Sunday, April 22, 2018

OBX 200

It was during the inaugural year of the Light 2 Light 50 Mile Run in February that I decided I wanted to run the OBX 200. It would be my first attempt at a multiday event and I thought what better course then along the entire Outer Banks of NC and finishing in Emerald Isle. When I'm signing up for a race I haven't done before there are a few things that it must include. The course must be beautiful, prefer trails but if it's going to be on the road it better be some good scenery. The chance for a DNF must be a real possibility. Some may think this is a weird thing to look for in an event but I always like to see what my limits are. What fun is always doing the easy stuff? Finally, there must be a little fear in signing up for it. As in, "what the hell am I doing, this sounds insane!" The OBX 200 met all three and here I go logging on to Ultrasignup to get this party started!

It was around mid February when I signed up for this race, exactly 8 weeks from race day to be exact. So this may or may not have been my first mistake but most of the time in these ultra events it comes down to having  a good state of mind when things go to crap along with a good running base leading up to the events. I felt I would be ok and a good buddy of mine, Jeff Bell, convinced me that we could handle it. I put in a somewhat half assed training plan with an average of 30-40 mile weeks, a few shorter than that maybe one or two more than that but overall felt I did enough to be ready as I could in the short time that I had.

Left work on Friday afternoon and headed to the OBX of NC. Originally had some plans to stay with Jeff in a house they were renting from some friends but some things were out of our control and we ended up staying in The Sanderling Inn, thanks to Wendy for getting us a last minute deal! Met Shawn, Rachel, Wendy, and race director extraordinaire, Henry Lupton for a debugging dinner at a local pizza place in Southern Shores. Advice was shared, last minute course directions and checkpoints were finalized, and then Henry said "I have the buckle if anyone wants to see it" Mistake number two...I said "hell yeah, let me see that thing." Everyone backed away when Henry handed me the box and went out of their way not to see the buckle. Hint..Hint..(never look at the actual buckle before the race.)

Race morning is finally here and we are standing at the horse grate in Corolla while Jeff sings the National Anthem. It's tradition that if Jeff is in an ultra taking place on the OBX, he is also singing the National Anthem. We are off! The first 22 miles are on the beach, 11 out to the VA border and then back to Corolla. High tide was still in but on its way out so most of the running to the VA line wasn't too bad except for a few sections where we were in pretty deep sand and not really moving too well. Got to checkpoint 1 which was the fence at the state line in about 2:30 well above our planned time but Jeff, Shawn, and I were feeling pretty good. We started off on a 3/2 minute run/walk ratio and held that for most of the way there and back to the road. Rachel and Wendy took off and we never saw them again except for when we met them on the return back from the line. Going out wasn't too bad but on the way back the sun was up and it was starting to get hot. I had gone through just about both of my water bottles and was starting to wonder how was I going to get the through the net 8 miles with no water. Thanks to some veteran skills from Jeff, he showed Shawn and I how to get water from people on the beach without necessarily asking for water from people on the beach. Crisis averted and I think we got back off the beach in about 3hrs on return trip so it was 12pm or so when we got back to the road. Luckily we left a change of shoes and socks in the bushes for when we got off the beach because the amount of sand was exactly what you would expect. Changed shoes and took about a 20 minute break under a car port of a beach house not being rented.

Finally, we were now heading in the right direction and it was all road from here on out! A stop at a pizza place about a mile or so when we got off the beach turned into a much longer stop than planned but we were in no hurry and figured we had 4 days of this stuff so might as well take our time. Our 3/2 run walk had diminished to just a walk but we were holding steady at about 16 1/2 minute miles walking so no worries. Jeff left his pack at the Sanderling so that was our next stopping point. The Sanderling is about 13 miles from coming off the beach and it seemed like it took forever to get to that point. We picked up Jeff's pack and spent quite a bit of time here, maybe an hour. Our stops were long but we all felt they were needed, however; it was taking a long time to get off this section of the OBX and our original plans of where we were going to stop for the night were kind of going out the window. Kept trucking along and finally made it to BP station at Southern Shores around 930pm or so. Much later than had planned but checkpoint 2 (Mile 44) was now complete. The pizza from mid day had worn off and I knew this was probably last chance for food for the night due to the season and time of night it was. I got a large Mt. Dew, Pringles, and Vienna Sausages. Hey, it's a BP my options were limited. Henry was here at checkpoint 2 so we sat and chatted with him while I ate my "last supper" and another good friend from Greenville, Jenny Wilson and here BIL Wayne were in twon for the Flying Pirate so they stopped by to see us as well. 10pm Saturday night, these were the last calories I would have for the rest of the race minus a road angel cooler the following day around lunch time. Mistake #3 and this turned out to be a big one!

Road Angel cooler! There are nowhere near enough thank you cards for those who left this!
We trekked on into the night down the beach road passing through Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk and finally arriving in Nags Head. Our plan was to crash at Jeanettes Pier, somewhere out of the wind but there weren't any spots to be had. Went down a little ways to the Comfort Inn and asked the lady at the desk for a room just to lay down in on the floor. She first offered the lobby floor which we graciously took but then offered us her van. I know, it sounds really weird but after about 18hrs of moving and dead tired we were not picky. We were there for about 3hrs but I feel like I slept maybe only an hour and a half. Before I knew it phone alarm was going off and it was 630. We were up and out of the van, used the restroom before leaving and was heading on towards HWY 12. Mistake #4...Still to this day I don't know why it didn't occur to Jeff, Shawn, or myself to stop at the 7/11 literally across the street and load up on food, drink, or calories but it never crossed our mind. Now keep in mind, the last time I ate was 10pm the night before and it wasn't exactly a 3 course meal. As we headed down HWY 12 the wind was at about 25-30 mph headwind and nothing but sand right at us. It was a death march down HWY 12 to Coquina Beach. Lack of sleep, calories and the conditions were starting to take their toll on me...more than the others I believe. I was beginning to wonder when I would be able to get some calories from either food or drink. All I had was 2 water bottles and those were going fast and we still had about maybe 15-20 miles until we get to Rodanthe. This was not looking good at all. Then we get to the Bonner Bridge and there was a cooler that said "OBX 200 Runners" filled with Gatorade and a few candy bars. It didn't last long and I was very happy to see this. You can let fear control your life or you can run right through it. Before signing up for this race I almost didn't sign up because of this one bridge crossing by foot that we had to do, Bonner Bridge is about a 3 mile long high rise bridge with little to no shoulder, narrow lanes, and we were crossing it at about the busiest time we could be crossing it. We started on the bridge and halfway up I realized it wasn't as bad as I was thinking it would be. Most of the drivers were very courteous and gave us some room (maybe it was because I was half way into their lane and nowhere near that railing). To hell with the view that Jeff and Shawn were saying they had as they leaned over the railing looking out into the ocean!

As we get off the bridge and making our way to Pea Island Visitor center things were deteriorating rapidly for me. It seemed like the calories from the Gatorade and candy not too long ago were already gone. Shawn and Jeff were moving along pretty well and I found myself at the rear just trying to hang on. The weather and conditions weren't helping the situation at all either. It was just beating me down and thoughts were starting to creep in my head. We finally saw Pea Island visitor center in the distance and when we made it to the visitor center I needed to stop. I needed rest and calories because I knew we had another 20 miles until we got to our hotel in Buxton. We probably spent about 30 minutes there trying to recover a little before continuing on and as they Shawn and Jeff were getting the packs back on I had to tell them to go ahead without me. I wasn't moving fast and I didn't want to hold them at all. We had to get to that hotel 20 miles away before a pretty nasty storm was on a collision course with us. At our current pace we were moving along at about 3 miles every hour, so we still had about 6 hours ahead of us. What number mistake am I on because I believe this was 4! I knew with them going on and me in the mental state I was in wasn't a good combination. There was a little snack bar in the visitor center so I grabbed 2 Reece's Cups and a Mountain Dew ate them and layed down for about 30 minutes. I was hoping just getting off my feet a quick power nap would revive me. Before, doing so I called Erica and told her that I was in rough shape and wasn't sure how this was going to play out. My friend Daniel gave me a call to try and get my mind right along with some texts back and forth with Jenny, Joseph, Bert, and Scott. Here was my dilemma...I was thinking this storm coming was going to hit much earlier then it actually did. Trying to get to Buxton, 20 miles away would have put me going through the middle of the storm with no place for cover. If I made it another 9 miles to Rodanthe then I could stay there but would have been 30 miles behind everyone else and way behind the cutoffs starting off the next day. What happened next is something that I will be second guessing every day until I run this race again next year.
After talking to Henry and then my wife I decided to leave Pea Island visitor center and head to Rodanthe. A snail pace, but I was moving. On my way down to Rodanthe about a mile or so after leaving Pea Island I saw Jenny drive by. I think everyone I run with knew I was in the middle of a mental and physical breakdown and they were doing everything they could to try to get my head right. I am so grateful for all of them! Jenny had just missed another meltdown by me on HWY 12 in the middle of a sandstorm. As I went to put something back in my pack the zipper came off the main compartment and all my shit went all over the HWY. At this point I just through my hands up and said "what next!" On top of everything else going wrong I know have a worthless pack that I have to carry on top of carrying all my stuff that was inside it. I tried to tie it up the best I could and move on. Jenny had turned around and stopped to see how I was. I kinda just laughed and said "it is what it is at this point and I'm just trying to get to the next town." My spirits were lifted a little briefly but then I  made the phone call to Erica. I told her this wasn't going to happen this year, I felt I couldn't make up the time if I stayed in Rodanthe and there was know way I could keep going to Buxton tonight. I was broken. The lack of calories took its toll and then the weather had broken me mentally. Erica was 3 hours away so I knew I had to call her so I wouldn't be waiting forever in Rodanthe. About a half mile out from Rodanthe I called her and told her I had made my decision and was good with it to start heading this way. Within about 10 minutes a van pulled up and rolled down the window. I couldn't believe it when I looked and it was Erica. I think she realized when I called her earlier to just go ahead and head this way. Not sure what would've happened if I decided to keep going sometime along her way to the beach but she would've been supportive either way...she always is.
Erica had drove up to the Liberty gas station which was a little over half a mile away and I told her just to wait for me there. This is when I got emotional and broke down. I felt like such a failure at the moment. I felt I had let a ton of people down let alone myself and reality was setting in. I knew I had to call Henry and inform him of my decision as well. he repeatedly asked me if this was sure what I wanted to do and I had told him yes that I just was done. So many what if's and would've, could've, should've but it was all over now. Mistake #5...never make a decision to drop out of these kind of ultras without getting some rest and food. I think the biggest thing I'm having a hard time to deal with is I should've spent the night in Rodanthe and at least have given it a shot the next morning. As Wendy said afterwards when giving advice to Rachel "time out but never give up, anything can happen and things can change quickly" Meaning go on and if you get a DNF by not finishing in the given time then you did all you could. I got in the car and we headed home it was over...36hours and only 86 miles.
As much as some would think it is a failure, in my mind it wasn't. Did I achieve the results I wanted? Absolutely not, but I learned so many valuable lessons in this journey that there is no way it can be considered a failure. I can pin point where all my mistakes were made and I know I will come out a better and stronger runner from this experience. I had the chance to start this adventure with some well accomplished runners and new friendships were made that will last a lifetime. With all these positives there is no way this could be called a failure, disappointment yes, but not a failure. I saw the OBX in a way most people will never see it (or probably care to see to be I stepped completely out of my comfort zone and tried something I thought I would never do and became stronger for doing so. I will take away the perseverance and friendship from Jeff and Shawn. We stayed together for the first 86 miles and had some great memories together. Epic Facebook live sessions in the middle of the night, getting to know one another, cussing at asshole drivers that refused to move over and giving the sand and the wind the middle finger on HWY12. I will take away the toughness and determination showed by Rachel. She started off on fire and was on a mission until a blister decided to try and derail her. She wasn't having none of it and persevered another 100 miles on one good foot. It was pretty amazing to follow. And finally I will take away Wendy's knowledge of the course and her preparation. Crewed or not, she still had to battle all the elements and run this race and she made it look easy! She is a veteran of these multiday events and is a wealth of knowledge on what works and what doesn't work. I was knocked down but have got back up and already signed up for next year!

What Worked
  • Gear included: Hoka Stinson ATR 4, Injini Socks, UD Adventure Pack, Rain jacket, extra set of compression shorts, zensah compression sleeves, salomon hat with sun flap on the back (that mainly got in the way and don't know if it really kept sun of my neck because I was pretty burnt)
  • Squirrels Nut Butter, can't say enough good things about this product. For the most part, no major chafing issues and only developed one blister on top of toe but not until late in race. Not sure what this was from as this has never happened
What Didn't Work
  • Don't look at the actual buckle before the race! If you are not superstitious then no biggie I guess but there was only 1 person who looked at the buckle before the race and that was
  • Calories, calories, calories!! I signed up for this race as solo so I was responsible for getting my own calorie needs. The OBX is a beautiful place but in the off season it is a wasteland when you are trying to run 200 miles along it. You need to take full advantage of every chance you get to make sure you have plenty of calories before you leave the location you are at because you can easily go 20 miles with no options if you are not careful and come across stops at the wrong time of the day when nothing is opened.
  • lack of sleep...know how well you will handle lack of sleep and can still keep going. I think this was another thing that had affected me more than I was expecting. I will probably nap differently next time and try to get some in longer blocks
  • train! seems like a no brainer but maybe signing up with only 8 weeks to race day might not have been the best idea. I will put a solid 6 months of training for this race next year with multiple back to back to back long runs, multiple runs during the day, runs on short sleep. You will be experiencing all of this during the race so you really need to have a feel of how you will react to it.
  • Know your pack and the gear you will be carrying. You will not need as much as think you will need and the pack even with just a few pounds in it will become very aggravating 50 miles in. Only essentials!
Well this race report has gone on longer then my actual race did but I hope it helps someone who is thinking about attempting one of these adventures. I cannot recommend OBX 200 enough. You will be hard pressed to find a more beautiful course to run on and a race director like Henry who will do everything he can to give you the most wonderful miserable experience of your life. No mile is a bad mile and some of our biggest learning experiences come more from events that go bad as opposed to events that go right, it was for me anyway. Never be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, all the growth happens there!

1 comment:

  1. John!!

    Awesome work! You're just as stubborn as me haha! Telling you to slow down, eat tons more and later rest and fuel didn't soak in. But that's what makes it challenging for sure! I have been the same way! You beat my lazy tail sitting and cheering for you all.
    You sir are a winner! Keep inspiring!
    To new adventures!