No pacers, no headphones just me and the trail...
A week before this race my sister and I went to Puerto Rico to spread our mothers ashes at one of her favorite beaches. This was a very defining moment and offered me a sense of closure and happiness knowing she was free. My mind and my heart seemed opened to joy again and I knew I wanted to be in the woods running with a very special group of people, my ultra family. I share my personal thoughts with you because we have or will go through something that will challenge all of our emotions and force us to appreciate each other and our health. Running has been my best friend since I was 12 years old and sometimes it is my only constant. Its what keeps my mind, body and soul together.
I signed up for the Burning River 100 forty minutes before the online entry closed Wednesday night. The Burning River 100 was actually two races folded into one nicely wrapped package. It was selected as the USATF 100 mile trail national championship and also open to all. If you chose to compete in the USATF race you could not have a pacer and you could not wear headphones. The latter had me wondering if I could pull it off, NO HEADPHONES! One of my favorite things about running 100 miles is grooving out to music the last 30 miles of the race.
Joe and I decided to break up the 8 hour road trip to Ohio by camping half way in Bald Eagle State Park and then drive the rest in the morning, which worked out beautifully. We arrived Friday early afternoon to pick up my race # and goodies, to my surprise there was no mandatory race meeting, how brilliant is that. The high tech team of Burning River made video journals for each participant to watch online at our leisure. These videos covered everything we needed to know so that we could focus on getting rest. Perfect!
We were welcomed with 9.6 miles of pavement to get our legs going. I started out slow, maybe too slow in fear of hammering the first few miles of a 100 mile race and paying for it later. I had no idea what the course had in store and I had no lofty goals other than possibly finishing sub 24 but I knew given the great weather and lack of significant elevation changes, it could be very easy to get caught up in the fast pace. I decided I wanted to be alive and running at mile 80 and not on a 20 mile death march.
100 mile runs come in so many different varieties its very hard if not impossible to compare them. The only thing they have in common is you and the distance. I often seek out mountainous technical terrain offering very little time for running on a flat non technical surface. After completing the MMT 100 in May where I struggled mentally due to complete exhaustion from mourning the recent death of my mother which caused my team Randy and Joe to really earn there duties. This race seemed totally opposite, I was happy again, clear and most of, all present! I was able to look around at the scenery and notice the different infrastructure of various foot bridges, I was able to listen to the soundtrack of nature instead of my iPod, I was able to smell the different scents the Ohio metro parks system had to offer, even if a large part of the time it was horse manure, which sure did keep me alert. The families touring the parks in which we ran through also provided entertainment; good luck one would shout or all of sudden I would look down and a small child or dog would be running with me. Horses were also keeping me company during a small section which reminded me of the Vermont 100, such beautiful animals. As the miles and aid stations clicked by I realized this is a running race, meaning, walking breaks if any were minimal.
The scenery was quite beautiful and the course offered a bit of everything, but some of the tow path and road sections definitely challenged my ability to focus on the task at hand. For some reason I guess due to the terrain I train on, my legs are always searching for the dance that technical terrain provides. During the modestly technical sections I would seek out the hardest way to get down or up to give my legs a break from the same repetitive motion. I started to realize that I may be running a little too slow. I can’t explain it but my legs get bored, I tend to stroll along when I don’t have something to jump over.
Mile 54 Boston store aid station:
Joe said are you okay? How ya doing? I’m fine, he’s always careful not to push me to much because he knows 101.2 miles is a long way but he realized I could be going a lot faster. I start recognizing a lot of other runners and managed to chat my way around this 4.9 mile loop before returning back to the Boston store. I met a man who was doing his first 100 mile race, it’s awesome to hear stories of what drives other people into the sport of ultra running. I started to feel like I was a little behind on calories at this point, I knew I had to get something substantial in soon but other than that it was smooth sailing.
Mile 70.9 Happy days aid station:
Now I knew why other runners were calling this the sound of music section. We were led by a field full of stunning wild flowers and tall grass to an aid station that stood on top of a hill. Very beautiful and at this point in the race I really thought I heard Julie Andrews singing. From this aid station we had to run a 5k loop then return back to the aid station. This loop seemed extremely long, my clothes started to feel like they were eating away at my skin. Painful burning sensations took over my body and black flies started to attack me, I began shifting my clothes and going crazy. I finally had the aid station in sight, my eyes began scanning the crowd for Joe, oh there he is! Joe I exclaimed, “full clothes change” and then proceeded to yell out exactly what I wanted to wear. He looked startled because this is the first time in 9 one hundred milers that I ever changed my entire outfit. He started running towards his little crewing area. It was flawless right there in the middle of everything I started to take off my clothes, while I was changing and eating he was removing my number and pinning it on the new shorts. We managed to do all of this in 3 minutes, he sprayed bug dope on me, handed me my headlamp and I was off. I thought to myself wow we are such a perfect team.
Refreshed and headed to the mile 80.8 this is when I definitely would have started to listen to music, so guess what? I started to singing out loud, Hotel California, etc... The sun was beginning to set, this happens to be my favorite time of the day. I told myself I wouldn’t turn on my light until I really had too. I managed to make it all the way to 80.8 without it. It was a little spooky running besides a corn field, I thought the kids from children of the corn, a very old scary movie was going to come and snatch me. I made it to the next aid station feeling good. I fueled up with a my favorite ultra treat, chicken soup. Joe said by the way, 4th place (USATF) is right in front of you, with that in mind I headed out with a purpose and ended up catching up to a group of three, I said hi, wished them luck then sailed along. Its the best when you feel strong later in a hundred miler.
Mile 85.5 came from here we followed a long dark road where I was convinced I was lost. I didn’t see any trail markers for long sections. I would stop and back track to be sure I didn’t miss any turns. I kept moving forward anyway, If I ended up getting lost I planned to flag down a car or go back to the aid station. This part was a little scary, I found myself running on a pretty busy road for a while until thankfully I saw another marker. At this time of night you have to be awake enough to dive into a ditch if a car does not see you. I was very happy when I saw glow sticks, this must be an aid station, and yes it was.
Almost there, by this point I have sung my whole iPod list and had full conversations with myself out loud. I was down to Christmas carols, as I was singing “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”, I noticed another runner, I caught up to him singing and we began to laugh. His name was John from Alabama, we chatted about the MMT 100 and other races, we kept each other company for a couple of miles, then it was time to say goodbye. Joe greeted me at the 96.3 aid station to cheer me on to the finish. At night you can never really tell how fast or slow you are going, I knew I was close so I tried to keep a steady pace. I finally reached the street that would hopefully take me to the finish but once again I wondered if I was on the right track, there were a couple of cones but no real flagging. I kept moving being sure not to go to fast in fear of being on the wrong street, you know by this point you have run 100 miles so you are not exactly fully awake or alert. Finally I saw a biker coming towards me, I asked her is this the right way? She said yup... Then two runners started to charge past me, its funny how after you have run 100 miles you can still have a kick in your step when the finish line approaches. I charged along with them and crossed the finish line in 21:00.58.
No matter how many times I have run and will run 100 miles, 100 miles is a long, long, long way. Its funny my clients always tell me how inspiring I am to them but what they don’t know is there individual stories are what help me get through any rough spot I may face during a race. We are running together every time I toe the line.
Of course a huge thank you to my amazing partner Joe and to everyone who made the Burning river such a well organized event. I really had a great time and I will be back. To learn more about the history of the “burning river” and the great revitalization project they have going on, click here.