The Mother Road 100 has a brief but interesting history (and I believe this is all correct). Four years ago, race organizers put together a 100 mile ultramarathon to take place near the 80th (I think) anniversary of the opening of the Route 66 highway in Oklahoma. The race would run essentially from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, and was intended as a one time offering. But after much demand, organizers agreed to give it two more shots (with a year off in between). The 2nd running of the race would cover a southern route, while the third and final running would cover the northern route, from just inside Kansas at Baxter Springs, to Catoosa, Oklahoma, just outside Tulsa.
I entered the race some 5 months ago. I'd taken my training very seriously in hopes of laying down a personal best. This course, unlike other that I have run, was pancake flat (relatively speaking) and nearly all run on paved roads (that I knew would be fast, but painful). I had high hopes of beating my previous best of 17:27 (set last year at Heartland), and hoped to break 17 hours (for those who know me understand that I would still be proud of finishing, or finishing in under 24 hours, or even 20 hours, but I wanted to attempt something more on this occasion). And while "winning" wasn't really important to me, seeing that the previous two winners were all north of 17 hours, I thought a good sub 17-hour race just might be enough to cross the finish line first. But whether I finished first or fiftieth, I'd be very proud of a personal best and sub 17-hours. I knew Scott could improve on his 100 mile PR because I knew he had trained in a different way than he had in the past. I knew he was stronger from his cross-training and weight training. I knew he was faster from his intense shorter distance training. It all added up to so much excitement. In running there are thousands of runners but only one winner. I tried not to even fathom a "W" but knew it was completely possible
We arrived at the starting line in Baxter Springs very early, and in fact I was maybe one of the first couple of participants there. I had previously believe that the race would begin at 6 am, like most other 100's, but learned the week prior that in fact the race began at 9 am. While this detail doesn't seem too important, a 3 hour later start only means that you finish 3 hours later as well. With high hopes of 17 hour race, this means that I would finish at 2 am, instead of 11 pm. And if I was slower on the day then planned, a solid 20 hour finish would still cause me to run until nearly sunrise. This had me very nervous. I did NOT approve of the late start time. From a runners' safety perspective I wanted the runners through more miles before day time traffic. Alas, the foolish race directors had not contacted me for my expertise. They were, however, the most fun and hip ultra organizers I'd ever been around. Huge sound system blaring Lady Gaga, awesome signs for crew cars, great road signs so you could actually follow the course.
Now into the darkness, I covered the next 18 miles or so without slowing too much. I was continuously desperate for the pain in my feet to stop, and my knee was beginning to act up from the pavement and the ever so slight crown of the road. Around mile 67 we hit the Chelsea Motor Inn (yes, the aid station was in a motel room), and I used that stop to warm, and recover for a couple of minutes. I continued to eat my PowerGels, supplementing only with a PB&J here and there, maybe some crackers, and my Accelerade. On the upside, this was the best aid station ever. They took care of me here like I was runner. I was waited on hand and foot while the owner of the motel made me hot cocoa and bottled water. I was like 'no really' I'm not a runner, just a crew member! On the downside, Scott was starting to take a beating. We changed out shoes a couple times to try to ease the wear and tear on the feet. Scott's knees were getting the worst part of it and we luckily had an old knee support strap. It definitely helped him get through the race.
I hit a stop just slightly over 75 miles in good time (total time of around 11:25 or so for 75 miles). Jenn was getting nervous for me and my knee. I ate a bit of sandwich, but couldn't take much as I had just eaten another PowerGel (by the end of the day, I would ingest 18 gels total). I was again off. Best aid station EVER!!! The TATRS (Tulsa area trail runners) set up an aid station with smores, a campfire, food, Jimmy Hendrix and Christmas lights. Pretty fun to hang out at their campsite for sure! They were loving Scott and the race leader's times. Very very impressive.
Miles 75 to around 90ish are always tough on the psyche. The hours are drawing late, the legs are growing tired, and the desire to just be done is ever present. By mile 86 or so, my sister (surprise to me) and brother-in-law had joined Jennifer to watch the finish. It was honestly a great feeling to know they were there, and had driven nearly 2 hours on a late Saturday evening just to watch me run. I said a quick hello at the aid station, and moved on. I knew I was still running well, but my real fear was that 3rd place was running well also. And I had no idea what was going on ahead of me. Carrie and Terry drove down because they really wanted to see Scott finish. He was so excited and surprised by them showing up! It was fun for me too because I was able to have some company :)
I continued though the outskirts of town, trying to walk as little as possible. These were easily the toughest miles of the race. Still hours left of running, but yet so close. My feet were killing me and my knee was not having it. I just needed to get within striking distance of the finish(mentally, that is somewhere between 7-10 miles). I kept running hard. In my mind I was thinking, "I'm so close." But I also had the thoughts of "there is no way that guy is still on my heals behind me. I'm racking up miles too fast, but I can't shake him. And at the same time, who is this guy in front of me? I can't believe I'm not gaining on him." While I am not generally a competitive person, I will admit that at this stage in the race, my mind did shift over from "finish hard" to "run as fast as you frickin can and try to catch this guy in front of you." It was a bit surreal for me. I honestly wanted the best for the guy in front and behind me, I didn't want them to slow because I knew they were running times to be proud of. But could I just pick it up and run a bit faster, and while they don't slow I can still possibly take the lead? I took care of the race leader all day because that is what you do in an ultra, as a crew member, you take care of all runners. Yours and everyone else. The leader did not have any crew and most of the day, he just blew through the aid stations. At this point in the race though, the leader looked rough. He was starting to have a choppy stride. I offered him pretzels, water and Gatorade. He was getting less and less conversational. He had previously led Scott by 45 minutes but the lead was getting smaller.
At mile 93 I would hit the last aid station. By this time Jennifer had data. She knew how far the guy was in front of me, and knew I had created some distance between second and third. She knew I had 17 hours locked up and 16 was very much within reach. She told me that at the last stop, I was well over a half-hour behind, and now I was only barely 25 minutes behind. I was gaining ground, but there just might not be enough race left. But I felt good and up to the challenge. Could I kill the next 7 miles, improve my own time, and possibly have a shot at catching the leader? I could only know if I tried. At this point, the leader (his name was Tom) told me he was done! He was satisfied with second because he knew the "guy" behind him was going to catch him and pass him. I couldn't help it, I couldn't let him talk like this. I told him he needed to stay strong and positive. And unfortunately his did :)
I continued running at 8 min/miles while running, and walking only seconds here and there. I knew I had to be gaining ground, but I could have no idea of how much. I hit a stoplight with 2 miles to go (I knew very little about the course, but I did read a "warning" about this intersection with about 2 miles to go, so I fortunately knew where I was) and I began kicking in for the final pace. Oddly, I was still able to hydrate and eat. I popped my last gel of the day at around 97-98, hoping to full up before that final battle for first. In my mind, the only way I would ever catch this guy (even if he had slowed to nearly a walk) was in the last mile of the race. So I had been preparing myself for a final sprint out. Mile 99, yet no sight of first place. At mile 99.5, I would see the Hampton Inn and the stadium lights at the school where the race would finish. Still no sign of first place. I knew at the time I could choose to accept my position (I knew I had plenty of distance now before third), or I could expend that last burst I had been building for. I opted for the burst. With that half mile to go, I unloaded. 7:30 pace as I rounded into the parking lot and to the track for the last lap around the track and the finish. 7:00 pace, 6:30 pace, I suddenly felt like I was invincible. I rounded the final turn and headed down the straight away for the finish. 15:46:30. Second place, but only by 12 minutes (I had gained around 13 minutes in the past 7 miles). 9:27 average pace.
For the first time ever in finishing a 100 miler, I was disappointed it was over. Had this been a 110 mile race, I knew I had it in me. And I knew I had enough in me to finish those next miles strong and further gain ground on first place. But despite my reserved energy, the race was over. I could do nothing but smile. Tom, the winner, told me that if it had been a 105 mile race, he would have lost. We cheered him in to the finish and he pretty much collapsed. Scott raced in fresh as can be! It was an amazing sight. He came around the track like it was a speed workout, just sprinting in the last 1/4 mile. We just laughed at him as he crossed the finish line. He was unstoppable.
I could not have done this without Jennifer's support in training and along the way in the race. A crew is vitally important in a race like this. And an experienced and knowledgeable crew is something that can make a race. I owe a ton to Jennifer for getting me in and out of aid stations and keeping me going. She never let me drag. Thank you Jennifer. I'm getting pretty good at the pit crew gig. I should market and sell my services! Except truly I can only do this one or twice a year--too draining, physically and emotionally!. And frankly, it's pretty darn fun! I am so excited by Scott's race. I don't know how he will ever improve but I know he will. His time last year shocked me. His time this year...well I'm still in disbelief. All I know is the pride I feel cannot be described or quantified. His dedication, hard work and most importantly, his mental attitude make him unbeatable in my mind.