and rocks and having more difficulty on the technical downhills through the little ravines. I was seeing miles in the 22:00-24:00 pace range and if I "pushed" I could get to a 21:00 pace. It was also getting colder. To finish this race under the limit you have to maintain a 19:06 average pace. I had built up some cushion but it was getting eaten away at a faster rate. I also thought about how I still had one big loop left to do followed by a "little" 7.7 mile loop. The negativity monster was really messing with me.
Repeating these loop again was filling me with dread. However, I also knew what a world of difference a pacer would make. At Western States, after the long slow climb up to Michigan Bluffs and only at mile 55, it became a whole new race runnnig with Jamie, then Tim, and finally Jim. Also, Cynthia had taken time off of work, bought a plane ticket and was looking forward to some trail running. Jim had also taken off work, volunteered to drive and they had both spent the past 18 hours driving back and forth between Titusville Middle School and Petroleum Center. So, the new plan was to start out onto the third loop with Cynthia, and if we made it to Petroleum Center in time to still finish the race then Jim would run with me until we either finished or missed a cut off time.
Two women who were using trekking poles who I had talked to earlier passed by me. One of them asked another guy how we were on time. The trekking pole guy was not worried at all and he kept on cruising along. I soon was able to keep the slower of the two women within sight and this helped me out a bit to have a frame of reference to keep moving.
(Unfortutately, once we got back to the start, the two women decided it was time to call it quits, they'd had enough).
11:26 pm - start to AS#2, 5:06:15, 13.9 miles, 22:01 average pace
We were in and out of the middle school pretty quickly and on our way. I switched the windbreaker (that I had borrowed from Jim), and instead of putting on the orange thermal long sleeve shirt I brought put on a fleece (that I borrowed from Jim). Cynthia was super positive, repeatedly telling me how well I was doing. We were getting a lot of over 20:00 miles which worried me, but we did get some under 20:00 here and there. AS#1 looked spectacular at night with tons of lights strung all through the trees on the approach to the station as well as the station itself. And, like all the aid stations the volunteers were super friendly, helpful, and encouraging.
Heading out from AS#1, the climb of swtichback mountain went ok and I knew that there would be some good runnable sections here and there. Running past old equipment and abandoned building and the forest at night reminded Cynthia of the Blair Witch Project as well as the Walking Dead.
Eventually we made it to Petroleum Center and it was still well before 5:00am, so despite losing a little bit more cushion it wasn't over. Basically, the pacing strategy was to keep Mark moving throughout the night and hope to make up some time as it got light out. Jim was waiting in the car near the entrance and as soon as he saw us headed over to meet us at the aid station itself.
4:32 am - AS#2 to start, 5:26:00, 17.2 miles, 18:57 average pace
During the last loop I had seen that the cutoff time for AS#3 was 7:55 am, and I knew if we could make that on time we had a pretty good chance of making it. Things were feeling a bit more hopeful as a good chunk of the through the night running was almost over and not too much longer until it was light. At about the 24 hour mark, my gamin battery finally died so I asked Jim to call out our distance every quarter mile or so. During the next twelve miles, we had 5 miles that were over 20 minutes with the rest under. It got light out a little bit before making it to AS#3. We arrived there at about 7:39 am - 16 minutes to spare.
Leaving AS#3 and heading up Cemetary Hill for the last time felt good. There was still about 15 miles to go. 15 miles can be a long way but it's also relative to the distance being run. I still wasn't feeling like I could go much faster but knew I should try. Just before getting to Rockefeller's Revenge we had averaged about 20:30 pace from Petroleum Center, but after going up and over it our average pace had slowed to 21:03. At this point, I finally took my secret weapon "Second Surge" brand energy gel. Whether it's a placebo affect or the 100mg of caffeine, whatever it is worked. I could move my legs again and went from 18:00 to 16:00 to 15:00 to 12:00 minute paces and started passing more and more people. By the time we arrived back at the middle school, average pace for Jim's section had gone from the slow point of 21:03 to 18:57
Going Home Loop
10:01 am, 7.7 miles, 2:17, 17:47 average pace
I ditched the camelback and fleece and headed out with Cynthia but took Jim's garmin so I'd be able to see my pace. Weather was great and I was still feeling pumped from picking up the pace and gaining some time back. Now, there was a pretty decent cushion. 4th loop starts out like the other three, with 1.25 miles or so on paved road/bike path before turning off onto the trail, going for another couple of miles until getting to the place where I had been turning right, but this time turning left. I had seen this sign 3 times already directing runners to turn left on the 4th loop. Trail headed back towards the creek passing by the ruins of the old Boughton Acid Works which still smelled faintly of sulfuric acid.
Crossed the road and ran north along the creek until getting to the swinging cable bridge.
It looked like we'd have an easy run back along the river to the bike path, but there was one small surprise. After crossing the train tracks I see a sign that reads "The Hill of Truth". I knew about all of the other hills except for this one. It was a pretty decent climb up to the top, maybe 250-300 foot climb. Eventually this trail joined back up with the main hiking trail and another 1.6 miles until heading back down to the Drake Well Museum trail head, skipping the museum loop, back across the bridge to the bike path and finally back to the school and the finish line.
I sure was glad to have such a great crew/pacers to keep me going when I wanted to give up. Once it was over I couldn't believe how quickly it had gone by.
12:18:11 pm - Finished! (31:18:11, 101 miles, 18:35 average pace)
Finishing within the 32 hour cutoff earned both an Oil Creek 100 Belt Buckle and qualification to enter into the Western States 100 lottery on November 5th for the 2017 WSER.