2011 Mohican 100 Trail Run
After not finishing Kettle 100, I decided I needed to sign up for another 100 mile race right away before concentrating on my triple iron triathlon training. It had to happen in the next couple of weeks so I chose The Mohican in Loudonville, Ohio. The description stated 15k of elevation with a 32 hour cutoff – much hillier than Kettle. Finishing this one would give me the confidence I needed for the triple later in the year. The course consists of 4 loops. The first 2 loops are the same at 26.9 miles each and the last 2 loops are the same at 23.3 miles each. The first 2 loops have an extra 3.6 mile section that averages 235 ft/mile. Much steeper than the overall course average of 149 ft/mile. The Mohican is 2 weeks after Kettle and I figured since I only got to about mile 55 at Kettle, I would be recovered enough. On Thursday night before leaving for Ohio on Friday, I got a call from Judy telling me that a friend of mine, Frank Vavra, had died that week. I’ve known Frank for about 25 years, he was one of my first foremen at work when I started to learn electric. He had died on Monday and no one could get hold of me to tell me of his wake on Friday. Fortunately, we found out and decided to stop by the next day on our way to Ohio. We arrived before the official wake at Frank and Pat’s (his wife) house early Friday morning. Frank had a number of complications that he had been dealing with for many years such as hepatitis and Lyme. His liver had shut down and his intestinal lining had ruptured. Frank was a unique individual – he was so animated and passionate about everything that once you’ve met him, you would never forget him. This reaffirmed my necessity to live each moment with passion and drive, something I needed to apply to my race the next day.
After leaving Pat’s and heading to Ohio, I got a call from Kamil. He reminded me that he was coming to pace me for my 4th loop. I had vaguely recalled him mentioning something like that but no definite plans were made until hearing him tell me to “be ready for him on the last loop.” I was very happy to hear that he was coming – he’s a good friend and training partner and has finished a couple of hundreds himself.
We got to Loudonville in the afternoon, I picked up my race packet, and we got in line for the pre-race dinner before the course talk started. Unfortunately, the pasta was taking a long time to cook, so we ended up waiting for about an hour in line. I nervously shoveled the food down while heading to the course talk. We were late and there was standing room only. It’s easy to get freaked out when everything isn’t just right, going into a big race. I’ve been to enough course talks to know that most of the time there isn’t any information that is too terribly important, so I relaxed and contemplated my plan for the next day. My plan was to stay hydrated and keep my heart rate low. These are the 2 things I failed at just weeks before at Kettle 100. If I didn’t achieve success at the Mohican, I would forgo any further attempts at 100 miles until the following year since my training had to turn more triathlon specific immediately following this race. And I thought about Frank…
This race had a 5 a.m. start so it was quite dark when we started. I decided at the last minute to not wear my headlamp since it would get light out soon and I didn’t want to carry it for the entire loop in case Judy couldn’t find me for some reason. So I handed my headlamp to her just before the start. She was filming this race so she would try to follow me throughout the day and meet me after every loop at the start/finish area. Within a quarter mile we headed into the woods on single-track and the usual bunching up was happening. Some of the 50 milers were getting impatient but I was fine going whatever pace the congo line dictated. Luckily, there was enough light from everyone else’s headlamps to light the path because it was quite technical in spots. After the first couple of aid stations, it got light out and the traffic lessened. I started peeing right away which was a good sign that I had enough fluids going in. As the sun came out we were shaded by the trees. It was so beautiful there that it made running effortless. I was consumed by the beauty and my only concern was watching my hear-rate. I was keeping it between 127 – 130. Occasionally it would go higher, but I quickly adjusted my pace when that happened. The trees kept the temperature reasonable in the woods, but they also held in the humidity which was getting bad early on. I was drenched and kept drinking as much as possible.
A couple of hours into the loop, we came to a small waterfall and followed the riverbed for a bit until reaching a point where the trail went up a steep section with huge roots coming out of the ground. We had to climb the large roots like a staircase to get out of the riverbed and continue back on single-track. Most of the uphills were steep and significant in length, while the downhills were generally easy. However, near the end of the loop, an incredible hill loomed out and intimidated all of us. Steep and never-ending, I went up to find that it went up again – and again. I dreaded that hill during every loop, but I also knew that the end of each loop wasn’t much further after each climb. I finished the first loop in just under 7 hours. My average pace with rest stops was 15:19. I felt very comfortable with no fatigue.
While at the start/finish area after loop 1, Debbie, a friend of mine and Judy’s showed up. She lived a couple of hours away and came out to show her support and see what goes on at these races. I got some extra calories with Muscle Milk, some energy with Monster, hung out for maybe 10 minutes and then headed back out for another loop. I was mostly using the HEED that the course was providing to keep hydrated and electrolytes up. I was also taking gels throughout, in addition to the food at the rest stops. During this loop, the hottest part of the day came and the humidity stayed very high. That combination along with the steep, technical terrain was killing a lot of people. I started to see racers sitting on the side of the trail and the look of exhaustion on their faces. I was watching my heart rate like a hawk and incessantly drinking, knowing that I couldn’t let Kamil down. He was coming all the way from Illinois to pace me so I needed to stay in control of my pace and energy levels. Looking back on it, this was probably the most crucial part of my race. I climbed the root staircase and then later, the big hill near the end of the loop again. My small flashlight got me through the last few miles as it turned to evening. Debbie cheered me in before taking off. My 16:28 pace was only slightly slower than my first loop since this includes my long stop at the start/finish area. After nearly 54 miles I still felt good. I had made it through the hottest part of the day, although the humidity was refusing to drop.
I decided to change some of my clothes after 2 loops and again, drink Muscle Milk and a Monster to help with calories and energy for the next loop. I was ready to don my headlamp but we couldn’t find it anywhere. I figured my flashlight would have to do. By this time a lot of 100 milers were dropping from the humidity. Two pacers sitting by me told me that the racers that they were pacing had just dropped. They asked if I was going back out and I said yes, definitely. Amanda and Marc asked if I would like them to pace me for the third loop. I said sure, so we headed out into the night. These next 2 loops are only 23.3 miles so it cuts off the hilly section of roots by the riverbed. We were making good progress until mile 63. My tibia muscle next to my shin bone seized up on me, probably from the hyper-extension of my ankle while running downhill. It was in a big knot and I couldn’t run on it. I tried stretching and upping my fluids to no avail. Maybe I was low on electrolytes so I opened a couple of Endurolytes into my mouth and washed it down. That didn’t work either. Nor did massage. After a few miles of walking and stopping occasionally to administer another solution, I was getting worried that my running race was over and I would have to walk. With over 30 miles to go, walking did not seem possible. A little frustrated and down, I continued to try and keep a positive attitude. Amanda and Marc suggested I try Advil. We asked some other runners for some and they obliged. A mile or two later, my knotted muscle released and I was able to start running again. What a relief! For the rest of the loop I was exuberant over my ability to continue my quest. Occasionally, someone would ask who Frank was. I had some duct tape on my CamelBack with the words written with a Sharpie: “Rest in Peace Frank Vavra.” I would explain he was a friend of mine that had just passed away that week. Usually there was a reverent silence that followed. Nothing else needed to be said. And I was glad to honor him this way.
Amanda and Marc were a great team. One would be keeping pace while the other was watching my intake of fluids and food. When I finished that loop, I felt energized from the sheer joy of running with them. It was the energy I needed going into the last loop. My pace slowed to 19:27 on that loop because of the walking, but I was still in good shape. My time at the start/finish area was getting longer each time but my loop times were between 7 – 7 1/2 hours.
By this time it was about 3 a.m. Kamil had driven to Ohio after work and was sleeping in his car. Since he had to stop and pick up a headlamp for himself, he got me one too. After waking him and getting my last regimen of calories and caffeine, I put on the new headlamp and we headed out for 23 more miles.
I had taken an unusually long break and that was probably why my muscle seized up again. Kamil suggested we try walking fast instead of running to get my muscles loosened up again. After 3 or 4 miles of this, I was having a hard time going fast since those walking muscles were primarily what I was using all day up the steep hills. I decided to give running a try even if it hurt. I was able to stay running which was good but was getting really tired. I found myself yawning uncontrollably and feeling sleepy. Kamil started giving me coke at the aid stations which took the yawning away. Without my pacers there doing some of the thinking for me, I might not have thought to take Advil or coke. The more brain-dead I became, the more valuable it was having those people with me, unselfishly helping me achieve my goal. The early morning grey started to seep into the woods and I noticed that in one part of the trail, it smelled like cucumbers. I verified this with Kamil, so I know that wasn’t a figment of my olfactory nerves. I continued to take Advil and drink coke while we counted down the number of aid stations left to the end. We were really getting into a groove and running quite well. We were passing a lot of racers for 10 – 15 miles. Eventually, the fatigue and exhaustion was starting to set in.
At the last aid station, I was so glad to be almost done, but I didn’t have the energy to really appreciate it. My mind and my body still needed that energy for the last 4 miles. This is the point where I was looking for anything that would motivate me to just keep moving. With 3 miles to go, we passed a guy in a red shirt. Over the next mile, as my pace was slowing, Kamil pointed out that the guy we passed was catching back up to us. That was the motivation I needed to keep moving. I told Kamil that I wasn’t letting anyone pass me from here on out. That forced me to keep motivated and stay running the last 2 miles. Except for the massive hill! My last challenge to get through before finishing was this hill – almost sneering at me and saying, “I’ll let you finish, but not until you pay me first.” I paid my dues to that hill for the 4th time and knew the end was near.
With 1/4 mile to go, we came around the corner and I saw Judy there with her camera filming the end of this battle, my victory over the beast. She was another one who dedicated her time and energy to help me with my goal. I certainly didn’t do this alone. Which was even more evident as I came to the last turn before heading to the finish line. Frank had gotten me to the finish line as much if not more than the others. My desire to honor his memory would only be there because of our friendship. It was the humility I needed to accomplish what I failed at 2 weeks before.
I crossed the finish line nearly 29 1/2 hours later. My average heart rate was 128 and I burned between 10 and 11 thousand calories. The DNF rate was 67% most likely due to the humidity. But the one thing I take away that cannot be measured is the experience. Races are not completed alone. Life is not an individual sport. Look around and appreciate the people in your life – hopefully that is where we do not come up short.