Sunday, July 30, 2017

Burning River 50-Mile Front Race Report

Short Version: Things went swimmingly. Until they didn't. Then it got hard. Really hard. But I finished, and that was the main goal.

Long Version: Read on.

Up at 2:05.
Out the door at 2:45.
Arrive at Boston Mills, and onto the bus at 3:15.
Arrive at Squires Castle at 4:30 (after some minor snags).
Off and running at 5:00.

Yes, it's Burning River Time. I like early starts. I like finding, and running with friends, new and old. I like this weather; it's cool for July, and it will stay that way throughout the day. It was a huge factor in why I signed up last minute. I am going to enjoy this.

The first half: Squires Castle in Willoughby Hills to Egbert Road area of Bedford Reservation

One of said friends is Ladd Clifford. He and I stay together, talking and telling stories for the entire road section: 11.5 miles. We go up, way up, and through North Chagrin Reservation, and then south on mildly hilly Chagrin River Road, through the MCRR fluids-only aid station, all the way to the South Chagrin Reservation Polo Grounds. We run at nine-minute pace, which is probably much too fast for me, but I feel great.

Each aid station is like a bustling oasis, where you're a rock star. I want to linger at the one by the Polo Grounds, but I know I must move on. Ladd soon moves ahead of me as we start on the trails. This is not at all unexpected, and I'm sure he will have a truly great day.

My own day is still going quite well too. The trails haven't slowed me as much as anticipated, the scenery is wonderful, and I'm still enjoying myself immensely. I do walk the steep uphill sections, and there seem to be many of them.

I am on the Hawthorne Parkway in Solon. The Shadow Lake is pretty. The course takes me in and out of the woods several times. Around mile 19, the trails become what they call technical. Suddenly, very suddenly, I am not enjoying myself anymore. I've gone from easy running to tremendously tough trekking. I try hard to not become discouraged. Just get through this, I tell myself. It will get better.

It does, a little. The aid stations are between four and eight miles apart. The one at Egbert Road in Bedford Reservation is significant, because at 26 miles (27 on my Garmin), it's just past half-way. Again, I want to linger and savor the buffet. Again, I eventually push on and move out.

It has taken me around four hours and forty minutes to make it this far. If I can only stay at this pace, I'll have a really fast time today. But deep down, I know that that is not likely. The toughest trails are yet to come. The final twelve will be the biggest challenge of all.

The trails in Bedford Reservation are not as difficult as I thought they would be. I am not moving as fast as before, but yet I'm passing a lot of people. Most of them are hundred-milers who started an hour earlier than we did.

I grew up fairly close by, and spent a lot of time in my early years here in Bedford Reservation. Although even as an adult I've run here before, it's been a while. It's interesting to see all this wonderful scenery from a runner's perspective.

The Alexander Road aid station has the most enthusiastic volunteers. And that's saying something, because they're all great. I move onto the Bike and Hike all-purpose trail, and think that I'll finally get back to some flat, easy running for a while.

It doesn't last long. Not at all. Soon I'm climbing down a steep ravine to get on some more technical trails. Oh well.

In Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I emerge out of the woods near Frazee House on Canal Road, and then start onto the towpath. I had been looking forward to this. Most of the trail dogs hate the towpath, but I love it. Yes, it's getting warm, and the mid-day sun is beating down on us. But this is one of my familiar running haunts, and it's flat and it's fast. I run these three miles at better than ten-minute pace; much faster than I'd been going.

If only it could have lasted. For a couple reasons, not the least of which is that I could have stayed on this trail for only about four more easy miles to arrive at the final destination. But no; I have around fifteen to go, not four. And I know they won't be at all easy.

These Brecksville Reservation trails are also familiar. Too bad there are so darn many of them. I say that because they are technical and steep and tough. And at this point, I'm beginning to tucker out a bit. And my Achilles Tendon is talking to me. I don't like what it's saying.

When I arrive at the Meadows aid station, I believe I am at mile 41, but I learn that it's only 38. I must look like something the cat dragged in, because Joe Jurczyk asks what's bothering me. I could spout out a novel of grievances, but I only say that I'm 'just tired'. Great, he says, and then reminds me that the next twelve, many of which are part of the Buckeye Trail race course, will be the toughest of all. I knew that. But thanks for reminding me, Joe.

I am walking now. There are almost no sections here that I would consider runnable, at least not by me. But others, mostly relay runners, are indeed managing to run, and they're all passing me. I have a tough time finding room to move aside for them on these single-track trails. There seems to be no end to these passers-by. I am not enjoying this. Not at all.

The final sections are back in CVNP. By the time I get back onto some wider trails, most of those who wanted to pass are long gone. It's been shady and cool for nearly the entire day. The trails are stunningly beautiful. But I hate them.

It's like they went out of their way to make this course tough. I know, I know. It's a trail run, and I'm not used to trails such as these. Every time I think I can't go any slower, I manage to slow down some more. The steep sections, of which there are many, are almost too difficult to walk up. Or even down. Did I mention that I'm not enjoying this?

Along the way, I talk with some other fifty and hundred milers. I'm in awe of them all, but especially these folks who will be only half-way done when I collapse after crossing the line at Boston Mills. I try to be careful to not gloat too much about how I just can't wait to get there and stop running.

I do eventually, after what seemed like the longest and hardest eleven hours and ten minutes of my life, arrive at Boston Mills. The fifty miles appear to me to be more like around fifty-four on my watch, but I won't quibble about any free miles. I'm just happy to be done. Really happy. Ecstatic, in fact.

Michelle Wolff had run the first relay leg, and is there to greet me. I don't know what possessed me, I say. Fifty-plus miles of impossible trails: just not my thing, I say. Never again, I say.

Since my drive home would be sort of like driving drunk, she follows me to make sure I am safe. I make it, and learn later on that I was first in my ancient age group. You mean I get an award for that miserable performance?

The second half: Bedford Reservation to Boston Mills

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Just the (fill in the blank)

"Oh, you're doing Burning River? Which Race?"

A bit sheepishly, "Just the Fifty."

"Front Half or Back Half?"

"Front......... Trails+Darkness=DANGER!"

The conversation repeated itself several times as Danny Boy signed up for the Burning River Front Fifty at the last minute yesterday.

He's not all that used to the conversation, since he used to generally always sign up for the longest race available at the given event. He wouldn't have to say, "Just the 5K" or "Just the Half", as so many other have.

But now he's old. And "Just the Fifty" is challenge enough.

Plenty, in fact.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sweet Misery

Some track truths:

1) I love the track. the symmetry, the precise measurements, never being too far away from anything. Mostly I just love the looks and challenge of it. It's  the same type of venue that runners, including some of the best on the planet, run on every day. Gives me goosebumps.
2) I love running fast. I know. Fast is relative. In fact, I now know this more than ever before in my life.  But I still love the feeling.
3) I hate the misery of track workouts. I hate the fact that someone put the word, 'work' into that word, 'workout'. This stuff is pure drudgery. But it's sweet drudgery.
4) You may have heard this from me before: running slow doesn't make you slow. Not running fast makes you slow. The track is a partial cure for slow disease.
5) Intervals should indeed be fast. I know: technically, the 'intervals' are the time between the fast repeats. But most of us (and I will here) use the term to mean the fast repeats themselves. But I digress. The intervals, or repeats, should indeed be fast for their distance, but it's far more important that they're sustainable. This means that your tenth 800 should be roughly the same as your first.
6) The length of the repeat distance should vary. For most training, it's good to alternate weekly workouts between relatively short distances and fairly long ones. For example, a marathon runner may do mile intervals one week, and Yasso 800s the next. A half-marathoner may want to alternate 800s and 400s. An additional option is to mix the repeat length in a single workout, like 2 or 3 by 1600, 800, 400).
7) I have found that mile intervals have, at least for me, the closest correlation with marathon performance. In other words, if I can do something like eight one-mile repeats at about 10-mile to half-marathon pace, I will stand a good chance of completing my marathon in the expected time.
8) Naturally, the speed of each repeat will depend on it's length. The mixed interval distance, with different speeds applied based on distance, gives us an excellent sense of pace.
9) The beginning of each repeat contains a sweet spot, where I can run pretty fast before the fatigue hits home. I wrote a blog post about this a long time ago; it's called Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Check it out.
10) Always give 90 percent; not 100. I've heard that this is the advice top coaches give their charges, especially for the Olympic team. Only at the finish of the final repeat should you give it all you've got. Otherwise, it'll be gone when you need it. This philosophy ought to go into your race plans as well.
11) When your track workout is complete, you should be tired, but not completely destroyed. You should feel as though you could have done more. But don't. Save it for the races.
12) I love the track. Oh, I said that already.

Maybe it'll Blow Over

3:55 am: Out the door before four. This nearly always results in a good run. Good in the sense that the possibility exists that extra miles may be possible due to the extra time. The better news is that the anticipated storms appear to be holding off. In fact, the moon is shining, indicating that the dark skies are at least partially clear.

3:56 am: The moon is gone.

3:57 am: Our runner is feeling the stifling heat and extreme humidity, just two minutes into his run. The air is so thick, he can cut it with a knife. Maybe even a noodle.

3:58 am: Our runner notices flashes of lightning for the first time. Maybe it’ll blow over, he thinks.

4:12 am: The goal had been 10 miles today. Having plenty of time to do such a thing is a plus. But now our runner is beginning to wish he had been able to get out earlier still. The lighting flashes are getting brighter and more numerous, and he’s beginning to hear thunder as well. Maybe it’ll still blow over, he thinks.

4:18 am: The lighting and thunder appears to be more to the south than anywhere else. Earlier, it had been to the southwest, and now it seems to be to the southeast. Maybe it really and truly will blow over, our runner thinks, a bit more hopefully.

4:22 am: It’s pouring, and the lightning and thunder are all around.

4:47 am: The rain has mostly subsided. Our runner is drowned-rat soaking wet, but he’s still going. Maybe the storm is gone for good, or perhaps the rest of it will blow over, he thinks.

5:10 am: It’s pouring, and the lightning and thunder are all around.

5:38 am: Our runner is done. Now he’s more than drowned-rat soaking wet, but he’s happy to have gotten this one done. Now he’ll have to clean up (is a shower really necessary?) and get to work. He dreads going on that long drive into the rainstorm, but who knows? Maybe it’ll blow over.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Since my years of being a Medina County Road Runners Club Officer have now come to an end, I thought it may be appropriate to say a few words about the club. Unfortunately, Angie Kovacs stole my thunder with her farewell note in last month’s newsletter. I had been planning to say many of the same things. Really. But now that It’s a new month and new newsletter, I will say them anyway.

I thought I was a pretty accomplished and competitive runner when I joined the club in 2008. MCRR was only a year old, and even though I knew a few other runners in the area, I knew none of the MCRR members at the time. My running and especially my friendships were in for some big changes. The changes have all been for the better.

Joe and Lisa Herbert, along with just a few other runners had started the club. I learned about it from Connie Gardner in Second Sole. I'd had a not so wonderful experience with a different running club. Although folks in that other club were not unfriendly, they also weren't overly outgoing, warm or welcoming to newcomers such as myself, either. I just figured that run clubs simply weren't my thing. From the start, however, MCRR proved that such was not the case at all.

Right away, I met Joe and Lisa, and also Ladd Clifford, Chuck Dammon and a few others. I learned that I wasn’t quite as great a runner as I’d thought – at least when compared with others in the club, and in Medina County. I think Roy Heger and John McCarroll were already members. Connie, Ron Ross, and several other greats had yet to join, although several of them did so soon thereafter. Everyone was outgoing, and I formed several immediate friendships.

Most importantly, I had folks to run with. Yes, I’d had running partners before, but now I had so many! And there were meet-ups at races and other events. The possibilities seemed limitless. I was having a blast. As the years went by, more and more of my newfound friends joined up. I still run with many of them on a regular basis. What could be better than that?

I became the second President of the club, stayed on for a few years, and then continued to serve as a club Officer, including the all-important Vice President position ;). Serving on the Board has been a privilege and an honor. Now with Angie also stepping down, it’s time for Bob Pokorny, our new President, along with some new and some ongoing Officers to take over. I have utmost confidence in them, and in everyone in the club.

As MCRR begins its second decade, I couldn’t be happier with our direction. Our best days are yet to come.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Twin Sizzler Race Report

The Medina Twin Sizzler has been around for over 40 years. That's quite a legacy. I've done quite a few, and I've nearly always done both the 5K and the 10K. I typically exceed my expectations during the 5K, and deceed them for the 10K. I know. You're wondering about the word, deceed.  I got this from the wonderful world wide web:  'There is no established opposite to the word exceed, and it's quite often suggested that there's a gap in the language that needs to be filled! Some people have come up with deceed as a possible candidate, but there is as yet no real evidence of its use.' I saw subceed suggested as well.

This day, I had no expectations at all, so it wouldn't have been possible to exceed, deceed or subceed them. It wasn't too terribly hot, but my olde legs were still mighty tired from MP6.I ran the 5K in an 8:30 pace, and I ran the first half of the 10K at a 9:30 pace. About half-way, I decided to try to pick it back up. I did (!) and ran the second 5K of the 10K in about the same time as the 5K itself. That felt good. 

Too bad the rest of it didn't. Oh, I suppose it's okay. I made it. Live to run another day. If you can call it that.


Sunday, July 02, 2017

MP6 Race Report

The Third Annual Poorly Organized Mugrage Park 6-Hour Run lived up to it's name once again. I humbly submit that it's highly doubtful that anyone could have not organized an event better than this.

I arrived a couple minutes early and began using my poor organizational skills right off the bat: by picking up trash left from the night before. Soon the other 6am starters began to arrive, so I quickly signed in, and got my numero uno bib. Yes, they started with bib number 1, and I got it. What would this portend for the race itself? 

Frank Dwyer took off after a lap or so, and never looked back. He mostly stayed a couple laps ahead of me for the entire six hours. As the day wore on, the heat and the miles began to take their toll. We all began to slow down, but I never caught up with Frankie. 

It was great fun seeing my MCRR peeps out there. There were 30 of us altogether. And then there were the wonderful volunteers. Thanks to all!

I am extremely thankful that:

a) I got past 50K. I didn't last year, but that was a hotter day.
b) We (Frankie and me) did not get chicked!
c) It's over!!

In the final results, Frank Dwyer was the overall winner with 37 laps, which equates to 35.15 miles. What some runners won't do for a $50 gift certificate! Suzanne Sharpe had the highest mileage for the women at 26.6 miles. I was the second overall with 35 laps and 33.25 miles.

Whitefish Point Marathon Race Report

The Route from Paradise to Whitefish Point and back If you want to get to Paradise , you have to go through Hell first. Or at least n...