Old Dominion was a race that I had intended to go back to since 2008, when I attempted the race on poor training, got destroyed by the heat, and dropped out at mile 81. In 2009, I was starting grad school the week of the race and could not justify going back across the country for running, so I instead ran Cascade Crest 100 later that summer. In 2010, I had been accepted into Western States and Badwater, both of which failed due to my inability to listen to my body and recover from mononucleosis. In June of 2011, I had just begun to run again after 18 months of illness, so I was in no shape to run 100 miles (I did a 50k+ instead off a slight bit of training and felt like I was going to die by the time I finished).
Needless to say, I felt that I had a lot riding on making my way to a strong finish at Old Dominion. I needed to redeem my race from 4 years ago and I also needed to redeem myself from my atrocious 2010 and 2011. Coming in to the race, I felt that a sub-20 hour time could be possible if I had a perfect race and pushed very hard, despite the relatively difficult course, but I wasn't thinking about pushing myself to the absolute limit. Instead, I only had 3 main goals: 1. Finish, 2. Come home with the sub-24 hour buckle, and 3. Beat my previous and rather weak 100 mile PR of 22:57. I knew that I have not historically been very good at 100s, so I decided that I would not push for any sort of ridiculous time, but rather just run within myself so that I could feel strong at the finish.
For a bit more background, I ended 2011 with several weeks of good training and a slow 100km+ performance at the Across the Years 24 hour. I had secretly wanted more miles, but I knew that my body couldn't handle more than that on only 2 weeks of legitimate training. Unfortunately, I bruised my foot badly in this race and had to take it easy until February, but starting in mid-late February, I began to train like I'd never trained before.
From late-February through late-May, I put together the most consistent and highest mileage I've ever recorded. I snagged a 2nd place finish in hot conditions at the 12 hours of Moab, 1 lap shy of the course record that my training partner, Adrian Shipley, tied in winning after we ran together for the first 43 miles. This gave me confidence that I could be successful in ultras once again, but I knew that 100s were a different beast. 100s take more than fitness - they require a burning desire for success and an unbreakable will. Anyone can enter a race with what they believe to be an unbreakable will, but 100 miles of mountain running will truly put that will to the test.
With that in mind, I decided to come into Old Dominion with utmost humility for the endeavor. Before the race, I distanced myself from all the pre-race predictions and other nonsensical banter. I knew a number of other runners at the race and they were all standing around talking about how fast they expected to run, etc, but, while this may sound selfish, this race was, to me, all about me. I needed to focus entirely on myself, so I did.
While I came into the race with humility towards the task set before me, I also came in with complete confidence that I could be successful. With that in mind, I had a restful night of sleep on the concrete gym floor the night before the event and awoke at 3:15 AM with no butterflies in my stomach. I scarfed down a pretty large breakfast and got ready for the 4 AM start.
As soon as the gun went off, several guys went out hard. I resisted the urge to go out hard, but that said, I was one of only a few people to run the entire climb up Woodstock Mountain from mile 5 to 7. I knew that I had developed into a good climber and I wanted to give myself confidence by easily running the entire climb. After cresting out and coming down the other side, I found myself at mile 10 in 89 minutes, after quite a bit of climb and drop already. With that in mind, I made a point to back off.
I hiked a bit rather than keeping up a pure run on a climb in this next section, but mostly just settled into a nice easy pace that I could hold all day long. By the time I reached mile 20 and the first pit crew station, I had consumed my bottle of Hi-C Fruit Punch, 2 bottles of water, 3 or 4 gels, a couple cookies, and some other snacks (mostly bananas). I was taking roughly 3 salt pills (the equivalent of S-Caps!) an hour and found everything to be working well. My major fueling component for the race was the afore-mentioned Hi-C Fruit Punch in addition to chocolate milk acquired at every pit crew and Gu gels. Despite what any sponsored athlete will tell you, this works very well. In 100 milers, the stomach becomes a big factor and I find that eating tasty foods makes for a much more enjoyable experience and much less vomiting. Having a little bit of simple sugars every short while gives the benefit of quick energy while avoiding a sugar crash. I guess don't find gels to be tasty, but I'm finally pretty good at getting them down and as long as I vary the flavors, they don't trigger too much of a gag reflex anymore. Additionally, while I think there is a lot of merit to having a "constant flow of simple sugars" during a 100, complex carbs are obviously necessary to some extent.
In any case, I made it into mile 20, refilled my Hi-C, and handed Cris (intentionally mis-spelled for a variety of reasons that I won't get into) my 2nd bottle, deciding to only carry one for the next bit. From 20 until the next pit crew stop at 32 or 34 (I forget how far it was), I settled into a nice rhythm and decided I would finally chat with other runners, so I found myself going back and forth with a couple other guys, enjoying their company, but being unwilling to change my pace if they sped up or slowed down. As I said, I was doing this on my own terms.
Shortly before coming into the station, I saw a small bear cub run across the road, which was interesting to see. Fortunately, I never saw the mother, which could've been an ugly situation. When I arrived at Four Points for the first time, I found myself to be a bit hungry, so I drank quite a bit of chocolate milk (with lactaid of course, given that I'm lactose intolerant, something which caused a lot of issues at Speedgoat 50k last year), refilled my Hi-C, took some gels, and took off. To this point, I had still only walked maybe a half mile except when eating, but I took off up the hill at a nice brisk walk. Leaving the station, I saw Emily Ansick (wife of another 2010 Badwater runner William Ansick) coming in as the first female, so I kept looking back to see when or if she'd catch up.
I took the next 2 miles or so of climb pretty easily and she caught up right at the top. I felt good and she appeared to be moving well, so we decided to run together and try to keep each other moving faster. Over the next few miles, we both commented several times that we found each other to be be pushing us to run a faster pace, so it seemed beneficial for both of us. The whole Four Points In to Four Points Out section was pretty uneventful and we chatted running, ultras, Badwater, training, her kids, life, etc, so I actually was able to forget about the fact that I was running a race for quite a good chunk of the loop. We stayed together until a mile before the station when I found an outhouse of the side of the trail and stopped to use it (first #2 of the day at mile 47, not bad for me!) I ran hard on the last mile and got back into the station just after Emily. I saw a 2nd black bear cub on this section and, once again, was fortunate enough not to see the mother, despite being within 10 feet of this one as it ran across the dirt road in front of me.
Coming into the aid station, I made my one big nutritional mistake of the day. After drinking my usual chocolate milk, I chose to fill my bottle with some Powerade rather than Hi-C to cut back on sugar intake. However, over the next few miles, I found that the caloric intake from the Powerade was far too low and I felt pretty hungry by the top of the next big climb at mile 51. I also had to go to the bathroom again (I rushed things at mile 47 so I could catch back up) and made the mistake of waiting until I could find an outhouse. As soon I left mile 51, I really had to go, but I knew that it would be a big mistake to not wait until I had T.P (the chafing is unbelievable if you have to run a few miles without having properly cleaned up). However, I really had to go and my gut compressed my stomach a bit, making me slightly nauseated and unable to eat. Knowing that I would have to walk a bit (still only having walked maybe 3-4 miles total), I told Emily to take off and, fortunately for her, she did rather than wasting time with me. I tried to run a few times on the descent to the pit crew stop at mile 56, but kept getting very nauseated. I was finally able to run again with a mile to go to the station and made it in, immediately requesting T.P. and going off into the woods to take care of business.
I finally cleared out my system properly, drank a ton of chocolate milk with lactaid to take care of my caloric deficit, grabbed some gels, refilled my Hi-C (no more Powerade), got my mp3 player from Cris, and took off, after wasting entirely too much time in the station.
I ran the next section from 56 to 60 rather strongly, but had been expecting an actual aid station at mile 60. Instead, when I found just a water drop, this demoralized me a bit and I came into mile 65 with my one true mental low of the race. Cris ended up at the station later than me, so I had to wait around a few minutes for him to get back. For whatever reason, I found myself becoming very cold rather quickly and by the time he showed up with my chocolate milk, Hi-C, and gels, I felt like I would freeze. I requested a shirt and told Cris how much this was starting to suck. Fortunately, he whipped me into shape quickly and sent me down the road after I had some Mountain Dew and Chicken Noodle Soup in addition to my chocolate milk. Of course, this lull only lasted about 10 minutes and shortly after leaving the station, I was excited to be running again.
I tagged up with another runner, who I ran with until mile 73 or so. Coming into mile 70, I remembered how terrible I had felt at this point 4 years ago and felt elated to be in much better condition this time around with no problems at all.
At mile 73, my companion stated that he was slowing me down and ordered me to take off. I argued a bit, but remembered that I was going to do this race on my terms, so I agreed and took off. I came into mile 75 feeling amped up and ready to crush Sherman's Gap. After more chicken noodle soup, half a banana, tons of chocolate milk, my safety runner Meg Harnett and I took off.
Sherman's Gap is considered the hardest part of the race due to its "incredibly steep and technical" nature. I remembered it as being unbelievably bad 4 years ago when I was several miles from a DNF, but I knew that, this time, I had countless miles of Utah mountain training in my legs.
I'm going to be honest. Sherman's Gap wasn't too steep. It wasn't too technical. I found it to be fun. Yes, that's right: fun. I run climbs much harder than this several times a week in training, so I absolutely loved going after and conquering the worst that the East Coast could throw at me.
Literally 2 minutes after I started getting tired of climbing, I got to the top. Meg and I actually walked pretty much the entire descent as it had just gotten dark when we hit the top and the backside is legitimately technical (there are lots of loose rocks covered in leaves). We tried running a couple times, but I kept tripping myself up, so we ended up just walking. Coming out at mile 81 where I dropped 4 years ago, I was feeling a bit hungry, but not bad. I realized I had only eaten one gel in that 6 mile section, so I took another 2 more while walking the steep road to the station at mile 83. I took my 3rd and final #2 of the race at mile 83 and then sat by the campfire for about 5 minutes while eating chicken noodle soup and irritatedly listening to some 14 year old blather on about how the one thing in the world that runners needed at this point was a Monster Energy Drink. After I couldn't take any more of this kid, Meg and I took off up Veach Gap.
Veach Gap is similar to Sherman's Gap, but shorter. Once again, I found my climbing time to be roughly equal to my descent time as the descent had lots of rocks covered in leaves, making running a bit difficult. There were also a few stream crossings on this descent and I really didn't want wet feet at this point, so we took them slowly and carefully.
All throughout mile 75 to 86, Meg was gracious enough to keep my mind off the most difficult section of course by talking to me. Note that I say "talking to me". I wasn't really in the mood to talk as I just wanted to get this section of course out of the way, so I just listened and occasionally mumbled an "mm-hmm" or "huh". The one point where I really had to jump into the conversation was when she informed me that Emily, who was crushing the women's race, had been medically DQ'd with rhabdomyalsis and bloody brown urine at mile 75 just before I came into the station. Despite having made a point to only focus on my own race, I felt incredibly sorry for her, especially after how strong she looked when she dusted me back at mile 52. Emily, if you read this, know that I am absolutely confident that you'll kill it next time around.
In any case, we reached mile 86, at which point the remaining 14 miles would be on roads, and Meg had to end her journey there (safety runners are only allowed for those 11 miles). At mile 86, I loaded up on chocolate milk, filled up my Hi-C and water, changed my shoes for the first and only time (I did the first 86 with New Balance MT110, which were perfect, and then put on New Balance MR10 Road Minimus for the last 14). In hindsight, the 110s probably would've been better as the road was still pretty gravely, but the Minimus were fine, only slightly less grippy than I would've desired (although my pair is getting pretty old, hence the lack of grip).
Leaving 86, I was mistakenly told by someone else's crew that I had 3.2 miles to go to the next station. I started off running slow out of the station, but within a mile, I had picked up the pace. After what I knew to be well more than 3.2 miles, I started to become very concerned. There were no other runners near me, it was now after midnight, and I was becoming convinced that I was lost and following the wrong markings. I recognized this part of the course from earlier in the day, so I wasn't convinced that the ribbons I was following wouldn't lead me to the middle of nowhere and a no longer existent aid station. Interestingly, the thought of having to do an extra 8-10 miles of a mistaken out and back seemed to infuriate me, but it didn't make me want to quit: it only intensified my desire to finish strong.
When I was about a minute away from turning around and going back the way I had came, I finally saw the next aid station. Coming in, and declaring my great confusion, I looked at the mileage and found that I had been misinformed about the station to station mileage. Rather than 3.2 miles, I had gone 4.5 miles. Feeling relieved to have less than 10 miles to go, I took a lot of chocolate milk, refilled my Hi-C, and took off up the road. I had run all but a couple steps since mile 86 (those steps coming from a. dropping my headphones on the ground, and b. stopping to talk to a few bewildered hunters out in the middle of the night and wondering what I was doing) and I continued here, running every step back up Woodstock Mountain, not stopping at the top to fill my water, and just continuing down the front of the mountain.
Coming down the mountain, my legs hurt. I had run 93 miles already and I had walked no more than 15 total. That said, this was a good kind of hurt. This wasn't an injury hurt, but rather a soreness achieved only by having run 93 miles. I finally realized that I could definitely break my PR if I pushed for it, so I embraced the pain. I ran what seemed like the fastest pace I had done all day and came into the mile 97 station, chucking my bottles to Cris and tearing off for a final 2.8 miles in 18 minutes (I swear it felt like I was going to hit this 2.8 mile stretch in under 15 minutes), almost entirely uphill, thank you very much.
I did my final lap around the fair grounds and finished in 22:39:46, an 18 minute PR. I had finished with no physical problems beyond an upset stomach that had lasted a couple miles and marginally sore legs. Yes, I said "marginally" sore. My body felt far better than it had at any previous 100 mile finish. I had trained very well, I ran conservatively, and I was rewarded with 9:xx pace for the last 9-10 miles, despite having to run over a mountain during that final portion. I took a shower, slept for a few hours, and then woke up a changed person.
At the award ceremony the next day when I received my buckle, I expressed how grateful I was not just to be running again, but to have been able to run a PR at a race that had previously been too difficult for me to finish. 18 months ago, I was truly beginning to believe that I would never be able to run again, but in this race, I met all 3 of my goals while feeling good throughout the vast majority of the race. I finished very strongly and now realize that I may actually eventually be able to run a fast time for 100 miles. I don't want to offset my accomplishment here by trying to predict how fast I could've run if I pushed it harder the whole time (which may have just led to a massive meltdown), but I do believe that I can run this course quite a bit faster in the future, if nothing else, just due to how much I had left in the tank over the last 14 miles.
This race legitimately changed who I am as a person. Over the past year, since I started running again, I continually had wonderful dreams about finishing 100 miles once again, and, more vividly, how I would feel about myself as a person after finally finishing 100 miles once again. Waking up from these dreams was always a massive disappointment. To be able to accomplish my dreams at Old Dominion was beyond anything my subconscious had been able to create. Every other race I've done over the past year, no matter the result, has felt like only a little more than an incomplete fraction of 100 miles and I feel that a missing piece of my life has been restored to make me complete once again.
I spent the last 4 years of my life thinking back on this race with a great sense of nostalgia and I am beyond grateful to have been able to go back and finish it off properly. While Western States officially hosted the first 100 mile mountain run, Old Dominion was the first 100 to properly achieve the 100 mile distance (it was later found that WS100 started off as 82 miles). While Western States has allowed itself to become modernized over the years (I am not saying that there is anything wrong with this), Old Dominion is a true old school classic. Actually, it is *the* true old school classic. If you only ever do one 100 mile race, do Old Dominion. If I have accomplished one thing with my running that I can feel truly great about, it is the fact that I have indoctrinated myself into the beautiful family of Old Dominion 100 Mile finishers.
Going forth, I am truly excited about the future of my running. As I have told a few friends of mine over the past few months, I had very different goals for Old Dominion and Wasatch. My real goal for Old Dominion had nothing to do with time, but rather with just being able to experience the entire race in a positive fashion, whereas Wasatch will be more about pushing myself to the limit on my home turf and training grounds. While my strategy and goals for Wasatch have a higher capacity to produce an "impressive" result, nothing I do at Wasatch will be able to equal how I felt about just finishing Old Dominion.
If I have to close this race report with one thought, it is that of pure contentment. This race for me was truly not about time, but instead about rising to a challenge that, one year ago, had seemed entirely insurmountable. Not only did I meet that challenge but I met it with my head held high and I found the experience to be absolutely enthralling. I will be back to run Old Dominion again.