A tale of two races that were completely different, but ended with very similar results. Burning River 2011 and 2013. My first 100 miler was Burning River in 2011 and it was a hot and humid race. This year was very pleasant temperature wise, a little humid, but after a few hours the rain came and it rained for most of the day and into the night. The result of all that rain were some very muddy trails which seemed to wreak havoc on some of the runners.
BR100 was the third stop in the Midwest Grandslam. There were 14 of us left in the slam and we were slowly becoming a closer knit group, keeping in touch via emails and in some cases on Facebook.
My crew and pacers this time would be Roger and Joan, Roger was looking forward to this as he had paced me for a part of my previous run at BR100. Joan was bringing her “vast” experience as crew chief extraordinaire!
We drove down to Ohio on Friday morning and got to the Packet Pick up at the North End in Hudson at about 3:30, we met Dave and Zach there and ran into a couple of other familiar faces, including fellow slammer Jon Kissel. I was a little disappointed in this year’s venue for the packet pick up. It was a little under whelming and definitely was a little shy on parking.
We then headed over to Dave and Sandra Morl’s who had graciously offered up their home to us again to stay the night and we also enjoyed a nice pasta dinner. I think we were in bed well before 10, but I had a hard time getting to sleep as usual.
3:15 am came too quickly and the alarm was not welcome. By 4:30 we were at the starting line waiting for the start. I ran into Adam Pratt (another slammer) and his sister Laura and chatted with them about my adventures at WS100 before looking for my crew who had disappeared. I found them, Dave and then said our goodbyes and at 5 (actually a little early) the very low key start took everyone by surprise and we were off.
There were numerous changes since I ran it 2 years ago, the first being a 10k loop around the hills behind Squires Castle to start. There was a lot of climbing here, but being fresh we ran most of it, but I blamed Dave for pushing me more than I needed too. Although I didn’t have to run with him I suppose, I did anyway. Dave is a strong runner and although this was his first 100 I was sure he would have no problem blowing this away and I expected him to leave me behind sooner than later. Unfortunately twisted an ankle early and then stepped in a hole and badly twisted his ankle again only 2 miles in. A quick break and he was running again, although with a slight limp. It still didn’t slow him down though. The trails in the first 10k were very nice and runnable even though none of it was flat. We came into Squires Castle in just over an hour had a quick stop at the aid station and then were off again. Another change was instead of going straight onto the road we followed trails for a couple of miles and then hit the road a couple of miles before Gates Mills. Here is where I met Julie Astairs for the first time as she ran by us with Anastasia. We chatted briefly and off they went. I was trying to slow Dave down at this point! Gates Mills came and went and we headed off for our first crew access point at Polo Fields. This road section is mostly flat and easy running, but I was intent on keeping it easy, but Dave was drifting away from me. I didn’t realize that at this point he was keen on getting to his crew (Ben) as his ankle was getting sore and starting to swell a lot. Wouldn’t you know if I didn’t step in a hole in the road coming to Polo Fields as well!!! I turned my ankle a bit, but managed to catch it and continued on without any problems. Coming into Polo Fields is great as it is a hive of activity, lots of people cheering etc. one of which was Pam Rickard, who I hadn’t seen in about a year or more. She was supposed to run, but has been injured for a while now. She was standing in the middle of the drive taking pictures of Dave and I as we came in. I wasn’t sure it was her at first, but soon realized it was and gave her a great big hug. A quick chat and then off to see the crew.
Dave’s ankle was looking very swollen at this time, so he took a seat and put some ice and Traumeels on it. I had a shake and visited the bathroom and then on my way, but Dave was already gone by the time I had left the bathroom. We were well ahead of schedule at this point, but I was concerned about Dave’s ankle and if he would be able to keep plugging away, although knowing Dave, it would take a lot to stop him.
The next section to Harpers Ridge was flat for the first 3 miles then a steady climb to the aid station. Along the way I passed Kimberly Durst-Wheeler who apparently was suffering from a little stomach distress, so was struggling a bit. The rain had started at this point and it felt good, as it was rather humid. The temperature was good, but just a little humid, so I was sweating which was nothing unusual. This next section went by without anything that I remember standing out. I went into Harpers Ridge and left quickly, just picking up a mountain dew, fig newton and a piece of watermelon. I saw Dick Canterbury (another slammer, at 65 the oldest) ahead of me and I gradually caught up to him. Actually after we crossed the road he started down the road opposite instead of turning on the trail, so I was able to yell at him to come back and prevent him from going out of his way. We then chatted for a bit, talking about the slam and the great group of people in it who we’d met. I then left Dick behind as I pursued Dave down the trail somewhere, he had disappeared from view a while ago, so I assumed he was doing well. I was quite happy to maintain my own pace at this time too though.
It was only 3.2 miles to Shadow Lake and my crew and mostly downhill. The rain was steady now, not a downpour, but just a nice light rain, which I think is ideal. I wouldn’t necessarily be thinking that later. I came into Shadow Lake at just under 5 hours for the 26.2 miles and still way a head of a 24 hour pace, so there was lots of time to take it easy. I changed socks here and had my feet relubed with diaper cream. Refueled and off I went.
Dave was at Shadow Lake when I came in getting his ankle looked at and we left together more or less. Dave was running with a group of friends that he knows at this point so I left him behind and went on towards Egbert Shelter 4.4 miles away. There was some nice running here and lots of passing and being passed regularly by others. I tried to keep telling myself that I should slow it down a bit, I’m way ahead of schedule so slow down and recoup some energy that I might need later. I think in the back of my head I was thinking of finishing in under 22 hours. I would check behind to see Dave’s progress every now and again. Sometimes he was nowhere to be seen other times right behind me.
I left Egbert Shelter in the rain and decided to walk and let Dave catch up to me. A well needed rest was warranted anyway. I walked for a kilometer or two and Dave never did catch up, so I continued on, although somewhat concerned. I don’t remember the next aid station (Alexander Rd) I was starting to go on auto pilot and was going through a bit of a rough patch. The next stretch on the towpath was a par tof the race I was dreading. Two years ago I struggled on the tow path in the heat and the sun, but this year it was raining! I put it down to just a mental struggle, but I also talked myself into the feeling that this was good to walk here. After Station Rd. the course changed from what I remember, one many changes. With all the changes and my fading memory most of the course seemed new. I came into Oak Grove looking forward to seeing my crew, it was raining a little harder now and this aid station had a shelter and sat down for a good rest to regroup and get ready for the next stage. This was also the finish area for the Green Jewel 50k in March which I had completed the last 3 years.
Dave came in not long after me, but was hobbling. He sat down and was not looking good. We had a volunteer who was a nurse come over and look at it and her suggestion was that he shouldn’t run on it, although he had already run 39 miles on it so far. Dave told me to go on and not wait for him. Initially I refused, but then decided to head out. Apparently Dave decided to drop at this point, but changed his mind and headed out to see how it would go to the next age station.
I ran most of this section between Oak Grove and Ottawa Point, passing quite a few people in the process. It was almost 5 miles and I was glad to finally hit the aid station, again I had a sit down, some soup and a bite to eat and then I went to use the rest room while there was a decent one around. That made me feel better!!! Back into the trails I went 4 miles to the next aid station and half way, but this would be the toughest 4 miles of the race (at least to this point). We went down into the ravine and immediately noticed the mud going down the hills, it was tricky, but got a lot worse. Shoe sucking, energy sapping mud and it never relented. I got to Snowville and collapsed in a chair, not knowing what I wanted. I looked at the guy in the chair beside me and we just shook our heads. I asked about the next section “is it as bad as what we just did?” they said it was trails and there were hills… not promising! I had gone through half way in 10 hours and 30 minutes, still well ahead of schedule, but I felt like I had expended everything at this time. I got up and headed out knowing that Roger would be ready to pace me at the next aid station, Boston Store. As it turned out the trails did improve somewhat. There was still mud in place, but it was better. Somehow I got a burst of energy in this section and passed a number of runners, including Melanie Peters who we had seen at Kettle, Mohican and WS100. In e ach race she was struggling with achilles issues and was again.
At the bottom of the hill before coming into Boston Store I passed Anastasia and we discussed the mud and how much fun we had!
I saw Roger waiting for me and rushed into the aid station. This was supposed to be a no crew access aid station, but something seemed to have gone a miss there as there were lots of crews waiting for their runners. I had Joan go get me some S Caps which I had run out of, so this gave me a few minutes to rest. It would be 10 miles to the next time that we would see Joan. This is also where I learned that Dave had dropped at Ottawa Point and gone to ER from there. Turns out he was diagnosed with having a double fracture in his right ankle.
The walk out of Boston Store was similar to two years ago, but soon varied as we stayed on the right side of the hwy up a hill and down another road to the trail. I remember the trail to Pine Lane and this is not what I remember, it went on a lot longer than I thought, we passed a few runners and then headed out of the aid station after some more soup.
On the way back from Pine Lane, no on asphalt I ran well we would run the flats and down hills, but anything that even resembled a hill was an excuse to walk. This was quite a few kilometres of road and then paved bike path that I ran well. Another change in the course saw us run in to Ledges Shelter instead of Happy Days and I came in there at 14 hours and 39 minutes for 66 miles (two thirds done), still on a 22 hour pace. The bottom of my feet were now starting to getting tender, especially the part between the balls of my feet. Joan lubed up my feet again and I changed socks, changed into a long sleeve shirt too as the sun would go down soon enough. We left this station with Michael Schaffer and his pacer Kirsten Dickerson and had a quick chat with them, we left them behind as Michael decided he needed another shirt.
A told Roger from memory this was a very runnable section and run we did, at least for a few miles. The closer we got to Pine Hollow the slower I got. I was struggling again and I blamed it on being drained from trying to get through the mud earlier. At this point I was thinking that a sub 24 hour time was out of the question never mind sub 22. By the time we came into Pine Hollow it was dark. We stayed for a bit, I used the nice washrooms there and then headed out again, with headlamps. We “only” had 30 miles to go and I could see this becoming a struggle. It was another 9 miles to Covered Bridge and somewhere in between I mentioned to Roger that we only had a marathon to go and if I could do a 6 hour marathon I would still be close to 24 hours. Seems doable right? Maybe, but the section after Covered Bridge was to be almost as bad as the 4 miles before Snowville.
About 2 miles before Covered Bridge we had to cross a creek, but there were no trail markers which made us second guess where we were. I remembered coming this way the last time, but it may have changed. A number of other runners also caught up to us here and were also thrown off. Eventually someone found a marker another couple of hundred metres down the trail, so off we went. There was a lot of walking for the rest of the way to the aid station. This was a hive of activity last time, but without crew access it was a little bit subdued this year. I did get to see Dawn Herrick here and she was very supportive, with hugs and offering everything I could think of, I grabbed some ginger and a few other items and then headed out again armed with a hug from Dawn for Joan.
Again, the next section from Covered Bridge had some changes, but the main part was the climbing on the Perkins trail which hadn’t changed and throw in the mud and it made this section very tricky. I was not feeling my best here and we really had no choice but to walk anyway as it was straight up for what seemed like “miles”. I mentioned to Roger that we had been doing nothing but going up and was thinking the eventual downhill maybe dangerous as it would a steep down. Amazingly we were still passing runners along the trail. Where ever there was a flat or downhill section we would run where we could. Eventually came out on to the road at Oakhill aid station (water only), it felt good to be on pavement believe it or not, but this feeling soon disappeared. I had no motivation at this point and walking was all I could muster. Mentally I felt like crap, physically… I think it was just the hot spot/blisters on the bottom of my feet that were bothering me. We were looking for the turn on a paved trail towards Home Meadow when a runner we had passed earlier passed us. He had been struggling in the mud, but was doing much better now that he was on the pavement and he disappeared in the distance very quickly. It took well over 2 hours to get from Covered Bridge to Home Meadow, which is probably better than some to over the 7 miles. I was a little messed up with where we were at this point and didn’t realize Joan would be waiting for us here and she would take over pacing here too. So again a change of socks, relubed and a change of shirt made me feel somewhat better. Some soup and off we went. We walked to the road and then ran some, walked, and then ran some more. We went into the woods again, but although I remembered it from 2 years ago, there were very few markings here, but followed my instincts. A lot of climbing followed before we headed into O’Neil Woods, which used to be an aid station, but not anymore. Eventually we came out to a road again and followed it to the tow path. I hate the tow path, it is long and boring and hard on the feet. I thought there was an aid station right after getting on to the tow path, but it was just a water only stop. We went right through. I tried running a few times, but it just wasn’t happening at this point. We did run partly past the Compost plant, which was in peak stink mode!
I’d like to say the tow path went by quickly, but it didn’t. Roger saw us a Merriman and Memorial Aid Stations and then there was the final 6 miles to the finish. I’d had a few people pass me on the path, and was surprised to see Mark Chaloupka and his pacer leaving Memorial as we came in. As we left to cross the river we passed Bryce another Slammer. He was having a similar experience to me, feeling like crap. Bryce is one of the better runners in the slam, so it was surprising to see him back here. We continued on through the town of Cayuhoga Falls and into another park for some easy trails before heading up multiple stairs and stairs and more stairs. Then it was a walk along a gravel path to the final road. It was only about anther mile to the finish from here and I could see Mark also walking about 100 metres ahead of us. Unless I got a burst of energy it would stay that way and that’s the way it stayed.
We ran the last 100 metres or so and finished in 25:51:32! The fastest of the 3 slam event so far, but it came with a bitter taste. I was happy to finish, but felt I could have done far better than I did. We told Roger I would be there between 7 and 7:30 am, but I can in a little earlier (6:51) so he missed us and therefore there was no video or photos of me finishing this time. The official race photographer was away from the finish line at the time too.
I congratulated Mark and Bryce, after he finished shortly behind me and then we hobbled to the car to head back to Dave’s.
I never felt so bad after a race and on the way to Dave’s I had to get Joan to pullover as I thought I was going to be sick. Joan gave me a cold bottle of water to put on my neck which helped. Back at Dave’s I showered up and we had a cup of tea and thought it best to start the journey home. I slept most of the way and then slept for 13 hours once we got home,
The blisters are healing well now and I even went out and did a “recovery” run last night. 7 hills with Joan, not your conventional recovery run, but I felt great. Time to get back into training for Hallucination in 5 weeks. The last step in the Midwest Grandslam.
It was also great to see that all the remaining 14 Slammers finished BR100.
Much thanks to my incredible team Joan and Roger for pacing and keeping me focused and going forward. Joan again does a great job with the crewing and keeps me on track nutritionally.
Burning River is still a great event. There seems to be less to it than two years ago, but the organizers, Joe, Jim and Vince do a great job. I would love to come back and do it during a dry, cool year (yeah, like that will ever happen).
Goodbye Lobster - Jim Milton, aka Lobster and Smokey. My friend. I will miss you. R.I.P.
2 weeks ago