Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mohican 100 Race Report - Meltdown in Ohio

Well now, this race definitely didn't end up going as planned. It's the same old story with Ultra Marathons and especially with 100 mile races. You can train your ass off, plan out everything to a tee but in the end it often comes down to the day, the course, the adversity and the uncontrollable. This race feature all of these things and more.

I am going to try and stick with the facts in this report. You know the what, where, when, why stuff. Hopefully next week I will be able to do a follow up post digging deeper into the some of the things I learned from the race about myself and running hundreds. After all nothing teaches you more about success then the occasional failure.

I had been looking forward to this race for months. This was my first non Canadian 100 mile race so I was totally stoked. I had lots of mileage under my belt and had run the 100 at Sulphur Springs 3 weeks earlier. You know what they say nothing gets you ready better for a 100 miler then running another 100 in "training". Okay maybe only I say that. My legs felt great and completely recovered.

A week before the race I began the ritualistic weather watch. At first things were looking really good but by Tuesday mild temperatures in Loudonville, Ohio had changed to hot and humid. Each day the predictions got worse and by Friday morning it was calling for 29C with humidity making it seem like 40C. I was thinking maybe I should pack oven mitts into my drop bag.

On Friday morning we picked up JD and headed down to the US. The drive was fine and uneventful. We got to the motel we were staying at and checked in. Nice little place, basic but decent which was fine by me. We dropped our stuff off and headed over to race registration.

Registration was quick and easy but the same can't be said for the pre race meal. We ended up standing in line for almost an hour to get fed which caused us to miss the first part of the pre race meeting. On a positive note there was free beer so at least we got to drink while we waited. Free beer is always awesome as far as I am concerned.

The next morning it was up bright and early. Steve B. had arrived late that night so he hooked up with us at 4 AM and we all headed out to the race start.

Originally I had planned to run this race with the same approach as all my other races. That meant start off running not to fast but right on the edge, push a little early on then settle in. By the time I got to race day I had reconsidered this approach. A bit of honesty here, I was worried about the weather / heat. You might even say I was becoming mentally obsessed about it. I really let it get inside my head which is awful stupid. I mean the weather is the weather and with out my Pinkie and the Brain weather controlling machine I was not going to be able to do anything about that anyway. At the same time I was worried about what had happened at Sulphur. It was a very rough race for me and I think that as JD mentions in his blog I was a little gun shy. I am after all not a big fan of barfing.

This was my first and maybe biggest mistake. I walked into this race and approached it to tentatively. Bad, Bad, Chris. At the time I called it being cautious but that was a lie I was telling myself. I can not run races and be tentative AT ALL. Some people can do this and it works for them. It never, ever works for me. Not ever. I have to run controlled but aggressive early or I never find my rhythm.

I decided to run with JD and Steve since I was going to take it easy early and was just running to finish. Steve who is a much faster runner then both of us was doing the same thing. I also thought this would be fun (which it was). The thought of not finishing never really entered my mind.


Some video that JD shot on the run.

We lined up at the start and were off. Here all three of us made another crucial mistake. We lined up way to far back in the pack. The 50 and 100 milers all started at the same time and since we were planning to run easy early on we thought we place ourselves accordingly. Man were we wrong. Within 5 minutes we were into the woods on single track behind a massive traffic jam.

The going was slow on this 6 mile section. Lots of climbing so it would have been slow anyway but it was really slow at this point. It was becoming apparent very early that this was going to be a tough course. We climbed and climbed, some downhill and more climbing. Almost no flat running in this section of mostly single track trails. The trails were beautiful but difficult and the line ahead of us didnt allow for much running at pace when we did hit the few flats and downhills.

As we hit the first aid station it was already brutally humid and hot even though it was not 7 am yet. I was soaking wet and looked like someone that had just had shower with their cloths on. I dont think I have ever sweat as much as I did in this race.

A quick refill of the bottles and we were back on the course. Now 6 miles into the race we were finally getting a little bit of running room so we got on pace. Another decent section of the course which was almost all single track, some technical running, lots and lots of hills but a few more runnable sections then the last area.

It was hot but I felt good. The three of us joked, chatted and amused each other, great stuff. We gelled and took our salt tabs every hour like clockwork. Then we were into the second aid station. Man was it getting hot. I found a bucket of ice water with a sponge in it and soaked my head. The cold water was like a jolt of electricity zapping me back into the moment.

Onto the next 6 mile section (almost all the aid stations were about 6 miles apart on the 27 mile loop) which was a slower more difficult trail. The most beautiful but also the hardest to run this section included a slow decent down stone steps to the base of a waterfall, a tough technical run up and along an overgrown creek and a crazy climb straight up where you had to scale the hill by using the roots of trees like a ladder. Oh and dont forget those hills, lots and lots of hills.

At the covered bridge aid station we quickly refueled, filled the bottles and headed out into the next section of the course. Lots more single track but fewer hills this is probably the fastest part of the entire course. We initially made good time but about 4 miles out we ran into the back of a huge line of runners. There was not really anyway to pass people without expending huge amounts of energy so we joined in with the conga line of maybe 20 other runners and worked our way to the next aid station.

Its now mile 23 and even though its only around 10 am the heat is unbearable. The conga line arrives at the next aid station. I am overheating and seek out the ice cold water and sponge. A walk in freezer would also be great but I know thats not going to happen. I see the bucket but to my horror there is no ice in the water. It is only mildly cool and doesn't do the trick for me at all. We head back into the woods having managed to leapfrog over most of the conga line at the aid station. We are still all in good spirits, the loop is taking longer then expected but the course is tough.

The next section of the course turns out to be the hardest of all. The first 3 miles are okay and as we head towards the area called the private property section a runner heading back the other way gives us a dire warning. "Be careful and take it easy on that section" he says.

This section is brutal with as far as I can remember 6 major climbs and the same number of very steep downhills. Its relentless, slow and the only flat section is through a field where you are totally exposed to the sun. The heat is really taking a toll on me. My heart rate is very high for the effort I am expending. On some of the last hills my breathing is becoming shallow and hard.

We finish the loop, change our shirts, get a little food from Kim and head back out with 7 hours gone in the race. This is much slower then anticipated ( I was expecting maybe 6 hours for the loop) but still not a worry. My legs feel great, the breathing was a little bit of a worry but after refuelling I feel fine.

We move along at an okay pace our second time through this section. We are now into the afternoon and its scorching hot. I start to think that I might spontaneously combust, bursting into flames at any moment. We pass a runner sitting on the side of the trail who is totally out of it. Another runner is there checking to see if he is okay. We stop to see if there is anything we can do, there isn't so we move on.

I am seeing less and less runners on the course now. Some of the 50 milers might be done but still the herd is obviously being culled by the weather. Soon we are back to the water fall and root climb. I am fading, suffering a slow death. Its like being roasted slowly on a spit over an open fire. Roasted Chris basted with warm chocolate gels seems to be the special on the menu.

The three of us nearly run out of liquids on this leg even though we all carry 2 bottles. Finally we make the covered bridge and refuel. I am in big trouble now. I am still sweating but I have been panting like a dog for more then an hour. My breathing is quick and shallow. Nobody says anything but we all know what this means. Its heat exhaustion and the beginnings of hypothermia (which can lead to heatstroke).

We are back out on the trail for the next section. Its very runnable and we do okay but are slow. I am still panting, JD is beginning to getting dark and Steve is starting to worry about the time. I am desperately hoping for a bounce back. We make it into the aid station at around the 48 mile mark. Its about 5 o'clock and I know that the sun will go down soon and hopefully give me some relief. I am still sweating (a good sign) but am starting to feel nauseous. I have been looking forward to getting food at the aid station. I need solid food here. I am out of luck. There is only grazing food here. There are not even sandwiches made (which I cant eat any more of anyway). I get some melon into me but I know its not enough. JD wants a sandwich and we waste 10 minutes waiting for them to make him one.

Back on the trail for the 6 miles of the loop we try to make good time running all the flats and downhills. I am getting worse, starting to get dark and really suffering. Steve is pressing and I am having a hard time keeping up. JD is faltering as well. We all know that at the present pace and night coming cutoff times are starting to look like they might become an issue.

Steve tries hard to get us to bear down but its no use. I know I am only going to get slower. I might make it but then again I might not. Both JD and I tell Steve to go ahead as he is much stronger then us at this point. He doesnt want to do this and fights us on it. Finally I tell him that I can't live with him DNFing because I am to slow. He finally reluctantly agrees to go and soon JD and I are running alone.

The 2 miles of brutal hills on the loop nearly kill me. We decide that we will stop at the start finish for as long as needed to rebuild. This ends up taking us a long time but we both are at least able to get back out on the trail. We have 16 hours to run the 23 mile loop twice. Thats doable even at a slow pace but its going to be close. I need to get this loop done in 7:30 to be safe.

Its getting dark and is a little cooler. I feel okay and the panting has stopped as we head back into the woods. Strangely my legs feel great. The second we step back into the woods the humidity hits us like hammer in the face. Things go okay for the first hour. We run all the flats and downhills but it doesnt last. By hour 2 I am panting again and working hard to keep from puking. I feel sick in a totally different way then at Sulphur and a sure that the heat is to blame. I fight the urge to clear the decks because I don't want to lose the food I took in just an hour ago. We are forced to walk until the next aid station. I tell JD I am feeling better but now he is having problems. He is also worried there will be no real food at the next aid station. This is making everything really dark. I try to quell his fears.

We make the aid station and JD is right. There is nothing but 50k pick pick food and sandwiches. Nothing hot or substantial. I have never seen anything like this before. I had just got my nutrition sorted and now it will take another hit.

Now I don't want to whine to much about the lack of proper ultra food at most of the aid stations but this was a real problem. I am not a picky eater but I don't think that I should have to be worried about there being proper food at aid stations as a runner I have a lot to worry about already. 20 hours into this race I have seen no soup (expect from Kim), no potatoes, no solid hardy stuff like chicken, lasagne etc.. Now usually this is not a problem for me as I have crew but there was only crew access allowed at two points during the night. That means 12 miles between crew points. If you are not going to feed me then you should at least make it so my crew can. That said obviously some runners were able to deal with this so there you go.

We are back out on the trail. Somewhere at around 3 miles later I am so sick I am doing everything I can not to vomit. Oh shit suddenly I have a new problem. My sexy fun parts are burning like they have been lit on fire. From no chaffing to this is 2 seconds, what the hell. I can barely walk. I will have lube and fresh dry shorts once we get to Kim but that doesn't help me now. I have no choice so now I am forced to run / walk with my hands down my shorts protecting my tender part from rubbing.

I am in a really bad state physically. JD is bad of as well. As we get close to fire tower where Kim can meet and feed us we start to talk about dropping. It seems like a totally reasonable thing to do. It will be borderline whether we will make the first cutoff time at the end of this loop. I convince myself that I cant make it so why try. Yes kids my mind has become mush.

We see Kim and tell her that we are done. Soon we are back at the start line and officially DNFed.

Post Race

Less then 2 hours after I drop I begin to regret my decision. I think this will plague me for a long time to come.

Steve is able to finish and collect his belt buckle. Congrats man way to stick it out.

The course was really great, I mean really great and easily the hardest I have been on in my short ultra career. I hope they will either bulk up the aid stations they have, add more or both. I will run this again next year as I have not taken my defeat very well at all.


  1. Sounded like a tough go of it Chris. Hope you're recovering well.

    Very impressed that you're already planning to go back next year. Looks like an amazing trail. Hopefully with improved weather and more aid, you'll be in a better place.

  2. I really think you guys made a good call, Chris. The worst part is always looking back and thinking you should have stuck it out, but you were panting out there for a long time and probably on the verge of something you wouldn't want to find out. I'm glad you and JD had each other when it came time to pull the plug, hopefully it helps to see it through each other's eyes. Good for both of you for toughing it out for as long as you did and then making a sensible call.

  3. Wow, that sounds like a brutal race. Seems like you made the right call to drop out, even though it was hard to do. Seems like you were really suffering out there right before you dropped out. If you had kept going, never know what could have happened out there. Better to play it safe and live to fight another day.

    Bummer on the lack of real food at the aid stations, seems like that is key to being able to finish an ultra. And that root/waterfall climb is crazy steep!

  4. The root climb looks nuts! I imagine on the fourth loop getting up that would be a task. Did anyone talk to the RD about the lack of aid station grub? Seems like an easily remedied problem if enough folks let their opinions be known.

  5. Great report with awesome pictures! You always have such wonderful race reports!

  6. I looked at the lap data for the last few people to finish, and after two laps they were an hour ahead of us. I think we were right in our estimate that we didn't have time to finish. Then again, I keep wondering. I'm definitely going back next year as well.

    Can't wait for Burning River.

  7. Great RR and pics! Sorry about the DNF but with that heat, I wouldn't get down on yourself about it. And what's up with no decent food at a 100 mile race?

  8. Great report and know what you mean / feel about the DNF. I dropped at Covered Bridge around midnight. My legs just gave up after all the steep climbs and I had nothing left to give. I didn't expect this many climbs based on the course info or I would have trained more on steep hills. The last 2.5 miles was brutal and slow. This is the only thing I would change on the course.

  9. Oh my gosh, that sounds hideous. The combination of crazy heat and lack of food is a killer. I'm impressed you got as far as you did. That is amazing!

  10. Not sure I could have managed that root climb, so kudos to you. Sounds like the humidity really did a numbr on you. And I am not sure about this race, but many down here are in remote areas barely accessible by cars so the aid station food tends to reflect that. I do agree at a minimum they should have had salted potatoes, though. Those are low maintenance.

  11. Running my home turf - grew up 90 minutes from where you ran, but alas was not a trail runner back then. Sucks about the DNF but that heat in Ohio is brutally oppressive. Good luck getting up for that next one Chris!! Crappy food at aid stations is a no-no for races - either do it right or don't collect the $$

  12. I think you made the right decision. You were not doing well for a long time and you knew the aid stations weren't sufficient for your race. Great report again!

  13. Rough, but what an adventure! It sounds like everything that could have been thrown at you was. I *loathe* humidity so am impressed at you for signing up for that one in the first place. Don't worry--you will conquer it next time.

  14. I'm truly sorry to hear things didn't go quite as planned. Sounds like you made the right decision. ::hugs::


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