This past Saturday I had the opportunity to Run the second edition of the Mother Road 100 along historic Route 66 in Oklahoma. The Inaugural edition of this race was two years ago on the East side of OKC (that's the way they say Oklahoma City in these here parts) and supposedly they got a substantial number of request to do it again, so this year it was run on the west side of OKC (I just like saying that). After a quick five hour drive from Topeka, I checked in at the Comfort Inn, where I would also spend the night before the 6:30 AM bus ride to the start in Elk City, OK some hundred miles to the the west.
My first warning for what lie ahead was found in the race handbook under the heading of AID STATIONS ,where the Race Directors disassociated themselves from the volunteers who manned them, letting us know that they were not part of the race organization, therefore they (the RD's) take no responsibility for what the aid stations may or may not have in the way of nourishment... Que the Hitchcock music! After a good night sleep and a 90 minute bus trip to Elk City, warning number two was quickly revealed....two porta potties for two hundred runners? Now I must confess I'm not a big fan of Race Directors running in their own races. Some, like Stan and Chrissy Ferguson make it work by switching off each year. This way at least one of them is totally available to runners, volunteers, etc..But what generally scares me when Race Directors run is that I'm never sure who's experience they are more concerned with, theirs or the runners? In this case one of the RD's summed it up pretty well when two miles into the race I heard him say to another runner..."let's face it, this is a totally self absorbed sport and when you're running an ultra you're not thinking of anyone other then yourself" Comforting words coming from the Race Director.
Despite the concerns bubbling up inside me, my day got off to a pretty good start. I was moving along at 9:30/mile pace and feeling pretty good. Although I knew the race was run on road I was somewhat unprepared mentally for how much traffic we would encounter along Rt 66, especially early in the race. The other distraction, was the constant presence of Interstate 40, buzzing with traffic some 100 feet away. Sixteen miles into the race we reached the first "manned"" aid station and I quickly understood the disclaimer in the Race Handbook. It was also at this point I began to hear my body voice it's initial complaints about the firmer surface and its impact on my feet and my knees. Thirty-One miles in we reached the first "Major" aid station where we were allowed to send drop bags. At this point, 50 kilometers and five and a half hours into the race, I was ready for some food, not "drop bag" food but aid station food. Upon arriving at the Route 66 Museum, hosts to the 50K aid station, I was greeted by two very kind ladies who offered me my choice of Chips Ahoy or a few pretzels, period! Maybe the Race Directors could have been slappin' together a few PB J's rather than running! Although I was beginning to become a little undone mentally over this I pressed on eating anything and everything I placed in my drop bag. Although this provided brief relief, I was fading and fading fast from a lack of calories. It was only the kindness of other runners and their crews that helped me through this part of the race. Thanks to those crews that gave me Milky Ways and Turkey Sandwiches, which got me going again. About the time I had calmed down thinking the worst was behind me, it actually managed to get even weirder. Just after dark, closing in on the 50 mile aid station with nine hours behind me I found myself on I-40, yes we were running on the interstate...in the dark. Once that thrill ride ended and we exited quickly and carefully, we had the privilege of running through the busy town of Wethersford and the half way point of the race. In the pre-race instructions we were told that intersections would be marked with arrows on one side and MR100 logos on the other. That must have only applied to certain intersection as none of the thirty to forty intersections in Wethersford were marked. At one point I was so certain I had made a wrong turn, I turned around and started running back to where I had come from only to be assured by a on coming runner that we were still on course. We finally reached the Half Way point and as I changed into warm highly reflective clothing and grabbed some food and lighting I began to seriously contemplate dropping. I had had enough and didn't think I could handle much more. Arguing with myself I left the aid station and walked for a mile before convincing myself to keep going and not allow this race to end my year on a bitter note. I had run fifty miles in under ten hours and had a very good shot at running my first Sub 24 hour one hundred. If I quit, the race won, the only way to somewhat redeem it, was to beat it. With that behind me, I actually started to feel (and run) a little better. The change of shoes at fifty miles proved to be a good strategy. While the Guides (Saucony) were the right shoe to move quickly through the first half of the race, my feet had been aching over the past few miles and the move to the Hurricanes (also Saucony) gave me enough added forefoot cushioning to deal with the pain and start runnning with more confidence. Other then being under dressed and very cold everything was going pretty well. All I had to do is get to the seventy two mile aid station where I had a drop bag with my warm and wind proof Marmot Dry Climb Wind shirt and a stocking cap. The seventy two mile aid station was manned by the TATURS, Tulsa Area Trail Ultra Running Society (If that's not it I think it's pretty close) This was the first aid station that was what you would expect to find at a hundred mile race. Although it was outdoors and very cold, it was loaded with anything a runner would want to eat. I feasted! Life was good, my belly was full, the only thing missing was...you guessed it, my drop bag. Somehow my drop bag ended up somewhere else. Whatever the emotion is between tears and anger, that's where I was. The guy running the aid station sensed I was about to have an out of body experience and offered me the jacket off his back then found fresh batteries for my headlamp. For some strange reason the thought that kept bouncing through my head as I left the friendly confines of the TATUR Aid Station was of Vivian Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire uttering those famous words "I have always depended on the kindness of Strangers" We were now on a six mile section of dirt road, a surface I normally love to run on, but after seventy two miles of asphalt this seemed awkward and I felt clumsy. It was now just before first light, I had about twelve or thirteen miles to go and about three hours to get it done. It was about this time I remembered my brief career Bow Hunting and the harsh memory that the temperature always dropped right before the sun came up. Yep, it sure did, and although I was still in shorts, it was my hands that took it the hardest. Almost in tears at the eighty-nine mile aid station (again, totally and completely outside) once again another runner's crew came to my rescue with some of those little hand warmers. Hands now warm I began the final push for home. Every bone in my body hurt on impact and my feet felt like an odd combination of concrete and glass. My Quads were heavy and swollen and my hamstrings tight. The first light of the new day however brought with it incredible energy. Less then two hours and this trip through hell would be over. Finally at 8:39 AM I , my now size 12 feet and my size 11 1/2 Saucony Hurricanes reached the finish line of the Mother Road 100 to the sounds of the Rocky. I had my sub 24:00 finish, for whatever that's worth. Once finished, my thoughts turned back to food, based on the medical check I had lost thirteen pounds in one day. Upon asking where I could find the burgers I was directed downstairs. Yep, just moments after running a hundred miles you have to descend an old concrete stairway to find the food and claim your drop bags. I believe this falls under the heading of adding insult to injury. All I could do was laugh.
As I Race Director myself I do not make these comments lightly. If the events I experienced had simply been the result of unforeseen events or of crazy accidents that inevitably happen I would not even bring them up. However what I saw was IN MY OPINION such a blatant lack of accountability and planning not to mention concern for the runners, I feel it would be irresponsible of me not to share my experience. That said, several runners seemed to enjoy their day and I am sure will be back in two years for the Mother Road Part Three. As for me it is the voice of my Mom I hear reverberating in my head as I hear her warning me not to play in the road.