Here's an answer to the question: "What do you think about when you run?"
WARNING: Much of this race report attempts to accurately convey my mental state during the 2019 Old Dominion 100. Know that I was pissy and moody much of that time, and combining that with my natural predilection for being a sarcastic ass yielded many thoughts that were perhaps comedically dark and possibly offensive. So … if you get easily offended or have no taste for dry, sarcastic wit, or find the occasional F-bomb to be in poor taste, then just click that little "X" at the top of this window and go on about your day. If you wanna know what really goes on in the mind of a runner mid-race, then read on!
Before you conclude that I'm a cranky, angry little man that hates everyone and everything, I have to say upfront that I am incredibly grateful to the race organizers, the volunteers, and all the crew/spectators I saw along the way. The Old Dominion 100 is a truly unique race with an incredible down-to-earth and family feel about it. Despite what you might read down below, I am thankful for having participated in the race and respect the hard work and dedication of everyone involved. Also, though I continually rail on the race for being flat and on roads, it does have a surprising variety of grades and terrain in the undeniably beautiful Fort Valley, which is nice … that said, they took the gravel and paved roads up to an 11 and I'd really like them to be way down at a 1 or 2. Personal preference, but there it is.
Okay, so why was I running Old Dominion? Well, it's the closest "mountain" 100 miler to DC. I wanted to run one of the old, classic hundred milers out here before I packed my bags and headed back to Missouri later in the year. Massanutten would've been a better fit for me, most likely (despite the ungodly amount of rocks), but it came only a few weeks after Hellbender's 25K feet of climbing. So, I opted for the tamer Old Dominion a few weeks later in the calendar. Plus, the buckle is downright glorious!
I knew heading into the race that it was unlikely to be my cup of tea. There's a lot of gravel and a lot of running and not nearly enough climbing and descending. The race claims 14 "significant" climbs over 14K total vert, but no, just no. There's maybe 6 or 7 non-hills, and even then only a couple of those are real climbs. Having previously run Vermont, which also was not my cup of tea, I knew what I was getting into. Like it or not I was going to be doing a lot of flat running all day, so better get used to the idea!
My ultimate goal was to finish without a headlamp. I came oh-so-close at Vermont a couple years ago. Given that the last few miles of the race were in the town of Woodstock, I could comfortably achieve that by finishing somewhere in the vicinity of 9-9:30pm. That'd give me a 17:00-17:30 finishing time. It seemed doable. Secondarily, I wanted to podium, but really, I just wanted to run 100 miles without a headlamp. I ended up finishing in 18:06, with a headlamp, taking 3rd place. It wasn't what I wanted, but whatever. It is a bit of a dick thing to say I wasn't pleased with an 18hr podium finish at Old Dominion when plenty of people out there would give their swollen right nut to have that kind of performance. Oh, sorry, did that little turn of phrase catch you off guard? Well, it'll come up again in a little while, I promise!
I started the race at 4am, one of the few runners without a light. Despite there being no moon in the sky, it didn't bother me at all along the pavement out of town. As I crested the first climb of the day -- the Woodstock Tower road climb -- at roughly 5am, the day's first light was just beginning to creep into the mountains. My legs felt stiff and heavy and my stride a bit clunky, so I was hoping the next couple miles of trail would clear things out. Only, it was mere miles into the race and I already had an upset stomach. At the top of the second hill along the Massanutten Trail, I'd finally had enough and deposited my offering to the trail gods. Suck it, Orange Blaze! Sadly, this did not alleviate the pain in my gut and I spent the entire first 50K of the race with an uncomfortably tight lower intestines that was bad enough it noticeably impacted my stride, to say nothing of my general demeanor.
Somewhere around Mile 20, steps after a photographer snapped my picture, I sucked down a fly and it stuck to the soft tissue at the back of my throat. I spent 2 minutes standing there, hacking and coughing and gagging and downing an ungodly amount of liquids to try and clear it out. I've never thrown up in a race before, and that was a close one!
I lumbered along to Mile 32 running all but roughly 1/2 mile of the course thus far. My legs didn't feel right, my stomach was a mess, I was sick of running, and the gravel roads were starting to piss me off. One of the aid stations I lolly-gagged into had nothing but gatorade, fun size snickers, and pringles. God Damnit! What do I have to do to get some fresh sushi or organic pesticide free berries around here?! On to the next aid station.
Just before the first drop bag at Four Points -- Mile 32 -- my stomach had had enough again and I was forced to dive over a guardrail on Camp Roosevelt Road and relieve myself in what I later observed to be a small patch of stinging nettles. Excellent! At least I didn't wipe my ass with those leaves! Nevertheless, for the next half hour my butthole itched to holy hell. Ultra running! Huzzah!
I strolled into Four Points just before the 5 hour mark, over 20 minutes back of what I'd hoped for. My stomach accounted for some of that time, but it was clear that my legs just weren't up to the challenge today. I chugged a frappuccino and headed off to tackle the middle section of the race having already admitted defeat on the day.
I hiked most of the next hill as an FU to the race. Make me run non-stop for 50K, well I'll show you! As I ran back down yet another non-trail section of the course I vowed that I would despise everything about this race from here on out. I came across a snake and instantly thought, "if that thing bites me, maybe I can quit, wouldn't that be nice." On the one hand, I was actually hoping for an excuse to be done for the day, and on the other hand I knew that my body was fully capable of making it to the finish of this candy-ass flat hundred. A ways down the road I straight-up kicked another snake so that it'd get off the road. You're welcome, fellow runners, I just saved your life with my bravery.
I then entered the Apocalypse Now section of the course -- the bombed out, fire-damaged, logged section of Duncan Hollow -- and began repeating the mantra: this is stupid, I hate this. It was slow going, but at least I was on a trail for a little while. And, at some point my stomach finally stopped making me want to keel over in pain. The trail fucking sucked because it was filled with bullshit Massanutten rocks and there were 75 horseflies attacking me every step of the way. I fucking hate horseflies! It started getting warm enough that I was needing to douse myself with water at every creek crossing to fight off the heat. At some point I came up to one of the 752 aid stations along the course, which was literally a couple old folks and two mules with some cases of water bottles along the side of the trail. Bonus points for originality and for the dedication!
Then, it was back to the horseflies … and a healthy dose of taint chafing. Yeah, I knew you wanted to know about that. A little later on, I stopped for a legit two minutes because … my shoulder hurt. No, seriously. That's how much I stopped giving a shit. Somehow my shoulder -- it wasn't even my arm that was holding my bottle -- started hurting. Like, stabbing pains. I let it just hang there to try and minimize the pain. Every footfall, especially downhill, was excruciating. And so I stopped mid-race to massage my god damned shoulder. Fuck my life. Eventually the pain subsided, but the shame remains to this day.
After a long and not at all steep road descent back to Four Points -- Mile 47 -- I found myself 40 minutes behind schedule. Terrific. I knew that there was a quasi-climb up ahead but I had no real understanding of what it would be like. It ended up being an exposed 6 mile dirt road climb in the heat of the day. Right at noon I got excited because it was Jarmans O'clock and I was climbing a shitty exposed road. That excitement quickly dampened and I ended up just being plain sick of it all. It was a total "douche grade" climb, but I ended up walking entirely too much of it because I just Did. Not. Care. Around the 50 Mile mark I transitioned into my no-gels phase of running, where the mere thought of consuming a gel made me want to hurl. In the first 8 hours of the race I downed maybe 500 calories of gels and a few hundred calories of Clif Blocks. Afterwards: zero. Perhaps an epic calorie deficit was swiftly coming my way!
Around this point in the race I also started developing an odd hitch in my stride. Why? Because, my right testicle was painfully swollen. Actually, it wasn't the testicle itself, but rather the epididymis. Oh, you don't know what the epididymis is? Did you miss that day in 7th grade health class? Well, Google states that it is "a highly convoluted duct behind the testis, along which sperm passes to the vas deferens." Fun Fact: Epididymitis, inflammation of the epididymis, is often caused by a bacterial or sexually transmitted infection. You're welcome for that thrilling health lesson! But yeah, let's just stick with describing the situation as a swollen right nut (I told you we'd be revisiting this subject!). It hurt. So bad. For miles. And miles. And miles. All told, I'd say there was about an hour of extreme discomfort, then another hour or so of much more tolerable pain, and then it just kinda sorta dulled out into nothingness and the inflammation went away. I'm really glad we had this opportunity to sit down together and talk about my testicles, it's been a lot of fun!
Anyways … I walked into the 51 Mile aid station, "Mountain Top", which is not at the top of the damned mountain, feeling cooked, and frustrated at having to look at green mountains yet being stuck on a glorified logging road. After downing a dozen strawberries and a bunch of coke the volunteers convinced me to take a freeze pop for the road. It was magical! That is, until a mile later when I couldn't get the sugary residue off my teeth. I was told I was 17 minutes back of the next guy, which I thought was Rich Riopel in 2nd place. I figured if I caught him then I caught him, but I wasn't going to bother myself with actually working hard to do so. My pity party was just getting started!
After cresting the mountain, I continued to run along a god-forsaken road for hours and hours. This bit was particularly frustrating as right fucking next to me was a trail. I literally ran along a road for multiple miles while staring off to a trail not more than 10 yards to my right. At one point a gaggle of dirt bikers putzed along said trail and I momentarily felt glad that I was on a road. Dirt bikers are the worst with their loud, obnoxious douchebaggy vehicles spoiling every decent quality about the natural forest they are riding in. Ugh!
At the next station, Edinburg Gap -- Mile 56 -- I downed an entire watermelon, then proceeded to the "ATV" section of the course. I knew I was going to hate this section before I even saw it. It was a 10 foot wide scar in the forest, meant for lazy ass losers to have "recreation" time in their dumb CO2 spewing vehicles. Scores of rednecks and bros, hobbling along in their Jeeps, thinking they're all cool as they replay images of decades worth of Jeep commercials in their minds. Whoever designed these trails put mountain bikers' absurd trails to shame.
At one point along the ATV, sorry "OHV", trail I came upon a freshly washed Faux-Jeep Baby Cherokee. It was so cute! It putzed along the 2% grade descent at a comfortable 5 mph. The guy literally had to stop and let me pass. He was going so slow. This runnable section of trail actually perked up my spirits a bit, but the prevalence of cars still had me feeling pissy and mean spirited. Right then and there, I decided to make up a story of how that cute little Baby Cherokee ended up getting passed by a runner in a national forest, and here is that gripping tale:
Dad: "Hey family, who wants to head to the forest for the day?"
Kid #1: "Me, me! Are we going to go hiking?"
Kid #2: "Mountain biking! Hooray!"
Mom: "Are we going to go on a picnic where you assume all responsibility of the kids and I can just sit in the shade and guzzle a bottle of cheap Rose and read a book?"
Dad: "No way. This is going to be so much better! Let's take our glorified crossover out on the trails and go off roading! Who needs to enjoy nature with exercise or a picnic when we can take our cliché suburban airconditioned non-SUV and pollute the beautiful forests of our National Parks System with our internal combustion engine. It'll be so much fun you guys! We'll roll along at a blistering 5 miles an hour, because I'm too afraid of messing up my delicate crossover suspension system. Then, eventually, a runner will pass us by, rendering me totally emasculated and insecure, eventually bringing about an era of familial discontent that will inevitably lead to divorce and the dissolution of our family. And I'll spend the rest of my days hanging out, alone, at Dave and Busters, getting shitfaced every night on Coors Light while trying to hit on college girls half my age and uncomfortably staring a bit too long at the bartender's breasts. Then I'll stumble to my depressing 1-bedroom bachelor pad, reeking of stale pizza and dirty socks, and cry myself to sleep and dream of better days. … So, who's with me?!"
Kid #1: "That sounds awful. I'd rather go over to Billy's house and play Fortnite. See ya."
Kid #2: "Yeah, you suck dad. I'm gonna go hang out in my room and do homework or something, anything to get away from you."
Mom: "Sorry, honey, but that's the stupidest idea you've ever had. But you feel free to go out there by yourself if you really want to. I'll just head over to my coworker Kyle's place and hang out. You remember Kyle, right? Tall, handsome, muscular. God, I could ride that all night long. … Shit, did I say that out loud?"
Ok, back to the running bits! I rolled into Little Fort -- Mile 65 -- actually feeling pretty good. I was still bleeding time, but I had actually spent some quality miles on trails. Granted, they were trails for cars, but whatever, I guess I'm at that point where I'll take what I can get. I'm an optimist at heart.
I spent some time lazily hiking up a lame 300 foot road climb, then ran along some more gravel roads that I'd seen earlier in the day and tried to not get run over by redneck families on their 4-wheelers.
I eventually popped out on the Mudhole Gap Trail. I was told by an anonymous source that Keith Knipling loves this section of trail and wants to have babies with it. It was like 3 minutes of real trail, and then a few miles of quasi-trail … but covered in bits of fucking gravel. With the Old Dominion, even the trails are gravel! So yeah, apparently Keith Knipling has atrocious taste in trails. Gross, Keith, gross.
Okay, I have this theory. The Botts family, that started and maintain the race, are secretly Virginia gravel kingpins. They have backroom deals with politicians all over the place to get their overpriced gravel strewn out throughout the region, even in the forests. Directing the Old Dominion 100 Mile Cross Country Run is all a ruse to prematurely wear out the gravel roads and trails they maintain so that they can come back in and lay more gravel at a hefty profit, compliments of John Q. Taxpayer. I'm sure there are plenty of off the books money exchanges with local politicians. These folks are raking in millions with their gravel racket!
At one point, dropping down the ridge above Elizabeth Furnace, I spied the Shenandoah Mountains off to the East. Look at those majestic sons of bitches! Real mountains! Two to three thousand foot climbs! The Real Deal. Not like this shitty midget Massanutten Mountain crap. Please, just get me out of here, I hate this place, I want to run over there!
After some more gravel trail, I finally hit the legit trail just outside of Elizabeth Furnace and rolled into the aid station -- Mile 75 -- nearly an hour behind schedule. However, it was now 5pm, the heat of the day was gone, and I had some real climbs ahead of me to look forward to. 75 miles of boredom and worthless running to finally get to the good stuff. In a way, the Old Dominion is a lot like this allegory that I whipped up whilst running:
Dad: "Hey sweetheart, do you wanna go catch that new movie you've been wanting to see?"
Daughter: "Gee willikers! That'd be great, dad. I love you so much! I'll go get my jacket."
Dad: "Well hold on there, sport. I didn't say we'd go right now! First, I need you to write a 5,000 word essay arguing that mountain bikers are objectively better trail stewards than runners and hikers. When you're done, we can go see that movie."
Daughter: "God damnit, dad. You're the worst! I hate you! I wish mom had given me up for adoption when I was born!"
Dad: "Me too, kiddo, me too."
Okay, so I was at Elizabeth Furnace, working through my drop bag, getting ready for the long anticipated fun part of the course, when who strolls over? None other than Jack Kurisky! I was doing the whole solo schtick but decided I'd allow him the opportunity to fill my bottle with some ice, you know, keep him busy, give him something to do, make him feel special. Good thing Old Dominion doesn't have a real Solo category, or else some stickler might've reported me … for a non-volunteer putting a handful of ice in a bottle. (Enter Hardrock joke here, if you're into that sort of thing). Anyways, it was great to see a friend after nearly 13 hours of not loving life. As always, he was extremely supportive and upbeat, and he sent me off in a much better mood than I'd come in with. And to top things off, I was told the guy in front of me "just left one minute ago". Oh man, I'm only a minute behind Riopel and I'm just now entering my comfort zone.
With a fresh state of mind, I hit the trails leading up Sherman Gap. I heard it was steep and a little gnarly, and that it'd be friggin awesome! Only, I had to run through 2 miles of bullshit rollers to get there. What the hell?! I want steep climbs and I want them NOW! Finally, I got to the gritty section of Sherman Gap and slow-hiked my way up for nearly 30 minutes. It was heavenly. No more running for me, just hiking up and falling down … the way it should be. I wish Shermans was twice as high!
As I flew down the other side of Sherman Gap, I quickly overtook Riopel. Only … it wasn't Riopel. It was some random old dude. Random old dude, where the hell did you come from? I could've sworn there were only 2 people ahead of me. Nevermind, you're going slow downhill, you must not be in the race. Moving on.
At the bottom, I hit a 2 mile stretch of rolling road. Ugh, more friggin road. But it leads to another steep climb. I'll take the bitter with the sweet right now. Life is all about compromise, that's what the Buddha says. I cruised into Veach East -- Mile 83 -- and exchanged some sass with the VHTRC volunteers who kept trying to push their idea of a fun time: soup and broth. It's 80 fucking degrees out dude, get that shit away from me! As I left I heard cheering. Damn it, random old dude is an actual runner. I really don't wanna race right now.
Random old dude caught up with me. We exchanged pleasantries. Then he went off ahead of me up Veach Gap. I, on the other hand, lazily hiked. Why? Because I'm a slow hiker. But most importantly, because I'd been running all damn day and I deserved this, so leave me alone! After the crest, I went flying down the hill. I quickly overtook random old dude, who was hobble jogging his way down the mountainside. Into Veach West -- Mile 86 -- I went. More coke, more fruit. More sass about broth. No, kind volunteer, I don't have a drop bag, it's friggin Mile 86, who has a drop bag this far into the race, leave me alone! Onward to more fucking gravel and pavement!
My legs were feeling good and by the next aid station -- Mile 91 -- I was ready for the final climb. I was going to no walk this non-trail bastard. I got to a stretch of road I'd already visited back at Mile 65. I'd lazily walked it that time, but the sun was setting now, the race was almost over, and I was feeling great, so I sprinted all the way up. Well, not a sprint so much as a shuffle jog, but you get the idea. I ran right on by the little aid station up there just as nautical twilight was beginning, begrudgingly turned on my piddly little Petzl Bindi, and started tearing ass down the mountain into Woodstock. It took me 61 minutes to get to the top in the morning and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to get back to the finish in less than an hour. I heroically flew down the pavement for 1000 vertical feet, crossed the North Fork Shenandoah River, sprinted at a blazing 10 minutes per mile along the rolling asphalt, kept running along the rolling asphalt, ran some more … still more running … Jesus Christ when the hell can I stop running … okay, sweet, Downtown Woodstock, only 2 miles to go … aaaand, FINISH!
Riopel was there. He finished less than 20 minutes before me. And he had this to say about the race: "I liked the roads!" God damnit, Rich, you're a disappointment. Also, there was no Top Finisher Patagonia schwag … what bullshit!
That first 75 miles was terrible. That last 25 was much better. I was faster than everyone else in that stretch, so suck it, fellow competitors! Never in my life have I had so little fun running a 100 mile race.
And for the record, no, I'm not coming back. I got my buckle, I'm done. Those valley roads and all that pavement and gravel will haunt my memories until the day I die. There's mountains right friggin there, so why in the hell are we running on these god forsaken roads?! Next time I get into States, you won't be hearing me talk about a Grand Slam, nope nope nope.
I'd like to thank my wife for solo parenting for 2 days, dealing with a sick kid, and for having to clean up kiddo car seat vomit all by herself. She puts up with a lot just so I can go run for a long time in an angsty, pissy mood.
P.S.: Hugs and kisses, rainbows and unicorns!