Monday, October 17, 2016

I Suggest You Try Something You Could Fail - My Oil Creek 100 DNF Report

October 8, 2016

"If you are going to face a real challenge, it has to be a REAL challenge.
You can't accomplish anything without the possibility of failure." - Lazarus Lake

A couple years ago I attempted the Oil Creek 100, it didn't go well and I got in the Jeep and went home after only 62 miles (2 laps). I was back this year to right that wrong.

I was pretty psyched to get to Titusville. Last time I was sick and knew my chances were limited. It was pathetic, everyone else was greeting and socializing and I was hiding and faking that I felt ok. I didn't want to be there at all. This time I felt great and couldn't wait to see the folks I knew would be there.

It was like a family reunion of sorts. Janice and I got to the Titusville Middle School, got my race packet and ran into Tim Nash who was there to pace a friend. We got checked into the hotel and in short order we were at the Blue Canoe hoping to be seated. Standing at the bar I heard my name, turned around and found Adam McGinnis and Todd(zilla) Lewis sitting right behind us with family and pacers. The only person missing from this crew was Ben Mazur (who hadn't arrived yet). It's fun seeing everyone, I really enjoy trying to remember how we all met. Ron Kappus introduced himself and I told him I was pretty sure we had met at Laurel Highlands. Trail running is a tribal thing and the bonds that grow from it are lasting.

Janice's Rolling ClifBar Aid Station

Janice and I arrived back at the Middle School, it was 4am and we had a plan for the long day ahead of us. The Jeep was loaded with supplies and my drop bags were stocked with clothing changes. Janice was there to work her crew magic, but I was hoping she'd figure out how to get some sleep so I had the drop bags as nap time back ups.

The reunion resumed. I ran into Jeremy Hand from back home, he geared up, slathered in Vaseline and ready to roll. I found Todd and Adam and grabbed a seat with them. Ben soon wandered in and we agreed to a pace to start the day. John Delcalzo from Ohio stopped to say good morning. John and I finished Laurel Highlands together in 2013. There were others as the day went on. Out on the course I got to say hello to Jamie Clark and Martin Speece, also from the Harrisburg area; they were running the 100k. Danny Mowers from Chambersburg, also running the 100k, came smoking past early in the event. Danny went on to take second. I ran for a while with Victor Susol from Linesville, another 2014 Laurel Highlands buddy.

Tom Jennings, Race Director

It had been quite warm in the school, seemingly foreshadowing for the run. After brief announcements by Tom Jennings, the Race Director, we headed out to the start line. Adam, Ben, Todd and I stuck together, but when we heard go I lost them in the crowd. The course opens on streets and continues onto a paved multi-purpose trail before its turn into the forest. There is a slight hill early on and most in front of me started to walk. I saw it as easy and a nice way to get warmed up so I continued to run. It turned out to be a good move because I soon found the western PA threesome and we were back together again.

This would be Todd's fourth attempt to finish this race. Todd like most runners lets the race excite him and he runs out of his skin early and something goes wrong late. I felt like it was our duty to keep Todd in check so his day didn't end early. So sticking together was important, at least early on. It wasn't hot, after all it was October in Western Pennsylvania, but it was warmer than normal at start time and the heavy humidity in the first miles was more than noticeable. It was switching on and off to a fog and mist and it felt like running in the shower.

5am And We're Off

The first miles after the paved section are tight single track with numerous nagging climbs. On the first lap, you can count on the pack still being together and patience is critical. Attempting to move up is futile and probably not worth the effort. We were running four in a row until some guy pushed by me and tried to squeeze past Adam, but couldn't. So now we had a fifth, an interloper in our band of brothers. A short time later at about the 6 mile mark (yes I looked at my watch as I was getting up), some guy came around me with a tree soon to be his dance partner so he had to abruptly cut back into line. He came right across my stride and took me down. I hit hard with an F-Bomb peppered grunt. I popped right back up seemingly ok and the dude didn't say "sorry", "you ok?", nothing. I hope his dick move was worth it. Later I'd figure out that the knock I took to my left knee and ankle was quite a wallop. The fall also damaged my trekking poles and rendered them useless. The climbs on this course are the type that I like to use poles and now all I had was useless aluminum so I ditched them in my drop bag at the Petroleum Center Aid Station. (Shout out to Black Diamond, my warranty replacement poles are on their way via FedEx)

As we rolled closer to the second aid station at the Petroleum Center we really only had to reel in Todd a couple times when he strided away from us. We did however realize we were getting into the 14 mile aid station earlier than expected. For me, I was a lot earlier than expected and I had out run my crew. Any deviation from what's considered a sustainable plan is a threat to your finish. Janice knows that and I knew she'd be bummed that she missed me. I started to leave with Todd and Adam and I remembered my plan to eat at this aid station so I turned around and returned to eat their food. It wasn't the ClifBar stuff I had planned to fuel with, but it was much needed calories. Ron Kappus said, "Perry you're going the wrong way", but I was secretly hoping our orange Jeep Wrangler might appear while I gobbled down watermelon and peanut butter and jelly.

Janice never showed, I knew she'd be pissed, but I took off. The climb immediately after that aid station is called Heisman Trophy Hill. Yes this is the home of the oil industry, but it's also the boyhood home of John Heisman the creator of the Heisman Trophy. Just before descending to the next aid station on Miller Farm Road you climb Ida Tarbell's Wrath, a steep off camber twist up through the trees.

Happy As Hell To See Janice On Miller Farm Road

I was feeling fine on these uphill challenges and as we popped out onto Miller Farm Road, there stood Janice and I felt immediately better. Crew is not allowed at this aid station to avoid an unmanageable traffic snarl. Janice parked at a distant gate and walked in to the trail head. She's a genius at finding road crossings, no matter how remote. She's even more genius at bending the rules. I gobbled a quick organic ClifBar snack and chugged a Mama Chia drink, gave her a kiss telling her I'd see her at the middle school. Our short conversation did not exclude that I was going much faster than planned. I told her I was reigning that in and I apologized for missing her at the Petroleum Center.

The climbs after the aid station and the remaining miles leading to the middle school passed without incident. I seemed to have calmed down and I was running at a comfortable pace. I still arrived at the middle school ahead of schedule. I saw Todd leaving the school and when I got in, Janice pointed out that Adam was there too. I had another ClifBar Organic Meal washed down by Mama Chia. I ate a ton of watermelon while Janice refilled my hydration bladder with Tailwind. All I had to do now was collect Adam and get on the trail again.

50K Done - Adam arriving back at Titusville Middle School
With Crew & Wife Kelly Keeping a Close Eye

Yummy Sweet Potato With Sea Salt
ClifBar Organic Meals Rule!

Sometimes It's Fun And Games...The Best Times

We moved together in the opening miles of our second lap until two girls who talked too much bugged Adam and he picked up his pace. I was still trying to be conservative and let him run away. I eventually ditched them too.

Arriving At The Petroleum Center Aid Station
Lap 2 - 45 Miles

I arrived at the Petroleum Center Aid Station and saw Adam preparing to head out. I was stoked that we were there in under 12 hours. I had planned to change into my clothing for night running, but I was conflicted as it certainly wasn't night yet and it really wasn't cold either. I did it anyway. I changed everything, I went from shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt to tights and a long sleeved base layer under a t-shirt. I carried a wind jacket and gloves. I changed packs too, from a basic Nathan hydration vest to much more substantial Ultimate Direction pack. My concern was getting over heated on the ensuing hills.

The following climbs went well, I was perspired, but I wasn't overheating. Around 7:30pm it became dark enough in the forest that I dug out my headlamp. I noticed immediately that now I wished I had my trekking poles. It was dark and my cautious pace through the rocks was slow. I'm not sure why I was being so conservative, maybe it was the fall earlier in the day, but I was all but tip toeing.

I got into the middle school, Janice was there and wide awake. She got calories in me and was urging me onto lap three. At this point, somehow doubt jumped into my brain and right out my mouth. I said, "honey I don't know if I have this". I don't know why I was doubting myself, but I was. I finished eating a Clif Nut Butter Filled Bar and started the lap anyway. I didn't get off the school grounds and realized I was wet and cold and not equipped to do 14 night miles with temperature continuing to drop. I turned around to find Janice. She eventually heard me yelling her name and she had a "not this again" look on her face. That look went away when she realized I wasn't dropping I just wanted a dry shirt.

I started out and immediately heard a guy behind me yelling my name. I turned around to figure out who he was and it turned out he was yelling Terry to a runner just ahead of me. Soon I was tagged onto the back of a new three man train of Terry, Dylan and Mark. Dylan had run the 50K previously and Mark had come to pace Terry to his first 100 mile finish. Somehow at this point, Adam and his pacer were behind me. They caught us and passed us. I arrived at the first aid station and there was Adam again. He said he had a nap and was ready to roll. Now we were a group of five, Dylan stayed at the aid station and now Adam and his pacer joined us. I had dreaded the climb after that aid station (Switch Back Mountain) and sure enough, it bit into me hard. I couldn't stick with the pace of the group. I did catch them at the top, but they picked up their pace again and I was dropped for good.

On my own, now I knew I just needed to grind it out. I was still ahead of cutoff times and moving, I could do this. Suddenly, like someone clubbed me I fell asleep. I stumbled to one knee and thought, "shit I gotta' get this under control". I was bobbing and weaving and going slow as hell. I stopped a couple times, leaned on a tree and closed my eyes for 30 seconds or so, but nothing was working. The sleep monster had hold of me. Runners were catching me and asking if I was ok as they saw me stumbling. I knew I needed a nap, but I also knew my slow pace now had me dangerously close to cutoff so if I took a nap I'd get pulled. The math wasn't with me, I knew arriving at the Petroleum Center Aid Station, I probably needed to drop. It was misting or at least extremely foggy or something and I couldn't see a damned thing. I crossed the timing mat and went to look for the Jeep, but Janice appeared in seconds out of the darkness. We walked to the Jeep and I told her if I was continuing I needed to change shirts again. I was cold and my slow pace wasn't keeping me warm. I then looked at my watch and saw I had only 48 minutes till the 5am cutoff at this aid station. At my pace it was inevitable that I'd be pulled at the next aid station, pulled where I wouldn't have a ride. My decision was made, Janice tried to talk me out of it, but we walked back into the aid station and at only 75 of 100 miles I officially dropped out.

We got a little sleep and went back to the finish to see how Todd and Adam had made out. We missed Todd, but got to chat with and congratulate Adam on his finish. Todd had finished too, his quest for the Oil Creek 100 was finally done. Ben Mazur joined my category and had dropped as well.

Chatting With Sleepy Adam - The 100 Miler

This was a tough one for me. I promised myself if I failed this time, I wouldn't return. The Oil Creek 100 had beat me fair and square. In the week since the run, social media has been lit up with tons of stories of everyone's Oil Creek experience. Friends have tried to encourage me by saying they'd be happy with 75 miles and I've been told I have nothing to be ashamed of. I never said I was ashamed, I'm not. Quitting unfortunately is part of the reality of attempting something that pushes your limits. To hell with comfort zone, I'm talking about going to your outer space and shame just isn't part of it at all, but disappointment certainly is. For all those who would be happy with 75 miles, well I can only say this; I went there for 100. To all of my friends, I truly appreciate your kind words of support. Your love and sincerity is immensely humbling. Every time I hear from you I'm amazed by your caring statements and true offers of support. To everyone else, I suggest trying something different, something you could fail.

For the week since the Oil Creek 100, the pressure I felt from reading other runners' stories has been crazy, but I've resisted and stuck to my pledge of not repeating it. I had even hoped and planned that this would be my last year of ultra running. I miss my back pack, tent and my kayak, but then I read Todd Lewis' race report and I simply caved. I will continue ultra running in 2017 and with a pack full of lessons learned, I will try again at the Oil Creek 100.

Next up though, I still need to finish up 2016 with the Stone Mill 50 next month.

Some tentative plans for 2017:

2/11/17 Algonquin 50K Pocomoke City MD
3/4/17 Naked Bavarian 40 Miler Leesport PA
4/29/17 C&O Canal 100 Knoxville MD
5/7/17 TD Five Boro Bike Tour New York City, NY
6/10//17 Laurel Highlands Ultra Ohiopyle, PA
10/2017 Oil Creek 100 Titusville, PA

Random scenes from The Apple Fest, Franklin, Pennsylvania:

For those who might not know who Laz is, here's a quote from Michael Jordan:

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."


  1. If running 100 miles was easy, what's the point of doing it?

    So sorry to hear you had to drop at mile 75. This race is very well organized on a wonderful course. I have no doubt you will go back and be successful next year!

    1. Thanks Phil!...and you're oh so right, great event and course and I'll definitely be back! :-)