By MPF Athlete Julian Vicente
Back in August I noticed a few spots opened up for the Oil Creek 100. Since it was within driving distance, I decided to give the race a go. This was my 3rd 100 mile race, and training plan had been consistent throughout the summer. However, two weeks prior I raced a local 50k and caught a cold which turned into bronchitis. During my two week taper I knew how important rest was, especially now.
The final days I felt a little better and was determined to give it my best shot. Friday morning I loaded my truck and picked up my friend Jason who was also running the 100. The company was good and the time flew by, we made it to Titusville 6hrs later and arrived at race headquarters by 3:30pm. We picked up our bibs and headed on foot to discover the first sections of the course which we would run during the dark hours of Saturday morning. From the school, we started down a few residential streets then onto a bike path for about a mile an a half. Up a little further we found the first flags turning into the woods, leading over a slippery wooden bridge and up a root & rock covered single track trail marked with yellow blazes.
Day turned to night, I decided to skip the social scene, kick back in my Suburban & get ready for the race. I sorted through my bags and re-arranged some things realizing the temperature at the start would be colder than anticipated, only 27degrees! I'm a very light sleeper so I choose spending the night in my truck rather than sleeping in the heated (potentially noisy) gymnasium. Dressed with winter coat, gloves, hat and multiple blankets, I soon drifted off. My eyes shot open at 2am, awake in a fit of coughing & choking. Apparently the car next to me fired up his engine to run his heat and his exhaust was smoking me out. My sleep was over, I abandoned ship and headed into the school, got dressed, sipped coffee and began patiently waiting for the 5am race start.
At 4:58 race director Tom Jennings led 138 of us outside and soon we were off! Wearing shorts, a thin hat, 2 shirts and gloves I was comfortable and was planning to shed some layers once the sun came up. The air was cold but constant moving was keeping me warm. I settled in behind the lead runner. As my Garmin alerted me of the first mile I thought to myself, wow this is great, only 99 miles to go. I was feeling very relaxed and my mood was positive. Soon my state of mind transitioned into a state of calm, I was in the present moment. With my water bottle in one hand and my flashlight in the other, I trotted behind the lead runner up and down the single track sections, mentally processing the ten feet in front only visible by our lamps. The air was so cold it began to freeze my eyes. Soon my left eye became blurry and blinking felt like it was happening in slow motion. I tried wiping my eye several times only to realize that the blur was not something I could fix. The more I wiped the blurrier it became.
Another runner passed and I settled into third. After descending some steep switchbacks, the shadows of Halloween ghosts appeared hanging from trees. We hit aid station one at 7 miles, I quickly filled my water and carried on up Switchback Mountain, the first real climb. The steep section wasn't very long but was the first significant climb of the day. The three of us power walked for a short while then were back to knocking off miles 7 - 10 of the race. Somewhere along this section I took a fit of coughing and shot the remains of my bronchitis off the side of the trail. It was the cough I was waiting for, suddenly my lungs were clear! The trails were mostly the same through these sections. Caution was needed to avoid the many hidden roots, rocks and slippery sections through the trail. I arrived at the 2nd Aid Station (Petroleum Center) solo. As I searched for my drop bag, another runner passed by. The sun was rising - my favorite time of day.
The next several miles started with another climb up Heisman Trophy Hill then a mix of more runnable rolling carriage roads and single track trail. I enjoyed discovering the trail, not knowing what lay ahead. The time really ticked by and soon the trail emptied onto an unpaved road then into Aid station 3 at Miller Farm Road. After re-filling my water bottle I was directed up a set of wooden steps. The next mile or so was all up hill climbing Death March Hill & Rockefellers Revenge. I managed to keep a steady but slower pace and run the whole way up. When I looked at my watch to find that 25 miles had passed, I recall thinking that "only" 75 more miles was within reach.
Many miles of rolling single track passed by then trail began to descend. "Watch the bridge, it's slippery" yelled someone, I ran over a few sections of wooden bridges, then onto the road and across some rail road tracks. Next up was the 1 mile loop around the Drake Oil Well Museum which consisted of a paved road, 2 parking lots, a field then down a grass covered path. The markers went over another wooden bridge then back to the start/finish on the familiar bike path.
As I approached aid station 4 at 31 miles, I noticed the clock read 5:08, crap! I have a habit of running too fast and knew I needed to slow this suicide pace. I ate some fruit, grabbed my date mix and took off to repeat the course. I prepare to power hike more of the climbs in this section to conserve energy. The weather was perfect now, it warmed up quick. Once I hit AS2 I dropped my outer layer but kept my hat with me and light gloves on my hands. Around mile 45, the first female runner reeled me in. We ran off each others lead for a while, eventually to find myself falling behind on one of the climbs. I kept thinking that another chapter of this race was soon to be over; this was my last solo loop.
My pacer planned to be back at the school to join me at mile 62. Harry Hamilton is golden. He drove over 6 hours across Pennsylvania to pace me. We have raced together several times, trained together plenty and we both run for team MPF Campmor. I couldn't be more appreciative for him being there... it was a motivating factor; I was excited for him to pace me to the finish.
Mile sixty two was in and out. Harry was waiting and got me out of the station in a flash. I told him that I needed to slow things down some more. I was starting to feel the effects of the high mileage and didn't want to crash. At this point I was sick of eating dates so I switched to bananas and berries. Not realizing that I would fall behind on calories with this choice, it soon caught up and hit me like a brick. After walking the climbs it was hard to get going again.. I felt myself walking way more than I wanted. I told Harry that I did not care about people passing, all I wanted at this point was to keep moving.
Pain was setting in and every step was beginning to hurt. We did our best to run, a slow shuffle at best. I needed more calories; I was running out of gas. Since I planned my calorie intake based on mileage, I was falling behind by moving too slow and the fuel that I was carrying was running low. Finally we reached aid station one. Running out with a bag full of grapes and bananas we shuffled up the climb. Delirium had set in at this point. I was a walking zombie. The hills were the worst.
Several runners passed us by, one by one they were picking us off. Soon night set in and the trails were pitch black. We Switched on our lights and continued on up trail following reflective course markings. I remember Harry’s many stories but do not remember running several of those miles. My body was now numb to pain. Slowly I was beginning to process the food in my stomach and a new charge was setting in. Running my best to keep close on Harry's heels we finally hit the road to aid station two at 76 miles.
Once I saw the road I took off ahead and ran my way into Aid station two. Here I picked up my iPod and more much needed calories from my drop bag. I was so glad to finally crawl out of my low. Harry continued to pick up the pace and encouraging me on. Soon we were reeling in other head lamps and passing them by. The rain started as a slow trickle making the trail quite slippery and muddy. We both ran with no fear and moved ahead into the night.
Aid station 3 was well stocked with food, gu's and plenty of hot options. The rain was really coming down at this stop, I could see the steady drops fall as we stood under the tent. Suddenly, out of nowhere, my buddy Jason appeared standing next to me. He was saturated and looked like he had been through a war. I was excited to see him and we started chatting a bit. Next thing I hear Harry yell "come on, we must GO now!". I said a quick goodbye & good luck and was out.
A short distance up the road, I began limping up the steps, shuffled the hills following Harry’s lead and picked up my pace. The next few miles we were really moving along. Harry was on a mission to catch every head lamp in the distance and we made up some serious time, passing several runners. I knew that this was the home stretch; I had miles in the bank and was determined to reach the finish line. Once we made it out of the woods, we continued on to run the one mile Museum loop, down the bike path then onto the road heading towards the school. The aid station was in and out. Harry filled a gallon bag with bananas, strawberries & grapes, handed it off and we were onto the final 7.7 mile “headed home” loop. It seemed like an eternity to get back onto the green trail as we ran down steep switchbacks.
As we proceeded onto the trail, I was thinking that this new section was very runnable and knew that it would end soon. I looked to my right and could see the top ridge line towering above, to the left was the same. We were running the valley of these two mountains and felt as if they were closing in on us. Once we crossed the Boughton suspension bridge, the climb felt as if it went on forever. Harry shouted out “WHAT is your goal?” I replied. “I just want to finish & break 22 hrs if possible.” Harry stated that I had 22, no problem & he need to know right now, if I wanted to break 21 hrs, he assured me that we could do it! I signaled him to go and we power hiked our way to the top.
Passing a few other 100milers we booked down the trail and made it onto the road and onto the bike path on our last 1.5 miles to the finish. It was pitch black out and still raining lightly. I shot ahead of Harry in what felt like a 6 minute pace soon to realize that I could not hold it. Oops. Harry shot past me like and I kicked in again in to catch him. We played this game back & forth for a short while. Finally, when I began to see the street lights at the end of the path, I slowed things down. “We made it Harry, we did it!!” I shouted… Harry’s response was “keep on moving, you’re not there yet”,. I told him I just wanted to enjoy the last ½ mile and trotted it in. We crossed the line in 20hrs 39 minutes & 59 seconds in 11th place overall. It was such a rush! Little did we know but the two runners crossed 45 seconds ahead of us. If we only knew they were so close it would have been a strong race to the finish.
A special thanks to all the volunteers and race director of the Oil Creek 100 & participants. You were all fantastic out there and should be commended on your efforts. I’m so glad to be part of the Mountain Peak Fitness / Campmor trail running team. Having the support of a teammate during this event is what helped pull me through. I can’t thank you enough Harry for all you did & am looking forward to returning the favor.