By John A. Dodds
In one of his emails to the list, Frank said he had his best finishes when he was 54. The same might be said for me. Last December, with about 3 weeks to go before my birthday, I ran the Ancient Oaks 100 in Titusville, FL and finished second. It was a delightful run and altogether an enjoyable long weekend.
Some of you might be thinking: “Oh no, not another race report.” Unfortunately, that is the case. It’s sort of like Elvis making movies. You see, I have a “contract” with the VHTRC to write a number of reports a year, and like Elvis’ movies, quality is not the first priority. Actually, Elvis and I have a few things in common. We were born in January, we were in the Army, and we were both stationed overseas (Germany for him and the Panama Canal Zone for me). There is, however, one notable difference: at my age, Elvis had been dead for 13 years. You can be the judge whether there is any physical resemblance.
Some of you might be thinking that I ran this race just to get another belt buckle. Not so. This was a very informal run. For example, there was no entry fee. And you were to get squat. Nothing. Nada.
Good morning, Vietnam! Normally, you would fly to Orlando, but I flew to Tampa on a Thursday and then headed out to Bradenton to interview a Vietnam War fighter pilot. The brother of my friend (also my running coach) was killed when his plane crashed in North Vietnam in 1968. He was the backseater (as they called them), and there was another plane on the mission that night. These guys flew night armed reconnaissance missions out of Thailand in F-4 fighter aircraft. It’s pretty dangerous stuff flying at high speeds, low altitudes, and at night. The guy I interviewed was the pilot of the other airplane. I’ve been helping my friend for a couple years doing research, interviewing people, etc., and I’m now at the point where I’ve accomplished two of the three main goals. A trip to Vietnam may not be in the too distant future. I’ve met or talked to so many interesting people in this project so far, and there are many, many more to come as we work toward the third goal. This interview was a nice, relaxing interlude before the race. The next day I had a leisurely drive over to Titusville for the pre-race dinner.
Why? Since I just ran a 100-miler in October, some people have asked why I decided to run this December race. The answer is simple: the race in November was canceled (Dan Rossi 100). There was not a lot of information on the web about this race. I managed to track down the race director – Stu Gleman – who was very helpful. In our initial conversation, he told me that the race was limited to 25 runners, and I was #27. A couple weeks later I got a call saying there had been some dropouts, and I was now in the race.
Pre-race Dinner. As I mentioned in an email to the list, I think this dinner was the best pre-race dinner I’ve ever had (except for the pasta dinner at Lake Garda in Italy before the Venice marathon). It was an informal dinner at Stu’s house. Monica Scholz mainly did the cooking –spaghetti, two kinds of sauce, salad, and garlic bread.
The Course: This race is run on a trail in a wildlife sanctuary called the Enchanted Forest. The only drawback as far as I could tell was that it was a loop course – 29 loops to be exact. Sounds a little mind numbing, huh? Actually, it’s all relative. I tell people that the hardest piece of running I’ve had to endure mentally was between Keeler (mile 107) and Lone Pine (mile 122) at Badwater on a hot California highway alongside what used to be Owens Lake. From Keeler, you could see Lone Pine, which never seemed to get any closer no matter how long you had been running. So, 29 loops (3.45 miles per loop) didn’t seem all that bad to me. And it wasn’t.
The race started in the parking lot at what we here would call a nature center. It was a very nice building with displays, offices, hands-on classrooms, a gift shop, and most importantly, spotless bathrooms. There was only one aid station, and it was in the parking lot. There was a large digital clock on one of the tables as well as a large piece of paper with 29 columns next to the name of each runner. The first thing you did when you came to the aid station was write your time down on that paper.
The trail was actually very interesting: twisty and turny, rooty, sandy, muddy (at only one place), and pretty level. It was probably the flattest 100 I’ve run. There is one very short hill (all of about 12 feet in elevation) that people called Mount Mahoney. And it was scenic, too: palm trees, orange trees, ferns, etc. The berries on the plant shown above are strikingly purple and are called beautyberries. One animal I was surprised to see was the armadillo. I thought they only lived in Texas. I heard there was supposed to be wild boar, but I didn’t see any. But I did see lions at night attacking something that looked like a mule deer shown in the photo to the right.
Goals/Strategy. It is no secret that I have been running the shorter 100s this past year. I sort of like them. I did 4 of them this past year and finished all of them under 20 hours. The idea is to run 100 miles before weird things start to happen that turn them into sufferfests. It’s my new Git-R-Done strategy.
The times from past races at Ancient Oaks didn’t seem to be particularly fast. I thought that might have been due to a couple things. First, you could lose time if you stopped every time you came to the parking lot (28 times). Second, there is a lot of running at night because of the time of the year of the race. I think I ran 18 loops in the daytime and 11 loops at night. The time limit was 32 hours, and my progressive goals were to finish, finish in 24 hours, and finish under 20 hours. I finished in 19 hours and 38 minutes. This was good enough for second place, First Male, and a new men’s course record (more about all this later).
Training. I took off a week after Heartland (October 8-9) due to a sore quad and didn’t run too much before the Marine Corps marathon at the end of the month. I was on a PR-pace in the marathon until about mile 22.5 and then hamstring cramps in both legs kicked in. From then on, I had to stop numerous times, walk and then sort of shuffle along until the finish. I tried all kinds of stride-modification techniques with little success. I finished “running” with about a 6”-stride. Jeff Reed was my “pacer” for a little while during this phase, but he couldn’t take it anymore and bailed on me on Route 110 as I headed for the finish line. Despite this somewhat entertaining last several miles, I finished in a time of 3:19. During November, I ran all short runs except for a 34-mile run on the Greenway trail in late November. I chose this trail because I thought it would be similar running to that at Ancient Oaks.
The Race. I parked my car in the parking lot at the nature center and had all that I needed in the trunk of the car. I took my cooler out and placed it nearby on a picnic table right beside the area they were using as an aid station. My plan was to stop every second loop to fill up my 2 water bottles with Sustained Energy or Perpetuem. That worked well for quite a while, but then I found out I was drinking more than I had planned, and I had to stop every loop to refill my bottles. This added time that I had not counted on. I ran very well and lapped everybody but one person at least once.
Nighttime was a different story. It seemed that my flashlight and headlamp were not as bright as they should be because I couldn’t run as fast as I wanted to. As a result, I took shorter steps, which made more noise. I passed Stu several times at night, and he would say he could hear me coming and that I should extend my stride. You see, I made a big mistake by not putting new batteries in my headlamp and flashlight before the race. Rather than just bite the bullet early and put in new batteries, I would test the brightness of my flashlight by shining it in my eyes. Always seemed bright to me. Finally, after 2-3 hours of this, I finally gave up and changed the batteries. With the new batteries, it was literally like night and day (as they say).
Second To No Man. I had lapped Monica Scholz earlier in the day, but she finally caught back up to me somewhere in the nighttime. We ran into the aid station together, and I heard her say to her mother (who was crewing for her) that she was going to stop at her truck. I thought I’d be able to leave the aid station before her, but when she caught back up to me, I knew that she would continue to put more time between us. So, when she said she was going to stop at her truck, I decided I would try to hurry up and fill up my water bottles and get going again. Since my cooler was right along the road, I would be able to see anybody continuing to run down the road. The idea was that I would be a couple minutes down the trail before she finally passed me. But I never saw her again. When I came back into the aid station again, I saw that she had been there 5 minutes before me. How was it possible that she passed me without me seeing her? I’ll tell you in the next paragraph.
If there is anybody who is reading this who still harbors the quaint notion that trail running is a low-key event, you might want to skip this paragraph. After the race, several of us were talking about the race, and one of the things I mentioned was how Monica could pass me without me seeing her. We talked about several possibilities and joked about some. The one possibility that we laughed the hardest at was the one that actually happened (as confirmed later by the race director). Here’s how it happened: when Monica said she was going to stop at her truck, well, that was just a lie (as Elvis would say – “Hound Dog”). By saying that, she was hoping that I, knowing she would be taking a longer time, would also take a longer time at the aid station. As I mentioned above, though, it had the opposite effect on me. Anyway, when she saw me go to my cooler, she turned off her lights and then went down the road in the dark so I wouldn’t see her. When she went back into the woods off the road, she turned her lights back on. Pretty sneaky, huh? Whether this is what you’d expect in a low-key sport is up for you to decide. But let’s be very clear here: this is not cheating and she gained no advantage over me as I said before.
High School Confidential. I finished the race at 2:38 a.m. Sunday morning and went back to my motel to get some sleep. Later that day, I drove to Tampa to stay with my friend who is a junior Army ROTC instructor at a local high school. On Monday, I spent the morning at the high school listening to briefings from the students – they were getting ready for an inspection from the Army junior ROTC program headquarters the next month, and they wanted me to critique their briefings. After that, I was off to the airport and flew home.
Next 100? When I started running back in 1997, I usually ran from the athletic club at the Pentagon. At about that time, I started shooting foul shots in the gym just as a way of relaxing. Over time, I got better and better. I’ve hit over 80 foul shots in a row several times, and my percentages from day to day rank with those of the top pros in the NBA. If they allowed designated free throw shooters in the NBA, I’d have a second career. Or maybe I could be a foul shot coach. Anyway, I might spend more time this year trying for that elusive goal of making 100 foul shots in a row. I usually listen to a “Best of Roy Orbison” CD while doing this, so if anybody has ideas for better foul shooting music, let me know. As for running, it looks like I’ll be running a 100-mile race on Route 66 in Oklahoma next November. I went to high school for a year in Oklahoma, so I’m sort of looking forward to going back.
Pleasant Surprise. As it turned out, we got quite a bit for our $0.00 entry fee. For starters, we got a very nice pasta dinner at Stu’s house as I mentioned. At that time, he gave each of us two Ancient Oaks 100 t-shirts. The big surprise is that finishers are also going to get belt buckles. And for being First Male, I’m going to get a painting of some part of the course. Afterwards, I tried to give Stu some money for all he had done for us, but he absolutely refused to take any.
A Tall Tale. Everything you’ve read in here is true, well, except for the part about the lions. As long as we have Cabella’s, we don’t need zoos anymore. And speaking of stretching the truth, what about Gary’s claim that he has seen a bear? Here’s a photo he said he took while he was out in California. If you ask me, I think this is just another one of Gary’s white lies.
Overall, I had a very nice long weekend down in Florida, and this was an excellent run to finish off the year 2005.