In January, I signed up for the longest race of my life. A very intimidating, 100 miles at Mohican State Forest, the same race where I did my first 50 mile race. Before I knew it, six months of training was over and race day came and went. I had my struggles, sure, even considered dropping down to the 50 mile distance. But after an amazing 344 mile month in May, including a huge 50K PR (5:11:22), a relatively fast-for-me marathon (4:21) and final training weekend of 77 miles, I was beyond ready. I didn’t have a doubt in my mind about finishing. All I had to do was run and eat for a little more than one whole day.
The week leading up to the race was pretty crazy. I had to work every single day except Friday and Saturday, pack, figure out logistics, keep my apartment relatively clean and not completely lose my mind. My boyfriend, Patrick, who unwillingly accepted the job as crew for me, was away at Army training until the day before the race and was meeting me at the hotel late that night. So on top of everything, I had to put together directions for him and information on what he should be doing and what I would need throughout the day.
The days before the race, I was surprisingly calm. After my last run was done and my bags were packed, I was anxious to leave and get to Mohican. I wanted the bib in my hands and to be standing on the starting line. On Friday, I drove down to my friend Wild Bill’s house, we picked up our friend Tara, who was running the 50 mile, and left early that afternoon for Mohican. We got into Loudonville around 4 p.m. It was at this point that my cell phone would no longer work and I was cut off from Facebook, calling Patrick and needed to just focus on the race and hang out with my friends. We stopped at the race start/finish to pick up our packets, checked into the hotel and went back to the start/finish for dinner and the pre-race briefing.
The nice part about running a race so close to home is that a lot of my friends were there. It was also a downside. One friend talked about her broken toe and lack of training. Another criticized my choice of dinner (I brought a salad and a sandwich) and then seemed concerned at my lack of freaking out over the race. After a while, I started getting annoyed with the “are you ready for tomorrow?” and the “are you excited?” questions. Of course I was. And at that point, I still wasn’t freaking out. The work was done, I was relaxed and all I had to do the next day was keep moving forward.
We got back to the hotel around 8:45 and I was in bed at 9. As soon as I turned the lights out, I started to panic. I felt like I barely slept.
I was up before my alarm at 3:30 and at the start line an hour later. I stood with Patrick before jumping into the line. It was cold — around 45 degrees out and I was shaking from nervousness, fear and the chilly air. And at 5 a.m., we were off.
The race is made up of four loops: two long and two short. The first two loops are about 27 miles and the second two are 23 miles. The race starts at 5 a.m. and has a 32-hour cutoff. The course was mostly all trail with road sections at the beginning and end of each loop. Aid stations were about five miles apart, some more, some less. My goal was to finish and do so under 30 hours. I had an aggressive goal of between 26 and 28 hours, but would have been happy with a finish.
The first few miles were in the dark and I probably ran way too fast for the first 10 miles. The race starts through the campground, then onto the trail. The point of starting the first loop on the campground is to thin out the crowd, but despite that, I was still stuck in a conga line going up the first few hills. The pace was fine, I made a point not to talk to anyone and just focus on myself all day. The only thing that was concerning me was that I was stopping to pee way more often than normal (for comparison, I usually only do that once during a 50K).
Before I knew it, I was an hour in, the sun was up and I was at the Gorge Overlook, the first aid station. The plan was to eat solid food at every aid station and have gels in between during the longer stretches between the last two aid stations. I took some peanut butter and jelly and left quickly. The course from there follows the road back to the trail. It’s funny because the driving distance between the Gorge and the Fire Tower (aid station 2), is only a five minute drive, but it’s a little more than four-mile difference on the trail.
The trails were in really great shape and very runnable, despite the bad storms that had passed through earlier in the week. I ran most of the next section and was able to hold my own comfortable pace since the crowd had thinned out. I got to the Fire Tower an hour later and was greeted by a cheering Clove! She was there waiting for DB and it was so nice to see her smiling face!
On the first two loops, the section after the Fire Tower is one of the longer sections. It’s about 10K from the Fire Tower to the Covered Bridge, the next aid station. It includes some of the hardest and most beautiful sections of the park. When I was about a mile away from the Fire Tower, the first male in the 50-mile race passed me. The 50 mile race began an hour after the 100, in another effort to thin out the crowd in the beginning. After that, they just kept coming. I had to remind myself that this was my race and they were missing out on half the fun by running the 50 miler.
Remember the root climb I talked about in my Forget the PR recap? That part is in this section of the course. First, you run down a long set of stairs and by a huge waterfall, then through more trails along the creek and through a rocky section before reaching the root climb. Every time I hit this part of the trail during a race, it gets easier.
After the root climb, I reached the dam where I saw Bill, waiting for Tara and I. He reminded me that our friend Pam was just ahead of me, but also that I could take it easy, it was still early. I reached the Covered Bridge and stopped for more bananas before taking on the hills between that and the next aid station. I ran with my friend Kim for a bit after leaving Covered Bridge. She was out getting her long run in and supporting the runners. She stopped to turn off the course and get water and again, I was pretty much alone, except for getting passed by the fast 50 mile runners.
The last section of the loop between the Hickory Ridge aid station and the start/finish is full of more hills. I kept my focus on getting to the start/finish and ending the loop, eager to be more than a quarter of the way through the race. It feels like forever, but eventually, the trail dumps you out onto the campground and you run by people in RV’s who are totally confused, back out onto the road and around to the start/finish line. I finished the first loop about 20 minutes ahead of my projected 26-hour goal.
With one loop down and three more to go, I took some time at the start/finish aid station. I took some food from my drop bag and emptied out my pack. The day was getting hot and there weren’t too many clouds at all.
The last three loops don’t include the road section at the beginning of the loop and instead take you on a short section of trail before joining the rest of the course. There were a few downed trees at the beginning, one I had to climb over, the other two I was able to find a way around. I didn’t do much running in the first part of the second loop since the air was warm and there were quite a few hills in the first part of the course.
After the Fire Tower, I celebrated not having to do the section between there and the Covered Bridge again until next year. The second time past the waterfall and over the root climb was enough for one day!
As I reached the next two aid stations, I don’t remember feeling hot at all, but did have the volunteers put ice in pack. I sat down for the first time at the Covered Bridge, around mile 42, to change socks and put on some more bug spray. Before Hickory Ridge, I got stuck behind a group of runners. Three of them were running the 100, one was on her way to her second 50 mile finish. Not passing this group was one of the biggest mistakes I made during the race. I wasted way too much time following them and not running my own race.
It felt good once I got the guts to interrupt their conversation and pass them and then be on my way. After the last aid station, I was close to 50 miles into the race and on my way to my first 100-mile finish. I couldn’t wait to finish off the first half of the race and keep knocking out the miles.
I finished the second loop in about 7 hours, around 6:40 p.m. and was greeted by Patrick and my pacer, Brandon. 54 miles were done and the real work was about to start.