I signed up for the BR100 last New Years Eve, where in the drunk-dialing equivalent of signing up for races online, I managed to book a full season of races 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-miler. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, took 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. I guess at some point in your enjoy the company you have when all alone, and it makes all the difference. 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.
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!
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. Oh...my...GOD!
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!
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 PB&J. 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.
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 18 hours," I said hanging my head and shaking off the nausea, "so close."
"Dude, you still got 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)
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)
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.
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. ;-)
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!
- 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