Friday, August 8, 2014

Burning River 100 Race Report

Mist rose from green pastures where horses grazed lazily under morning twilight. Opposite the horse farm was a federal style home with a stone wall reminiscent of colonial days. The facade faced the east and the white wood of the home wrapped itself in the orange-blue light of the morning.

I was running through a scene that could have taken place in the 1800's. It was just after 06:00 a.m. and I had been on my feet for a little over an hour running from Cleveland to Akron, Ohio in the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run. I traversed a narrow bridge over a creek passing through the charming town of Gates Mills. The landscape reminded me more of a quaint New England town than a Cleveland suburb.

The peaceful setting was conducive to fostering the mentality I espoused early in the race. I let others run their own race and I did the same. It was going to be a long day, running over 100 miles and I was in no rush to burn through precious glycogen stores that early in the endeavor. I found a pace I thought I could hold all day long and stuck with it.

I rolled into Polo Fields aid station ahead of schedule a little over 2 hours after the start of the day. The grass was still wet with morning dew. Stephanie and Maddy tag teamed crewing swiftly and without coming to a stop I had refilled water and food for the run and made my way onto a new stretch of trail composed of mostly horse trails and bridle paths. I regrouped with the friends I had made early on and we chatted away the miles, on damp trails and moderate temps.

The mid-morning scene was a green tunnel. I ran on mostly horse trails under a lush canopy. The footing was decent- mostly well manicured dirt and crushed gravel paths stained a dark brown by the dew. The moisture in the air made the leaves explosively green. Occasionally I'd catch glimpses of the river and creek waters I was running next to and I'd envision myself as a drop of water tumbling downstream one hundred miles to Akron over the rocks and obstacles along the way. The terrain in this first third of the race was much hillier than anticipated. The climbs weren't tough by any means but they required constant vigilance to maintain a steady effort by constantly adjusting pace. The descents were short but steep, littered with small stones, just big enough to send a runner sailing in flight like a kite in a tornado. I bombed down the descents for the free speed they offered, with faith my quads wouldn't take too much abuse by the end of the day.

My quads weren't the only thing in the woods taking abuse... the ears of my new friends had to listen to me sing this horrible song that Stephanie, Maddy, and I had somehow dubbed the theme song of the weekend; Fancy by Iggy Azalea. Fancy was getting all kinds of air play race weekend. Mosi Smith joined me in singing this terrible song and I couldn't help from laughing constantly at these dudes and I in the woods singing this pop song, "I G G Y How you do dat? do dat? How you do dat? do dat?!" Clearly no stress was in our minds and we were a third of the way to Akron.

Near mile 40 I was still in great spirits as I rolled into the Oak Grove aid station. I had been running by myself for several miles. I left the guys at the last aid station I had been running with; Perhaps they didn't like my singing? My crew alerted me that I was about to complete a small loop of 5 miles before returning to the same spot, continuing my way on towards Akron. The grades of the climbs on this small loop further aggravated my Achilles tendon which was swelling with each passing mile and growing bothersome. I don't have a history of Achilles issues but I was running 100 mile weeks in July and I wondered if it was an overuse injury coming to a head. On some of the steeper climbs I would actually stop and stretch my Achilles and this concerned me. I was only at mile 45 and nursing an injury! This wasn't my first rodeo though. I knew that injuries come from flaws in form and so I searched my brain for answers. What flaw in form could contribute to this Achilles inflammation?! What was it stemming from? Gastrocnemius? Soleus?

What could I do to fix it? I have had issues arise in a races before that seemed insurmountable but mid-race I made adjustments on the fly and corrected any pain or discomfort. I'm always amazed when this happens. I ran with confidence that I could hopefully correct any further Achilles inflammation by fixing form.

I tried to remain calm rolling back into the Oak Grove aid station and I tried to joke around with my crew by doing some rap I made up about Ice-Bukaki. I told Stephanie and Maddy to have Ibuprofen and Tylenol ready at the next aid station. I hoped it wouldn't get worse but I wasn't sure what would happen. The look Maddy gave me when I asked for them to have ibuprofen ready could have cleared a room. With all the gravity she could dig up she said, "ARE YOU OK?" I promptly assured her, (and I), "YES!" with a giant grin. She didn't look convinced.

Thanks to several years now of studying and learning from my physical therapist Lauren Adwell at Advanced Orthopaedic Physical Therapy I was able to attribute the inflammation to a loading of the Soleus muscle which lies under "calf muscle" Gastrocnemius. I ran with better form creating extension and height and the Achilles inflammation lessened. After several miles the discomfort and swelling abated some more. I was ecstatic.

Nearing the half-way point a little over eight hours in, the cloud cover that had been overhead finally unleashed some rain. I enjoyed the cooling effect it had. I had ice around my neck the whole day to stay cool. I kept my clothes soaked by pouring water overhead at each aid station but I was still thankful for the cloud cover. The humidity all day had been through the roof  in the oppressive zone. The overcast conditions made the day manageable.

I hadn't been concerned about placement prior to the halfway point. In between miles 45 and 55 I saw no one. The terrain included the infamous "Bog of Despair" which I didn't find too challenging. Yeah, there was mud. There was a bog. Was there despair? No. It was fine, just some obstacles to overcome. 100 mile runs don't come without some challenges. I was glad that people on Facebook had talked up this Bog of Despair because they built it up so bad there is no way it could live up to its reputation.

Splash, splurge, squiiirrrrt. I tromped and danced through the bog. Escaping the mud as I danced through the forest, a deer clearing obstacles. Occasionally a misstep would land me ankle deep in mud that would splash up to my wet thigh. For the most part, I was fleet-footed and made good haste through the infamous "Bog of Despair".

Coming into Boston Store aid station at mile 55 I was feeling pretty good. I'd covered over half the ground to Akron from Cleveland. I guess about eight and a half hours had passed? I don't know. The town was small and charming. A great tourist spot because it feels real, not touristy and superficial. Apparently its a big deal the town lets the race proceed through it. I am thankful for their hospitality! There was a small crowd awaiting runners and as I made my way into town a man yelled out to tell me I was "in 3rd place!" It was the first I'd heard of placement and I was rather unimpressed by the news. It was too early to care where I was. I needed to run my own race.

The crowds at Boston Store aid (mi 55ish) were a bit heftier than at other aid stations. I noticed upon entering the aid station I had just caught the 2nd place runner and so I was in a hurry to get out of there. There was a lot for Maddy and Stephanie to handle at this aid station because on top of normal water and fuel, I refused the Tylenol and Ibuprofen which I had requested earlier. I finally wanted my iPod which I had been rejecting all day. I was trying to scurry out to catch 2nd place and I forgot my food and yelled in the process, "WHERE is my fucking FOOD!?" (Sorry, Mom. I dropped the F-Bomb out loud in public...) Now, get this. I make it a BIG point to show appreciation not only to the volunteers but to my crew at every aid station. I didn't mean this question towards them, it was just a question in general, phrased loudly for all to hear. Hahaha. Ooops. I suppose I came off like a jerk but I was actually very thankful and in great spirits! I gave them a fist bump of appreciation, said "Lets do this!!!" yelled a giant "THANK YOU! THANK YOU!" to the aid station workers and to my crew and then I ran off with music in ear bopping down the trail to go catch the 2nd place male.

Within minutes of leaving the Boston Store aid I passed the guy who was in 2nd and I felt like I was on a high after a low-point coming in the Boston Store aid just several moments earlier. I was singing some pretty embarrassing songs VERY loudly and I didn't care. I was on a high and rolling into mile 60 feeling good. The terrain was increasingly technical and the climbs and descents didn't lessen. I tried my best to maintain pace and force food in every 20 to 25 minutes. The stomach was rock solid all day.

With newly soaked clothes thanks to a dousing from the aid station volunteers at the Pine Lane aid station I was feeling fresh again. This routine was the script of the day. I'd feel fatigued, tired, sweltered and oppressed, but new ice around my neck at the aid station and a dousing of water would kick me in overdrive for the next four miles or so before I'd crash and repeat the process. I bumped up my electrolyte intake to combat the humidity.

Climbing out of a particularly technical stretch of gnarly hiking trails I found myself at a road near mile 60. I was feeling energized and spry for several moments and caught glimpse of a runner in front of me moving well, the 1st place guy.

I took my time catching up to him. I felt like he was moving really well, effortlessly on the road, so I tagged along for the ride. I pulled up shoulder to shoulder and yelled a big, "Hi! How's it going!!" I was hoping to turn the music down for a bit and enjoy the company of another but we didn't talk much after my initial greeting. We did run shoulder to shoulder for several miles. I couldn't really tell if he enjoyed the company or if he didn't want my immediate presence so I turned up my iPod, enjoyed my music and accepted it. Just running together was fine by me. I'd say we were both just in the zone and cool with things.

After running together for several miles on this road stretch with the 1st place guy the course veered sharply onto a bomber downhill single-track section of trail. He pulled off the trail at the entrance and politely motioned for me to go ahead and take the lead. I assume this is where my advantage came into play. We were the same pace on the roads but within the first big descent I couldn't see him behind me anymore. I understood this to mean I needed to crank it out on the trails from here on out. That's where my lead would grow. If we were similar paces on the road all I had to do was push the trail sections and I'd continue to increase my lead.

I had a giant grin coming into the Ledges aid station somewhere just shy of 70 miles. My lead had grown. I had just run through a pristine section full of rocky cliffs and waterfall laden gorges. I was running my own race stress free and leading the herd. When I saw Maddy and Stephanie I was "cool as a cucumber", no stress. I was just doing my thing singing along with the music enjoying a long run. I actually had to tame the singing down because I didn't want to waste the energy! A few times it crept into my head that taking the lead with 37 miles left meant defending it for that long, what a load to bear! ...but I took the lead by running my own race and not concerning myself with placement. I planned on continuing that trend. At Ledges aid, Maddy was all decked out in running clothes and ready to pace if I needed her but I was feeling strong and wanted to push until 75 where I had planned on picking her up in the "best case scenario". Things were unfolding nicely! The lows were balanced by big ole highs and that's all you can hope for in a 100 mile run!

Coming into Pine Knoll aid station at mile 70ish was a relief! Over two thirds out of the way! I had a little loop to do which proved a bitch, but after that tortuous loop I got more ice from Stephanie and most importantly, I had my pacer, Madelyn Blue, on board for the remainder of the day!

Maddy ran her first 100 mile run earlier this summer. She's one of those punks that got into WSER her first year in the lottery! I couldn't have been happier though because pacing her was a blast the last 45 miles and she did awesome! I wrote a report about pacing her at Western States HERE.

I told myself that I needed to push hard until mile 75...after that it was just a run with my bud Maddy. Once I was with her, I could check out mentally and let her shoulder the load. I was surprisingly good to go however, physically AND mentally.

I couldn't have been more thankful than to have Maddy as pacer. Right off the bat she was johnny on the spot making me eat my gels every twenty minutes and get in plenty of water. We shared in our amazement that I might win the 2014 Burning River 100. We tried to simply stay constant and steady but it was too exciting not to talk about a potential win.

Gunshots rung out as we dashed through corn fields and she delighted in the mud and muck. I was NOT thrilled with the course conditions. I dropped a few more F-Bombs regarding the mud and muck as Maddy daintily pranced about the cornfields as the sun set.

My head swam dizzily and we stayed on top of electrolyte consumption and upped my regimen to every 45 minutes. This electrolyte bump fixed my head and I began to move swiftly again. Maddy was like clockwork! At one point she wanted me to take a gel and I barked I wasn't ready yet. I think she took it a little personally but no harm no foul. I was just feeling cruddy. I was still appreciative.

We passed the time quickly and I was stoked to be closing in on mile 90 with no real problems. The real joy for me was that I wouldn't need a headlamp much longer than an hour or so. Leaving the covered bridge aid station we were running some of the climbs still and moving well.

We saw Stephanie after a long road run stretch. That's where the weight of the win and holding first place began to burden me and weigh me down.

There was a 5 mile stretch in the mid-90 mile range that was all on running path. This stretch was pancake flat and crushed gravel. The terrain is as fast and smooth as can be and makes quick work of the job but its incredibly boring. I began to worry that time would drag on. Maddy tried to be positive and tell me to just keep moving and I did, but I was growing tired after 95 miles and I wanted to see the finish. I was not living in the moment but I tried to embrace the situation.

I started to calm myself by listening to the crickets. I looked at my surroundings. I was in a beautiful forest, running with my friend just after sunset. The running path of crushed gravel was lit up nicely by our headlamps. Light echoed and glistened from the river we paralleled. The crickets were chirping loudly. I drained every other emotion out of my body and just put myself right was I was, running with my friend through the night. I wasn't in a race. I was just trying to push hard for 10 miles on a nice cool night. My legs were clear of the miles beforehand. I was starting over. Fatigue left and I embraced the now. Nothing else existed. If I ran as hard as I could, and drained every ounce of life out onto the course, placement was irrelevant. I knew I had to do just that. Leave it ALL out on the course. That was my motto all day. As long as I knew I maximized MY potential and ran my own race it would all be good. Placement didn't matter. Running at 100% DID matter.

Crash! We were flying down a climb and I herd a train wreck behind me. Maddy had stumbled on a rock and took a hard fall on her right side. She was covered in, her whole right thigh scraped up and her knee had a knot. I quickly asked if she was OK and upon her quick, "YEAH!" We were up and rolling again. I think she was a little stunted at my abruptness again, but no time to waste! "Let's move!" I was concerned about her fall but if she was OK then we had no spare time to lick wounds! She was a trooper pulling out in front of me again and getting to her job making sure I had food every 20 minutes and electrolytes. Ah...the joys of pacing. I've been there many a times...

We ran straight up the road climbs after mile 95. The miles kept rolling by and the terrain grew urban. Neon lights took the place of maple trees and rivers. My garmin GPS showed 100 miles and I knew we were nowhere near the finish. The course was long, really long. Maddy was whooping and hollering but I just wanted to be done. It was cool, but I was tired! There'd be room for emotion later. For now, there was still work to do and I needed to find that finish line! We ran through some sketchy parts of town and I actually told Maddy to get closer to me as there were some groups of kids roaming around but no one said anything. I heard rumors of police escorts this year for runners but we saw none. In all honesty, the one stretch through "the bad part of town" wasn't bad at all. A truck drove by and the driver yelled out, "How far have you run?!" Maddy yelled joyously "100 miles!" and I yelled back "103.4!"


I saw the finish line.

I saw no one behind me.

I won the Burning River 100 Mile Run.

I found a chair and could not manage to choke down any food. I was elated to be done running and I was more than anything, proud of the flawless race I had run. Not only had I trained effectively leading up to the race, but I ran my own race from start to finish and gained ground all day long. The official splits show I started slowly compared to the competition but then ran the fastest splits in between nearly every aid station from the halfway point to the finish. I'm happy with that! Check out the splits at the bottom of this page.

I finished at 10:25p.m.  The 104 mile run took me 17 hours and 25 minutes. My goal was 17 hours in the best possible conditions. I wasn't expecting the extra 4 miles so I'll take it! The course also boasts nearly 9000' of elevation gain. Definitely NOT a mountain 100 but definitely not flat as far as I'm concerned. I'd say its VERY hilly.

Another goal I met...running 100 miles and being in the Marriott Hotel by midnight. I didn't plan on puking though...I knew as soon as I entered the elevator it was coming up. I prayed to make into my room first. I literally ran to the room and my stomach up-heaved and let loose, right in the toilet where it belongs. It was the first time I've ever puked at the end of a race...

I think the heat or humidity ended up taking out nearly half of the runners. I think the day saw a drop out rate over 50%.

I was overall very impressed by the race. I'm pumped to go back next year to pace or run it again and defend the win. Next on my calendar is the Iron Mountain 50, a classic with stellar competition and even more stellar friends and community. Then the Bourbon Chase in October, the Tunnel Hill 100 Mile in November and Lookout Mountain 50 in December.

Many thanks to Stephanie, Maddy, and the Volunteers out there all day. I'd highly recommend the BR100 to anyone.

Burning River 100

Overall Finish List

August 02, 2014

Western Reserve Racing LLC


TotalTotalC-Polo 13.6D-Harper 7.54E-Shadow 3.23F-Egbert 4.79G-Alexander 4.34H-Oak Gr 1 6.22I-Oak Gr 2 4.32J-Snowville 5.57K-Boston 4.97L-Pine Lane 4.96M-Ledges 6.77N-Pine Hollow 1 5.73R-Botzum 18.98S-Memorial 5.37T-Finish 4.59
PlaceNameCityBib NoAgeGenderTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePaceRankTimePace
1Troy ShellhamerLouisville KY30333M17:25:0210:21/M132:03:009:02/M121:15:009:57/M729:008:59/M846:009:36/M944:0010:08/M51:00:009:39/M344:0010:11/M21:04:0011:29/M155:0011:04/M355:0011:05/M11:05:009:36/M158:0010:07/M13:43:0011:45/M155:0010:15/M249:0210:41/M