The Runner's Reward

Monday, July 27, 2015

Burning River 50 Mile Weekend

 I was at work all day Friday and working the day before the race....well, let's just say productivity was down. By the time I got home and showered, threw the cooler in the car, and gassed up it was 6:30.  By 8:30 I made it to Macedonia and met with Don and Gerry, my friends and crew team for the race. We dropped my car at Stanford House which was not only the finish line, but it was the place I had a room reserved for after the race, went over the plan, and tried to catch a little sleep.

Travel advice: avoid the Knight's Inn in Macedonia, Ohio.  That was quite possibly the worst hotel room I have stayed at.  On a positive I booked for one person, showed up with three, and they didn't upcharge. Gerry and I each took the two beds in the room and Zen master Don slept on the floor. 

We woke up around 3 AM and were at the the starting line, Squire's Castle, by 4:30.  

It was a cool morning, perfect for a long run. And can you beat starting a race at a castle?
Squire's Castle

We briefly met up with Monica, who was also running the 50 miler, and Sanchez, who would be crewing the 50 for her and then pacing a friend in the 100.  These two had a long day and night ahead. 

The race started promptly at 6:00 AM.  The first 11.5 miles were on roads through Cleveland Metroparks, scenic countryside, and quaint neighborhoods with historical houses. There was an aid station around 6.7 miles in and one again at the end of the road section at Polo Fields.

The Polo Fields aid station marks the first point with crew access. Gerry came out to meet me as I approached. The guys had my soft flasks filled and on ice. We talked briefly and I took a Vespa that Lisa had given me earlier in the week and it was back onto the course.  

Vespa......oh my does that stuff taste awful, but it really helped me out. It is a blend of amino acids that works to efficiently metabolize fats for use as energy and  helps clear lactic acid buildup. 

Bridle Trails
 On from here it was 7.5 miles to the Harper Ridge aid station on bridle trails. Bridle trails are crushed gravel horse paths. Fairly wide and easy to run.  At the aid station I pigged out on peanut butter sandwiches and filled my soft flasks back up.  From this aid station it was only 3 more miles to Shadow Lake and to my crew.
On this stretch I met and ran a few miles with Miranda. This impressive young lady had run a few 50ks and had been on a running streak for a few years. She was hoping to be the youngest woman to complete a Burning River race at the age of 17. I don't know if she completed the race, but she is doing amazing things running and I am certain will continue to do so in the future. (Since writing this, I found out she did, in fact, finish and is hoping to run the 100 next year)
Over this stretch of the course I lost my buff. The buff had quickly become a favorite accessory in this race. I dunked it in every stream crossing and could wash the salt of my face, put it over my head and pin it down with a visor. It kept me cool and kept my bald head from frying! I was sad to have lost it. I was telling Gerry and Don this when Miranda was walking by and she gave me an extra bandana. So awesome!
From here it was onward towards the Egbert aid station.  There were a few sections of road and sidewalk leading to the first substantial singletrack on the course.  I walked some of the sidewalk and sent a message to my lovely Tara telling her things were going well and I was about halfway in.  While not paying attention as I am wont to do,  I walked right past the cut into the woods. Fortunately, one of the relay runners was there and caught me with a yell.  As I came onto the trail I noticed she was limping bad. She said it was just an IT issue that she would make it to the next aid station just fine so I continued on.  Finally hitting the singletrack I felt like a kid. Excited and happy to be in the forest and to not be dodging horse poop.  

As I came into Egbert Gerry was there to meet me and I entirely blanked! I couldn't remember his name! Sorry, Gerry.  Race brain is my excuse. This was mile 27 and I was starting to feel some wear, but overall I was in great shape both physically and timewise.  I took extra time at this aid station to talk with Don and Gerry and to eat a little. Egbert had hard-boiled eggs, how appropriate.  This was one of my favorite aid stations. It was in a shady grove with a nice cooling breeze, and there was a giant tub of ice water with sponges to give yourself a sponge bath. It's the little things that really matter and something so simple refreshed my body and mind. 

 I met so many awesome people along the road and trail of this race. Thank you Scott, Jenny, Kerwyn, Miranda, Brandon, and the many others whose names escape me. You are all great people and I am proud to call myself one of this ultra running community. It really is a community.
 People help each other out in this running community and it is beautiful. I read on the BR facebook group about one man who stopped to help a woman. She was not doing well and he stayed with her until help arrived sacrificing his chance to complete the race. I hope the race comps him entry next year.  

The generosity of spirit the volunteers showed was amazing. They were all kind and warm-hearted people. Without the kindness of volunteers, friends crewing, and the camaraderie of those beating dirt on the trail this race would not be possible, and even if it were possible it would not be so wonderful. 

From the Egbert aid station at mile 27 it was a few more miles to the next station at Alexander Road which was about 50k in. I was tiring. I began slowing my pace and walking more.  The name of the endurance game is constant forward progress. No matter the pace just keep moving. Besides, I may have been getting tired, but I was still loving every moment. Part of this section was on the Buckeye Trail singletrack with one hell of a good hill climb. My leg locked up with muscle spasm shortly after the climb.  A few runners passing stopped to make sure I was okay and one offered salt caps. I assured each of them in turn that I was okay and they carried on. After applying pressure and sitting on a tree branch to let tthe cramping subside I was good to slowly start moving again and move I did.

The Towpath
After some food and stocking up the water reserves at Alexander Road I made my way to Oak Grove. The six miles between points seemed to last forever! Most of it was on the towpath and it was at the hottest part of the day. The sun was beating down with little shade or breeze , but the change in grade and surface allowed me to pick up pace and gain some time that would help in the miles to come.

At the end of the towpath was a small train platform. And on that platform was the Holy Grail! Was I hallucinating? No. Actually it was a water fountain. I washed my bandana in the fountain and washed my face, had a good long draught of icy cool H20, and continued on refreshed.  

By this point my feet were throbbing with each strike. I was very happy indeed to see the Oak Grove aid station at mile 38.  With less than a half marathon to go I could mentally grasp the task at hand. Don, Gerry, and I talked while I relaxed and ate some food and had drink. I would be returning to the same aid station in roughly 4 more miles. A loop through some beautiful forest and river canyon made this one of my favorite trail portions of the race.

Knowing I would be back here soon I changed into a pair of Altra Olympus and plugged my charge brick into the phone. I have been running in 9-10 mm drop shoes and figured a 50 miler was no time to rely on zero drop shoes that I hadn't yet acclimated to. That said, the Olympus, with it's thick cushy footbed, was just what my aching feet needed. I wish I had put them on sooner. I briefly stopped by the Oak Grove aid station at mile 42 and resolved to get back out quickly and forge on towards the end.

Mile 42 is where the race really started for me both mentally and physically.  After leaving Oak Grove I walked a few hundred yards until the path re-entered the woods. I had 8 miles left, but my Garmin was off by a few miles. I thought I was going out for 6 miles. Now two miles may not seem like a whole lot, but after 40 miles two miles was HUGE.

As I started to run again I felt that old familiar pain. My leg started to tense up and spasm. It was the same spot as earlier, but geting worse. I stopped and applied pressure. And then alternated between light stretches and more pressure until I was able to slowly start walking again.    

The area that came next was the notorious Bog of Despair.  It had mostly dried out and wasn't bad at all.  Only small sections were not runnable.  I managed to slip once and sink my right foot ankle deep into mud, but aside from that navigated the area fairly quick. The following miles  were both beautiful and torturous. The hilly trail was aesthetically pleasing and something I would normally enjoy running very much.  I walked most of it, running what little flats and downhill there was.  The miles really were dragging. At some point the trail came out onto a small battered road.  One of the locals had put their garden hose out. I can't really adequately tell you how grateful I was. I hosed my face off and bandana. I noticed someone in the driveway and bellowed a hearty thank you and received a wave back.  Atthe end of this rutty road there was a old section that could have been called a road in it's former life. Passing by here we entered into overgrown singletrack that eventually let out into trails with a number of downed trees and roots to scramble over.

As I mentioned my Garmin was off by a few miles.  I had been expecting to hit the final aid station for 30 minutes without ever reaching it. In ultra running I have heard it said that when you get tired of running then walk and when you get tired of walking then run.  That had served me well most of the race, but I was now at a point where I was too tired to want to do either. Nothing was comfortable and I was thoroughly ready to be done, but I don't get to decide when the race is over so I kept going. Walking mostly, running a little when I could, and keeping vigilant on the time always. Eventually I did come to that last aid station and knew there was only 2.5 miles left. I ate some watermelon and had a drink and got out of there as quick as I could. The following mile was mostly flat, but through high grass and weeds loaded with bugs. Fortunately that area was passed quickly and I came out onto a road. A hundred yards later the course turned back onto a towpath and I could see Don a few hundred yards ahead. This was it! The last mile!

It was nice to run with Don after so many miles inside my own head. I say run, but it was mostly walking and talking. It was one hell of a day to be a runner and I felt in my element. The time in the forest, the people, the runners all made for a wonderful and memorable day. As I crossed the line and got my medal I could feel nothing but joy and contentment. Walking towards the food I heard Sanchez yell out and saw him walking towards me with arms open. I can hardly ever refuse the opportunity to be silly so I spread my arms wide and yelled "I Love....sleep!" and took a pratfall on my face. Apparently my body wasn't ready for joking that way and I hardly caught myself. The grass sure felt nice though.

95 out of 171 Overall

What started as a crazy idea ended in success and an incredible day I will never forget. Congratulations to all of you crazy folks who ran any distance at Burning River!

I am certain I have mixed some of the order of events up. I will try and update this as needed.

I had an amazing weekend at Burning River. The following morning I drove down to the 100 mile finish line and had a breakfast burrito and coffee while watching these amazing runners claim their hard won victory. Next year, I hope to be one of them.

I took a few video clips throughout the day describing what I was feeling like at various points. The video quality did not translate well from an iphone, but I present it here because....why not?


  1. What a great recap, Tony! I've never read a recap from an ultra, and you described everything so perfectly. I could tell just how mentally and physically tough this race was. That's amazing how well you did. You got some great pictures as well! Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Thanks Gretchen. Very kind of you. I am glad you enjoyed it! I certainly enjoyed the race

  2. Oh! And also, I used to work for Progressive, and their offices are across the street from that park where you started! I thought it looked familiar. They have some beautiful parks in Cleveland (can't compete with North Park and Frick in my opinion..but nice for Ohio :) )

    1. I was surprised by the hills and how beautiful some of the areas are. Cuyahoga Valley NP is great

  3. Tony, I'm so impressed! The physical and mental strength it takes to complete this race is impressive on its own, but how you enjoyed the course, the running community, and volunteers in the midst of such an arduous event is something all of us runners can learn from! Congratulations!!! You did awesome!

  4. Thank you Jennifer! The ultra races have such a different feel than road races. The people are so is contagious. If you don't want to run one I get it. But do try and volunteer at one sometime! You will not be disappointed in the experience.

  5. Great Recap Tony! It was really good to see you the few times I did, and yeah, that fall at the end looked a lot harder than Im sure you expected hahaha. Amazing feat in some very hot conditions. Maybe next year i will get the courage to try and do the same. Rest up, recover, and see you soon in the trails or road.

    1. Thanks Sanchez! It was such a great day. You can definitely run a 50. With all the 50ks you have planned and your level of fitness you'd crush it. See you there next year then?