Running through the woods

Pictured is the part of trail leading to Jeff and Taylor Nelson’s aid station. The  pair like to come up with themes for the OC100 camp to take the runner’s minds off the race. These decorations tie in with the Wizard of Oz theme they had in 2017.

The Titusville area is blessed with lots of trees, parks, streams and wide open space.

That terrain, which can be picturesque, has the hills, trails and elevation needed to make any hiker struggle, let alone a runner.

The Oil Creek 100 Trail runs, an ultra-marathon that comes to Titusville every fall, will return once again, after taking a year off due to COVID-19.

The runners, their family and friends and the hundreds of volunteers needed to make the event run will be back in action in just a few weeks, when the runners take off through the trails on Oct. 16.

Tom Jennings is the race director, and started the race in 2009. From Erie, Jennings met a runner during a race in Erie who was from Meadville. That friend brought him down to train at Oil Creek State Park, and Jennings immediately thought “this would be a great place to have a trail race.”

Over the next year, he took that dream and made it a reality.

“It is already set up for a race if you think about it,” said Jennings. “There is nothing like it near Erie.”

Combine the setting with ample volunteers in the area and you have the makings for  the ultra event.

The OC100 takes place over the course of 24 hours, and sees close to 300 volunteers help to make sure everything goes as planned. Holding an ultra-marathon does not just include setting a course and leaving out some water. At the OC100, they are famous for their aid stations full of food and friendly faces to help the runners finish the race.

For the OC100, there are four aid stations set up throughout the 31-mile loop that runners complete. The amount of times you complete that loop depends on what race you are running.

The OC100 offers a 50K, 100K and 100-mile race. If you run the full 100.6 miles, the course has roughly 87.1 miles of trail and dirt road and 13.5 miles of asphalt.

The aid stations are set up so that runners encounter one about every six to nine miles. When you are actually doing the race, according to one of the aid station volunteers, Heather Nelson, “It feels like they are 20 miles apart.”

At every aid station there can be up to 30 people. No matter which one you come to you can expect volunteers who have run and completed the course before, an EMT and a full spread of food and drink.

While some races just have granola bars and Gatorade, the OC100 goes all out. There is both warm and cold food, turkey sandwiches and wraps, grilled cheese, mashed potatoes, ramen noodles, cookies, candy, pizza … anything a runner could want when coming in from a grueling stretch of the race.

Camp

Pictured is a OC100 aid station. Runners can be seen grabbing water and waiting on some hot food to keep them going.

“It’s like a big party,” said aid station volunteer Janey Bush.

Part of what the aid station does is give the runners a place to take their mind off of the race. Different runners have different needs, some more than others.

Experienced runners will come in, get their water filled up, grab a snack and go. A process that can take as little as 30 seconds.

New runners may stay at an aid station for hours. Often times they don’t know what they need, and that is where the experienced runners at the stations come into play.

“Anytime it comes to an ultra, finishing is not a given,” said Jennings.

When it comes to the evening section of the race, everything gets hectic. For the runners, that can be the most difficult time to keep going, running in the dark.

The latter stages of the race is when the doubt kicks in for some runners, and when they need the aid station workers to help them keep going.

At the OC100 meeting Monday night, The Herald spoke with the volunteers that run the aid stations. Everyone there had run the race multiple times, some finishing as many as seven times.

“We know how they are feeling,” said aid station three volunteer Adam Peterson.

“You talk them out of quitting, or tell them when to stop,” said Bush.

Volunteer Jeff Nelson said he remembers one runner who came to his aid station, which he and his daughter Taylor decorate  with different themes every year, who immediately sat down and said he was quitting.

“He came in, sat down and said ‘I’m done.’ I told him to come on in, eat something and stop thinking about the race,” said Nelson. “He ended up finishing the race.”

The aid stations are not the only volunteers that spend their 24 hours helping the runners.

Overlooked can be the EMS personnel and the ham radio team. As there is no service in the park, the volunteers use the radios to communicate. When runners drop, the emergency teams try to coordinate someone to pick them up, as walking on those tired legs can be difficult.

Bill Morrison has been a volunteer EMT since the race started. He said that what their team will see really depends on the weather.

They mostly treat people with rolled/sprained ankles and fatigue, obviously. However if it gets cold, or starts to rain, they see lots of runners who are dealing with hypothermia.

“Thankfully we are not needed much,” said Morrison. “But we are there if needed.”

As the event has grown over the years, the need for volunteers has also grown. Jennings purchased 300 shirts for volunteers, and still has some that need to be accounted for.

Those who have volunteered in the past say that for 24 hours in the woods together it is “our own little universe,” said aid station volunteer Raeann Rausch.

That universe is one where men and women push their bodies to the limit, striving to complete the grueling course. If they push too hard, that is where the OC100 volunteers come in, where their experience and words of encouragement can spur them over the finish line.

Dvorkin can be reached by email at Gdvorkin@titusvilleherald.com.

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