Monday, August 03, 2009

2009 Burning River 100: 100 Miles, 1 day

Originally written for a few running publications. Bit of a delay on this one...its been a busy fall!


The night was still. I can’t seem to find a better word for it. Almost as if we were in a vacuum. You could hear the stoplight above the road next to the entrance to a little uphill, rocky trail named Glenn’s Trail, humming with electricity as we ran under it. The air was so still you could hear the clicking in the light as it changed from red to green.

I was so happy to see that damn light. Its emerald glow illuminated a sign saying “Welcome to Cuyahoga Fall, Ohio” next to it. And how! That light was it…marking the final miles. I finally knew I was going to make it to the finish.

My pacer, Missy, and I jumped off the road and into the darkness of the trail only light by the headlamps on our heads. Shooting up the trail at a pretty good pace for having ran 99 miles. I just wanted it to be over. Everything hurt and I was experiencing a level of tiredness I had never experienced before in my life. But as we made our way up the trail…I was growing less and less tried as adrenalin took over.

“300 yards to the Road!!!” yelled a voice that pierced darkness as we passed him standing on the edge of the trail. Only 300 yards until we reached the road. So close. We pushed on up the rocky trail trying my best to stay upright and not trip on a rock. No need to blow it this close. As we climbed up, we seemed to be picking up momentum. “I hope Dan and Roy are watching,” I said. “This one was for them.”

We finally reached the top of the trail and popped out onto Front Street. Finally! 1.2 miles to go. I can’t believe it. We took off now. Running as hard I could. I rounded the last corner as I saw the big green Sheraton sign became visible. That sign is much like the famous CITGO sign on the Boston Marathon marking the final mile on the course.

Then I saw it. The last stoplight and just past it was the glow of the red digits of the finish line’s clock. I ran as hard as I could. As I got closer, I could hear Vince’s voice, “C’MON, PUSH IT IN! YOU CAN HIT 22:45!” As I crossed the finish line, I clicked the belt of my bottle pack I have had on all day and sent it flying as I yelled, “AND THAT’S A 100 MILES!”

I was done. Done done. Wow. I did it. My new friend, Greg, was there. He had finished just a bit ahead of me. I must have stayed just behind him since Station Road. Vince gave me a high five. And there was my crew, once again, with just what I needed.

A beer.

How it went down.

After pacing several people and volunteering at a few 100 mile races, people had been asking me when I was going to be a runner and not just a pacer. My answer had always been, “Pacing folks during a 100 miler is a grim reminder why I do NOT run 100s.” My friend Lloyd warned me that I was going to get sucked in. Guess he was right.

Last fall, I had gotten myself in some trouble. I had told some people warming up at the Inland Trail Marathon that if I qualify for Boston, I would reward myself by running Burning River 100. I had been under the weather all week and was pretty sure it wasn’t in the cards for me that day. I was wrong. Somehow I pulled a decent race out and sealed my fate.

Fast forward 10 months to August 1, 4:59 AM at Squire’s Castle.
I had just said “see ya soon” to my awesome crew and was leading to the start line wondering what the hell I was doing. Once again, I was feeling under the weather and with a nasty quad strain from BT50K two weeks earlier on my last “training run,” not sure what was in the cards for me today. I mean, what could possibly go wrong???
“THREE…..TWO……ONE!!!!” went the crowd in the darkness as 155 runners and myself headed off towards Cuyahoga Falls about 101.7 miles away. I wedged myself comfortably towards the back of the pack. The back was a good place to start as I didn’t want to go out too fast which is something I am very prone to do in races.
The first 8 miles were on road. I kept an easy pace and reviewed my race plan in my head I had shared with my crew and pacers. Since everyone was on the same page, it would probably be a good idea if I was, too. Along those 8 miles, I met up with my brother-in-law and talked with him a bit. It wasn’t long before we hit the first water stop and there was Vince. I got an update on everyone, filled my bottles, and off I went.

We worked our way on roads a bit longer and headed to the Polo fields where we finally picked up some trails. It nice was along this section, I met some really nice folks. One gentleman had just finished Badwater. It was fascinating to hear about that race. I couldn’t help but notice his pink shoes. He had a full pink outfit on when he ran Badwater, tutu and all, on a dare.

Another person I met was a guy named Greg. Not only having a cool name, he was from Virginia and while we talked we discovered we had ran Bull Run Run 50 Miler together a few times. Small world. We pulled into Shadow Lake in Solon where I saw my crew for the first time. Got everything topped off and headed towards Alexander Road.
On the way, I got to chat to Greg some more. He has ran about twenty 100s so it was nice to get his take on things and I got to ask him about other 100 mile courses like Western States, Hardrock, and MMT. We made our way to Alexander Road where Paul was the captain. Paul gave me a good update from where I had last talked to Vince. Gave me some great words of advice, and then Greg and I were off towards Station Road in the Valley and the next crew pit stop for me.

This would probably be a good place to mention how awesome my crew was. I was totally spoiled. Jeff and Missy were on the spot at every point in the race where I could have a crew. They were up with me at 3 am and there still with me at 3 am the next day. Then my pacers, Kevin and Missy, were fantastic. Kevin got me through some lows and some technical spots. Missy took over and pushed me when I needed it the most, the rest of the way in when I wasn’t feeling it at points.

When I got to Station Road, the heat had started to creep up and I was really sweating. Of course, this also started some chaffing issues on my nipples. Trying to do anything to bandage them, however, I was sweating the bandages right off. Even duct tape wasn’t holding. That’s right. Duct tape. More on that later. Then comes Steve Godale, like MacGyver, and rigged a lube towelet I had by pinning it on the inside of my shirt. Wow! Worked like a champ. Well done, Steve!

Next issue, as I came out of Station Road loop I noticed that funny little stinging pain I rarely get in my shoes. The duct tape I applied earlier had given out and I felt like a blister. It was good timing with a podiatrist on hand at that aide station. While they fixed up my foot, I sipped on some water and tried to cool off a bit.

Once they were done, I was off and on my way to the Buckeye Trail, a section I know really well. It was there at Ottawa Point I ran into my buddy Dave. We cruised through that next section. Ironically, we had run this section several times this summer. Dave had been battling some stomach issues. But he was hanging strong and we made our way to the halfway point in just a little over 10 hours. On our way in, Dave asked, “Is it was better to puke before or after an aid station?” I answered, “Before! If you are going to puke after you might as not stop at all!”

I got my bottles filled back up and made my way towards the Boston Store. I figured it would be a good time to jam some tunes. Things were moving pretty good on this section as I played a little Dead, Strangefolk, and Marley. Before I knew I was at the Boston Store for the first loop. I was happy to see Elizabeth, the aid station captain, and her crew. She had promised to have a hotdog for there and sna sure enough, there it was. And it was quite possibly the best tasting dog I have ever had.

This is where things got a bit rough.

As I left Boston Store, I made my way up to Brandywine Falls. There isn’t much shade on this section and it was HOT. I couldn’t seem to cool my core down. Climbing up Standford road in the heat with a John Denver song on my iPod just wasn’t getting me to a happy place. Add in that there was this family out for hike and I kept passing on different points. At one of the points, I noticed one of the kids had a popsicle! Oh man did it look good. However, I figured stealing the popsicle and shoving it in my shorts to cool down would be in poor taste, so I moved on. All the while and kid was eyeballing me as if to say, “Don’t even think about it mister!”

I made it back to the Boston Store. Got some foot work done on my blisters and changed into my night gear. I had made it 60 miles and it was time to pick up my first pacer, Kevin. Man, was I glad to see him. I had paced him at Mohican in June, so he knew all to well how I was feeling. I said bye to my family, friends, and my dog who was out eating food at the aid station, and we worked our way to Pine Lane, then to Happy Days.

Kevin pressed me to keep on moving as he wanted to get through the ledges in daylight. This proved to be a great idea and I think help gain a lot of ground. We then inched our way up and down the rock formations and eventually made it out. He headed out around Kendal Lake and up to the Sound of Music Hill aid Station at mile 75. A quick refill and a grilled cheese sandwich and we were off and it was time for the headlamps to come on.

Kevin and I arrived at the covered bridge after going the longest distance without aid on the course and through some of the worst mud on the entire course. Through this section we lost a bit of time and I was now just coming in on pace for 22 hours.
Last year, I had noted that the Covered Bridge station was a bit of a rough place for runners. Many runners there don’t leave and DNF. We filled up quickly. In fact, I was starving and ate quite a bit. Still having a an appetite was a good sign. We then headed out on the most technical part of the course. I know if we got this behind me, it was smooth sailing to the finish.

After four very hilly, muddy, and rocky miles, several water crossing, some stumbling, and lots..and I mean LOTS…of swearing (NOTE: the level of swearing went from Drunken Sailor level to Wounded Pirate level) we arrived back to the Covered Bridge. There, I had to get some more blister work done and then switched to my road shoes. It was time to say goodbye to Kevin as pacer #1. Missy, Pacer #2, was ready to go and we headed off on the country roads in the Valley and headed towards downtown Cuyahoga Falls. 15 miles to go!

Missy and I worked our way out of the Valley and onto the Towpath. We passed the Sewage treatment plant and the fire in the sky and as we made our way and were approaching the Merriman Road aid station when we crossed paths with a skunk. Great! Less than ten miles to go and I get sprayed by a skunk. Luckily, the little guy scampered away and we quickly moved on.

I was really looking forward to the final aid station. Sean from HPL, who played a major part in getting me to Burning River, was there to see me off the finish line. He was there along with a group of HPL folks. It was great seeing them as they really lifted my spirits. They even had one last hot dog for me as I requested. No time to sit back and enjoy it. I took it to go with less than 4 miles to go. We worked our way up and into the park where we hit the path taking us to Glenn’s Trail. And you know the rest.

I need to also mention, I am very lucky to have the friends and family who puts up with me and my running and supports what seems absolutely crazy to them. However, they know it means a lot to me, and again, I am very lucky. I am also very lucky to have had some friends like Vince Rucci, Lloyd Thomas, and Dave Peterman who have given me tons of great advice along the way and really help the day be what it was.

Running a 100 mile race has been a dream of mine for quite some time. As sadistic as it sounds, I had a total blast. I am also in total gratitude of the volunteers who came out who made it all happen. It would not be possible if it wasn’t for all the folks that who made it happen. Everyone was amazing along the way. I have to say I am totally hooked. Now, I don’t have an entry form right in front of me for another race or anything, but I am sure there will one soon!