Friday, August 10, 2007

Burning River 100 Report

A couple of years ago some of the ultra runners in this area began discussing the possibility of a 100 mile race that would start somewhere up north of Brecksville, and follow the Buckeye Trail through Station Road Bridge and continue south along the BT50K ( course and then further south to a finish somewhere in Summit County. My initial reaction was, “That’s in my backyard, and I have got to do that!” Months later, when that race vision became a reality, Joe Novicky approached and asked me to volunteer and work an aid station with him. I told him, I didn’t want to commit, since I was considering running the race. Well, I never got a training plan put together, and when registration opened, I was fearful to commit money since I considered my training future questionable. I didn’t seriously consider this race until mid June while I was working an aid station for Mohican 100 ( During that weekend I did a couple of runs with Vince Rucci, owner of Vertical Runner store in Hudson and one of the BR100 race organizers. I also met Mike Keller, one of the BR100 entrants, and did a short run with Joe Jurczyk, the BR100 race director. I came home from that weekend with the 100 mile bug. I sent in my BT50K race application and thought about doing one 40+ mile training run. I was hopeful these two long runs would be enough prep to complete 100 miles. Then the offer came in. It was the proverbial straw. Near the end of June, my co-worker, Brandon Russell had a chance conversation with another Progressive Insurance employee Joe Vasil. Joe had registered for BR100 and would not be able to run due to an injury. He offered to have his race entry transferred to another runner for a minimal fee. Brandon hooked me in. I called Joe, and we exchanged some e-mails. On June 30th, I mailed in the transfer fee, and became an official BR 100 entrant. My longest run this year was 19 miles back in March. I had been doing a bunch of trail running, but nothing longer than 16. Guuuulp. On July 2nd I was at 7 Ranges scout camp in Carroll County. I did 10 laps of what I thought to be a 4 mile loop. That run went really well. Later I found out the loop was closer to 4.2 miles. I ran my best-ever 50k (5:12) on July 14th, 2007 at the Buckeye Trail 50k. And I felt great afterward, like I could have kept running. Race weekend - I had a fitful sleep Friday night/Saturday morning. Less than 1 hour total. It amounted to 3 or 4 fifteen-minute naps. I took the 45-minute bus ride from the finish area in Cuyahoga Falls to the start in Willoughby hills. No one on either bus (except for me) knew how to get to Squires Castle. We started in the grassy field in front of the castle. In that field, one Saturday summer afternoon back in the late ‘60s during a family reunion picnic, a bird pooped right square on the top of my head. Also in that field, back in the late summer of 1977 is where I lost my front tooth playing touch football. Now I was starting a 100 mile run from that same field, where I tossed hundreds of Frisbees as a child, and young man.
I want to insert here a special thanks to Tyler Peek who gave me some water as we waited for the bus at 3am. Also thanks to Tanya Cady for a small breakfast that gave me the initial calories I needed to get started. And thanks to Chihping Fu for keeping me company late Friday and early Saturday. We did some of the first part of the race together and he took a few photos of me.
The first 9.4 miles were on Chagrin River road. Dave Peterman, Ron Ross and I ran that whole way together. Ron had race bib #1. I had #2. Dave had #12. I wore my Northeast Running Club race shirt for the first 30 miles. That club hosted the first aid station. It was nice to see club President Jerry Tomko, Rich, and Steve Novak, Tanya and Walt. We walked up the three largest hills on the road section. We didn’t feel like walking, but we did so knowing this was a 100-mile race. Someone made a comment about getting more miles in before the heat of the sun and the hilly trails. I didn’t think that sounded good to me when I heard it. I also knew all the volunteers at aid station #2. Chris Corrigan, Mike Mayher, Dan Manery, Dave Coffee, TJ and Donna Hawk, Sue Deming, Gwen Goss and Joe Trask are the friends I recall seeing. My first problem came up (or I should say down) just prior to the third aid station. This was Harper Ridge shelter, mile 15.1. I had to use the toilet. I was prepared for this problem. I had a small packet of baby wipes. This is when I discovered the start of my second problem. The seams on my boxer-sport briefs were unraveling about an inch or so just on the inseam. My inner thighs were beginning to chafe. This was ok for now since I had liberally applied body glide prior to getting dressed. Harper ridge is at the highest elevation for the race. It’s where we cross over from the Chagrin watershed and into Tinkers Creek watershed, which flows into the Cuyahoga. From that Ridge, we could see Solon, Bedford, Maple Heights, Valley View, Independence, and Parma. This was the first of MANY awesome views. I recall crossing over Route 422 and then about 10 minutes later crossing on a bridge over railroad tracks. This is very close to the Stouffer Food processing plant in Solon. We were down wind of the plant, and I could smell some mixture of Italian sauce. It was a pleasant odor. At the Shadow lake aid station I drank some coke and noticed it was not de-fizzed. I mentioned this to the woman volunteer and suggested they de-fizz it since ALL the runners would like it that way. Another volunteer, a grizzled older, shorter man with a pot belly and a full gray beard, loudly pointed out that I was WRONG, and that HE was an ultra runner and had even run in 100 mile events and HE liked his coke with fizz in it. I kept my mouth shut. This bothered me a little. I analyzed my comments and realized I should have kept my comments to what I preferred and NOT tell the volunteers HOW and WHAT to do for other runners. But it still bothered me. This man who pointed out my wrong was also a volunteer at covered bridge. In retrospect, I am really glad he was out there helping. EACH and EVERY volunteer is greatly appreciated by ALL (or at least this) runner(s). Just after we crossed under I-480 I had to GO again. Fortunately there was a porta potty in a small parking area off the side of Hawthorn parkway. I still had a couple baby wipes. It was about 20 miles. No more wipes. No need to worry, I had more wipes in my aid-station bags. Soon after the potty break I had a great view of a goldfinch to my right. It perched, and flitted, then perched and flitted next to me for about 30 seconds. I wanted badly to point it out to someone, but there was no one nearby. About mile 24, I had to GO again! Agrr! This small problem was becoming a major PAIN IN THE BUTT! There were some long parts here where I was forced to walk or have an accident. I approached another runner from behind and I was anticipating asking him for some toilet paper so that I could find a secluded place along the trail. I knew we had at least another mile (15 minutes) to the next aid station. He was young, under 30. As I came up on him, he started to violently heave. At that instant I knew his problems were MUCH worse than mine. I stopped and checked him out. He told me that he had emptied his stomach earlier and presently was dry-heaving. I told him we were close to the next station and gave him some advice about what to consume and what to avoid that would help settle his stomach. The majority of miles up to this point - through South Chagrin, along Hawthorn Parkway and through Bedford Reservation, was on bridle trail. I was really getting sick of bridle trail. My first question to the aid workers at Alexander road was, “do you have any baby-wipes?” The porta potty was at the end of the parking lot. This time I was forced to use toilet paper. After finishing business, I ate Fritos, drank coke and told the aid workers about the young man in stomach distress that would be arriving soon. I also recognized one the volunteers - I only know him as “iron-dude.” His name is Matt, and I made sure to introduce myself to him. I see him several times a week in the fitness center at Progressive. He’s got the Iron Man logo tattoo on the side of his leg. He has the air of an incredible athlete. About 28 miles, on a single-track trail, a snake came across left to right just in front of me. It was cool! I think it was about noon when I arrived at the first section of towpath, next to the Frazee House. There was almost NO shade for those 2.5 miles. All the runners I saw were struggling here in the heat. I did a few miles with Rita Barnes here. She is one tough ultra runner! AT 30.3 miles, Station Road Bridge was my first support bag where I had a second hand-held water bottle, fresh socks, shoes and shirts. Also, more baby wipes, anti bacterial, and body glide. I made sure to apply a liberal amount of body glide on my chafing thighs. I also decided that I should carry the body glide and anti bacterial with me. I would apply the body glide on my chafing thighs about every 40 minutes for the remainder of the run. I made two big mistakes here. First, as I changed shoes and socks, I did not apply enough body glide between toes. Second mistake was only taking one bottle on the next segment (the carriage trail), knowing it was 6 miles and it was HOT and a good part of those 6 miles would be on the sunny towpath. I had a second bottle, and I chose not to take it. I ran out of fluid a little over ½ way through that segment. I ran almost 3 miles with nothing to drink during one of the hottest parts of the day. Stupid mistake, but it was not cause for failure. I just slowed down a little more. The only positive part of the towpath was seeing great blue herons and turtles. The second time through Station Road Bridge, I only stayed a minute to get my second bottle, drink some coke and eat some Fritos. I was looking forward to this section because I live here. Just after I crossed Riverview road, I looked up to see the three evergreen trees in my backyard. They are the three tallest trees on the ridge to the right across the big field.
Just after I crossed Chippewa Creek on the small foot bridge, I had to go again. This was almost a race ending situation, I just barely, made it to the porta potty at the Chippewa Picnic area. Yikes, there were a lot of things causing me to slow down. I was kind of on a high as I went around the kiosk at Route 82. One of the race volunteers put several water jugs there. As I refilled my bottles, I exchanged some words with some teenage boys walking from the parking lot toward the kiosk. I silently wondered if they knew my son Spencer. About 10 minutes later I was running past the Meadows Picnic area. Spencer’s Boy Scout troop camps here several times a year. When the bridle trail started up a large hill, I stated my first long section of walking. I was tired, and I HATED bridle trail at that point. I walked for almost a mile - from just before Oak Grove to just past Ottawa Point stables, where we started again on a short bit of single track to the Parkview Road aid station. It was dinnertime and I was hungry. Kathy Ross made me some egg salad sandwiches and pasta salad. I rocked the next section, which was almost all single-track trails on the BT50K course. Through here I had a second smaller snake cross in front of me. During that run I called my wife Judy several times and made arrangements to have her meet me at the Boston Store after the Brandywine loop, about 55 miles. And I asked her to have replacement technical underwear for me. It was great to see her and my daughter Angie. I took a longer break to change shirt and underwear, and clean up a little in the Boston Store bathrooms. I continued to run hard from Boston Store down to Pine Lane. About 15 minutes before Pine Lane, I had to go again. Badly. Imodium is now on the TOP of my shopping list prior to my next ultra race. One more bathroom comment, and I promise no more - I needed ALL of my baby wipes in ALL of my support bags - there were three more stops during this run.

Second time through Boston Store - about 55 miles. I went easy for the last 45 miles. Time was no concern to me, I was mearly enjoying where I was and what I was doing - living in the moment - keep moving forward. Trying hard to manage my calorie, salt, and fluid intake. And making sure to take care of my feet and chafing thighs. At one point I discovered a blister between my toes. As soon as I recognized the sensation, I stopped and sat in the middle of the trail to add more body glide. Too late, the blister was already there. I was at 62 miles when it became dark and I had NO flashlight. I could hear the fireworks from the Twinsburg Twins-day festival. I was walking on the rail-to-trial just north of Route 303. My first flashlight was in my support bag at the 65 mile aid station. A short part of the trail was pitch black and I had to navigate by repeatedly opening and closing my cell phone and use the display to light the trail at my feet. I met my first pacer, Brandon Russell at Happy Days Visitor Center, 65 miles. He ran/walked with me for 15 miles. At 75 miles we were at the Kendall Lake aid station, and it was midnight. I saw Steve Hawthorn and Dave Peterman, both in chairs with blanket wraps. Neither looked well.

Boston Store about 55 miles - after a change of cloths A little after midnight we were near the Summit county animal shelter and we could hear the dogs. Shortly after that I stumbled. My only fall. Just after "the fall" we climbed up a hill in a large field going up to the next aid station - Pine Hollow. The trail was lined with glow sticks placed at even intervals. It looked psychedelic! Then I heard a familiar voice call out my name. It was Dave Nonno, another coworker from Progressive, and he was waiting for me. He had volunteered to work the race just a few days before and was assigned this aid station on race weekend.

About 2am, we hear several coyotes calling out to each other. At mile 80, the covered bridge near Hale Farm, Brandon went home, and I had my second pacer Joe Novicky join me. The covered bridge aid station resembled a war zone. Bodies everywhere. I am sure this was drop point for a lot of runners. The Perkins trail was TOUGH! Several STEEP hills. The sun was coming up as I was on a short road section through Hale Farm. The aid station at O'Neal woods was great. Bill Wagner and Leo Lightner gave me a fried egg and cheese sandwich that perked me up a little. Also the beauty of the park, a trail along Yellow Creek, put me in a better mood. I dreaded the last section of Towpath. This went right next to the compost facility of the Akron Sewage Treatment plant. Human waste composting is about the most noxious order I have ever experienced. I think I walked about 5 of those 8 towpath miles. Joe Novicky gave me a couple of gel packs, one with caffeine, that got me moving again. The last 4.8 miles flew by. I was all of a sudden running hard again. I passed at least 4 runners through Cascade and Gorge parks. The finish on red carpet was first class! 28:34. Slow time, and a very hard run. I kept track of all my rest breaks - time. A couple breaks were close to 20 minutes. Total break time was close to 3 hours! I did use "the chair" several times to rest. "beware the chair!" many experienced ultra runners have advised - but I had only fleeting thoughts of quitting just during one chair rest break at 85 miles. Most rest breaks were between 5 and 10 minutes, depending on if a bathroom stop was needed. There was no point during that run where I was in agony. I really did enjoy at least a part of every section of this race. A couple of hours after my finish. Sign me up for next year! - Mike