After I completed my first 100, the 2010 Burning River 100, I really wanted to get back to Cuyahoga Falls for another finish of it. I was fortunate to miss the very hot 2011 edition, but there was no holding me back in signing up for the 2012 race. I really do want to do other 100s, but the BR100 has a great course, and it’s just an all around super event.
It was a long journey to the finish. Even before we left northern Virginia for the ~6 hour drive to packet pickup in Cuyahoga Falls, my half-packed rental van got towed from my apartment. Crap. Panic ensued. Luckily, I found that it got towed only 2.3 miles away. I hadn’t planned a shakeout run/walk the day before the race, but I got one. This delayed our departure only by a little, but it was a bit stressful, I must say.
At packet pickup, I got my picture taken by the scoring crew and got to drop off my 4 drop bags for different locations (Mile 26.2, Mile 54.6, Mile 65.4, and Mile 80.1) along the course. I had a crew, but I think having drop bags is a good backup plan. In fact, my crew was supposed to meet me at Mile 26.2, but I was running a bit early, and we ended up moving our meetup to Mile 31. My drop bag at Mile 26.2 turned out to be my crew then.
After a short night’s rest, I got geared up and walked over to the shuttle buses, which would take me to the 5am start. The early start area was a cool scene of anxious ultrarunners, excited to get the race on the way. One of those anxious folks was fellow DailyMiler, Peter A. I never met him before, but he recognized me, since I was wearing a do rag (a black one I might add). We had a short chat and then got lined up.
3-2-1. Woo hoo! During that first crowded run through the field in front of Squire’s Castle, I got choked up a bit, just knowing I was back in this wonderful event with a great day ahead of me. Makes me tear up a little just thinking about the start… Anyways, the start had us run a 10k loop on the trails around the castle grounds. It was a new part of the course, due to some other changes further down. It was almost marked very well, but one bad marking caused a gaggle of the front runners to come back yelling “Reverse! We haven’t seen any markings in a long time”. It felt very weird standing there with ~70+ runners trying to decide what to do. Quickly though, someone in the dark pack had seen a marking and headed off on a turn, which just happened to be close to where I was anyhow. I really didn’t have to backtrack much at all. That was cool. Back at the castle after the loop, I handed my cheap headlamp to a volunteer to add it to a collection that would be transported to Mile 54.6, giving runners a chance to reuse their headlamps at a point when they might need it again in the evening. I didn’t really care about seeing that cheap headlamp again, and even packed an identical cheap one in my drop bag at Mile 54.6. The return to the castle marked the first aid station, but not too many needed aid at that point.
After a little more trail heading away from the castle and stopping at an unmanned water stop, we finally got to do a road section, which I remembered as the starting miles of the 2010 race. Soon enough, we hit another aid station at Old Mill & Chagrin River roads. There at Mile 12.4, a volunteeer refilled my only handheld with water and I dropped into it another Nuun tablet. As I was leaving that quick break, I heard someone say my name and the runner introduced herself as Des, one of my DailyMile friends. Des had completed the Vermont 100, a week earlier, and was volunteering at that early aid station. So cool to meet virtual friends in real life, but even more so when you least expect it.
After a few road miles, the course brought us to the Polo Fields aid station at Mile 17.2, where we’d get back on the trail again. Just like all aid stations, the wonderful volunteers quicked refilled my water bottle and off I went. I plopped in another Nuun tablet and let it fizz up again. By that point, I was getting a little sick of this bubbly drink. Believe it or not, I even thought about how great it would be to be getting my Perpetuem mixture whenever I saw my crew. Crazy! But, before our first planned crew point at Shadow Lake at Mile 26.2, there was another quick aid station.
I arrived at Harper Ridge Picnic at Mile 23. I was way ahead of schedule and decided I better give my crew a warning call. I was fortunate and smart to be carrying a tiny, indestructible mobile phone, unlike the USATF runners who weren’t allowed. I gave my crew a call and knew that they would be surprised at my progress. With 3.2 miles to the next aid station, there was no way they’d make it on time, as they were still getting ready to head out the door. So, we decided to just move the first crew point down to the next aid station.
So, I come into the Shadow Lake aid station at Mile 26.2, around 9:30am, and immediately realize that I basically beat my 2011 Boston time. Don’t ask about that race. I was making incredible time, considering the amount of trail covered. I wasn’t overly pushing it. I was just plodding along and feeling good. Here at Shadow Lake, I had a drop bag, mainly as a crew backup. I think having backups are good, especially for a first crew point. It’s hard to coordinate getting everyone ready for an early meetup. And, I couldn’t afford not getting the support I needed at this point in the race. From my bag, I got to put on some sunblock and also change socks, shirt, and do rag. Ah, much better. As I walked around the lake, I called the crew and told them I was heading their way.
Mile 31, Egbert Shelter aid station, came soon enough, and I was so happy to see my crew for the first time. And, a little volunteer girl asked me if I wanted a popsicle, and here she is wanting to hand me another one, having forgotten that she had already given me one earlier.
Oh man, these BR100 volunteers are so wonderful, always immediately asking to refill your bottles or hydration packs as soon as you arrive. Again, I tear up just thinking about them. Such wonderful people. Paul and Janet were great too. My personal race volunteers. After I downed a few Cokes from the table there, my crew gave me my much wanted Perpetuem mixture in a waiting bottle, and off I went.
It would be about 9 miles before I would see my crew again, as the next immediate aid station at Mile 35.4, wasn’t accessible by them. I did however run into my new buddy, Peter A, at that aid station. We were both filling up on icy fluids there, since the sun was in full force at that point. I took off knowing that Peter would sooner or later be passing me again. Oh, and only after that first Perpetuem bottle handoff earlier, I had called the crew to tell them to just give me orange Gatorade in my bottle for the rest of the race. I couldn’t stomach Perpetuem or much of anything else anymore. I grew to love watermelon slices though. Too bad they barely have any calories!
The next 5-ish miles weren’t that tough, especially since the last 3-ish miles were on a canal towpath. This flat, easy-footing section was a nice way to end the route.
I knew this easy portion from 2010, so I decided to bring it in fairly strong to the next aid station at Mile 40.3, Station Road Bridge. At the end of the bridge, some more kids were handing out popsicles. I turned them down this time. Then, I looked around for my crew, but couldn’t immediately locate them. But, they were there and just at the car or such. Here’s my unshaven, Grizzly Adams look, as I have a good sit to change socks and shirt.
This time I headed off, walking, carrying a half Panera sandwich, which was the same thing I did in 2010 at that point. But this time, I couldn’t finish but a few bites. My stomach was just getting worse and worse. I knew that my crew would be passing me during my lunch walk before I got to the trailhead, and I kept hoping they would do it soon, so I could later chuck the sandwich and wrappings in a waste basket that I saw in the distance. They did pass me before then, and I did that shameful ditch. I just didn’t want them to see me throw away an item that they went out of their way to get for me.
During the next 6+ miles on my way to see my crew again, I grew tired of the orange Gatorade too. I poured most of my handheld out, right before an unmanned water stop at the mid-point of the route. I then called my crew and told them I only wanted ice water for the rest of the race. I had been taking S-Caps the whole way too, and so, I’d be getting my sodium at least with the water. Somewhere after the water stop, Peter A caught up with me and we ran together for around 3 miles, straight in to the next aid station, Ottawa Point, at Mile 46.7.
Paul and Janet were there to meet me, and I also got to meet Janet’s friend, Thomas M. He had been the pacer for an older runner, early in the race, since runners over 60 could have them from the start, if needed.
I got a good sit at the picnic tables under the pavilion at this aid station. I even managed to have a little bit of noodle soup that the race volunteers had heated up. I had lots of ice water while there too. And, before I knew it, I was back on the trail again, carrying more ice water in my handheld.
I was hydrating pretty good. And, only half way through my water bottle, I finally got the urge to “go find a secret place hidden from the trail”. Hey, I don’t like those porta potties for that. Luckily, I had my half-filled water bottle. Hey, I don’t like leaves for that either.
So, I “finished” my water bottle a little earlier than I wanted, and knew I had another 3+ miles until the next crewless aid station. I was getting really thirsty in those few miles. Finally, the aid station, Snowville, came into sight. And, the volunteers had made their station a M*A*S*H theme, complete with camoflage decorations. Not too far from the entrance to the stop, a music player was also playing the M*A*S*H theme song. It was an appropriate theme, since I needed some repair. I needed some fluids, STAT! That was the first stop that I noticed the availability of pizza too. I couldn’t eat it though. I had another 3 icy Cokes, instead. And, a volunteer offered to put ice under my do rag. Brrr. Brain freeze from the outside! Then, another volunteer offered to wring out an icy sponge on the back of my neck. She did and it felt great! I left that place, 50.7 miles into the race, feeling rehydrated and happy to be halfway done.
The next station at Mile 54.6 was new to the course, named Blue Hen Falls. I had a similar stop in that I downed a bunch of water and Cokes. I also had some noodle soup again, but I still wasn’t happy consuming any solids. After the chow and continued S-Cap usage, I re-geared, as one of my drop bags was there. I changed my shirt, socks, and maybe my do rag, before heading out, again with a handheld filled with ice water. Very shortly into the trail I thought, “I think I would feel better if I puked. I think I can do it.” So, I calmly stepped off the trail and exorcised whatever was in my stomach, which was mostly watermelon and Cokes. Oh my, that felt so good. After most of the day of having stomach issues, I was finally feeling pretty good now in that department. I debated about going back to the aid station to grab some more noodle soup to replace what I had lost, but quickly decided I was fine. I then did my normal, post-aid station crew call, and happily told Paul that I just had a wonderful vomit. It was such great news!
Another 5.3 miles on the trail would slowly go by, and I again ended up craving that ice water they had at the next aid station, Pine Lane, at Mile 59.9. Not much went on there, besides my normal ice water refueling.
I was moving pretty slow at this point, mainly due to the hot sun. And, this next segment was my least favorite from 2010, and remained my least favorite in 2012. The segment has a long road section, immediately followed by a mostly paved bike trail section, and they seem to combine for about 3+ miles. To me, it feels like those sections are inclined the whole way too. I ended up walking nearly all of those hard-on-the-feet miles. But, somehow once the course returned to the woods, I was able to pass all of the folks who had passed me during my death march. And, I came roaring into the next aid station, Happy Days, at Mile 65.4, all happy and such to see my crew again.
There at that bustling aid station, I got a great sit on a towel my crew layed out for me, and Janet was gracious enough to massage my feet, which were very sore at that point. Even though I ran hard into that aid station, I feared that my feet were giving up on me again, like they did in 2010 around that mileage. That year, I ended up walking the last ~30 miles. But, Janet’s magical fingers released the pain I was feeling. My feet felt invigorated. She also made sure I took many bites of one of my sandwiches, which I had avoided earlier. Plus, she gave me some Tums to keep my stomach feeling good. She was awesome at crewing!
After my long sit, Paul was ready to pace me. He had volunteered to pace me for the next 14.7 miles, and I was happy to have someone out on the course with me. I believe that Paul and I had figured that it would take about 1:15 to 1:30 before we’d finish our first 5.7 miles, where we’d see Janet again. But, we got into a great groove and my feet were cooperating with it. We came into the next aid station, Pine Hollow, at Mile 71.1, much earlier than planned. We couldn’t see Janet immediately, but then found her in the parking lot, totally surprised that we made it there that early. So, my aid station was really our rental van there. I hopped in and Janet handed me my sandwich again.
After some more foot massaging by Janet, Paul and I headed out again for the next 9 miles together. Before we met Janet again, we hit a water-only aid station, Little Meadow, 3 miles down the trail. We made it there in just under 30 minutes, which at the point in the race was pretty darn fast in the woods. I was feeling awesome, and was pushing us along. Paul was feeling it, but doing an awesome job keeping me in the pace I wanted. The next 6 miles also went by fairly quick, and we arrived at the Covered Bridge aid station ahead of schedule again, as Janet was getting ready to take her turn at pacing me. I think Paul was relieved to be done with his portion, since I had my second wind and was pushing it hard near the end of our route.
Covered Bridge was at Mile 80.1, and Janet had signed up to pace for the remainder of the race. I had warned her before that the trail immediately following our starting point was a doozy. Lots of climbing would come, but we power-walked up those inclines quite nicely. 4.7 miles later, we had a quick stop at a water-only aid station, right at the start of a road section.
On the roads, Janet was a beast. She wasn’t getting the speedy miles she needed for her workout, back in the hilly woods. Once on the road though, she was her normal bouncy self. I, on the other hand, needed a foot massage, but didn’t want to bother my masseuse, who was pacing me. Those miles on the road were tough for me. I couldn’t wait to get back in the woods. And, once we reached the entrance to the woody trail again, we decided to change our headlamp batteries. During that time a couple passed us, but we would later pass them back. I had underestimated how long we’d be in the woods again, and kept thinking that O’Neil Woods, the next aid station, was just around the bend. The trail seemed to never end. Finally, that aid station at Mile 88.6 came. And, with respect to my sore feet, I took matters into my own hands, literally.
The volunteers at O’Neil Woods were fantastic! Two young guys ran up to meet us, grabbed our hyrdration gear and ran back to fill them with water. They were working hard that night. We were total strangers to them, but they were very enthusiastic to help us. Volunteers at ultras are the best!
Heading towards the next aid station, Merriman Road, at 93.1, Janet and I had to deal with a canal towpath that also seemed to never end. I wasn’t doing well coming into our planned stop. I was taking too many walk breaks. I’d shuffle a little, then I’d walk a little. My feet weren’t liking me. And, it looked like my goal of going sub-24 was out the window. There was no way at my current pace that I’d make it.
When we rolled into Merriman Road, I again got some ice water, and also massaged my feet one final time. With 3 more miles to the next aid station, we headed out, back on another canal towpath. I don’t know what happened, but something changed inside me, as I picked up the pace, running much better in that short stretch. I knew if I focused on keeping my strong pace up, we could still get that sub-24. We made it to the next and final aid station, Memorial Parkway, at Mile 96.1, in record time. Well, it felt like record time. We were on a mission to finish under 24 hours.
Only 4.8 miles to go, we climbed up the road out of that brief stop, and kept the “fast” pace going. I knew we had more trail that included some stair climbing, so we needed to bank some time, since we wouldn’t be sprinting up them. Janet liked the stairs so much that she decided to count the steps. We powered up them too!
I love this race, but when we finally reached Front Street, off of the final trail, I was so happy to know we were only about a mile away from the finish line. We were going at a pretty good clip too, considering. I asked Janet to cross the line with me, but she graciously declined, indicating that it was my finish to enjoy. And, as I neared the line, I saw and waved to my cousin, who was waiting with her husband for my finish. So cool. I crossed the line and bent over and tried to let out a quick power-cry, if there is such a thing. I was so happy to finish this thing again, and finish strong in 23:48:40. Plenty of room to spare for my sub-24. We really picked up the pace those last 7.8 miles to Mile 100.9. Yes, they tack on an extra 0.9 for good measure. Yay!
Again, it was so cool to have family there too. Paul had given them a warning, wakeup call, back at Mile 93.1, letting them know I was coming. Why they would get up at 4am to come cheer me on is beyond me. Such great people! My cousin Susan half-joked that we should have family reunions coinciding with my BR100 finishes. That would be cool. I may have a 50-person crew for the next time I run it! Party!!!!
After our abbreviated family reunion there at the finish, I hobbled over to our room at the Sheraton Suites, across the street. I had a victory Ruination IPA, then hit the sack. Surprisingly, I didn’t crash for the entire day at that point. Around lunch time, Janet, Paul, and I headed down to the bar for some lunch and refreshments. At the bar, Janet ordered a mimosa and Paul ordered the usual, Commodore Perry IPA. I ordered both.
What a great time I had at the Burning River 100. The volunteers and race organizers are top notch. It’s hard to believe it’s such a young race, around 6 years old. They make it look like it’s been around for 20 years. So well run.
Just like in 2010, I had a wonderful crew get me to the finish. I wouldn’t have met my goal without them. I’ll never forget what they did for me in this event. Words really can’t express what I feel for them.
Thanks to all out there who tracked me online and gave me congrats afterward. I’ll be back to the Burning River 100 in some form down the road…