By Jaret Seiberg
Okay, 100 miles on the road was never something I expected to do. I got drawn to ultra running to be in the mountains. I didn’t want traffic or concrete. I wanted single-track trails where I could not see more than a few feet ahead of me.
So what was I doing in Oklahoma with John Shepard, John Dodds, Keith Dunn, Jeff Washburn, and Carl Camp for the Mother Road 100 miler? This course went from Oklahoma City to Tulsa along Route 66. It was 50% concrete, 49% asphalt, and 1% dirt. (My estimates.) Really, we did run on a bit of dirt. I got the picture to prove it. (Check out the pictures.)
I’m not sure why I signed up. But I am glad to have experienced the Mother Road, which was held on the highway’s 80th anniversary.
I arrived in Oklahoma City on Friday afternoon and it was chilly and windy. The wind really worried me as it appeared to come from the northeast, which was the direction we were running. Packet pick-up occurred at John Hardgrove’s, which is a cross between a person’s garage and a museum. It is filled with Rt. 66 memorabilia and was the perfect spot. I found Jeff Washburn and Carl Camp, picked up my swag (duffel bag filled with a piece of the road, a reflective vest, fast draw, dirty girl gaiters, coffee beans, beer, and a t-shirt.) and grabbed some food.
The next morning started rather late for an ultra, with the shot gun blast occurring at 7 a.m. I saw John Dodds and Keith Dunn before the start and again at the turn around at just after four miles. The first stretch followed Rt. 66 toward Oklahoma City before heading off to Tulsa. There was no real shoulder and it was very hilly. Fortunately, there were two lanes in each direction so the runners took one lane and the cars the other. After the turn around we even got a few steps on the grass.
Perhaps the best point of the race occurred around mile six. I was running with John Shepard when a guy in a pick up truck and a cowboy hat rolled down his window and asked how long the race was. We responded that we were going 100 miles to Tulsa. His look was priceless. You could just see him biting his tongue before driving away.
It was a chilly morning, but sunny and the wind was light. So the weather at this point could not have been better. For the first 20 miles or so we did not have a shoulder to run on. Rather, we relied on the trucks – must pulling empty trailers – to move to the right. When they didn’t, we had to jump into the grass. I was amazed at the amount of road kills – armadillos, skunks and other unidentifiable creates. I was also pleased to later see a live armadillo. I had feared the cars made them extinct.
We quickly developed a routine. The course would follow Rt. 66 for seven or eight miles. Then it would detour into a small town where we had an aid station. We would then return to Rt. 66. Occasionally we left Rt. 66 to run on the road’s original alignment. This was typically preferable as we did not have as much traffic. Along the way we saw some of what makes Rt. 66 unique. One house had old cars displayed on the lawn. Also, there were old stone gas stations on the side of the road from time to time.
For a one-time event, the aid stations were fine. They were not up to MMT standards and we could have used more hot food at night, when the temperature fell to 25 degrees and the winds picked up. Perhaps the best aid station was at mile 60 in a small town. It appeared the whole town was there. Lights and flags were strung across the main street. Little kids would run down the hill and follow us into the aid station, which had hot soup and lots of food. Around mile 70, I also stopped at a Sonic for a cheeseburger and Dr. Pepper. I suspect they are still talking about me in there.
The course was not as boring as I feared, but it also was much harder. Oklahoma is not flat. There were many hills, some of which were quite steep. In addition, the abandoned sections of Rt. 66 were full of potholes, which made navigating them at night difficult. Then there were the marking. Turns were painted with arrows and the Mother Road 100 logo. But after the turn, race organizers did not include any confidence marks. That was not a problem when on Rt. 66. But there were several times when we were on older sections and I got pretty nervous that I had missed a turn.
At night I wore a headlamp and put a glow stick in my back pocket. Plus I had reflective stripes on my Camelback. On top of this, the aid station at mile 60 put reflective strips around my arms. I’m pretty sure we were all lit up pretty well.
For me, the toughest part occurred in the last seven miles. It was 3 a.m. and I was alone on an empty stretch of the old Rt. 66 alignment. The temperature was well below freezing and I was still in shorts. My legs got too cold to run, though I could power walk.
Having a crew was a major advantage because they could help their runners anywhere on the course. It would have been great to have additional clothing just a shout away. Still, the other crews helped me during that stretch. A crew person from St. Louis brought me hot coffee and two women who had a runner behind me most of the day gave me trash bag that I used to protect my legs from the wind.
The finish line was at a Carl Jr.’s fast food restaurant, which seemed appropriate. Folks were cheering and we got a buckle for finishing. In addition, we get a shirt with the names of all the finishes via FedEx in a few weeks.
As for the toll on my legs, it was much less than I expected. I hurt far less than after prior 100 milers. I have no idea why, especially because my training had been less than ideal for this run.
The Mother Road 100 was a much better experience than I ever expected. I am not sure I would want to do it again, but I really got into the notion of running from Oklahoma City to Tulsa. As they say, it was a mother of a run.