The dated air conditioner chugged, unable to cool the hot humid air. Mold grew on the ceiling above the window. I was covered in perspiration, as I lay sprawled on the top of the bed in a budget hotel room off the Interstate in Cleveland. I asked myself, what am I doing?
I was in Cleveland on a mission - a mission to run the Burning River 100 and hopefully set a 100-mile PR. When I registered it seemed like a good plan. An open weekend. A fast course. The possibility of tagging the race onto a work trip. Now that I was here, I knew it was a bad idea
I was stressed about the heat and humidity. Forecast for race day was temps in the low 90’s with humidity around 75%. Certainly not a favorable forecast for a Utah boy who is used to low humidity.
Race morning did not disappoint. The temperature was a balmy 72 (I must admit – it was nice not being cold waiting for the race to start) with close to 100% humidity from the rain the evening before. My shirt and shorts were clinging to me – and I hadn’t even started to run!
I joined the lead pack of Dave James, Michael Owen, Eric Grossman and Jordan Whitlock and we went out fast, running the first 9.6 miles in 7:11 pace. Even before the sun had risen, I was having trouble keeping myself cool. I forced myself to drink. I worried about how I would stay hydrated and cool.
By mile 10 Dave, began to pull away. I needed to stop for a Don Pedro (bio break) and let the remaining group go. At this point it was nice to run by myself, find my pace, and get into zone. Just when I was about to that “other place” Valmir Nunes caught up to me and began to force the pace. I was determined to stay with him. I think he was determined to put the hurt on me. We ran shoulder to shoulder for about 4 miles, each mile picking up the pace, until I finally feigned that I had to pee. I could not sustain the pace any longer.
At 43 miles all the wheels fell off. I was worked from having gone out fast, letting Valmir force the pace, and the effects of the heat and humidity. I was dizzy, experiencing a dull headache, and I was having trouble consuming the liquids and food I needed. I contemplated dropping. At mile 45, Mark Godale, Burning River 100 winner in 2008, 2009 and second place runner in 2010 passed me. We ran together for several miles were he humbly admitted that he “knew” the course and graciously helped me up a stream bank that my old, tired and bonked ass was having trouble negotiating. I just stared at his feet and hung on, glad to have the companionship.
As I contemplated my dire condition, I recalled Christian Johnson’s advice when I had shared with him before the race that I was stressed about the heat and humidity. His advice, “just manage it.”
My management plan was simple. At the next aid station I exchanged my two handhelds for a 70 oz Nathan hydra pack. Someone at the aid station commented, “you’re really going to wear that bowling ball?” I put a couple of gels along with some mangos in the front pocket and committed myself to drinking the pack dry and eating all the food before I reached the next aid station. This bowling ball was going to be my lifeline.
By 50 miles I was feeling better physically, and felt mentally rejuvenated when I was able to pass Mark and learned that Valmir had dropped. I was now in 4th place. I was so pleased with my management plan that I filled the bowling ball up again and committed to drinking it dry over the next 6-mile leg.
I find that the first 60 miles of a 100 miler are the hardest. The end seems so far away. Things hurt. Self-doubt creeps into my head. But, from about 60 on it becomes a simple countdown and the miles and the time seem to go quickly. During almost every section I had a little boost. At mile 62, I caught up with Eric and moved into third place. At mile 85 I was surprised to see Michael sitting at the aid station. I suspected he was dehydrated and bonked like I had been earlier in the day. I knew that I possibly had 3-4 miles of opportunity to gain time on him before he fully rebounded. I went out of the aid station hard knowing that if I could get a few minutes lead on him I could possibly place second.
I finished in 16:16. While I failed to set a 100-mile PR, the time was fast enough to place second and I walked away with $900 in prize money (which is a first for me). And, 16:16 is good enough to count as the 5th all-time fastest 100-mile trail time for an old goat (50+).
Top Male Finishers
Dave James 15:57
Jay Aldous 16:16
Michael Owen 16:26
Mark Godale 16:46
Top Female Finishers
Connie Garner 19:01
Rachael Nypaver 19:36
Starshi Blackford 20:17
Christi Tokarz 21:08
Full 2011 Burning River 100 results can be found at http://www.ultralive.net/br100/webcast.php
This was the hardest race I have ever run. Clearly the weather was difficult for me. And, I think it was hard for others as well given the 50% drop rate (280 starters – 143 finishers). Parts of the course are on roads or towpaths. I have a hard time running well on the flats and find it difficult to get into the zone. The volunteer at the 92 mile aid station was surprised when I almost yelled at him “I’d rather have a hill” in response to his gleeful proclamation that “the next three miles are flat.” Maybe in the future I’d best stick close to home - where the air is dry and the hills are big!
A big thanks to RD Joe Jurczyk and the more than 400 volunteers that make this one of the best organized 100 milers. Kudos for a race well run!