Monday, August 3, 2009
Burning River 100 Mile Race
Well, this weekend was the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run. I have to say, I had a blast. At the pre-race dinner there were so many people it was the biggest ultra I had been a part of so far. And for some reason, everyone looked fast, and like they were a top contender for a win, it was a bit intimidating. My dad, Colleen, and Kevin (siblings) came up to the race with me, and after check in started eating the pasta, meatballs, salad, and cookies that were set out for the runners and crew. At this point, Dan Brendan, whom I had met while crewing/pacing Dave Snipes at Old Dominion 100, came up and sat with us. He is in my top ten for most inspirational people. The guy is just an incredible runner, and quite possibly the toughest person I have ever met. At OD, he made a wrong turn that took him 9 miles the wrong way. He had to turn around, and run 9 miles back to the place that he got off course and then continue the race. The man ran 118 miles, overcame the mental undo that must have caused, and still finished well within the cut off time. Simply incredible. Besides, all of his 17 100 mile races per year, and all the times he has completed the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, and The Last Great Race, he is truly a very pleasant and incredibly modest person to be around. I'm not sure he could be mean if he tried. Bottom line: Dan Brendan is awesome.
After the dinner, my family and I went north about 20 min to Cleveland which is a really cool city. It's no ghost town, but it's not very crowded either. We also saw Lake Erie, so technically, I guess we saw Canada too because the border of Canada goes right through the middle of Lake Erie. I don't think I would like it in the winter because it is freezing there, but I think during the summer, it is a great place to check out. (that's the Brown's stadium behind us)
I was a bit nervous the day before and just before the race, not only because I always get nervous before any race, but because a cold had graced me with its presence.
I woke up the day before, and had that feeling in the back of my throat like I was going to be sick the next day. Sure enough, I woke up on race day with the feeling of clogged sinuses, and a full head. So, I did what any sane person would do, took some Airborne and headed to the start line. After arriving at about 4:30 am and checking in, I met up with Dave Snipes and Kirby and stood around shivering until the race started. Shivering on August 1st is a weird feeling, but it was chilly at that time. 4:59 rolled around and they gathered us all up at the line and they said something probably inspirational and probably very motivating, but my head was elsewhere. Next thing I knew, all 150 something of the starters were shuffling forward across the open field onto the road. As we neared the road, I could hear an Irish reel being played on the accordion. Yes, my dad had brought along his instrument of choice, and decided to give us a start I'm sure none of the other racers had experienced.
I told myself I was going to run how I felt the entire day. No faster. Within the first three miles, I could see the front runners. I could count what place I was in. 7th. I didn't feel comfortable there. There was no way, that was right. Everyone around me was experienced and a whole lot older. I'm talking like twice my age older. There was obviously something they knew that I didn't. So, I dropped back, and dropped my pace quite a bit. After holding that for a while, I ended up running with this one guy for awhile. Frank D. He pronounced his last name, but it was french, and there is no way I would spell it right.
He was one of the lead organizers of the Ohio Running club. Nice guy. We got talking, and I told him about my cross country trip coming up, and he remembered a girl who had just recently come through Ohio. He said her name was Katie something. "Katie, Katie, Katie Vasco?" Yea! It was the same girl that I initially contacted about her trip back when I first decided to do it. She gave me a couple contacts, and was very willing to help. Small world.
Reaching one smaller aid station, I saw my dad there, and next to him on the ground was my bag which held the sacred of all sacred ultra-fuel. Yoohoo. I snagged one and started shaking it. Immediately, a lady runs up to me screaming that she's going to report me, and I'm going to be disqualified! Um, what? Apparently, that aid station wasn't an access point for crews, and I was going to be disqualified because I picked up my Yoohoo. I explained to her that I hadn't actually opened it. Frank immediately backed me up, saying it's OK, I didn't drink any. She agreed that it was OK, but it was still a little nerve racking. As awesome as Yoohoo is, it's not worth getting disqualified over. Frank disagreed. Still a little nervous she was going to report me for not drinking Yoohoo, we left the aid station and continued on. After awhile running with him, I moved on because I was feeling good, and he needed a pit stop.
The next couple aid stations were well supplied with melon. It was the hottest day Ohio had seen all year so cold cantaloupe and watermelon tasted near immaculate. That and Yoohoo was my staple for this race. The next guy I ran with was a police officer from Toronto. We got talking, and it turns out he is going to be the official torch carrier of the Olympic torch across Canada!!! He's been an officer for 23 years, and they chose him and he is going to run across Canada with the torch. I love the kinds of people you meet during these runs. After he told me about his cross country run, I told him about mine, and how I am raising money for the Arthritis Foundation, he just looked at me, said, "Holy shit, dude, that is awesome. Here's a donation." He opened the little zipper on his water bottle holder and pulled out money, and gave it to me. I was stunned.
For the rest of the morning and early afternoon, I ran mostly by myself, which I actually like a lot. I get my best thinking done while I run. I might not be able to solve world problems in my head, but I can keep my mind occupied for long periods of time. Call it what you will, but I like it.
At mile 60.6 I was allowed to pick up a pacer. My dad said he would take the first ten miles, Colleen, the next 5, and Kevin would pick it up from 85 to the end. That would only leave me ten miles in between to run on my own for the remaining forty miles. My dad started out, and told me not to let him slow down at all. If he lagged, he said I was to leave him. I wasn't too fond of the idea. We slogged up the road and got to the trail head. The trails are where I picked up the most time. Especially the downhills. The rockier, and more roots, the better. Unfortunately, there was a long uphill entering the trail, which I could hear my dad's breathing grow heavier, and then a long downhill. I lost him. Bad son, yes. Good listener, also yes. Within the first mile, I was on my own again and had caught two people. Connie, and Tim. Tim was first overall last year, and Connie was first woman last year. Both are incredible runners. I knew if I were to keep my lead on them, it would take an incredible amount out of me.
I got to the aid station, and ate more melon, and chatted it up with the aid station workers. They got a kick out of me "losing" my pacer, and when my dad came in he declared he failed as a pacer. There is no way that is true, he just came back from an injury. He ended up walking out to the road and hitching a ride to the next aid station where Colleen and Kevin had the van.
At the next aid station, I still came in before Tim, but Connie had caught back up with me. I changed my socks, and took off with Colleen. This part of the trail was awesome. We had to boulder hop, and scramble between huge rocks. This was Colleen's first time pacing someone, and I could tell from the start she liked it. At the next aid station, she said she felt OK and was going to keep going for the next 6 miles...that would bring her to 10. She is an awesome pole vaulter and a very good sprinter. Ten miles is pushing her distance limits, but she wanted to go, and I was not going to turn the company down. The next section we were cruising down a hill and then there were a set of stairs, still cruising, we took the stairs and went down the trail. When we got to a road, there were no trail markings. We had missed a turn. We turned around and booked it up the hill hoping that Tim and Connie hadn't passed us in the time it took to fix my mistake. When we got to the next aid station, we saw them leaving. This really bummed me out a lot more than it would have, had it happened earlier in the day.
As the race progressed during the early afternoon I realized it was a realistic goal to finish mile 80 before it got dark. When Colleen and I got to mile 80, there was still plenty of light and there was a 4.8 mile loop back to the same aid station we were at now. Colleen decided she felt good enough to do the loop! This would bring her to 15 miles! Farther than she'd ever gone before. The loop was hard. Very hard. I was crashing and while, she didn't show it, I think Colleen was hurting too. Coming into the aid station she fell back a little bit because her calves were seizing up and her legs were really cramping.
After sitting down and resting for a minute, I pushed on into the night with Kevin. With 15 miles to go, pain had set in, and made itself a nice comfortable home in every inch of my body. Kevin was great, I couldn't have asked for a better person to take me the final 15 miles. Since he had hurt his hand earlier in the week, his hand was still in a protective guard and I was a little nervous he would fall on some of the trails. It was very very dark. Even with headlamps. To be completely honest, I don't remember much of the last section of the race except for the towpaths that never seemed to end and the sewage treatment plant that I'm pretty sure zapped a couple of brain cells as I hobbled by.
I do remember the very last aid station though quite well. There was a guy sitting in a chair, and I was sitting on the grass not wanting to get up with 4.8 miles to go. He looked at me and said, "You can sit there now, but I'm not letting you stay there long. You need to finish this dance, man." With that, I took a bite from an oatmeal cookie, did the hardest push up of my life, stood up on what felt like twigs wrapped in needles, and started walking. Kevin was still next to me, and offering some encouraging words, I'm sure. As we crossed the highway overpass, a cop turned on his lights and escorted us across the bridge that would start the last section. There was a lot of trail on this section, and then in the last mile and a half, there were stairs. Lots of stairs. What kind of demon soul would put stairs at mile 98??
We came up on a guy who used to be in 3rd place. The guy flew through the first 85 miles of the race and then decided his feet were wrecked. He was kind of unusual because, he looked like he sorta rolled out of bed and decided he was going to run 100 miles that day. Basketball shorts, and a cotton sleeveless t-shirt, now splattered with blood from his chaffed nipples. He had gotten his feet checked out and the bottoms of his feet were completely peeled! He was forced to walk the last 15 miles. After exiting the trail we had one mile to go, in which Kevin and I slogged on. Then I saw a figure running towards us. It was Colleen. She was allowed to join us for the final mile to the finish line, and so I knew it was close. So, I did what any sane person would do, I booked it. I ran as fast as I could. All three of us ran hard and we ran strong, all three of us ran in pain whether it be in our hand, or calf, or every muscle in our body toward a line in a town square that said I had officially completed 101.2 miles in 19 hours 33 minutes Who cares about the seconds? It's 100 miles.
I finished in 5th place overall out of 103 finishers. It was a good day, and the second I crossed the finish line, I completely forgot about the pain from the race, and couldn't wait for the next 100 mile adventure. I couldn't have done it without my crew. My dad, my sister Colleen, and my brother Kevin.