Thursday, September 05, 2013

Burning River 100 Race Report

Some people spit out race reports immediately after the race, as if they're trying to capture those fleeting, sleep-deprived memories before they're gone, distorted, or exaggerated. There's a distinct advantage to that strategy, but for me it takes a bit of time for the experience to settle in before I can distill it down to a blog post. This race was particularly sweet because it was my fastest time so far for a 100-miler (23:08:03), my favorite course, and a repeat of my first 100 last summer.

This race was my third 100-miler for the summer in my quest to complete the Midwest Grand Slam of Ultrarunning and aside from a waning case of tenosynovitis in my left ankle I was ready to run! I knew the course from running it last year, I had great crew and pacer support from my family, and the weather looked promising (more on that later).

My mom kindly hosted a pre-race planning dinner at her home the night before the race where we had some great pasta and bread and a lengthy planning session after the table was (mostly) cleared. I love having crew and pacer support, but on a point-to-point course there's a lot of estimating, sequencing, car-dropping, and other logistics to sort out. The biggest challenge is estimating my arrival times at so many aid stations. Now that I've got a few of these hundreds under my belt I'm getting better at my pacing and I think I arrived at every aid station throughout the day within ~15 minutes of my estimates.

Planning my pace, crew, and pacer handoffs for the day,
We wrapped up our planning, got a great night's sleep, and my sister picked me up around 3:30am so we could get to the start at Squire's Castle and get checked in for the race. With a full moon and cloudy sky, the castle looked a bit spooky in the late morning darkness. But the overwhelming feeling was excitement. With thousands of miles of training and countless hours of running invested in such a big goal, all the runners buzz with excitement as we wait for the start of the race. We milled around in the cool air greeting familiar faces, taking anxious pee trips to the edge of the forest, and making sure our Garmin watches were ready to go.

And promptly at 5am we were off for the first 10k loop through the woods. It was a wonderful start to the race and I was able to chat with some other runners and even ran a few miles with a woman who didn't think she needed a headlamp for the first loop (she was wrong). After the first aid station the sun started to rise and I was able to give my headlamp to my sister (crew extraordinaire) and bolt out of there with a whoop and a holler. If I remember correctly, it also started to rain about that time. And if I remember correctly, it continued to rain for about ten more hours!

The next several miles went smoothly and I managed to keep my aid station times to a minimum. I came into the Shadow Lake aid station around 26 miles in about 4:30, got a quick foot lube and shoe change, and was back on the trail.

Happy feet make a happy runner, switching from my Brooks Glycerins to my Brooks Cascadias

Exiting this aid station I missed a turn (the first of many) and got off course about 200 yards before I realized my mistake and double-backed. I usually have a very good sense of direction and am very attentive to course markings (I attribute that to my high school cross-country days) but the course frustrated my this year. Several times throughout the day (none at night that I can remember) I got slightly off course and had to double-back to pick up the right trail. I know the first ~45 miles of the course VERY well, so it was extra frustrating to waste those minutes here and there. I'd estimate that half the blame was on my inattentiveness, but the other half was on the course markings. I'm grateful for the volunteer efforts that go into course markings, but this course was not marked as well as other courses such as Kettle 100 or even BR100 2012.

Complaints aside, I've learned that keeping your cool is the best strategy. Whether it's a missed turn, a dropped gel, or a painful fall you've just gotta keep moving, find your way through or around the obstacle, and not get flustered.

A few hours later I came into the Oak Grove aid station around mile 42, right on schedule. By now the rain was really pouring, so a covered shelter, a hearty snack, and the encouragement of family was a welcome distraction.

Feeling weary from hours of rain
The rain was wearing me out a bit, but not nearly as much as the slippery, muddy trails. I think the next 40 miles felt like one of those Muddy Buddy races: crazy wet, slipping constantly, mud often over my ankles and me just hoping my shoes stay on. I kept my shoes on and only fell once (ouch on the right hip with a big airborne thud). After a few miles I got my first pacer, my sister Laura who paced me ten miles. But I also had a very inconvenient shoe issue...

Unfortunately I caught my right foot on a root in the mud around mile 50 that completely ripped the upper of my shoe off the front sole. So that means I had to run ~15 miles with an open-toed shoe through insane mud until I could get to the next aid station where I could change shoes. I was scooping up lots of mud with this shoe damage, but like I said before, you just learn to deal with stuff and keep moving. It was annoying, but I don't think it slowed me down much.

At about 65 miles and 13 hours I got three treats: new shoes, new shorts, and a new pacer: my wife Cindy. She's always been amazingly supportive of my racing and training, but until that moment she had never paced me in an ultra. It was only a five mile stretch, but the mud was insane. Her sweet encouragement and delightful conversation helped those miles fly by.

My beautiful wife ready to pace me to mile 70+
I picked up Nathan (Cindy's cousin), my next pacer, at the Pine Hollow aid station (mile 70.6) where we strapped on our head lamps and headed into the woods. I was on target for my race plan and the rain had finally stopped, but we still had some tough miles ahead of us. I usually don't sit down in an ultra, but I took a few extra minutes at the Covered Bridge aid station (mile 79.6) to collect myself and get ready for the hills ahead.

Headlamps, check!
Nate has been so helpful and supportive through several of my ultras over the past year and I'm grateful for his steady pacing and humble spirit. We plowed through the next 6.4 hilly miles after Covered Bridge, managed to miss many wrong turns that tricked other runners, and met my sister Laura (that's right, she did TWO pacing legs in one race) at mile 86.7.

Laura was my last pacer for the night
We did a quick exchange and Laura and I hit the trails again with only 14 miles to go! I honestly can't remember too much of the next several miles but I know I changed shoes one more time at mile 93. It might seem silly to bother with a shoe change that late in the race, but by taking good care of my feet I haven't had a single blister in any of my three hundred-milers this summer, so I'm sticking with what's working!

I was hoping for a 22-hour finish, but that slipped away in the night as my pace faded. As we tackled the lsat couple of miles I was hoping to squeeze in under 23 hours. I was so excited that my 100th mile was a zippy (at least it felt zippy) 9:40. We climbed the stairs out of the park and headed toward downtown Cuyahoga Falls, but the course was measured at 101.0 miles and I watched 23 hours pass me with a little sigh. I did finish in 23:08:03 which is a PR and a time I'm proud of.

Happy with a PR time!
So that's three down, one to go! My next race is this weekend in Michigan and I can't wait to race again. I feel like I learn valuable lessons about nutrition, pacing, patience, and discipline during each race and I'm hoping to apply all those lessons for a grand finale of this Grand Slam on Friday night!

If you've made it this far I want to ask you a question: Are you inspired?

Many people have told me that they're inspired by the races I'm doing, and I want you to be inspired to action! Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Show Hope. They provide care for orphans and give generous grants to families who want to adopt a child (international, domestic, and many special needs children) but have a hard time with the costs (often $10-50k) of the process. Thank you!

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At 7:07 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Nicely done Adam. Hope it's a great last race!!


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