Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Burning River 100 - 2012

Burning River 100 – July 28, 2012

Short Summary: I lasted 65 miles running strong, then slowly fainted, bothered by a pain on my right foot. I was reduced to walking by mile 85.  But I managed to overcome the pain and started running again for the last 7 miles, to finish strong.  I am happy with my time (20:50) for my first 100 miler. I hope that, after a few more 100 mile races, one day I will be able to have a strong 2nd half in a 100 mile race.


Training / Goals:

This was my first 100 miler and I did not know what to expect. Early on I made an official goal of 24 hours.  But, as the race day approached, and after running a few strong races, especially Mohican 50 miler (8:47), I secretly hoped to do it in 20 hours, where my true capabilities I think are.

Going from 50 miles to 100 is a big step.  There are very few intermediate races to prepare you, so one can hope that long runs and some races will do the magic. I raced a lot this year (one 50 miler and several 50Ks), did all the official training runs (20-25 miles each), but did not do any extra long or back-to-back training runs.  My longest mileage week was 92 miles, 4 weeks before BR100.

Here is a picture of the night training run, I believe the highest attendance of any training run:

So, I arrived at BR100 unsure, but hoping for the best.  I was only a bit worried with my weight gain (I gained 5 lbs in 2 weeks before the race).  I did not have any injuries or other problems.  Tapering the last week made me feel a bit out of shape, but I was ready to go!

My Only Mistake

People look back and mention all the things they did wrong, what they will do differently next time, different shoes, different nutrition plan, etc.  I look back and have no regrets.  My nutrition, shoe choices, and every little (or big) decision that I made before and during the race, worked fine. 

Except for one little detail:  As I was standing around, waiting for the start, I felt that my shoes were a bit loose. I decided to tighten my laces a bit.  When I was done, I felt that the right shoe was too tight.  I considered re-lacing this shoe, but decided to leave it as is.  It sounds minor, but this created a problem that would haunt me 80 miles later. My right foot got swollen and started hurting, forcing me to stop running around mile 90.  So, if I could go back, I would re-lace my right shoe to loosen it up.  A small detail... that could make a difference.

Start – Squire’s Castle (6.2M) ___________________________

The race started at 5 am.  It was cool and it had rained the day before.  The forecast was 79F high, 62F low, partially cloudy with the possibility of rain.  A lot of people expected a dry course, based on the weather the past weeks (we were having one of the driest summers ever) so I am sure they were surprised by the amount of water in creeks etc.  I am sure some people struggled running in wet socks. Thank goodness, I was used to running in wet trails from last Fall, so I did not have a problem.

At the start I saw our running friends (from the training runs) including Kimberly and our out of town guest, Andy.  I decided to run with a water bottle and my 3d camera, to take pictures along the way.  Here are three pictures from the start.

With Kimberly and Andy at the start:

Radames Colon and family at the start:

Race director, Joe Jurczyk, with a few seconds to the start:
I started slow, as always...  The first 6.2 miles were on a trail loop, returning back to the start line.  This trail was not well-marked for running at night with fog.  There was some confusion and a large group of runners took the wrong way and lost some time.

My time at the first aid station was 1:08:03 (11 min/mile pace).  I was 94th overall. 

Old Mill - Chagrin (12.4) ___________________________

After the first aid station, I started passing runner after runner. Some friends were surprised to see me passing, wondering why I was so far back.  I remember talking to Richard around mile 10.  He said that you should wait for the first 20 miles to assess the situation.

Right away I felt some stiffness and pain in my hips.  I was worried about that.  I did not feel in my best shape, but kept running.  Thankfully, the hip stiffness/pain gradually disappeared.
Two pictures right after the Old Mill Aid Station. I caught up with Charles Twigg, who took my picture:


Time at Old Mill aid station: 2:05 (9:11 pace), 78th overall

Polo Fields (17.2) - Harper Ridge (23) ___________________________

There was a long road section in this part, which I ran a bit faster then average.  I remember passing Mark Pancake and Starshine Blackford in this section.  I had an interesting exchange with Star.  At the expo, the day before, I told her that I will take her picture when I pass her in the race. I was trying to be funny, but I thinks she took it seriously.  So, as I passed her, I asked to take her picture.  Her response: “It is too early George, too early!” :)

Just as Bill Wagner warned me at the Polo Fields there was a creek crossing in this section, knee high deep.  Some runners elected to go around through a bridge. I just went straight through the creek and got all wet.  But I caught up with my friend Andy for the first time in the race.

A young girl was running with us, total rookie, no bottle, no run over 40 miles.  I wondered if she would make it to the finish, running too fast early on. (I now see from the results that she dropped at mile 93).

I remember running through some nice trails but don’t have any clear memories of these sections.  I caught up again with my friend Andy at the aid station after he took a bathroom break.  That's the last time I saw him, until the finish line.

At Harper Ridge my average pace was 9:30 and I was in 56th place.

Shadow Lake (26.2) – Egbert Shelter (31) ___________________________

I do not have clear memories of these sections.  I remember a long uphill road leading to Egbert Shelter, where I first walked quite a bit. I was hoping to meet my crew there and change shoes and shirt, but they did not arrive on time, so I continued running.

Alexander Road (35.4) – Station Road Bridge (40.3) ___________________________

There were some nice and easy trails in this section. I particularly remember the Buckeye Trail connecting the Bike & Hike to the Towpath.  This was mostly downhill and very enjoyable.  The Alexander Road aid station was in this section.  According to the web site I was in 41st place in this aid station.

Once we got in the Towpath, we had about 3 miles to the aid station.  These 3 miles are consider some of the worse in the course because they are flat, boring, and in full sun around noon.  I struggled a bit, put passed 5-6 runners just in this 3 mile Towapath section.

Station Road in Brecksville (my home town, just 3 miles from my house) was the first major aid station for me.  I met my crew (wife and children) for the first time.  At Station Road I switched shoes (from lightweight NB to more padded Brooks) a good change IMO.  Bill Wagner was at Station Road and helped me as if he was part of my crew.  He was also in every aid station where crew was allowed, offering much needed words of encouragement.  I am really touched by this.  Thank you Bill!
Here, I am arriving at the Station Road Aid Station:

Bill and Liz are helping me refresh and refuel:


Ottawa Point (46.7) - Snowville (50.7) ___________________________

The section from Station Road on is very familiar to me.  As we got closer to Ottawa Point, it became even more familiar because it is part of the Buckeye Trail 50K race.  After some slower miles and some walking, I arrived at Ottawa feeling strong.  Seeing a familiar trail definitely lifted my spirit.  I met my crew at Ottawa and refueled.  I generally avoided sugar and tried to eat foods with some fat in them.
In this picture, I am leaving the Ottawa aid station.  You can see why I run fast!

Right after the aid station, I remember passing Michael Epp, a strong runner who runs with a regular shirt, so he is very easy to spot.  The run from Ottawa to Snowville, was very familiar and pleasant for me. I passed the rookie girl there and caught up with my friend Brad Polman. 

My time at Snowville (approximate the half of the race) was 9:05 (10:45 pace) and I was in 28th place.

Blue Hen Falls (54.6) ___________________________

After Snowville, I realized for the first time that I am having a problem.  I has feeling a pain on my lower right leg (just above the ankle). I was convinced that this was caused by the pressure of the compression sleeves in my legs, cutting off blood circulation.  So, I decided to remove them at Blue Hen Falls. I put them in my pocket, in case I need them later.  In retrospect, I believe that my leg was getting inflamed (swollen) from the pressure from the tightly laced shoe for the first 40 miles.  The damage was already done and it would only get worse later.
In the way to Pine Lane, just before the pine section.  Familiar BR markings:

Pine Lane (59.9) – Happy Days (65.4) ___________________________

I arrived at Pine Lane in 23rd place.  I saw Brad Polman and Deanna Culbreath there. I left the station ahead of both, but Brad quickly passed me.  There was a long uphill, leading to the lamb farm, and then a road, going through a camp, then turning around and following the paved Bike and Hike.  This long stretch of road was unwelcome for most runners.  I could see Brad ahead of me, and then heard Deanna coming from behind. She was running surprisingly fast, passed me, and then she passed Brad.  We finally got into a trail (a relief for me), in our way to Happy Days.  I caught up with Brad, chatted for a while, and then I pulled ahead and arrived at Happy Days first.

According to the web site, I was in 22nd place at Happy Days (mile 65) running with an average pace of 11:12.  This was my best placement for the entire race.  I have gone from 94th place at the first aid station to 22nd place.  I have passed 72 runners :)  It cannot be any better than that. 

For some people Happy Days was not very happy (a lot of runners dropped there), but, for me, this was the highest point of the race.  I was feeling strong (much better than mile 40) and confident.

Pine Hollow (71.1) ___________________________

And then... I started falling apart.  The section from Happy Days to Pine Hollow included some hard to run areas around the Ledges.  I was walking carefully, trying to navigate my way around the rocks, when Deanna passed me hopping around the rocks like a gazelle.

I finally arrived at the Salt Run 3 mile trail.  I was getting tired and lonely and found myself walking quite a bit at this trail, until Star Blackford passed me with about a mile to the aid station.  As she passed, she said “take my picture now!”.  That was a nice come-back!  Her presence woke me up and I started running again, following her for a while until she blew me off.  This was the first runner to pass me in maybe 30 miles.

My family was at Pine Hollow (kids above). I distinctly remember looking at all my favorite foods (like almond butter, below) and having no appetite for anything.  Forcing myself to eat when I don't feel like eating.  I guess this happens to everyone.  After a while, no food looks good any more.  Most people in life want to control their apettite, but now I understand how hard life can be without apettite!
Little Meadow (74.5) - Covered Bridge (80.1) ___________________________

The section from Pine Hollow to Little Meadow is a hard one. I did not like it at the practice runs so I walked most of it.  One or two people passed me in this section.

From Little Meadow to Covered  Bridge is one of the best sections of the race.  Very runnable trails, mostly downhill.  With two miles to the next aid station, as I was walking, Brad Polman passed me.  This motivated me and I followed him (using him essentially as my pacer) running very strong and arriving first at the Covered Bridge Aid station, by sunset, looking good.

My time at Covered Bridge was 15:38 (11:43 pace) and I am listed still in 22nd place.

O’Neil Woods (88.6) ___________________________

At Covered Bridge I picked up my pacer, Christen McFarland, who had volunteered to help me with my last 20 miles of the race.  The first 5 miles are in the Perkins loop trail, familiar to me from the Bill’s Bad Ass 50K, and considered on of the hardests parts of the race.  I started OK, but gradually, as the dark settled in, I was reduced to walking.  4 runners passed me towards the end of the loop, including Charles Twigg, a friend I made during the training runs.  He looked strong and determined to break 20 hours.  A sharp contrast to me.  I was mostly walking and my moral was low.

After a run along Oak Hill road, we arrived at a trail known as O'Neil Woods. I was not familiar with this trail until our training runs, and actually ran it twice, once at night and once during the day.  I liked this trail during training.  But now, at about mile 86, it felt as if this was one of the hardest trails I have ever run! I walked the entire thing! 

At this point the pain on my right foot was serious enough to stop me from running in trails. I remember arriving at the aid station and night, looking bad, and Suzanne Pokorny (aid station captain) trying, unsuccessfully, to cheer me up. I remember right after the aid station, one downhill was so sharp I was not sure how to get down.  Christen was doing her best to motivate me, but it was not working.

I was able to run the short road section leading to the Towpath.  But when we arrived at the Towpath, I could not run any more.  Attempting to run was painful and running was slow. I could actually walk faster than run at this point. So, I walked.  I was making mental calculations what my time would be if I walked the remaining 10 miles of the race.  I estimated a finish time around 23 hours, not bad for a first 100 miler, but nowhere near my real goal (20 hours).

During our training runs, most of us hated the Towpath section.  But, at this late stage of the race, it was wonderful!  A hard trail would have seriously slowed me down, but, in the flat Towpath, I could at least walk fast.  At no point did I consider dropping out.  I was able to walk and, in the worse case, I could finish the race walking.

I was surprised that not too many people passed me while I was walking in the Towpath, towards the Merriman Road aid station (only 3 runners I think).  Christen said "I bet everyone else is walking too" :)  One runner that passed me was Michael Epp, the guy with the shirt.

At this point I had the idea to put my compression sleeves back on, to mask the pain on my lower right foot and maybe I would be able to run again.  I actually had this idea earlier but the earliest I could meet with my crew was at Merriman.

Merriman Road (93.1) – Memorial Parkway (96.1) ___________________________

Brad Polman passed me again just before the aid station.  This was the lowest point of the entire race for me:  Arriving at the Merriman Road aid station walking!  In every aid station I appeared running strong and people were cheering for me with my name (I have no idea who a lot of these people were and how they knew my name).  At Merriman I am walking, no one knows me (good thing!)  They say encouraging things but I feel like crap. I mean, I can not run, I am only walking, what else can I say?

At Merriman road, change of socks and putting on compression sleeves. My son is helping me, and Jason is watching.

After I put compression sleeves back on I tried to run at the next towpath section, 3 miles to Memorial Parkway.  And it worked!  The pain is masked and I am running again!  Christen is now very helpful, all I do is follow her.  What a good feeling! I arrive at Memorial Parkway (96.1) confident. 

Finish (100.9) ___________________________

Right after Memorial Parkway there a road section (which I walked, with police escort).  A bit later we entered the last trail section. I ran most of it (minus uphills and stairs).  Then a flat section follows in the trail and I am running even faster.  The thought that the end is so near makes the pain go away.

Finally, we exit the trail to Front Street.  The finish is 1.5 miles ahead.  Nothing can stop me now :)  A guy is a bit in front, I am thinking I will catch him.  He takes a wrong turn and I am yelling at him.  He comes back and passes me to the finish. :)  I still managed to finish with an 8 minute mile, looking strong.  Yes, it is the finish, and I am happy. 

Final time: 20:50, 25 overall/196, 2nd over 50 (first over 50 finished 20 minutes ahead).  If I were a USATF runner, I would have won first place in my age group (50-54).

My family was at the finish and took pictures.  Liz ran the last mile with me and Christen.  We stayed around to wait for my friend Andy to finish.  I started feeling very cold and tired, unable to walk, barely able to stand up straight, so I was glad to go home. After a short sleep, we got up, dressed and drove to Cuyahoga Falls, to see the last runners finish.

Concluding Thoughts

I was hoping to run even splits (like I have been doing in other races) but it did not work out.  I was good for about 65 miles, and that's it.  I need a couple of 100 milers first, before I can run strong the entire 100 miles. My model runners right now are Charles Twigg (he was behind me for most of the race, passed me at mile 85 and finished at 19:45) and Star Blackford (she passed me at mile 69 and finished at 19:39).  These are runners with strong "2nd half" in 100 mile races.  That's what I want to do one day.

Overall, this was a nice race.  It could have been better if I did not have problems with my right leg and did not have to walk for 10 miles.  But I cannot complain for my first 100 miler.  This was a minor problem, compared to what other runners go through.

A big thank you to the local running community for making this race a reality!  I am not sure if I will run again next year (it takes a while to erase the bad memories :), plus I have my mind set into running Mohican instead) but I will be back, I promise! :)


Unknown said...

i cheered for you as you went past our aid station at 93, George! i was behind the tables under the canopy so you probably did not hear or were zooming out by then. i'm so glad you finished with such a great time. cheers!

and as i mentioned, definitely try lock laces.

Anonymous said...

Excellent report and race George!
It put me right back on the course and brought a smile to my face and reminded me these are memories I will not forget. Looking fwd to Mohican 100 in the spring.

Anonymous said...

Nice report George. I'm humbled by your kind words. Think back to your first 50K or 50M compared to your last couple. It seems that much improvement would be possible with the 100M also. We're are own worst critics aren't we?


Kenneth said...

Hmm, I wonder if my foot problems were caused by my compressions sleeves by restricting blood flow? Great write up, though I can't feel too bad for you since I finished 9 hours later than you :-)

I keep hearing about these Ledges and how it was somewhat scary. I guess that's one benefit from running during the night. lol

Good luck on your future races!