Sunday, October 10, 1999 - Monday, October 11, 1999 -- Shepherdstown
3rd Annual WVOutside C&O Canal Fun Run
Story by Don Parks with photos by Lisa Selmon
We all had a plan, but none of us had ever been 100 miles before. Brad Coffman and I had attempted the non-stop trek along the C&O Canal from Spring Gap, just outside Cumberland, MD, to Shepherdstown, WV, twice before. It seems simple enough, just walk, jog and run an average of 15-minute miles for a little over 24 hours and there you are. Well, the best anyone had done in our previous attempts was my 79 miles in 1998.
Joining us this year were local mountain bike racer Gene Vance and my brother Glenn from Miami, FL. They had been doing their training and like everyone who had joined us before, they were full of confidence. However, the most difficult aspect to train for is the eminent mental exhaustion that you face after the fatigue, pain and isolation sets in (just see my story from 1997.)
The weather the previous days had been down right dreadful. A cold
driving rain had continuously fallen throughout the region and we
headed to the start on Sunday morning with much trepidation. Luckily
the rain had seemed to subside as Greg McCulley met us at Spring
Gap. He would be providing support along the way in the WVOutside van
while Lisa Selmon followed in her jeep. We had already determined
rendezvous points along the way where they'd meet us and provide an
abundance of food, clothes and first aid.
|The C&O Canal is waiting|
As we reeled off the early distances, Brad quickly picked up the pace and disappeared ahead of the rest of us. The rain was not a factor and it seemed that the sun might even make an appearance (it never did.) The first car stops at 6 miles and 11 miles had folks shedding clothes and everyone in a good rhythm. I brought up the rear after changing socks, but my average still put me at 12 miles in under 3 hours.
I continued to play catch up as I cruised along while Brad was continuing to push ahead. In the middle, Glenn, who stands on the short side of 5-ft-something did his best to match strides with the 6-ft-plus Gene. I hurried along and had them in sight before stopping for another meeting with Greg and Lisa a little shy of 17 miles. I replinished myself with some snacks and refills for my water bottle before heading off to the historic Paw Paw Tunnel just a short ways away.
I headed into the tunnel prepared with a headlamp as I ran for most of the over half-mile distance. The exit from the tunnel was dramatic as the light at the end approached. A thick fog cast an ominous glow over the sound of water trickling off the rock walls. Pleasantly, just after the exit from the tunnel, I met up with Karen Jones, who had just joined our curious group of assistants. She took to the trail on her mountain bike and glided along as I slowly worked at my catch up game.
Just before the 25 mile point, which we reached in under 6 hours, I had met back up with Glenn and Gene. Having Karen along proved to be quite beneficial as we had seemed to guess wrong the next meeting with the car support. Her extra water was certainly appreciated as we fought to stay positive just hoping we'd hit fresh supplies soon.
At mile 28 we were keeping a pace of better than 15-minute miles but
we were now 4 miles past where we had hoped to find Lisa and Greg. We
continued along until Chas Mick appeared, another suprise addition to
the team, on his bike. Now at mile 30 we were more than happy to grab
up the food and drinks he'd brought along. He told us the cars and
fresh clothes were waiting just ahead. Well "just" has different
meanings and we finally caught the caravan at 32 miles and 7:40 in
total time. This was more than 15 miles and three hours since we saw
the other side of the Paw Paw tunnel.
|Lisa Selmon provides support well into the night|
Everyone had lights ready as it was now after 7PM and night was quickly approaching. Chas pedaled along side me for the next few miles before taking off to join folks up ahead. Walking and jogging as darkness had set in, I joined up with my brother and Chas around the 40-mile mark. The vehicles were once again a little further than we anticipated. Using the light from Chas's bike and Glenn's headlamp we made the rendezvous at the 42-mile mark with 11 hours elapsed.
At this point our feet were beginning to pay the price and I decided to go to GoreTex hiking boots. Glenn's feet weren't doing well and he borrowed a pair of off-road running shoes from Lisa to try and get some relief. We'd caught up with Gene but he hit the trail ahead of us while we got reports that Brad had managed a 30 minute advantage.
Glenn and I hit the trail again and I shared the light from his lamp as we made good time on our way to the halfway point in Hancock. The new footwear was doing well for both of us and we made it to the 50 mile mark at a little over 13 hours. Gene had arrived just ahead and the reports were now that Brad was pushing a 45 minute advantage. Hancock also brought along our final addition to the crew with Dave McKain arriving and this was much needed as Karen and Chas were getting ready to end their shifts.
Glenn set out on the second 50 ahead of Gene and me. Gene and I left not too far apart and it wasn't long until we were pacing ourselves together. We slowly caught Glenn and the three of us continued into the night in relative silence.
As midnight came and passed there was little to say as we each dealt with the pains and demons in the solitude of our own minds. The strolling gaits and jogs now consisted of varying limps and stiff shuffles. Again our plans had deceived us as we found ourselves searching for our support that we had hoped would appear around mile 58.
Two-thirds of a day had passed as we found our support group (pun intended) a little shy of the 60 mile mark. At three-something in the morning we started to make tough decisions on how far we really wanted to go. Brad was making his statement as he had already headed back out on the trail close to an hour ahead. Dave had left before we arrived doing his best to keep pace with Brad while our support was understandably beginning to tire as well.
With the next meeting planned for just four miles ahead, Glenn and I set out for more. Gene, however, wasn't easily convinced it would be just four miles. The mind games had taken their toll and Lisa was more than happy to call it a night at 2:30AM as they agreed to pack it in.
Glenn and I set out for more and soon I wondered if my decision to return to running shoes had been a good one. It couldn't have been 10 minutes since we left the vehicles that a cold rain began to pound down through the dark skies. We forged ahead and luckily the storm subsided after about a half hour. The puddles now seemed impossible to avoid as we headed for the metric century mark (100 Kilometers).
Gene's fears had been accurate and we passed the 64-mile mark without seeing Greg or the van. We trudged on with little choice and eventually came across our much needed aid. This was about all Glenn's blistered feet could handle after 17:30 and he found a sleeping bag in the van much to his liking.
Without much enthusiasm, I set out with dry clothes on what was said to be just another three mile jaunt to the next stop. Brad was reported to have an hour lead and I decided to pick up my pace. A nice jog for the first two miles soon led to a popping blister in between my smallest two right toes. The exact same pain had plagued me the previous year at just over the 50 mile mark. That year I continued on for nearly another 30 miles with my damaged digits. Again I fought to put the pain aside as I found the van waiting around mile 67.
Brad was still far ahead around 5AM and after over 18 hours
my resolve didn't seem to be what it had been in past attempts. I
joined Glenn in the van and Greg drove us off to meet Dave in
Williamsport where he waited for Brad near the 75 mile mark.
|Brad is last to hit the wall|
He arrived at the 79-mile mark just before 8AM at 21:30 on a 27 hour pace to go the distance. Needing little encouragement he once again headed out for more and entered territory none of us had been before. We would do our best to meet back up with him at the next available point which we'd hoped would be about four miles.
As had been the story much to often, we could not find the supposed location where the maps led us to believe the van could intersect the trail. Now I was on the other side trying my best to help Greg navigate to a place were we could get our friend the assistance he could certainly use. We finally convinced a land owner to give us access through his property that put us just about a 100 yards from the trail. Sitting around the 85-mile mark, we would wait just as Greg and the others had done for me during the past 20+ hours.
Almost a full day had passed since we began and now Brad made his way toward us. He pondered his next move while standing next to the van, which was positioned just far enough from the C&O Canal to keep it out of sight. Perhaps that is what caused him to make that final reluctant decision, it would be called a victory at 85 miles and a little over 23 hours.
Once again the elusive 100 had escaped us all. It is now certain that it won't happen for any of us in this millennium. But after a few days (or weeks) of recovery, we've all agreed that 100 in 2000 sure sounds nice.