Old Dominion 100 Mile Endurance Run
14,000 ft. elevation gain
Fort Valley, VA
Saturday, June 5, 2010
“I ran. I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid. Then I ran some more.” – Fight Club
Nine months after suffering my first DNF at my first 100-miler attempt, I was finally toeing the line at what would hopefully be my redemption race. I had stayed healthy since that fateful day, upped my cross-training and stretching routines, raced hard in a bunch of Spring 50k’s and even had a good R2R2R quad-trashing session all in preps for another shot at the coveted 100-mile belt buckle.
Old Dominion (OD) is a fairly old school race. It is the second oldest 100-miler in the country next to Western States and at its peak had upwards of 150 entrants and was part of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. The race went on sabbatical in 2002 and, after starting back up in 2003, it has very slowly been picking back up its momentum.
The 60 or so runners gathered at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds, and at 4:00am the gun went off. We did a half-mile loop around the perimeter of the horse track then made our way through the town of Woodstock.
The glowing chem lights would have easily lit the way through these first miles, but we had the added bonus(?) of a police cruiser strobing his blue and reds to lead the way. Note to any epileptic runners considering this race: don’t. I was running with Brad Hinton, my good friend who got second place last year in his 100-miler debut. I had seen last year’s winner, Jason Lantz, at the pre-race briefing but didn’t see him in the lead pack. Brad informed me that Jason was having achilles issues and decided not to start. I was bummed to hear the news, but I immediately knew that it was going to be a fun day up at the front now that it was anyone’s game.
At 3 miles in we came to a cooler sitting on the back of a pickup truck that made up the Water Street aid station. I don’t think anyone stopped. Over the next 4 miles we climbed a switchbacked gravel road up to Woodstock Gap aid station that sat atop of the western ridge of the Massanuttens. I was now 1 hour in. Having pulled ahead on the climb, I was extremely surprised to find myself sitting in first place for the first time in my ultra career. With downhills being my specialty (I’m a fast fatboy), the descent into Shenandoah Valley provided an additional lead on the others.
Knowing that temps were going to soar once the sun came out, I took full advantage of the cooler weather and ran a comfortable 6:45 minute mile pace on the rolling country roads as I came to the Boyer aid station, mile 10.2 in 1:20. From Boyer we headed onto our first steps of trail, and surprisingly the first time throughout the race that I had to use my headlamp. The sun was almost up but it was just dark enough that I needed the headlamp for about 10 minutes. Not bad for a 4:00am start. As I came back into Boyer 4.5 miles later, I saw Mike Bailey making his way into the loop. This was a pleasant sight as it was one of the only times throughout the day I saw another runner. Mike ended up running a solid 21:52.
Another 5 miles miles of fast cruising on country roads brought us to the first crew point of the day at 770/758 aid station, mile 19.6. My crewmembers were my housemates, Brendan and Collin. Both are great endurance athletes; Brendan a triathlete and Collin a Cat 1 cyclist. For a crew that has never been to an ultra before, I was very impressed at their efficiency, getting me in and out in a matter of seconds.
The next 13 miles were rather uneventful with more fast cruising on country roads. I held the lead, but as the heat of the day appeared I started to feel its effects. I came into Four Points aid station, mile 32.5, at 4:48 and feeling a little rough. I knew it was time to start toning it down… though I probably should have toned it down a few miles earlier.
I now entered what was the lowest point of my day. In addition to the fast pace and the heat, my feet were killing me. I was wearing my current favorite shoes, the New Balance MT100’s, but I had never run anything more than a 50k on them, and definitely not anything with this much road running. The lack of padding under the foot pad was becoming painful, but I wouldn’t see my crew again to remedy the problem until I returned to Four Points for the second time, 15 miles later.
Shortly after leaving Four Points (which interestingly enough is located just outside the Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp, i.e. the new MMT headquarters) there is a steep climb up a jeep/ATV trail that has recently been widened. This may sound nice in theory, but ultimately it gave extremely loose and rocky footing. Thankfully this section ended quickly and gave way to another fast downhill section. As I barreled down I noticed that the sound of my footsteps seemed off. The offbeat rhythm became more distinct, and before I knew it David Ruttum blasted right past me, looking as fast and efficient as ever. I tried to keep him close through conversation but only managed a brief exchange. He commented that he changed out of his MT100’s since they were too little shoe for such heavy pounding, and up until that moment changing shoes hadn’t crossed my mind. (What’s that, Bobby? Your feet hurt? Change shoes. Duh.) I believe I yelled ahead that he was a genius, but before I knew it he disappeared around the next turn, so I doubt he heard me.
The downhill road was short lived and within a mile it was back to climbing another loose jeep/ATV road, the Duncan Hollow section of the MMT Trail. With a storm having passed through the night before, there were plenty of mud pits (and Jeeps and ATV’s out enjoying said mud pits) to maneuver around. Eventually, at mile 38.7, the Peach Orchard aid station appears out of nowhere in the middle of the climb. Because it’s in the middle of nowhere, the entire aid station is carried up trail by a guy on a dirtbike. It’s a tough job, but VERY appreciated at this point in the race. Thankfully we had some cloud cover to protect us from this exposed section of trail, but it was hot and humid and I was never happier to see a guy on a dirtbike. I downed two bottles of water, sat for a few minutes, then continued the climb. David was now 15 or so minutes ahead.
A few more miles of slow climbing then a short descent down the Scothorn Gap Trail popped us out onto Crisman Hollow Rd, the next aid station. I jumped on the scale for mandatory weigh-in #1 of 2 and noted that I was down 4 lbs (understandable considering the initial weight was from the day before, I was in different clothes and now using a different scale on uneven terrain – how’s that for reliable data?). I was feeling like absolute crap but I knew that it was a 4.5 mile straight shot up the road to a fresh pair of shoes. Onwards!
I came into Four Points #2, mile 47.7, after 7:40 on my feet. I sat down at a crew point for the first time and changed my shoes and socks. As much as I love the MT100’s, it was time for something beefier, so on went the trusty Brooks Cascadias. I didn’t need a fresh pair of socks since Drymax keep my feet pristine in the worst of conditions, but I changed into a fresh pair just in case. After sitting and freshening up the feet I started to feel significantly better. (It also may have helped that my crew handed me 3D glasses and, I kid you not, a Playboy with a 3D centerfold. If made for a good laugh that erected lifted my spirits.) I put on the iPod for the first time of the day, cranked some metal, and chugged ahead with new vitality.
I was now running in the hottest part of the day, but having started to tone it down a few miles back I was able to maintain a comfortable pace up the gradual road climb to Mountain Top aid station (mile 50.9) and then up and down the road section of Short Mountain (haha MMT runners, how do you like that one?) to Edinburg Gap (mile 56.6).
I was carrying Keith Knipling’s splits from 2008, an extremely hot and challenging year where he ran a 19:48, hoping that I could come close to matching that time if all pieces fell into place perfectly. Knowing that I had fallen apart a bit around miles 35-45ish, I didn’t think this was possible, but looking at the pace chart I was surprised to see that I was spot on. Hmm, I guess blowing up is all part of the game.
Although I had cautioned my crew to not let me sit at the aid stations very long, sitting became the prize in my head for running through an entire section. I had been taking minimal walking breaks during the day, only walking the significant ascents and running all the gradual ones, so giving myself a minute to lower the heart rate and compose myself seemed to work wonders.
On passing the 100k mark as I made my way into Little Fort aid station (mile 64.25), I realized I had run a new 100k PR of 10:38. That boosted my spirits, as did the knowledge that I had run the remaining section of the course just a few weeks prior, so from here on out everything would be familiar and doable. Little Fort is also the only point during the day that I ate solid food. I had some mango slices from my crew and half a cup of thick soup. Otherwise, throughout the day I got all my nutrition from Hammer Perpetuem (cafe latte flavor), ginger ale and S-Caps. These appear to be the winning combination in my stomach to keep me going for a long haul; no need to tinker with other sources of calories unless absolutely necessary.
As I left Little Fort, the anterior tibilias tendon (I think) in my left foot started to irk me. Oh dear god, please tell me this isn’t another 100-miler defeating injury! It was quite painful at first, but after running on it for a few minutes the pain seemed to subside. When I hit Mudhole Gap (mile 69.5) I sat down, took off my shoe and tried to massage it out. I was able to fashion some additional arch support by taping a few gauze pads under my insole, but this provided only marginal relief. In addition to the rain that had just started sprinkling, Sabrina Moran, the top female runner, came through and looked like she wanted to get out of there in a hurry. I quickly laced back up and followed suit right behind her.
We were both moving at a pretty slow pace along a flat but technical section with many stream crossings. I was dealing with my anterior tib problem and she (I later learned) may have broken her foot, so not much was said during our shared miles. As we emerged onto a fire road ascent I started to pull away a bit, mostly due to the fact that my anterior tib hurt the least when I ran on my toes, aka running fast and not the typical jog that might be expected 70 miles into a run. It seemed contradictory, but that’s what worked so I went with it. We then emerged onto an open fire road that had both significant climbs and descents as it led us into Elizabeth Furnace, mile 75 and the second weigh station of the day (my weight was fine).
I had gained a couple minutes on Sabrina coming into Elizabeth, arriving in 13:20, but with my foot issue I needed to address that for a few minutes. I applied some Arctic Ice muscle relief spray to try to numb it away, massaged it out a bit, and then my brilliant self wiped my eyes with hands that were now covered in muscle relief liquid. That felt interesting for a minute. Oh well. Knowing that I was getting low on fluids throughout the day (urine was getting dark) and I had a long section coming up, I swapped my waistpack for my Nathan Pack and took my Perpetuem mix in a handheld. It was nice to free up the hips and switch to a higher center of gravity fluid source for the upcoming climbs.
I managed to leave Elizabeth before Sabrina (I know, a guy shouldn’t worry about getting “chicked”, but sadly we all do), but after heading off-trail to “scrape some leaves” as Gary Knipling says, she and her pacer were able to get a few minutes head start on the big climb up Sherman Gap. I opted to not use a pacer since they were only allowed for this next 12 mile section and I would be doing it in the daylight, but I’m sure I would have been singing a much different tune had I been experiencing this section slower and in the dark. The climb up Sherman is given a bad rap in my mind. Yes, it’s gnarly, steep and could use some switchbacks, but after 75 miles of running on mostly gravel country roads, the slow climb is a welcomed change of pace and muscle groups. I actually enjoyed it.
With every good climb comes a good descent. Usually my specialty, the anterior tib wasn’t having this descent so I was only marginally able to bomb down with reckless abandon. I did, however, end up stubbing a toe fairly badly after jumping over a blow down and landing incorrectly. It felt like I had sheared off the skin from the front of the toe, but upon inspection at the next aid station (613T, mile 80.9) it turns out it was just a blood blister under the toenail. Sabrina and her pacer were leaving the aid station just as I was coming in, and although I stopped for a few minutes to inspect the toe and refill the pack, I had once again caught back up right as she was leaving the next aid station (Veach East, mile 82.8). Seeing this trend, I knew that my moving pace was faster than hers, she was just being more time efficient in the aid stations. Despite my newly-found love for my crew’s camping chair, I knew I had to stop lollygagging in the aid stations if I was going to make any moves in these last 20 miles.
The climb up Veach was long and slow, but with the sun beginning to set it offered a nice view looking south onto the Shenandoah River. I ran into my buddy Chad Kibler up near the top of the climb (he had been marking trail) and he walked with me for a minute, definitely a welcomed surprise. We split when I reached the top and then it was a 2 mile technical descent into Veach West. I passed Sabrina on the descent (btw, her pacer was wearing Vibram FiveFingers… very hardcore for the technicality of this section) and as I came into the aid station (mile 86.6 at 16:33), I knew I had to get out of there quick.
My mom showed up at this aid station, so even though I had intentions on moving through quickly, I sat down to see her for a moment then quickly got up and went back to business. Temperatures were now fairly cooler with a light drizzle, and the sun had set just as I entered the aid station. I would be seeing my crew at the next aid station so I minimalized and went to a single handheld. I donned the headlamp and, knowing that running on my toes and for uninterrupted periods of time meant less pain, I started hammering out the miles again (or at least what seems like hammering out miles at mile 87).
My pace sheet called for the 4.4 mile section between Veach West and 770/758 to take an hour, but it only ended up taking 48 minutes (which includes 2 minutes of standing at one intersection wondering which way to go). I was feeling motivated as ever to get this day wrapped up, so after a brief stop at the 770/758 aid station (mile 91) to sit for a second and swap GPS that was low on battery, I once again put my head down, bottled up the pain and charged forward. I noticed that stopping and starting back up again was making the anterior tib take a few minutes to warm back up, so I decided I was going to run as much as humanly possible of these last 9 miles… and I did.
I ran the entire way, albeit slowly, up to Woodstock Gap (mile 93.2, 17:58), and after stopping only long enough to fill a bottle I continued down the mountain, retracing my steps from the morning. The anterior tib was not a fan of this descent, but with less than 7 miles to go I didn’t care how bad things hurt. One foot in front of the other, as fast as I can manage (which really ended up being about 10 minute miles).
I had thought that once the descent off Woodstock was complete it would be smooth sailing to the finish. Wrong. New hills that I hadn’t seen on the way out were now riddled throughout the streets of Woodstock, taunting me with every little undulation. After what seemed like forever, I finally saw the turn onto Water St out in the distance (mile 97.4 aid station, 18:41) and I could hear my crew cheering me on. The excitement and realization of finishing my first 100-miler were finally starting to set in. I didn’t even stop at the aid station, but rather had my crew swap bottles with me as I ran.
I handed off my iPod so that I could use these last 2.6 miles to think and reflect upon the events of the past day. Honestly, I figured I was going to tear up and bawl, but the emotions didn’t seem to have that affect on me this time. I felt more pumped than anything else. The 2 miles back to the Fairgrounds seemed to take an eternity, but after meandering through the quiet streets of Woodstock and getting the occasional odd look from a resident, the Fairgrounds finally appeared as you crest over one last “climb” that I again don’t remember from the morning.
I entered the grounds, threw my bottle, and proceeded to run the longest half mile of my entire life. I was giving every ounce of effort I had, and after rounding the final turn my body released one last burst of energy it had been saving especially for this moment. I sprinted to the line, finishing my debut 100-miler in a time of 19:11, good for 2nd place overall.
I collapsed to the ground. Immense pain and joy filled every ounce of my body. Finally… I ran 100 miles.
I had my setbacks during the journey to my debut 100-miler (injury, bad luck in lotteries, and more injury) but in the end, I couldn’t have asked for a better race. The old school style of Old Dominion really shows the history behind it, and for someone new(er) to the sport like myself, it gives a glimpse of what 100-mile runs were like back in the day when it was just a bunch of crazed runners looking for something new to test their abilities – a no frills, no fancy technology, no big name sponsor (and still no big name sponsor) low-key event that awards you with the greatest thing you could ever ask for. No, I’m not talking about being awarded the silver belt buckle (though it is pretty sweet), but being awarded with the sense of accomplishment that you pushed your body to it’s absolute limits… and then kept going, and going, and going. With a course that requires so much actual running, whether you are fighting at the front of the pack or just barely making the cutoffs, you know that you are giving it your absolute all, not just for a few minutes, but for hours and hours on end.
David Ruttum ended up running the 5th fastest time in the 32 years Old Dominion has been run, a blazing fast 16:52. I spent a good deal talking to him before and after the race and, aside from the obvious fact that he is an ultrarunning machine not to be reckoned with, he is also a genuinely nice guy who most definitely deserves the smashing race that he had this weekend. Sabrina Moran ended up first female, third overall, finishing a few minutes under 20 hours. The finishing rate was near 50%, as could be expected for a day with high humidity and temps near 90, and a good number of these finishers made it sub-24 and buckled. If I can get my hands on additional race data I’ll make sure I post it since I know OD information is hard to come by online.
Thank you to everyone who has joined me on this journey to the 100-miler, especially my crew, Brendan and Collin, who did a superb job of taking care of me, keeping me (3D) motivated, and made sure I got across that finish in one piece. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.