Thursday, September 1, 2011

2011 Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run

A quarter-day road trip, a quick race packet pick-up, and a 3:00pm dinner, and I was checked into a hotel with my parents and Jackie, a matter of just hours before the dark but buzzing starting line of the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run.  It was an exciting night, with an early bed time and the alarms set for 3:00am.  But I wasn't nervous!  I kind of expected to be nervous at some point, but then again, why should I be?  I was finally getting to do what I'd been looking forward to for months!  I kept thinking about the Grand Canyon...The Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim run was the last time I had gotten up at 3:00am I think, and that turned out to be a really fun day.  And so should this be!

Race morning I felt calm, focused, and definitely stoked to get going.  Having my parents and Jackie there was great, and I was absolutely thankful for their presence.  They were in for just as long of a day as I was, but not even as fun (well, depending on how you look at it I guess)!

The gun went off at 5:00am sharp and I fell into the pack of almost 300 runners heading out onto the road for the first 9.6 miles.  I couldn't believe how fast people were going out!  I settled into a slow, very comfortable jog, and tried to fend off thoughts of the magnitude of this run.  Meanwhile, it seemed like loads of people were passing me.  I had no idea what kind of pace I'd be holding for this run, but I knew it wouldn't be faster than the 9:30 to 10:00/mile pace I started out at.  So part of me kind of liked watching all these people pass me; I kept telling myself I'd be seeing many of them later.

At mile 9.6, I came into the first big aid station and saw my parents.  I knew the most important things I could do to finish this race would be (a) not starting out too fast and (b) eating and drinking plenty.  So I ate and drank a little while Dad filled my bottle and Mom took pictures, still feeling brand new.  Then I was off, on to the trails now.

Just as I expected, everyone who has said that long races like this are largely mental is certainly correct.  It was weird - being tired going up a steep hill less than 15 miles into the race, knowing I would constantly have to try and control that level of tiredness for the rest of the day, trying to keep it below my threshold.  It was kind of an intimidating thought, but I think it's pretty cool.  And, notice I said "try".

At mile 18.6, I saw my parents again exactly 3 hours into the race.  Same deal as before, I drained cups of Gatorade, soda, Heed, and whatever else, and ate lots of fruit.  I had been starting to get hot, so I asked my dad for cold water on my head at the next aid station.

For the next several miles, I continued to chat with other runners.  I was generally near or with the same runners for most of miles 10 to 30 or so.  Something I thought was pretty crazy was that even less than a quarter of the way through the race, I was already really looking forward to each aid station.  The morning kind of turned into an aid station hopping adventure, leaving one aid station feeling good, thinking all I had to do was make it to the next one to feel good again.
Popsicle and cold water over my head at mile 23
I knew I would see Jackie at mile 28.4, where she was volunteering at an aid station for the morning, and I was excited about that.  I knew she would be curious or anxious to see how I looked when I got there.  I also knew that how I look and how I feel are not always the same, and that she could tell the difference.  My mindset was on a rollercoaster ride all morning, which kind of matched the hilly terrain leading up to Jackie's aid station.  If I remember correctly, there were some pretty big hills in that stretch.  I remember being pretty sufficiently exerting myself around mile 25 to try to catch up with a group of 3 or 4 runners up ahead, so that I could have some company on the hills.  Catching them actually took a good bit of effort, though they were in sight for quite some time.  I was tired, and it was only a quarter of the way through this race in terms of mileage (and less than that in terms of hours).  I think when I caught up with that group though, I started feeling better and I went ahead, putting on my high spirits as I approached Jackie and company at Alexander Road.  So I think I looked good, and felt good too, at mile 28.

Jackie grabs my bottle and runs me into the aid station
I left that aid station with a guy named Dustin.  We ran together for several miles at a pretty good clip and carrying on a conversation to distract ourselves.  After a few minutes and a road crossing without seeing any course markings, we realized we'd distracted ourselves about a half-mile off course.  We doubled back and found the turn we missed, after having added probably close to a mile.  It was sort of a mental blow, but we didn't really let it get to us, as we were both feeling good at the time.  After another couple miles, we separated, and I ran the remaining miles to the next aid station mostly alone.  These were some hot and sunny miles, though mostly flat.  I was maintaining a decent pace I thought, but the heat started getting to me and I was forced to walk to save from exerting too much even on the flat path leading to mile 33.3.  Although I had felt good for most of that section, I was pretty tired when my parents greeted me at the 1/3 mark here. And wow, it was still morning.  I left that station just before 11:00am, refueled and re-hydrated.

The next aid stations were basically: mile 40, 44, and 49.  Mile 33 to 49 was almost all trails, I think.  It was nice, with several stream crossings, and some pretty serious hills.  I actually felt great though, for almost that whole stretch.  I was expecting to see my parents again at mile 40, but a road closing prevented them from being able to access it.  That was a little disappointing, but I figured something like that must have come up and trusted that I'd be seeing them again.  And mile 40 was a great aid station.  It was noon, which I realized was lunch time.  I had some Ramen, which was basically the first solid food I'd eaten other than fruit all day.  And it was great!  Although it was hot outside, it felt really good to eat some warm solid food.  The volunteers there warned that the next section was hilly and technical, but shady.  This was when I really started feeling good, though. Maybe it was the Ramen, now that I think about it.  Hm.  I rolled into mile 44, a small aid station with just a half dozen volunteers or so and no crowd.  They were really nice, and talkative.  I had some good food there too, I think, and then hit the woods again.  I continued to feel good, and maybe once every mile or so I would pass someone.  The trails were still very hilly, but I was having a blast.  Somewhere in this segment I remember feeling great and thinking, "If there was ever any question, I am definitely finishing this race."  About a half mile before the mile 49 aid station, I encountered the first big set of stairs of the race.  I crossed a stream and rounded a corner and came face to face with probably 100 stairs on the trail.  I felt fine up them though, and cruised in to the big aid station at 49.1 miles, where Jackie met me and ran me in and I saw my parents again.  This was a great aid station.  One volly met me about 200m up the road and jogged along side me, asking me what I needed, until Jackie saw me and ran up to me smiling and taking over.  I knew that I might see her at this aid station, but I wasn't sure, so it was a nice kind of surprise.  And I also hadn't seen my parents in over 3 hours, so it was great to see them again and know they weren't lost!  I was in very high spirits at mile 49, and feeling pretty good physically, too.  So Mom, Dad, and Jackie saw faithfully to my every need.  I told them I'd like to make a sock change at the next stop, because debris and wet socks had caused some major rubbing around my ankles.  This was just a 4.4 mile loop before coming back to the same aid station, so I set off.  It turned out to be a kind of debilitating 4.4 miles, though.  It was hot and sunny, and had a couple big hills, one of which was on blacktop.  I think coming down that steep blacktop hill was the first time (out of many for the rest of the day) that my quads were really suffering from the pounding of descending.  So after a long four and a half miles, I came back to the aid station in a little worse shape than I had entered it the first time.  But at least I was more than halfway done now.

Mile 63.8 - Happy Days
My crew helped me change socks, and another little surprise came when Jackie decided to run with me for the next segment. So she and I headed out of the aid station together, my legs tight and sore from sitting down for the sock change.  But soon enough I was loose and running again.  It was 5 or 6 miles, I think, to the next station, and then another few miles after that to the next station with crew access.  We were back in the woods, running at a good pace again (well, what I considered a good pace at the time), and carrying on constant conversation.  It was awesome to have company, and I was in very high spirits.  The steep downhills were pretty painful, and I continued to use trees to try to stop my momentum and save my quads, but other than that I felt pretty good.  At that next aid station, I peed - one of only 3 times during the race, I think.  After leaving that station, the next few miles were pretty tough.  A lot of long straight pavement; I was definitely feeling the pounding.  I believe I walked a good bit during that segment, alternating jogging when I could.  By the time we reached the next big aid station, Happy Days, at mile 63, I was pretty beat up.  It was an awesome aid station though, with grilled cheese, soup, Hello Kitty bandaids, and a foot care session from Jackie and Dad. 

Now I was to make it to mile 70.6 on my own, while Jackie took a break from running so she'd be fresh for the later miles with me.  When I stood up after my nice break at Happy Days, I was limping hardcore.  Walking was pretty difficult at this point.  I disappeared back into the woods, hobbling slowly.  I passed a couple taking wedding photos on a path in the woods.  They waited for me to pass because for some reason they did not want me in their photo.  I apologized as I hobbled by, figuring it was probably a little awkward for them. 

Soon enough, I was feeling surprisingly good again.  I joined up with a few other runners after we thought we were lost again.  We doubled back a little bit, but eventually realized we were on the right path to begin with.  There were three of us, and we were all feeling pretty good actually.  So we picked the pace up a bit to I think about 10 minute pace for a while.  It was a nice section of the trail, too, with some sweet rock formations.  After a mile or so, it was down to two of us: me and a French guy.  We were talking, and pushing each other, having a good time.  I pulled ahead of him eventually, and the segment starting feeling long.  I kept expecting to see the next aid station, but would instead encounter another hill or something.  I continued to run strong, though, and eventually came out into a grassy clearing with large rolling hills.  Off in the distance at the top of one of the hills, I could see the silhouette of a tent and a few people with the setting sun behind them. 
Jackie joins me on the hill - Frenchman behind me!
It was a really cool scene.  And at the top of the last hill, I was met by Jackie and my parents again, now 70 miles into the race.  Here, Jackie was joining me again and would run with me for the remainder of the race.  First step, a 3.3 mile loop on the trails to come back to this same aid station.  I felt great again for this loop, definitely running at least 7 minute miles.  Ok, maybe 10 or 11 minutes.  I don't know, but I was moving!  Or at least it felt like it...Ask Jackie...

So we made short business of that loop and returned to my parents at the aid station.  I was loving life, and now just about 3/4 done with the race!  Wait...only 3/4? That means there's a whole quarter left.  And a quarter in this case is 25 miles.  Ah well, I was having fun!

Proof that I was still having fun at mile 73.9
I grabbed my headlamp from Mom and Dad, as the sun was getting low, and pranced off with Jackie, 6.5 miles until the next aid station.  Did I say prance?  I meant crawl.  Not literally, but I was forced to a walk almost immediately.  Very soon after leaving the aid station, the sun had set and it got dark, especially in the woods.  Maybe that delivered a mental blow, or maybe I was just plain tired from running 75 miles.  Whatever it was, I couldn't bring myself to run.  I tried a couple of times, and Jackie encouraged me, but it rarely lasted more than a few steps.  So we walked.  I was feeling pretty drained, and didn't even feel like talking really.  I was just focusing on supplying the energy to land my next step firmly on the ground in front of me.  Luckily, Jackie did feel like talking.  So, while I wallowed in my exhaustion, I listened to Jackie's life story quite intently, and I don't think there was a moment of silence.  I basically walked all six and a half of those miles.  It was definitely my worst segment, and it felt very very long. 

Finally, we came to a covered bridge with Christmas lights, lots of volunteers, and lots of food.  And of course, Mom and Dad were there.  They were definitely glad to see me as it had been a couple of hours since they saw me last.  I entered the aid station, very relieved to see everyone, and did this:
Dad and Jackie taking care of my legs while I go to town on some Ramen
Then, after a nice break, I set off on the 5 mile loop with Jackie.  For whatever reason, this was one of my best segments.  It was 5 miles of rolling single track, and for some reason I felt great!  I was even running hard down the hills, which would have killed my quads 20 miles earlier.  We completed the loop in good time, and my parents were not expecting me for another 20-30 minutes at least when they saw this:
Moving right along now! Dad looks happy to see me so soon.
I think we were all a bit surprised.

Okay. Only 15 miles to go.  Easy day.  The next 8 miles are kind of a blur.  I wasn't feeling particularly good or particularly bad.  There was an aid station around mile 88, with lots of glow sticks.  Then there was a mostly road section until the aid station at mile 93.  I was still doing pretty decent for most of this section, and continued to pick people off every once in a while.  In these later miles, Jackie and I were paying a lot of attention to the trail/road up ahead, looking for headlamps bouncing along.  Every time we saw one, it gave me some incentive and almost without fail, I would pick up the pace until we caught and/or passed the light.  One such instance occurred in the couple of miles approaching mile 93.  It was pretty tough to catch him, as we were running at a very similar pace.  I eventually did, though, and we ran side by side in almost complete silence for a couple of minutes.  Then, all of a sudden, we were at the aid station! This was the first time I could remember all day that I reached an aid station sooner than I was expecting! It was an awesome feeling. 

Finally, at mile 93, I felt like I was almost done.  This was the last time I would see my parents until the finish.  They told me they were going to drive to the finish line from there, try to check in to our hotel, and wait for me.  All I had to do from here was 3 miles on a flat towpath, then the last 5 miles.  And who really cares about the last 5 miles -- that's nothing.  The 3 towpath miles were decent, though I was feeling pretty tired.  I hadn't sat down to give my feet and legs a rest at the mile 93 station.  So I was very excited to reach the final aid station at mile 96.  I sat down briefly and ate a little bit.  I should note that it was brief, but not exactly by choice.  I might have spent a few more minutes in that lawn chair had a guy that I passed on the towpath not come into the aid station looking pretty strong.  So Jackie pulled me out of the chair and dragged my ass back onto the course. 

Now this was fun.  We turned onto a road and had a little police escort up a big hill to keep us safe from traffic.  Not that there was much.  But for the first 2 miles or so after that aid station, every time we looked back we could see the headlamp of that guy.  It was crazy.  I was dead tired, but I also didn't want to let him pass me again.  It was really exciting.  I felt like a sloth racing a snail. 

We went down a decent hill on the road and turned onto the trail again.  My headlamp was fading, and Jackie's light was wigging out and flashing because it was getting low on battery too.  Our poor lighting situation was making me very upset.  But the thought of the closing miles allowed me to keep my composure.  And we were running again, man.  I started covering good ground, thinking to myself that I must be gaining significantly on that guy behind me, but also kind of scared because he did look strong the last time I saw him.  Running through the dark woods, we reached the staircases I'd heard so much about at mile 99.  Lots of wooden stairs taking us up out of the woods.  Jackie got in front of me and I started pushing myself up them.  They actually felt pretty nice, and I soon realized I could ascend them at a decent pace, even skipping some steps.  At one point, I actually asked Jackie to speed up a little bit because I was in a rhythm!  After the stairs, we came out onto the grass for a half mile or so, and then turned on to the road. 

This must be it...This must be the road that takes us into Cuyahoga Falls, where the finish line is.  I was high.  Twenty-two hours after starting, I was still running, having loads of fun, and approaching the finish line!  We continued up a gradual hill on the road, and eventually I saw a red neon light on the side of a building. "Wait a minute -- is that a Sheraton sign!?" As we got a little closer, Jackie and I confirmed that it was indeed a Sheraton sign.  I excitedly told Jackie that the hotel I reserved was a Sheraton, and it was only a couple hundred feet from the finish line!  We were finally there.
After a long day
I don't know what I've done to deserve the faithful, unwavering dedication of my parents and girlfriend.  It was a very long day for all of us.  The difference was, though, that I had a blast and, truly, I loved every minute of it.  For them, it couldn't have been nearly as much fun.  I know they enjoyed the experience overall, but they definitely had some long, tired hours throughout the day.  Jackie ran 40 miles with me total, including the final 30 of the race.  She saw me in all kinds of physical states, and probably some different mental states as well.  But she never failed to motivate me to push myself even when I didn't want to, and she was excellent company to have for all those hours.  My mom and dad - they got up at 3 in the morning, too, and drove from aid station to aid station all day long. Literally.  I know they were beat and wanted to go to sleep, but they greeted me happily every single time they saw me and helped me get everything I needed.  And knowing I'd be seeing them at an aid station always provided me with motivation to get there.

In 2006, I ran my first marathon because I wanted to do something hard.  That turned out to be the hardest thing I'd ever done.  Then I started running marathons faster to try to push myself more.  In 2010, I ran my first 50 miler, hoping it would be the hardest thing I'd ever done.  It was.  Then I think I surpassed that with the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim run with Ted.  When I got myself into this 100 miler, my number one hope was that it would be the hardest thing I've ever done.  I reached mental and physical boundaries that I had never explored before in what turned out to be an exciting and incredibly meaningful experience.  I was never going to quit or drop out of this race.  I briefly thought about what the consequences might be at one point (during that 74-80mile stretch), but never actually considered doing it.  Unless I was physically broken and could not move forward, I was always going to finish because every single mile, every single step, and every single aid station made the entire experience so meaningful.  Truthfully, it was one of the most fun days of my life, and I can't wait to do it again.

1 comment:

  1. Again??! Good god. Only if there's lobster at mile 73.9. For REAL this time!
    I must love you or something...:-)