From ZERO to 100K in 20 Months: Oil Creek 100 Race Report

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The following is from #TrailsRoc co-founder Ron Heerkens Jr (aka @gfmedia) detailing his adventure tackling his first 100K, his first ultra. Originally this appeared on his blog at: but since he spent most of his time preparing for this race on the proving grounds of trails around Rochester, we felt it appropriate to post.

Really, I don’t know where to even begin.

A Bit of Background

It’s taken me a couple day’s to process what I’ve experienced. If you’ve had any interest in what’s been going on in my life, your familiar that I only started back running in February 2011, and last September completed my first road Marathon. I lost 50-60lbs on the journey, and grew to love running again as it gave me an outlet to put energy into. Around this time last year I ran my first “trail race”, an obstacle race called the Mudslog. Shortly after I reached 1000 miles of running, and started to run more and more on trails.

As I started out my year I had some plans, they changed and then I got interested in running an ultra. So I signed up for one, the Oil Creek 100K. I have written about all this and my training leading up to it, so I’m not going to waste time with this further, so now on to the 100K weekend.

The Night Before

Originally we were going to drive separate and I was going to camp out at the school in Titusville the night before but when weather called for 23 degrees we changed plans. Drove down with my family and stayed overnight in the hotel. The drive down was gorgeous with the changing colors all the way down.

We arrived at the school a bit early, and went to grab my packet. When I picked up the packet I was given the wrong number, 656, not 606. my number and 656 were swapped and the volunteer made a crack about it being a good omen. I just laughed it off. I turned around and found that I got a door prize, and since I was early I was able to snag a sweatshirt so I wouldn’t have to buy one. I also grabbed a copy of UltraRunning Magazine (something I really want). When I was leaving I noticed the tear-off strip on my bib said 656! It didn’t match the bib, after talking with the organizers, I was basically told DONT DROP, or else it would screw things up…hopefully they told the other competitor the same thing.

We made our way into the cafeteria for the pre race buffet, and I bought a hat. I must say OC has some nice looking race gear, and very friendly volunteers. We ate then decided to head over to the hotel and get some rest. One note I must say, I think more sponsors need to show up for their prerace expo, it would be nice to interact with more vendors, and Oil Creek deserves it.

Photo by Michael Henderson ( Recorded Light)

At the hotel I hit bed at 8 but had 2 children that were bouncing off the walls in Grandmas room and kept me up till almost 11. With 4am approaching, I woke up no less than 4 times and was very jittery when the alarm went off.

Race Day

My wife and I got up at 4 while everyone else got some sleep. We made the dark trek from Oil City to Titusville and made it there around 5am, and started the process of gearing up and getting ready. 5:30, I was ready to go, but my stomach was going insane. After a brief race meeting by awesome RD Tom Jennings, we were out the back door and at the start line.

The first thing to notice about the morning was how cold it was. 25 degrees at start time. I also had to put on tights to help deal with the cold. I hadn’t trained with them and worried about overheating (yes despite the cold).

At exactly 6am, the race started.

Loop 1 Start to AS1 – 7.1/7.1 miles

Photo by Michael Henderson (Recorded Light)

We started out on the pavement…I hate pavement in trail shoes. A lead pack of 10 took off and I decided to just hang back and find a comfortable rhythm. It amazed me that after only 1.5 miles we were spread out so thin. finally it made its way onto the trail, where I subsequently slipped on the first bridge. I tucked in behind one of the lead women, and watched her trip and slip and have a pretty poor headlamp. She slowed down and I went on by. Steady rhythm.

Till I rolled the ankle.

Then tripped.

Then after coming down Wolfkiel descent I tripped and slammed both knees into the ground. By the time I picked myself up, we are at AS1 an awesomely decorated zombie/witch affair. I was surprised at how fast the AS came up, then I realized I was cruising along a little faster than I should. The light had started to come up and the cold was still there. Press on, keep warm.

Leg time: 1:17:40 (10:56)
Aid Station time: ??
Overall Place: 15/82

Loop 1 AS1 to AS2 – 6.8/13.9 miles

Upon heading out of the AS and back onto the course, I learned something about this course I didn’t know. After EVERY AS you have a hill, and not just a little hill, but a climb. You leave the comfort of the AS just to be slapped back to the reality of the harshness of this course. As I climbed what is affectionately known as sWITCHback mountain (with aptly marked graves as you ascend) the woman was catching back up to me. As I hiked, she..ran. I don’t know how, but she did.

I worried little, I just kept my pace and kept my rhythm and tried not to think about the cold. I don’t remember much about this leg, other than a sharp descent and a couple of climbs. As we neared AS2 we passed the Oil Derricks, and the temperature seemed to get even colder. I picked up the pace to try and warm my self up some more, but as we dropped into the AS valley there was so much frost it looked like winter.

Photo via Oil Creek Trail Runs

The plan was to lose the tights and switch to my normal gear, but I was so cold that I decided I would have to go at least 50K in them today. Got to see my wife at this one, who quickly informed me I was ahead of pace. I knew that but I was feeling good. After I would tackle the back half of the course, I would see my pacer, and then catch him when I returned to this spot. All was good. Got some hydration, nutrition/ refill and then made my way.

Leg time: 1:19;31 (11:41)
Aid Station time: 8:58
Overall Place: Top 20/82

Loop 1 AS2 to AS3 – 8.8/22.7 miles

Left the AS and made my way up another descent, Heisman Trophy Hill. By this point I had begun to not only pass some 100K but several 100milers as well. I was feeling pretty good. However, that was about to change. Once you make the climb you are pretty much on some nice easy double track for a while, a place where you can “make up time”. The back side has longer sections before you hit the AS, something I didn’t enjoy. As I hit the first water stop where the Boy scouts were I asked how much longer to the AS, and I was told 5miles. something I didn’t want to hear. It was in this area around mile 18 when I started to have issues. MY stomach cramps under my ribs decided they wanted to make a return, I tried to massage them out but nothing worked. I slowly trudged on and made my way to AS3

Photo via Oil Creek Trail Runs

Leg time: 1:51:51 (12:42)
Aid Station time: 8:15
Overall Place: 21/82

Loop 1 AS3 to AS4 – 8.4/31.1 miles

I wasn’t ready to leave AS 3, it was warm, they had a fire, and I was hurting…at 22 miles! I got up and began the Death March Hill ascent passing an old pioneer cemetery and continued my internal battle. My nice steady pace that I had gained and banked so much time, had turned into an 18:00/mi pace. A death crawl I couldn’t get out of. Around mile 25 I got a text from my pacer Jamie, letting me know he was hear and prepared to run 50K if needed.

I felt bad, I was ready to call it at that point, my body was not ready for the fight, it let me down and my training had failed me. At mile 28 I sat down. defeated. I found a rock and just tried to breathe, get my head right.

I would continue, at least to the 50K mark and then decide from there. One foot in front of the other, and suddenly I was running again. I caught up to a group and hung with them for a mile or so but felt good enough to continue on past them. I was back in a rhythm, a slow one, but I was going forward and that’s what counted.

The trail spits you out onto a road and grass loop (which felt like hell) 2.2 miles back to Titusville Middle School.

Walk, Run, Walk…run some more. just get back to the AS.

I did, I saw Jamie come out and cheer me in, and then began the longest AS stop in history. I hadn’t been staying on top of everything and it was wearing on me. I was force fed some nutrition then changed my clothes talked with Jamie about the plan and saw my family.

After coming in at 6:45 (1 hour lost to a really bad 10 mile stretch), it took me 17 minutes to get out. 15 hours was looking like a long shot even with almost 8 hours to get it in.

The plan: waterstop to waterstop. One foot in front of the other.

Leg time: 1:58:09 (14:04)
Aid Station time: 17:30
Overall Place: 34/82

Loop 2 AS4 to AS 1 – 6.9/38 miles

The changing point for me in this race was two fold. After I passed my longest training run in terms of both time and distance, the distance on my feet became a moot point. The real changing point was knowing I had a pacer who sacrificed his weekend to be out there for me, I couldn’t let him down.

Nor the family who came to cheer me on, and give me support. Nor the friends and family cheering on back home.

I was resigned to giving up on myself, but Jamie didn’t. As we began to cover water stop to water stop, I began to feel different, I began to feel better. I detest loops with a passion, but today it would prove a mental help. I knew what to expect and some key points along our way that would ultimately make this race manageable.

Leg time: 1:52:18 (16:16)
Aid Station time: 7:19
Overall Place: 26/82

Loop 2 AS1 to AS2 – 6.8/44.8 miles

In and out of of my favorite (mainly just because of the themed AS) AS. I started having Ramen Noodles and cola at every AS from this point on. The cola made for some hilarious gas issues, but the caffeine really helped. Back up the climb and on our way. As we came back down to AS2 I told Jamie how I was feeling a lot better but wanted to really take a bit of time at this next AS to make sure I was good.

Once again got to see my wife and family, but this would be last time till I finished, if I finished. We took a little longer, rolled out my hamstring ate up, fueled up grabbed out headlamps and took off. We would right up against the 15 hour mark if we didn’t hurry out.

Leg time: 1:14:56 (14:59)
Aid Station time: 17:23
Overall Place: 20/82

Loop 2 AS2 to AS3 – 8.8/53.6 miles

Back up Heisman and onto the double track. I found my rhythm again, the run sections became a 4:1 pattern that kept up us moving forward. We figured out the avg pace I needed to maintain to get on track for the remainder. With the mix of climbs and the inevitable fatigue it was proving to be harder. This time as we hit the Boy Scouts we filled with water and I started feeling like myself again. I had found my groove. run run walk, run run hike. When we hit the dirt road that led to AS 3 I decided to open up my legs, much to my (and probably Jamie’s) surprise. My legs felt better than ever. I sued this dirt “sprint” (very loose term) to gain back a couple of my hill climb minutes.

I sat, I ate, we left. Nothing between us and the finish, except 8.4 miles in the dark on wet rocks and mud.

Leg time: 2:06:50 (14:24)
Aid Station time: 2:50
Overall Place: ?? they missed me??

Loop 2 AS3 to Finish – 8.4/62.2 miles

As we finished the climb of Death March Hill Jamie stopped to call my wife and let her know we were on our way and I would be pushing the time limit. As he called, I kept moving. I turned on some music and let it blare through the forest. All the sudden everything kicked in, and the next couple of miles would fly by as I found a gear I thought broke a long time ago. I passed several runners during this time and just kept going.

There was this wonderful little sign that said 1.6 miles to Drake Well museum, that was my goal. Get there as fast as I can. Jamie eventually found me and I just kept running as hard as much as I could. I stopped caring about pain and twisting anything, this was my chance and I had to go, I had to go know.

I have to really point out that I am glad Jamie was there. I honestly thought I had left him behind, but I had the confidence in how strong he was that he could catch back up. I don’t know if I could’ve done that with someone else.

We pushed hard, music blaring and my thoughts now muttering out of my mouth rather than my mind. At this point if you had seen me, I was probably a bit crazy.

Suddenly someone when whizzing by us, apparently I wasn’t the only one with a bit left in the tank.

When we hit the 2 mile grass/road stretch we had 25 minutes. A brief walk break would be my last.

Off we went, pushing my body through pain I have never felt before. a half mile to the school we saw 100 milers going back out and a runner ahead. Jamie said to catch him, we did. It was the runner who passed us on the trail, the 100 mile leader. I made a goal to finish before the 100 mile finished and I had achieved it, he still had a 7 mile loop to go, but he was the ONLY 100 mile to lap me, and that felt good.

With the school in sight, we crossed the bridge and picked up speed. Emma ran to the finish with me where 5 feet after crossing 14:56…I stood in a wave of pain. My wife and I hugged a long one. I had never been more happy of how things turned out and that I was able to do my original goal of sub 15 on a tough course.

I hobbled to the chair, grabbed my goods from RD Tom and tried to soak it in. I had just completed the hardest thing I have ever done.

Leg time: 1:45:36 (12:16)
Overall Place: 19/82

In The End

I had a wonderful time, despite the pain, and the pain that still lingers. Ready to quit by mile 20 I asked my body to do something I didn’t think it could do. From there on, it was a mental game. It amazes me that my dark point came so early for me, and the best I had was so late in the race. So much to learn from this race. I couldn’t have asked for a better pacer in Jamie, the guy was rock solid and kept me in this, I owe him a lot.

And without family and friends, I don’t think I would’ve gotten there either. A wife who never stopped believing in what I could do, a daughter who enjoyed watching her father despite being out there for so long. A mother in law who watched the other rug rat who didn’t have a good day, and friends who texted/facebooked so much encouragement to continue on. I was /am absolutely humbled by it all.

Now that I’ve got my time in, I’ll submit for the Western States lottery. I’ll make no decisions about next year until I find out if I’m in or not. But there are ultras in my future.

faster, tougher ones.

The Stats

Cumulative distance for Running: 68.36 mi/7 days, 94.45 mi/14 days, 183.53 mi/28 days,
Heart Rate: Average=148, 99th Percentile=181, 62% HRR, max=185, 54% VO2max
TRIMP 3586, Weekly TRIMP 1371, Monotony 0.45, Training Strain 615
Fitness (CTL) 258, Fatigue (ATL) 339, Performance (Fitness-Fatigue) -81
Fitness (CTL/monotony) 324, Fatigue (ATL*monotony) 193, Performance (Fitness-Fatigue) 132
Average Cadence=66.8
stride length=32.7 in
+13669/-13670/27339 ft 8.3% [Smoothed: +8833/-8832/17665 ft 5.4%]
Weather: Partly Clouds, 7c/45f, 55%RH
Min./Max.: 26.6 ‘F/54.4 ‘F; Pressure: 1011.5 mbar; Humidity: 55.2%; Dew point: 28.0 ‘F; Wind Speed: 2.3 mph; Precipitation: 0.1mm
Rate This Run: 7, Training effect: 3.90000009536743, Course Score: Running: 221.012266538518
Lap 1, 01:17:40, 7.10 miles, 10:56 min/mi, Avg 167 BPM, 68% VO2max, Start to AS 1
Lap 2, 01:19:32, 6.80 miles, 11:42 min/mi, Avg 168 BPM, 69% VO2max, AS 1 to AS 2
Lap 3, 08:59, 0 miles, – min/mi, Avg 117 BPM, 31% VO2max, AS 2
Lap 4, 01:51:52, 8.80 miles, 12:43 min/mi, Avg 161 BPM, 64% VO2max, AS 2 to AS 3
Lap 5, 08:16, 0 miles, – min/mi, Avg 110 BPM, 26% VO2max, AS 3
Lap 6, 01:58:11, 8.40 miles, 14:04 min/mi, Avg 150 BPM, 55% VO2max, AS 3 to AS 4
Lap 7, 17:30, 0 miles, – min/mi, Avg 126 BPM, 37% VO2max, AS 4
Lap 8, 01:52:18, 6.90 miles, 16:17 min/mi, Avg 138 BPM, 46% VO2max
AS 4 (plus aid) to AS 1
Lap 9, 07:20, 0 miles, – min/mi, Avg 107 BPM, 23% VO2max, AS 1
Lap 10, 01:41:57, 6.80 miles, 15:00 min/mi, Avg 143 BPM, 50% VO2max, AS 1 to AS 2
Lap 11, 17:23, 0 miles, – min/mi, Avg 104 BPM, 21% VO2max, AS 2
Lap 12, 02:06:51, 8.80 miles, 14:25 min/mi, Avg 137 BPM, 46% VO2max, AS 2 to AS 3
Lap 13, 02:51, 0 miles, – min/mi, Avg 121 BPM, 33% VO2max, AS 3
Lap 14, 01:49:31, 8.60 miles, 12:44 min/mi, Avg 152 BPM, 57% VO2max
AS 3 to Finish

8 thoughts on “From ZERO to 100K in 20 Months: Oil Creek 100 Race Report

    Jamie @ couchtoironwoman said:
    October 17, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Congratulations Ron! You did amazing and you should be proud! This is a great recap and I’m glad you willed your body to keep going at mile 20. 


      Ron Heerkens Jr said:
      October 18, 2012 at 1:15 pm

       Thanks Jamie, I am happy that I accomplished it.


    Ben Murphy, said:
    October 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Welcome to the ultra club, Ron – AMAZING job out there!


    […] running my first 100K at the Oil Creek Trail Runs this past weekend, I have had some time to think back on it and put together a “top […]


    Joanna said:
    October 18, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Congrats Ron! Very nice race! We were following you (Lynn and Becca and I) and just after They left my house you finished.  Very happy for you! Hopefully recovery is going well for you!


      Ron Heerkens Jr said:
      October 18, 2012 at 1:16 pm

      Thanks Joanna (and crew) it means a lot that you ladies took the time out of your day to check in. It meant alot of getting thru it. Recovery is going slow. The next couple weeks will be rough


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