Thursday, August 4, 2011

Burning River 100 Race Report

Anyone signing up for a hundred miler in Ohio at the end of July has some kind of mental issues. Chances are that it WILL be hot and it WILL be humid. I’d like to think that I’m a smart person, but I did sign up for Burning River. I blame my so-called friends for peer-pressuring me into it.

Here’s the story.

Six of us drove down to Cuyahoga Falls in style, having rented a Toyota minivan: Kim (Chris’ crew), Chris (runner), Steve(runner), Stephen (runner), Adi (Steve’s pacer) and me. Spirits were high and we discussed the usual ultra topics at length. Our Garmin GPS guided us to our hotel, which was directly across the street from the finish line. After getting our rooms, we immediately grabbed our drop bags and went to register and … drop off our drop bags. The pasta dinner was ok. We went to bed early, around 9:30. That was not the most restful sleep I ever had, but my phone woke me up at 2:15AM. By 3:15, we were all in one of the 3 shuttle buses driving us to the start line up near Cleveland.

It was warm and muggy. At the line, I met with Carlos (see his blog here) and Gail Anne, who run many of the OUSER races. After a quick stop at the porta-potty (lights are very useful in there when it’s pitch dark), we waited for the start.

At 5:00AM sharp, we were gone. The first 10 miles or so are on road. This fact made me decide to run in my Mizuno Wave Ascend 5 instead of my Crosslites. I knew there were other sections of either pavement, bike path and tow path that were not a good match for my beloved shoes so I went with the Mizunos. They are in the garbage can as I type this. I ran part of the road section with my friends but I had already decided that I was doing this by myself and I stopped to pee and never tried to catch up.

I have to admit that I can barely remember the first 30 miles. Aid stations ticking by. Rumors that a runner had been hit by a car. Desperate hunt for a toilet. Talking to a runner racing without water bottles (really? I was running with two.). I DO remember that it was hot and getting hotter. Sometimes, the trails would go up and down and you would feel what felt like a 10 degree drop (or increase) in temperature within a few seconds. When I got to Shadow Lake (19 miles), someone already hadmy drop bag in hand and I sprayed myself with sunscreen and kept moving.

Other than the road-like sections, I'm not sure there is a single flat on the course. The trail sections were an endless cycle of going up something that is smaller than a mountain but definitely bigger than a hill, going down said obstacle usually almost straight down, totally busting your toes and quads, crossing a stream and then repeat. A few sections had great views of waterfalls that made me regret not bringing my camera.

The one section I remember well is referred to as "The Tow Path". No shade, straight, hot, goes on forever. I was on a strict 25 run/5 walk diet but the temptation to drop to a walk was very strong. At the end, the urge to get it over with won and I stuck with my program. Aid stations are far enough apart that sometimes you need a goal that you can wrap your hands around. A walk break within 25 minutes is a nice goal to have. Eventually, I made it to Station Road Bridge and I was a third done, 33 miles in. A lot of people were hurting at that aid station from the direct exposure to the sun. I took a bit more time than at previous stations, but I tried to get out of there as fast as possible. I filled my bottles, put ice under my hat and in my buff, which I put around my neck. I was cooking. Thankfully, the trail following the aid station had decent cover so it didn't feel quite as hot.

Somewhere after Station Road Bridge, I caught up with Chris, who was having some ankle issues, as well as heat issues. We ran together for a while but I eventually pulled away. Hills were getting bigger, the trails a bit more rugged. Running the full 25 minutes before taking a walk break was becoming more and more difficult. I was drenched with sweat with no hope of relief. I got to Boston Store, 49.1 miles, shortly after 4:30 PM. I still felt somewhat ok, especially compared to Mohican where I was a wreck at 50 miles. Kim was already there waiting for Chris and I sat in her chair for a while, ate some soup, changed my socks and cinglet. I had to do a 4.4 mile loop before continuing forward. Just before I left, Steve shows up having just finished his loop and announced he wanted to quit. I don't know how serious he was but I told him what I thought of that idea. The loop started with a long flat followed by some hilly road and finally I got back to Boston Store. I was now more than halfway done. I changed my hat for a buff, changed my bottles for my Nathan vest filled with half ice/half Gatorade, put my lights on and after eating some more I got out of there. Food was losing its appeal. Even cold drinks didn't feel all that great. The heat was really getting to me now and I felt a continuous low grade nausea.

Just as I was thinking about how stinking hot it was, some guy passes me wearing a full body mosquito suit, including the fucking head net. I ask him if he was training for some jungle race but he told me it was because there were some bugs in the sections to the finish. Wonder if he finished. Anyway, now I'm starting to hurt. Drinking is a chore. Eating becomes more and more difficult. The thought of having a gel is so repulsive that I can't even contemplate it. The trails are a series of unending climbs followed by quad and toe busting downhills. As I get close to Pine Lane I hear some screaming. Bees are running wild stinging runners left and right. I see a woman being helped by volunteers after being stung 3 times. Somehow I get through unstung, refill at the aid station and get back out. Of course, this is an out and back section so we have to run passed the crazy bees again but again, I get away with it.

I'm so tired. It's getting dark and I push on with my lights on. Things are fuzzy. I run, I walk, I run some more. This is when I remember how hard it is to run 100 miles. After the race, you forget but after 65, 70 miles, your body remembers. It is so hard not to quit, the temptation is almost overwhelming. To be honest, I remember nothing until shortly before I finally get to Pine Hollow, mile 70, a bit after midnight. I remember walking with this guy who had been hit by a car. He went to the hospital, got a ride back 2 hours later who dropped him off where he got hit and then started running again. Now, he's decided to quit with 30 miles to go. I probably have 10 or more hours of running left. I want this to stop. I swear to myself that I will never run another 100 miler. But I need to finish this one. I do my loop and when I come back an hour later, I get my drop bag, change my clothes, chat a bit with Kim and a volunteer and get the Hell out of there. Cut offs are far enough away that I don't really worry about them but they're not that far either. I push on.

The section to Covered Bridge is a nightmare that I can't remember. 6.6 miles in the bush, all by myself. Every five minutes, I wonder if I missed a turn even though this course is very well marked. I keep thinking I'm off course. Up. Down. Cross a stream. Up again. Repeat. Eventually, I get close to Covered Bridge and I see the dark outline of a huge hill. Of course, I see a light moving near the top. Fuck. At the aid station I get some rest and refill my vest. I try to eat a saltine cracker. After a while I go out for my loop, another fucking nightmare. As I get out of the aid station, a guy is puking so loudly that I ask a volunteer if it’s a joke. I saw someone in the first 5 minutes, a grown man crying telling his pacer that he’s sorry but he can’t go on, his feet are just to painful.  I'm pretty sure I didn't see anyone until I finished the loop. By now, the sun is rising, I know I only have 15 miles to go and things are looking up. I may just finish this thing. I don't spend much time at the aid station. I say hi to Chris, who just got pulled off the course because he missed the cut off and I leave. He’s sitting in a chair with a space blanket wrapped around him. He looks like what I feel.

The rest of the course is mainly roads, bike and tow paths although there are some trail sections. I try to run as much as I can but it's not going well. It's getting warmer by the minute. I'm so nauseous I'm afraid I might puke any minute. I can barely drink a few sips of water once in a while. Eventually, a guy named Wayne catches up to me and we pull each other for a while. As we get close to the finish, we run faster and faster. We're passing quite a few runners, who probably think we're assholes for passing them so close to the finish but we don't care. We just want this to be over. Eventually, we cross the finish line (28h55min) and I almost cry, I'm so happy this is over.

Sitting in a chair at the finish is Adam, a guy with whom I ran big chunks of Susitna last year. He finished almost an hour ahead of me. Small world. His father physically lifts me up and sits me in his chair and we chat for a while. After about 20 minutes I walk across the street to the hotel. As I walk in the parking lot, I start sobbing because I’m so relieved this is over. It only lasts a few seconds and then I'm under control again, I go up to my room and jump in the shower.

This race was supposed to be easier than this. Instead, it ended up being my toughest race yet. My feet were completely destroyed. I could barely eat or drink for the last 10 hours. I'm happy I raced my own race. I believe that's why I was able to finish. Go fast when I can, go slow when I have to. Still, that one was a bitch.