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


Colleen A DeVito said...

Way to go Dan! You are such an inspiration!

Dan Horvath said...

Thanks Colleen!

Jean Pommier said...

Great job for persisting despite the pain and fatigue, that's ´true ultra' spirit!!

Dan Horvath said...

Thanks Jean - nice to hear from you.

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