Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Burning River 100 Miler Race Report

So it's official. I hate Ohio. I am serious, Ohio sucks. Not the people of Ohio, they are actually very nice, just Ohio itself. The state motto should be changed to "Come to Ohio and be Roasted Alive" or maybe just "Ohio the State that Sucks". Okay enough complaining and now on to race report.

We headed to Ohio Friday morning. Kim had rented a van and our small group of 6 (4 official racers) managed to meet up and head out of town before 9 am. The drive down to Akron was mostly uneventful but lots of fun. Traveling with a group of other Ultra Runners who by the very nature of their sport are a little bit off center (that is as nice as I can word it) is hilariously entertaining, inspiring and somewhat scare when you come to the realization that you actually fit in with these people. Its like you all have a date with the executioner but will pretend its just another normal day.

Nobody is willing to give anyone a break. For instance while we were stuck for an hour in line at the border one of our group needed a bathroom break badly. Unfortunately for him you cant get out of your car so he had to grin and bare it. Do you think anyone would give the guy a break. Hell no, for some reason the car conversations kept coming back to how others had been in similar situations, talk of rain showers and my personal favourite, Steve talking about installing sprinkler systems. Sweet.

Soon enough we were pulling into the hotel and checking in. Stayed at a great hotel right next to the finish line so making it back to your room after the race would not be an epic struggle. We all headed up together to race registration and the pasta meal which was actually decent. The race swag was a really nice hoodie. Awesome.

Later we head back to the room for a pre sleep beer. Since we were catching the bus at 3 am it was going to be a very early night for us. That was the plan. Unfortunately for me I went to bed at 9:30ish but could not sleep. If you have read my blogs before you might be aware that every so often I have bouts of insomnia. This has nothing to do with racing, I just have trouble sleeping for a few days then everything goes back to normal. Usually this doesn't coincide with a race but it has twice this year (at this race and at Bear Mountain). Unlike at Bear Mountain I had slept well the night before so was not that concerned. Then it was up at out to catch the bus to the start line. Sweet.

By the time the bus got to the start line I was feeling nervous but excited. I felt good physically and was raring to avenge my DNF at Mohican. My injured ankle felt okay and since this was a point to point course I would only see each rock, root and hill once. My little nagging internal voice that warns of impending danger was mostly silent but not totally mute. There was no long diatribe, no constant narration, just on little word. Hot.

Shhhhhh..... that was last time. I know I dont do well in the heat but I learned some lessons at Mohican and I was now used to the summer temperatures. This was going to be fine. How bad could it get.

The Race
Once the race started I stuck with a small group of Ontario runners early on. We had all planned on running around the same pace to start so it was not much of an issue. This group consisted of myself, Steve, JD, Stephan and Gailanne. The first 10 miles were all road which was mostly easy going. I really had to work hard to rein myself in here. It was not easy to stay slow and maybe I should have just opened it up a little faster but that is such a hard call. Its not wise to kill it early as you may pay for it later on. I felt good as we reached the polo fields aid station. I was hot already and it still wasn't 7 am. I would have to watch the heat closely.

The next section is mostly horse trail and tow path. It goes well, I feel good and am running just a little slower then the pace I wanted to but I am trying to take the heat into consideration. Somewhere along this next 9 mile stretch the group starts to break up. JD drops back and Gailanne disappears. I rumble into the Shadow Lake station at around 19 miles. All is good. Kim is there to give me bottle refills and more gels. My nutrition has been excellent so far. Steve and I take a little longer at the aid station then Stephan and by the time we head out he is already gone. It is scorching hot now but so far so good. I wonder how Ohio is not a desert waste land. It is so damn hot here.

Steve and I continue to run together for the next few hours. I dont see Kim during this time as one aid station has no crew access and for some reason she is not at the other one. No big deal as the aid stations are really good. I hit the 25 mile mark in 5:05. This is 20 minutes slower then expected but not to bad. I expected to lose some time adjusting for the heat. During this section Steve and I see a doe and two bucks all eyeing each other up. The bucks both have huge antlers. Looks like there is going to be a fight over a girl soon. We also see an ambulance and the police at a road crossing. Later on we hear that a runner got hit by a car. After the race JD would tell us that he ran with the guy later in the day. The runner that got hit went to the hospital then came back and reentered the race but eventually dropped. See JDs race report here.

Somewhere along here I have begun to struggle. The heat is becoming a big issue for me ...AGAIN. Steve is slowly beginning to pull away. I tell him to go and not to worry about it as we are all running our own race. I am just glad that we were able to run together for as long as we did. My ankle is also beginning to hurt. Although it felt okay going into the race this was not entirely unexpected and as long as it didnt turn my stride into a limp along I was not going to worry about it.

At around 29 miles I am back on unshaded road briefly and then onto a tow path along a river. It is long, gruelling and there is no shade and no way to get away from the baking sun. I am fading already what the hell. The 3-4 miles of tow path seems like it will never end. I am torn should I walk it to save energy and avoid heat exhaustion or run it to get back into cover sooner. I opt for something in the middle and by the time I hit the station rd. aid station I am hurting. I try and get in and out as quick as I can. There is an attempt to get some real food into me but I find it hard to even get down some water melon.

I am back on the trail. I walk some, run some and think about making it to the night and hopefully cooler temperatures. My race is not in jeopardy yet but hitting a dark patch this early is troubling. I have run enough of these to know I will bounce back if I hang in but thats easy to write and hard to do. What worries me the most is that usually the 25 to 50 mile mark is when I make good time and gain some insurance against the tough and slow night running. I am always slow during the night so I really need to put up a decent 50 mile time.

Somewhere around 35 miles JD catches up with me. He is looking like he is in good shape. We run together for a while and then I fall behind. I am incapable of pushing in the heat. I walk some and run as much as I can. Is time standing still, nope its just me barely moving, time is ticking away. I think my running has come to resemble Steve Austin in the Six Million Dollar Man. My legs and arms are moving but I am not going anywhere.

I finally arrive at the Ottawa aid station. Kim is there to help me. I change my shirt and shorts in an attempt to get something dry on and avoid the ineveitable chaffing that is bound to happen when you run soaking wet for hours and hours. JD is just leaving the aid station as I get redressed.

The next 9.5 miles are the hardest and slowest of the race for me. I am in full heat exhaustion mode before I get a mile in. I end up walking for a very long time. In the end my race is lost here although I dont know it yet. So many hills thats what I remember most, many hills and stairs what the hell is up with that, lots of stairs in the middle of the woods. A large number of people pass me during this section. As late afternoon becomes early evening the temperature begins to drop ever so slightly and I am able to start running again.

I arrive at Boston Store almost an hour and a half behind schedule. I am half way to the finish but have to spend more time trying to cool my core temp down. I know I need that time to run but if I dont cool down it wont matter anyway.

I have been doing the time math in my head for the last mile coming into Boston Special. Its not looking good. I tell Kim I am worried about the cutoffs. There are time cutoffs at every aid station. She tells me I have lots of time and not to worry about that at all. I know she is not saying that to pacify me but I also know that she is wrong. There are many things I do well during races and many things I dont do well but one of the things I am really good at is time math. I am able to take into account how I feel, what I am capable of and get a very accurate picture of things. It is clear to me that I am going to be right on the bubble later tonight.

I head out for the Boston Store loop with a hat full of ice. My legs are tight from sitting but once I get them going I run this section well. I pass a number of people that had left me for dead on the last section. I try to run hard here as I know I need to make up some time. I make great time but the hard running causes me more heat related problems.

Once I am back into Boston Store I know I must get out fast again or I will end up losing all the time I gained running hard. A quick head soaking and some food and I am up and off again. Not so fast Spiderman! The minute I stand up I am bowled over with a huge wave of nausea and light headedness. I am forced to sit down again before I face plant. It will take me another 10 minutes before I get control over the dizziness and am able to head out.

The next section to pine lane is gruelling. Some technical running over very root stew trails then some massive down hills with more &%$ stairs then up hill with more stairs. It is finally getting dark and cooling a little. By the time I hit the pine lane aid station it is night and I am really badly chaffed. I track down some Vaseline to try and protect my sensitive parts which are kind of feeling like peeled grapes at this point. I need to change again but there is no crew access here so I will have to wait until the next station.

Then its back the way I have just come as you run back along the same trail. That means another struggle with both up and down stairs. I really am not liking these stairs one little bit. Its cooler now but the chaffing is killing me. Maybe I should ditch the shorts and run naked. Will they DQ me for that? At some point the trail becomes road. I should be able to make some time here but my unit rubs every time I try to go fast. Oh my god that is painful. Finally after what seems like an eternity I reach Happy days.

It is not so happy for me. I am only 35 minute under the cutoff here. I change my shorts again grab some soup and head off. I really need to haul ass now. Lucky for me fear is a great motivator. Unlucky for me the next section is really tough. I run very hard here but the terrain is beautiful and the trails weave along and between huge rocks. In the dark my headlamp makes everything blend together. The rocks are dull white, the roots are dull white, the sand is dull white. I slam the crap out of my toes on rocks many many times in the next hour but I run fast anyway. Then its into relentless hills, lots of climbing. I pass 15 people between the 2 aid stations. There are lots of bushes rustling, coyotes howling and strange animal nosies that I am not familiar with. Does anyone know what Bigfoot sounds like? I finally see the hills from the sound of music. You know the hills in that stupid movie well these are exactly the same but I can assure you I do not have a shit eating grin on my face like Julie Andrews when I run up and down them.

In at Pine Hollow I discover I am 30 minutes ahead the cut off. I have not made up any time at all even though I hauled ass. At this aid station you do a short 3.3 mile loop before coming back to the station. I ask Kim what the cutoff is then what the distance and cutoff is a the following station. The answers are not good. I tell her I dont think I will make it to the next station but will try. Just as I am about to head out for the short loop I see JD coming in from running it. He is an hour ahead of me. I tell him I am racing the cutoffs. He looks shocked. He asks Kim when the cutoff to the next station is. He suddenly realizes that he really doesnt have as much time as he though.

I head out on the short loop. Its really hilly, I mean really hilly oh yeah and more stairs. What the hell! I run as fast as I can and emerge out of the woods in decent time. I am 25 minutes ahead of the cut off. The times seem to be getting more aggressive and the mental fatigue of chasing the cut offs is beginning to wear me down.

I get the rocks out of my shoes and then head back out. I am fairly sure that I will not make the aid station in time but I got to try. I have sworn to never pull out of a 100 mile race again. If I miss the cut off so be it.

I grind through this section but I am slow. My earlier panic running has worn me down to nothing. 4 miles into the section it becomes clear I will not make it in time. Once the reality sinks in every ache and pain in my body makes itself known. I slowly make my way over the last 2 miles to meet Kim at Cover Bridge.

They are waiting for me there. They know I am coming as Kim has been waiting as well. It sucks that I am not going to finish but I did all I could to stay in this thing. No shame in timing out but that is little comfort. JD is just leaving the aid station minutes after I arrive. He will manage to make it to the end.

Post race
Everyone in our group besides me manages to finish although much slower then anticipated. I decide that Ohio sucks. Will I ever complete a race in that state?

As far as the actual race goes I got nothing but good things to say about it. The organization and course was excellent. The aid stations and the volunteers were outstanding. The weather well what can you say. I will most likely return to this race in the future.

BTW out of a field of 315 there were only 150 finishers. Also in looking at the splits it appears that only 5 other runners went longer then me and didnt finish.


  1. This has been a tough summer for you. Hopefully the cool fall weather is better to you than this ridiculously hot summer has been.

  2. Damn - I wonder if the cut offs were heat adjusted. Still, you fought the good fight and ran further in one day than most people will run in a year.

  3. You gave it a great effort, Chris. Like you, I am NOT a heat runner. I despise it. I'd much rather run in the freezing cold, given the choice. Recover well & good luck with your next race!

  4. Midwest heat is just brutal...not a fan of it either. I always have trouble in summer races. Fall will be cooler!

  5. It does seem you recovered somewhat after Boston Store which is impressive. You managed to stay in the race and pushed until the end. If you had managed to pass Covered Bridge under the cut off you would have finished, it's mostly flat after that. Rest up and see you at the next one.

    I'm going back for sure if I can survive next years training.

  6. I found the peeled grapes image disturbing. You might have runnier grapes for me.

  7. Oi, that is tough. I could tell you, never race anything more than a 10k in the Midwest in the summer. It sucks. Period. You gotta stick to the west coast or east coast, directly with a sea breeze. Too humid! Sorry it didn't work out for you this time. Do you have a nice fall race planned where the weather will be more tolerable?

  8. Tough one but I think you still come out of it with lots gained as well. Well done for pushing up to the time out. Heat is a destroyer. I also battle in the heat and I live in Africa, so nothing bad about not making it. You'll be back I'm sure. Rest well!

  9. You put up a tough fight Chris. Heat & Humidity are a killer for most runners. I live in the south and still struggle when running in it. This summer has been exceptionally bad. Love the report - Very detailed. You have a great crew and group of runners with you. Rest up and look forward to some cooler fall races. I am.
    See you at Mohican next year.

  10. You are having a tough year. It was definitly a tough one out there on BR, the heat out in the open on the tow paths and then the humidity in the woods after dark. You gave it your all though.

  11. Just catching up w/ your blog.....

    I too loathe heat. I grew up in Missouri, and lemme tell you I'd never run a long race in Ohio (or anywhere east of the middle of Kansas) in the summer. That said, these experiences will make you stronger and you will be poised to do some serious rocking in your fall endeavors.

  12. Sorry you didn't get to finish your race and that you had such a tough go of it! It sounds like the conditions were pretty rough! However you continue to be inspiring an amazing athlete and I look forward to reading your next race report!

  13. You gave it all you had through some truly horrendous conditions. Yes it sucks not to finish, but you can't say you quit.

  14. High heat and coming off an injury, which affected your starting pace... Based on your report, it looks like you did nothing wrong, you just need to see Ohio summer races as something akin to the plague - avoid it!

  15. Great report.

    Such a bummer about the fricken' heat. This summer has not been Runner Friendly :-(



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