Friday, May 19, 2017

2017 C&O Canal 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Report

"Six miles to go! You've got this!" With that the aid station volunteer handed me a popsicle and I barely able to move my legs I left the aid station. I looked at my watch and the first ounce of doubt crept into my mind. It would be a long six miles...

The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler in 2015 was kind of my litmus test if I could complete a 100 miler. I felt I had it in me and the search for the best first time 100 miler began. Initially I was looking at the Burning River 100 in Ohio but the aspects of running a 100 miler in the summer didn't appeal to me. After some research I found the C&O Canal 100 and as far as first time 100 mile races go, this one was a sure fit.

I read as many race reports as possible and every YouTube video from the race multiple times. After acquiring a feel for the race it was time to actually register. I won't be lying if I said I had my reservations. I finally pushed the payment button on Ultrasignup and the deed was done.

My next step was planning and of course training. The race had terrible cold rain in 2016 that caused many runners to drop and I was expecting this for 2017. I've never been one for cold weather running because of the climates that I usually am in. There wasn't anything I could really do to train for cold weather but be prepared with the proper gear. I monitored the weather forecast for weeks on end.

Ideally you would want a crew, even if only one person and a pacer or pacers for a 100 miler. Getting a crew was out of the question but I could try for a pacer. I put my name on the race website requesting a pacer and you could imagine my excitement when someone responded (thanks Steve!). We corresponded back and forth and even though I was thousands of miles away he gave me advice and motivated me throughout my training. Speaking of training.

Sierra Leone is very hilly, along with that the roads are anywhere from decent shape to one giant pothole. Along with that there are packs of feral dogs, dust, smoke and pollution. It's not the greatest running environment. I started running a 50km (32 miles) course that was painfully boring and took me up the same hills twice. I would have to walk the hills. There are water vendors along the course so that was never a problem for me. I would do this run anywhere from 2 to 3 times a month on a Saturday. Some would say that's not enough training for a 100 miler but quite honestly the course was so boring and frustrating dealing with everything on the run that it was nearly impossible to convince myself to go out again.

As time drew near to the race it became clear that I wouldn't have to worry about it being cold. In fact it would be hot! For that I was glad I was running in the heat.

I made hotel and rental car reservations, packed my drop bags and I was ready to go.

I went to the pre-race pasta dinner and was glad that I did. It was good to be among the other ultra runners and hear the war stories from the previous races.

Now surprisingly throughout all of this I wasn't nervous. I was a bit concerned that my over confidence might come back to bite me.

I knew there was going to be snacks and coffee the morning of the race so I just woke up and did some light stretching (I've never been much of a stretching guy) and headed to the race.

For the race I wore my Asics shorts, Asics singlet, compression sleeves for my calves and arms, Thorlo thick running socks, Adidas hat, and Altra Torins. I also put toe caps on my problem toes and a piece of moleskin behind my ankles. I used my cheap Chinese knockoff hydration vest and to my surprise three other runners had the same vest. I didn't use a hydration bladder but used a Ultimate Direction 20oz Kicker bottles and a 20oz soft flask with a straw. I started off the race with these empty and filled them at the six mile aid station.

After the race director gave us a quick brief and his traditional prayer we were off and running. The course starts off running a big loop around a field. Even though you would think that a running race we would be running, most people were walking. We had 100 miles ahead of us.

After going down a hill and across the same stream twice it was onto the C&O Canal trail. The course is crushed gravel and even though my Altras are road shoes they felt pretty good (you really don't need trail shoes for this course).

My plan was to run fifteen minutes and walk a minute. I had my phone in my vest pocket with my Runkeeper app giving me an audio queue every 15 minutes. I tried to stay as disciplined as possible to this routine.

I was feeling pretty good for about the first 30 miles or so, and then it happened. I felt a pain in the back of my left knee. This had never happened to me before. I found I was still able to run a bit but it was getting difficult. Around mile 40 there was no more running. You are allowed to pick up your pacer at mile 60. I told my pacer to expect me around 8:00PM and more and more I realized that was a pie in the sky dream. I was very concerned that he had been waiting all of this time but to my relief he tracked my time on the web and had a good idea when to arrive. By the time I met him at mile 60 I knew I had the energy to continue but my leg was bothering me. I was too hard headed to quit and was determined to finish the race. I had one immediate goal, making the 80 mile cutoff in time. My pacer was there to assist me with that and get me through the night. We took off at a good walking pace with 20 miles to go. We didn't spend too much time at the aid stations and as the miles ticked off it was clear we would make the 80 mile cutoff but my pacer couldn't continue because of blisters and I don't blame him. We said good by at the Nolands Ferry aid station and I was off by myself with the next goal of making the 90 mile cutoff. I felt my pace slowing down ever so slightly and I was looking at my watch every five minutes (my phone had died hours ago). I knew I was going to make the 90 mile cutoff but only with minutes to spare.

When I made it to the 90 mile aid station I was expecting doom and gloom but aid station volunteers don't do that. They encouraged me handed me a popsicle and I was on my way. I had made the cutoff but now will I make the final cutoff. Scenarios kept racing through my mind but I had my mind on that buckle and nothing was going to stop me.

At the Keep Tryst 93.5 mile aid station I was expecting the volunteers to tell me to give it up. I looked at my watch and knew I had to continue at my current pace without slowing down the slightest to make it to the finish line in time. I didn't spend a second further at the aid station and I was gone.

It was beginning to get hot and I was beginning to get hot. I was getting tired.

I come across a group of Boy Scouts headed the same direction and it felt kind of funny as they all had heavy packs on and they were passing me by quite a good pace. I asked their troop leader how far I had to go and he told me five miles and I nearly died.

I thought I was the last runner (yeah I know, I've been walking all this time) on the course but I come across another runner and his pacer. Their pacer encouraged me to keep up with them but I didn't think I could and then out of nowhere I got a second wind, a walking second wind, but a second wind nonetheless. My pace picked up and just kept going. The course had a orange safety cone that indicated where to cross the stream and go up the hill. Certainly that cone was going to be around the next bend, or the next bend or maybe this bend...where is that safety cone! I was beginning to think that I had missed the finish and the volunteers had removed the cone. I was beginning to freak out a bit.

Then I saw it. That beautiful sweet orange safety cone. It was probably close to 500 yards away or so but to me it might as well had been 5 inches. Me and the other runner made it across the stream and now it was time to make it up the hill. This was a huge concern for me as I was tired and my legs hurt but I knew I had to do it. As it turns out it was difficult making it up the hill but I had so much excitement in me it made all of the pain vanish. At the top of the hill was a long uphill walk to the finish line.

I was so happy to see so many people still there and everyone was cheering and quite a few people were shouting my name. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't crying. I also had some doubt that I had actually made the cutoff. To my surprise the race director shook my hand and congratulated me and I had officially completed my first 100 miler with seven minutes to spare.

None of this would have been possible without all of the helpful friendly volunteers. They went out of their way to support the runners. They knew what you needed when you didn't. My special thanks to the lady that used the roller on my calves at Nolands Ferry and the lady that patched up my hot spots on my foot at the Keep Tryst 66 mile aid station (that saved me from getting blisters). So kind and helpful.

Race Director Lance organized a great race and it's hard not to want to return next year.


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