Tuesday, June 8, 2010

OD 100 - David Ruttum's Full Disclosure Report...

The OD100 is the second oldest 100mile race in the United States and this year was the 32nd edition.  The race starts/finishes in Woodstock, Virginia and runs through the George Washington National Forest. The pre-race meeting on Friday evening both surprised and worried me in that the course would have a considerable amount of pavement- say 20 miles or so. Ouch. I hate running on pavement. This also confirmed what other runners had told me (they had not run the race before)- easy course. WRONG. I thought a finishing time of 1600-1630h a sinecure. WRONG again.
Saturday, race day, began at 0400 from the Woodstock County Fairgrounds.  According to weather.com the temperature started in the low 70’s with 56pc humidity. Unapologetically, I had my brother, Eric, drive me the whole one mile to the start. [What a brother, awaking at 0400 to drive me to the start and then follow me for another 16 or so hours to the finish. My brother treats me so well and is responsible for my success.  I appreciate the high level of care my brother gives me during a race].  The first 2,76miles are on pavement through the fairgrounds and city of Woodstock. The morning was still dark, but with the ambient light of the city I did not need my headlamp.  A police car led us out of the city and onto the country roads to the base of the Woodstock gap ascent. This climb started at about mile 3,5 and over another 4 miles of serpentine switchbacks ascended about 1200 feet on a mixture of gravel and pavement.  I moved steadily up the gap, keeping the pace at conversational level, and following the glowstick-strung pathway ahead. Upon topping-out, I had already decided to follow Karl Meltzer’s descent technique- “Keep the descent pace fast enough so that you are slightly out-of-control, if you are in control you are going too slowly”.  This worked well because I moved from third position to second position with minimal energy expense. After a three mile descent I reached the base of the first trail segment. The sun was barely beginning to penetrate the forest so I had to use my headlamp (thanks to fellow runner Bobby Gil for recommending that I pack the headlamp). I started the race with the New Balance MMT100’s, but the four mile rocky, hilly trail segment (part of the Massanutten trail- enough said- read any MMT trail report) convinced me I would need a shoe change before reaching the longer trail segments starting at mile 32.
The segment from mile 14 – 32 involved gravel country roads through the pastoral George Washington National Forest countryside. There were very few flat sections and most involved 1-2min steep ramps followed by a similarly steep descent. Fortunately these segments were run before the sun became an issue. The weather gradually warmed to the low 80’s and the humidity held constant in the 70-80’s pc. I had decided to really move through the first 50 miles because I had heard that the last 50 miles were more technically and physically challenging (true). Consequently I treated the first 50 miles like a 50 mile racecourse and arrived at the second race crew aid station, mile 32,55, in 4:50h. At this point we would turn onto the Massanutten trail for about 15 miles so I changed into my La Sportiva Wildcats (rugged trail shoes with a forefoot plate and toe bumpers- smart move). This segment rapidly turned into a swamp with intense sunlight, weather in the high 80’s to low 90’s, and humidity in the high 80’s pc. I donned my Sahara type hat (running hat with neck flap for sun protection) and dark glasses. This clothing choice was crucial as the sun did not bother me and I escaped the entire day without a burn. I started pounding water and electrolyte tablets- one tablet per 30min. As I started a long descent into mile 34 I saw the first place runner, the very friendly and helpful Bobby Gil from greater Washington DC and Virginia Happy Trails member, ahead of me about 500metres. Again, I applied Karl Meltzer’s maxim and by mile 35 reports gave me 10min on Bobby. He too made the mistake of starting in the NB MMT100’s and was hating life on the rocky trails and occasional pavement. He did not change shoes until mile 47 and regrets waiting that long.
I did not yet appreciate how miles 35-47 would be indicative of the rest of the race. I ran continuously and power-walked “unrunnable” segments. I knew the weather was not going to cool down, so I paid attention to hydration and electrolytes and kept on running. At this point the highly competent and kind race directors did not know what to make of me. I was an unknown element from the north and was moving quickly over the course. Was I going to crash and burn? Was I going to maintain? Was I going to speed-up? They were using last year’s pace chart (BJ Lantz won in 18:35) to guide when to setup aid stations. This did not work for me as the out-of-the-way aid stations (ie those in rugged backcountry terrain that needed to be stocked by ATV) were not setup by the time I arrived. My favourite ATV driver’s comment was something like “Jimminy Crickets, you are moving faster on foot than me on the ATV”. I was not hurt by these minor snafu’s as I was carrying my Nathan pack with 2litres of water and plenty of gel and electrolyte tablets, but it could have been a problem. Slowly the race directors realised I was going to maintain so they setup the later aid stations ahead of their predetermined times.
I blew through mile 50 in 7:45 and kept on going. At mile 50 I knew I was doing well and told myself that I could relax and allow the fun to overtake concern and seriousness. No longer was I all business, fun would rule! As an aside, my brother got to know Wynne and Pat Botts well as they tried to get to every aid station ahead of me so they could monitor my pace. They told my brother that I was “real silent” and “did not talk much” ie what the hell is wrong with your brother? I do not know what they expected of me, but I am normally not talkative (Norwegian background) and sure as hell did not feel like chatting during an important 100 mile race! Here I thought I had loosened my internal reigns and was having a blast and they thought I was too serious and laconic. Wow!? My brother must have convinced them I was normal enough, and that he was really fun, because at the award ceremony they made a point of telling everyone they wanted my brother to come back next year, and oh yeah, maybe he should bring me too.
 Miles 56 – 64 were the most fun part of the course in that they first involved a terrifyingly steep 3 mile ascent on rugged Jeep paths (I was faster on foot than the Jeeps). I thought this the most difficult because I was able to run most of the segment as it was steep, but not super technical (contrast with later Sherman gap climb). The next 5 miles were downhill over a bobsleigh like course with high banked turns that wound continuously down the mountain. I knew I was having fun and relaxing when the myriad butterflies began to fascinate me. How did those azure, graceful bodies float effortlessly through the air? Maybe I should run like a butterfly?- effortless, ethereal- nah ... too slow and peripatetic.
 On arrival to the Elizabeth Furnace aid station (mile 75 and 16:08 and race time hour 12), one of the Bott sisters (the Bott family runs the race) indicated that Sherman gap lay ahead. She indicated that Sherman gap was the most difficult part of the course with steep, rocky ramps and that it would take me four hours to cover miles 75 – 86,6. Ouch. I thought “Not a chance in hell”, but she had run the course numerous times and her family runs the race. She suggested I take a headlamp. I demurred. Grudgingly I filled the Nathan pack with 2litres of water and took extra gel for the anticipated difficulty. The Sherman gap climb turned-out to be highly steep, with precariously placed doll’s head sized rocks that precluded running most ramps. I power hiked (again, a page from Karl Meltzer’s book- a power hike should be as strenuous as running with the difference being one foot in constant contact with ground) many sections and this was relaxing in that I got to use more of my gluteal and calf muscles than my tiring hamstrings. I owe my success in this section to Dave Dehart. Earlier in the week Dave sent a one phrase email that told me everything I needed to know, accomplish, and was capable of doing: “Total Domination”. I came through this section in the light of day and feeling good, it was still bloody hot and humid (90’s), but I knew that if I power hiked others would casually walk. If I would run others would run/walk. Total Domination involved continuous running and only walking the technical sections. Dave, short of having the Playboy playmates running ahead of me and issuing sweet nothings to keep me going, no other advice would have been as helpful. As it stands, I made the 11,5mile segment in 2:30- sure as hell not 4h! My mind calculated that I could still make sub 17h- yeah!
Miles 86-93 covered more winding, hilly gravel segments. These segments were all business with solid running and no walking. My internal engine was firing perfectly. The only spectator I encountered on the course was at mile 91 and he indicated he had run MMT three weeks ago and I looked way better than him- he recommended I keep “hauling ass”. Yeah! At mile 93 I topped-out on Woodstock gap and had the entire valley in front of me. By this time the weather had cooled slightly to low 80’s and had begun lightly raining. It was 1940 (hour 1540) and I was going to do it! Time to drop the hammer and move Karl style down the Woodstock gap. I took the switchbacks as fast as I could and made it to the last aid station at mile 97,5 on the outskirts of town. My brother was there and grudgingly took my Nathan pack (it did not smell good- this is like farmers saying that manure smells like money) and instructed me to start running (what the hell did he want?, I thought I was running) because he was hungry and wanted dinner. Nothing like a brother without pizza in his belly to chastise me for his hunger- RUN FAST so I can eat. Yes, sir! I made it about one mile and was confronted with this dilemma- you are first in a 100mile race and need to cross an intersection that is showing you a red light and the town sheriff is waiting patiently on the opposite side- what do you do? I was not really capable of anything more than a cursory decision, so since I was already running, I decided to continue running through the intersection. Good decision! The sheriff saw that I was in the race and did a U-turn so that he could lead me back to the finish! Cool! About 1 mile from the finish I had to cross what looked like abandoned railroad tracks- apparently they were not abandoned as one runner had to wait over 5min for a train to pass. That must have seemed like an eternity- damn the gods- they still like having fun with us.
On turning into the Woodstock country fairgrounds I had to make one loop around the racetrack. This was a joyous trot that felt fast- my brother said it felt like watching a turtle run a marathon- thanks Eric! At this point Eric was concerned that he was the only person around to watch me finish (he actually called our mum to see what she recommended- what the hell was he thinking?- my mum would sooner enter a running race than Matt Patten would become a Wisconsinite and forsake Minnesota). The only timepiece he had was his mobile handset as my watch had broken early in the race and he kindly lent me his (he regrets this decision as his watch now smells like a particularly smelly Wasatch wore-it and never showered- not far from the truth). Moreover, his mobile handset only had hours and minutes- no second timer! At this point he heard a loud doorbell alarm and then three formerly sleeping heads poked up from the finish line tent. What was this? The time-keeper, Henry, proudly proclaimed that he had the entire finish loop “wired” so no one could escape his attention! Too funny. He had trip wire sensors lining the finish so that no finishers escaped his attention (Eric was relieved that “wired” meant a doorbell alerted Henry to awaken and not an explosive to annihilate tired, unsuspecting runners).  I had my finish witnessed by Eric, Henry, Pat Botts, and Wynne Botts. They cued the Chariots of Fire music and I broke through the finish line tape- cool- 16:52.
Now that the unimportant part of the day was completed, it was on to the important part- feeding Eric’s belly. We went to the temple of haute cuisine- the local Shell gas station with attached pizzeria. Pepperoni and black olive pizza never tasted better.
The award ceremony breakfast started at 0900 on Sunday. I was excited to eat biscuits and gravy cooked by an actual southerner- something previously only experienced in northern kitchens. Yum. The Botts held true to their low key, celebrate everyone’s success, ethos by reading aloud the name of every finisher and their respective time in reverse order. Very cool. Everyone had a chance to move to the head of the room, shake the Botts hands, pose for a picture, and give a pithy comment. People were totally bored by the time I was announced. This is so cool. Contrast this with the marathon spectacle where everyone is out to beat others and would never celebrate another’s success. I was honoured to race with the other runners and glad to see everyone’s success recognised.  I love the ultra community because we are in the event together and not against one another. Our community has a great sense of camaraderie and I am honoured to be a part of it.
As for numbers, I ran the fifth fastest time in OD’s 32year history. I was 2,5h ahead of second place and 3h ahead of third. I PR’d by 1,5hours (previous PR at 100mile was KM100 2009 at 18:20). Here are my time-points along the course:
Race Time
Segment Pace/mile

overall pace: 10:07

Nutrition was hugely important in this race. I learned at Ice Age 50 that I cannot rely on solid food for my calories. At Ice Age I tried solid food over the first 25 miles and found myself eating about 200 calories an hour- far short of my goal of 300. Consequently I bonked between 21-22miles costing me around 5-10min. Not again. For OD I used gel as my calorie source on the run with one electrolyte tablet every 30min. For gel, I bought a 800ml bottle of carbboom and filled Coghlans squeeze bottles (can buy at REI) with 150ml each. Starting at mile 47,7 I began drinking 1pc fat chocolate milk. I ended up drinking the entire gallon over the race. Yeah Wisconsin Dairyland! At mile 64,25 I started having coca-cola at each aid station too. I found that taking most of my calories as liquids enabled me to stay hydrated and move quickly between aid stations. I knew I did a good job hydrating in that my weight never dropped by more than 2lbs (you are weighed at the start, 43, and 75 mile aid stations). My brother had everything ready so I spent less than one minute at the nine interval crew stations (I skipped all non crewed stations). Using gels allowed me to eat whilst keeping a faster pace-something I could not do with solid food. Here are the food numbers:

Total Calorie
30 servings
1pc chocolate milk
1 gallon
2 litres

total calories

total calories/hr

The course has many difficult aspects. The course ascends and descends 14,000 odd feet respectively over a roughly circular course. The gravel and paved surfaces are fast, similar to the cruiser sections on the Ice Age trail. However, one must temper this with the heat and humidity as well as the constant ascend/descending nature of the course. The trail segments are far more technical than anything on the Ice Age trail. The Ice Age trail has few if any unrunnable sections whereas the OD100 has numerous unrunnable sections (remember part of the course is similar to MMT100). The aid stations are fairly separated and well stocked with liquids and solid food. The race staff is highly aware of the adverse, dehydration causing weather so liquids are abundant. Overall, the course is more difficult than KM100 and Ice Age 50 and less difficult than Grindstone 100. I would consider it an equivalent difficulty to Glacial Trails 50 in that GT50 has similar climbing and sometimes technical trail.
The course is roughly circular in that there are only a few repeated sections. This made it mentally challenging in that after I passed Bobby at 34 I never saw another runner until I watched him finish. Running solo for that long requires comfort with oneself in that you must trust yourself to make strong decisions. This also means that I missed the ultra running community camaraderie until the finish. During out-and-back races, receiving verbal support from other runner’s is a better boost than any nutritional agent! Moreover, the aid stations were deserted, save for my wonderful brother and a few aid station staff. Again, the lack of people makes this course mentally challenging. On the plus side, the race staff and organisers were highly competent, professional, caring, family oriented people that wanted nothing more than everyone to succeed. I thank them wholeheartedly for everything. I thank my loving brother, Eric, for everything too. These guys had the tough job, I had the easy one- all I had to do was run. Thanks to all that are responsible for my success (you know who you are)

1 comment:

  1. I think I will move to Wisconsin just to see your mom enter a race.

    And... you didn't quite capture the essence of Dehart. You have to get the sound of him with a mouthful of chew.

    "....Daye, Tow tow dawinayson"

    Great report and great insights.

    Dare I say one of the top 10 ultra performances of the year?