Morgan (aka Morgana) Windram ran the Old Dominion 100 Mile Memorial Run on 29-30 May 2004. Below is her report on that ultramarathon, posted with her permission. She finished in 23 hours 9 minutes --- 11th place overall, first among women. I met Morgan(a) in February at the Washington Birthday Marathon 2004 where she blasted through the 26.2 miles almost two hours ahead of me. Morgana is a geography grad student at Penn State University, and besides being amazingly fast is also a friendly and funny person! - ^z

Living to Run: My Quest to Reach 100

I woke up after a fitful night's sleep in the hotel room (which I splurge on and a rare luxury on account of my graduate student budget). A 'cookies and cream' granola bar and a few sips of water was my breakfast of choice. A group of 30 runners gathered in the parking lot of the hotel on that cool May morning, dazed but excited. Everyone who entered Old Dominion like most ultra races had plans to finish. Frequently those plans are altered throughout the course of the day due to unpredictable events.

At 5am the race director started us with a simple command of 'go!' The leaders took off at a fast clip following the lead vehicle through town, the neighborhood of Woodstock Virginia, and eventually up into the Massanutten Mountains. I jogged along at a relaxed pace going about 5-6 miles per hour, and walked the hills as any veteran ultrarunner would. Soon the sun gave us full light and I casually talked to the other runners as we fell into stride. We reached Burnside Bridge, mile 6 easily and I could hear the rush of the cool water pouring over the dam. Everyone was feeling good, perhaps on a runner's high for the morning, which wouldn't last too long.

The next section was a 2.5 mile climb, up 17 switchbacks to the top where Woodstock Tower lies. Then descended the runners another 2 miles to the other side where we were greeted by another aid station at mile 9. I greeted the race volunteers, refilled my water and grabbed enough food to sustain me another 5 miles. I would see this station again much much later in the day.

Continuing on, the terrain was more flat and rolling now, and it was a pleasure to run along and be able to enjoy the scenery, hear the cicadas' songs, and smell the lush wet forest floor. Soon came the 'out and backs' a section of the course despised by many participants. It is here that you do a series of 4 'loops,' where you run down the road, turn around, and run back. The shortest leg was _ mile long and we had previously been promised an aid station there; much to many runners' surprise, there was none to be found! There wasn't even an attendant to check us in and make sure we had run this part of the loop. It was all on the honor system. You ran to the orange line, turned around and headed back!!

Because most of us expected an aid station here, we previously drained our fluid bottles and ate our food. We were unprepared for the long distance that would accrue between now and the next aid station. Mistakes, as small as they may be must be avoided at all costs. A simple mistake such as leaving your flashlight at an aid station, forgetting to pack another top layer, or missing one turn on the race course can sometimes send you catapulting towards catastrophe. Luckily it was early in the race around mile 20 and we would be coming upon the aid station soon.

We approached aid station 25 at the farm and I was relieved to see people and lots of good food and beverages; after a quick lube (I was chaffing a bit) and a few bites to eat I left refueled and rehydrated for the trek back over the mountain. It was getting into the afternoon; I noticed 'lunch time' come and go. The run back through the mini-'out and backs' lifted my spirits when I was able to see how many people were actually behind me!

I kept getting closer to Neil Jaimeson (of ultra book-writing fame), and he joked that I'd some time catch him, but I never did. He managed to maintain a very consistent pace, which is very impressive throughout the entire 100 miles. I remember one time it was a slightly sloping uphill on one of the 'out and backs' and I passed him at one point (only briefly); as I went by he commented 'I count this as an uphill.'

Finally back to the base of the mountain I was greeted by the aid station attendants who checked my name off and tried to push hot dogs and hamburgers, something that my vegetarian stomach wouldn't have liked probably. Evidently they didn't have many takers for the hotdogs so they were even offering them up to support crews and anyone else who drove by. Back up over the mountain, I walked to the top and was still with my running buddy Dustin at this point. At the top we saw many people out on their day hikes at Woodstock Mountain and took a brief moment to enjoy the beautiful panoramic view from the top.

The descent down the other side was less than enjoyable. It was excruciatingly steep to our legs which had just completed 40 miles. After seventeen switchbacks, most of which we ran down, my quadriceps were screaming 'stop!' but I didn't. Down to the dam we refueled at the aid station, with 6 miles left before the hotel parking lot and the 50 mile mark. After three miles of running through rural suburbia, we came upon the aid station at the water tower with 3 miles until the hotel.

When we got to the hotel they checked us in and asked how we were doing. I was fine, and ready for 50 more. Dustin commented that he didn't want to do that again, but he changed his socks, grabbed some food and refilled his water bottles. He headed out while I was in the hotel lobby bathroom using a real toilet and getting cleaned up a bit. It was refreshing! I didn't spend long in there and was out on the road in a matter of minutes. I passed Dustin quickly; he was moving much slower than before and complained of cramps and leg soreness. I would see him pass me much later in the night.

This time out was much slower going. After 10 hours on my feet I walked more of the hills and slowed my pace. I came to the aid station once again at the dam, all the while thinking of the steep seventeen-switchbacked hill climb I had ahead of me. I was met by generous aid station attendants who filled my bottles and made sure I was eating. One of them looked concerned. 'Are you sure you're eating enough?' she said. I responded affirmatively. Of course I was eating, if not enough, I was eating a LOT! I knew I had a weigh-in at mile 75, and I couldn't loose more than 7 lbs (which is 7% of my body weight) or gain more than 5 pounds (5%).

I crossed the bridge and ahead looming in the road was the beginning of the ascent. I walked all 2 miles to the summit, took a minute to enjoy the view again and headed back down at a good running pace. Dustin was at least a mile behind me by now.

Down, down, down, finally I reached the 'hot dog plentiful' aid station, stomached what food I could manage, and continued on through a relatively flat section. I was running pretty fast by now, picking up some speed and my spirits were good.

Then came a downer. I reached one of the 'out and back' turn arounds where there were supposed to be aid and support, and my drop bag that held my nighttime gear like my lights, headlamps, and warm clothing. Well, no, it was the same as before, an orange line where you (on the honor system) turned around, and no one in sight. My heart sank because I knew it was 9 miles to the 75 mile mark and by that time it'd be pretty dark.

Tears began to well in my eyes, like they sometimes do in these races mostly because I feel sorry for myself ... but how can I feel sorry for myself when I was the one who wanted to do it in the first place!!?? So I quickly wiped them away, should anyone see me and think I was a baby, and I shouldn't be out here if I was going to cry. I continued on giving myself positive thoughts, knowing that I could make it to mile 75 by 9pm and then I could see Genie and Karen and get good food and Karen would probably have an extra light and warm clothing for me to put on.

I kept those positive thoughts in my mind and continued up the hill to make the left on the road that would take me to the aid station. Immediately I saw the medical coordinator of the race and several people milling about, food on tables, and bags!! Bags meaning my drop bag!! With warm clothes and a light!! Eureka!

I was so very happy; I took my lights and put them in my waist pack (it wasn't dark yet), and wrapped my jackets around my waist (it wasn't cold yet). With my spirits back up I continued the 3 miles to the 75 mile mark. I couldn't wait to see Genie and Karen! All along the way I kept passing runners who were on their way back (after already visiting the 75 mile aid station). They were smiling refreshed from food and drink. They all assured me that Genie and Karen were there waiting for me and that they had informed them that I was in good health and happy. I knew Genie was concerned because she knows that the 80 mile mark was approaching and in most other races that's where I break down physically and mentally. Not this time!!

I finally, after what seemed like an eternity turned right down the dirt road and headed up the steep hill to the aid station. Why do they always put hills at the end of something like a leg of a race, or the end of the race? It's masochistic. So when Genie and Karen saw me, they started shouting words of encouragement. I was so excited, I went immediately for some food and drink, but was caught first by the aid station attendant who steadied me while I got weighed in.

A whopping 104 pounds? I had actually gained two pounds over the course of 75 miles --- but I was taking in liquids and getting rid of them; anyway I passed the weigh-in test because I was not 5% over or 7% under my original body weight. Relieved to have passed, Karen and I headed out of the aid station into the darkness of the woods. Karen and I chatted a bit about running and her Massanutten 100 experience just 2 weeks earlier. Then we switched the topic to adventure racing and planned a race for the fall to do together.

We were quiet for a while which probably contributed to the increasing spookiness we felt about the woods. Karen said 'this is kinda freaky.' And I agreed, at that point she had me actually RUNNING up a hill!! At mile 83. I was walking hills at mile 4, we were now running them!

After a while we got to the aid station where my bags were and I sat down for a minute. The aid station attendant asked me if I was not ok, or if I was just tired. I really wanted to say that I was not ok, because my spirits were falling again, but instead I just said I was tired and we got up and kept going. Karen was really good at not babying me, and making sure that we didn't dawdle too long at each station, but she also let me rest and sit down when I wanted to and where I wanted to; one time it was on someone's front porch, another time it was the bank of someone's front lawn! It was 1am on Sunday, they were asleep anyway!

I remember Karen saying to me 'happy Sunday,' when it reached midnight. We plodded along another 5 miles or so until we had just 10 miles left. At that point we see a car coming down the road (very rare out here in the boonies); it was Genie, and I was relieved because we didn't know where she had went after leaving us at mile 75. She pulls up in Karen's Subaru with a boy of about 14 in her passenger seat. Typical of Genie, who befriends anything or anyone that crosses her path. She gets out and tells Karen to get in, drive this boy back to the hotel (he was evidently a friend of one of the racers) and get some sleep in the room she got (the LAST one in the hotel).

Here I am, 90 miles into this race thinking, what?? No??! what's going on?! Karen's leaving me, but not to fret, Genie was dressed and ready to go the rest of the way with me. This was going to be special!! I didn't expect it. Karen gave Genie her hand held flashlight and we were off. Genie filled my ears with stories of her past month's trip to Europe and my mind was off the pain for a bit at least. After about 10 minutes of Genie's flashlight being shone around in circles, I couldn't take it anymore. 'Genie, do you want me to hold your flashlight?' 'No, no, I'm fine,' she said. 'Well then, you've got to stop waving it in circles, I'm getting nauseous!!'

We had a good laugh over that and Genie was more well behaved with her flashlight from then on! We got to the aid station with 9 miles left and then began our climb up to Woodstock tower. When we reached the top we stopped once again to enjoy the view and see the city lights (the finish line was down there somewhere).

We started down; this time the steep down hills were agonizing. We walked some, but ran most. Finally after what seemed like an hour (and probably was) we got to the dam! Beacon in my night!! Bundled up in sleeping bags which looked oh-so inviting were the aid station attendants. 'Have you ever done 100?' one of them asked. 'Well, yes and no, I've tried 3, this will be the first one I finish.' I responded. That made me feel so good inside. Good enough to eke out 6 more miles.

I knew there would be a station at mile 97 and we reached that with 1 and a half hours to spare before the 24 hour cutoff time. I didn't think I'd make it and my only goal was to finish this race, but it was looking more and more like we'd be in before 24 hrs. Wow!

Run the downhills and the flats, walk all the uphills was the strategy now. Genie was keeping up with me; I was really proud of her too!! Around mile 98.5 we were running down the deserted road and a man in plain clothes walks by. Now it's 3am, what he was doing and why he was out there will forever remain a mystery to us, but it was a little weird. I kept looking over my shoulder after we passed him.

Genie chatted on about how happy she was for me, and we got to the bottom of THE LAST hill. We could actually see the lights of the Ramada Inn in the near distance. I walked up the hill and ran down to the traffic light; we crossed the road and made the right into the hotel driveway. A hotel worker was coming out of the back entrance. 'Welcome to civilization!' he said.

I think I had the biggest smile on my face that I've ever had. We ran down the hotel ramp and around the corner. There was no line to denote the finish, but I crossed some undefined line in 23 hours and 9 minutes, just Dustin and Dave (who had passed me two hours earlier) and Neil Jamieson (who finished about an hour ago, but couldn't sleep), and one lonely attendant to check us in and our times. 'Sprint, finish hard,' they all yelled --- but why?? The goal was to finish and I did.

After a round of congratulations and thank-yous, we found Karen who slept through my finish because she didn't expect me until 5am. I showered (a shower NEVER felt so good in my life) and crashed. I don't remember the rest!

TopicRunning - 2004-07-11

(correlates: Hot and Sour, UncleBert, GuiltAndShame, ...)