Burning River 100 Race Report
I will do my best to summarize my experience at the Burning River 100 mile Endurance Run, but my memory seems to be a bit blurry.
Leading up to the Race:
My training went extremely well. Even though I have 4 kids and work full-time I was able to get some great training weeks averaging 70 miles per week. I even got 2 100 mile weeks in. I ran the Mohican 50 miler 6 weeks prior to the race as a training run and felt great. To be honest I think I was a bit over-confident going into the race.
My husband and kids were planning on crewing for me and this would be a first of any race. I was very excited about this! But things got turned upside down about a week before the race when my husband found out he was accepted into pharmacy school (he was on the waiting list and we pretty much blew it off like he wasn’t going to get in this year). So plans changed. He would not be able to drive me to the race as he had a ceremony he had to attend Friday evening. So he planned on driving there with the kids Saturday morning. He would still crew me later in the afternoon and night- at least that was the plan.
Friday around 9:45am my running buddy, Mark, picked me up in his truck. We then picked up another runner, Jeff, who neither of us had met previously, at a McDonalds to give him a ride too. Jeff was a 21 year old first time 100 miler who signed up the day before for the race! Wow does that take guts!
We arrived at packet pickup, didn’t stay long as we wanted to get to our hotel early. I was hoping to hit the sack by 7 since I needed to wake up by 2am. I was NOT looking forward to the 2am wake up call. Yikes.
Well, I did get to my hotel room by 7 but fall asleep early I did not. The numbers kept turning and turning on the alarm clock as I lied there unable to turn off my mind. I eventually dozed off around 10 to wake up again at 11. I stayed awake until around 1 and woke up on my own at 1:50. I lied in bed staring up at the ceiling until the alarm sounded thinking, “What the hell did I sign up for this race for?” For my first hundred, Woodstock, I was so excited for the race to get started I could hardly stand the wait. This one was much different for some reason. Maybe it was the early morning start. I’ve never been a morning person.
I met Mark at the elevator at 2:30 and we headed to downtown Cuyahoga Falls to catch the bus to take us to the start in Willoughby Hills. Well this bus ride nearly did me in. Windows were open, including an emergency exit sun roof right above me and the cool wind blew on me for the entire 40 minute ride. I was shivering wearing only a sleeveless top. I should have brought a jacket but I didn’t realize there was a drop bag area at the starting line. So I froze.
We arrived at the start line around 4:20. 40 minutes of waiting around in the cool air (it really wasn’t that cool but when I’m nervous I tend to get chilly.) But I found a spot light near some steps and sat my butt down right next to it as it gave off a bit of heat. That felt awesome! I was still feeling very nervous for some reason, but I knew I’d feel much better once I started running.
Sure enough, about a minute into the run I was loosening up and feeling much more confident. I started out running with Mark and Jeff. The first 13ish miles were completely on road. Mark and I were feeling good and had the tendency to run a little fast. We would look at our Garmins and see an 8 minute pace and have to force ourselves to slow down. We tried our best to keep the pace at least 9 minute pace, but let me tell you, that is really hard on the road and when you’re feeling fresh after a 2 week taper! I dreaded the road section before the race but was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful scenery and I actually enjoyed it. However, where the heck did all the hills come from? I thought it was supposed to be flat? The hills tended to be long, gradual up hills and short steep down hills. We took the down hills too fast. Looked at my Garmin a few times and we were running a 6 minute pace flying down the hills!
By the end of the long road section I was dying to get off the pavement. FINALLY we arrived at Polo Fields and would get on the softer surface of the trails. The next 10-12 miles were peaceful and I really enjoyed it. These miles seemed to fly by. Mark was getting a bit hot though. And around mile 22 is where trouble started for me. My left IT band on the outside of my knee began to flare up. It seemed to come on relatively suddenly and this baffled me. During a couple of my long training runs I did feel a slight twinge in the same spot but it never really hurt. This HURT. And being so early in the race I got scared.
If I remember correctly these miles were mainly bridle trail and some single track with a few sections of paved bike trail. The course I found to be pretty. I loved seeing and hearing the river so frequently. But things were going from bad to worse rapidly with my left knee. I began having great difficulty on the down hills. I was having to take it very slow, sometimes walking down them. This was the most frustrating part because I normally like to stretch out down the hills. This was slowing me down big time. I was way ahead of a 20 hour pace at this point and feeling totally fresh other than my stupid knee.
Mark and I had separated at this point so these were some lonely miles. I thought about him many times and as I slowed down I prayed that he would catch up to me again so I’d have his company. Unfortunately Mark was having problems of his own and sadly was forced to drop around mile 60.
I have to say the aide stations were fabulous. As soon as I arrived I was met by someone eager to get me whatever I wanted. The volunteer would run to get my drop bag and a chair and any food or drink I wanted.
Mile 40 is always the beginning of my nausea whether a 50 mile race or 100 mile race (well, with this only being my 2nd 100 I can only say it has happened in 1 other 100. But you get the point). And sure enough it hit. I just could not eat much and constantly felt like hurling. I never did actually throw up- I rarely do- but just that feeling like I’m going to throw up is no fun at all. So I drank ginger-ale at every aide station.
I was beginning to feel a major low as I neared 50 miles. I was in so much pain on every single step that I truly wanted to drop… but my brother was driving all the way here to pace me. I absolutely could not let him down and quit now. It was an awful feeling. As I arrived at every aide station I expected to see my husband and kids and I knew that would give me an emotional boost. But I was disappointed every time as they were never there. So then all these worries crossed my mind – did they get in an accident? Did something happen to one of the kids and they can’t get a hold of me? Why weren’t they here?
Crossing the halfway point is usually an energizing and positive experience for me in any race. But not this time. I was in excruciating pain and it was so hard to force myself to run. I absolutely could not run the down hills anymore at all. In fact, I had to keep my knee straight as I hobbled down the hill as putting any weight on it bent was unbearable. I told myself I just had to get to the ledges aid station at mile 64 where my brother would start pacing me the rest of the way. It was a long, long time getting there.
At the Snowville Aide station I had another severe bought of nausea. I had to lean over for a couple minutes trying to keep my stomach contents from escaping. I took a little gingerale and a peppermint. In a few minutes I was settled enough to hobble off onto the trail.
Sometime soon after I had my one and only fall. I snagged a root and went down hard on my left elbow. I cursed the trail, got up, wiped off some dirt, and got going again with some blood pooling on my elbow. It was a nice reminder to pick up my feet in these more technical areas
I finally hobbled into Pine Lane aide station. As usual I was met by an excited volunteer begging to help in any way he could. I told him I was having horrible ITB issues and wasn’t sure how I was going to finish this thing. He had some kind of gloves on with thick knuckles and started working my ITB hard. He rubbed it for several minutes and another volunteer fed me a spoon full of sea salt. They were amazing and I wish I had gotten their names so I could thank them again.
I knew I would soon be seeing my brother and that should give me a bit of an emotional lift. Maybe conversation with him would help keep my mind off the pain of my knee. I was taking forever now having to walk so frequently. Injury to the IT Band is strange- not like other injuries I’ve had. Other injuries I’ve had would be very painful when I first start running, but the more I run the more the pain dulls and I can tolerate it and eventually not even think about it anymore. But this was different. Every subsequent step seemed to cause a cumulative effect of pain. Each step more painful than the previous one until eventually I’d have to cry “uncle” and take a walk break. However, anytime I stopped it was extremely difficult to start up again as the knee would stiffen up. I was in a no win situation.
My first 100 mile race was filled with some lows, but each low was always eventually followed by a high. It was so much different this time. I was becoming mentally drained trying to deal with the knee pain and the low just got lower and I don’t remember ever coming out of it the last thirty-some miles. My goal of sub 21 hours was disappearing fast.
I reached the ledges aide station, looked all over for my husband and kids to no avail. But my brother, Tom, was there and seemed surprised to see me (I’m not sure why he was so surprised as I was an hour behind my projected arrival time). He wasn’t even wearing his running clothes yet! I didn’t mind though. Had I been feeling great and on track for my goal time I would have run off without him and told him to catch me. But I took the time to load up on some nutrition, drink more gingerale, and massage the heck out of my ITB.
When Tom approached me he told me what happened to my husband. They had just left home- about 30 minutes away- when the van broke down! Tom had to pick them up and bring them home as they had the van towed. Tom went ahead then and began the drive toward Cuyahoga Falls while my husband and kids took our smaller car. With 6 of us in the family and a car that only holds 5 we had a bit of a dilemma for the ride home. One of the kids would have to ride home with my brother. At any rate, Tom told me my family was on their way and should be arriving anytime.
I explained to Tom that he had his work cut out for him as I was having major issues with my ITB. We had to start off walking quite a while since I had stopped so long at the aide station my knee totally stiffened up. So we walked for a few minutes then started jogging and I think I groaned and complained constantly (I needed someone to vent to… thanks Tom!).
We still had over an hour of daylight left- and good thing as the section after ledges was quite technical and hazardous. I’d hate to run that thing in the dark. It was very rocky and I remember these steps that seemed to move/wiggle every time I landed on one… or was that just another hallucination? Yes, the hallucinations started around mile 80ish. The first one was a scary little bunny rabbit that was running right toward me. I yelled and jumped over it to my brother’s amusement as nothing was there. And the second hallucination came a little later and was just auditory. I heard a voice whispering, “Hey, hey, hey.” After a few seconds of this I realized it was my shoe squishing from the mud.
My mind was definitely going. I even got lost one time when I stepped off the trail to go to the bathroom. I thought I was heading back to the trail that I just left but the thick brush kept getting thicker. After a few minutes trying to find my way out I yelled out to my brother, “Where the hell am I?” I heard his voice telling me to come that way. Soon I could see his headlight. I went down a steep ravine and ended up in the river at a place that wasn’t an easy place to cross. But I went through the water and crossed there anyways, then climbed back up the ravine, through some more brush and finally got on the trail again. Tom must have thought I was the biggest ditz in the universe!
These miles were the slowest miles of my life. I was able to keep a job going for about 10 minutes a few times before needing to give in to the pain and walk again. Then it was just so difficult to force myself to start up again. Tom was obviously getting impatient with me and tried to at least get me to walk faster. When I was walking now I was falling asleep. I just wanted to be done. This was not fun and hadn’t been fun since about 50 miles ago. I told Tom I was never doing another hundred and told him, “Don’t ever let me sign up for another one of these!”
At Covered Bridge aide station I had my biggest low of the race. I sat in the dreaded chair and began shivering uncontrollably. A wonderful volunteer gave me a blanket and hot soup. I just didn’t know if it was worth it anymore. Was I doing permanent damage to my knee, which was now getting noticeably swollen. But I remember my brother having this injury before and a physical therapist he was running with told him he couldn’t do permanent damage… it just hurts like hell. So I knew there was no backing out now with 17 miles to go. There was a 4-5 mile loop back to covered bridge again. I would run the loop and re-evaluate. Another awesome volunteer walked Tom and I off to the trail head with a map and explained the loop section in detail. He was very helpful!
After making it back to covered bridge I knew I had to keep moving and not tempt myself to stop again, so I grabbed a couple things to eat and kept walking. I knew getting to the next aide station would be huge as then I’d only have 10 miles to go- mostly on paved surface which might be much easier on the knee at this point.
Every mile took an eternity. I would jog when my brother pressured me to run a little- pacers are good for that. But I couldn’t sustain anything more than 5-8 minutes without my leg giving out. But I was getting ever so closer.
We hit the next aide station and again I tried not to stop long. Filled up my water and grabbed a couple things to eat (I don’t even remember what I was eating at this point in the race). And we kept on going, jogging and walking (mostly walking I think).
Then we got to the final aide station and there I saw my husband for the first time! Apparently he tried to see me at an early crew area but missed me. At any rate I was happy to see him and it gave me a little lift. 5 miles to go! But the first mile seemed completely up a long ass hill! Oh well. We ran into another runner and walked with him for a little company. When we reached the top we started jogging again and left the other runner behind. One little single track trail section, a couple of sets of stairs (which were no fun), and finally reached the home stretch. With a mile left my husband dropped off my oldest son, James so he could run in with me. James is 14 and a very fast runner, yet he complained about how tired he was (having to get up at 4am to run). He laughed at himself after realizing how ridiculous it was for him to complain about being tired when his old mom just ran over 100 miles with no sleep. I was so happy when the clock tower finally came into view. I had made it. 24 hours and 48 minutes. Far from 21 hours, but I didn’t care anymore. I persevered through some very difficult obstacles and walked away with my second buckle. 2 for 2 in hundreds. I walked over to a volunteer, asked for a big bag of ice, sat down and iced my knee. Then it started to rain.
What did I learn from this experience?
· I may never use a pacer again so I don’t feel the pressure of HAVING to finish even when I have a significant injury. I just couldn’t have my brother drive 4 hours just to pace me and then quit on him. But I’m paying for it now as a week after the race I still am not able to walk without a significant limp. I may not be running for a few weeks and that is killing me!
· I need to strengthen my hips and butt to help prevent more ITB issues.
· Bring a roller.
· Don’t sprint the down hills early in a race.
· Pay closer attention to where I am when I step off the trail to go to the bathroom.
· I like using a handheld light better than the headlamp.
Oh, and as far as me “never running another hundred?” I think I said the same thing in the middle of my first hundred. I’m already planning on running the Indiana Trail 100 next spring J.