When I first began running in the 1970’s, I’d meet up with friends to run in the Cleveland Metroparks. At about this time, I looked at a map and thought: wouldn’t it be cool to run the entire chain of parks that form the “Emerald Necklace” around Cleveland? It never occurred to me that the distance involved – 70 to 80 miles by my reckoning back then – would be a problem at all. I hadn’t yet run my first marathon at this point; distance was no big deal. The main reason I never attempted such a run is that I simply never got around to it. I figured the day for this would come, however.
Time passed. I moved away. I moved back. I ran marathons and dabbled in a couple ultras. As I found myself running in the metroparks again, I began thinking of running the Necklace again. But I still never got around to it. Perhaps the day would still come. Then I received the email about the “Green Jewel” 50k and 100k runs from Vince Rucci and Joe Jurczyk. That’s 31 and 62 miles for the metricly-challenged. This was what I’d been waiting for my entire running life that spans 33 or so years. Someone – guys who know how to put on races such as this – had finally gotten around to it.
So of course I was ecstatic. There was only one very small, itsy bitsy little problem: I’d have to fly to Lisbon, Portugal for work on that very same day. I picked the latest possible departure, 5:50pm, even though this would make for a more circuitous route – through Memphis and Amsterdam. 5:50 would give me ample time to finish, would it not?
• How late can Dan leave from North Chagrin Reservation and still make it to the airport in time for his international check-in? Figure 4pm, assuming a 45-minute trip, and the fact that international check-in in Cleveland really doesn’t require the two hours they say it does. Arriving at 4:45 ought to give me enough time.
• What time would Dan need to finish, in order to leave at 4pm? Say, 3:30 if Dan stops at a nearby friend’s house for a shower, or 3:45 if Dan was to attempt to clean up with baby-wipes, towels soap, and a couple gallons of water. Going home for a shower is so far out of the way that this idea was eliminated from the list of possible options. Add to the mix here that Dan would also need to bear in mind that the parking area was a half-mile away from the finish.
• Would Dan be capable of beginning the 5am race on time, and completing the 100k by 3:45pm? Now we’re getting to the meat of the matter. Here’s the math: Dan did two 50-mile runs in just about the same time: 8 hours, 25 minutes or so, roughly 10 minutes per mile. If Dan ran this same pace (not a sure bet), and then managed to run the final 12 miles at 10 minutes per mile, or two hours (also not a sure bet), that gives Dan a possible finishing time of about 10 and a half hours. And this would bring Dan in at 3:30pm. Cutting it a bit close, wouldn’t you say?
• Would any other alternatives be worth considering? Yes, but.. The most obvious and practical alternative was to run the 50k and call it a day. But Dan really wanted to do the whole enchilada. Another possibility was to begin 60 to 90 minutes early. Since it was a “fun run”, Vince said this would be ok. The only problem is that I’d have no support unless Debbie did it, or until I was slowing enough for the late aid stations to become situated. Thus the answer to this story problem is: Naaah.
The number of starters was somewhere in the teens. Among them was several very accomplished ultrarunners, some of whom I already knew. This didn’t matter too much to me; after all, I wouldn’t be contending for the win or anything of the sort. No, I only had to finish by 3:45. After a brief delay (causing me to think about running a second or two faster per mile), I kissed Debbie goodbye and away we went.
The run would be mostly on all purpose asphalt trail. There would be some roads and about 3 miles of towpath. The start was at the Rocky River Marina, and we were to proceed south through Rocky River and Mill Stream Run Reservations and then eventually east to Brecksville Reservation, Northeast through Bedford and South Chagrin Reservations before finally turning due north along Chagrin River Road to finish at North Chagrin Reservation. Debbie was to drop me off at the start, head home for a while and then meet me at the 49-mile aid station and support me from there until the finish. At that point she would, of course, drive me to the airport. This way, I would be able to stop and quit if 3:45pm was to occur before I arrived at the finish. I didn’t want to DNF, but I would if I had to in order to make my flight. Sound like a plan?
As of the start, the predicted rain seemed to be holding off. It did begin to drizzle after an hour or two. And then it almost never stopped. But early on it was light, and the temperatures were in the 60s, so it didn’t bother us much. I ran with the lead pack, generally Dave, Lloyd and Kevin. I was running much faster than necessary – about 8:30 to 8:45 per mile - but I felt fine and I didn’t think it would hurt me. Would it? Lloyd dropped back, and later on, Dave did as well. I ran several miles with Kevin, who’d done only one other ultra. He hadn’t even planned to go as far as 50k, but was only trying to do a long run in preparation for the Cleveland Marathon. I think he did manage to finish the 50k, but I’m not sure because he dropped back at about mile 26.
Now I was running alone, and a thought occurred to me: I could quit at 50k in Brecksville, and be the winner; the 50k champion! Although I’d won one other low-key ultra, another long-time goal of mine has been to actually win a race of any kind. No matter whether it’s some small fun-run; I just want to win! And I could do it by simply quitting as I came to the Brecksville aid station. The temptation was very strong. But so was the desire to do the whole Necklace. So whereas I was sure a couple of those ultra legends behind me would pass me up in the second half, relegating me to some kind of top-5 finish, I still wanted the whole enchilada.
So on I went. I had felt fine at that half-way point, and my time, something like 4:40, was downright good. This is just over 9 minutes per mile. I’d been running faster than this, but as always I’d lost a lot of time at the aid stations. I knew I’d slow down in the second half because the hills were much tougher there.
And so I did and so they were. Getting up into Bedford Reservation was tough, and my pace slowed considerably. I walked a couple of the very steep sections. But I was still moving forward, and I still saw no sign of Dave or Lloyd or anyone else except Vince and Joe. These guys worked their butts off, leapfrogging each other to set up the aid stations. Along the parkway past Bedford, Joe stopped to let me know that there would be none of the planned aid at mile 49 (Harper Rd), but that there would be aid at the last station at the Polo Grounds. I said this was fine because Debbie would be around to help me by that time.
The rain was making it tougher, and my miles slowed even more on the parkway. Now I was doing 9 and 10 minute miles, with a couple even slower. I still wasn’t worried – I told Debbie at 49 that I thought I’d make it, especially now that she was there to support me. 50 miles went by in 7 hours, 50 minutes. I picked up the pace going downhill through South Chagrin, but then slowed for some of the rolling hills along Chagrin River Road. I’d be on this beautiful but narrow and dangerous road for about 9 and a half of the final 11 miles. Debbie stopped every 2 or three miles to give me water and food. It was rolling terrain; I’d slow down or walk the uphill sections, but then run at a still decent pace for the downhills.
Just when I was starting to become really optimistic – about not only finishing, but possibly even winning – something really funny happened. Debbie disappeared! We’d agreed that she would meet me in the quaint village of Gates Mills for more aid, and I ran right through without seeing her at all. Oh well, I thought, maybe she’s just on up ahead. I went up an extremely long, tough hill; one that I hadn’t expected. I was walking in the now-driving rain when Vince drove by. We exchanged a couple words and agreed to see each other at the finish.
The big hill finally ended, and I crossed Mayfield Road, but one thing didn’t seem quite right. The sign there indicated that I was on Old Mill Road, whereas I thought I was to stay on Chagrin River Road. But I had certainly not made any turns, and surely Vince would have told me if I was off course. So I continued on across – I knew I was heading north, so things couldn’t be that bad, could they? Yes, they could. About a mile later I came to a “no outlet” sign. The only option was to turn left, but I knew that wasn’t correct either. I was at mile 59, and possibly nowhere near the finish! Worst of all, I didn’t have the slightest idea of what to do. Knock on someone’s door to ask directions? At that point God sent a cop down the road, so I flagged him down to ask directions. I knew I needed to get to North Chagrin Reservations just north of Wilson Mills Road. There was no easy way, but I could take the left back down to Mayfield Road, then take SOM Center road up to Wilson Mills and find the finish from there.
I knew that this was miles and miles out of my way. But, thought I, it’s the only sure way to get there. At least I was familiar with it. The skies opened up for the hardest rain yet. It came down sideways, and it now felt cold. But I was running fast. I was only doing 9-minute miles according to my GPS, but they were much faster than the previous 10 or so and they felt like some sort of land speed record. Would I make it in time? Where in the world did I go wrong? Would I even find Debbie?
At least the last answer was yes – she saw me as she was driving along SOM Center. We were both very surprised to see each other. I told her to park at the pool as instructed, and that I’d go and finish and then come back and we’d leave. I still didn’t know if I’d make it, but, eventually, I did. My GPS told me I’d done 64.5 miles in 10 hours, 25 minutes. I didn’t really expect a huge throng of people; this wasn’t quite like winning the Boston Marathon. But there was no one; not one person around. No one to acknowledge that I’d won. Very strange. I looked for a while, but eventually had to get going. It was 3:34 pm, and I still had to run the ½ mile back to the car. I started doing the baby-wipe thing at 4:40, doing some changing in the car as Debbie drove me to the airport. We called Vince to report my winning time; he was heading over to the finish.
Debbie and I figured out how I’d gotten off course: in Gates Mills Chagrin River Road turns right, goes across a bridge, and then continues north. In the rain I didn’t see the sign and just went straight. This was then Old Mill Road that took me up the hill. Debbie had parked and was walking over to the bridge to tell me about it, but I must’ve come by before she could get there from where she’d parked the other side.
I made it to the airport in time and I don’t think I smelled too bad. Baby wipes are wonderful. However, of all the suggested post ultramarathon recovery procedures, such as ice, rest and massage, spending 13 hours in airplanes and traveling through 4 airports immediately after the run is not one of those that is high on the list.