Thursday, August 15, 2013

Running is Stupid a.k.a. Burning River 100 2013

The thought of this race started about 2 years ago.  I was talking to another runner about some difficulties I had in the heat of the BT50k, and asked for help as I was contemplating longer races. Essentially, this person gave me nothing but reasons not to run 100 miles.  Some of my friends also gave me reasons not to run that far - most centered on my sanity...
Last year, I ran Mohican 50 with a fair amount of training - I paced a marathon and paced about 20 miles of another marathon in May (both HOT ones).  But I never ran longer than the marathon, and I never really piled on the training miles.  But Mohican went pretty well and I controlled the heat...
So, after committing to pacing the two May marathons again, I thought, "why not give BR100 a try?"  I plotted out a calendar through the Spring and Summer, and decided I would see how my training went.  If I got hurt or just couldn't pile on the miles, I wouldn’t run.  The one thing I did do was get together a crew early on - 4 people who promised to crew me if I signed up.
I also started to pick the brain of my friend Nick…a great ultra runner.  Over and over he answered my stupid questions.  I owe him a great deal of thanks for his patience and enthusiasm.
I paced Pittsburgh no problem.  Cleveland didn't go so well and I slowed at 21 - I just didn't pay enough attention to my own hydration.  This caused some doubts in my mind, but I signed up for BR at the May deadline.  Joe J was nice enough to keep my entry quiet…the fewer that asked about my training, the better in my mind.  Although I was entered, I still had a lot of training ahead of me.  I had 5 very solid weeks of training in June and the first week of July - always running in the heat if I could.  My high mileage week culminated with a self-aided run of the BT50k course and 15 miles the next day, both in the middle of the day to make sure the temperature was at its peak.  The day on the BT50k course proved good training – it was very muddy that day and I wasted a lot of effort trying to get around the mud (I had clean socks at the turn, but not shoes). After that run, I made the decision that if the course was muddy during BR100, I was going straight through it – no wasted effort dancing around it.
I ran my last long run two weeks before the race - 15 miles on a blistering hot day.

I had not been feeling good for about a week before the race – a bad cold, and poor sleep.  But about 2 days before the race, I started feeling better.  I think maybe my body fighting the cold actually helped.
The day before the race was hectic – as I tried to get myself prepared for the race, I had some work demands that had me working at home.  But I plowed through it all, and headed out to pick up my packet.  Vince surprised me by asking if I had been "training in secret"...the answer was "yes" of course.

The night before the race, I stayed with my friend of almost 30 years, Stephan.  His wife Tina cooked us a nice meal and I tried to settle in around 9.  I know I didn't fall asleep until after 10 (thanks Zach for the room!)  We got up around 2:45.  Fortunately Tina was up and able to tie on the red, white, and blue friendship bracelet my son Jack had made me - it was the first thing he mentioned to me after the race!   Stephan then drove me to the bus in Cuyahoga Falls.

The night before the race.
It was a strange beginning to the day - just a few buses in the dark in downtown Cuyahoga Falls.  Fortunately, I ran into Jon Kissel right away and we talked and climbed aboard a bus together. (Note: Jon is now one race away from the Slam…go get it Jon!)  There were some other REALLY experienced runners on the bus, talking about this race and that race, and as I listened to them, I started to really contemplate what I was about to attempt.  What the hell am I doing at BR100 with only one 50 under my belt?   What the hell is gonna happen out there along the way?  I had 2 goals - 1) Finish 2) sub 24 hours.
When I climbed off the bus, I had no idea where to go, so I just wandered toward the castle.  There was quite a bit of time before the start, and I was nervous.  I saw only a few people I knew, all in their own pre-race prep.  George surprised me the most – he seemed nervous and only said hello. (Note: George told me last night that his recollection is that we talked about who would be in front of who on the course...I knew of course that George would smoke me).  I found a small room in Squires Castle and just sat by myself.  There was one very experienced ultra runner near me – she seemed really calm and was just chatting away.  Even though I never talked with her that morning, it calmed me.  Not a care in the world, and I knew she'd be RACING it.  I boiled it down to a simple thought “It’s just running.”
The first loop was uneventful.  Jon mentioned he had tripped in the first two miles - what a way to start after all that training and racing.  Other than that, no one was really talking.  The aid station was a little congested - lots of spectators, a place to drop your headlamp, and brownies at 6am! (although I didn't have one)
After that, I was constantly trying to slow myself on the road portions...really hard to do without banging up your legs.  No one was really talking much.  One gal (who I later found out was also Stephan's friend!) actually told me in a nice way that she didn't want to talk.  Fair enough, off I went.  Rain started at  about 8:15a which was a surprise as I hadn't expected it until around noon.  It was a steady rain for quite a while after that - I think at least until 3 or 4 o'clock?
I kept it pretty simple through the early stations.  At Polo Grounds (a cool James Bond theme)  or Harper Ridge I tried a new Hammer gel - Apple Cinnamon - not the best idea to try to something new in a race, but it was all they had.  It was good - like apple pie, I thought, only pasty, and sticky...

Polo Grounds.  Shaken, not Stirred...

Bryan Short was the first person I knew that I saw along the route - he was working at the Harper Ridge aid station.  The short interaction with people I knew certainly helped as the day went on.

I saw Ron Ross early in the race.  He didn't know me but I had seen his photo on the Medina County runner FB page.  I introduced myself and we talked for a bit - the man is a machine - something like 18 Mohican 100s and 7 or 8 BRs!  As he started to pull away from me, he said "you look good" - then about 10 steps later he looked over his shoulder and said "and I mean that"  - this made me laugh.
Due to my pace I almost beat my crew into Shadow Lake.  They actually drove by me just a short distance from the aid station!  I changed all my clothes and shoes/socks at Shadow Lake which was good - I had slipped off a rock in a stream and both feet were very wet.  Fortunately my favorite VR friend, Mel, set me up with a new pair of trail shoes on Thursday.  I alternated 2 pairs of trail shoes until Howe Meadow.  Thanks Mel!
I made a wrong turn with two other runners out of Shadow Lake but a fisherman turned us around immediately so no big deal there.  It was a little strange along the way here - runners slowing and speeding up - no one really staying together.  I knew I was making good time.  My plan was 6, 7, 8 - 6 hours for 30 miles, 7 hours for the next 30, etc.  I hit Egbert at 6:02 - a little fast but not too bad.

 Alexander Road?
Due to the rain, my crew kept encouraging me  to wear a hat - over and over and over...NO HATS!
I don't remember much of Egbert to Oak Grove except for the towpath.  Boring and rainy!   Three or four of us ran somewhat together through the woods, but on the Towpath I ran with a guy named Mac for a while (his 3rd attempt at BR) but he slowed before the train station.  I got caught by the train at Station Bridge and had to walk around it - but that only cost me a minute or two.  Knowing the course here helped as I wound up to Oak Grove.  This is where mud first became noticeable - about a half mile from the aid station, my right shoe got sucked off!  Several steps in the mud in just my right sock, but at least I was close to aid station.
 Pulling into Oak Grove - WET!
I had a good stop at Oak Grove - total clothes change and some food and my crew had a sign from my sons.  (Picasso had his “Blue period” – my son Jack is currently in his “duct tape period.”)  Mike Erhardt and his wife Jen were in charge at this station so I was glad to see them too.  A hug and encouragement from Jen and Mike and I was on my way again.  Again, good to see friends along the way.


No real problems to Ottawa Point, but here's where the course went to crap...the leg to Snowville was as bad as I have EVER seen it - and I have run there many times over the last 4 or 5 years.  This section took me forever, but I caught back up with Jon and "ran" with him for a while.  If I remember right Jon was in HOKAs and another runner in road shoes…they were literally skating down the downhills.   My crew tells me I was angry and muttered “UN-runnable” when I emerged at Snowville.  They tried to assure me that everyone was having trouble with that section.    My brother Scott had driven up from Columbus and my bro-in-law Matt was also there – a good surprise.
Heading out to Snowville.  Finishing at Snowville.  The face says it all.
But the mud to Boston Store wasn't much better and I know I was slow here too...I did run the last 2 miles or so at a good clip - it's one of my favorite parts of the trail down to BS.  My high school 30 year reunion was that night and a few of my classmates had put a sign near Blue Hen falls to cheer me on.  I NEVER saw it as I was chasing 3 runners and trying to pass them into Boston Store (sorry Katie and Lorry!).   Stephan was even directing traffic at Boston Mills Road!  I never did ask why.  I did see the classmates and my crew near the Boston Store.  I think Tina and Josh were here too...I'm pretty sure I blasted Josh before he could get some smart aleck "old man" joke out.  I'm not sure what I ate here, but I think this was the first time of many that I drank some broth...nothing better on a muggy Saturday afternoon than a cup of warm broth!
Picked up my pacer Michele at Boston Store and we got going...that first rock hill was just plain silly - reminded me of Mohican for some reason...I ran pretty good to Pine Lane but by the time I got there I knew I was behind my 6, 7, 8 goal...I knew that was probably the end of my bid to go sub 24 hours.  But, I knew I was still making good time, as my headlamp would not be needed until after Ledges.
This picture is from Pine Lane.  As you can see, the rain has stopped and I'm eating noodles and ugh, more broth.  The humidity was just kind of hanging on the trails.  I  think this is the spot I decided to eat some grilled cheese – I might as well have been in a baby’s high chair with a bib on…all my crew was talking to me like a baby “Oh, that’s a good little boy  – c’mon just oooone more little bite Greggy.”  Funny stuff.

Next up...Pine Lane to Ledges.  After a short distance on the trails, the paved road and bike and hike just didn’t feel good on my legs.  I think i was running - slowly.  Michele and I picked up a runner named Mike who was walking - we ran together for a while.  Mike pulled away from me when we hit the last trail piece and I never saw him again.  I struggled into Ledges. 

I think this was my lowest point in the race.  Wet, muddy, feet in bad shape, and no energy.  My crew thought I was in trouble so they had me eat every darn thing they could find.  A potato with salt.  More broth.  Tylenol.  S-caps.  M&Ms.  Peanut butter and jelly as I walked out. I changed all my clothes (including one of my favorite shirts that I had already worn but Tina had washed!), but sat too long and really hobbled out of the station toward Pine Hollow.  I thought I was there a long time - Amanda later told me it was only about 10 minutes!

Waiting for me at Pine Hollow was my friend Joe.  For years, Joe has been telling me, "Running is Stupid."  Who can resist such a motivating slogan?  Apparently he mentioned this to my crew - based on how I looked at Ledges, they warned him that he should not joke about running! 

Little did they all know, but as Michele and I hit the trail I felt better and I ran well in this section .  Mentally, I finally had a good grasp on the lost sub-24 concept...I would aim to finish as fast as I could.  As I talked with Michele, I found out my team had pizza – and they never told me!  So I asked her to text them to have some ready at Pine Hollow.  I charged up the hill there, yelled something like "I crushed that!" and ate some pizza with Coke.  I saw Mike E again too which was another pick me up.  Michele's family was there for support, and when I joked to them, "ok, so which of you is going to pace me next?" there was nervous laughter...

I did okay through Little Meadow too, and I thought now that if I got to Covered Bridge, I WILL FINISH THIS THING.  Joe managed to sneak over to Wetmore to leave me with his "running is stupid" mantra.  Thank you Joe!

 Some late night pizza at Pine Hollow!

Amanda and I headed out to Covered Bridge.  A few of us had run this section before, but at night it was totally different and it was muddy.  My breath was starting to show up in front of my headlamp which was effecting my vision a little bit, but I kept moving and soon made it to Covered Bridge.  Honestly, I can't remember how my "running" was from Little Meadow to Covered Bridge.  I can remember thinking that  the piece from the road crossing to the aid station seemed LONG.

Because it was "indoors" Covered Bridge was a unique aid station - if I remember correctly Amanda moved me back outside quickly to avoid the urge to stay inside.  I ate a little bit - broth again, ugh.  I also ate a Pop Tart (everyone keeps asking me what flavor - frosted strawberry of course, do they even make any other kind?) and some chips.  They actually tasted good. 
A fist bump with aid station captain Heidi, and Amanda and I were off to the Perkins Loop.  This was, in one word, treacherous.  At the bottom of each hill, Amanda and I would look up, lighting the muddy hills with our headlamps.  We would both mutter an expletive, laugh, and start climbing.  This was repeated several times.  It also rained again...not that it mattered much.  At one point a pair of lighted eyes ran across in front of us on the trail.  Amanda yelled and ran up behind using me as a shield!  My own pacer throwing me to the “wolves” – we laughed about that too. But Amanda got me to Oak Hill Road and the worst of the course was behind me.
I also don't remember much of my "running" along here - I know we ran some of the road, and into the woods.  Howe Meadow looked totally different at night and entering from that side of the field.  I took my time at this aid station.  Things were slowing down for me here.  I had been looking forward to dry socks and my road shoes, but now my feet were so swollen I had to loosen the laces and could barely tie them! As I got out of the chair, I'm pretty sure I said "Let's finish this damn thing."

My next pacer was Susan.  I need to tell the back story of Susan the packet pick up I was asked if I had a crew.  I rambled off the names and someone said "You have Susan as a pacer?"  I just replied yes and the person didn't say anything else.  I thought the exchange was strange.  Apparently the idea of having Susan as a pacer was also a discussion at the local running group that Saturday morning.  Let me make this point - with Susan as my pacer, we passed the runner who asked the strange question about her being on my team!

The dry socks and shoes turned out to be a bad feet were wet for so long they were soft, and the dry socks and my road shoes caused a fairly large blister on the ball of each foot...which I really started to feel just before the Merriman aid station.  I had run well through Oneil Woods, but the towpath didn't feel good at all. 
Although I felt pretty good, I was disappointed from Merriman in…I really wanted to run, but my feet were so sore at this point I couldn’t bring myself to do it other than in short clips.  I did run a bit along this piece, and did run into Memorial, but overall I started to think I was wasting Susan’s time.  We were at least walking about 15 minute miles.  She was always really good about it.
  At Merriman - Michele, Amanda, Matt - Coke and Watermelon at 4:30am!

I got to Memorial, announced I was NOT eating anything else, and picked up my crew chief and headed out...Stephan and I ran a bit down into the trail, but the somewhat rocky trail was even worse for my feet.  I basically walked most of this portion.  After the climb to the road, I looked up the long last hill, muttered something about “course designer's sense of humor” and trudged along.
I was very happy to see my crew coming back to me from the start and we walked a ways together before they let me run in on my own.  I had some fun with the finish (the video is on FB) - a little arms extended "airplane" in, and that was it.  25:35 and some change...
Overall, I had a great day. The rain clobbered the heat.  I was never in major trouble mentally or physically and I was, as the pictures show, having a fun race.  My AWESOME team and I made some great decisions along the way - stopping NUUN as my electrolyte source, dumping my hydration belt which was screwing with my hip flexors, etc.  I wish I could have eaten more, but I just couldn't get myself to do it - even choking down an S-cap became difficult.  The hardest management part was remembering when I last had a gel, s-cap etc. - I kept saying "I just had one..."  Many times that was actually an hour before or longer.  I feel very fortunate to have finished - I know it was a tough day out there for so many good runners.
I owe so much to so many – my family for tolerating my training, Jack’s power friendship bracelet, my sons’ sign at Oak Grove, my brother and brother-in-law for their support along the way, Stephan’s wife Tina and son Josh, and my sister and mom for being at the finish.  The volunteers on the course were awesome too.  Also my involuntary advisor Nick, and Shaun and Cap'n Mike - thank you all!  (I hope I didn't forget anyone).
My crew – you will not find four finer people – Amanda, Michele, Susan, and Stephan.  I bow to you my friends.  Why stay up all night with some guy who’d never run more than 50 miles on a 100 mile trek?  Maybe Joe is right - maybe running makes us all stupid!  But it sure can be fun...