Drew and I spend Friday scoping out Fort Valley and attending the runner orientation. It is a shock to find out there are only 28 registered runners. Clearly, the OD 100 / OD Memorial 100 split has had a devastating effect on participation. I wish these two organizations would kiss and make up.
The first 75 miles go well. I run a bit ahead of my pace chart in the early going, but by mile 20, I settle down. The scenery is gorgeous - reminiscient of Garrett County, in fact. The mountain laurel is in full bloom, and there are wild strawberries on the road side. Tasty!
There are also low spots. The Duncan Hollow Trail sucks energy out of me - mostly in the steep downhill to Crisman Hollow. The trek from Mountain Top to Edinburg Gap seems to have an unreasonable amount of uphill in it, considering that the overall elevation trend is down. And the ATV section from Edinburg Gap to Little Fort is ugly and unpleasant. But I still make it to Elizabeth Furnace about on schedule. Drew is waiting, ready to pace me over the upcoming trail sections.
The "only" problem is that I have stopped eating. I walk up the Sherman's Gap trail slowly, but I breathe as if I am running a sprint. I am out of gas.
The aid station at mile 83 is technically known as "Veach East", but in my mind it is "Rotting Bear". Someone has poached a bear, mutilated it, and left the carcass beside the trail - right at the aid station. I have just wasted a precious hour covering three bonus miles, thereby killing any possibility of "buckling", as finishing in 24 hours is called. All I want to do is sit in a chair and feel sorry for myself. But the stench is unbearable, so to speak. Wrecked as I am, it is more attractive to limp up the soggy Tuscarora trail than smell putrid bear, so off I go.
On the back side of Veach Gap, Drew and I discuss the pros and cons of quitting. Suddenly, Dan comes crashing down the trail behind us. Dan experienced a bad spot earlier, but he appears to have recovered.
Dan: "Come on! We are on the cusp of buckling!"
Me: "I'm not thinking about buckling. I'm thinking about DNFing."
Dan (to Drew): "DO NOT LISTEN TO HIM!"
Me (to Dan): "Drew is my nephew."
Dan (to Drew): "THAT AUTHORITY IS SUSPENDED! DO NOT LISTEN TO HIM! YOUR JOB IS TO MAKE HIM FINISH!"
Dan pelts off down the trail. Drew stares after him in disbelief. Drew's perspective of ultrarunning evolves rapidly as he witnesses the compulsive side of the sport. We resume our discussion of a DNF, which, quite frankly, seems pretty attractive. We walk into Veach West. The first person I see is Kevin, and I know I am doomed.
Kevin: "How are you doing?"
Me: "I'm thinking about DNFing."
Kevin (matter of factly): "You can't DNF here. Nobody DNFs at this aid station. You can crawl out on the trail and DNF there, but you can't DNF here. What's wrong with you?"
Drew's education continues. He bemusedly stares at Kevin while I trot out my lame excuse.
Me: "My foot hurts. I think I have a blister."
I sit down in a chair, pull off my trail shoes, my ankle brace, and my socks. Kevin glances over.
Kevin: "Your feet look good!"
Actually, Kevin is right. My feet do look good. Bag Balm is marvelous stuff. There is no blister, just a red line from a wrinkle in my sock. The only thing wrong with me is that I feel sorry for myself about the 3 bonus miles.
Unfortunately, it is a central fact of endurance events that feeling sorry for yourself is not a reason to quit. I sometimes wonder if people run endurance events just so they can face the mental challenge of continuing when they want to quit instead.
So, I don't DNF. Instead, I tell myself that I will be happy later. And I am. For instance, I am delighted that I feel no obligation whatsoever to go back to Woodstock in 2004.
I put on a different pair of socks and shoes. I relax in a chair. I enjoy the crackling campfire. I drink coffee. I eat soup. I poach Drew's lemonade. I ask Drew to give Becky's voice mail an update. Eventually, I run out of excuses to hang around the aid station, so I shuffle off for the last half marathon. To cover the last 13 miles, I use up four and a half hours, thereby approximating the pace at which grass grows.
As I make my way through Fort Valley, I listen to the bullfrogs and try to understand how my buckle performance, which looked so good back at mile 75, went so far off track. It has been a perfect day for running. Even though it rained most of the day, the temperature has held steady in the low 60's, and there has been no sun at all. It would be hard to imagine more favorable conditions for buckling. Yet I am not going to buckle. Worse, I know that even if I had not run off course, I still would not have buckled. This is not a happy thought, but it is the dominant thought.
Eventually, I do finish. Paul is waiting for me at the finish line. Paul and I kept each other company for 75 miles. I sit on a chair next to Paul and wait for Dan to cross the line. I gaze over at the Ramada Inn a quarter mile away. I am amazed by just how far away it looks. Paul offers me a ride, and I gratefully accept.
Overall: 12/14 (28 starters)
You may wish to visit the home page for the Old Dominion 100 Miler. If you are thinking about running OD, a more useful document might be my pace chart with goal times, actual times, and aid station elevations. The distances are taken from the Old Dominion web site. Despite being carried out to 2 decimal places, it is clear that some of these numbers are wrong. Nonetheless, I think the chart is a reasonable guide for someone shooting for a buckle. However, I recommend skipping the off-course detour. 100 miles is far enough by itself without bonus miles. I would also consider getting the PATC map of the Massanutten mountains.