Sunday, June 6, 2010
June 5th-6th, 2010.
The 32nd Old Dominion 100 Mile Endurance Run began at 4am this past saturday morning at the Shenandoah Valley fairgrounds. 55 runners embarked on a day of 90 degree temps, high humidity, and swampy evening conditions. This event, years removed from the days of 100+ runners, seems to be regaining strength in the wake of "politics" and the increasingly popular Massanutten Mountain Trails. Sadly, in previous years there have been as few as 25 entrants to this race. Old Dominion is the 2nd oldest 100 mile foot race in the country and only the famed Western States 100 is older. Due to not getting into MMT this year, the rich history of Old Dominion, and being home turf, I decided in mid May to enter.
The first fifty miles of this race are fast. There are only a few major climbs, lots of road, and only a couple rolling hills. In a little over an hour I reached the top of Woodstock Gap, still very much in the dark, and followed by dozens of headlamps in the distance. We arrived at the first crew access point, mile 19.6, and I commented that the time was really flying by. I hit my marathon split in 4:10, and my 50k in 4:55. I spent most of the morning running with Abran Moore who was on his 3rd attempt after two DNF's at earning his coveted sterling silver buckle. Abran went on to run a very strong second half and finished in 20:12, finally earning his buckle! 5 hours 8 minutes into the run, I pulled into the Four Points aid station at mile 32.5. When I arrived, the drop bags had not arrived yet. Without a crew, I had no access to my gels, second water bottle, and s caps. This was the only time I can say I was concerned about logistics. Thankfully, an awesome volunteer let me borrow a water bottle and salt caps. During the morning I also ran back and fourth with Montrail runner, and eventual female winner (19:54), Sabrina Moran until she took off for good around mile 35.
All in all, the early miles went as expected. Things felt easy, runners were still social and upbeat, but that is to be expected before the miles strip it away. Despite muggy conditions early on, I maintained a pretty solid pace and wasn't too far out of reach of leaders Bobby Gill and David Ruttum through Four Points II, the 47.7 mile aid station. The time keepers said I was just 8 minutes back of Moran, and closing the gap on Brad Hinton. After crossing the 50 mile point of the race in a fairly relaxed time of 8:38 it was obvious that we were now entering the hottest, and most exposed part of the day. It was around a road climb at mile 52 where I caught and passed a struggling Hinton. Brad was last year's second place finisher, however, this was not one of his good days and he would drop at the next aid station. Meanwhile, sparse flagging over Moreland gap road caused me some confusion and I chose to run back a half mile on the course only to realize I was going the correct way. One bonus mile for the day.
Entering Edinburg Gap (mile 56) I was in 4th place and still feeling strong despite the conditions. I realistically wanted to make a run for a top 3, but knew the three folks ahead of me were all legit runners who could maintain their pace. I also had hopes for a sub 20 hour finish, which would require an 11 hour 22 minute second half over tougher terrain. As I changed socks, I noticed I was developing some problamatic blisters on my left foot, which may have been a result of wearing Brooks ST4 racing flats for 56 miles. I decided to swap into my half size larger Nike Pegasus, and wore them for the remainder of the race. The steep climb up the ATV trail was challenging yet went by quick. Ironically, it was the smooth downhill off the mountain that gave my feet the most issues as my beat up toes painfully hit the toebox on the downward grade. Hesitantly, I opted to walk sections of the downhill which I would have otherwise hammered hard. Through mile 60, I was still in 4th place overall, but the downhill walking provided opportunity for three runners to pass me, including my buddy Abran.
At the Little Fort aid station, mile 64.25, I was welcome by my old friends Mr. and Mrs. Pugh. Their son introduced me to ultras in 2004, and they have managed the Little Fort aid station at OD for over a decade. Little Fort may very well be the best aid station on the entire course, and it is where I decided to get my left foot patched up. Leaving Little Fort, I renewed my running,thankfully with less discomfort than before. It was just a short jog up the road to a sign that said "65 miles, go right, 93 miles, go left". I think at that moment it hit me just how rediculously far running 100 miles is. I had run 65 miles and still had 35 to go. During miles 65-75 I repeated a part of the morning road section and indulged in some fast trails leading into the 75 mile Elizabeth Furnace aid area.
Most people would agree that miles 75-86.5 are the toughest at Old Dominion. In short, I concur. Leaving mile 75 I started feeling queezy. Was it the hard pace through the first 100k? Was it the 30+ gels consumed? Who knows? All, I know is I couldn't stomach anything for the next 12 miles. Oddly enough, I managed to be very agressive up the notorious Sherman Gap climb and made it to the Veach East(mile 82) aid area in the waning minutes of daylight. From mile 82-86.5 I hit my lowest point. During the long climb out of Veach East I was running on fumes. I had now gone 3 hours without any calories, and my energy was completely gone. I took a few rest breaks up the mountain and got passed by two more non-bonking runners. I will admit that the 6.5 miles between mile 80 and 86.5 seemed like the longest I have ever run, or walked.
Leaving Veach Gap west, mile 86.5, my stomach starting coming around and I started laying down a few quick miles. Afterall, aside from sore hip flexors, my muscles still felt very good. The night section of the race felt surreal. The on and off rain throughout the evening made it feel like a sauna. With a headlamp on there was maybe 50-100 feet of visibility, and the fog was so dense you literally see the water vapor in the air. Lack of course flagging, perhaps a streamer every half mile, and the thick mist caused for more than a couple "oh crap, did I miss a turn?" moments. Though I lost a few minutes trying to figure out the intersections, I got lucky and came across Carter Weicking who thankfully was out remarking the course after we found out some locals were the culprits of the missing flagging.
At mile 93, I reached the top of Woodstock Gap for the last time. I could see the glow of the town lights below and it was a welcome site. I knew it was a mile of steep switchbacks down the mountain, and another couple miles of hilly country road, and three miles into the town of Woodstock. My stomach issues would linger for the remainder of the run, so I opted to just take it easy knowing that a silver buckle was now in the bag. From miles 80-100, I was only able to eat three gels, for a whopping 300 calories over the final 20 miles of the run. I made my way through empty town streets, the silence occasionally broken by the chirps of birds, or the grunts of local cows. Through the quiet night I patiently made my way back to the Shenandoah County fairgrounds,and completed the traditioned half mile lap around the horse track. I crossed the finish line at 1:52am with no spectators, no high fives, no fanfare, and no handshakes. I had run alone for nearly 50 miles of the race, and alone is how I finished. I made my way back to a friend's house for a shower, brushed my teeth, and hit the sack for a few hours of prescious sleep.
At 9am this morning we had our awards breakfast, and it was a great opportunity to share our great stories of the previous day's hardships, triumphs, and journeys. 100 mile races are a unique experience. You can never truly compare what your body and mind will go through in a 50k, or 50 miler with what takes place during 17-30 hours of constant forward motion. When I finished my first 100 miler in 2007 I could barely walk the few days after the event, and my legs and feet were swollen for days. This morning I woke up to find myself in amazingly good shape. There was obviously some minimal sorenss, but not much different than what I typically feal after a good effort at a 50k. My pre-race weight was 150 lbs, my post race weight was 146, thus a sign of good hydration and sodium managent during the day. I suffered only one small blister, one large blister on my big toe, and had a couple decent looking falls. Overall damage: not bad at all.
Thoughts on Old Dominion 100 as an event. I would classify race management as old school. Don't expect live updates, a slick website, or tons of race marketing. OD doesn't give out buckles for finishing under the cutoff like most 100 milers. However, if you do break 24 hours you will recieve one of the finest sterling silver buckles awarded at any ultra. That being said, they don't give out many buckles, and historically less than half the people who start the race will earn one. The race also boasts a drop out rate of nearly 50%. The OD course doesn't contain the rocky trails of MMT, the vertical climb of Grindstone, or the oxgyen deprivation of Leadville. It is truly 80% paved/dirt roads with about a dozen miles of gnarly trail, and a deceptive 14,000 feet of climb(the same as Leadville and Vermont). The course is significantly harder the second half, which leads to many folks going out too fast early and the June race date often results in very hot and humid conditions. For $135, which is cheaper than some 50 milers, I would recommend Old Dominion. The race itself and location are full of history,the volunteers amazing, and any Shenandoah area ultra runner should try experience this part of the valley.