Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mohican race report

My trip to Ohio, June 2009 &
Race Report Mohican 100 (30.4) mile trail race

Mom and I left for Ohio on June 16. We had a nice flight and picked up our rental car as we usually do. The drive to Stow was nice; everything was so green and beautiful! We have been experiencing an early, hot summer with drought conditions and burn bans in place in our area of Texas.

Kirby (the yellow lab) was glad to see us when we arrived at Uncle Bill’s house. He always remembers us, even after a long absence. My bags were heavy with all the race gear I brought along, even though I purchased new trail shoes and had them shipped to Ohio months ago. Uncle Bill and Aunt Shelly are fantastic hosts… they just give mom and I a key to the house, and we come and go as we please. I greatly appreciate that as I also have family on my dad’s side in the Akron - Tallmadge area.

Day two was breakfast out with my 93 year old grandpa. He is a leather craftsman and still lives on his own. Right now, he is working on a saddle. He insisted on picking up the check for breakfast. Funny, when we walked into the local establishment where he likes to eat breakfast, all the wait staff know him and are glad to see him.

We got to spend a little time with him after breakfast, and then I had some errands to run. I needed to get over to Vertical Runner in Hudson and drop by Second Sole in Cuyahoga Falls. Each store had ordered supplies for me. Mom and I always go to the huge Joanne’s fabric store on the way to Hudson. She is a true crafty woman and is always on the lookout for new things in paper and fabric. Then there is Pat Catan’s; wow, that is a true bargain store for the crafter!

Ok, now back to getting the drop bags ready for the race. I laminated all my materials for the race, pace charts, maps, etc. before leaving home. I still needed a few things from Wal-Mart, including zip loc bags and some personal hygiene products. Oh, by the way, I also had to purchase a small tent and sleeping bag for the weekend, as I planned all along to be dropped off at the park Friday and have the family pick my back up on Sunday morning after the awards ceremony… or possibly watch me cross the finish line. I got all my things organized on Thursday evening. We went out to dinner at a cute place in downtown Akron; http://www.briccocleveland.com/akron.php. The service was fantastic. Our server never let my get to the bottom of my coffee cup, and the coffee was really good and the food was fantastic! The valet was a young guy, and it looked like he was trying to see what the rental car had under the hood as he brought it back to the front for us. The rental was a bright red Dodge Charger.

Friday and I was starting to get nervous about the race. Heck I have been nervous about this race ever since I signed up. The trip down to Mohican State Forest was uneventful except for the fact that the closer we got to the park, the steeper the hills became. The cell phone stopped working due to the terrain, and severe thunderstorms were forecasted for the whole weekend. As a matter of fact, it rained every day we were in Ohio to this point. I went through the packet pickup line and got my tech shirt and bib number; #111! I really felt like it was a lucky number and immediately marked my drop bags and put them in their designated places so they could be delivered to the proper aid stations in the morning.

Mom seemed reluctant to leave me at the park, but I reassured her I would be fine and told her there was a concrete and steel structure (restrooms and shower) we could take shelter in if the weather got really bad. When she and Uncle Bill left, I found the friends I had been corresponding with online (thanks, Kim!) and set up my tent. I found Colleen, dressed all in purple, and introduced myself to her. She was very busy circulating through the crowd and making sure she met all the first timers. I also met Norm Carlson, who volunteered to pace me if I made it past 60 miles. He and his wife Carolyn are awesome folks, and she was going to have knee surgery right after the race. I really appreciate their coming to Mohican, and I’m sorry it wasn’t meant for me to finish this year.

I made my way back to the pavilion where the dinner was being served and there was to be a pre-race briefing. The pasta dinner was a little slim, only pasta, sauce and salad (no protein) with breadsticks, but adequate. I met lots more interesting people, Brad, Nick, Lucas, Glenn, Nofal and Shirley (from Houston), Mike, Mark, Mike, Salvador, Filiesha, Fred, Rob, and countless others. Lots of people were really interested in my story and the fact that I was planning to walk the whole race. Everyone was very accepting of the fact that I am not a runner. You won’t always find this kind of acceptance when walking at a road race. The trail running community is just a great group! Ryan greeted all the racers and Leo gave instructions about the trail markers. During the dinner and meeting it began to pour down. You could barely see the driveway from the pavilion entrance it was raining so hard. The rain did not last long and I was able to go to my tent and try to get some sleep. Later on mom told me she had talked to my sister who was watching the weather channel. She was concerned so she called mom and told her to get me out of there, or call me and tell me to come back to the house. Remember I said the cell did not work at the campground??? It was nice not to have to worry about the phone ringing all weekend! Anyhow, I was fine, along with all the other people camping for the weekend.

I was awake at 3 or 3:30am and finished getting my race duds on. Thank goodness I kept one of the 99 cent rain ponchos with me, because it began to rain just before the race started. It rained pretty hard, and then it stopped after about 10 minutes and did not rain again for the whole weekend. I was introduced to the Mohican hills during the first mile of the race. I was warned; I expected hills, just not that steep! It was unreal, and I had lots of company at the beginning of the race. I wish I could remember names of some of the folks I walked with that first few miles, but it is not possible. The first 10 miles were pretty uneventful, all on either asphalt or dirt roads. I was ahead of my pace chart at the first two aid stations and got in and out quickly as I had planned to; even changing shoes from road to trail shoes at the second stop. Then we entered the green trail section. It was all single track and some parts were extremely muddy, you know shoe sucking muck. I was having a blast! I would crest a hill and ask myself, because I was mostly alone at this point, where is the suspension bridge to the top of the next hill??? Ok, so, no bridge; just trudge to the bottom where the muck is then climb the next hill. I was already wondering what the hell I was thinking; entering this race as my first 100.

I was still pretty much on schedule at aid station #3, 4 and 5. I needed to check my feet at this point and chose to let the podiatry student put a moleskin patch on the bunion on my left foot. I lost enough time here to put me right at the cutoff leaving the covered bridge to start the purple loop. Lucas was talking to a race official here and was told he missed part of the loop and would have to do it over in order to continue with the race. He accompanied me through the whole thing, and believe me, I would have certainly fallen down an embankment and into the river had he not helped me regain my footing. There were lots of runners who got lost on the purple loop as there were no markings at critical intersections in the trail. Several of the faster guys went back on that trail and placed limbs and sticks across wrong turns to help guide the runners still to come. So, let me get back to the purple loop description. The trail crosses back and forth over a small stream with huge fallen tree trunks to climb over or crawl under and then there is the climb up Little Lyons Falls. I don’t know for sure how tall it is, but it is straight up from the creek bed using roots of a tree for hand and foot holds. If you have ever gone up one of those rock walls at a county fair, you will get the picture, except that the tree roots were wet from rain and mud from runners’ shoes and I was holding a water bottle in one hand. So, grab a tree root with one hand and look for a foot hold, climb, repeat to the top. I was STOKED that I was able to make it to the top! The next section was road over the dam and then back on the trail to the descent to Big Lyons Falls. The first part was really slick, and then the remainder of the descent was constructed of concrete steps. The trail continued under the waterfall where I took off my cap and put my head under the falls to cool off! The trail met back up at one of the trail intersections near the start where I had almost fallen earlier, and then we exited back at the covered bridge.
I was now 5 minutes late for the final cutoff but was encouraged to continue to the orange mountain bike trail. This is where things went south for me. The trail was pretty much switch-backs up the side of a really steep hill. I began having cramps like electric shocks in my calf muscles about 15 miles into the race from the steep climbs, but I continued to hydrate and stretch periodically, and kept moving. Now this orange loop was just too much for me. I had to stop several times and I was getting slower and slower, not feeling sick from the heat or anything, and just having too much trouble with the hills. I stopped to pee in the woods, knowing full well I was in dead last place and going to miss the cutoff by a long shot with no chance of making up 30 minutes with more climbing to come, so I pulled out my cell which is also a music player, and turned on some music. It was not long before I found myself at the Hickory Ridge aid station, at least 30 minutes past the final cutoff at a distance of 30.4 miles. They would have let me continue, but I felt it would be stupid to go on at that point, knowing there was no way for me to gain 30 minutes back in this terrain. I know now that it was a mistake for me to choose Mohican as my first attempt at 100 miles, but I am still glad I tested myself.

I had some fun with the a/s volunteers and Mike, who also dropped there. It was a long wait for a ride back to the campground and some hot food, but I didn’t care. I actually got a cell signal (we were on a ridge) and called a friend to tell her I was done and not broken up over it. When our ride showed up, I had no idea we were so far from the campground… 30 miles on hilly country roads. I rinsed off the mud in the showers and ate fajitas for lunch. Another Mike said he was going out to the covered bridge aid station to volunteer, and I asked if I could go too. He took me back up to Hickory Ridge to retrieve my water bottle and so that he could make a phone call. One of the runners who had been working the aid station was talking to someone about how he wished he had his picture taken with that crazy lady from Texas, so I posed for a photo; then we went down to the Covered Bridge. That was what made the weekend a great success for me.

Runners come through that aid station 5 times during the race and they all need something. It was very gratifying for me to be able to help people who were still in this race. We were grabbing their drop bags, filling their bottles, telling stories, making sandwiches, there were even volunteers helping runners with their shoes and socks. It was awesome. One guy was very sick during the night, and his pacer and the a/s workers, one in particular that is the wife of a runner who has finished Mohican numerous times, made him lay down and tried everything to get him moving again. It was finally when his pacer asked for coffee with cream that the runner began to feel better. He left the a/s with iced coffee in his water bottle. Of course I was made fun of unceasingly for my Texas accent, but all in good fun! I stayed out there until about 1am then caught a ride back to the campground. I slept for a few hours, and then went back to the pavilion for breakfast and to watch the last of the runners finish the 100 mile race. It was so gratifying to see the young man who had been so ill during the night finish with his father as his pacer! He looked strong as he finished.

There were lots of great stories at the finish line, and it was awesome seeing the last of the Mohicans make the finish! Great job Nick, making it farther than you have ever run before!

I talked to a few other people and found out that the lead runner got lost after he left the covered bride the last time. I was still down there at the covered bridge and heard someone tell him he was at least 20 minutes ahead of the second place runner at the 83 mile mark. When he went out on the last trail section (red) he got turned around and met the second place runner coming toward him. I don’t know how that happened, because I never made it to the red part of the trail. He ended up coming in third place. I read the winner’s blog and he said he ran stealth (with headlamp off) for a good portion of the last part of the race. It was possible to run without the light because the last 10 miles are on roads and gravel roads, just like the first 10 miles.

I guess that is enough about the race. I will tell you all that it is a shame that local people in the area of the park are known for going out on the trails and removing trail markings after they are so painstakingly placed. It seems like after 20 years of holding the race that some sort of compromise could be reached. My race outcome wasn’t changed by the missing trail markers, but lots of other people’s races were. Even people familiar with these trails missed turns and lost time. I can not imagine being completely new to the park and trying to find my way from one aid station to the next, especially in the dark with no moonlight at all. I am glad I chose Mohican for my first attempt at 100 miles, and almost glad I was not able to finish. It was better for me to tackle something with a higher level of difficulty than I am used to and fail, rather than fail at a race on a course I am familiar with.

I still plan to walk 100 miles, where and when, I don’t know for sure.
The rest of the trip to Ohio is kind of a blur. We visited with more family and then too quickly it was time to return home and get back to work.

Anyone having any questions…; just email me, or post a comment below, I will answer as soon as I can.

btw, malvs2walk!


  1. Maryann,

    Steve and I are still hoping that you will consider the Burning River 100. If not this year, than next year! The first 30 of that are flat, so you can bank some time there for use later when the route gets hillier.
    Laura Wild

  2. Maryann,

    It was awesome meeting you and hanging out waiting for our ride at Hickory Ridge. Great report! I am making my next 100 mile attempt at the Pony Express 100 in October in UTAH. Google it. Flat, all dirt roads...no entry fee, no awards, etc....I imagine I will walk a LOT of that one...

    Mike Keller

  3. Glad you found your next race, Mike. btw, I watched Ultramarathonman the other evening and I did see you in the movie, close to the end, right?

    Laura, Burning River still sounds tempting, but it will have to wait a while. I am spending too much money traveling to races.

  4. Maryann, It was great to have met you. I hope to see you back next year at Mohican.
    To me this is the event of all events. If none other existed then I would still be happy.

    I hope you enjoyed yourself as much as I did.
    Next year will be even better as I will be ready to finish this race.

  5. Nick, Great to meet you, too!
    I enjoyed myself so much it was kind of strange. Especially since that was my first DNF... What a way to go down! If I decide to return it will probably be for the 50 mile race, and more volunteering at CB. I had just as much fun working the aid station as I did during the race!