Monday, June 16, 2014

OSS/CIA 50 Mile Recap - Running and Falling in the Dark.

Bouncing Back. You could say that is a theme for the recap to follow.

If you have been following my exploits, you know that my last ultra at Cayuga Trails 50 resulted in a DNF way too early on. With it having been a groin injury of the grade 2 variety, (Thanks, noticeable bruising!), I rested a whole two days. I know that was really pushing it but on June 7th was the Wissahickon Trail Classic, a 10K trail race in Philadelphia that my partner, Peg serves on the beneficiary’s steering committee. I’m sure you can connect the dots here. I’m not going to much into that race other to say I got 3rd in 42:00, 1:42 behind the winner. Didn’t have my best day because the groin was still hurting resulting in some rather poor incline running. Just precisely the type of running I can rock on this course usually. In brief, I’m happy with the time since it was only 37 seconds slower than last year and I know I lost all of that and then some with the inclines.

However, my performance at the WTC, got me thinking I could be ready for a 50 miler. I was on the uptick and in shape ready to throw down. As a result, I landed on one of the coolest races….the OSS/CIA 50 Mile NIGHT Run. Yes, NIGHT! And this is not some race on the roads where you have lights. Nope. Two loops through the trails in Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia where no light exists but the one you provide when the sun goes down. (We started at 7:30pm so there was a bit of light.) I admit the nighttime running is what really what appealed to me. Partially it appealed because of the looming 100 mile debut next month. So at the least, it was a training run for Viaduct. On Wednesday morning, I felt good and determined I was clear to run the 50. Yet, near derailment for some logistical transportation issues. Thankfully, that all worked out and I registered in the final moments of being able to do so. While this meant, I would not see much of Peg this weekend, I was excited. Did I mention I was signed up to run 50 miles in the dark?

Jump ahead to Saturday and I leave the house at 2pm to give me 4h 15 min to arrive for the pre-race brief. Google maps said I should expect 3h 30min with current traffic so I saw that as time to hit Taco Bell to get two Black Bean Burritos for fuel. Figured get them now and eat as I go. One is consumed within 20 minutes. The other around 5pm. Traffic leaving Philadelphia was rough. Seems to always be when I am traveling for an ultra. Luckily, once out of the city my ride was much smoother except for a patch on 495 near DC. Amazingly with the Taco Bell stop and traffic I arrived at the race site at 5:45. This gave me ample time to check-in, get my bib and set-up my gear. Part of the gear set-up involved laying a pillow and sleeping bag down in the backseat of the Versa for when I finish and want sleep. The rest of it was on a picnic bench next to the Start/Finish check-in station.

This brought things to briefing time. Alex, the RD, kept it quick emphasizing to keep the copies of the maps provided with us. I planned on heeding this. Tales of getting lost was enough to respect the course. Initially, I planned on using my LaSportiva Helios but decided to go with the Vertical K’s. In retrospect, I should have gone with the former. Anyways, after some wonderful chatting, 7:30 rolled around and we were off. 

To start, I had my Nathan Handheld Bottle’s pouch loaded with GU and Shot Blocs to go with the Gatorade in the bottle itself. (This was in my left hand.) My headlamp was wrapped on my arm with the lamp in my right palm. With daylight still hanging on, I ran comfortably trying to take advantage of seeing everything for a quicker pace. Going in, I hoped to run around 7 hours. I would soon learn the hard way, it was not happening. Early on, I felt good until there was a spot I made a hard left turn where after a minute, I questioned if I should not have turned and that the 1st check-in aid station was near that point. Here, I stopped looked at the map and felt, I must have gone the right way so I opted to keep going. Yet, for a long time I did not see any markings. Eventually, I saw flags but as my watch got closer to 55 minutes, I really felt I must have missed it and was going to roll into the Oakridge Aid Station around mile 10.8. Mentally, this thought began planting seeds of doubt. What do I do if I missed it? Does that mean a DQ? Or can I just make it up on the second loop? Then a few minutes later, there it was! A sign for the 1st check-in station. Since this was an out and back hill portion, I was able to see how far back second was. Based on my calculations I had 3 minutes. And it appeared to be Brian Schmidt with another runner I did not recognize. I knew Brian is a quality runner so I made note to keep going and try create some more space.

After a few more miles where I began to pass the 6:30 early starters, I reached Oakridge for the mini-loop. The loop was said to be 1.8 miles long. I tell you it is the longest 1.8 miles ever. I somehow did this stretch in 21 minutes. Coming in at around 1:28 and out in 1:49. This is where I started to think 7 hours might not be possible. It was also in this mini-loop that I had to move the headlamp onto my head as the sun was now too far gone. Before leaving Oakridge, I topped off my Gatorade and was off.  On this loop, some of favorite trails were on this next little 3 mile section. Now, after that...not so much. At least not in the dark. In the 5 mile section that followed the 3, I suffered my first spill. Semi-hard spill too. My toe clipped a root on a slight downhill and I went down. It was a small reminder to be honest. It was also in this stretch that I passed an early starter who almost missed a right turn. I was approaching from behind and caught a glimpse of the reflective tubes signalling the turn. I called out the turn. Talk about good timing. I kept moving until the last water station where I topped off my bottle again. Not long after this, I had that bathroom urge. Since I was unsure how close second was, I really did not want to stop. Yet, I felt my pace impacted by the focus on holding so I ducked off the trail, did my business using the right materials and got back out. Before I knew it, I was upon a person helping direct traffic on the trail where the outbound and inbound converge and diverge. After a short span I saw a sign saying return directing us over a bridge followed by a left turn sign. I don't know why but something did not feel right. I ran back over the bridge I just came confused. I was not sure if I accidentally started the second loop early. I paused checking my map and decided that I had been going the right way. And after a while, I saw red blazes I had not seen before so I had it right. Yet, second stumble occurred in this inbound portion less than 2 miles from the end of the first loop. Eventually, I made it out of the woods to the small paved parking lot section into the start/finish area. Going under the arch into the check-in portion, I fell. HARD! Apparently, I clipped the concrete strip at the front of the handicap parking space. Amazingly, it was not seen. I got up checked in, looked at my hand seeing I had scraped some skin back and asked for a band-aid. Due to this, I took longer for my pit-stop than normal. I had reloaded GU's and Shot Blocs along with fluids quickly but the medical component had me out slow by my standards. I will say this was not a way to end a loop or start a new one...Loop 1 was 3:23. (Back out at 3:27)

Now I was back out and had a chance to finally get a sense of my lead. Was hoping for at least ten minutes. Turned out it was six over Brian. I also saw third place. Was expecting to see it be Brad Hinton but it was not. I didn't get a good look but it appeared to be Chris McIntosh. I was not feeling comfortable with my lead. And then......hardest fall of the night. Number 4. Again it was on a downhill. Again I clipped something. Now my right knee was scraped up and my upper left arm banged. I got up from this one hurting. Running after this fall was not smooth. I was hurting in my hip initially. Was my groin hurting too? My mind started to do a systems check but with a rocky mental state after 3 other falls I was having a tough go. I began to consider turning around and just walking back in. But for some reason I kept going. After what happened at Cayuga I really did not want to quit. I started to go back and forth on quitting and just finishing with a bit of hold on mixed in there. Figured at least I could get to Mawavi (the 1st check-in) since I could see where anyone was. Getting there was not mentally easy. My pace was slower as being beat up took its toll. I started to powerhike some of the rooted uphills. Everything seems to be farther away when compared to my recall from the first loop. Guess darkness will do that. Amazingly, I got to the checkpoint in first despite being 15 minutes slower. Even more amazing was I had at least 6 minutes on second still as I was off the out and back already on my way towards Oakridge with no sight of anyone. Of the whole night, the 3 miles to Oakridge were the hardest. Mentally I felt broken even with no apparent loss of lead. Once more, I thought about dropping. If I could get to Oakridge, I'd be fine with calling it. 

When I got into Oakridge, I checked in and asked the volunteer recording to let me know how much I had on second once I get back out of the loop. Unlike the first lap, I was now doing two loops of this 'mini loop'. Thankfully, I did not have to run all the way back to the aid station for each loop as the legendary Gary Knipling was keeping us honest by marking us down. He was also such a spark plug. He was asking me my name in addition to number. I thought it was a check to make sure I was not losing it. During the second loop, I fell again. Not nearly as bad as the rest, so that was a plus. Back through Oakridge for the last time, I refilled my bottle and downed a couple of cups of Coke. Before I left, I inquired about the lead and it was 15 minutes!!!! This shocked me and inspired me. As much as I hurt, I ran out feeling light and fast (even if it was not really fast). I was thinking I might be able to hold on if I kept going. If anything, I could finish. The final 11 miles in never seemed to end. Each time I thought I was nearing the end of a section to make a turn or reach something that I saw on the first loop, it never seemed to come. This got even worse the farther I ran. Once again on the back half of the loop, nature called. Much stronger than before.  I pulled off and again did what was needed. Time was slipping away. This loop definitely was slower. I hoped maybe I could only be 30 minutes slower. That passed. I still had a way to go. You get the point that I was bruised on many fronts so I will jump a bit....

Eventually, I reached the bridge leaving me less than 2 miles. I looked at my watch and had a shot at going sub 8. After everything, I wanted that sub 8. I pushed and ran what felt like the fastest miles of the night. In actuality, it might have not been. Just felt that way. At long last, the parking lot!!!!!

On the way in, I made sure not to fall again. And up the chute, I was done. 7:56:45. A new course record on a challenging technical nighttime loop. Around 20 minutes later, Brad Hinton finished also going under the course record. Third was Chris McIntosh. Apparently, Brian Schmidt dropped from falling. In the end, 37 of the 70 starters finished for a rate of 52%. 

During the run, I went through about 4 bottles of fluid, 6 gels and a pack of Shot Blocs. After some chatting, I loaded my bags in my car and curled up for slumber in the backseat. Around 5:40, I woke up and decided to hit the road up 95. On the way down I saw bad northbound traffic that impacted my decision to stay for breakfast. So a shade before 6, I was on the road. I'm happy I made the decision since traffic was smooth and allowed me to use cruise control nearly the entire way. And the recharge from the short sleep made it enjoyable. (Even if I was pulled over in Maryland. Valid reason that was not speeding.)

Being home early allowed me more time with Peg and allowed me to attend a breakfast outing with friends of ours.

In the end the OSS/CIA 50 Mile is a must do. Add it to your schedule. While not a course for speed, it is great 100 mile training for those nighttime moments. You will test yourself. The folks at Athletic-Equation do a great job hosting a truly unique event.

For me, I may possibly look for a fast 50 mile in late fall (not sure if it will be JFK as that might be too close to some other events on my calendar). 


  1. Hi Mike! Thanks for a great blog. This race is on my list and I'm glad I ran across your experience there. Would you happen to remember the elevation for OSS? There's nothing on their website.


  2. Sorry Sophia, I don't know what the elevation is. I don't race ultras with a GPS. It is a rolling course. Alex, the RD, might be able to give you an idea.