Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Summer Squatch 10K Trail Race - in the Dark!

In a first for me, I ran a trail race in the dark. The 2017 Summer Squatch 10K was a Thursday evening event that started at 7 PM. It wasn't dark at the start, but it didn't take long for visibility to get tough in the woods.

Night trail runner, with medal to prove it

I drove up to Alum Creek State Park after work on race day and was there in plenty of time to pick up my packet and get changed for the race. I took an apple to eat as a pre-race snack, and wore all my regular trail gear (Altra Lone Peak shoes, gaiters, and Camelback pack). It was only a 10K, but I wanted to be prepared. It had rained for a couple days before this, and I was unfamiliar with the trail. I didn't know what I would encounter, but I thought it might get muddy. I also knew it would be dark. I planned ahead and borrowed a headlamp because I knew mine was low quality and just wasn't going to cut it.

Our trailhead was past the dog park, but not well-marked
Runners getting ready

This wasn't a very big race; there were only 67 finishers. But we set out onto the single-track trail almost immediately, so it was a crowded start. Visibility was good, which was important, as there were so many tree roots on this trail. They call it the "Rocks and Roots" trail, but a better name would have been "Roots and Roots". It really wasn't very rocky at all, just dirt (a little mud in some wet spots), roots, and one section covered in pine needles.

Happy to have my borrowed headlamp for later
Water crossing
Another water crossing; it was easier to just splash through the water on the left and not wait on the stepping stones
Water view

There were several of us running at approximately the same pace and we passed and were passed by each other a few times. I was having fun and moving swiftly (for me) in the first couple miles when there was still a good amount of light. And then I tripped on a root and fell. Not a big deal, I scraped my knees a little, but not too bad. I picked myself up and carried on, but I was a little more cautious now. And then it began to get dark and I was so happy to have the borrowed headlamp.

Starting to get dark; not all parts of the trail were wooded
It's dark now, and that's the water peeking through the trees

The darkness slowed me down. It was my first time running a trail in the dark. The headlamp helped, but not enough for me to maintain the same pace. I had to slow down a little bit. I had a couple stumbles, and then another fall. This one took me by surprise and I fell hard. Again, no major injuries, just some bruises, but now I was not confident enough to run. I slowed to a walk. At this point I was alone on the trail, so no one was visible ahead of me, and no one's light helped me by shining from behind. I saw a few distant headlamps on the switchbacks. But I was solo. And now I was using an abundance of caution so as not to slip or fall again. There were water crossings, most of which had wooden bridges, but the bridges were slick and muddy, so I had to be careful on those too.

I got to the aid station with about two miles to go. It was nice to know I was on the right path. It was hard to see trail markings in the dark, but the good news was that the trail was fairly well worn, and even if I had to stop and look around in a couple spots, I was able to quickly find the right way.

In the last mile other runners/walkers caught up with me, and for a short while the course sweeper was two positions behind. Then I was able to pick up my pace a little bit. And when we exited the woods I was able to muster a sort of sprint on the grass. I ended up 63rd out of 67 and it was my slowest 10K ever...but my first trail 10K, so does that make it a PR?

At the finish there was water and granola bars. There may or may not have been bananas; I didn't notice because I don't eat them. Most of the faster finishers had left. It was dark, and there were bugs wanting to bite me. I took my fun wooden medal and went to the car.

Creative wooden medal with the Sasquatch
See, my knees weren't banged up that much, but those dark spots are not shadows, they are dirt
So now I've done a night trail race. I liked being in the woods at night, but I didn't like the fact that I couldn't run fast, if at all. As I said to the sweeper, I've gotten to the point where I'm fairly comfortable running single-track during daylight hours, but not in the I guess that's just another skill to master; and he agreed. I really didn't enjoy trying to run in the dark on the trail, but I won't get any better at it unless I do more of it. So, I guess I'll need to go buy my own higher-quality headlamp and find some more nighttime trail races or group runs.

Monday, September 18, 2017

I'm the New Marathon Maniacs Columbus Ambassador!

In a recent and unexpected development, I was just selected as the Marathon Maniacs ambassador for Columbus, Ohio. I've been a club member for six years and have been running marathons for 12 years. When I moved back to Columbus in January, I immediately jumped into the local running community. So, I feel very good about this position.

Meet your new Marathon Maniacs Columbus ambassador!

As a Marathon Maniacs ambassador, my responsibilities will be to:
  • Serve as a regional spokesperson for the club, helping to find new members
  • Moderate the Marathon Maniacs Columbus Facebook group
  • Coordinate meet-up activities for Columbus-area races, including dinners and pre-race photos
  • Potentially work with local races to provide Maniac pacers
When I introduced myself in the Columbus Facebook group, I led with a list of my marathon achievements. It wasn't to brag, but to let people know what I've done. Hopefully this can help to inspire others, and can provide a starting point for conversations. Since I have all that info neatly typed and organized, I'll share it here for fun. Looking back, it's really amazing what you can do when you put your mind to achieving goals.

My Overall Running Resume
  • Marathon Maniac #4436 / Half Fanatic #1955 / Double Agent (both clubs) #224
  • Maniac since 2011, though I technically qualified in 2006 (Columbus Marathon was one of my qualifying races!)
  • Half Fanatic since 2012
  • Marathons to date: 74
  • Half Marathons to date: 53
  • Achieved MM Titanium status (30 marathon states in 365 days) on 8/23/13
  • Finished 50 States on 5/30/15
  • I pace half marathons, but have not yet paced for a full marathon
  • Voting member and past board member of Marathon Globetrotters, having run marathons in 10 countries
  • I will soon be an RRCA Level 1 Coach - I recently finished class and need to take my exam
My Columbus Running Resume
  • I'm from Columbus, but lived in the Washington DC area for several years; I returned home in January and joined the Columbus running community in full force
  • I am a 2017 Columbus Marathon ambassador to Hefei, China, where I'll be running the marathon on 11/12/17 along with 4 other Columbus runners
  • I am a member of the Columbus Westside Running Club (CWRC) - we are an RRCA club and have group runs on Tuesday evenings and Sunday mornings
  • I also run with the Short North Running Club some Thursday nights and do Columbus Running Company's Short North speed workouts on Wednesday nights
I'm sure there will be elements of my Maniac ambassadorship in the blog as I write up my experiences at local races. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Minnehaha 5 Miler Trail Race - Plus a Brewery Extravaganza

On Labor Day weekend I ran a trail race on a whim. It was the Minnehaha 5 Miler Trail Race put on by Western Reserve Racing at part of their Tents & Trails or Dirty Trails series over Labor Day weekend. It seems I've been spending a lot of time at races in Northeastern Ohio this year. First it was the Pro Football Hall of Fame Half in Canton in April. Then in May I paced the Cleveland Half Marathon one weekend and raced the Medina Half the following weekend. In July I volunteered and crewed at the Burning River 100, where I discovered the Summit Brew Path and its bounty of 14 Akron/Canton area breweries to visit. For the holiday weekend, my real goal was to finish my Summit Brew Path. With a free room from, I decided to make an overnight of it, hitting up some breweries on Saturday and others on Sunday. I figured I'd find a pretty place to run on Sunday morning before heading out to the breweries. When my friend Chase mentioned the Minnehaha race, it took me about 10 seconds to register. And lucky for me, I saved $5 with a volunteer credit for my time spent at Burning River packet pick-up. There was no way this wasn't going to be an awesome weekend!

Ready to run a dirty trail!

Saturday Breweries

I got a late start driving up on Saturday, but there was still plenty of time to achieve my brewery goals. I hit a record number of 7 breweries that day. I only needed Scenic Brewing, Mucky Duck Brewery, Hoppin' Frog Brewery, Two Monks Brewing and Aqueduct Brewing (these guys have a river flowing through their basement!) for the passport, but later I met Chase at two additional breweries (R. Shea Brewing, which I'd visited back in July, and McArthur's Brew House, which wasn't a passport eligible brewery). Don't worry, I only had one or two 4 oz. tasters at each place and this was spaced out over several hours, so I was plenty sober and safe. After McArthurs, I said goodbye to Chase and drove to my hotel in Hudson and laid out my race gear for the morning.

Loved the Hoppin' Frog taps, and I also bought a cute logo pint glass that I really didn't need
The Goodyear Blimp hangar was a sight on my Akron brewery tour
At Aqueduct brewing, the stream in their basement - really cool!

Sunday Race

Early Sunday morning there was rain. In fact, it had rained all day Saturday too. I wondered how muddy the trails would be, but it didn't matter...I was going to run no matter what. And the rain stopped a couple hours before the race started at the relatively late hour of 9:30 AM. I drove to the race site early to get parked and pick up my packet. We would be running at Camp Manatoc, a Boy Scouts camp that is not normally open to the public. This was a once-a-year opportunity to run the trails in this part of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Several runners had done the marathon or half the previous day, and some of them camped on the property overnight. The camp dining hall was serving up breakfast for the campers. I had brought my own apple to eat before the race.

Main entrance to Camp Manatoc
Camp Manatoc dining hall
Inside the dining hall, where post-race festivities were held

When I checked in, Kelly told me I would have to wait until after the race to receive my hat, if there were any left. This was because I registered so late. I liked that this race gave out a hat instead of a shirt; that was kind of different and fun. Kelly assured me there would be some other premium for me if I couldn't get the official Dirty Trail Series hat, but I was crossing my fingers for that hat. At some point I found Chase, and then I found Jeff, who had volunteered with me at Burning River packet pick-up. More accurately, Jeff recognized me first. He had run the half marathon the previous day and was volunteering for the 5 Miler. It was nice to see a friendly face. I made my final race preparations, then gathered with some other folks to watch the kids race at 9:00. This was no toddler run; these were bigger kids and they had to run a 2 Miler! Shortly after the kids finished, the 5 Miler started. Incidentally, there were some kids in that distance too.

The kids race runners take off

We started off on the main road through camp, and we returned to the roads periodically. Some of the road segments were paved and some were gravel. But most of our distance was on single-track dirt trails through the forest. These were beautiful trails, and I hoped that the Boy Scouts appreciated them when they used the trails for running or, more likely, hiking. We lucked out with mostly dry trails. After all the rain I expected mud, but there was very little mud, and it was easily avoided. There were a couple water crossings, but none that got my feet wet, as there were wooden bridges or big stepping stones. But the trails were still a place to exercise caution. Often, the trail bordered a ravine and it was necessary for me to slow down a little bit and watch my step. There was an equal amount of climbing and descending, and I didn't find it terribly difficult, but...I only had to run 5 miles of it.

I'm ready to go, wearing my trail gear: trail shoes, gaiters and Camelbak
Five milers getting ready
Before the runners spread out
Typical section of the single-track trail

I varied my pace based on the terrain and just had fun. I also stopped to take several photographs of the landscape. The temperature and the level of sunshine were perfect. It was a beautiful day for a trail run. At the last aid station I saw Stacey volunteering. I'd met her at the Medina Half, and she is a fellow Sparkle Skirts fan. Another friendly face that I knew, and I don't even call that part of the state my home. I didn't think to get a photo with Stacey until I'd already left the aid station...bummer.

The water crossings were easy due to bridges
That's a waterfall behind me, flowing low at the time
Foliage and flowers

My time wasn't very fast for this race, but I didn't care. I just wanted to go for a run before my brewery visits, and this ended up being a great one. With another trail run coming up this month, I considered this a dress rehearsal. I wore my usual running clothes with the addition of trail shoes and gaiters. However, someone would have done fine on this course with regular running shoes and no gaiters, especially because it was a short distance. I also wore my Camelbak. It wasn't absolutely necessary to carry my own water, as the aid stations had me covered, but sometimes I like to drink when I want to drink and not rely on aid stations. And if by any chance I'd gotten lost (not likely...the course was well marked), I'd have water. So, for carrying water, the Camelbak pack was necessary. I didn't want to take a handheld in case I needed my hands to be free to catch myself falling, or to grab a root or a tree. Good news falls on this trail run for me!

After my finish, I was excited to learn that there was a Dirty Trails hat waiting for me! I took a few more photos, said goodbye to Kelly, Jeff and Chase, and drove back to my hotel to shower and check out. I was in a great mood from spending an hour or so running through the woods and taking in nature.

Yes! I got my hat!
Post-race selfie with Chase - I think we've both taken better pics...oh well

Sunday Breweries & Scenery

Sunday's brewery tour was shorter than Saturday's. For one thing, I found out that one of the passport breweries had closed for the entire holiday weekend. There would be no way to finish my passport. And another brewery had incorrect hours printed in the passport; they were wrongly listed as being open on Sunday. So, there are still two Akron breweries that I will need to visit before the end of the year. The good news was that I was able to get a stamp at Royal Docks Brewing in North Canton, and I really liked their beer and the British theme. And on my way home, I hit up two more breweries that were not part of the Summit Brew Path, but were included in the Ohio On Tap app, so I could at least get virtual passport stamps toward that. Those breweries were Lockport Brewery in Bolivar and Millersburg Brewing in, well, Millersburg. These two were OK breweries, but the best parts of visiting them were the scenic views. Near Bolivar I got to visit the longest covered bridge in Ohio. Near Millersburg, I drove through Amish country and saw multiple buggies on the road. (Drivers - Please slow down and give safe distance when passing buggies!). Directly across from Millersburg Brewing was a beautiful courthouse.

"Bridge of Dreams" is Ohio's longest covered bridge
One end of the bridge, which had horse poop all over the inside of it

View from on the bridge

Proudly wearing my Dirty Trails hat at the Bridge of Dreams
Typical highway buggy view in Holmes County
Bicycle buggies
The courthouse in Millersburg

This was a successful weekend, even if I didn't finish my Summit Brew Path passport. I got to visit several breweries, see a friend, run a fun trail race, and explore new-to-me areas in my home state.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Vacation Beach Walking & Brewery Run

It's been well over a month since my trip to Carolina Beach with friends. This was just a short getaway (Thursday through Sunday), and I would be starting my new job the following Monday morning. That's a lot of driving from Columbus to the southern North Carolina coast just to stay three nights and then start a new job! I knew it would mean my training schedule, which had already suffered this summer due to illness and injury, would take another hit. But I was determined to get some exercise in. I scheduled myself for a very generic "Walk on the Beach" for both Friday and Saturday, since Thursday and Sunday were driving days. I decided I would consider my plan achieved if I got out there and did just a little bit more effort than sitting in the sun. And I assumed I'd be on my own for my pseudo-workouts. But I was wrong.

We had a nice group of six ladies (and three tween girls) on the trip. This was my first time meeting Keri and Charlotte, but I already knew Anita as well as Shelly and Nikki (we'd just run the Dublin Irish Festival 5K the previous week). It turns out that Charlotte is a cyclist and had just completed the 100 mile Pelotonia ride. She didn't want to remain idle for the entire beach weekend either.


After some time in the ocean playing in the surf with the three girls, Charlotte and I set out for a walk to "the pier down that way (South)", which looked fairly close. It turned out that our round-trip walk from our condo was 3.5 miles. Not as close at it appeared.

Ruins from an old pier? (photo credit: Charlotte O'Neal)
Pelicans! (photo credit: Charlotte O'Neal)

We didn't exactly speed-walk it, but we certainly put in some work, walking barefoot at an average 21:26 pace. We stopped along the way to look at things, and for Charlotte to take pictures (I hadn't taken my phone), so some idle time factors into that pace. It was a beautiful day and a nice walk up to the Kure Beach pier. We also walked all the way out on the pier past many people who were fishing. I felt successful on this day, getting in a respectable walk on the beach.


Over morning coffee, I did some research and found a brewery in Carolina Beach (of course I did). I proposed to Charlotte that we would run the 2 miles to the brewery, try some beer, and then walk back on the beach. She was up for the adventure, and we did this while everyone else went shopping.

With Charlotte on the highway - hot and steamy
Route from beach condo to brewery

Saw some beautiful hours along the route

The run to Good Hops Brewery was hot! It didn't help that we started out during the hottest part of the day and ran on the roads, not the beach. We were on a highway for at least half the run, with cars going by fast. The good news is that there was a wide shoulder, so we were perfectly safe running single file. We did a run/walk, but walked a little extra. The only goal here was to get to the brewery, not to make a certain pace. Finally, we saw the brewery! My Garmin logged it as a 2.2 mile run. We each ordered flights and enjoyed them in the air conditioning of the quirky little brewery.

Made it to the brewery - see our smiles?!?
My flight in a cute hop board

After our beer, Charlotte and I had to walk a ways through a residential neighborhood just to get to the beach, and then we were able to take off our shoes and walk the rest of the way on sand, with the ocean breeze helping to cool us off. This walk was logged as 2.27 miles at a 22:26 pace. But again...who cares? We put in about 4.5 miles on our second vacation day. We earned the beer, and felt good about getting in some mileage.

It was great to have someone else to run and walk with on the beach vacation, because I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have gone as far without Charlotte. Next time I'm on a trip like this, I think I'll look for another brewery. Breaking up an effort with a reward of beer made for a very sweet vacation victory.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Crewing at Burning River 100 Miler

Back in late July I spent a weekend in Northeastern Ohio, in and around Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I went up there to be part of the Burning River Endurance Run race weekend. Burning River consists of a 100 Miler, two separate 50 Milers, and a 100 Mile Relay. It's a pretty big deal for ultra and trail running in Ohio. I wasn't planning to run any of the events, but I wanted to be involved somehow. When I learned that three of my running community friends were registered for the 100 Miler, that sealed the deal. I would spend my weekend helping out. This is a long read, but hopefully an interesting one for anyone who wants to know what it's like to spectate or crew at an ultra-marathon.

In the week leading up to the race, I started to plan out how I could be of service. My friend Tony had his own dedicated crew, so he didn't really need my help, but said he would appreciate seeing me at the aid stations. Both Dan and Aaron were planning to run without official crew, and said they'd also be happy to have me at the aid stations. I made a plan to volunteer at packet pick-up on the Friday before the race, and then hit as many of the crew-access aid stations as possible and do whatever I could for my friends. I stored the GPS coordinates for each aid station in my phone and printed out hard copies of the 100 Miler segment information and cut-off times. I packed a bag of basic supplies like sunscreen, bug spray, wet wipes, paper towels and simple snacks. I loaded my car with my camp chair, sun umbrella and a change of clothes for myself. I booked a cheap hotel room so I would have a warm, safe place to nap and to shower, and then I started my journey up to Cuyahoga Falls.

Packet Pick-Up - Sheraton Cuyahoga Falls

When I arrived at the Sheraton in Cuyahoga Falls, they were just setting up for packet pick-up. I was a bit early, so I went to the hotel lobby to check email and Facebook on my phone. Aaron found me in the lobby and we chatted for a bit before my shift started. I was stationed at the 50 Miler table, handing out bibs and shirts. There were two 50 Mile races. Runners were either registered for the front half, which started at the same place as the 100 mile runners, or the back half, which started at the 100 mile halfway point. I'd heard that the back half was the more challenging run, if not because of the course, then because these guys started in the afternoon and would be running overnight. It was a pleasure to check in the 50 mile runners and wish them good luck. I was able to take breaks to greet my friends as they picked up their 100 Mile packets, and I got to attend the pasta dinner with Aaron. After my shift was up, I decided to add to my collection of Ohio breweries. I found my way to Kent to visit Madcap Brew Co., which was good. After my beer flight, I called it an early night and drove up to my hotel, which was about halfway between the start and finish of the 100 Miler. 

Packet pick-up volunteer, reporting for duty
Before bed, I did some thinking about my game plan for the next day - what time would I get up, what should I wear/bring to the start and the early aid stations, when would I have a nap break, and other concerns. Even though I have several friends who run ultra-marathons, I had never really been part of one. I had never crewed or volunteered at anything longer than a marathon. I had an understanding of what ultra runners needed, having talked to many friends, and having read their race reports. And as a runner myself, I certainly knew what not to do in my attempt to support my friends. I had only done a little bit of trail running (one marathon, one half, various shorter trail runs), so I had a good idea what types of conditions they might encounter. But I had never run more than a short distance on trails in the dark, and I had not experienced the level of physical exhaustion and mental/emotional fatigue that my friends would be faced with. I hoped that I had enough tools to help them.

Mile 0 - Start Line/Squire's Castle

My wake-up came early. The race started at 4:00 AM and was about a 30 minute drive from my hotel. I got out the door in plenty of time, awake and alert because I didn't want to miss anyone. The drive was twisty-turny with little in the way of lighting. I relied on my high beams and my abundance of caution to get me to Squire's Castle in Willoughby. The castle was a neat venue; an outdoor-only shell of a medieval castle that some millionaire wanted to build, then abandoned partway into the project. But it was on beautiful property and made for a memorable starting area for the race.

Runners congregating outside Squire's Castle 
I found Aaron and Tony in the dark and was able to get some pre-race photos and chat with them as they made their final preparations, which were mostly mental. I never did see Dan. In one of the castle rooms a Franciscan monk was preparing to give a Mass; he was also running the 50 Miler; I'd seen him the night before, picking up his packet in his traditional brown robe with rope belt. In other rooms, runners adjusted their gear and ate their breakfasts. Outside, others gathered, waiting for the National Anthem, which was sung by the woman who worked packet pick-up with me. There was little gun, no air horn, no music...pretty much just a "ready, set, go!" and then the runners were off. It happened so quickly that I wasn't ready with my camera. And then, they were gone. There was nothing left to do unless I wanted to stick around for the 50 Miler start in another hour. I didn't.

With Tony before the start
With Aaron before the start 
Runners about to take off into the pitch black pre-dawn darkness

Mile 11.5 - Polo Fields

Most of us who went to the start for our 100 mile runners left as soon as they took off. It was still dark, so there was little point in staying. I pulled up the coordinates for the Polo Fields aid station, which was at Mile 11.5. It would be the runners' second aid station, but the first one with crew access. There was plenty of parking, and the food and drinks were set up under a picnic shelter. Crew members and spectators set up chairs and blankets on the other side of the course from the shelter, behind plastic "police tape". It was dark and I was cold. I had brought all kinds of layers with me, but it was unseasonably cold for the end of July. I was kicking myself for not taking a blanket. The people on my left were sympathetic and let me borrow one of theirs. I struck up a conversation with the woman on my right, whose name I forget; I would see her throughout the day and night as she was crewing for her husband. We were all tracking our runners on the Race Joy mobile app, which was awesome. It was almost perfect in real-time. We could see where each of our runners was on the course map and get alerts as they crossed timing mats. A little bit after sunrise my first runner came through, and it was Dan. He admitted that he went out a little fast in the early miles, which were mostly on road. But he was looking strong and in great spirits, and didn't need much of anything at this aid station, so I gave him some encouragement and saw him off. Next up was Aaron, who was also doing well early on. And then Tony came through. His crew team tended to him and I gave him hugs and took photographs.

Race Joy app showed the runners approaching Polo Fields; they're traveling south, so Dan was leading here
At Polo Fields: Dan-O looking strong
At Polo Fields: Aaron looking surprised when I caught him off-guard
At Polo Fields: Tony taking a nutrition break

Mile 21.7 - Shadow Lake

I returned my borrowed blanket to its owners a bit before my runners arrived, so when they were all through the aid station, I was still a little cold and ready to move on. The sun was up, but the temperature was still spring-like...and odd for late July. This part of Ohio bordering the national park is full of smaller towns and villages, and has a rural feel to it. There are not a lot of larger shopping centers, and so I had trouble finding coffee. I thought I might see a Starbucks between Polo Fields and the next aid station, but I didn't. I also didn't see any independent coffee shops that were open. I was tired and was hoping to settle for gas station coffee, but the only gas station I found was of questionable cleanliness. I aborted my coffee search and drove on to Shadow Lake, the fourth aid station, but only the second one with crew access. This was at Mile 21.7. 

Everyone set up their chairs along a large field just outside the woods. There was no warning that a runner was coming until he or she popped out from the trees and the brush into the open field. Of course, the Race Joy app helped me to know when to expect my friends. Now, Aaron was in the lead (of my friends) and was doing well with his ambitious goal. My crewing skills were used a little more here. I helped Aaron out in finding his drop bag. I may or may not have helped refill water bottles; I can't remember. But this is where I remember starting to anticipate the needs of the runners at the aid stations. I talked with Aaron as he changed shoes and socks, and took care of his nutritional needs. Once Aaron was off, Dan came through. I did the same for Dan, finding his bag, helping him unpack and then repack it, going on runs for water or food, as needed. I was so busy helping Dan that I forgot to take a photo of him. He had slowed down but was still feeling well, and making good time. When Tony came through, I hung with his crew as they got him in and out of the aid station.

At Shadow Lake: Aaron mid-shoe change
At Shadow Lake: Aaron post-shoe change
At Shadow Lake: Dan's drop bag
At Shadow Lake: Tony runs out of the woods and into the field
At Shadow Lake: Tony charging his phone

I feel undeserving to complain that I was dead tired at this point, given what the runners were going through. But I was. I hadn't slept well or much leading up to this event, and I had also gotten up super early. I was not too far from my hotel, so I decided to go back there for a brief nap and maybe to change some clothes. I would skip the Meadows aid station, but I would definitely be there at Boston Mills, the halfway (-ish) point. I hoped that my friends would be OK and not upset that I wasn't there. They all seemed to be doing great and had everything they needed in their drop bags, so I figured it would be OK.

Mile 50.7 - Boston Mills

I was feeling very refreshed after my nap and a snack. I put on some slightly fresher clothes and made my way to Boston Mills. This was a crowded aid station, as it was the finish line for the front half 50 Miler, the halfway point for the 100 Miler and the starting line for the back half 50 Miler. There were all kinds of spectators and crew here. I found parking, but had to walk a bit. When I got to the aid station I found other crew members I recognized and sat with them for a bit. Then I saw Tony's crew and additional friends and moved over to their spot. It was nice to hang out and chat with Tony's friends, who gave me a Burning River Pale Ale from Great Lakes Brewing. The energy and spirit of ultra running were well-represented as we camped out at Boston Mills. We celebrated many 50 mile finishes and saw weary 100 milers come through. It was at this aid station that I saw Darris Blackford, the Columbus Marathon race director, as his wife tended to him. I didn't see Darris again this day, but he went on to finish the race with a very respectable time.

At Boston Mills: Drinking a Burning River with Tony's crew

Aaron was still in the lead among my friends. I had his drop bag ready for him and lended him my chair as he changed shoes again. Aaron had been stung by some wasps on the last segment and though he wasn't allergic, there were a couple welts on his leg. He was still doing great on time, but had a touch of nausea and wasn't eating much, though he needed to eat. I helped him find some ginger ale at the aid station and one of the volunteers made him a peanut butter sandwich without jelly. We asked if they had anything for insect stings or allergies, but they didn't. I saw Aaron off and hoped he'd be able to keep some food down soon.

At Boston Mills: Not yet to his drop bag, Aaron wastes no time transitioning his gear
At Boston Mills: another shoe change for Aaron

Next up was Dan. Still making decent time, he had some back pain now. I sat him down in my chair as he tended to his feet, fetched some water for his bottles and some sports drink for him to drink while he was sitting. This was the first aid station where 100 mile runners could pick up a pacer. Dan's first pacer Christy met him here, and I wished them luck as they headed out. 

At Boston Mills: Dan comes into the aid station with some back pain
At Boston Mills: After another shoe and shirt change, Dan is still in good spirits 
At Boston Mills: Dan with pacer Christy 
At Boston Mills: Dan and Christy are off

Finally, Tony came though Boston Mills. He had slowed significantly and was looking tired. I helped out as everyone got him what he needed to eat and drink. I learned from Tony about eating avocado as ultra fuel, and he had hummus too. Those sounded like great foods to fuel a run like this. Tony rested a little more at this aid station than at the previous ones. We saw him off, and then I said goodbye to his crew and friends. Meanwhile, in the distance we saw the back half 50 Milers begin their race. I went back to my car and mapped my way to the next aid station. As I was driving, there were Burning River runners along the side of the road. I saw Tony, opened my window, and cheered and honked.

At Boston Mills: Tony comes into the aid station 
At Boston Mills: Tony eats avocado and hummus to fuel up

Mile 66.9 - Ledges

I got to the next aid station, Ledges, as the sun was beginning to set. It was directly in my view of the runners coming through the aid station, so I attached my umbrella to my chair. I watched runners, who were now more spaced out. But now, some of them had pacers. It had been a long day, and it was starting to get cooler. These guys had a long night ahead of them. While sitting there at Ledges I did some time calculations and realized I wouldn't be able to see any of my runners here. I had to drive back to Cuyahoga Falls to pick up Alisa, one of Dan's pacers, and drive her to meet up with him at Pine Hollow. In order to get to Alisa in time, I would miss seeing everyone come through Ledges. Once I realized that, I packed up. I was only at Ledges for about 30 minutes.

Soon, I got word from Chase, who was Dan's second pacer, that he had slowed down and wouldn't be at Pine Hollow as early as expected. By now, I had already left Ledges and it made no sense to go back. So what did I do? I went to a brewery, of course. I checked out R. Shea Brewing in Akron, where I learned about the existence of the Summit Brew Path. Great - now I had to make a plan to visit all 14 of those breweries in addition to the 37 Columbus area breweries on my list. I just had a couple samplers at R. Shea, then found out Dan had slowed his pace even more. I had time now for the most substantial meal I'd had all day - tacos at Chipotle. I also had enough time to stop by Target to buy some leggings (I had not packed any long pants, and it was cold) and a blanket. Somewhere along the way I was tracking my runners and I learned that Tony dropped after Mile 60. I wasn't sure why, and I was sad for him.

Miles 72.7 and 76.5 - Pine Hollow

After my errands and my meal I went to Pine Hollow and see Aaron through the aid station before I had to pick up Alisa. Pine Hollow was two aid stations in one, and in fact there were separate tents for the runners' first time through, and second time through about four miles later. It was dark now, and people were cold. Pine Hollow was lit up and decorated like Halloween night. As soon as I found a place to set up, I saw Aaron. And it was heartbreaking, because he had to make the difficult decision to DNF. Aaron did everything right leading up to and on race day. He was running well and feeling strong. But the venom from the wasp stings was continuing to make him sick and he wasn't able to eat. He was smart enough to know that his chances of finishing the race were not good without proper fuel. Aaron had run all the way to Pine Hollow solo and had planned to pick up his pacer there. But now, there was no need for that. I had to leave soon to pick up Alisa at the Sheraton, so I offered to drive Aaron back there. I'm sure he was disappointed, but he seemed to be OK with his decision and vowed to come back next year and complete the course. He had allergy medicine in his hotel room, so that would help him to counter the wasp stings. And hopefully he'd be able to rest and eat soon too. I said goodbye to Aaron and then went up to Alisa's room to meet her.

Alisa was making last minute wardrobe selections based on the current and predicted temperatures. She was looking forward to pacing Dan to his finish. She had been a pacer at this race before, and earlier that morning she had run part of the course. She knew what she was getting into, and she seemed to know Dan well and had the skills and knowledge to get him to the finish. We got to Pine Hollow and set up the chair. I let Alisa sit since she would be the one running about a marathon distance with Dan to his finish. It was cold and dark and quiet except for the sounds of runners and crew talking, and the occasional cowbell. I was receiving periodic messages from Chase letting us know where he and Dan were. Eventually, they came into the aid station. Dan was tired and had slowed down a little bit. He wasn't feeling the greatest, but who would be after 70+ miles through the forest? We got him some soup and sat with him as he made his final wardrobe change of the race. I could tell that he wanted to sit for longer, but there was no time for that. Alisa got him up and then they left Pine Hollow. I was pretty tired by now, and knew that Dan was in good hands with Alisa as his pacer. I told them that they would probably not see me until the finish.

At Pine Hollow: Chase brought Dan into the aid station
At Pine Hollow: Alisa picked up Dan and was his final pacer

After Dan and Alisa left Pine Hollow, I went back to my hotel. I slept for two and a half hours or so. Then I cleaned up, changed and packed my gear. It was early, but I had to check out, as I wouldn't be back this way in time for the normal check-out. 

Mile 102.2 - Finish Line/HiHO Brewing Co.

I drove from my hotel near Hudson to the finish line in Cuyahoga Falls, but this time I went by way of a coffee shop so I could have a much needed bagel and coffee.  The finish line was at HiHo Brewing Co., less than a block from the Sheraton. It was a great location for a finish line. And you read that last heading correctly; Burning River 100 is actually 102.2 miles. Just a little bonus 2.2, because...why not? I found a spot along the last stretch of sidewalk where the runners finished, and set up my chair. I cheered for everyone who came in for their finish. There were relay runners, back half 50 milers, and of course the 100 milers. I saw the husband of the woman I met at the very first aid station, finishing strong. I had no idea where Dan was because the tracker wasn't tracking him anymore. His cell phone battery must have died a while back. In fact, I had no reading on him after Botzum Parking, the Mile 92.6 aid station. But he was not listed in the race results among the DNFs, so I knew he was still out there. And then, I saw Dan and Alisa coming down the road! I ran out to meet Dan and to cheer him in. I ran a few paces with him to the finish chute, but then let him have his finish.

At Finish Line: Here comes Dan-O!
At Finish Line: Dan stops to reflect

It was an amazing thing to see! A runner I'd been tracking and serving as de facto crew member for 29.5 hours...through a strong, fast start to ups and downs along the way, which varied from minor to major aches and pains. If Dan ever thought of dropping, I never saw it. I saw a runner who may have been tired, cold, hungry or in pain at times, but who showed great mental fortitude and determination. He had great pacers guiding him in his last 50 miles too, and they deserve credit for their unwavering support. After his finish, Dan knelt down to reflect on his finish and then laid down on the sidewalk. He needed a few moments, and who could blame him? We gave him cold washcloths to cool him down, and made sure he had any fluids he could take, but he just needed to rest for a few minutes. The podiatrist promised to work on his feet when he got up, but Dan decided he'd rather have a beer!

At HiHo Brewing Co.: Dan-O with his well-earned belt buckle and beer
At HiHo Brewing Co.: OK, I didn't do as much to earn my beer, but I enjoyed it nonetheless

Dan-O, Burning River 100 finisher and I headed into HiHo for a beer each, while Alisa sat with us. Dan had an amber. I had an IPA and got another stamp in my Summit Brew Path book. Dan's beer went down much faster than mine, and soon he and Alisa were off to the hotel to get cleaned up. In another hour or so I would meet them for breakfast at the Sheraton. I enjoyed sitting with Dan and Alisa as they ate the breakfast they deserved. I was still full from my earlier bagel, but I had some coffee and kept them company. Dan left the table first, needing a nap before the trip back to Dayton. Alisa and I had a nice time talking. She would be driving Dan home, which made me feel better than if he was driving. Then eventually, I said goodbye to Alisa.

But my time in Northeastern Ohio was not quite finished. I drove back to Madcap to get my Brew Path stamp, proving I had been there on Friday night with a photo of my beer flight. Now I had 3 of the 14 stamps. I made my way home via Ohio Brewing in Akron, and then Wadsworth Brewing in Wadsworth. Now I had 5 out of 14 stamps, off to a great start. I would find a way to visit the remaining 9 breweries before the end of the year and earn my Summit Brew Path t-shirt.

Burning River got me excited about the ultra community, and also the Akron/Canton area brewery community


It's now been a little over a month since Burning River. I may have forgotten some of the finer details of my weekend, though I did include a lot in the above write-up. But what I can offer now are some reflections on that weekend based on a having a little distance and perspective.

A 100 Miler is no joke! Three friends started the race but only one finished. All three were experienced ultra-marathoners and had trained and planned well for Burning River. But race day throws obstacles at you and all the preparation in the world might not be enough on that one day. This race was very well managed by Western Reserve Racing. It runs through beautiful landscapes in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and I was envious of the scenery that the runners got to see. I thoroughly enjoyed traveling to the various aid stations and executing my job as unofficial crew member. I was no one's official crew, but I did my best to anticipate the needs of my friends, get them what they needed at the time, and get them back on course. It was truly an honor to help them on their journeys. 

I would absolutely love another chance to crew or pace at a 100 Miler. However, I'm not sure that running one is in my future. I used to say that I had no desire to run an ultra longer than a 50K (which I also have yet to do), but now I'm not as sure. I can envision the day when I decide to take on a 50 Miler. But it would not be just for the distance. I have no desire to run one of the timed races with multiple loops that allow you to rack up miles upon miles with every identical circuit. No, the only ultra I will run will be about the journey, and I want it to be a unique journey. I want to travel through parks and trails and see something new and peaceful at every turn, not just multiples of the same scenery. 

And I would consider doing it at one of the Western Reserve Racing events. These guys are a class act. From the moment I stepped into the Sheraton as a volunteer, to the moment I left Dan's finish line, I was impressed by this organization. They did a great job with everything I saw. And after the race, I received a hand-written thank-you card in the mail from staff member Kelly, who coordinated the packet pick-up volunteers, and probably multiple other things as well.

In fact, I did go back to a Western Reserve Racing event - just yesterday! I ran the Minnehaha 5 Miler Trail Race in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and I'll cover it in a future blog post. I just had to get the Burning River report up here first.