Many people go out to celebrate their birthday via a nice dinner or even drinks at a local pub. Some runners also go and organize birthday fun runs. I decided to sign up for a race instead and chose the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run. But why?
I was coming off of a big DNF (Did Not Finish) at the Bighorn 100 miler in Sheridan Wyoming in June and needed a redemption run. A lot of things went wrong at Bighorn and I needed to see if the 100 mile distance was fun…or not. Burning River fit in well though I was disappointed that my boys would miss the race since they were already at summer camp. It was also logistically easy in that it was only a five hour drive from Chicago so travel would be relatively straight forward.
Though I generally prefer the more scenic/remote trail races, Burning River caught my attention as its course is a 100 mile point-to-point configuration rather than the loops or out & back that you frequently find in ultra-distance races. The net result is that you would actually cover 100 miles by foot and end up far away from the starting line.
Burning River Endurance Runs & Relay is organized by Western Reserve Racing. The race starts at Squire’s Castle in Willoughby Hills and travels through the Cleveland Metroparks, Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Summit Metroparks. After 100+ miles of running, you eventually find yourself at the Falls River Square in downtown Cuyahoga Falls.
The 2014 running of Burning River also marked a new development as a relay race was added for the first time. Teams ranging from two to eight runners formed to jointly traverse the 100 mile course.
I was lucky enough to be joined by my good friend Betty who would pace me along with my wife Kelly and daughter Grace who had the daunting task of crewing for me for the duration of the race. I had paced Betty at a prior race and was excited to have her with me for this race. Another friend was going to join to split the pacing duties with Betty but was unable to due to medical issues. While Betty was comfortable going for 30-35 miles, the nearly 50 mile 2nd half was a bit much. Through a bit of luck and networking, I contacted my friend Chase who lived in the area and he agreed to jump in for approximately 10 miles which was awesome.
Betty and I have driven down early on Friday to finish packet pickup and get situated and Kelly & Grace planned to drive down later that night to join us. Packet pickup was uneventful and we found some good food near the hotel.
The course was interesting in that it included a combination of paved road, multi-track trail along with some technical and non-technical single-track trail. In general, the course grew more difficult in terms of both technicality and elevation change as the miles progressed.
Kelly drove me and Grace to the start at Squires Castle at zero dark thirty before the race. There was tons of excitement in the air as the race organizers made announcements indicating that the race would begin in roughly ten minutes. It was dark out but head-lamps were bobbing everywhere.
Race Start – Egbert (mile 29.17)
After crossing roughly an 1/8 of a mile of grass, we found ourselves on pavement for roughly the first 13 miles of the course. It made for relatively easy non-technical running as we moved along in the dark. Some runners were clearly going out HARD. I found some new friends and we tried to dial into our ‘all day’ paces. I crossed the half-marathon mark in 2:34 averaging around a 11:19 pace for the first 13+ miles. That put me in 144th place out of nearly 400 starters. I was pleased with how I was feeling after the first half marathon and noted to Kelly who I saw that I didn’t feel like I had been running much yet. After leaving the Polo fields at mile 13, we finally got a taste for some trails and proceeded on a combination of bridle trail and single track until the Egbert aid station.
Egbert – Pine Lane (mile 54.59)
Leaving Egbert, the race results show that I had slowly been working my way through the field moving up to 88th place at Egbert. The day was warm and humid though the conditions weren’t bad. The trails were in good shape with little of the soul-sucking mud that had been often discussed on the social networking boards before the race. I ran into a number of friends from the midwest along this section and the miles really seemed to fly by. I was moving well and bouncing between a couple different groups trying to pass the time with conversation. I happened upon one group where one of the runners was angrily talking about everything from gun-control (bad) to the president (really really bad) and it only got worse. The last thing that I wanted to do was talk or argue politics 10+ hours into a run so I politely wished him a great race and moved on. Nearing the Pine Lane stop, I was excited to run with Betty and still feeling good.
I had gone through a good section of mud so I took about five minutes to down some solid food, change shoes and get completely reset. Kelly was the most amazing crew chief with fresh shoes, socks, blister shield and more at the ready. I almost wish that she was a bit slower so that I could enjoy my brief rest in the chair but I was back on my feet and moving in no time. The temperatures were still nice and warm so I stuck with a SS shit and kept moving on.
By mile ~55, I had moved up to 52nd place and was still feeling great. Betty and I got to chatting about how our respective days had gone so far. She had wisely stayed off of her feet and slept in and I had started with a nice 55 mile warm-up run :). We chatted about the race, the energy, the location and more and got moving. While I wasn’t fresh, I was still moving well and Betty encouraged me further by lying to me and telling me that she might not be able to keep up with my pace :). We continued to pass a number of runners and witnessed some early carnage on the course including some runners who were barely able to manage a reasonable walk pace. At the same time. we were passed a couple times by participants in the relay race. They had started a bit later in the day and it seems as though we were constantly crossing back and forth with the runners.
Some of the race participants had posted concerns about the relay runners indicating concern sharing the trail with potentially fresh runners but my experience couldn’t have been more positive. Every relay runner that passed called out to indicate that they were relay runners to ensure that the ultra-runners weren’t mentally impacted thinking they were being passed by other participants in the race. Betty and I had a number of conversations with the runners and many of them indicated how the 10 or 15 mile segment that they were running was the furthest that they had ever run and were absolutely in awe of the ultra-runners tackling the entire 100 miles by foot. The relay runners were tons of fun and really provided added motivation.
During this section, Betty took a break and Chase joined me. To say that Chase knew the trails/course would be the understatement of the century. These trails were literally Chase’s home training trails and he knew each and every rock, turn, twist and hill that we would face. Chase is planning to run his first 100 miler in 2015 and we also spent a good deal of time chatting about his ideal race situation and the various options he was considering.
Betty picked me up again at Pine Hollow II and we knew that we had roughly a marathon to go to finish up the race.
Covered Bridge 1 – Finish (mile 103)
Betty and I kept moving and witnessed more trail carnage along the way. While meandering through the corn fields/trail, we found a nice runner/pacer combination who were barely manage a 1 mile/hour crawl. We passed through the covered bridge station to start a roughly 4 mile loop which was one of the muddiest and gnarliest of the race.
The race was still going well and I was on pace to PR by nearly four hours compared to my prior finish at the Zion 100. The only major negative during this section was the ‘chaffage’ that developed in the under carriage. It was worse than anything I had experienced and no amount of ointment seemed to address the issue. It slowed me down but we kept on trucking. We were in the home stretch when we stumbled upon our first wild animal of the race – a SKUNK. We darted around the animal or at least I made an attempt at quick move to avoid the potential spray. Safely out of blast range, Betty was on her iPhone posting on the race Facebook page to warn participants and crew that there were Skunks on the course. We kept trucking along eventually passing both miles 100 and 101 on my garmin. The group at Western Reserve had noted that the course was almost 101 miles but we didn’t get to the finish line until nearly 103 miles. Not the end of the world but when you’re ready to be off your feet, those extra couple miles HURT.
We were mainly power-walking the last couple miles but I did manage some ultra shuffle with Betty and my daughter Grace.
I finished in 25:21 as the 40th finisher out of 132 finishers and nearly 400 starters.
We proceeded to the hotel where the four of us showered, ate and CRASHED after an entire night of running/pacing/crewing without sleep.
- Hoka Stinson Road & Hoka Rapa Nui Shoes
- Injinji mid-weight trail socks
- Brooks Sherpa shorts
- The North Face Mens Better Than Naked Shirt
- Ultimate Direction SJ Vest
- Garmin 910XT Watch
- Petzl NAO Headlamp