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Oct 13, 2014

Oil Creek 50k race review

Short Version
Finished in 8:27:34(official time); A new PR for a new distance
Overall place: 82/149
Overall men:  63/92
Men 45-49: 8/10

Race #81 and my first 50k race.

Dave, Kevin and I went out to Oil Creek for an epic weekend and we got it.  This race and course is unbelievably organized, beautiful, and ass kicking.  It's the hardest race I've ever run, and for that, I have a feeling of accomplishment become an Ultra runner.  That said, while I loved everything about this event, it's a tough one and without proper training is extremely difficult.  They give a generous cutoff time of 17 hours and I can see why it's needed for many.  Personally, I think this is perhaps too tough for a first 50k but I'm not one to back down from a challenge and am very happy I decided to do this.


Long Version
Registration/Packet Pickup
Registration was back in March of this year.  It's a funny story because the race sold out in 90 seconds.  Yes, you read that right.  Kevin, Dave and I got on a conference call so we could register together when it opened.  Dave had run this before and loved the race so he wanted to go back again.  Just like that, we registered online and we were in and committed.  We were joking that if we didn't get in, maybe we would commit to the 100k.  Based on how I feel after the 50k, I'm glad we got in.  Haha.

Packet pickup had two choices.  You could pickup the day before or the morning of the race.  We took off Friday and headed to packet pickup.  It's about a six hour drive to Titusville, PA where the race was being held.  When we got there, we took a little bit of a tour of the area to see part of Oil Creek State Park.  Wow is all I can say.  The area is so beautiful and has so much history to it related to the Oil industry.

We were able to get a picture near a symbolic oil derrick which was fun even though we would run past some of them(including the one below) during the race.
Oil Creek State Park
The course is almost entirely in the Oil Creek State Park on the Gerard Hiking trail.  As you will see, it's a gem in their area and the people that live there are very proud of it - as they should be.
Gerard Hiking Trail - where the course is run
The loop goes around Oil Creek in the park.  Below shows what it's like.  We also took a stop at the Drake Well Museum which you will see later on in my course pictures since we pass by it on the route.  Next was a stop at a beer distributorship so we could pick up some beer that we cannot regularly get in Michigan.  Priorities, you know?

Then it was time to make our way to the cottage we rented for the weekend.  The cottage was located about 10 miles from the start in a town called Pleasantville.  It was a rustic two bedroom cottage which was perfect for us.  One bedroom had full size bunk beds which worked great and it was much better than a hotel and gave us more room to relax.  The school where packet pickup was also allowed runners to pitch tents in a field next to their parking lot or sleep in the gym if they wanted to which is a great way to save some money but we opted for more comfort.  You could also use the showers at the school gym for $5.
House we rented in Pleasantville
Home inside
After we settled into the cottage, we made our way over to the local middle school where packet pickup was as well as a pre race dinner that was included in your race registration fee.  The school was quite new and very nice and a great place for packet pickup and the weekend event.
Packet pickup/start/finish location
We were running the 50k event but there were also people running the 100k and also the 100 mile events too.  The place was very organized and the volunteers were incredible.  It literally took us minutes to get our packets.
Packet pickup
The race also allowed us to pick one item off the table below so I chose an Oil Creek water bottle.
The race also had the course map as well if you wanted to see details of the course.  It was also available in detail on the race website.
Course map
We also had an opportunity to purchase some race things so I got last years shirt and sweatshirt.  This year shirts were super bright but I really liked last years green hoodie and for $10, you could not pass it up.  We took our packet back to the car and went back inside to eat.
Pre-race dinner included
The race had salad, pasta, rolls, ice cream(locally made) and desert.  It was a great way to start out the weekend and it's really unbelievable that it's included in your registration.
After the pre race dinner, we headed back to the cottage to get a good night sleep.  We were in bed by 10pm and up around 5am to leave at 5:30am.

Start Area
We got to the race about 6am and were also able to park right next to the school.  One of the huge advantages to a smaller race is you didn't need to get there hours before.  The 100 milers and 100k runners started at 5am and 6am respectively so we didn't see them start.  Our start was at 7am which was perfect.  This gave us time to get our timing chip and use the restroom before the start.
Waiting for start
The race director did a few announcements and we walked to the start line behind the school about five minutes before the race start.  We also had an opportunity to take a quick pre-race picture.
Pre-race photo - Dave, me, Kevin
As you can see below, it was still a little dark outside but the sun would come up quickly.
Ready to run
You can see the course below per my Garmin.  As said, it's primarily in the Oil Creek State Park.  Being this is my first 50k, I had no goal other than to finish.  This was an extremely difficult terrain that was very hilly.  Yes, I ran hills - lots of hills - and none of them prepared me enough for what we would encounter.  While I was aware of the extreme elevation, I was not prepared for the rocky terrain where it was very difficult to navigate a flat footing to keep running.  There was nothing in our area quite like the terrain which is why I felt so unprepared for it.
Course per Strava
As you can see, there were hills.  The elevation was advertised as 5,459 foot of elevation gain.  While my Garmin didn't register that much, the GPS is not reliable so it missed about 1,100 foot of gain that we actually did.  Regardless, you can see below that there is not a flat section in this course.  The straight section near mile 15 is not flat and is an error in the Garmin.
Elevation per Garmin
This was without a doubt the hardest course I've ever run.  I thought I had run some difficult races but now realize I was running bunny hills here in Michigan.  We typically run our own races so I told Kevin I would stick with him up through Aid Station #2 which is about mile 14 and then decide what I wanted to do.  I was really unprepared for what we ran, and while I may have been able to run it slightly faster, I decided at this point to stick with him.  This race was much more about completing it and having fun than time and I'm really happy with my decision to stick together.  It was better suffering together.  Ha!

Our buddy Dave, on the other hand, had other plans to kick the courses butt and he finished two hours sooner than us!  There was no way I would have been able to keep up with him and I didn't feel like running this distance alone.  Kevin and I really enjoyed the race together and I found that it made it much easier being there with someone to talk to the entire way.  We cursed Dave together the whole way, as this was his race suggestion, but we loved every minute of it.

While I can't say we ran the entire way, the elevation was so insane that we hiked a good portion of it.  We ran when we could but sometimes it was faster to just power walk the hills than try and run them.  It's really hard to describe how hard the terrain was which is why I took so many pictures along the way.
Splits per Garmin
Even finishing in 8:27 still put us about mid pack which is just crazy to me!

Note: When I take pictures during the race, I typically don't change my pace or stop in the interest of safety.  I just keep running and I get what I can get from the pictures.  Some come out better than others but they give you a great idea of what the course is like.

As you can see, Dave was raring to go and he was so pumped up.  I knew right there he was going to kill it.  As with any race Kevin and I have run together, we just agree to run our own race and meet at the end.  With all the running with Dave this summer, this was the first race where we all started together.

I think Dave had grand allusions he would pull us along to run together but there was no way this was happening.  He's a much more experienced runner especially at this distance and terrain.
Dave pumped to be running
The course starts out on an asphalt path as we make our way to the trail.  This helps spread out the crowd before we get to the single track.
Still a little dark
Soon enough we were on the trail and before we knew it, Dave was in the distance and was gone.  We told him to go for it and enjoy the race!  It was still a little dark but would be getting light quickly.  Stairs greeted us at the trails.  Oh boy, this was going to be epic!
Hitting the trail
It was a first for me, as I was already walking the hills less than two miles into the race.  I knew, however, it would have been a big mistake to run the hills starting off and would have burnt up energy that I needed later in the race.  I made the right choice and kept it conservative.
Climbing already
Before we knew it, it was light out and we were getting high up in the terrain.
Getting high!
Kevin grabbed my camera and got a quick shot of me climbing up the hill.
Climbing and still happy
As I said, the terrain was crazy.  The rocks on the single track were plentiful and made for very difficult footing.  There was just no place flat for your feet to land.
The amount of leaves on the course were crazy as well and made it even more difficult to see where you were landing.
Stairs - not the only ones either
I didn't mind the large rocks but it was a little rocks that could really get you if you were not paying attention.  About four miles into the race, I twisted my ankle something fierce.  I even had to stop and stretch it a little but kept moving worrying that it would get stiff.  It took me almost five more miles to feel like I was ok again and really had me worried.  I was not stopping for anything!  I would have hobbled to the finish if I needed to.
Nice fall color
A rare flat part
There were three aid stations on the course as well as an additional one at the school for the 100k and 100 milers.  While they were spread out, there was also several unmanned water stations too where you could fill up your bottles.
Course markings
I didn't really mind the up hill climbs.  Yeah, they were tough but it was the downhill that was really difficult for me as you could feel everything in your body tense up as you hit the course with your feet.  It also made for difficult foot placement and I twisted my ankle at least four times over the course with them all being on the downhills.
Wolfkiel Run Descent
You can see that some of the rocks on the course were huge!
Huge rocks on single track
The course was absolutely stunning and like nothing I've ever ran on before.
Little streams everywhere
The course was marked by pink and reflective flags.  The race did an awesome job with this and I never felt like I was going to get lost out there.
Pink/reflective flags marked the course
We made it to our first overlook.  It was incredible.  I decided right there that I would stop and take pictures of these overlooks along the way.  Yeah, it would slow me down a little bit but I could not pass up the opportunity to get some epic pictures along the way.
Awesome view!
I took the picture below so you could see just how steep some of the declines were.  At one point, it was so steep, I almost had to slide down it.  The switchbacks helped a lot otherwise, I don't know how you would get down it safely.
Huge decline
Even the picture below does not do the course justice.  While some parts were flatter, in the case below, as you were climbing, you were also next to a cliff dropping down and the course felt like you were also leaning to the left.
huge incline
We could not believe the amount of leaves that had already fallen which made it so much more difficult.
lots of leaves on course
After each aid station, we basically climbed more hills so you knew what to except.  While it was a relief to get to another aid station, it meant that we were faced with another challenge.  There were numerous hills that were named along the course.  This one was Ray Gerard's Neverending hill and that it was!
Ray Gerard's Neverending Hill
Just seeing each hill, you had to laugh about it, otherwise you would have gotten really frustrated.  I must have said at least a 100 times how crazy this elevation was.  One thing I think would have helped mentally would have been to go run some of the course during training.  At least we would have been a little more prepared for what we were facing.
Serious elevation!
We could get to the top of the hill like the one above and then see the next hill like the one below.  They just went up and up.
More elevation
We came through a section of rocks so large, I've never seen anything like it.  They were jaw dropping!
Rocks the size of homes
More views
Every time we saw a named hill we knew we were in for a tough section.
Unforgiving HIstoric Gnarly
You were almost always rewarded when you got to the top though.  The beauty was amazing.
Beauty up high
We passed what looked like a haunted house.  I'm sure it was a house of one of the old settlers in the area.  It must have been such a hard life living in here and I can't imagine the work to get a home built up there.
Who's house is this?
It's really difficult to see in the picture below but there is a bridge down there that the train crosses. That's how far up we are.
Awesome views
This area was called Stonehenge West.  How in God's name did they get these cement slabs up here, and the bigger question is, why?
Stonehenge West
Next we passed several symbolic oil derricks.  I snapped an awesome picture of Kevin running through it and there was also a photographer taking pictures of us running through the area.  You can see the picture near the bottom of this review.
Awesome picture of Kevin running
Me by the oil derrick 
We were getting close to aid station #2 and you could always tell since we had to descend to each of them.  They had some really cool bridges to cross over throughout the course.
More bridges
There were also numerous places where steps were made to help with the terrain.
Stairs and leaves
It was nice to see we were almost at aid station #2!
Almost to Aid Station #2
We got an opportunity to run over an incredible bridge before hitting the aid station.
Cool bridge
I even decided to take a quick selfie of Kevin and I out on the bridge.  I didn't even realize when I took this, there was a car behind us.  Oops.
Having fun!
Finally we were in aid station two.  This was not quite the halfway point even though it felt like it.  The race had runners drop bags here but we didn't have a drop bag.  We stopped at each of the aid stations to get refueled as they were incredibly stocked.
Aid Station #2
I stopped to tie my shoes to get them tightened again and we were again starting to climb out of the aid station.  This section of the races was extremely brutal and I feel was the hardest part of the entire course. You were already extemely tired which made it really hard.
Time to climb
Heisman Trophy Hill
More rocks
The rocks were plentiful and it was not just something you ran over.  You needed to climb over these huge boulders.  It was insane!
I feel like climbing rocks
Dark forest
Kevin and I laughed at this warning sign below for this downhill because after running for 15 miles, now they warn us?
Now they warn us?
The reward for climbing this hill was an incredible view.  If you recall, earlier in the course, we passed by the oil derricks so you can see how far we were away from these now. We were up pretty high at this point.  I zoomed in so you could see the oil derricks but the picture with me in it shows how far we were.
The best view of the oil derricks
The oil derricks are there in the picture below but you just can't see them.
Taking in the view
Soon we were seeing distance signs for how far left we had on the trail.  We were going to Drake Well Park and while that was not the finish, it was only a few miles from the park to the finish.  At this point, we had about 14 miles to go so a little less than halfway.
Are we there yet?
Keep going!
It was not peak colors yet but there were plenty of trees changing colors as you can see by the yellows.
Next up we passed through a section the Boy Scouts were in.  We actually stopped there since Kevin had a blister and needed a bandaid to cover it.  They has a bunch of funny signed to read along the way with the best being the ones below.
I specifically took a picture of the footing below because this was some of the stuff we were facing.  The rocks were literally driving me crazy.  There were several spots where it was a little stream going through it as well.  The hardest part I found of the entire course was never being able to land flat.  This really took a beating on my ankles and they are really sore.
Insane footing
Don't fall!
Finally we were at aid station three.  We had to descend to it then climb back up to where the stairs are pictured.
Aid Station #3
Cemetery Hill was next.  This was also a crazy climb.
Cemetery Hill
We found out why it was called Cemetery Hill.  Because there was a cemetery of course!  I'm not sure why someone decided this was a good place for a cemetery and must have made for an interesting time having a funeral up there with this elevation.
Why they call it Cemetery Hill
The picture below is just next to the end of the cemetery.  I was about ready to cry climbing this. Hah!
Insane elevation here
When we finally got to the top, you needed to be really careful since the drop would have been terrible.  We could not imagine the runners running through the night on this.
Don't fall down
It was really amazing to see the streams up here at this elevation.  This part of the course kind of reminded me of a place I run in Northern Michigan near the Jordan River.
Beautiful rocks/stream
Next up was Rockefeller's revenge - another crazy climb.  At this point, I was just happy to put one foot in front of the other to keep moving.
Rockefeller's Revenge
Ok, I can run this!
I got a picture of Kevin descending down the stairs that were filled with mud and leaves.  The footing here was incredibly slippery and I made it down without falling.  Kevin had a difficult time but pulled through it!  We were so tired at this point!
Kevin coming down muddy, wet, slippery stairs
There was a small bridge for us to cross and, given my tiredness, I was really careful crossing it.
Plank bridge
This section was also a little muddier and rockier too.
Rocks were killing me
If we were not climbing, we were descending.
Climbing - a theme here?
The drop(cliff) next to where we were running was crazy.  I tried not to look too much but here's a picture so you get an idea what we were running next to.
Careful again. It's a far drop
There were several waterfalls along the way.  I stopped to zoom onto this one as it was not that close to us.
To say the course was technical would be mild.  The rocks mixed in with the tree roots made this terrain extremely difficult.  It's the part I was least prepared for.  We have some technical parts in Michigan but everything pales in comparison.
Lots of roots
I thought it would be fun to record our place at the 26.2 mile mark.  Over seven hours to get there!
Marathon distance now keep running
Kevin and I decided to thank Dave for talking us into this 50k with "only" five more miles to go. Haha!
Thanks Dave!
Back on the course was the rocks and mud.  I'm very happy to have been wearing my Hoka's and I cannot imagine how some people were running this with minimally cushioned shoes.
The footing was so hard!
We were almost to Drake Well and we knew it because you could hear the oil well there that Dave told us about.  He said once you heard that, you knew the finish was close.  It was the best sound I ever heard in my life!  Ha!
Almost off the trail
First some downhill
Still up high
We finally came to the end of the trail portion of the run.  I think this was about the 28-29 mile point of the race.
More down
It was now time for a small loop around the Drake Well Museum.
Will be back to this bridge later
While we didn't like running on the asphalt, it was nice to get off the uneven footing and not have to be looking down.
Awesome fall day
Drake Well Museum area
While we were here the day before, it was nice to see something familiar.  We didn't realize we would get an opportunity to see parts of the museum from the back as we ran by the river.
Oil Creek
It was an awesome area to run with the river to your left and the museum to the right.
Museum on the right
It was also nice to be running on soft grass.
River on the left
We now made it to the bridge where the rest of the course was on asphalt and ran back to where we first started the course.  The course was basically a large 50k loop which was very appealing to me.
Almost to the bridge
Going over the bridge
Almost home now
We passed under the train tracks and even got to see the train after we passed this point.  It was really cool to see that after running for so long.
Under the train tracks
Back to Asphalt
Keep Running!
We had a small run through the neighborhood before turning into the school.
Through the neigborhood
Dave was there waiting for us to finish and I gave him a high five just before finishing the course.
Dave cheering us
The race director was there to greet us and congratulate us on our finish and give us our finisher stickers and belt buckles.  While I know many races only give belt buckles for 100 milers, it sure was a well earned buckle and I was so happy to be finished.
Finish line(clock was for 100 milers)
There were a few photographers out on the course that were taking our pictures as you can see below.
Photo by Charles Houpt
Photo by Lee Ann Reiners
Aid Stations
The aid stations, pictured above throughout the course, were incredible.  They were well stocked with all kinds of food to keep you going including cookies, grilled cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit, candy, pretzels, salt tablets, Hammer products and water. The volunteers were incredible and as you entered the aid stations, they would ask you what they could get you.  You felt like a King going though these stations and really helped keep your spirits high.

Finish Area
After we finished, we went into the school cafeteria for something to eat.  My stomach could only take so much so I had some hot soup to help refresh me.  We were able to change there and get into something warmer and once we felt normal again, we got a few finisher pictures with our stickers and belt buckles.
A very tired finisher - me!
It was a great day overall for weather(starting around 40 and finishing in the 50's) and we all finished which I consider a great success.  Dave did incredible and really kicked the courses butt and Kevin and I set out to do what we planned which was to finish.
Three happy guys! Dave, me, Kevin
We went back to the cottage and had a beer and took a shower and headed back to town for dinner and beers at the Blue Canoe Brewery and restaurant.  It was a great place to unwind after a long day and enjoy a great meal and some awesome craft beer.  The place was hopping with runners and I'd highly recommend you try it.
After race celebration
For your $70 registration fee(a very reasonable price) you received a well marked, supported, chip timed course with incredible organization.  The race management really knows how to put on a spectacular event.  You also received a pre race dinner included the night before the race.  The registration came with a long sleeve tech shirt with the race name on it and I'll proudly wear this one when training.
Race tech shirt
Shirt back
You also got to pick a race item of which I chose a water bottle.
Race water bottle
In your packet was a couple trinkets including a safety light and a keychain.
Safety light
I also decided to get last years shirt and hoodie.
Last years shirt - only $5!
In addition, I purchased a gym/runner back for your running stuff.  All very reasonably priced.
Gym/running bag
Last years hoodie color - only $10!
If you finished the race, you received a finishers stickers as well as a coveted race finishers buckle.  This is my first belt buckle and love it!
Finisher sticker
Finisher belt buckle
The organization for this race was awesome.  From the race communication to their Facebook page to all the details on their website, it was very well planned.  I've only been to a couple Ultra events and the atmosphere is always so great and relaxed yet organized.  The packet pickup was very easy, the aid station were awesome.  The course was well marked.  The event has the support of over 350 super friendly volunteers and the entire community is in support of the race.

The bottom line is this was an epic race.  While extremely tough, it was so satisfying to finish such a tough race.  While I probably should have done an easier 50k for my first, I don't regret being out there and toughing this one out for a very satisfying experience that I'll never forget.  It truly was a chance of a lifetime to run this great event.  I can't believe I'm an ultra runner.  I would highly recommend this race for someone looking to run an ultra distance - just make sure you are trained for it.  The race theme is "Strike Oil or move on!" so you don't get to change distances.
A tough 50k!
Have a great day and....Keep Running!!!!

Disclosure: I paid for this race with my own funds.  All opinions are my own.


  1. Well done, great run... I would love to pop over and run some of the races in the US but I haven't as yet won the LOTTO so I will have to keep to the local races!!! Looks like you guys had fun out there... Now how do the legs feel today? when do you plan the next race?

  2. What a great place to run! Congrats on the accomplishment!

  3. WOW!!!!!!!!!!!! What an amazing course!!!!! I love all the photos you took too. Gives us a true view of what it is you experienced that day. Technical isn't even the word for that course! Congratulations!

  4. Thanks for the detailed report -- especially all the photos. Now when people ask me what the race was like, I can just point them here.

    And yes -- congrats of the finish. If you want a much easier (faster!) 50k, you might be interested in June's Niagara Ultra, which I have done, uh, 5 times. Friendly too, and goo aid stations, and plenty of beer at the end, which is RARE for a Canadian race. Takes you from the Niagara River outlet into Lake Ontario, up to the Falls, and back.

  5. WOW!! You picked a dilly for a first 50K!!! Congratulations on a race well run and well documented!! I'll be keeping tabs on your second. I'm looking for my second 50K and my first 50M.