Monday, July 4, 2016

2016 Mohican Trail 100 Mile Race Report

The Mohican 100 Mile Trail Run was my staple 100 mile race last summer and once I didn't gain entry into Western States 100 this year I set my sites on Mohican again.  Having won the race last year I wanted to go back to see if I could defend my title and run a faster time.  Last year the course was super muddy, so I wanted to see how different the course ran on a dry year, and as the race approached we had a long dry spell in Ohio so it was prime for fast trail running.  Mohican is a fairly low-key 100 miler (despite being one of the oldest ultras in North America), so I never felt like I had a target on my back or any pressure to perform.  I knew the only way to run well again was by focusing on my own race and executing the plan and paces I laid out.

Photo by Butch Phillips
Loop 1
The race started out in the Mohican Campground and a large pack of runners soon found the solace of the singletrack.  Last year I immediately found myself in second place but this year I stepped back a bit and posited myself well behind a pack of leaders.  One aspect I focused on were my splits from last year.  Even though 2015 was such a muddy year I still managed to break the CR on the current course (altered in 2006 to have less road), so I knew what I was working with.  Although there is always a chance that someone would run lights out and break away early in the race, I was pretty confident the race wouldn't start until the second half.  

We rolled into the first aid station at Gorge at the same time I ran that section last year, except this year there was at least 6 guys ahead of me.  This was fine by me at this point - my goal was to tone it back some on the first lap becauase last year I was too fast and paid for it on the second lap.  So the goal was to be steady the first lap and keep the second lap more consistent opposed to last years huge positive split.  

After spending a few minutes in the woods for a pit stop, I found myself just outside of the top ten twelve miles into the race.  Soon though I began passing people and moved up into the top 4, and shortly after Covered Bridge (mile 15) I hooked up with Andrew Snope and Ron Wireman and at the next aid station I found out the person who we thought was leading the race must have stopped, or got lost, so we were now commanding the lead.  At this point I was still in cruise control and was glad to see the time-split was 10 minutes slower than last year as Ron and I ran into Mohican CG aid station to complete our first 27.3 mile loop.  Having a slower first lap, I was hoping, would set me up better for the rest of the day.

Loop 2
I can't remember where I lost Ron but soon I was alone in first place, and at this time felt like I was rolling along pretty well.  My times compared to last year were starting to get faster on the second loop, so I was executing just like I wanted to.  Even though I felt like I was in the driver's seat, running down the dam at Pleasant Hill Harvey Lewis caught up to me.  I had only realized Harvey was in the race at the starting line but definitely know how strong of a runner he could be.  Harvey won the iconic Badwater 135 in 2014.  That along with his list of other accomplishments had me on edge when he pulled up to me.

I latched on to Harvey after this moment to finish out the second loop but from miles 45-54 I could get the sense that Harvey was feeling much better than me.  The temperature had risen a lot since the morning miles and I erroneously failed to grab a second bottle from my crew at the previous aid station so I ran low on water for two long segments.  I spent a lot of time in the Mohican CG aid station at mile 54.6 to make sure I was staying cool and hydrated.  I was about 22 minutes faster to this point compared to the previous year, so my first two long laps were much more consistent this time, but I was feeling the heat, both from the weather and from Harvey.  As I continued to take my time in the aid station, Harvey was quickly out with his pacer.
Loop 3
There is almost always bound to be low moments in a 100 mile race - sometimes they last for 2 hours, other times they may be shorter low moments but more frequent - this was the moment for me.  From near 52 miles, before completing loop 2, until mile 62 was the low moment that I have come to expect.  I think keeping an in-the-moment perspective in low moments can really benefit when trying to rebound and come out of it to regain momentum.  There is a tipping point - it's the moment in a race where you've committed to going for it, numbing the pain, when all discomfort morphs into your sanctuary.

I walked the majority of miles 54.5-62.  The section from Mohican CG to the Gorge Overlook was over 10 minutes slower than on the first two laps, and when I picked up my pacer, Robert Wayner, at mile 58, I was only briefly able to snap out of it before spiraling into a fit of walking.  When I rolled into Fire Tower at 62 I was on fumes - I half jokingly told Bobbi that I was not having fun - but at this point I knew deep down that I had crested the tipping point.  I was golden.  I just needed to get up and start running again.  Word at the aid station was that I was 12-15 minutes behind Harvey, meaning he put over 1:30 per mile on me in 8 miles.

Before leaving the Fire Tower aid station I sat down and changed shoes.  It was a short sit-down break, long enough to change shoes and drink and eat some more.  When I got up, I headed into the woods with Robert to cut across the short loop and down to Covered Bridge.  This section was mostly downhill so I decided to push it hard to see if I could get the wheels spinning.  Luckily they came back to life, and in that section I regained the confidence to go for first place.
Loop 3, falling behind, changing my shoes to try to break out of the funk.
It was nice having Robert there to pace.  Just like last year with pacer Nick Reed, having someone to simply have small talk with helps eat away at the miles - before too long we had made it to the Hickory Ridge aid station at mile 71 and I was told I was still 10 minutes behind Harvey.  Since I had only gained a couple minutes on Harvey in the previous 8 miles I relegated myself to continue pushing hard, but believing if I were to catch up to him, it would probably be late in the race.  At that point I was feeling really good coming out of Hickory and began to drop the pace.

I am not sure if I was moving along the trail really fast, or if Harvey was having a low patch in the next section but about 3 miles before the completion of loop 3 Robert and I were simply chatting as we ran along the trail and suddenly I spotted Harvey around a bend in the trail ahead.  I was literally shocked.  I was feeling good and hoping I was gaining, but I never imagined I would catch him so early, especially if the AS workers at the last stop were accurate about me being 10 minutes behind.

My first reaction when spotting Harvey was to do what I did last year - sit and wait. This was almost déjà vu at this section of the race last year, where I finally caught Nate Polaske to move into first place.  I spotted Nate at around mile 70 and eased up for several miles so I could wait for a good moment to move into first place, which wasn't until mile 77. When I saw Harvey it was around mile 74, and I started having flashbacks of last years battle with Nate. This time I knew I needed to capitalize on how I was feeling in the moment, so I whispered to Robert that I was going to go by Harvey, and do it with authority.

I didn't need to change gears to get around Harvey, but a true testament to his grit is that he latched on and moved with Robert and I.  This is when "racing" a 100 miler becomes "racing."  At this point, 75 miles into the race, we were moving faster than we had all day.  I started running harder and harder, pushing the short little rollers that I had walked on the previous lap as we came into the Mohican CG area.  Harvey was hanging tough behind me and I had doubts that my race tactic was backfiring, and that I was going to bonk from this hard effort, but I had committed to breaking away from him so I continued pushing.  After one more uphill and downhill push I glanced back and I couldn't see Harvey anymore.  I was finally in first place alone but continued to push hard.  The mile 77 split from my Strava data shows that my fastest mile of the day came at mile 77 for a 6:56, the mile that I broke away from Harvey.
All business with Robert in the last lap.
Loop 4
The last time my crew saw me I was over 10 minutes behind Harvey and sitting on the ground at the aid station looking pretty beat up - so when I came *sprinting* into the Mohican CG aid station at mile 78 in first place it must have been pretty exciting.  Just like last year I came back from the low of loop 3 and regained strength before the fourth and final loop at Mohican.  I was all business in the aid station and quickly grabbed what I needed.  At this point, Robert, my crew, and I had our aid stations stops pretty well-oiled.  Just before getting to the aid station tables I hand Robert my bottles and he would fill them with ice and water.  In the meantime I grabbed several cups of soda and salty foods while my crew refilled my bandanna with ice and restock my gels and anything else I needed in my pack.  This stop was less than 90 seconds; I wanted to get out and begin my last loop before Harvey came in.

I was able to get out of the aid station before Harvey saw me.  This was a competitive tactic that I hoped would put some doubt in him thinking that I had gained so much ground in a short period of time.  I knew I still had work to do though, as anything could happen in the last 22 miles of a 100.  Robert took a little break from pacing here so I had about 8 miles by myself before he would rejoin me to the finish - this was the same tactic I used last year, being confident to handle 8 miles alone at this point, and then joining a pacer again would give me another mental boost in the last 14 miles of the race.  I ran virtually every step from Mohican to Gorge Overlook, had another fast and well-fueled aid station exchange, and again ran almost every step from Gorge to Fire Tower at mile 86.  Feeling strong here was so uplifting, as the previous lap I struggled mightily.

My thoughts here turned into running as much as I could, as I knew the more I ran meant I was either remaining the same or gaining on anyone behind me.  The strength I had on the first 8 miles of the last lap was really encouraging as I hooked up with Robert again to begin the last 14 miles.  There was a lot of positive self-talk going on between Robert and I so the mood remained light and relaxed; I was getting reports that I was over 15 minutes up on Harvey.

The last 14 miles clicked by fairly quickly.  At this time I was passing 100 milers on their 2nd or 3rd loops and it was great getting encouragement from them.  I felt so in control of myself, mentally, physically, and nutritionally.  When we had to flip the lights on around mile 95 I noted that last year the headlamps were needed around mile 88 - this meant I was much faster than my time from last year.  When it got dark I was still pushing the pace pretty hard, but would cautiously slow down over some of the more technically segments.  I tripped and stumbled once with a few miles to go but mainly felt comfortable maintaining a consistent running pace.

Coming into the last mile on road is a great feeling.  I remember the overwhelming sense of achievement last year in this finishing stretch.  This time around it was more a sense of validation, as I came back to defend what I did last year, and a validation to myself that I could go faster.  I swung around under the overpass to cross over to the finish area, and clocked in at 16:51:22, running over and hour better than my CR time from last year on the current Mohican course!
Photo by Butch Phillips.
I want to thank my crew, as they continue to get me through these ultras.  Bobbi and Becca have become quite the tandem, with Baby Fern there as well providing inspiration.  More of my family is able to come to Mohican and my mom and dad were at every aid station for help.  Once again, I relied heavily on my pacer to help pull me out of low patches - Robert ran 38 miles with me at Mohican, his longest run ever!  Now, he is thinking about doing a 50 miles - how awesome!  The Mohican community is awesome and it's a privilege to be a small part of the long history of this race.  I don't know if I will be back next year, but Mohican will always be a race that is a part of me.

Finally, I need to give a huge shout out to the running community that is growing and thriving in Southeastern Ohio.  We have a good thing going in Athens, Ohio with community running group Team Run Athens and new specialty running store Ohio Valley Running Company.  I represented OVRC on my singlet, as well as my great sponsors Swiftwick, Ugo Bars, and Cocoa Elite but it is the support of the people in the community that I think about and feel inspired by while running the race.
Photo by Butch Phillips

Photo by Butch Phillips.
Photo by Butch Phillips.
Photo by Butch Phillips.