Photo courtesy of Charlie Houpt
LATE NIGHT PRE-RACE MEETING WITH THE WIFE
The Oil Creek 100 Mile Train Run in 2011 began for me in May. I remember it as a blur. It began with my wife Jen and I drinking too much wine on our couch and getting into some seriously deep conversations. I remember Jen telling me that I was different when I was running. I had stopped for eight months. Eight long months that were spent doing a lot of soul searching and can best be described as depressing. Somewhere in our conversation Jen told me what I needed to hear, “You need to run Oil Creek, again.” I had dropped last year at mile 62 and for several reasons had not started running again after the race. We decided I would run again and Jen had encouraged me and motivated me to a place that had me in tears. Try to remember Adrian telling ROCKY to “WIN” after having ROCKY Jr. in the hospital. Then Mickey yells, “WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?! TAKE THIS!” That’s how I felt. Game on. Time to get to work. It was a decision I could not make on my own. We made it together and that meant we were in it together and that’s what made all the difference. I registered for the race right then and there on the couch and we both got a good laugh when I got a message from Katie Hoban Peterson the next morning that I had registered as a 90-year-old. It was one of those nights and the last one I would have for four months. I ran the next day because I said I would. I was training for the Oil Creek 100 again. I was dreaming again. It was time to hit the trails.
I have trained on the beautiful trails at Merrill Creek Reservoir near my home a lot in the past. What I did not know was that I had only seen a small portion of what those trails have to offer. On the other side of the reservoir I found a climb that reminds me of the ski slope at Virgil Crest. I would become intimately acquainted with this section of my favorite training ground. Not long after deciding to run Oil Creek again I teamed back up with my coach Lisa Smith Batchen. Lisa is one of my favorite people in the world. Not just because she is an amazing coach who has the ability to get the best out of you, but because her heart is bigger than any mountain she will ever help you face. It felt like old times. Jen, Lisa and I were realistic about Oil Creek. I had jumped into training very late and I was very out of shape. I had difficulty getting to 10 miles on my early long runs. We had all decided that if Oil Creek doesn’t happen this year there will always be next year and other races. A lot of my training runs were spent thinking about Oil Creek in 2012. I was just happy to be running again. I had a three race plan in my training – Mahalon Mayhem 50K, Labor Pains 12 Hour and the Virgil Crest 50 Mile. Oil Creek would depend on the outcome of each of these races. Each one of those races changed me in some way. After completing Virgil Crest faster than last year in some of the worst mud I have ever run in, I knew we were headed back to Oil Creek. When my family was sleeping that night in our hotel after Virgil Crest I sat alone on the bathroom floor and I cried. I never expected to be back in the place I was. I was overwhelmed with the thought of where I was going. Oil Creek isn’t just a race for me. It’s my reminder that if you seek God He will find you. You just need to face in the right direction and get moving.
Problems on the Trail
The first loop (31 miles) was the best of my race. I felt really good and I completed it in 7:58. This is a faster pace than I am use to but Lisa and I had decided on a faster start since I am a runner who is often chasing cut offs. This first loop made all the difference as I soon ran into problems that slowed me down significantly. First came the blisters on the balls of both of my feet under calluses and on both heels. The balls of my feet felt like I was stepping on knives for 40 miles. Next came the worst chafing I can ever remember on my legs. I had run the skin off my legs and it was a mess on both sides for the entire second half of the run. I felt like I was on fire. Next came awful stomach problems and I was wretching on the trail and unable to keep any food down for the last 20 miles. I completed the second loop in 10:02 and the third in 10:35. Both loops much slower than I had hoped for but considering the blisters, chafing and stomach issues I was glad to still be moving forward. If I would have taken it easier on the first loop I would not have finished the race.
Night on the Trail
I spent the dark hours running with an amazing ultra runner named Farouk Elkassed. I spent the night behind him and getting lost in the rhythm of our breathing and our movement. I remember a time when I felt like I was floating along and I no longer felt any pain at all. We were moving at a very good pace and I felt like I had run very far inside myself – if that makes any sense. I was comfortably floating along. This was also the time for my favorite hallucination of the race. I looked up at the sky and I saw a gigantic jack o’ lantern. It was HUGE. I couldn’t believe someone had somehow brought a Batman signal and set it up to put this giant jack O’ lantern in the sky. I remember saying. “Farouk! Check it out! It’s a GIGANTIC Jack O’ Lantern!” It’s amazing!” Farouk looked at it for a good two minutes before responding. “Dude, that’s the moon.” I wasn’t fully convinced but one thing is for sure. It was beautiful.
Seven Miles with Tom Lane – Redemption Run
Farouk and I had run together right through the sunrise and when morning fully arrived he was energized and I was finding it hard to keep up. At this part of the race I was dreaming of porta johns and stopping at everyone to empty out my stomach that refused food and now water. Farouk was soon way ahead of me and I was alone on the trail. I finally made it back to the school and Jen was waiting at the bridge for me at mile 93. I don’t remember much of this arrival. Jen says I didn’t acknowledge her at all and was blindly staring into space. I took more time at this aid station than any other. I changed my socks, used the bathroom (again) and tried to eat a bit but my stomach wasn’t having it. I was dreading the last seven miles especially knowing that the last climb called “the Truth” was awaiting me. Tom Lane walked with me a bit out of the aid station and then decided to pace me for the last seven miles. This was the best part of my race. Tom is “that guy” you want to know. He is kind to everyone and makes you look at yourself and reevaluate how you treat others. I hardly thought about the last seven miles running with Tom – and yes, he had me RUNNING again. It reminded me of Jimmy Dean Freeman coming out to run with me at the end of the Brazil 135 when I was barely hanging on and wearing Crocs for the last 30 miles since me feet were no longer recognizable. People like these guys find ways to motivate you when you are at your lowest and get you moving and smiling again. When we got to the hill called “The Truth” I told him how much that name moves me as we moved up it. If I have one regret from my race, it’s not sharing how I really felt with Tom climbing up that mountain at mile 96 with tears in my eyes. I knew exactly what I would be thinking about if I made it to “The Truth.” These words:
“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
I had once again lived those words and a few short miles later I crossed the finish line at 31:39:39 and Race Director Tom Jennings handed me my redemption buckle. I turned to Jen and said, “Where’s your hat?” Without her I would never be standing there battered but indescribably happy. Without her I would not be the man I am today and I am proud to say I like who I am. I am a seeker. I am a dreamer. I am a lion chaser. I am a man not afraid to love. I am a friend of God.
Oil Creek is not just a race. It’s become a family reunion in three short years. The volunteers aren’t just there to feed you they truly care about you. This race touches so many lives you don’t need to be a runner to experience the love this run creates. For me, it’s an example of everything that is right in the world. It’s not just about running. For me, running is way down the list. It’s about living in the moment. It’s about chasing dreams. It’s about loving your neighbors and caring for others and helping others be the best they can be.
Thanks for stopping by.
Photo by Jen Sperduto