Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Oil Creek, (I'm tough, but it was tougher!)

It looks like only 6 out of the 17 women who started the Oil Creek 100, actually finished. I wasn't one of them! The overall finish rate looks to be around 55 percent, but only about 30 percent actually made it in under the official cut off time and only 3 women came in under the cut off. So it was tough on everyone. But I believe the reason so few women finished had to do with the isolation we had to face out in those damp, thick, dark, muddy woods. I went for over two hours without seeing a soul during several stretches of the race. The aid stations were all about 7 miles apart, and those seven miles were long and difficult and lonely. Crew could only meet their runners every 15 miles or more. I run alone in the woods all the time and I have even done overnight backpacking trips in remote areas all alone. I have never been afraid or uncertain out in the woods, even at night. But those woods were very dismal, I have no other word to describe it. The woods were very thick and dark and damp, even in the day light. I felt uneasy a good part of the time I was running.

The trails were tough! The race website claims the course has 17000 feet of climb. It was not mountainous like running at MMT or in the Whites, but it definitely had a lot of climb. Trails were muddy and slippery, and cut into the side of a steep slope for much of the course. The trails were very narrow single track and didn't look like they normally get much use. When a runner slipped in the mud, he was more likely to go sideways off the trail and down the slope, instead of falling onto the trail. The race website promised it would be relentless, and it was! climb, descend, climb, descend... all on that same slippery sloped trail.

On the first 31 mile loop, I started to realize that it was going to be slow going, and I wasn't going to get many miles of daylight running in. We started our first loop in the dark and I figured out that it would be dark again before I finished my second loop. The third loop would be done through the night, all in darkness. Then I would be running the last 8 mile loop Sunday morning (or afternoon?!).

When I finished my first loop and saw Kevin for the first time (crew access for the first time wasn't until runners had completed 31 miles)the first words out of my mouth were, "this is going to take a while." It soon became evident that it was going to take even longer than I originally thought. The second loop was much worse than the first. The trails had seen 300 plus runners come through and had deteriorated quite a bit. This second loop is when things got very lonely for me. I don't mind working hard and I don't mind being alone, but for some reason the slow progress and the loneliness of the woods started to get to me. When I finally came to aid station #1 on my second time through, I didn't want to leave. But I moved on eventually. When I finally came to the crew station about 14 miles into the second loop, I wanted to ask Kevin to drive me back to the hotel. But I kept running. I had plenty of energy and nothing hurt. I was actually doing pretty well, compared to the other runners in the event. I really didn't have any excuse to stop. I was still moving well when I came into aid station 3. I had some soup, chatted with the volunteers, and moved on.

About two miles later, it became very dark and very cold. Progress slowed to a crawl. I was half way over a slippery wooden bridge when I noticed an older runner picking his way over slippery rocks on all fours. This was a fifty mile runner still trying to finish that event! Suddenly I just stopped in my tracks on that bridge and said out loud, I don't want to do this. I could not fathom running through a pitch dark damp night with temperatures in the low thirties on those dank lonely trails. I just didn't want to do it.

Instead of continuing on for 5 miles back to the end of the loop, I ran the two miles back to the aid station and told them I wasn't having any fun and I was done. They didn't question my decision. They called for a ride and gave me a seat by the fire and sat and talked with me for a few hours until my ride arrived to take me back to the main aid station. They were wonderful people, not runners, but volunteers from some kind of mountain rescue organization. I got a ride back over a slippery muddy dirt road and surprised Kevin by coming up behind him. He was standing on the street corner before the main aid station with some other runners' families. They were all peering off into the dark saying things like, "he should have been here by now."

When they noticed me there, I said, "I'm tired, I'm cold, I'm not having any fun, I'm done!" Kevin admitted that he was relieved that I wasn't going to continue. The other people on the corner pointed out that I had a big smile on my face. I guess I was happy for the first time all day! I have not had any regrets about dropping out. This is my third DNF in a hundred miler, I've had seven finishes. This is the first DNF where I have not felt any remorse about dropping out, although it is the first DNF where I could have continued and finished. Go figure.

Recovery has been fast and I feel great. I only completed about 56 miles or so, and it didn't seem to wear on me physically. Like I said, I was feeling well and moving well when I dropped. Would I do Oil Creek again? Only if crew were allowed out on the course in more places and pacers were allowed to join their runners earlier in the event. Over all, it was a good experience. I ran hard and got over some tough trails. Maybe I should have toughed it out to the finish, but I feel good about my decision to drop.


  1. Laurel,

    I'm sorry you didn't finish it, but from what I've heard, it sounded really tough. Another friend of mine with a buckle from WS only made one loop.

    And, when it truly isn't fun any more, sometimes the best thing to do is just go home and find another race to do.


  2. Laurel, that's a very low finishing rate, the course sounds super tough.

  3. What if you had the option to run with a friend through the course, they would not be a pacer as long as they were entered into the event....perhaps that would be a lot more fun?
    The buddy system seems like a good option for this type of lonely terrain.

  4. The issue with the Oil Creek trails is that it had rained hard on Thursday and Friday before the race, so much that some roads had been detoured as a result of flooding and water damage. The soil in that area has a lot of clay compounds making the trails really slippery, but also many of the trails were improperly benched into the sidehills, in that the outslope was to steep and then had a collar along the endge to prevent the water from draining off properly.

    If Laurel had wanted to stay in the race, i would have supported her in that 100%, but at the same time i was very relieved to know that she was going to be with me, where it was warm for the night.

    Had it been dry, and all the runners had one leg 3 inches shorter then the other it could have been much better going. It was a cold night and anyone lacking a sufficient amount of body fat was a potential for hypothermia. Had it been 20 degrees warmer with dry trail conditions, Laurel would have kicked butt. - KC

  5. Laurel, You are a tough cookie! Dismal is a powerful word and I can only imagine the dampness that set in and then the dusk and dampness in dismal dimness. Laurel you will kick arse soon!