Oil Creek. Four years ago, it was my very first ultra. I only signed up because I thought I would never qualify for the Boston Marathon. This race was like nothing I had ever seen before. They say you always remember your first, and I certainly do. Oil Creek changed everything regarding running for me. It is also where I met my good friends Roger and Clyde.
I was lucky enough to have dinner with Rog, his beautiful wife Kris, and Clyde the night before this year’s race. We laughed and told stories for hours. It was a bit like that scene from the movie Jaws where the men are sitting around sharing battle wounds. We shared stories about races, but I noticed we shared just as many stories about each other as we did about our selves. I guess that’s what running countless miles with someone will do to a friendship. I’ve often said that some of the best conversations in my life have been on trails, so a logical conclusion is that I’ve had some of the best conversations ever with these two guys. Gentlemen, I must thank you. You each in turn, introduced me to ultra running and motivated me to stick with it. I am forever grateful.
After dinner, it was time to make camp. I bundled up in my ski jacket and snow pants and snuggled into my sleeping bag. It was about 20 degrees out but I was pretty okay. The one bright point was when Natalie called to tuck me in. She said, “I miss you Momma, but I know you need to go find your happy”. I closed my eyes with a smile on my face.
That warm feeling faded when I had to get up, get dressed and do some last minute race prep. I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold in my life. Brrr.
I got to the start early so I could see Roger off for his 100 mile run. I call him ‘Superman’ (he calls me ‘Tough Cookie’) and he was ready to fly. As he took off to the trails, Clyde said, “There goes the toughest guy I know”. This said by a guy who was about to complete his 80th marathon.
I then had an hour to defrost and hang with Clyde. It was very cold at the start. I took off at a faster pace than I normally would, just so that I could generate heat, and I was okay as long as I didn’t slow down. The trail starts with an immediate climb and I always find it challenging in the dark. I was running strong and all was well, but it was stinkin’ cold. In fact, by the time I pulled into AS 2 at 9:30, there was still frost on the ground. I looked at my watch when I finally felt warm---it was noon.
I finished the first 31 miles in a respectable time. I went to my tent, changed clothes, called home, checked my messages, and restocked my supplies. The break was nice and warm messages made me smile, but sitting for 20 minutes brought on the chills. Time to get going.
From this point on, I found it very hard to regulate temperature. I kept taking off and putting on clothes, which is no easy task when you wear a supply vest and a waist hydration pack. Finally, I decided to just suck it up and stay in a mid-weight layer, and deal with the chills.
Unfortunately, my body didn’t like this idea. I became quite nauseous and couldn’t keep anything in even though I really needed the calories to conquer the climbs. The trails were in their normal masochistic glory, with a new twist of quarter-size acorns. These buggers acted like ball bearings on the trail and either pushed you backward on the climbs or quickened your pace on the descents. They were annoying as all get out. I needed to get my wits about me so that I could muscle through this course. It took a while, but I finally let nausea win. I felt immediately better, but had lost some time. I decided not to look at my watch and worry about what I couldn’t change, but to focus on running the best race I could from that point on.
I was doing okay, and then I ran into Brian about 4 miles before AS 2. I met him at dinner the night before and he seemed like a nice guy. He’s also finished the 100-mile version of this trail twice, so when he told me he was hurting, I believed him. I decided staying with him would be a win-win situation. A win for him, because he was hurting and should not be alone. A win for me, because it happened to be the area I was charged by a bear last year. Should that happen again, well, I knew I could outrun Brian :).
After Brian got safely to the aid station, I hit the trails again, and the nausea was relentless. Although I am starting a cold and my breathing was shallow, my main concern was that I simply wasn’t putting enough calories into my body for it to do what I asked of it. As hard as I tried to eat, the nausea was stronger. Section 3 was the longest section of the course and I felt crappy the whole time. By this time the sun had set and I was cold again. It was miserable.
When I finally stumbled into AS 3 an aid worker handed me some fruit and said, “here you go pretty lady”. I don’t know why it got to me at that point, but it did. I very nicely said good-bye (it wasn't his fault I was in a mood) and headed out to my least favorite hill on the trail, ticked off. I am not here because of some superficial attribute such as how I look. I am here because I train my butt off. In the past two months alone, I have raced/trained almost 500 miles. My prettiness, or lack thereof, has no influence what so ever on my performance.
I induced one last round of vomiting, (Rog and Clyde, one guess on the spot I picked) because I decided I was going to ignore not feeling well. After I was sick, I sent in as many calories as my body would handle. I cranked up my iPod and listened to any song with a driving beat. I had six miles of trail left, and I was going to surge with all I had. I actually passed about a half dozen runners during this time. I can honestly say that I gave all that I had to that trail. When I reached the trail head, I was beat up and exhausted from my efforts, but I dug deep and found the energy to flip-off that mountain…. how’s that for pretty?!? I had two miles to go and I now ran with a bounce in my step. I literally skipped across the finish line.
So dear Oil Creek, the score is now 3-1, in my favor. For the record, I think sending a charging bear at a runner with a decently sprained ankle is just poor sportsmanship, but I’ll give you the point. I’ll let you know if we’ll see each other again. But for now, I’ve got to go find my daughter and give her a squeeze. You see, I’ve already found my happy.