Monday, August 02, 2010

PR at the Burning River 100-Miler

Last Saturday, I had the great pleasure of joining 260 fellow ultrarunners for the 5th running of the Burning River 100-Mile Endurance Run in Cuyahoga Falls, OH. This spectacular point-to-point course introduced me to the unique beauty of this great state, and combined with a well-timed break in the weather, it made for a perfect venue for the 2010 USATF 100-Mile National Championships. I toed the line hoping for what any 100-miler does...24+ hours of adventure, a renewal of spirit, a few new friends, and maybe, just maybe, a breakthrough day. Scott, my friend, be careful what you wish's closer than you think!

I signed up for the BR100 last New Years Eve in a drunk-dialing equivalent of signing up for races that booked a full season to "stretch my comfort zone". The BR100 hit a lot of new elements - long distance, visiting Ohio, humidity and heat, as well as running a course I wouldn't see until race day. I've done a few 100-mile races in my brief running career, but to be honest, I don't consider myself a 100-mile runner. That's a special kind of crazy even amongst us lunatics. But like the other 260 entrants, I aspire to be among them even if only for a day.

We gathered at Squire Castle for the 5am send off, singing RD Joe Juczyk a happy birthday before heading into the (rather fitting) dark unknown. I wished my best to fellow Californian JB Benna, who was hoping to "break into the teens" today if all went well. In fact, most people I spoke to thought the ingredients were right for a breakthrough day. The weather had eased off of the crazy 90-100 degree humid hell of July to an overcast day projected to hit the 80's. If you were fit and smart, this was the day to make it happen.

(Me, Ray Jackson Jr, and Steve Milburn at the start and ready to roll!)

(Even the first-timers were looking relaxed)

(Can't remember your PR's? Just tattoo them onto your legs like David Dysert)

My coffee and eagerness got the best of me in the early miles, and I found myself out near the front in a small pack of four runners. I didn't get too worried until the morning sun illuminated the faces of that pack - USATF 50-mile champion Todd Braje, Vermont 100-mile winner Jack Pilla, and Mountain Masochist/Miwok winner Eric Grossman. Um, yeah - a bit out of my league! The only thing more frightening than being in a pack that fast is looking behind you and seeing course record holders Mark Godale and Connie Gardner, Washington superstar Phil Kochik, Headlands Hundred winner Nathan Yanko, and a pack of local runners striding like greyhounds alongside of them. Whoa! Definitely out too fast. But then again, this is one of the fun things about ultras. If you pick a race long enough, you can run with your heroes for a few steps. I will be the first to admit that I follow these guys in Ultrarunning Magazine as eager as any young Red Sox fan collecting baseball cards.

(Eric Grossman, Jack Pilla, and Todd Braje knocking out the early miles)

(Long and lush trails)

We finished the first road section quickly (mile 4.8), and hit some very runnable trails. Eric was the master at picking the lines through the streams, while Jack was our resident climber, and Todd set the pace on the flats. I was the spotter, soon earning my keep by calling them back for a few missed turns before Harpers Ridge (mile 15). Not that I knew where I was going, but I seemed to be able to sight a yellow paper plate from miles away. Rookie hypersensitivity, I guess.

(Under the canopy)

(Mark is the man to follow if you want to stay on track)

As we pulled into Shadow Lake (mile 18), I found it curious that all the front runners had different methods for carrying water. Todd had a handheld bottle, Jack had a Camelpak ("so I can just run and not worry for the first third"), Eric had one bottle in a fanny pack, and Mark Godale had nothing but would drink four cups of water/drink at every aid station. I had two water bottles, but only seemed to be using one, so I decided to drop one when convenient. Mark stopped to change into trail shoes, and the rest of the gang took off. We soon found this was the only section of the course that was missing some markings, and RD Joe was already on it. I waited for the next runner for some guidance, and soon found Scott Breenan, Phil Kochik, and our trail guide, Mark Godale. Mark soon got us on the right path.

(Tackling the trails)

The next section had some great hilly single track, and I had to dispel one big myth about Ohio. It is NOT flat! Todd, Eric, and Jack soon caught up to us and took the lead again, with Jack skating precariously across some creek rocks. Good thing he's built like a gladiator and could muscle his way through it! By the time we hit the long straight-shot to Station Bridge (mile 33), the three leaders were out of sight.

I had enough of the road shoes and switched to my Inov-8 295's at the aid station. It took me a couple of minutes to get my body temp down, and I would soon learn this was going to be the pattern for the day - cool down with ice and a makeshift shower at each aid station, then show up at the next station overheating again. I felt like a reliable '66 VW bug with an air cooled engine trying to make it through the summer! My pee was showing another potential problem; despite consuming my max water and electrolyte intake, my urine was the color of a Cafe Americano. Not good. I took a few extra minutes to eat and drink whatever I could, slurped another Vespa, and made hydration my #1 priority moving forward.

(The awesome volunteers kept me full on water and ice, photo courtesy of Jason Marialke)

Phil Kochik soon caught up to me, saying he had also taken a long stop to regain his composure. We kept a good pace through the park while he told me about growing up around this area, and how fun it is to race and see family in the same weekend. In one of the long valleys he spotted Mark Godale ahead, so I bid him farewell as he kicked it up to a chase. Guess he's feeling better!

I ran alone for miles, enjoying the solitude and the new views at every turn. Multi-use trails turned to bridal trails, then roads, then stairs, all flawlessly marked. Didn't it used to be that these solo miles were the hardest grind in an ultra? Now the quiet of the footsteps and boundless space to contemplate are the most precious. When you find you can enjoy the company you have when all alone, I think you're winning! That's a lesson the 100 can burn into you for life.

As we approached Snowville (mile 42), a speedy Nathan Yanko passed me up (go California!) and got an insanely fast checkpoint from his crew. I guess when your crew captain is Devon Crosby-Helms, it's going to be top notch! I knew that "no crew" was going to cost me some time at this race, but the volunteers were so plentiful and fast that it was minimal. Every aid station was this sea of red-shirted volunteers running towards you, filling your bottles, icing you down, and if needed, kicking you out. ;-) The volunteers had Red Barchetta by Rush cranking out, so Nathan and I had some tunes in our heads as we climbed up the next creek valley. Unfortunately we caught Eric Grossman walking along the way - his hamstring had given up, so he was done for the day. But he took it like the champ that he was.

(Nathan Yanko running strong, photo courtesy of Kirstie Ratzer Farley)

I was stunned at how steep the stairs were in a few of these climbs. I thought this was a FLAT COURSE! Not that I had an excuse - the good folks at Chaney Events had every course section on YouTube. Still, all I could think was "Dipsea Race, eat your heart out...they got 'em big in Ohio". I pushed it a bit too hard, and the overheating slowed me to a walk on some of the lower grade uphills. Harvey Clement, a local Ohio runner with the biggest smile you've ever seen, passed me up and said he was "contemplating what Robert Kennedy meant when he said 'some people see the world for what it is and ask why; others see the world for what it could be and ask why not'". Damn. That dude is in a good headspace!

(This kid was crushing it all day...Lucas Walters, 18 years old, finished 14th in 18:49)

At Boston Store (mile 49.2), the volunteers had my ice-in-bandana and ice-water-in-bottle routine down to a science. My plan was to not think about my time until I got halfway through the race, so I gave myself a half mile and glanced at my watch.

7 hrs, 19 minutes.!

That's my third fastest 50 ever. Don't panic, Scott. It doesn't help to panic. Okay, I'm panicking!!! Just one issue...I actually feel pretty good. In fact, I was thriving off this symbiosis I had going with Mother Nature in a weird way. I wasn't thinking of the heat/humidity as an adversary, but more as a competitor (in the latin sense, where competere means "to strive with others"). When a hot and muggy section came, I would just yell out "nice shot!" and pull through it. The volunteers were in my corner, loading me up with ice and sending me back into the ring. This was really fun!

(Cruising through the brush, photo courtesy of Kirstie Ratzer Farley)

I caught Scott Breenan before another refill at Boston Store 2, then had a great romp to Pine Lane (mile 58) which was a full-on party. I took another pee, and it was a bit better, almost chai latte now. Plan B for me to power down fluids is the magical combo of half water, half ginger ale which seems to always go down quickly, so I drank three cups with some PBJ snakes. I'm glad I did, since the long, exposed straight roads of the next section were like crossing a desert. Harvey (or Nathan?) was an ant in the distance, and for a short period of time, Annette Bednosky was an ant behind me. Then like a flash, Annette was by me and hauling ass, flashing her trademark smile. I could have sworn she pulled out a stopwatch like the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland (I'm late!).

My water ran out about 10 minutes before Happy Days (mile 64) and I could feel it as soon as I got there. You gotta be careful when it's humid - stopping gets really hot! I felt like such a wimp. Here I was complaining about humidity, and all the volunteers were saying it's the best weather they have had in months. I had to take a seat and douse myself, but five minutes later felt great thanks to the help of the volunteers. Back from the dead, thanks you guys!



The Ledges Trail had some amazing rock formations, and I continued to be stunned at how beautiful this race is at every turn. Just as soon as I was hooked on park trails, we were cutting across fields and up a hill that was right out of the Sound of Music. There was even a couple on top of the hill having a picnic! I threw in a few Julie Andrews spins before going to Pine Hollow (mile 71) and doing the ice routine again. My camera bit the dust at this point (water, I think), so I dropped it and moved on. Mark Ott caught me soon afterwards, having a great debut 100-miler and speed-hiking right by. I got a few strange looks for grabbing a flashlight at mile 76, but this is where I had thought I would be at night time. Oops...just a few hours off! They let us know what was happening with the leaders too - Todd Braje had built a 30 minute lead, but Mark Godale was making up time.

(Rock formations at Kendall Park on the Ledges Trail)

I passed Mark Ott (or "Doc Ott", as he called himself) as we were hopping over mud pits, and he clearly had hit a wall. But he caught me again after Covered Bridge (mile 80) after crushing a pizza. Just needed a few calories! As we took a hilly loop and returned to Covered Bridge (mile 84), the sun began to set, and we got ready for some night running. I just couldn't believe how far we had made it in the light!

The next 10 miles were a blur, humming to myself along a smooth towpath trail. I found a nice gear that trucked at about a 9:30 min/mile, and just kept singing to myself "can't you see me running" to the tune of Rolling Stone's "Can't You Hear Me Knocking". The dark sky filled with fireflies, and the sounds of crickets and bullfrogs made the night come alive. So many unusual sounds and smells! Then it really smelled bad (later I would learn it's a manure processing facility), and I laughed thinking this is exactly the LAST thing most people needed at mile 94. Well, if there was a shitstorm coming, I had the right shoes. I looked at my watch at the last aid station (mile 96), and as the policeman gave me an escort through the last traffic area, I realized I had an outside chance at sub-18. Sub-18!!! What the hell is going on?!? To do the day justice, I had to give it all that I had.

I pushed. HARD. I flew right by Doc Ott, trying to bank time for the last set of stairs. I climbed the stairs hand-over-hand. I came onto Front Road in full tilt. At the top of the last climb I saw the finish, but my body said it had enough and I got about 5 seconds warning to pull off the road and unlunch. The safety cyclists came up the road to find me, wondering if I was so out-of-it that I missed a turn with the finish line in sight, and I apologized for messing up the side of the road.

"I almost had sub-18 hours," I said hanging my head and shaking off the nausea, "so close."

"Dude, you are still in 9th. That's amazing." he said.

Did he just say...9th? That can't be right. But it WAS! I picked the pace back up to a jog and crossed the finish in 18:12:17 in 9th place, a PR by nearly 7 hours. Joe was there to shake my hand and confirm it. I sat in a chair in disbelief, trying to figure out what went so right. Not only was it a great time, but I still felt pretty good. Then I ate for 30 minutes straight, watching Mark Ott scream out his successful 10th place finish (complete with handstand), and Connie Gardner finishing 11th (beating her old course record) even after placing in both Western States and Badwater in the last six weeks. I am humbled to be among these champions.

(Stoked to be finished at midnight! Photo courtesy of Ray Jackson, Jr)

(4th place Jay Smithberger and Annette Bednosky congratulate Harvey on his 7th place finish)

(Victory for Todd Braje, the new USATF 100-mile National Champion)

(RD Joe congratulates Todd on the new course record)

Todd Braje had picked up the win in a course record 15:29 (go Team inov-8!), with Mark Godale finishing 2nd in 15:48 (also under the course record) despite breaking his toe around mile 50. Jack Pilla, the 52-year-old gladiator, finished 3rd (16:22). Ohio speedster Jay Smithberger was 4th (16:42), with Nathan Yanko just a minute behind for 5th (16:43), and a minute later Women's champion Annette Bednosky (16:44). (all results here)

(Dustin Burkholder, 27:18, gets an escort from his crew)

I tried my best to shower, ice bath, and sleep, but I couldn't keep away from the finish line and soon got dressed and came back out to cheer on finishers as the sun came up. There is a camaraderie in the air at these finishes that could power the world, and I just wanted to acknowledge every runner, pacer, volunteer, and family member who got through it. The look in their eyes, with their soul exposed to the world, says it all...I was a part of something magical.

(Ronald Ross, 26:32, gets a thumbs up from his daughter/pacer)

(Women's top finishers Larissa Abramiuk [3rd, 19:15], Annette Bednosky [1st, 16:44 CR], and Connie Gardner [2nd, 18:36])

(Todd picks up the big prize)

I hung out with Todd and Annette at the finish as we awaited the award ceremony, and Annette looked as fresh as a daisy (she did three ice baths, Lean Cuisine and a glass of wine - a good tip). All of us had suffered a bit of chafing from all the self-dousing along the course, and shared pointers for post-race clothing to not make it any worse. I got to see JB, who at 19:09, did break into the "teens" in a big way and had a fantastic race. I had a few hours to kill, so I took Mark Godale's advice and hit the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame before going home. Very cool, but honestly, if you want to meet rock stars, just race or volunteer at Burning River next year. ;-)

(Annette relaxing in the shade)

(My hardware score - 8th overall for USATF, 3rd in AG, finisher buckle/medal - and a fat check for $250 for 2nd USATF Master! Yee-hah!)

Thank you, Joe and your volunteers, for an amazing race and perfectly good excuse to add some adventure to our lives. The Burning River is a celebration of how far the restoration of this area has come since the river burned decades ago, and it is amazing. I would highly recommend it!

- SD

Gear checklist:
- Inov-8 Roclite 295 shoes and Race Elite 3 fanny pack (@ mile 70)
- Injinji crew length socks (x2)
- 2XU compression calf guards and shirt
- Julbo race sunglasses
- Panasonic FX-48 camera
- Fenix flashlights
- Vespa Energy Supplement (x4)
- S!Caps electrolyte supplement (x20)
- FRS Energy chews
- Hammer gel (provided on course), Nuun, PB&J, M&M's


  1. Awesome job Scott! Love your blog. I'm glad you liked my hometown, I recognize all the pictures and places you mentioned.

  2. Nice work Scott! Thanks for sharing awesome photos.

  3. It was awesome to get to meet you (Amanda Stickel from JB's crerw). It was great to get to cheer for you along the course. You did awesome. I am glad you managed to hang in there. Congrats on your PR and all your awards. You worked hard and deserve them!Way to Go!

  4. Dude, that was an awesome race report. I'll have to rag on Dave Dysert about his tats.......

  5. Thanks for the great race report and pictures. I was way far behind you so it was nice to see some of the sights I missed while I was running in the dark. Congrats on the PR and hardware you took home!

  6. Thanks for visiting our area, Scott! I was at Happy Days and snapped those few pics of you. We all thought it was funny how you were commenting about the humidity and how hot it was when all we were talking about was how the weather was incredibly good and mild this year. Last year, it cracked 90F and the sun blazed all day and we had torrential downpours overnight.

    Great blog and great to meet you at Happy Days. You had a very positive outlook and other co-volunteers were raving about your blog after you left...I actually hadn't visited it before.

    I'm glad you had such a great experience here and will return someday. Great job to you and congratulations on all your hardware! Recover well!

  7. Great Job! You guys passed me on the road near the first aid station. I went out a little too fast so I slowed it down. The BR100 and Mohican 100 are great Ohio races!

  8. Awesome race report! I enjoyed reading every bit of it. Most of the course is in my backyard and am still discovering it so it was neat to hear an outsiders take on it. The Sound of Music Hill is one of the prettiest areas in all of CVNP. Congrats on such a great race, fantastic finish and fabulous PR!! Kudos to you!

    Glad you liked the pics!


  9. congrats, Scott, and a great report to boot!

  10. Thanks, everyone!

    Nick - thanks for the photos! The before/after captured it perfectly. And thanks for kicking me out was just what I needed. You guys were an oasis of angels out there.

    Amanda - great job crewing for JB! If your runner PR's and hits the top 20, you nailed it.

    Brian - I should have said hi! Great job out there.


  11. Congrats! Awesome race. And great photos as usual.

  12. Congratulations on a very inspiring race! I'm so happy for you in this accomplishment. I'll raise a toast to NYE race planning and make a mid-year resolution to do more of that myself.
    It's impressive that you can pull everything together that far in advance and that you manage to accomplish so much in a year. SS

  13. Thanks for the great blog!

  14. Oh my god, Scott! Seven hours??? Um, are there any ultrarunner cards of you that I could collect? You are seriously my new hero. I know there are many reasons you are running so well this year, but I see the biggest as your attitude. You are loving it and having a blast, no matter what. Thanks for setting a great example for the rest of us, and keep kicking ass out there! :)

  15. Margie Mader-Clark8/03/2010 11:30:00 PM

    Hi Scott. You people are crazy. This seven hour thing is probably in your head now, and you're thinking your next 100 will be in 11 and the one after in 4 hours, cuz thats how you roll! Insanely good effort, and such fun to read about,

  16. Wow awesome report and awesome race! Glad you enjoyed Ohio!

  17. Great site. Very motivating article. Thanks for sharing. I have begun following your site. Thanks again

  18. Once again, you gave us a great race report! You make these races come to life. Thank you so much.

    Congratulations on an amazing PR. What a fantastic race. Think what you could do on a 55 degree day!!

  19. Scott-
    Congratulations on a fantastic race!
    Glad you enjoyed our home track so much.
    The Cuyahoga Valley is a spectacular place to run and has enjoyed quite a comeback during the past 30 years!

  20. That is an awesome report of a life lived in a 100, full of so much gratitude and smiles! You ARE running great this year, but the thing is, you are LIVING great as long as I remember you! Congratulations, and weirdly enough, you made this race I never considered sound appealing. Darling, you just need to change the beginning sentence sometimes:)

  21. Scott: Great blog on the BR100 and congrats on such a fine finish!

    One of your captions is incorrect. The caption that reads "8th place Tim Clement and Annette Bednosky congratulate Harvey on his 7th place finish" is incorrect. That is not Tim Clement. That is Jay Smithberger with Annnette.

    Again, congrats and thanks for sharing such a great report with your readers!


  22. Congrats, that's an amazing time. Sorry you didn't break 18 hours but a 7 hour PR? Wow. Thanks for an inspiring race report!

  23. Wyatt - thanks for the correction! I edited above.

    Olga - I have a story about that first sentence. When I first did the Ohlone 50k, I met a bunch of ultrarunners who were talking about my blog as I walked up and one of them said "isn't it great that he always starts with 'a great pleasure to join runners'? I always know it's going to be a positive story". They all laughed talking about how it was one of the inside jokes for folks who read this blog. So I've stuck with it ever since. ;-)

  24. Scott,

    I am a small film maker working on documentaries and corporate video. I recently completed a documentary about the HURT 100 in Hawaii and would like to get you a copy for consideration and review on your blog. When you have a moment feel free to contact me at and you can check out the trailer at Thanks for your consideration!

  25. It's like an inside joke of "talk less" from one of the most chatting person out there:) Right on!

  26. Scott,
    Awesome performance! Great report too. Please don't change your starting sentence. It's your trademark. Most people I know that read your blog like it. Questions for you, if you don't mind me asking - I noticed that you consumed four Vespas, did you plan on just four? what do you think would be optimal in a 100 miler? how do you think it affects your running?
    You passed me in TRT by the redhouse loop. You said something about being in the "compression socks club".
    Again, congratulations on your PR!

    Marco Denson

  27. Marco! I didn't realize it was you in those sexy socks. ;-)

    Regarding your Vespa question, I'm a huge fan of the supplement. I've experimented with taking various amounts, and have found that one packet every 3-4 hours works best for me. I took one about 45 minutes before the start, then one every 4 hours or so. If I had a crew or more drop bags, I probably would have done 5. Fellow Vespa uses have told me every 2-3 hours works for them.

    The effect of Vespa is pretty fascinating. My experience is that it doesn't give you a boost of energy, like a caffeinated gel or Coke, but it does create this "safety net" from energy lows. I just don't ever seem to bonk or go through a low spot.

    When I get into the more intense part of my training, I do most of my long slow runs on nothing but Vespa (2-4 hours typically). I feel like it helps train my body to use fat as fuel. It's an odd feeling to run 4 hours on nothing but water and electrolytes and still feel good. When race time comes around, however, I take in 250-300 calories/hour the whole time.

    Hope that helps!


  28. Wow!! Very impressive - congratulations to you on such a fabulous race!

  29. BTW, winner Todd Braje and early leader have posted their blog stories:

    Todd Braje

    Eric Grossman


  30. Aw that was a tough run...seems everybody enjoy and great adventure the pictures...:D

  31. Scott,

    thanks for the information. I'll be running woodside 50K next month. so we'll be running on your backyard. Keep on running!


  32. A great video documentary from the pacers perspective:

    That guy really toughed it out!


  33. The BR100 ran near my home and through a park I love to bike. I was at an aid station to volunteer and notice this guy getting iced. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t place the face. Then on vacation last week in Oregon it hits me—that was Scott Dunlap. On my return I google his name and find this blog and write-up on the BR100.

    Scott. We worked together years ago in Portland. If you come back to the BR100 look me up. I’m happy to crew or take you out for a recovery meal.

    Mike Stevenson.

  34. greg tuel #1178/10/2010 11:05:00 PM

    Great race and incredible PR. I was several hours behind after collapsing at mile 85. Your story inspires me to think that 24:00 is still a possibility despite all indications to the contrary.
    BTW: the aid volunteers and other runners at this event were simply the best type of people.

  35. Hi Scott,
    I have subscribed to your blog the past couple of years and have enjoyed your commentary, interviews and insight regarding endurance athletics. But I never new, after reading your personal race results, that you had an 18 hour, 100 miler in you. Your 50 mile split says it all - you were having one of those remarkable days that comes only once in a great while - congratulations! Nice hardware too and a check to boot . . . talk about a successful race.
    I have an ulterior motive for communicating with you . . . I self-published a novel in 2007 entitled "100 Miles to Destiny." I have received numerous positive comments about the story and if you're interested in posting a review on your blog, I'd be happy to send you a copy. Please consult my website for more info when time permits:
    Once again, an 18 hour 100 miler is an outstanding achievement.
    Willis McCarthy, Author and Educator
    Serra High School, San Mateo, CA

  36. WOW. That's all! I'm a beginner in the running world and at this point, I can't even imagine doing a 100 miler! I am SO impressed! Congrats!

    I also have myself a little running blog along with my co-author. Probably more amusing for someone as advanced as yourself. ;) Feel free to check it out sometime.


  37. that is pretty epic to even be able to run for practically a day straight

  38. OMG and Really?? This race is in my back yard... Squire's Castle is 45 minutes from my house and my children and I have spent many,many hours there.The whole park is full of regular trails and over four miles of blacktop paths through the woods (great for strollers)BUT... I never heard of the Burning River 100. I had absolutely no idea we had a 100 miler so near or that we had that many trails in NE Ohio. I haven't spent that much time at Cuyahoga Valley Rec. park, as it's farther away, but I have fond memories of the Sound of Music hills.
    I guess I need to get involved in a running club or something, as I would have been happy to volunteer at that race.
    I have never run more than a marathon, but ultras have been in my heart for a while now... Burning River will be on my short Bucket List.
    Not even sure if you read comments this far past the original post, but thanks for the great RR.

  39. I've been training for the past three months on the BR100 course and am loving it. I'm training because I'll be helping to crew and pace for my brother who is coming in from Chicago. I'm so glad that you were able to enjoy the beauty of Ohio's national park :-).

    Great report and keep it up!


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