Sunday, August 28, 2016

2016 Burning River 100

In 2009, I paced my brother on his quest to finish his first hundred. He was 29 years old and finished in 29 hours.

I've been surrounded by many friends who have run several 100 milers. Some of them I've met through the NEO Trail Club and others through running at the Cuyahoga Valley. For me, 100 miles seemed like the ultimate goal in running. For the majority of my running career, I've taken part in the "fast", competive side, racing in high school, collegiately and personally in marathons.  That side of running is fun, but eventually plateaus and can leave you burned out.

I started to get into trail running after college. I ran several 50Ks, 50 and eventually 100K. I really enjoyed being out in nature on the trails. It was easy to forget about running and clear my mind. Even more so than the roads. I didn't care about time or pace. Walking hills was perfectly fine. The goal in road running was faster, faster, FASTER! The goal in trail running was farther, farther, FARTHER!

So fast-forward seven years and it was now my turn, at 29 years old (ironic huh), to give this hundred thing a shot. I didn't have a specific date in mind that I wanted to attempt my first hundred by. It was more a matter of when I felt ready. Some people say you can never be 100% ready for 100 miles. I think you can be. 100 miles is a long way and a lot of variables can affect the outcome: training, nutrition, weather, health. But being 100% ready doesn't mean you have 100% chance of finishing. I've never DNF'd a race. I try to push my limits by competing in harder and harder races, but someday I expect a DNF.

The variables I mentioned above are just that, variables, because sometimes life gets in the way, sometimes we get week after week of 90 degree weather or blizzards, sometimes your stomach on race day just won't cooperate no matter how good your nutrition plan is. But the one constant you can count on if you train it well enough and one of the most important traits to have in ultra running, in my opinion, is your mental toughness. No matter what variables stack up against you, you can always fall back on this.

I signed up for the Burning River 100 the day after we came back from our honeymoon. Actually signing up for a race always gives me extra motivation in getting the training in, so I thought the sooner the better. The training to follow consisted of many ups and downs, like it always does. I got above 40 miles/week only twice with many weeks under 20. Not ideal, but I was able to get some key long runs in leading up to the race. 20, 15, 32 and 24 milers.

I was really confident going into the race due to how well I felt during my recent long runs and how well my nutrition went during those. Tailwind was a huge help for sure in getting my sodium (and other nutrients) in easier. Also, instead of using a bladder in my Camelback, I switched to 3 bottles and a handheld. I found this helped a lot in keeping me honest. One 14 or 16oz bottle per hour did me well. Also, peanut butter sandwiches helped get the calories in. I would pack as many as I could fit, which was usually three, into my Camelback and eat them throughout a 20+ mile run.

During the week leading up to the race, I felt excited, nervous, doubtful, calm, frantic and about every other feeling.  I had 6 drop bags that I filled with about the same stuff including pop tarts, face wipes, Ibuprofen, salt tablets, Tailwind, Vaseline, new shoes/shirt/shorts/socks, Clif Bars, PB sandwiches and extra bandanas.  I made a pace card with each of the aid stations and columns for distance from the previous aid station, total mileage, if there was a drop bag, estimated arrival time based on about a 26 hour finish, cutoff times, and notes about what was in a drop bag and trail surface for that section.  This proved to be very helpful when thinking and doing math in your head become extremely difficult later in a race.

The night before the race was the Olympic Opening ceremony.  I wanted to watch it, but still had to get some stuff together and get to bed.  I talked to my sister and parents then made it to bed around 7:30.  My mind was wandering, thinking about all the details of the race, so there wasn't much sleeping going on.  Before I knew it, my alarm was going off at 1 AM.  I was taking the bus from the finish line in Cuyahoga Falls up to the start at Squire's Castle in Willoughby Hills.  The bus was to be loaded at 2:15 and Cuyahoga Falls is about a 25 minute drive from our house.

Leaving home in the morning
The bus ride was enjoyable.  I talked most the way up to this guy from around Cincinnati.  It was his first hundred also.  When we arrived, we wished each other luck and made our way to the start line to do whatever last pre-race things we needed to do.  I wore flip flops up, so I changed into my shoes.

I tried to find my friend Les, who I had met through Shannon (another runner on our street) and had done a couple training runs with.  My last long run of 24 miles was with Les.  We ran a night run from Pine Hollow to the Covered Bridge and back.  We ended up making a wrong turn that night, went south on Wetmore Rd, a little out of the national park, turned around when we realized this and headed to Akron-Peninsula Rd and back up Quick Rd to our cars.  It was a great run mentally before the race to get us in the right frame of mind to finish this hundred.

I didn't end up finding Les in the sea of headlamps, but would see him later on.  The national anthem was sung, Vince counted down and the race was off!

Below are some of the key moments, highlights and memories along the way...
  • The first section of the race had a lot of roads.  I didn't really mind this, but made it a point to slow down and keep things at or above 10 minute pace
  • I saw Kelly, our dog Zoey, and my parents for the first time at mile 38 at the Meadows AS.  This was great seeing them! 

  • I got stung 4 or 5 times by a wasp around mile 30 or so.  A hiker warned us of the nest up ahead.  I sprinted through this area, which in hindsight it might have been better to walk.  It got me on the head, neck and wrist and hurt like hell, but the pain left within the next mile and there wasn't any swelling.
  • I can't recall when exactly, but before the Meadows, I ran into fellow NEO Trail member Ron Ross.  Ron is incredible both as a person and in running.  I think he's run upwards of 60+ hundreds, so seeing and talking to him throughout the race helped a lot.  Ron is real upbeat and always believes in you and in himself.
Leaving the Meadows AS with Ron
  • I also ran into another NEO Trail member, Paul "The King" Lefelhocz.  Paul is also a very accomplished runner and was actually signed up for Eastern States 100 (which he finished) the weekend after this race!  Paul is also another great guy who has tons of ultra wisdom.
  • Paul, Ron and I saw each other many times throughout the race.  From the Ledges AS (mile 66) all the way to the finish, we would pass each other frequently.  It was encouraging to see that they had their ups and downs throughout the race too.  One thing I learned is that no matter how many hundreds you do, this distance never gets easy.  There are points throughout the race, particularly in the later stages, where a bad attitude can lead to a DNF.  Attitude is
    Leaving Pine Hollow for the second time
  • A runner from Indiana, Dawn, helped me a ton!  She was really positive and every time I saw her she said I was doing great.  She was running the back-half 50, but had done a hundred before.  I started running with her in the Kendall Hills area and ran with her at various other points throughout the rest of the race, the Perkins loop being the last.
  • I finally saw Les at the Ledges Shelter and again at Pine Hollow.  I ran with him and his pacer Bob Hunter for a little while.
  • I passed Paul midway through the Perkins Loop after the Covered Bridge (mile 82).  He couldn't stomach anything and would be pushing the Covered Bridge cutoff (5:34 AM Sunday) This was a crucial juncture in the race for both of us.  We gave each other encouraging words.
  • After the Perkins Loop, until the finish, I would keep calculating in my head what a 20 minute pace would get me in at.  I knew this was really slow, but I wanted to play it safe.  It seemed every time I calculated it, this pace got me in to the finish with 20 minutes or less left in the race.  Maybe my math was wrong, but this helped me keep pushing the pace as much as I was able.  I thought, "for every mile I can get under 20 minutes, I'm banking time.  And at some point, I'll literally need 25-30 minute miles to finish!"
  •  After the Covered Bridge II AS, I had 15 miles left.  Nothing too exciting happened during this time.  I ran when I could, but walked a good portion.  I actually didn't feel terrible and knowing that a slow walk would get me in before the cutoff was more than enough to keep my spirits up.
  • I didn't end up using a pacer.  Having no pacer was just me being stubborn and wanting to finish my first hundred on my own.  However despite having no pacer, I had plenty of help from my wife, parents, other runners throughout the race, the countless aid station workers and my brother and sister texting & calling me during the night.  So it was far from a solo effort!
  • I brought my mp3 player along, loaded with tons of music ranging from Rocky to Hall & Oates to current songs.  However, I didn't end up using it.  I was too lazy to pull it out of my pack and was just really focused on finishing this race.  Plus I enjoyed hearing the sounds throughout the night and talking to other runners.
  • Memorial Parkway with 4.6 miles left!
  • I ran some of the last stretch of the race past Botzum down the Towpath with a guy (whose name I can't remember) and his pacer.  I could tell he was starting to give into a really slow pace, one that could lead to a DNF if he kept it up.  I was about 400 yards back from them and caught up in the span of a mile by just power walking.  His pacer told his runner this trying to pump him up.  I told him to walk with a purpose and get it done!  We started running sections off and on and he ended up pushing me more than I would have on my own.  The three of us made a good team to the Memorial Parkway AS.
  • After Memorial Parkway, there's a big climb in Cascade Valley Metro Park.  I got to the last grassy straightaway on a trail called the Highbridge Trail.  It's the final stretch until you get to High Street to the finish.  On this trail, I heard someone call out my name.  It was Paul!  I turned around and yelled his name.  I hadn't seen him since the Covered Bridge, so it was great to see he got out of his funk and made it!  
  • Just a minute later, Ron was coming up behind me.  He was so happy for me and said I showed a lot of toughness out there.  It was cool to be participating in the same race as legends like Ron and Paul and being able to see firsthand how they've finished so many 100s - consistency, patience, riding out the storm and mental toughness.
I walked the final stretch down High Street with another runner until I could see the finish.  Once I got within 100 yards, I sprinted in.  I heard Jim Christ announce "I know this guy!".  I was so happy to reach the end and gave Jim a hug.  It almost didn't seem real that I was actually done.  Kelly, my parents and Kelly's sister, Steph, were all there congratulating me.  My final time was 29:07:54.


For more pictures from the race click here.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Muddy Run

After work today, I drove over to Happy Days and ran the Ledges Trail and Pine Grove Loop.  The trail around the ledges was dry as usual, but Pine Grove was pretty muddy in spots.  I kept a fast pace throughout the run and felt really strong.  My training has dipped a bit due to getting sick and busy with random life events, but I hope to get back into the swing of things with a longer run this weekend.