Everything fell into place at the 2009 Mohican Trail 100-Mile Run. In what can only be described as a surreal, almost out-of-body experience, I won outright with a time of 19:52, having taken the lead around mile 85 (a few miles beyond the Bridle Staging Area aid station) and never relinquishing it (finish-line photo below). Congratulations to top female finisher Jenny Chow, who also was the top female at the Kettle Moraine 100 only two weeks earlier (amazing!) and all the finishers of both the 100- and 50-mile races at Mohican.
Photo courtesy of Mike Keller.
Winning the Mohican 100 is a dream come true. I wanted so much to win last year's race and things turned south with my knee and stomach. To have won in 2009 after working so hard, keeping the faith and putting in so much time with my training feels really good. The road to the 2009 Mohican saw two top-five 50K finishes (Lt. JC Stone 50K in March and the Forget the PR Mohican 50K in April) and a 2:59 marathon (Cleveland Marathon in May). It all came together on June 20-21 at Mohican.
Coming into the Bridle Staging Area aid station--about mile 45.2. The Outdoor Research safari hat really worked for me, keeping the sun out of my eyes and my head cool. In case you're wondering, the red writing on my left arm said "Noah." Photo courtesy of Mark Shelton.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Mohican 100. The race served as the Midwest Regional Championship of the Road Runners' Club of America. By virtue of my win, I now have a comped entry into The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship, a 50-mile event (called the Gore-Tex 50 Mile) in San Francisco on December 5 that will join many accomplished ultrarunners. At this point, I'd say my participation is probable. It's hard to believe this is really happening.
For the entire race I felt relatively good and went through the normal ups and downs of a 100-miler. I had no knee problems (unlike last year's Mohican)--perhaps because of my new Pro-Tec wraps--and my stomach held up very well (again, unlike last year). The last 60 miles I survived on soup, bananas, Hammer gels, Gatorade and water, along with Hammer Endurolytes and three Advils. I also took Red Bull at a few points.
Top woman Jenny Chow after finishing. Congrats, Jenny! Photo courtesy of Mike Keller.
It rained like crazy on Friday night and also on Saturday morning only minutes before the 5 a.m. start. The rain came down so hard that many of the lime markings washed away and several sections were reduced to deep mud. The temperature hit the low-to-mid 80s and it was pretty humid the whole day. The mud and humidity certainly caused some slower times this year.
With many of the markings washed away, there were a few areas where I had to run on memory from last year and fortunately I stayed on course except for a section of the purple loop where Jay Smithberger (winner of last year's Mohican) and I got off course but quickly got back on without losing much time. By the time I went through the course the second time many areas were re-marked. A few folks have griped about the washed-out markings. With rain coming in when it did, what were the organizers to do? They re-marked the course as quickly as possible.
I ran the first 60 miles somewhat conservatively--but with an eye on the top spot--and then let it go the last 40 miles. I never really stopped running even late in the race. I think the hill repeats I started doing a few months before the race really paid off. There were a few big hills that I power-walked, but for the most part I ran the last 40 miles of the race, stopping at the aid stations for no more than a minute or so. I learned a lot from Tim Clement, who I paced to his Burning River 100 win in 2008. Tim never gave up, never stopped and kept going. From him I saw firsthand how to win a 100-miler.
When I entered the Covered Bridge aid station at mile 80.9, I was stoked. A volunteer came up to me and said, "The leader's 30 minutes ahead and is worried about you gaining on him." From what others have told me, apparently my response was, "Well, he'd better be because I'm coming after him."
When I entered the Bridle Staging Area (mile 83.6), I was in third place, behind front runner Mark Tanaka of San Francisco, a well-known ultrarunner who is on the La Sportiva mountain running team, and the very strong, focused Matt Aro of Minnesota, winner of the 2008 Headlands Hundred and a highly accomplished Ironman triathlete who's placed #1 and #2 in a few double Ironmans--yes, doubles. I hadn't seen Mark all race; Matt had passed me around mile 65 or so as I was running (which was very discouraging because I felt strong as he passed me). But I left the Bridle Staging Area before Matt and was thus in second place behind Mark. A few miles later--around mile 85 on the long, muddy and wet 7.3-mile stretch between the Bridle Staging Area and Rock Point aid stations--I took the lead. It was pitch-black dark when we came upon the leader, Mark.
Upon taking over the lead, I just kept going and didn't stop with Matt and Mark on my heels. Going into the mile-90.8 Rock Point aid station, the plan was to change into some dry shoes. But with the whole enchilada on the line, I told my pacers, Kenny M. and Dan C., that plan was now out the window--I was getting my back-up headlamp and some soup and was going. As I left Rock Point, Matt and Mark were coming into the aid station. I knew these final 10 miles were going to be a war--a street fight actually--and only one of us would be crossing that finish line first. We went stealth--no lights--for a few stretches in the hopes of discouraging the fellow(s) behind us. But it was just too damned dark to go stealth the whole way, and there was too much on the line. A missed turn would have been a disaster.
Around mile 91, we saw someone coming at us. As we got closer, I heard a familiar voice. "Is that Wyatt...Wyatt?" It was my Saturday morning training partner and fellow Southeast Running Club member Tim Clement, winner of the 2008 Burning River 100, where I'd paced him to his win. I was elated to see Tim and asked him to help guide me to a winning finish.
Entering the mile-95.9 Landoll's Castle aid station, all I needed was some more soup and Gatorade. I took it and left, hoping a short stop there would discourage the competition. I didn't see Matt and Mark at that point, but I felt enormous pressure to keep going because I knew how strong and capable they were, and how much they themselves wanted to win. Tim fell back a little to see what was going on at Landoll's after we'd gone through. When he caught back up to us about five minutes later, I said, "I don't wanna know what you saw back there. I just need to keep going and focus on the finish." All mentions of Mark and Matt met the same response from me: "I'm not worried about them." That was a lie. I was very worried about where they were, and maybe that's why I kept asking Kenny, Dan and Tim to look back and tell me if they saw any approaching lights. But in my head, I knew that so long as I kept running, I'd hold off those guys. If I walked, I'd be passed. Simple as that.
(Parenthetically, I later found out from Tim that he never saw Matt and Mark come through Landoll's Castle when he dropped back to see what was going on at the aid station after I'd left. I guess I'd added a lot of distance in the stretch from Rock Point and the castle.)
I ran the last 5 miles with everything I had, continually asking my pacers to check behind us. No one was there, they kept reporting back. I kept thinking how awful it was last year to see no one behind us as we closed in on the finish, and then suddenly there was Connie Gardner chasing us down out of no where. Although I'd managed to hold off Connie, I didn't want to go through that this year. And so I ran! I was practically wailing in pain going down Big Hill, a long, steep and very rocky hill about a mile from the finish. When we got to the bottom of the hill and onto the home stretch, I opened up my stride a little and took it in. "You have 1200 meters to go," Kenny said. "How do you know that?" I asked, looking for reassurance. "I measured it by car this morning," he replied. That's three laps around the track, I thought. Finally, I saw the lights of the campground. The finish was now in sight.
I entered the campground's gravel driveway and ran down toward the finish line area. "Be sure to hold those arms high when you go in," Tim said. Crossing the finish line with my arms raised and cameras flashing was a surreal moment. I finished in 19:52:40--about 20 minutes faster than the next runner in. Upon crossing, I became emotional and had a few minutes to myself before walking back to the finish. I was dazed. Colleen T., a longtime volunteer and Mohican historian, handed me a beer, but I couldn't stomach it. I called Anne to tell her the news. Then I called my mom and dad and brother. They couldn't believe it. Neither could I. I was waiting to awaken from this dream.
Right after the finish. I'm trying to get some photos of Dan, Kenny and Tim and will post them when/if I get them. Photo courtesy of Mike Keller.
About 20 minutes after I crossed, the second-place finisher, Matt Aro, came in, looking very strong. Soon after Mark Tanaka finished third, also looking strong. Congrats to both of them--they're very good runners and we had a heck of a battle.
It's hard to describe what it felt like to win Mohican. I felt like Rocky after he knocked out Apollo Creed. I've always identified with Rocky--maybe not the most talented runner, but a runner and person who works hard for what he gets and plugs every step of the way.
Here Anne, Noah and I are at the awards ceremony. Noah's holding our winner's plaque. Without Anne and Noah, this Mohican 100 win wouldn't have happened.
The win at Mohican would never have been possible without the love and support of my wife, Anne, and the inspiration of our son, Noah. She and Noah were with me every step of the way and seeing them at some of the aid stations late in the race really gave me extra motivation. In a very real sense, Anne and I did this together. I also want to thank my entire family, including Mom & Dad, Will, Gretchen & Alex, Gramma, Doug & Karen, Allison, Dan & Ella, and the Curtis family (who got me into running when I was a kid). A special thanks to my friends in the Southeast Running Club and to my former compadres of the Wabash River Runner's Club in Lafayette-West Lafayette, Indiana. Thanks to my friend Ted F., who has always been very encouraging and who finished his first 50 at Mohican this year. Congrats, Ted! Thanks to my boss, Michele, and all those who I am fortunate to work with at University Hospitals for their support and encouragement of my running. Thanks also to Ryan O'Dell, race director for Mohican, and the team of volunteers who made the race possible. And thanks to all the readers of this blog who have been so encouraging all along.
I owe a huge thanks to my pacers, Dan and Kenny. Dan paced me the last 40 miles, and Kenny, who's paced me at all three 100s I've done, joined me for the final 25 miles. They did an outstanding job of keeping me on track. As I said, at about mile 91 we unexpectedly came upon fellow SERC member and training partner Tim Clement, winner of the 2008 Burning River 100, who drove down to Mohican to help me finish and to also see the action. Tim's experience as a winning ultrarunner really helped me stay focused the final 9 miles. When I think of what Dan, Kenny and Tim did, I can't find the words to adequately express my thanks.
My ultimate thanks goes to God for the strength to persevere in the race and in life. Without Him, none of this would be possible.
What an experience.