2008 Ancient Oaks 100 Race Report
by David James
This was a very special race for me not only because it was my first attempt at 100, but because of the special friendships I made out on the trails and after we finished our run. This event is special because it holds on to the roots (pun intended) and tradition of ultra running. It is kind of like the Wrigley Field or Fenway Park of what I have experienced in the Ultra marathon world to date.
Coming off an IT injury that forced me to drop out early at the North Face Endurance Challenge outside San Francisco the weekend before, I wasnít sure if I would even make the trip to Florida . My doctor, a marathoner himself, and most of my family and friends tried to persuade me not to run. Stu gave me advice to come down and run his race for fun and to experience the people. He suggested I enjoy the journey as far as my IT would take me and clued me into the Zen aspect of the race. I am glad I listened to such wise advice.
Having to miss the pre race get together due to a coaching conference in Atlantic City , I hopped a late night flight down from Philly, rented a car, and drove out to a motel in Titusville . Exhausted from two nights in AC, I was none the less unable to sleep the night before the race due to nerves. It reminded me of the night before my first marathon! I dozed off for a few hours and awoke in time to get a nice big breakfast of oatmeal and eggs in my gut. I didnít feel like running, I felt like sleeping.
I arrived at the start and watched all the runners bring out coolers and chairs, and got nervous as all I had brought was a water bottle, a few gels, and my blackberry so I wouldn't be totally inaccessible to my father who is in the hospital. We assembled for the start and took off slow on what was to be a beautiful sunny day on a perfectly laid out and fun loop course. It had sand, and sun, and was flat, and on the back side dense vegetation and wild pigs.
Matt ran ahead of me and we talked a little. I joked after the race that I let him go first to clear the spiders and chase the pigs. We parted at the aid station after we wrote down our times and he gave me good advice: "keep up your pace!" Having no idea how long my IT would hold up I decided I would enjoy the fun easy pace for as long as I could hold it. I donít run with a watch or look at my splits when I am in motion so it came as a shock to me when on one of the loops people started to talk of course records. I got a little nervous as I wasnít even sure if I was going to be able to finish the entire race.
The legendary Ray K gave me great advice when I yelled to him that it hurt to slow down. He told me that the IT band was designed to go and get pants on before I got cold. Stu also told me to take some anti inflammatory to reduce the swelling. I am not sure at exactly what point the pain set in but it came and went but I was having too much fun running and letting my mind go blank! As a widower and recovering drug addict nothing beats the high you can get from endorphins! Running allows me to think clearly, to reason, to be social, and to experience life at it's fullest! I said my prayers a bunch of times and enjoyed watching day turn to dusk to night.
I put on my headlamp and regrouped for what was to be my first adventure running at night after running all day. I fell a few times on the first loop and luckily came across Jim Sullivan as he was finishing up his last loop and he let me borrow his green flashlight. It worked great and I was able to run pretty effortlessly until I started to fall asleep. Knowing that I had entered into the unknown realm or true ultra running I asked for some advice and help.
Cola didnít work and I donít like caffeine. I started to break the race down into loops and at this point it gets fuzzy. I remember trying to lay down for a few to loosen up my leg but it just hurt worst so I kept going. At one point I gave up laid down on the trail under the full moon and put my legs up on a bench and fell asleep. Luckily a group of runners including Mike Melton, I believe, came by and woke me up and I continued to walk. At this point the IT band was shot and I was so tired that running was out of the question. I prayed harder and slept walked through the forest section of the loop dreaming of the aid station and being finished.
With six laps to go I thought I only and four and almost quit if it were not for a young woman who told me to keep going because I was so close. I hung with Fred for a bit and he motivated me with his energy and determination. With 2 laps to go I was so disoriented and in so much pain that I forgot Jim's green light but luckily at my slow pace and under the full moon I was able to continue.
I remember eating every lap and using some salt pills and b12 that someone had brought to the race. As I crossed the finish line all I wanted to do was lie down and sleep. I was in a trance. I curled up in the hall outside the bathroom in the Nature Center and awoke when the second runner came in. I awoke later shivering and went into my car, turned the heat on and put on every layer I had and elevated my legs on the dash. After I awoke to use the restroom I drank and ate a little and found a nice picnic bench in the sun where I curled up unable to move my left leg. Barbara the Maintaince Technician at the park woke my when she came in for work. I was so disorientated that I had no idea that I had just run and walked 100 miles in a little under 21 hours.
Hanging out at the aid station and cleaning up the course on my victory limp lap, I was astonished at the energy and determination of the runners still on the course. They were incredible! Later that night a few of us went out to eat and share our stories. The next day I was back at the park helping Barb take down the tent, which almost fell on us and the banner still amazed that the human body can accomplish such feats of endurance. I am bit by the 100 bug and am already planning for another one even tough I can barley walk less then 48 hours later. There will be a lot of swimming and relaxing during my holiday season and some really funny stories to share with family and non ultra friends. What a great group of people. Thanks especially to Stu for his motivation and all the hard work he does every year putting on the Ancient Oaks 100 mile Endurance Run. After my college cross country days are over I look forward to returning to defend my title and take a shot at the course record, albeit with a little smarter strategy in place beforehand.