By Ali Lopez
A couple of weeks ago I did something I never would have imagined doing when I started running around 10 years ago. I ran a 50-mile endurance trail race, the Mohican 100/50, which takes place in Loudonville, Ohio and happens to be one of the oldest ultra endurance races in the country.
Two of my friends signed up for the 100, and after running 36 miles last October at the Bad Apple Ultra (a very mild, easy course, I might add), I figured hmmmm, I could probably run 14 more miles. Spoiler alert … I did it and LOVED it! I thought I would spend a little time here sharing my experience with all of you, in case you are thinking about conquering a new distance or maybe you just enjoy reading about crazy running adventures. A note about the pictures: I wish I was able to take more pictures of the really gnarly sections, but I was too busy trying to stay upright and not fall into a river or off a ridge.
My running buddy David (running the 100) and I drove down from Traverse City on Friday morning, stopping in Ann Arbor for an amazing breakfast at Juicy Kitchen .
We landed at the Mohican Adventures Campground, where we were camping for the weekend. It also is the location of the race finish. Convenient. We set up our tents and headed to packet pickup. After getting our bibs and shirts, we walked over to see where the start was, which was at the state park about a mile walk from our campsite. Good to know since race start was at 6 a.m. for me.
We met up with Erika (also running the 100) and went in search of dinner. We didn’t have much time to go in search of “Healthy Chef Ali-approved food,” so I did the best I could at the one restaurant in town. I had a 6” pizza with black olives, some French fries and a beer. Carbs for the win. Then we walked across the street to the pre-race meeting and to find out what the heck I signed up for. They gave us lots of good info about the course and signage, which I really tried to pay attention to since I often get lost on the trails (bonus miles I like to say.) The course consisted of two loops, a long loop of 27 miles and a short loop of 23 miles. I would run each loop once and the 100 milers got to run them twice! We had a beer at packet pickup. (They were free for runners–Great Lakes Porter, yum!) Then it was off to bed for my 4:30 a.m. wake up. (Although I mistakenly set my alarm for 3:30 a.m. … oops!)
I didn’t sleep that well (noisy campground, and not from the runners) but got up, had my breakfast of cold steel cut oats and a shot of coffee, got dressed in my tent, and then headed to the start. The morning was overcast and the temps felt perfect at around 60. I was feeling really excited but pretty relaxed about spending many hours running around in the woods. I had three goals for this race: Have fun, finish before dark and stay upright. I also mentally just decided that I was running aid station to aid station and then the number didn’t seem so daunting.
Here We Go …
The race started by running through the state park campground for about a mile before you enter the single track trail into the old growth forest. The forest was still pretty dark even though it was after sunrise, because the trees created such a big canopy. The first few miles were crowded with runners and the trail had lots of twists and turns and hills but really scenic. Lots of footbridges and lush greenery. The trail was twisting and turning for a while, then we hit a steep climb and arrived at the first aid station (where I had my first of many PB&J sandwiches). Back on the trails and this next section was fairly runnable, lots of twisting and turning on mountain bike trails with plenty of roots and rocks thrown in to keep it interesting. And then another aid station. The first two aid stations were about 4-5 miles apart.
The next part of the course, they warned us was the longest and one of the more challenging sections of the course. We started on the singletrack trails, which also were horse trails (and the horses were not using the porta potties, so we had to watch for gifts) The trail also got muddier here. I’m talking shoe-sucking mud where you aren’t sure if your shoe will make it out still attached to your foot. At this point there was a lot of climbing and then running along the river, crossing a stream and descending down to Big Lyon Falls. This was a lovely section of the trail even though it was fairly challenging to navigate.
After more up and down I finally arrived at the next aid station called “covered bridge,” which I loved! (Living in Vermont for many years, I am a big covered bridge fan.) This also was where we could have a drop bag with any food, clothing or other items that we might want. I knew I had peanut butter pretzels in my drop bag and couldn’t wait to chow on those when I hit the trail, and also kitchen sink cookies that David had baked. I downed a ginger ale or two and it was back onto the trail.
Back on the trails they warned us that this section was one of the most difficult on the course, as it is both long AND hilly. Bring it on! It was a lot of up and down, roots and rocks, mud and more mud. You would hike up a big climb, then run for what felt like 2 minutes and then hit a big downhill, run for 2 minutes, up, run, down, repeat for 6 miles. But I just kept smiling,
The next aid station was a welcome sight (and sound) playing good tunes. More ginger ale, more PB&J with pickles this time, and back out to finish the first loop. This section took us back to the start where we had another drop bag and were to head out for another “shorter” 23 mile loop. Well, I was more than halfway and still feeling good. I grabbed my boiled, salted potatoes from my drop bag and got moving again.
While on the trails, I ran with so many nice people, some running 100, some 50, some experienced runners and others like me tackling their first 50. And everyone always greets you with a smile or a “good job!” whether you were passing them or they were passing you. The weather changed throughout the day from a cloudy start, to a blue sky and some strong sun warming things up a bit, to a little rain to keep things cool again, and then more clouds.
The aid station volunteers were awesome. As soon as you got to the aid station they asked you what you needed, filling your water bottle, changing your shoes for you, offering treats and just general positive spirits. And then pointing you in the right direction to get running again. Besides real food, I had a few gels and some Clif Shot Bloks for electrolytes while I was out there. And I drank water and ginger ale (the only time pop actually tastes amazing to me is after running for hours!)
The second “shorter” loop certainly didn’t feel short and we still had the last tough section to do a second time but once I got through that and hit 40 miles I was pumped. I know 10 miles is still a good distance to go before the finish, but somehow my brain said “Wow! Only 10 miles to go! You got this!” I made sure I was smart and kept fueling and drinking and watching my footing. When I hit the last 10K though I just let loose. I was singing, dancing, smiling and I am sure I was amusing some of the other runners (and probably annoying the 100-milers who still had to run through the night.)
The last part of the course feels like forever after running in the woods all day, because you actually run about a mile on the pavement through the campground. Ouch! And then I can see the finish, hear the cheers and the cowbells and I cross the line with the biggest grin. And it was still light out. Although I kicked many rocks and roots, I didn’t fall once. I started the race at 6 a.m. and finished around 7:15 pm. It was a good day.
Have a fueling question for Ali? Post it below in the comments section or email MRG with your healthy-eating questions at heather [at] michiganrunnergirl [dot] com
Ali Lopez is a northern Michigan runner, chef and health coach. You can learn more about her at her web site Healthy Chef Ali. She’s also on Facebook here »
You can listen to a conversation about running and eating between Ali and Heather on this MRG podcast.