Note: I’m posting all my old, pre-blog race reports.  Here’s how my first 100 Miler went.

What: C&O Canal 100 Mile Endurance Run
When: Saturday April 25, 2015 7am
Where: Knoxville, MD
Time: DNF (Did Not Finish)
Distance Covered: 69 miles

Epic Fail

I had mentally written this race report a couple dozen times leading up to the race and I honestly never thought this is how it would go. You already know how crazy I am for even contemplating running a 100 mile race so it shouldn’t come as a shock to know that I figured I was a virtual lock to finish. Sure I may not be able to hit my A goal, but 3 years of training and countless hours studying ultra strategies would get me to the finish line. I chose this race because it was on the C&O canal tow path so was almost entirely flat. This is as easy as 100 milers get. I didn’t give much consideration to not finishing the race because the thought of expending all that energy and not reaching my goal was just too difficult to contemplate. Riding home in the car after dropping was the lowest I’ve felt in a long, long time. Not finishing took me completely by surprise. All that time and effort spent for nothing. I was a failure. A quitter. I pride myself on my mental toughness and here I was folding up after several miles of discomfort.

Anatomy of a DNF

The rain started about an hour or 2 before I hit the “half-way” point at mile 60. I was wearing one long sleeve t-shirt, but was comfortable after putting my knit gloves on. I threw on another long sleeve T at mile 60, grabbed my backup pair of gloves, and off I went. The sun went down and the rain continued. After a couple hours (call it 3 plus in mid-40s temperatures), my legs started to tighten up on me and I was reduced to walking. As soon as this happened, I started getting cold. The next to last aid station (AS) was 3 miles from Brunswick where Kate said she would meet me with my drop bag in case I needed something. I rolled in and saw 4 or 5 guys sitting around a portable heater. I stayed far, far away from it because I was unsure whether I would be able to get up and continue going forward if I went over there.

I walked out of the aid station and was never able to run again. I went from cold to colder to did I just pass a polar bear? About a mile down the trail, I decided I would drop at the next aid station. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to run again and the thought of spending 10 hours walking it in just didn’t sound like fun. Kate was going to be there and it was just too convenient. Don’t get me wrong. Kate being there wasn’t a factor in my decision to drop. Neither was my MP3 player dying on me 15 minutes out of the AS. I was just cold and I was ready to stop running.

Lessons Learned

Always go with the least bad alternative. My decision to leave Manidokan at mile 60 without wearing the rain jacket in my drop bag was based on my desire to not overheat. I had never worn one in training so didn’t know how hot I would get. The bigger risk at temperatures below 50 degrees is never going to be getting too hot. While I was more than comfortable when running, I got cold fairly quickly once I started walking.

Never decide to drop in between aid stations. In hindsight, I probably dropped too soon. I decided to drop on my way to the last aid station because I was too cold. Once that decision was made, I was unable to change it after I got to the AS, warmed up a bit, and changed into dry clothes. I was way ahead of the cutoffs. One of the volunteers mentioned the rain was going to end in about an hour. I should have waited for it to stop and then continued on to the next aid station. It’s likely that I could have started running again, albeit slowly, at some point. It doesn’t always get worse. I forgot that.

You can never have enough drop bags. And if it’s going to be raining, you can never have enough dry clothes. While Kate moved my only drop bag up to the AS where I dropped, I should already have had one there with multiple changes of clothes. Knowing I had multiple options to get dry and warm up may have been enough to keep me focused on finding a way to finish the race instead of finding a way to drop.

Don’t eat the maple bacon gels. Seriously. I know it has bacon written there on the packaging. I know bacon is your second favorite food group. But stay away from the maple bacon gels. Stay far, far away.

The Good

Despite what was written above, this wasn’t a waste of time and effort. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and was mentally solid up until the last hour. I know I’m in trouble when I start counting down the miles till I can stop running and I never did that on Saturday. Looking back, I find this the most amazing thing. I can’t remember the last 20+ mile run that I did when this happened. When my watch chirped at me after I decided to drop at the Brunswick AS during the 3 mile frozen slog fest, I wasn’t thinking that I only had a couple more miles to walk. OK, I was a little. But mostly, I was thinking that I was still holding a decent pace (18-19 min miles) despite my muscles cramping up on me and not being able to run.

I ran 69 miles and for over 15 hours. This was 18 miles and almost 6 hours further than I’d ever run before. If I was running a 100k (62 miles) or a 69 mile race, then I’d be sitting here mentally high fiving myself. Two years ago when I was training for my first marathon, I could barely imagine myself running that long or that far. This is not the accomplishment that I hoped to achieve on Saturday/Sunday, but it is an accomplishment nonetheless.

I was able to go with the flow and change expectations/tactics as the race progressed. I started falling off my best case pace by mile 15 and my legs were tired by mile 21. I let my pace slide the entire day and didn’t fight for a time (22, sub 24, etc.) that I couldn’t maintain. I also noticed that my run/walk strategy was causing me some slight difficulties in the transitions as new muscle groups needed to loosen up so I started running/walking for longer stretches. This worked well and I wish I had thought of this sooner.

I continue to have my nutrition dialed in. I never felt short of energy or had any low points. I believe this is mostly based on my training as I do virtually all of my runs in a fasted state. I got by on a gel every five miles, a handful of gummy bears, couple sips of chicken broth, 1 potato chip, and a quick taste of quesadilla. Many of you would probably rather run 69 miles than eat 13 gels, but it works for me.

Final Thoughts

I got knocked down pretty good on Saturday. Cruising into mile 60, I thought I was going to finish. And then out of nowhere I got dropped. Maybe I’ve set unrealistic goals for myself. Just because you can log onto the internet and read the race reports of hundreds of people who’ve run 100 miles doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone can do it. But even in failure, I gained confidence that I can run 100 miles. I know I got this. Even as soon as the car ride home, I was planning what to do differently in my next 100 mile race. I had already signed up for the Oil Creek 100 mile race in October so that is now my chance at redemption. It’s a much harder race (lots and lots of hills), but I know that with improved mental strategies I can conquer it. Or maybe that’s just my crazy talking . . .

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